When the video of Rob Bell came out in early March promoting his book Love Wins (see my review here), controversy ensued when Rob Bell and other Reformed leaders began to critique the video. Many progressive/emergent Christians were up in arms, decrying such actions saying, “You haven’t even read the book yet!” So of course when Francis Chan wrote a book and then posted a video for it, one that is supposed to function as a response to Love Wins, you’d expect that people would follow their own advice and wait to read the book.
But no. That didn’t happen.
Instead, what many of the neo-Calvinist were accused of doing (e.g. hating Rob Bell, insulting him, going after him as a person, jumping the gun, assuming things about his theology, etc) they have actually been up to themselves. When Bell was criticized before his book was even out, many decided to say that the criticism revealed more about the critics than about Bell’s book. They were upset that people would slam Rob Bell as a person. They accused the Calvinists of hating Rob Bell in fact. Even I implicitly pointed out that we should read Bell’s book before criticizing it or uplifting it.
But with Francis Chan’s announcement of his new book, the Progressive and Emergent ground has apparently forgotten all their righteous indignation when it was Bell being attacked. For one, back during the Bell controversy, one progressive Christian went so far as to insinuate that any Christian who believed in Hell should be treated like a moron. In response to the Chan video, one emergent blogger essentially did a hit piece on the video, criticizing how Chan came across and making light of Chan’s theology (essentially treating Chan like an idiot). The same writer who compared people who believe in Hell to children also attacked Chan as a person rather than dealing with the message. He goes after the style of the video and then attacks Chan’s beliefs on Hell…even though Chan never states his beliefs and his book isn’t out yet. In essence, the same criticisms people had against the Reformed crowd concerning Bell’s book could easily be levied against the progressive and emergent crowd concerning Chan’s book.
Now make no mistake, I’m not a fan of Chan (rhyming not intended). It’s not that I’m against Chan, I just don’t know who he is. I haven’t listened to any sermons by him or read anything written by him. Perhaps it’s because I’m a closet hipster and haven’t read him because he’s too mainstream for my taste, or I just haven’t had time to read him because I’ve been busy reading other things. But this post isn’t meant to be a defense of Chan or his beliefs. I don’t know what his beliefs are. I haven’t read his book.
The bigger point I want to make is one that I’ve made numerous times before; the emergent movement is highly hypocritical and woefully lacking in its own self-criticism. How many posts can you find from an emergent author criticizing anything about progressive Christianity or emergent thinking? It seems that for all their finger-pointing and ridicule of all things conservative, the emergent crowd has forgotten to look into the mirror.
Now I don’t say this in a triumphal way or as a way to negate anything they’re saying, but instead I point it out as an honest plea to those who consider themselves emergent (or those who just want to be “beyond labels,” which is a label…). For all the criticisms the emergents have towards the Reformed authors (some criticisms I agree with) they forget or ignore how self-critical these authors are when it comes to conservative Christians or their own churches (some criticisms I agree with). For instance, the best books I’ve read about how dumbed-down many conservative evangelicals seem to be have come from conservative evangelical authors!
But of all the emergent blogs I’ve read, all the friends I have who identify as emergent, all the books I’ve read that are considered “emergent,” not once have I read a self-critical or self-challenging thought. Never has the idea crept in that, “Maybe we’re wrong and conservatives are right.” Not once has a sentence been uttered that reads, “We should still love and serve our conservative brothers in Christ, even if they lash out at us in hate.” At the very least, if such a sentence has been written it hasn’t been followed up with action.
Case in point: How many emergents will take this post to heart? How many will have the first reaction to jump at it, to argue against it, to shoot it down and say, “Yeah, well you conservatives!”? The answer is almost all. Why? Because the one thing the emergent movement lacks is humility.
I know that seems like a harsh statement and a bold statement, but it’s true. Certainly they’re humble enough to submit to those they consider oppressed, but they get to decide who is oppressed. Likewise, there is no submission to the oppressors. Rather, they rally against the oppressors, they seek to eradicate the oppressors. Though they praise the works of Jesus concerning the poor, apparently they just gloss over or deconstruct the passages where Jesus is dealing with the rich. When it says “tax collectors,” these guys weren’t poor, they were rich off cheating people. Imagine the tax man coming to your door and demanding your taxes, and then charging a ‘service fee’ that is the equivalent to the tax, so you have to pay double. Now imagine Jesus eating with this guy. Then imagine Jesus telling you that the Kingdom of God is “for such as these.” How do emergents measure up to this standard? How do you measure up to this standard?
It is from the above that I bring up my first point on how the emergent movement is devoid of humility. Their unwillingness to love the rich, their unwillingness to teach that we should love the rich, shows that they are priding themselves against someone else. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard for me to love people who are rich at someone else’s expense. To a certain degree we must always be against how these people gained the money and work to stop it, but we must never be against the person. This is where many emergents fail.
The second proof for the lack of humility in the emergent movement is easily demonstrable; their absolute hatred towards conservative theologians, especially Reformed theologians (for those curious, I am not Reformed and disagree with quite a bit from the popular Reformed authors, but even I can see how many emergents just bash them). Everything I’ve said above can be met with, “Jesus was harsh with the Pharisees, so we have every right to be harsh with religious leaders who seek to oppress people!” But therein lies the arrogance! You think that you’re as qualified to judge people as Christ? Certainly we have certain parameters. Certainly we can have an idea of when someone is being too legalistic. But can we know it perfectly, to the point to go after them like Jesus did? I would argue no. While we go after Pharisees or false teachers (or those we think are such) with a bit of “umph”, we can’t do it with the same fervor that Christ did.
Secondly, and more importantly, are we arrogant enough to say, “Well he is a Pharisee, but I’m like Jesus”? How is that in any way an act of humility? It’s pretty gutsy to accuse someone of a Pharisee (which somehow justifies us mocking that person, which I don’t get since Jesus still ate with the Pharisees) and not think, even if for a second, that we could be a bit Pharisaical ourselves.
But what is most insulting is when you compare someone to a Pharisee, you’re comparing that person to the group that had Jesus killed. Now, I’ve actually seen some emergents say, “Well if Jesus were on earth today, conservative evangelicals would have Him killed!” That’s just a stupid statement, not because it’s untrue, but because it assumes that you wouldn’t have Him killed too. One of my fears that if Christ came down during our time that I would be someone yelling “Crucify Him” or I would be the disciple running away. I’d probably find Him too extreme, too dangerous. So while I can look at someone and say, “Don’t you realize you’d probably have Him killed to” I can quickly turn around and acknowledge that I probably would as well.
In the end, I see absolutely no humility coming from the emergent movement. I see bouts of humility, but actual humility, of loving those who persecute you, of realizing that you’re just as bad as the next person, or recognizing that you could be wrong; none of that exists among those I’ve dealt with. I’m friends with them, I love them, I get along with them, and I’ve been accepted by many emergents more than I have with my conservative friends, but they’re still the least self-critical group I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been around future Southern Baptist pastors).
My plea to those who consider themselves emergent or identify with the movement is to humble yourselves. Stop mocking conservatives, no matter how much they annoy you or how mad they make you. Stop treating them like the eternal villains and acting like you’re the eternal good-guys. Stop acting like all conservatives are just stupid and that you’re the Übermensch descending from the mountain to teach us simpletons what we need to know. Be willing to question yourself. Be willing to look at conservative Christians as the ‘Other’ you’re so desperately fond of rather than looking at them as evil incarnate. Stop whining and moaning about how you’re treated, but then turning around and doing the exact same thing in the exact same way. In short, stop being so hypocritical, start actually following Jesus, and start living what you preach.