I wrote a third post, about the article of David Mills, on the Criswell Theological Journal‘s edition on the emergent church movement recently, then tossed out the paper copies and it rained on them. Today it is clear that I made a mistake because that post is not here. So, this one from memory on a good article. I’ll add a comment or two about Hammett’s piece at the end.
The third piece I was sent was entitled “Mountain or Molehill?…” and, as I read him, Mills thinks the critique of emergent leaders’ epistemology is that this is molehill made into a mountain. He writes with clarity and charity. Maybe this is slightly overstated, but by and large Mills contends the emergent leaders are not dabbling in the denial of truth or epistemological relativism, and it behooves its critics to pay more attention to what the postmodernist turn is actually saying. Mills, a professor at Cedarville University in Ohio, begins by discussing the remarks made both by Al Mohler and D.A. Carson and Scott Smith. Then Mills discusses what he thinks should be called the “postmodern turn” instead of either postmodernism or postmodernity, for the latter two terms imply a firmer grasp. The “turn” suggests we are in transition.
Mills also contends that the postmodernist turn in epistemology is not necessarily a turn toward either the denial of truth or relativism — and it doesn’t matter how many times people say this, there will be those who will continue to say that all postmodernity denies truth. One element Mills wants to emphasize is the now discredited (by all sides) theory of modernity that we can have direct knowledge of an object if we use the proper methods and attain objectivity.
In the end, then, Mills contends that the emergent church movement’s interest in postmodernity and its commitment to one degree or another to the postmodernist turn is not necessarily a commitment to epistemological bankruptcy. He discusses such things as a preference for story and mystery, and brings in Rob Bell and John Francke.
I liked this piece, but I would like to have seen a more direct conversation with Carson. Mills does interact some with Smith, but it was Carson’s book that is being used as the beach-head and his book that is being repeated in truncated form by so many. One can’t help but wonder if this is not David Mills’ response to the original lectures Carson gave at Cedarville.
John Hammett’s piece, also written with charity, basically asks if the Church needs to respond in a postmodern way to postmodernity. In the article Hammett asks some good questions; there is nothing new here. His early comment about defining emergent as a “friendship” is of little help is revealing. The denomination in which I teach, the Evangelical Covenant, is a friendship denomination — it creates just what Hammett is fighting (a lack of theological definition) and at the same time a completely different issue: fellowship as precedent. In other words, it creates a denomination rooted in fellowship and friendship and loyalty rather than one based on theological unanimity. This, I might suggest, is at the heart of the problem for many. We’re back to an old canard: the problem conservative evangelicals have with the emerging movement is that it does not define itself as they do and they want us to and we’re probably not going to do that.
Lots have made comments about Hammett’s article because it was online and blogged about. But, I would add one other comment: Hammett continues to talk about postmodernity as if it is “out there somewhere” and as if one can choose to engage it or not or as if it is something one can respond to. This is true in some senses, but the issue is not that simple: it is not “out there” so much as part of what we live in.
The emerging movement knows three approaches: we can minister to postmoderns, we can minister with postmoderns, or we can minister as postmoderns. Pagitt is the first I heard say this, but in some ways it mirrors Stetzer’s “relevants, reconstructionists, and revisionists.” Hammet talks like the first two but seems most concerned with the last. The revisionists, if I may, are more about embodying the gospel in a new world than responding to the postmodern condition. Maybe this is clear to Hammett, but I thought it was worth making this point.
I thank the editors of the journal for devoting an issue to the emerging movement. The pieces I was sent were fair and they should prove helpful to the conversation. Driscoll speaks his mind, but the editors permit someone like Mills to offer a mild defense of the postmodernist turn. Such editing is a good sign.