Scot has been doing one of his many book review series, this one on A Heretic's Guide to Eternity by Spencer Burke of TheOoze.com. The series is worth reading throughout. My own reason for linking to it and commenting at this time has less to do with the actual critique of the book than what Scot writes about the emerging movement as a whole. Scot is associated with the movement, links to many of its leaders, and has a "friend of Emergent" button on his blog, so he's anything but a knee-jerk, uncomprehending rejector of the movement. I have wanted to write about postmodernism and the emerging movement for a while, but haven't felt that I understood it enough to comment. Scot is, however, not in that position. This is what he says--and it's worth noting that he prefaces his comments in this way he does:
I have to say the following — and I don’t do so with anything but sadness.What Scot means by "boundaries" is a defining limit to how far one can go and still remain within Christianity. Burke rejects the personhood of God and the necessity of coming to God through Christ; he also argues essentially that everyone is born saved, although it is possible to "opt out" and send yourself to hell. People whose native culture is centered on another religion do not have to convert to Christianity to be saved. (Burke told Scot on the phone that he believes that it is because of Jesus' death and resurrection that people are included in God's grace from birth, but he doesn't say so in the book.)
The emerging movement is proud of creating a safe environment for people to think and to express their doubts. Partly because of what I do for a living (teach college students), I am sympathetic to the need for such safe environments. But, having said that, the emerging movement has also been criticized over and over for not having any boundaries. Frankly, some of the criticism is justified. I want to express my dismay today over what I think is crossing the boundaries.
The issue here is simply, how far may one go in expressing one's doubts, and still claim to be a Christian? Is there a "bottom line" to what it means to be a Christian, or, as the old joke goes, is it "turtles all the way down"? It seems to me to be self-evident that if there is no basic core of belief that is necessary to orthodoxy, then there is no such thing as Christianity at all.
Andrew Jackson on SmartChristian.com correctly observes that "No one should use Burke to condemn everyone in the Emergent movement." However, I don't see Scot as doing that. One of the problems that outsiders like me have in trying to comprehend the movement is that people who critique the movement (e.g., Donald Carson) are dismissed as not understanding it; when people ask questions to try to understand it, people in the movement refuse to "define themselves"; and when individuals within the movement are quoted in order to discuss their ideas, it is responded that "they don't speak for the whole movement." So how is one supposed to grasp or interact with it?
The emerging "conversation" is said to be a "safe environment for people to think and to express their doubts." All well and good; my own experience tells me that if you are free to doubt--honestly doubt--you can come back with a stronger faith than ever. But my suspicion is that "doubt" is all too often merely a code-word to mean rejection. Is the emerging conversation also a safe environment for people to think and express their beliefs? Is there any positive content to the emerging conversation? Or is it all simply rejection? Enquiring minds want to know.