Imagine someone’s showing you a copy of the Mona Lisa. You look at it and think, that’s pretty good-there she is sitting there in her dress, faint smile, etc. So you’re standing there admiring it, and then your friend pulls out a print of the real Mona Lisa. And he starts to show you a few things: Look, her hair is kind of reddish in the copy; in the real thing it’s almost black. Her dress is a different color. The scenery in the background is all different. Her eyes are closer together. On and on. Gradually you realize, this copy isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was. When I looked at it by itself it looked all right, but compared to the real thing it’s got serious problems.
That’s what Kevin deYoung and Ted Kluck do with the emerging/ent church in Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). They show how, for all the good first impressions emergent authors might make, what they’re presenting is substantially different from the gospel as it’s presented in Scripture.
This book is an excellent critique for many reasons. First, deYoung and Kluck understand that not all emergent leaders or followers are the same.. So they’re able to distinguish between more and less orthodox emergent spokesmen. Second, they’re widely read in the relevant material, from books to blogs, so they’re not arguing against a boogeyman; they’re showing specific problems with specific statements from specific people. Third, they understand what’s at stake. This isn’t a book designed to win an argument; it’s a book holding up the central tenets of the emergent church to Scripture, and calling people to see the difference.
A key strength of this book is the authors’ ability to quickly see through some of the big ideas of emergent writers and show their weaknesses-without delving into 10-page excurses on philosophy (although we need books that do this too). As an example, emergent writers fend off theological concerns by saying they’re just “asking questions” or engaging in a “conversation.” DeYoung responds:
No matter what new label you put on it, once you start selling thousands of books, speaking all over the country and world, and being looked to for spiritual and ecclesiastical direction, you’re no longer just a conversation partner. You are a leader and teacher. And this is serious business, for as James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”. (17)
The book is broad enough to cover a lot of ground without oversimplifying. It’s a good overview of the differences between the emergent and “traditional” church, hitting things like the knowability of God, the place of the Bible, Jesus as savior vs. as moral example, and a several other key topics. Where the other major book-length response to the emergent church, D. A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, is a more academic point-by-point response, this book is like a friend who saves you from paying to see a bad movie.
Why We’re Not Emergent is a great read from cover to cover. But it wasn’t until I finished it that I saw what my favorite thing about the book is: it comes from a love of the church, with all its imperfections. Yes, the church has all kinds of issues. Sometimes those issues are sinful; sometimes they’re just a matter of cheesiness. But Jesus loves the church, and so should we. The solution to the church’s problems isn’t to blow her off and hang out with a bunch of other angsty white guys in a coffeehouse. It’s to saddle up with an imperfect church and seek to make her better-that is, more faithful to Scripture.