At the grassroots level, this Postmodern movement was fueled by much dislike of uncool fundamentalism and its “culture” (or lack thereof). This reactionary component, and their seeming lack of positive direction and definition, has been particularly defining of the movement itself. The question still remains, nevertheless, where were we supposed to be emerging from and where to? But now the question is, is the emerging movement itself actually in retreat today? As a reactionary movement against what was “before,” once it too becomes post, or “before,” does it too then not become passé?
One of “emergings” key spokesmen once suggested that the theologizing of prior centuries was only for prior centuries and was not as deep and profound as what is happening today in the emerging movement (see “some quotes” below). The uninspiring, ho-hum, aspect of this is that the mainline church and its neo-orthodoxy previously had lived long in the universe of the “journey” not the “destination,” seeking “questions,” not “answers,” living in “tension” not “resolution.” They spoke eloquently in paradoxical terms of “concealment as an aspect of revelation,” and in the “affirmation of doubt” and “silence,” of “engaging” not dogmatizing or “getting it all down” (whatever that means). Propositionalism became a pejorative term applied to those who have too much certitude in what they believe. Objectivism was rejected as the idol of those who believe Truth is absolute and absolutely true. Within this, there was a call for hermeneutical agnosticism in regards to the biblical text. While this has the virtue of claiming humility, it just might lead to pride in doubts about what can be known of the text. While emergers rightly emphasized contextual mission as the mission of the church of God, they fail to remind us that mission has always been the mission of the church, despite its many failings, and I can think of no theologian who ever denied that mission. In regards to all of these characteristics, this now aging movement may well be seeing a glimmer of a new emerging from this hermeneutical agnosticism. In what I have observed (my entirely unscientific impression), there seems to be a greater longing for certitude and a theological house built on solid rock, not sand. Being “post” everything may have been found wanting.
Indeed, the “post” nature of the emerging movement was one of its most puzzling features. Emergers have been said to be “post-modern,” “post-liberal,” “post-evangelical,” “post-doctrinal,” “post-Bible-study-piety,” “post-systematic theology,” and “post-conservative.” I think “post-rational,” “post-linear,” and “post-historical” could be added to this list (see Scott Mcknight’s article, “The Future or Fad: A Look at the Emerging Church Movement.”) In fact, even though Mcknight says this “post” is not “better” but “after,” this reactionary characteristic describes at least a drift away from what preceded, regardless of internal assessments of what they are now post. Even if this shift was not intentional or always conscious, it is professedly a drift away from traditional evangelicalism, conservatism, doctrinalism, sytematics, traditional Bible-Study, and personal piety, etc. I would agree that it may also have represented a drift away from the old liberalism (“post liberal”), but only in so far as it is aligned with Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy, though a reaction against the old liberalism, simply refashioned the Modernists’ (Historical-Critical) rejection of scripture itself as the only revealed Word of God, divinely inspired, inerrant, as propositional revelation, and translated this view into a Neo-orthodox version riddled with dialectical tensions. In this regard, I propose that it was always in danger of becoming post-orthodox. Indeed, as with most fads, thankfully, it seems to be coming into a “post-emerging” phase, as already noted, and as a fad that relished being “post” (as in “better than what preceded”), it is now surpassed by a hunger for reality of a truly biblical theology and living.
In reference to the emerger’s (and PoMo’s) original rejection of “Modernism,” I suggest that the traditional use of this term “modern” has been abused in the discussion, since in theology and hermeneutics it referred to the classic formulations of the early Historical-Critical scholars (now often called “liberal”), and in reference to history it would take us back nearly to the Renaissance and not to twentieth century Evangelicalism (the well-bred whipping-boy of Neo-Modern PoMos). Indeed, the early modern period begins in the Middle Ages. Perhaps on this point, the Neo-modernists could do better at informing us illiterate modern masses precisely what part of this vast history they reject and accept, rather than characterizing certain isolated aspects of modern Evangelicalism and pejoratively calling them “Modernist” in order to tar and feather them for future reference in the history books of the post-post-post-modernist era. Which raises another question, do we ever finally arrive at what is “post post”? Are we yet, and forever then, truly pre–post? Also, I suggest that it would be vain to suggested that this search for something “post” everything is a continuation of the principle of ecclesia reformata est semper reformando (a reformed church is always reforming), since this principle is about remaining faithful to the orthodox “traditions of the apostles” handed down to us.
Another prevalent aspect of emerging was their proposed dichotomies for framing a new perspective on orthodoxy. I culled the following examples from the emerging-church literature. I have not listed any dichotomy that I have not observed at some point in the literature on “emerging.” These are not my “stereotypes” of this movement, but the explicit assertions made by those either seeking to explain or advocate emerging (my comments are in parenthesis):
- emerging is about ecclesiology not about epistemology (I suggest that this is patently false, since discussions and assertions about epistemology litter the emerging terrain)
- emerging is missional in contrast to pre-emerging Christendom (this is historically inaccurate, since the church, when it has been acting biblically, has always been truly missional)
- emerging is missional not theologically defined (this is a contradiction in terms, since all truly biblical, missional activity must be theologically rooted and motivated)
- emerging is formational not informational (this is doubly a contradiction in terms, since formation cannot emerge without information, and indeed spiritual formation has always depended upon sound theological “information”)
- emerging is about God as “being right” not about people being right or wrong (this is naïve, since such disjunctive affirmations remove human, theological responsibility before God)
- emerging is pro-Jesus not creedal, systematic, or logical (this is semantic mysticism, and the old “no creeds but Jesus” idea is essentially creedal)
- emerging is relational not rational (ditto)
- emerging is pro-church not doctrinally unified (this rejects the principle of the purity of the visible church, and to be pro-church necessitates being pro-doctrine, though imperfectly)
- emerging is a community not denominational or ecclesiastical (this collapses the visible and the invisible church, and diminishes the communities created by denominations and churches)
- emerging is about micro-narratives not about meta-narratives (this makes true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible, since our “micro-narratives” have true significance only in so far as they correspond to the meta-narrative of the gospel of redemption)
- emerging is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy (this false disjunction suggests that living is prior to believing. Yet, since our living is motivated by our Lord, how do we practice what we do not doctrinally affirm?)
- emerging is about being post-everything but it is really post-little. I suggest that the Emergent-Emerging-Village did not equal a revolution or reformation but a fun playing-field in which “traditional” cultural, theological, and philosophical borderlines were understood as in motion. Indeed, some in the emerging movement even tried to push out traditional Christian moral boundaries. Since blogs have been one of the primary mediums for the emerging discussions, it is difficult to identify all of its diverse shifts with confidence(oops!). Ironically, the driving engine of much of the emerging moment seemed to be Neo-Modernism which is strangely akin to Neo-orthodoxy, one of the many versions of twentieth century heterodoxy (even though not all emergers share PoMo denials of “absolute truth”). Neo-modernism presents the other straw-man of the Transcendental Great Other who is a god mostly unknowable. Indeed, this god lives in the great cloud of unknowing, and is the dialectical tension inhering in all of modern life. This transcendent god, or Transcendence as God, is mostly silent. Nevertheless, we sometimes get a glimpse in the Bible, in a sunset, or in human culture and traditions, all of which are somehow, inexplicably, relative to collective interpretation by the PoMo community. This deistic formulation strangles prayer and basic Bible study, in my view, as it did in the Mainline of my lost youth. And, as it has in the West as a whole. And this is why it contained within it the seeds of its own undoing.
In its rejection of pietism, Neo-orthodoxy loathed piety, since its impersonal god makes no distinctions between the warmth and zeal that true knowledge of God in Christ engenders and the excesses of nineteenth century revivalism. Similarly, many in the emerging movement seemed to dislike pietism. Most strangely, the emerging and PoMo movements both seem to simultaneously disdain pietism and also what is pejoratively called “old Princeton” (Scottish Common Sense Realism), or rationalism. Nevertheless, the frequent PoMo denigration of the Princeton theologians for their rationalism has not considered the history of their piety. These Princeton theologians, condemned in PoMo judgment, had heart-religion on fire for God. Their heart-religion was not unbridled, subjective emotionalism. Nor was their academic work intellectual, rationalistic gamesmanship. Rather, their academic labors fueled their passion for the gospel of Christ. Indeed, I think it is unsustainable that the Princeton theologians advanced rationalism, but rather they believed in rationality as a God-given gift. They also understood the significance of the battle for Truth, and they believed that theological formulation, expression, and creeds mattered as a matter of life and death. I do not mean to romanticize these Old-Bygone-Theologizers, but mention them as an example that highlights the many false dichotomies and straw-men the PoMos’ love to burn, leaving nothing but ashes in their historical stead.
The ennui of many people today is the ethos of apathy, and worse. Many are adrift in a world that offers them gods fashioned according to their likes and dislikes, their styles and manner of being cool, their personal preferences and i-pod gods for nameless blog-religion. In this context, I have been concerned that this new emerging “reformation” would not lead to a new orthodoxy and orthopraxy of building community, but to a new religion of Neo-modernist transcendentalism and isolationalism. It is therefore my hope that in the seminary/church world the gospel of Christ is not subsumed by the popular “Totally Other” transcendental god of Barthian Neo-orthodoxy and Neo-modernist mysticism. God revealed himself in the sanctuary of Israel as absolutely immanent and absolutely transcendent (without any contradiction or paradox), and this is his consistent revelation through to the end of the Revelation of John. Indeed, in Christ, these complimentary attributes of God become most evident in the incarnation: God Almighty is personally, knowably, present with us. Thus, we can confidently(oops!) proclaim to this adrift generation, desperate for an answer to their ennui, that God is not Totally Other, but has clearly spoken in His Son. His Son is the incarnate Word of God whose word is the seed of the Kingdom of God now here in our midst. The revealed word of God is scripture now here in our hands, and it is the only final, and absolute authority for the people of the Son of God.
The frequent immodesty of “evangelical” PoMo theology, that often rejects previous theologizing, denies that their emperor wears no clothes. That is, their accusations that Modernists are guilty of “cognitive idolatry” may come home to roost, since their new found pride in “humble theology” invokes a self-loathing of their own Evangelicalism. This self-loathing is pervasive, along with its distaste for “fundamentalism” and its cultural separatism. Ironically, justified fears of cultural accommodation run deep in the Neo-modernist movement, but with a brilliant naiveté that if we just admit our presuppositions then we become neutral and objective. If asserting with certitude that we have received what has been passed on to us from the apostles of Christ is idolatry, then surely confident ranting against confidence in the scripture would qualify as cognitive idolatry. It is time that those who are refashioning orthodoxy admit that their own presuppositions are not just about contextualizing the gospel of Jesus, but rather about neutralizing the power of the gospel unto salvation to all who believe.
If asserting that we must be faithful to the scripture is cognitive idolatry, then it is time the Neo-modernists come clean and confess to their own lack of faith and need for prayer. It is time they own up to their own “cultural conditioning” by modernist, naturalist unbelief, and foreswear calling it recontextualization. As one of the philosophical leaders of the PoMo evangelicals likes to say, “Objectivity has been greatly overrated,” I would like to say that this is an overly objective, modernist assertion within his own framework. There is absolutely nothing new in calls to formulate the gospel clearly to each new generation, but the underlying assertion that our formulations are only social constructs “imbedded in particular cultures” is something new. And, this new thing is a departure from the perspective of the apostles on their gospel, in my view.
