Are you emergent?
Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck should be. They fit the demographic as white, suburban, 30-something and college-educated guys and they appreciate the critiques of traditional evangelical churches. But they're not emergent.
Both grew up in Christian homes, graduated from Christian colleges, and have attended church regularly in conservative Christian areas. For young persons like them who've been in a Christian bubble their entire lives, the rebellion of the emergent church is "attractive," said Kluck, co-author of Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be).
Kluck attends University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., with some 400 people. His pastor is DeYoung, who co-authored the book with Kluck and who also thinks he should be "decrying the evangelical 'bubble'" and joining his peers in reimagining church for his generation.
"I should have rebelled against my family upbringing, finding it, in hindsight, stilted, stoic, and staid. I should have, like so many of those in the emerging church, chaffed against my evangelical past and charted a more emerging future," DeYoung wrote in Why We're Not Emergent, one of a few books, they say, that cautions against the emergent church. "But I haven't."
Ater finding the University Reformed congregation dabbling with some emergent literature several years ago, DeYoung and Kluck also picked up the books that were written by such popular emergent leaders as Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. They agreed with the critiques of the evangelical church but the accordance stopped there.
"I think when I was reading a lot of these emergent texts, I felt they're right – the evangelical church doesn't seem to care about the poor, doesn't seem to care about social justice. A lot of what they wrote in those areas really resonated with me," Kluck told The Christian Post.
He even experimented with starting an emerging church, but found himself itching for fellowship with believers who didn't all look and talk like him, a pastor who could help him articulate what he believes, and biblical teaching that involves Jesus Christ paying for the sins of the world. So he abandoned the "evangelical cheesiness" rebellion phase.
He realized he wasn't "looking for the guys with the biggest projection screens, the coolest 'gathering place,' or the best film discussions."
"I was looking for a theology and a body that I could give my life to and entrust with my children," Kluck wrote in the book. "The reason I love Christianity and the Bible is that I think they are really the only things in this world that don't need to be periodically 'repainted' or reframed."
There isn't a clear definition of the term "emergent" or "emerging," the authors acknowledge, and they realize that within the emergent Christian movement there are diverse styles and theology. But their critique throughout the book, which was released in April, targets the broad emerging movement in which those who advocate "doing church differently" preach ambiguously on key issues and what seems to be a different kind of Gospel message.
"Now I understand that people can be confused and we all have issues that we don't quite undersatnd but these are some pretty key issues (such as the uniqueness of Christ) and if you're key leaders and teachers, whether that's what you want to call yourself or not, it seems to me that it would be wise and helpful for the church to speak with more clarity on some of these issues," said DeYoung, who admits to not being a professional scholar.
Kluck is no scholar himself. "I really feel like I was probably the last guy who would ever write a book like this," he said. But after reading various emergent literature, he said "a number of theological red flags became apparent even to a guy like myself with no theological training."
One of the major red flags DeYoung points out is the emergent view of the Gospel. More and more emergent books are not placing the substitutionary atonement for everyone's sins at the center of the Gospel message, he said.
"So the Gospel becomes this message about a broken world and Jesus as the great example, he died on the cross as an example of suffering for what he believed in and showing how to overcome evil in our own life and evil in the world. Here's an invitation to follow Jesus and bring about this new world and this shalom," DeYoung said. "That sounds like a great message but it's missing the offense of the cross, it's missing the fact that we can't obey God's commands, we need a savior, substitute for our sins."
"So I see an emergent Gospel that is more law than Gospel. It's more imperative about what we need to do and not, first of all, indicative statements of what God has done for us," the URC pastor stressed.
Emergent Christians have also adopted the postmodern view of knowledge that God is so beyond human comprehension and so infinite that it is heretical to describe Him in human language, DeYoung noted.
Although it's a humble attitude, DeYoung argues that such a view "undercuts God's ability to reveal Himself in the Scriptures."
"He is always a god who wants to speak to us, who wants to reveal Himself to us," he said, while acknowledging that humans cannot understand God exhaustively. "He has explained to us in the Scripture, through Jesus Christ, what He's like and we can know it."
The authors stress several times in the book that they wanted to critique the emergent church not in a mean-spirited argument but as Christians writing about Christians. Their disagreements are strong, but not bitter, they insist.
"There's something unique about Christians critiquing or challenging other Christians," Kluck commented. "There's definitely biblical precedent for that but I think it needs to be done in a humble and loving way. That was our goal. We probably failed at times but that was definitely what we shot for."
Kluck and Deyoung have not chosen to take the well-traveled emergent road and their current church in East Lansing seems pretty bland, has bad coffee and is full of people with "boring testimonies," they said. But they love it.
Note: The terms "emerging" and "emergent" were used interchangeably in the article as was done in the book.