A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional?
- Thursday, November 05, 2009
What Are the Camps?
The traditional camp is not well-defined by Belcher (a weakness I'll come back to later). At times it seems to be the same as fundamentalism (61). In other places, the traditional camp refers to anyone who has critiqued the emergent movement, including John MacArthur, Ron Gleason, Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck, and D.A. Carson. Belcher acknowledges the traditional camp is not monolithic. But he suggests "the groups comprising traditional evangelicalism share similar views of culture, epistemology and the church" (10). Still, in the end, I'm not sure what makes someone a part of the traditional camp in Belcher's estimation, other than that they have been critical of the emergent camp.
Having said that, Belcher's analysis of the emergent side is much more helpful. I won't retell his own story, but Belcher has the advantage of having been an insider in the movement at its inception. He knows the journey of the emerging church well and he knows well many of the key players. This is what makes his book unique and why the emergents have received it more warmly. Carson was a total outsider in their minds. Ted and I were at least demographically similar and culturally conversant, but still outsiders. Jim is a true insider.
But also an outsider. He writes: "As much as I feel like an insider to the conversation, I also feel at times like an outsider because of some reservations I have with aspects of the emerging conversation" (28). Similar to what Ted and I said in Why We're Not Emergent, Belcher feels like emerging voices are raising good questions, but their answers are often disturbing. Similar to Carson, Belcher defines the emerging movement (which he makes clear is not identical to Emergent Village) as a protest movement.
The emerging church is protesting against the traditional church on seven fronts: (1) Captivity to Enlightenment rationalism. (2) A narrow view of salvation. (3) Belief before belonging. (4) Uncontextualized worship. (5) Ineffective preaching. (6) Weak ecclesiology. (7) Tribalism.
Under the label "emerging" are three different camps: the relevants (e.g. Driscoll, Kimball, and some Young, Restless, and Reformed types) who are trying to contextualize ministry while still maintaining conservative theology; the reconstructionists (e.g., Cole, Hirsch, Barna, Viola) who are experimenting with organic house churches and monastic communities; and the revisionists (e.g., McLaren, Jones, Pagitt) who are questioning key evangelical doctrines on theology and culture (45-46). Belcher's analysis focuses mostly on the reconstructionists and the revisionists because they have gotten the most attention and faced the most push back.
The bulk of the book deals with the seven areas of protest. Each chapter follows a similar pattern. Belcher usually begins with a personal experience that led him to see a problem with the traditional approach to church. Then Belcher explores the emerging solution, often interviewing key leaders in the movement and raising some possible objections along the way. Next, Belcher looks at the response of the traditional church to the emerging answers. And finally he proposes a third way that seeks to combine the best of both camps while avoiding the worst extremes.
Here's a thumbnail sketch for each chapter/protest:
1. Deep Truth - Emergents reject classic foundationalism, which is good. But while they are right to reject self-evident truth, they are wrong to embrace a postmodern "constructivist" epistemology. "Even though I reject classical foundationalism," Belcher writes, "I am not comfortable adopting a relational hermeneutic. I believe that God's revelation in the Word tells us what is real and provides the authority for Christian community. We build our metaphysics on divine revelation. It gives us confidence that we substantially know ‘ready-made reality'" (82). In short, deep church rejects foundationalism built on reason, but accepts foundations built on belief.
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