Driscoll’s piece in the Criswell Theological Review, “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church,” offers a nice little sketch of ministry in the modernist era, the transition to the postmodernist era, and then the postmodernist era. Then he uses Stetzer’s model of the relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists model for understanding essential orientations to ministry.
Driscoll’s concern is with the problem of doctrinal drift in the emerging (revisionist) movement, and he looks at eight issues: scripture, Jesus Christ, gender, sin, salvation, cross, hell, and authority. What he has to say about each is fair, so it seems to me, and I have my own concerns. I’m hearing more and more often that the emerging movement is just a bunch of evangelicals gone liberal, but creating a stir about it, and while I can understand why some say this, what I see is that emerging is post-liberal and post-evangelical because it is post-modern and post-foundational. There is a sense that our theology needs to recognize its conditions, what has given rise to its shape, and there is a sense that any strong theologies in the past also had that same condition shaping it. And that leads us to pause and wonder if we ought not to be a bit more careful about how we frame things, never losing our proper confidence in the reliability of God to speak to us through Jesus in our world today.
Others have said this, but it is probably worth saying again: the emerging movement is not a theological movement, it is heavy in theological discussion and stimulation, but it is not defined by a specific theology. It is a conversation, and one in which lots of folks are asking questions that shake and rattle some things many would prefer not to ask. Having said this, I still understand the problem for many: if you define yourself by your theology, or define your faith by your theology, then a movement that does not have a theology whereby it can be defined can be frustrating.
But, Driscoll knows more than even this: it is not just that the emerging movement is a conversation that bothers him, but his perception concerns the drift he is sensing. But, I see a problem here and it is one of perspective and point-of-view: Driscoll’s discussion is shaped to show where he sees the emerging folks drifting from where he is (not in a selfish, individual sense, but in a conservative Reformed sense). In other words, since he has been so involved, I’d like to see him “play this emerging theology out” — unfold where it has been, where it is, and where it is going theologically.
Here are his predictable words: “As a pastor I find the entire conversation encouraging, stimulating, and frightening.” And he fears a trip around the cul-de-sac of false doctrine that a previous generation spent their time running.
From his perspective, which is deep and now critical, Driscoll says this: “What started as a simple conversation nearly a decade ago by a handful of young pastors about how to do a hipper version of church has matured into a very serious conflict over what exactly it means to be a Christian.”
“The only hope is a return to the true gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture.” This is exactly the point. What is that gospel?
It surprises me that in an article that focuses on the need for a commitment to the gospel, and one in which Driscoll focuses on central theological issues, Driscoll has somehow managed to escape any discussion of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. In other words, I think the emerging movement wants to re-vise theology through the lens of kingdom of God, and it tends to accuse Reformed evangelicalism, like that of Driscoll and others, of shaping theology through Romans as read through the Reformers’ or post-Reforming Western evangelicalism’s soteriological eyes. So, I think he sees drift away from that, but is it a drift away from the centeredness on kingdom that the emerging movement wants at its center?
What if, the emerging leaders are asking, we begin with Jesus’ view of the kingdom and re-cast how we see Romans (a la Tom Wright), where then is our genuinely biblical and more historically-sensitive theology? What will it look like? I, for one, think this is worth the time it takes to work it out. I stand with Driscoll, though, that if that theology runs risks of leaving the path shaped by Christian orthodoxy (with the goodness of the Reformation as well), then we will need to rethink our theology.
EP Sanders is famous for saying that the problem (for Paul) with Judaism was that it was not Christianity. Let me play with this: the problem for Driscoll with the emerging movement is that it is not conservative, Reformed evangelicalism. I’m not trying to be simplistic here, but I sense that Driscoll thinks the problem with the emerging movement is that its theology is not sufficiently robust, biblically-based, and Reformed — with each meaning the very same thing.