The third chapter of Why We’re Not Emergent is titled Bible: Why I Love the Person and Propositions of Jesus. This chapter is a sturdy critique of the postmodern hermeneutic employed and celebrated by Emergent aficionados such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt. These four men, and their many followers, have discarded traditional terms, such as: authority, infallibility, inerrancy, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal. Also discarded, along with the terms themselves, is the rich and historic theology towards which the terms point. The author of chapter three also cites the fact that postmodern emergent types also “bemoan the fact that evangelicals, as they see it, employ the Bible as an answer book, scouring it like a phone book or encyclopedia or legal constitution for rules, regulations, and timeless truths” (70). This is an interesting chapter, indeed.
The Bible: It’s More than a Book; It’s Testimony!
A quick trip through the pomo wing of the blogosphere will reveal much as concerns the emergent understanding and approach to the Bible. The Bible, in this sphere, is unarguably loved. It is a very important aspect of the emergent expression, without doubt. No one can say that emergents don’t appreciate the Bible, but no one can say it is their authority either. Therein lies a very formidable problem for the pomo Christian, and it, ironically has everything to do with story.
Why is it - the problem - ironic? Well, simply, because the very thing pointed to as priority by so many emergents - narrative/story - is compromised beyond recognition by a low view of the Bible. A low view of the Bible compromises the contents in a way that ultimately renders the content itself less important than the content of real-time experience. Real time experience estranged from the content - the story - has no authority or foundation what-so-ever. The result is similar to that of religious liberals and/or religious humanists/secularists. “Christianity” is not Christianity at all, but a secularized and Western expression of spiritual philosophy decorated with choice Christian vocabulary recklessly ripped from its original context and appropriated at will. It almost looks like the real thing, but unfortunately it is nothing more than a thin, secular philosophy expressed with meaningless Christian terms. Meanwhile, emergents proclaim a high appreciation for narrative or story. Really?
It is quite a conundrum, isn’t it? On one hand, pomos proclaim the Bible to be less than reliable; on the other hand, they celebrate “the story” as the ultimate point. There are so many questions! Where do pomos source this story? What authority do they claim in its telling? If there is no authority backing their story, beyond their own experience, then why should anyone listen to them (and they DO want us to listen to them, if the amount of books published and conferences held are any indication!)? What do their appropriated Christian terms point towards? Is there meaning in the terms used? Is there a Christianity apart from the Biblical narrative? If not, then why would anyone in their right mind willingly devalue the Bible as the source? There are many, many questions.
Perhaps if emergents were not so preoccupied with the answers that evangelicals claim to find in the Bible they might see that their own hermeneutic is loaded down by questions of its own. It is far easier to point to the answers of another, than to admit you have questions of your own and actually answer them.
The problems inherent to a postmodern hermeneutic should not be a great surprise to anyone! After all, these very serious questions are raised by the same group who claims that God is virtually unknowable, except when the conversation involves pet topics, such as: Salvation, Biblical Womanhood, Ecclessiology, Sin, and Mark Driscoll. Emergents hear God’s voice as clear as diamond on these issues. Interesting, no?
The foundation of the story of the Christian God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus of Nazareth - is the Bible. If the Bible did not exist, there would be no foundation. Are there evangelicals who love the Bible more than God? Sure! But that is an indictment of those evangelicals, not the Bible. The Bible is authoritative, infallible, inerrant, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal. Do these terms relieve us of the hard work and responsibility of proper interpretation and real-time application. No! It means we have to approach this book with honest humility and prayerful dedication. The revelation of God requires as much from each one of us. Our very lives are founded upon its propositional truths.
Anything else is not Christian, period. It can’t be, not without a source. It might be humanism, but it isn’t Christian, not without the testimony that is the Bible.
Propositional Truth: Jesus is Covenant
The author also addresses the seeming allergic reaction emergents have with propositional truths. “A proposition is simply a statement that can be either true or false” (73). Jesus said many, many things that could be called propositional. The author cites three: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins (John 8:24); If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7); But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:13).” The postmodern hermeneutic, however, denies or makes light of the very idea of propositional truth, and thus equips the pomo with the ability to simply pick and choose whatever he/she wishes from the Bible. The resultant Jesus usually looks an awful lot like the one cutting and pasting, and usually has little - if anything - to do with “covenant.” This is a damning problem. The whole idea of covenant, after all, has everything to do with propositional truth. A Christianity - or Jesus - separated from covenant is nothing more than Western self-help philosophy, rehashed neo-orthodoxy, or spiritual humanism; it is not the living faith rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Emergents also seem to be willing to limit their disdain for propositional truths to their Bible reading alone. Said differently, while they refuse to believe that the Judeo-Christian tradition is laden with propositional truth, they actually live, work, and play in propositional truth daily. Is there an emergent aficionado who does not encounter and actually embrace propositional truth in the context of family (child raising), work, recreation, etc. Seriously, can one raise a child, for example, without the use of propositional truth? Seriously, if you can, please stand up! If you can’t, then have a seat, and ask yourself why you want to limit your obviously limited views concerning propositional truth to the Bible alone? Why?
The Bible is Story, Testimony, and The Inspired, Inerrant, Dependable Word of God
There is a fine line between the Judeo-Christian faith tradition and the spiritual sounding humanism and Western social liberalism that is passed off as faith today. The difference between the two is made clear by the Bible and the views espoused regarding the Bible. The Bible is the very context within which the Christian story/testimony AND the dramatic dogma and propositional truth lives. A faith removed from this context may be secular, humanistic, or whatever, but it is not Judeo-Christian. The simple art of appropriating Judeo-Christian vocabulary and/or symbolism, and fixing them to an expression admittedly lacking authority, does not make one a reformer. It makes one lost.
The Bible is the final and inspired and inerrant authority for all matters of Christian faith and practice. It’s a story and it’s propositional. It is testimony and it is dogma. It’s all of it, and that’s what makes the Bible incredible and life changing. Emergents, much like the moderns they decry, have amazing difficulty reading the Bible in its entirety; they seem to be only capable of reading half of it.
The author makes a great point concerning this, with which this article will conclude. He writes, “I’m convinced that a major problem with the emerging church is that they refuse to have their cake and eat it too. The whole movement seems to be built on reductionistic, even modernistic, either-or categories. They pit information versus transformation, believing versus belonging, and propositions about Christ versus the person of Christ. The emerging church will be a helpful corrective against real, and sometimes perceived, abuses in evangelicalism when they discover the genius of the ‘and,’ and stop forcing us to accept half-truths” (75).
Work Cited: DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008.