Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Emergent Church: Boring Heresy.

I was listening to Issues, etc. this morning.  There was an older piece with Chris Rosebrough.  Apparently they had some interview with Brian Mclaren and they were looking for Rosebrough's critique.  I'll have to listen to the McLaren interview.

Even though I'm going to listen to the interview, I'm already certain it might be a bit boring.  The reason why I suspect this is that the Emergent Church is a boring heresy.  

Many heresies are pretty interesting for the same reason that Lord of the Rings is.  They create entire worlds out of thin air.  Mormonism has a whole fake history of pre-Columbian America.  David Koresh had a whole weird interpretation of the Bible which he got from rabbis he met at the temple mount.  The Nation of Islam has some bizarre theory about the origin of the earth that can be traced back to a Swedish science-fiction novel from the 20s. 

I've been hearing people talk about the Emergent Church since the early 2000s and I did read McLaren's book last year.  Frankly I find the whole thing dull.  
I mean, here's the deal.  As best as I can figure out, they basically want to have evangelical style church-polity and worship with mainline Protestant content.  

Yeah, that's right.  That's all it is.

Most of what McLaren talks about is law-based pleads about inclusiveness and the need for environmental sensitivity and for "peace and justice."  It's all just a lot of recycled stuff that I've heard in a million ELCA sermons down through the years.  Also, from what I know, they also have praise bands and stuff, and their polity tends to be independent churches.  

Also in the mainline column, McLaren kind of wants to be ecumenical in his book.  He tries to get a little bit of every denomination in there as if they could really all be reconciled.  He can't really think of anything he likes about Calvinists, so he says they have a lot self-confidence and a good work ethic.  (As a side note, he also has an appallingly bad understanding of Church history and biblical exegesis.  He says nothing about Lutherans (interestingly enough).  He doesn't understand Catholicism, Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy very well either.)

He reminds me of a mainline pastors in other ways.  For one thing, McLaren likes to talks in poetic, vague generalizations.  This is something I've noticed about mainline Protestant theologians and pastors as well.  They do this, I think, to mask how banal what their talking about is.
For example, in an average mainline Protestant sermon, you'll hear the pastor say or even yell things (for dramatic effect) like "we're crying out Lord, we're crying out for peace and justice." What does "peace and justice" really mean in the concrete?  Well, they want more and more generous federal entitlements.  When we get more and more generous federal entitlements, then the kingdom will come.  That's about it.  
This isn't much of a substitute for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of all creation.  So, they have to make it sound more beautiful and poetic than it is.

So, McLaren does the same thing.  His message of mainline theology with evangelical style is kind of boring.  It works for essentially sociological reasons.  It appeals to people who grew up in mega churches, but don't buy creedal orthodoxy anymore or think that there has to be more left-leaning stuff in the church's message to make it "relevant."  So because he's just fulfilling a sociological need for a particular demographic that needs something to do Sunday mornings, he has to make all sound really profound and deep by being vague.  

But at the end of the day, it's actually pretty dull.  

Update: My wife points out to me that many of them also mix in various other liturgical practices such as burning incense and doing liturgical dance.  So it's not all praise music.  I stand corrected.  I think my basic point stands.  


  1. Indeed it does husband, indeed it does.

  2. Hahahaha ... yes, by FB laughter, Jack. The Emergent Church is surely boring heresy alright!