Today I’m pleased share a small book I published a few months ago that I never got around to announcing. It’s called Reimagining the Christian Faith: Exploring the Emergent Theology of Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Samir Selmanovic, and Brian McLaren. It’s available as an ebook and in print.
The book is a collection of essays I wrote for my Master of Theology program examining the theology of some of the most prominent theological voices in the Emergent Church Movement. While the movement itself has fizzed and faded over the past few years, the ideas have not, which makes this book as relevant as ever. I am passionate about helping a new generation
Below I’ve included the introduction to the book to help you understand why I’ve released this book, my passion for helping a new generation rediscover the historic Christian faith, and how the book itself will help you better understand how the theology of Emergent (and other contemporary liberal versions) defies that faith. I hope this resource will help you better understand the theology of the Emerging Church movement, as well as equip your to respond to it.
The ebook is available for NOOK, Kindle, and Kobo for a mere $2.99. If you prefer a print edition you can nab the 130 pager for only $5.95.For Kindle For NOOK For Kobo Print Book
I remember the exact date when my journey toward taking Emergent theology to task began: August 2, 2008. It was the day my church hosted the Church Basement Roadshow, an innovative book tour featuring Emergent megastars Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Mark Scandrette. Each of them released a new book that year that was instrumental in the ongoing Emergent effort to reimagine the Christian faith.
Because I was still thoroughly immersed in and connected to the Emergent Church movement, I jumped at the chance to host these Emergent heavyweights in my hometown and my church. I was so dedicated that I even donned red long johns—which I later found out to be pear-shaped Victoria’s Secret lingerie—and a top-hat to play my part as the country bumpkin emcee.
Tony, Doug, and Mark didn’t disappoint with a rousing performance of angsty post-evangelical faith-deconstruction ensconced in the garb of Grand Ole Opry showmanship. While most of my parishioners weren’t in on the joke, there was a large contingent of post-everything Christians from the Grand Rapids area who positively lapped up their performance. Including a young high school graduate from my church who had been struggling with his faith.
I clearly remember the moment when I began moving toward taking Emergent theology to task, because I remember the moment when I saw this young high school graduate from my church walking around with a copy of Doug’s new book, A Christianity Worth Believing, in tote.
You see, that summer I had read Doug’s book and had begun to see some warning signs that things were not quite right with his theological enterprise. There was a time I would have applauded his efforts at reimagining the Christian faith, and the fruit of that reimagination. But after a year of seminary I began to see cracks in the facade of Emergent’s new kind of Christianity. I began to became increasingly uncomfortable with not only the deconstruction efforts of Emergent, but also their re-construction efforts. While that discomfort had not fully blossomed, it was there and I began to see the danger signs.
After reading Doug’s book, I began to see the dangers the book and its theology posed. Yet, I invited Doug, Tony, and Mark, anyway. I hosted them and promoted them. And for selfish reasons: I wanted to be known as the guy who brought these three national authors and leaders to West Michigan; and I wanted to be known by these Emergent leaders so that I could, in someway, become an Emergent insider.
Lame, I know. Self-serving, really.
When I saw this young guy toting around Doug’s book a tinge of regret washed over me—after I spent a graduate paper more closely examining Doug’s theology, that tinge turned into full-on regret. I never did get around to talking to this young high school graduate about Doug’s Christianity worth believing. After that experience, and subsequently examining Doug’s book through the lens of historical theology, I began a journey toward taking the theology of the Emergent Church movement to task.
I also vowed I would never again trade my pastoral responsibility for stewarding theological truth for personal ambition or gain. Perhaps the past three years of writing in response to the Emergent Church has been a subconscious form of recompense for that August 2 moment—a sort of punishment-by-keyboard. Regardless, since that moment I have spent much of my academic career more closely examining the theology at root to the Emergent Church movement, the fruits of which are presented in this short book in a series of three essays, culled from my Master of Theology (ThM) program in historical theology.
The first essay came directly out of my August 2 experience. For a few years I had heard the charge that Doug Pagitt was a Pelagian, which was a not-so-subtle way of saying he was a heretic (Pelagianism is the heresy of Pelagius, a 5th century Church thinker condemned a heretic by the early church.) After reading his book I had a sense something was theologically off, and I wanted to see if Pagitt really was a Pelagian. So I spent a semester reading all of Pelagius’ known letters and comparing his thoughts with Pagitt’s. The result was an academic treatment of one of the Emergent Church’s most vocal theological voices. That’s the first essay, titled “Pagitt and Pelagius.”
