In preparation for a two-day class I am part of teaching next week, I have been doing a lot of reading on the emerging church and the emergent conversation/movement. One of the many books I have read is Emerging Churches, by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. Using extensive interviews with over 50 leaders within this movement, Gibbs and Bolger attempt to provide a picture of the main values and identifying marks that distinguish it. For those with little or no firsthand exposure to the emerging church, this provides an insider’s look.
The margins of my copy of the book are filled with comments; today I will address only one. There is a lot of talk about living the life of Jesus as an extension of the kingdom. But there is no reflection on whether the life of Jesus is in any sense unique within redemptive history? Of course Christians are to imitate Jesus, but is there no distinction between Jesus and his followers? Furthermore, for all the talk of living the life of Jesus, I do not see much discussion of the cross. The fact that in the four gospels each of them spend the most time describing the events of the week before the crucifixion and the events following his resurrection should serve as a clear indication that everything else in Jesus’ life must be understood through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb. Without the centrality of the cross, the remainder of Jesus’ life and actions simply cannot be understood rightly; at least that is what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us.
So on the one hand we must remember that within redemptive history Jesus is unique. No one, not even the apostles, “lived the life of Jesus” as the one who perfectly obeys the Father and redeems his people through the cross. I fear that those whom I have read in the emergent movement miss this. But on the other hand we must remember that when Jesus does speak of following him (is this the equivalent to “living the life of Jesus”?) he speaks of the cross, because the cross defines everything he is and does. That too is missing in what I am reading.
So what are your thoughts? Have I been unfair to the emerging church folks when I say this? Before you answer, please know that I am aware of the “five streams” of the movement that Scot MicKnight identifies. I am also aware that Mark Driscoll is an exception to this criticism, but I see Driscoll continually distancing himself from the emerging movement. Besides, one exception does not invalidate the larger observation of the entire movement.