Last week, while visiting our old church in New Hampshire, I was handed the church’s monthly newsletter. Like most such newsletters, it opens with a letter from the pastor. The rest of it is announcements, calendar of events and birthdays, and other newsy tidbits; I view these parts as the only parts of it that really have any value, more for keeping up with old friends than anything else. Occasionally I find something in the newsletter that needs comment. (The last time this occurred was the “voting scorecard” back in January that I wrote about here.)  This is another one of those times.

Pastor wrote this:

“As your Pastor, I am concerned with the movement called the Emergent Church. this movement is beginnign to sweep across America and its influences are beginning to seep into Christian colleges, denominations and especially church growth seminars. One idea that they promote is unity and inclusiveness matters more than anything. This is not right! Unity and inclusiveness at the expense of truth, moves you away from God. This kind of thinking is infiltrating our churches and even our denomination. We should never compromise the truth of God’s Word. The Emergent Church is bad news and many of its doctrines are pure heresy.”

He then quotes 2 Timothy to show that his spin on Emergent is actually predicted in the New Testament:

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4.3-4).

Gotta have a prooftext.

Anyhow. I might as well be blunt. Pastor’s commentary here is WAY off-base. But it is not unique; I’m sure that similar comments have been said from pulpit and in church newsletters in conservative, traditional evangelical churches nation/world-wide. And I know for a fact that these types of comments are all over Christian radio, and I actually suspect that this is the ultimate source of Pastor’s information. Certainly if he has read anything from writers or heard anything from speakers who are usually associated with Emergent, these comments could never have been said. Among critics, D. A. Carson and Chuck Colson have been the most vociferous. In this case, Pastor’s comment about Emergent’s “doctrines” verges on the ridiculous; Emergent really doesn’t have any doctrines per se beyond “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Which, as I’ve written in other posts, I think is the absolute “least-common denominator” for Christians of just about every stripe and which is justified more by our actions, behavior, and life than any belief, magic prayer, or doctrinal/credal assent or formulation. The only heresy in the doctrine that “Jesus is Lord” is in the failure to live like you mean it.

The statement that Emergent values unity and inclusiveness more than “the truth” is likewise erroneous. What Emergent recognizes is that the Gospel is to all and for all and that no one is ever excluded from the love and grace of God and Christ. And so what Emergent does is challenge those institutions, structures, and so on within the church and society that make Jesus more “in the way” than “the way.” I actually do not know exactly what Pastor means by “unity” and “inclusiveness” here. Emergent believes that diversity is a strength; we all have different gifts, we all think in different ways, and we all recognize that we bring so much of our own life histories, emotional and psychological experiences, everything in our lives that make us uniquely who we are to the church. This is an inclusive position, of course, consistent with the one “doctrine” I referred to above. Pastor’s accusation of Emergent has nothing to do with Emergent; in fact, it’s really just the old complaint of traditional evangelicalism against more liberal churches. If we don’t understand it, might as well just call it “liberal” and drag out the main complaint evangelicals have had about liberals for 60 years or more.

What Pastor is really concerned about, even though he may not realize it, is that the form of Christianity he represents and cut his teeth on and has spent a lifetime defending – traditional, 1950s style Evangelicalism – is fast disappearing and has little to offer to the 15-30 year old age bracket. And Emergent, with its challenging of structure and institutions and belief systems that are demonstrably un-Christian and un-Biblical but which have been part of institutional Christianity for decades and centuries, has to be one of the scarier things out there. But rather than categorically reject Emergent, we would like to see our evangelical brethren at least extend the hand of friendship to us, who in reality are the next (or more specifically, the fourth) generaion of Evangelicals.