Sometimes listening in to others’ conversation is unavoidable – like when you are standing between two aquaintances at the Kroger’s check out line. But sometimes eavesdropping is highly informative – especially when a conversation is in print.
Such an informative, though seemingly improbable, dialogue has been taking place at Christianity Today. Tony Jones, of Emergent Village, and Collin Hansen, of Christianity Today, have been engaging one another about each other’s books, and about the movements they represent: Emergent vs. Young Reformed.
I am familar with Hansen from his work with Christianity Today. A few years ago I read with great interest his piece, Young, Restless & Reformed. I was excited to have confirmed what I had been seeing with my eyes – that many, many young adults are hungering to know God, and have found, as I have, the best expressions of theology flow from the hearts and pens of both old and contemporary Calvinistic authors. Hansen’s article has now blossomed into a book (that I have yet to read).
I am also somewhat familiar with Jones. He is one of the leading voices of the Emergent movement that is seeming to polarize Evangelicalism. But while I was familiar with Jones, quite honestly I’ve read only a little of his writing. I have read much more of other Emergent leaders. But I had recently listened to an interview Jones did on Steve Brown, etc., and came away impressed with his heart and conviction – though still not with all his theological premises.
So it was with that familiarity that I read the 5-Day discussion: Emergent’s New Christians & Young, Restless, Reformed.
I found the discussion refreshing. It is not just that both articulate varient positons well. Having read at least some works by both I expected that. It is more the tone. They are both open, honest, and seeking to understand as much as to be understood. It is the mutually expressed desire for agreement – even though they both know they differ from one another, in some respects even significantly. I think this is a great example to many of us. It is a good expression of what Francis Schaeffer writes about in The Mark of the Chirstian. But sadly it is not common enough.
I have been interested in the Emergent movement for several years. Like many others I have some significant concerns with some of the things associated with this movement. Unlike many of my Reformed friends, however, I have been far less critical. For one reason, it seems to me that it is very difficult to lump all things Emergent under one umbrella. Emergents appear almost as diverse as the broad category of Protestant. (Scot McKnight seems to concur. See: Five Streams of the Emerging Church.) A second reason is that some, maybe even many, associated with the Emergents have offered some profoundly important insights that the rest of us would do well to consider. And finally I have tried to be patient because this movement is still in it’s infancy. As the movement matures I assume so will some of their positions. Frankly, I would not want to be judged today on the basis of things I said when I was seven years old; or twelve; or eighteen; or even thirty five! I have to take the immaturity of the movement into consideration whenever I hear or read things that appear off base.
Still, I do have my concerns. The analysis of D.A. Carson, or Mark Dever, or McKnight have real merit.
But I wonder if something might be happening. In fact, I suspect it is. And this discussion fuels my specualtion. I wonder if some of the Emergents, in their hunger for authentic experience of Christianity, might begin to see and embrace the truths of historic theology, perhaps particularly those expressed by the Puritans. While they gets bad PR, Puritan theology was & is radical, profoundly deep, and highly experiential. Those seem to be among the traits that the most sincere of the Emergents are seeking.
The various streams within the Emergent movement will no doubt take some proponents in differing directions as the movement develops. We won’t know where until the Emergent movement grows up. But I hope Jones’ and Hansen’s discussion may be a beginning of something BIG. I for one am hoping we may be seeing the beginnings of a river of neo-Puritanism.