16 timely quotes from Why We’re Not Emergent

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At the beginning of the year, I started what I called the re-reading project, an attempt to diversify my reading a bit in 2014 by re-reading one previously enjoyed book each month.

A few weeks back, I decided to take a trip back in time to 2008, to the days when men’s capris were (strangely) in fashion, and Rob Bell was still considered a Christian by the average evangelical. The purpose of this trip? To re-read Why We’re Not Emergent by then unknown authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why re-read a book tied to a movement most consider dead and buried? Even though the movement itself might be dead, the emergent mystique is alive and well, even if everyone eschews the term “emergent” (it is so early 2000s, after all…). The biggest difference is that the lines are clearer: today’s “progressives” are yesterday’s “emergents,” but more willing to be forthright about most of their beliefs. (And many of yesterday’s emergents have felt the freedom to start doing the same.)

But the same intellectual snobbery and cynical questioning remain—even as those who portray themselves as outside the cultural mainstream find themselves marching lockstep right along with the world. To these attitudes, Why We’re Not Emergent still has so much to say to us. Here are sixteen timely quotes that still offer necessary challenge to the thinking of progressives and conservatives alike:

  1. “It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity.” (37-38)
  2. “Arguing for the inherent uncertainty of knowledge causes problems when you write books trying to convince people to believe or behave in certain ways. That is to say, radical uncertainty sounds nice as a sort of protest against the perceived dogmatism of evangelical Christianity, but it gets in the way when you want to prove a point.” (41)
  3. “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to be there are several emergent Christians who honor the Bible less than Christ did.” (81)
  4. “Doctrine was to die for because it was the heartbeat of Paul’s saving message about saving historical facts.” (113)
  5. “The problem lies not in emerging Christian seeking the truth, but in their refusal to find and call out falsehood.” (119)
  6. “God is greater than we can conceive—but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand?” (123-124)
  7. “I would rather take a beating than argue (dialogue) on message boards all day, where people are brave and full of convictions without actually being brave and full of convictions.” (138)
  8. “Is the best corrective to domineering CEO pastors really bewildered Dorothy leaders? How about shepherd or teacher or overseer or herald?” (160)
  9. “At times I feel as if the emergent church is like that friend who goes off to college as an eighteen-year-old, and for the first year or so when he comes home feels like he has to quote Nietzsche just to impress you with his newfound intellect.” (172)
  10. “If my mother-in-law’s suburban crowd…is on board, then it [the emergent movement] is as mainstream as mainstream can be.” (177)
  11. “Too often emergent leaders force us to choose between salvation by following Jesus’ example or salvation that doesn’t care about good works. But this is another false dilemma.” (203)
  12. “Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t fill me with hope or warm feelings to hear my pastor…suggest that he may be, and probably is, wrong about all of this.… I want to believe, and do believe, that people can known things and still be humble.” (228)
  13. “…I’m really glad that we have a pastor who, instead of being ‘with it,’ is committed to being with God.” (235)
  14. “Doctrinally minded evangelical Christians like me would get more out of emergent critiques if they recognized that there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras in North America and the United Kingdom as there are loveless Ephesuses.” (241)
  15. “We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother’s sins instead of pointing our lights out into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished.” (244)
  16. “A therapist-Christ does not evoke an ardency of soul that wishes to be annihilated, emptied of self and filled with Christ and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity. We need a Christ from above.” (250)

The movement might be dead, but the mood isn’t. And although some of the examples might be a bit dated, Why We’re Not Emergent  is still a helpful corrective.

Where the Sermon on the Mount leads

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Strange indeed is the complacency with which modern men can say that the Golden Rule and the high ethical principles of Jesus are all that they need. In reality, if the requirements for entrance into the Kingdom of God are what Jesus declares them to be, we are all undone; we have not even attained to the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and how shall we attain to that righteousness of the heart which Jesus demands? The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross.

J.Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism | Image source: Lightstock

Book Review: GUILTY

Guilty by Ann Coulter

Title: Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America
Author: Ann Coulter
Publisher: Crown Focus (2009)

Not Recommended: A smug, self-righteous take on the problem of the “liberal media” that lacks any mercy or understanding of grace.

Before I’d read Guilty, I had sort of a vague, nebulous idea of who Ann Coulter, pop-politic icon, was. I knew she was blonde, skinny, angry, and right wing, often used as a reference point for a contentious personality; “so-n-so makes Ann Coulter look like a peacenick-hippy”, for example. So I took Guilty out of the library to see if she was actually as nasty as is generally accepted.

The short answer is yes, she is.

But this wouldn’t be much of a book review if I ended there, would it?

The book is organized in the basic essay format, which is known as an idea sandwich:

  • assert thesis
  • assert some proofs that will be unpacked in text
  • proof #1
  • proof #2
  • proof #3
  • repeat thesis, citing proofs again, and close.

Her main points are as follows: liberals are noisy and use people to further the liberal agenda, single mothers are the worst people in the world, the “Republican Attack Machine” is a Democrat myth, Obama hangs out with terrorists, Democrats have a double standard concerning ethics, and liberals control most of the media. So as you can see, she’s got a lot of ground to cover. And cover it she does, citing example after example after example after example. In fact, there are so many citations that almost the last 1/4 of the book is bibliography and index. Peppered throughout the book are minor insults, witty remarks, and sarcastic rhetorical questions, which make the book more fun to read than it would have been otherwise.

I was impressed by how Ann was able to maintain such frothy anger page after page. I think if I was that angry for that long, I’d have a heart attack. But for all that rage and fact-touting conviction, I didn’t find her book, well, convincing.

For one, Ann seems to be a person completely without mercy or an understanding of grace. Given her position in political pundit-land, perhaps she has to be. I thought devoting an entire chapter to how single mothers are destroying America was over the top. Yes, studies do show that children fare better in a 2 parent household; as a parent in a 2-parent household, I see this is true. But I also understand that junk happens. People aren’t perfect, and they wouldn’t be perfect if everyone lived in a 2-parent home either.

There are subjects in the book that go on, and on, and on. I skimmed through a few portions because I’d gotten the point already; “OBAMA IS HORRIBLE! I WILL NOW CITE 38 DOCUMENTS TO PROVE IT!” or “BILL CLINTON IS A PERVERT! I WILL NOW CITE 67 DOCUMENTS TO PROVE IT!” or even “SARAH PALIN WAS MALIGNED IN THE MEDIA! I WILL NOW…” well, you get the idea.

Another thing that I’m still trying to figure out is whether Ann Coulter is actually FOR REAL. She just goes so far beyond what’s normal in vitriol that I can’t tell whether she’s playing a character, kind of like when William Shatner plays himself in the Priceline.com commercials. I almost want that to be true, because it’s nice to imagine her coming home after a long day of calling people idiots on TV, greeting a golden retriever at the door and then walking in her english garden while drinking a chamomile tea. This is more appealing than imagining her greeting a pet scorpion and eating broken glass while shooting targets in the backyard, which is kind of what her public persona would suggest.

Finally, Guilty did not win me over. I didn’t finish the book and decide my liberal friends are monsters, and although I do consider myself a conservative on many issues, I would hope that I never express my opinions with the kind of loveless, smug, self-righteous tone that Ann Coulter does.