The second essay, “Rollins, Selmanovic, and Barth,” came from a summer studying Karl Barth, the famous Swiss theologian often cited as a friend of Emergent. After reading four volumes of his massive Church Dogmatics I was struck by how little Barth actually has in common theologically with the Emergent Church. In fact, Barth would vociferously oppose much, if not most, Emergent theology for the same reasons he opposed liberal theology, particularly around the key doctrine of revelation. In this essay I revisited Emergent darling Peter Rollins and his book How (Not) To Speak of God, a pivotal book for my own Emergent predilections back in the day. After reading Barth I saw some problems with Rollins’ hyper-transcendent view of God, and so I used Barth as a theological dialogue partner to respond to his views which seem to deny an actual revelation from God to humanity.
From there, I took a second prominent voice to task for his views of God’s revelation outside of Jesus Christ: Samir Selmanovic. As the director of a prominent interfaith organization, Selmanovic is on the leading edges of the pluralism conversation within the Emergent Church. His views do not disappoint that leadership as he strongly suggests God’s revelation isn’t solely contained to Jesus Christ alone. Again, Barth has something to say about that, and I let him in theological dialogue with Selmanovic.
The final essay is reserved for the most prominent voice within Emergent, the so-called “grandfather”—or maybe it’s “godfather”—of the Emergent Church movement: Brian McLaren. Love him or hate him, he is undeniably the most shaping voice in this movement, in many ways giving rise to it through his famous New Kind of Christian trilogy. For years, charges of theological liberalism were met with “he’s just asking questions” dismissals. That changed in 2010, however, with the publication of A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren’s theological opus that put to rest any questions that he and his friends were indeed reimagining the Christian faith.
But this reimagining effort wasn’t in a way that was actually new and different. It was new and different to theologically ignorant evangelicals whom this reimagining enterprise was largely directed. McLaren’s kind of Christianity is a very old kind of Christianity. About 200 years old, actually. His kind of Christianity is simply liberal Christianity repackaged for a new day.
Because I had heard for years the charge of liberalism leveled against McLaren, I wanted to see for myself if it was true, if he really was just a new kind of theological liberal. So one semester, during my course on the Modern Church in my Master of Theology program, I read every English translation from one of the most prominent voices in historical theological liberalism: Albrect Ritschl. In this final essay, “McLaren and Ritschl,” I show how McLaren follows footprint for footprint the path Ritschl tread long ago. How McLaren frames our problem, our solution, and the bearer of our solution are the ways in which liberalism has framed them for four generations. His is indeed an old kind of Christianity. (I should note that some of the content from McLaren’s essay was revised and extended for a bigger work on historical theological liberalism that was published in May 2012: my Master’s thesis, Reimagining the Kingdom: The Generational Development of Liberal Kingdom Grammar from Schleiermacher to McLaren.)
If I have learned anything in the last few years at the end of my ThM program it’s that theology matters. And when you get the pieces of theology wrong you ultimately get the gospel wrong. Of late, my generation is all a flutter with reimagining the Christian faith—reimagining the pieces of the Christian faith. I understand this pull toward reimagining the Christian faith, because I have been there myself. What my generation needs, however, isn’t to reimagine the Christian faith, but rediscover it. We need to rediscover what and how the Church of Jesus Christ has always believed about our problem, solution, and the One who bore that solution. We need to rediscover the gospel.
To be frank, that rediscovery effort is not going to come through the Emergent Church. As you will see through these short essays, it has become clear that their reimagination enterprise is simply one iteration in a long line of Protestant liberal leavers—Emergents have left the historic Christian faith in the same way liberals have every generation since Schleiermacher, yet in a way that’s palatable for our postmodern, post-Christian day. Which, for this post-Emergent who had high hopes of a genuine third way that cuts through the malaise of contemporary liberal-conservative theologic discourse, is sad indeed.
I hope this short book will help expose some of the major theological thinkers in the Emergent Church movement for what they are: Purveyors and peddlers of recycled foreign theology other-than the historic Christian faith for a new, postmodern day. And I hope it will inspire some in the Church to take theology seriously and rediscover what the Church has always believed.
(Copyright © 2012, Jeremy Bouma • From Reimagining the Christian Faith: Exploring the Emergent Theology of Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Samir Selmanovic, and Brian McLaren)