We reviewed D. A. Carson’s excellent book, Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church in our July/Augusts issue. At the time of reviewing Becoming Conversant I was also reading the manuscript for Truth and the New Kind of Christian. While both books deal with the emerging church movement and both are in a helpful manner critical of the postmodern church paradigm, the two complement one another. While Carson examines, critiques and comments about the movement in a broader or more general way, Smith focuses more on the philosophical aspect of the movement. Smith, a professor of ethics and Christian apologetics at Biola University in California, writes as an analytic philosopher in this book.
He begins with a chapter on postmodernism, a focus of Smith’s for some time. J.P. Moreland stated that while most Christians lack the intellectual training to examine many issues, Scott Smith is uniquely equipped to do that and help us to see the roots of the issues. This book is a must read, especially by church leaders today as they shepherd God’s people through the turbulent waters of the postmodern paradigm.
We need to know how to respond to the attempt of postmodernism to eliminate objective truth, absolute or universal truth, and true authority. We need to know that truth is more than a linguistic or social construct that varies from person to person. Scott takes us there. He tells of a four-year period when he challenged students to critique the notion that ethics are only relative. He only found three students who could do that.
In chapter 1 he deals with objective truth and whether we can we know it. He begins to show how postmodernism has come into certain sections of the church through men like Brian McLaren, perhaps the most influential of the group, and Tony Jones, another youth leader. In this chapter he sets the stage to critique their embracing of the postmodern paradigm. But more than these types of popular leaders, Smith goes to the roots of postmodernism in Christian circles with people such as Brad Kallenberg, Nancy Murphy, the late Stanley Grenz, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Franke. You will be intrigued by his treatment. He delineates between the popular street version of postmodernism and the academic postmodernism–a fair distinction. Most of those in the popular vein of the emerging church would probably fit into the former of the two.
Chapter 2 deals with how these people believe we should see Christianity in a postmodern way, which then paves the way for chapter 3’s treatment of how the popular leaders such as McLaren and Jones advocate the postmodern paradigm for pastoral ministry.
Chapters 5 and 6 are particularly helpful because Smith analyzes the roots of postmodernism and critiques the emerging church. In chapter 6 he raises the question, “Would the acceptance of their proposal [to follow a postmodern paradigm for the church] lead to an emerging church, a new kind of way of being a Christian that allows us to venture ahead in faith, to proclaim faithful devotion and allegiance to Christ in a new emerging culture of postmodernism? Or would it lead to a submerging of the church in culture, such that the church ends up being ‘snookered’ and co-opted by it?”
Smith effectively critiques the idea that we construct our own reality by how we use words how it effects Christian belief and ministry. This means when we read and use Scripture we make it into what it is by how we use it within our local communities. This basically means that we make God what he is by the way we talk. When we claim that Jesus rose from the dead, the postmodern paradigm, at least within the emerging church trend would say, the statement about the resurrection is equivalent to the statement “Christians say that Jesus rose from the dead.” (Do you see the distinction?) It is an undercutting of objective truth and embracing in its place relativism and pragmaticism? Religious truth therefore becomes our opinion and values not fact or objective truth.
In conclusion, the emerging church people, operating on the postmodern paradigm will not build the church on the truth but other foundations that will not stand the test of time. It is a repeat of the problems of buying into the world’s ideologies, which has created disaster to the church of Jesus Christ that Smith’s book is a must read for all Christians young and old. It should be taught, studied, and discussed along with Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church and David Wells’ Above Earthly Pow’rs.