These are just some of the reasons why I believe that the Post-Modern Emerging movement has come to its end, and has become passé, since the people of God hunger for much more substance in their relationship with Christ the King, our ever-present Savior, than such philosophies could provide. He has called us out of darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9), and his people need to be encouraged in that absolute truth to live before the nations in true faith and loving obedience.
For example, in Andrew Hoffecker’s Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981).
Some quotes about “rejecting” prior theologizing below from Scott Mcknight’s blogsite:
http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=821 “Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson,Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it.” “What you won’t find in these new discussions is the return to dog-eared discussions like whether or not human nature is tripartite or something else. The issues are bigger, the questions are deeper, and the scope of the discussion wider. When they ask about eschatology, they don’t ask about the rapture, they inquire into what history is, how God relates to history, what the goal of history is. When they ask about Scripture, they don’t begin with inerrancy and inspiration but (like Vanhoozer) how the drama of doctrine is meant to be played out using the script of God as its text.” “Which also means the answers will be bigger and deeper and wider. Perhaps I’ve misstated: this kind of theology might not be pursuing the “answer” but probing the question — theologizing, exploring, pondering, and wondering.”
In contrast to this, read 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB95): For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . .
More thoughts and quotes on Neo-Modernism (a.k.a PoMo)
“The only cure for postmodernism is the incurable illness of romanticism.” (Postmodernism for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt)
Post modernism sends the contradictory message that though we are all one community, our individual cultures (“readings” of reality) make true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible. That is, if meaning is relative to the individual within his or her community, or that meaning is relative to the community itself, then truly cross-cultural communication is not possible.
LeoPurdue’s comments on postmodernism are worth further reflection (from Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, pp. 278-279):
“The losses to human thinking and understanding, should the post modern agenda be fully implemented, would be enormous. Perhaps the most debilitating one is dispensing with any affirmation as true in any sense of the word. Postmodernists in religion are quick to deny this and reject the claim that they advocate nihilism. But one is hard pressed to see their arguments as anything but nihilistic, similar to the anti-Kantian view expressed by Schopenhauer in his understanding of blind will: there is no meaning whatsoever that may be claimed and attested as objectively and representationally true. For Schopenhauer, the human will seeks to represent the world experienced through the senses in orderly forms through which knowledge may be obtained that is objectively true.(1) Yet we simply construct our world through self-interest with intent to realize immediate goals that inevitably become conflicting and contradictory. Try as they must, humans cannot escape or abolish this will in the attempt to know what is objectively true. Ideas are nothing more than the epiphenomena of a blind and irrational will that expresses itself through self-constructed ideas and actions based on self-interest.”
“If the postmodernists and their intellectual predecessors, including the philosophers of the New Academy, the Romanticists, and possibly even Schopenhauer, are correct, then the interpreter, located in multidimensional contexts, determines meaning. Thus, there is no objective reality, and all assertions are ideological construals of self-interest. Nothing may be affirmed as true whether theological or ethical. There is no basis on which behavior may be judged as ethical or unethical. Yet if we abandon ethics, do we not allow marginals to continue in the squalor of degrading, humanity-denying subsistence or fail to oppose authoritarian regimes in their pillaging, destroying, and controlling, without so much as uttering even a whispered protest?”
“The most significant concern I have with postmodernism is that it is astendentious as the ideologies of texts and interpreters that it strongly criticizes. While no text or interpreter is capable of transcending self-interest, the biased character of much postmodernism is clear. Thus, the criticisms postmodernists raise about texts and interpreters, especially historical critics, are just as partisan, if not more so, since they operate with the deception that their approach transcends ideology. Historical critics may be suffering from self-delusion in attempting to interpret the text as “objectively” as possible, but at least they make the effort. Postmodernists do not. They choose, rather, to reify their own political, social, sexual, and theological affirmations in every text that is interpreted without any accountability to critical scrutiny. They have attempted to construct an approach to biblical interpretation that is ‘beyond criticism.'”
(1)Schopenhauer, Die Welt ale Wille undVorstellung