The most serious issue about the emerging church, at least in the eyes and minds of its critic, is is relationship to postmodernity. The standard criticism of “emergent” is that it is “relativistic” and “denies the Truth” and has a “bankrupt epistemology.” These are serious words, especially if they are true, which they aren’t — at least most of the time. Jim Belcher, who has a PhD and during which time he worked hard on postmodernity, has examined this very question in chp 4 of his important book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.
He defines his terms well, shows that he has seen that there are nuances on both sides, and finds yet again a third way. His way can be seen in Nicholas Wolterstorff. But, here are the terms:
The big issue here is that the emerging church, which is hardly alone among Christians in this regard, thinks the traditional, evangelical church got itself locked in too much with Enlightenment, with modernity (individualism and reason), with rationalism — that is, with Foundationalism. Which is the quest for certainty on the basis of indubitable foundations and principles and facts and ideas. The emerging church, however, has not always appreciated the various nuances of foundationalism.
And the critics of this emerging (near) consensus is that is has not appreciated the nuances of the kinds of postmodernism (hard, soft, relativistic, constructivist — to name four nuances) nor the kinds of postfoundationalism. So, as Belcher puts it, there is a lot of two ships passing in the night, volleying shots in the general direction but missing the target.
Emerging folks find the critical (some call it “deconstructive,” but that term is often used for nothing more than “criticism”) value in postmodernity, usually have a chastened use of postmodernity’s over all benefits, and the critics too often think the emerging folks are total postmodernists — and some emerging folks get puff chested about this and don’t back down when they need to or admit that they are not truthless folks. And we could back around the circle on this one, but the big word here is that we need to trust or listen to one another better.
Belcher opts for a centered-set (both foundationalism and hard postmodernity are bounded-sets), postfoundational affirmation of (critical) realism. There is a reality; it is outside of who we are; it is objective; we can know it; our knowledge is not just construction (though it is partly that; here he pushes back against Tony Jones); and we can be confident and bold in our gospel claims. That is, Belcher is close to Lesslie Newbigin’s “proper confidence.” (I hope you can buy and read and keep close to your desk that book by Newbigin: Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship