As many of you know I try to stay abreast of the Emergent(ing) church literature, and I’m particularly interested because it is both a real divorce from traditional Protestantism and also a natural and unsurprising outgrowth of traditional Protestantism. I’m been paying particular attention to Vintage Church author Mark Driscoll’s heated disagreement with the authors Pagan Christianity.
The issues brought up by McLaren and Co. require a response, even if, like me, one responds by making them irrelevant. That is to say that I became Orthodox and the new vision of “what the Gospel means to us today”, “organic” Christianity, and “rediscovering” the historic Church was replaced by something solid and formative, rather than something McLaren and/or I form.
Something similar is said by Fr. Gregory Jenson on the AOI blog. It’s self-admittedly strongly worded, but I think he’s getting at something.
McLaren is not presenting us with a new kind of Christianity but simply a re-working of Evangelical Christianity. While he claims his work is post-modern, it isn’t. For that we should look to the works of John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and David Bentley Hart. Read these theologians and the intellectual and spiritual poverty of McLaren’s work and the emegent church movement is clear.
Whatever good points there might be in his re-working, in the end McLaren’s “new kind of Christianity” demonstrates the inherent and internal theological and spiritual weakness of the Reformation in general and of Evangelical Christianity in particular. That weakness is the weakness of a merely partial faith, a faith that is not orthodox (or Orthodox) because it is not catholic (or Catholic) and not catholic (or Catholic) because it is nor orthodox (or Orthodox).
While I respect Milbank and Hart, I don’t believe that they are the best to contrast against McLaren. Certainly one could say the same about Luther, Calvin, Newman, and Chesterton. One could say the same about Ben Witherington or Pope Benedict. I’m tempted to say the same about Tim Keller. The contrast here is between the Church and McLaren’s vision of the Church.
Viewed in this light, the debate about McLaren, the emergent church movement and a “new kind of Christianity” is the theological equivalent of intramural flag football. You got a lot of guys on the field but none of them are particularly fit or skilled. And certainly none of them play at a professional level.
To push the analogy just one more step, the professional level that McLaren and his critics merely imitate, is the catholic tradition of theological orthodoxy of the Church Fathers and the sacramental, liturgical and ascetical practice of the historic Christian Church. Whatever our differences, this tradition is to be found in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.