Thursday, November 20, 2008

Irony & Davey Jones' Locker

Pintel (menacingly): "The last we saw of ol' Bill Turner, he was sinking to the crushing black oblivion of Davy Jones' Locker."

(more thoughtfully) "Course it was only after that we learned we needed his blood to lift the curse."
Ragetti (subdued): "That's what you'd call ironic."

From DashHouse:
(Leonard) Sweet became a popular Church Historian/Futurist in the early days of the Emergent/Emerging Church and, in many ways, encouraged the “Emergent Turn.”

Recently, it should be noted here that Sweet offered the criticism that the “turn” may have gone too far with Emergent. So far, he asserts—rather than reach back into 2000 years of Church history, Emergent stopped at the “liberal turn” wherein the Gospel became all social and no gospel. Sweet emailed me:

"The emerging church has become another form of social gospel. And the problem with every social gospel is that it becomes all social and no gospel. All social justice and no social gospel. It is embarrassing that evangelicals have discovered and embraced liberation theology after it destroyed the main line, old line, side line, off line, flat line church."
People have been tossing around the "liberal label" in the direction of Emergent™ ever since critics first heard the word "postmodern". And as many charismatics attempt to shush their critics with bumper-sticker jargon like "you're too religious", the standard reply to the liberal label has been a similar "shut up" line, usually to the effect of "you're still trapped in modernism".

(Iron - E. Get it?)

It's been intriguing to see people who were "big names" in the emerging conversation ten years ago now applying the assessment of Emergent™ just being good, old-fashioned theologically liberal. Mark Driscoll's bizarre form of zealotry (linking pastoral adultery to fat lazy pastor's wives, and declaring that stay-at-home dads should be brought under church discipline) made it fairly easy to write off his comments about Emergent™=Liberal, but Len Sweet is a different matter.

Just suppose, for a second, that they're all correct; that Emergent™ is just Liberalism with a new marketing campaign. Theological Liberalism came out of the "higher criticism" of theologians in the late 1800's, and really came into its hey-day during the early part of the 20th century. The whole controversy between theological liberals and the early "fundamentalists" was one of the big dividing lines in the church of the first half of the 20th century.

So, where's the irony, you say? It's simply this:

IF liberal theology is one of the last theological developments of modernity, and

IF Emergent™ really is the new face of theological liberalism,

THEN Emergent™ itself is trapped in modernity.

Davey Jones' Locker may or may not apply, but if Emergent™ is actually stuck in modernity, then I'd have to agree with Ragetti: "That's what you'd call ironic."


  1. Interesting thoughts there Robby. I tend to look at Brian Mclaren and co and get the feeling they have seen some problems and over corrected.

    A bit like a car that starts to swerve dangerously to the right, rather than simply straighten the wheel, the 'Emergent Village' group seem to have grabbed the wheel and wrenched it right over to the left...

    I don't know, I always find the best place to be is to be considered too liberal by the conservatives and too conservative by the liberals!

  2. Well said. I don't know enough about it to comment on whether or not Emergent(TM) has embraced theological liberalism. But I've been appreciating NT Wright's discussion on these two extremes (modernist liberalism and fundamentalist conservatism) in terms of how we understand our mission and responsibility as the church in "Surprised by Hope." Been thinking a lot about these things lately, and found this post to be relevant to those ponderings. Thanks!

  3. very interesting post. it's worth noting also that in early evangelicalism there was a much greater focus on social and justice issues: the various great awakenings for example had a tremendous impact on society.

    evangelicalism in the last century or so seems to have narrowed the gospel focus down to simply 'getting people to say the sinner's prayer' and perhaps that's what mclaren and co. are reacting against.

    i agree with nick, it's having the right balance which is the trick here.

  4. I still find it somewhat bemusing/amusing (and above all, ironic) that for all the talk of "getting beyond labels of who's in and who's out", that anyone who questions the predominant views seen within Emergent™ (McLaren, Jones, Pagitt et al.) immediately gets labeled with "still stuck in modernity" which means you're "out". :)