Emergent Scylla, Reformed Charybdis

Let's use sea monsters to explain everything!

There’s a weird parallel between the Emergent church and the New Reformed strains of Western Protestantism. As much as the Emergents often have problems with the Calvinist view of any number of things from the serious (the atonement) to the banal (Driscoll pretending he’s an Ultimate Fighter), there’s an even greater contempt on the part of many super-duper Reformed bloggers for the Emergents whom they regard as grad-school layabouts or something like that.

I know people who I’d place in both camps, so I get to see how this online posturing is either rejected by those who can see past their own theological commitments or condensed into talking points by those who need to take these things. Really. Seriously.

What is interesting is that I can see the undoing of both of these movements now quite easily. The challenge of the Emergent church was always that of whether it could maintain a coherent identity amidst a cacophony of different voices and in the absence of a strong sense of who or what could be called emergent. Actually I think for some it was more the issue of whether such a goal was even desirable – should there be a definable emergent church at all? Should it look the same in every place – I know that at least a few emergent leaders say “no” to that quite vigorously. What you have is a loose aggregation of blogs, a few personalities, and a lot of love for continental philosophy.

The brand-new Reformed types on the other hand don’t have this problem – they know exactly what they believe and why you are a heretic if you don’t believe the exact same things in the exact same ways. It’s remarkable how quickly so many Reformed bloggers drew their knives on John Piper for asking Rick Warren to speak at one conference. There was a palpable fear that Warren would shoot purpose-driven lasers out of his eyes that would make the Reformed faithful forget about John Calvin in favour of growing goatees and buying lots of Hawaiian shirts. I know that some will get upset about this remark because I’m being glib and trivializing – but then these are probably the same people who think that the glib, trivializing sentiments of the Pyros or Ted Kluck are totally true revelations about the evils of Emergent, but I digress. The point is that if even Piper can run afoul of the Reformed blogosphere, I can now see that it will fall apart for the opposite reasons that Emergent seems to have dissipated. If many cannot even cut Piper some slack on this, then what we have here is a movement that will absolutely self-destruct in the name of doctrinal purity. If the Correct Answerâ„¢ is not given every time, then apparently no grace is to be shown. It doesn’t take much to see where this is going to go.