The Reformed and Emergents

I am fairly Reformed in my theology, and some of my closest friends are Reformed. I have many Reformed friends who give me hope (hello, Ken Davis; hello Bryan), and scholars like Michael Horton and Stan Fowler (theology professor at Heritage) represent what is best in Reformed life and theology. But I have to admit that it is sometimes tough to be Reformed, because we are known as a prickly bunch who don’t engage well with those who believe differently than us.

For some years, I have been on a search for exceptions. I don’t see why you can’t be Reformed in theology, yet also gracious and fair in how you interact with others.

I’ve especially been looking for this type of engagement between the Reformed movement and Emergents. For one thing, I think the two have much in common. Both are concerned with how the Gospel has been compromised, and both have an impulse to think at the theological, not pragmatic, level. Both are similar in their diagnosis, and I had hoped to see some constructive dialogue about the prescription. But that discussion on the prescription is often derailed by misunderstanding and a lack of agreement on assumptions (example: the role of Scripture).

And it’s not all the Reformed people’s fault either. Some Emergents have learned to duck or raise fists when they see a Reformed guy coming. Maybe they’re just coming to shake our hands and we should extend a hand of greeting instead of raising our fists. (Until they throw the first punch, of course!)

I actually think the two groups have a lot to learn from each other. People keep telling me I’m blowing smoke, but I keep hoping. A few encouraging signs:

  • Tim Challies has a strongly worded post today on his experience with McLaren on Saturday night. Tim has put some good issues on the table, and he’s also clarified a statement that (in my opinion) went too far. I like Tim and I think he’s surfaced some important issues. People like him could be a fair and reasonable voice on the Reformed side.
  • Paul Martin presented a good paper on the Emerging Church today, and he’s going to start blogging it here. Paul went out of his way to be fair and wants to avoid painting a caricature. (I even got my name mentioned in the paper. Wow, I’m famous!) As Paul blogs sections of the paper, I think we could have a productive discussion.
  • Nathan, one of the organizers of the Evolving Church conference, attended the meeting with Paul Martin today, and he is willing to engage and listen and learn.
  • There are a few of us who appreciate Carla at EmergentNo even though we often disagree on the issues. I’ve seen her work to be fair. You have to respect that, even if you disagree with her. I love that people like Andrew Jones treat her like a sister and listen to her, believing she will say things we need to hear.
  • There are people like Tim Keller at Redeemer around who are Reformed and able to speak into the Emerging conversation very well.

I don’t know why we have to choose to be Emergent or Reformed at all. In fact, I don’t understand why we’re being called to make any number of choices: proposition or narrative, Gospel or social justice, red letters or black letters. Why must I choose one and not the other? Can’t you, for instance, believe that the Bible is narrative but it still contains ideas that look a lot like propositions?

At the end of today’s meeting, the host reminded us to not lose sight of Christ. Maybe that is simplistic, but at the end of the day, that’s much more important than labels or movements.

You never know. I keep hoping the Reformed and Emergents will stop talking past one another. It could happen. I pray so.

Update: Andrew Jones has some thoughts here and here.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada