By Amy Sondova Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) is an perceptive discourse on what pastor Kevin DeYoung and journalist Ted Kluck believe is lacking in the emergent church today. Often humorous, the insight and research the men have put into crafting their book is incredible. Not only reading a ton of literature by authors such as BrianMcLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and other heavy hitters, Kluck also conducted interviews with a seminary student, a pastor, and other “normal” folks living for God.
At its heart, Why We’re Not Emergent (Moody) isn’t a book directly attacking the emergent church itself, but rather expressing concerns over the words of its speaker. DeYoung begins by pointing out how difficult it is to describe the movement, yet alone who speaks for it. He coyly writes, “Defining the emerging church is like nailing Jell-O to the wall” (17). Another one ofDeYoung’s main criticisms involve the lack of a theological underbelly in the statements of emergent leaders—criticisms in which he outlines in detail in various chapters. Focusing on the importance of theology and then using rebuking Machen to rebuke McLaren is good reading for any seminary graduate, but may be a little heavy for the average person.
That’s where sports journalist Ted Kluck picks up the slack, relying heavily on narrative to tell his side of the story. Coming across as a bit cynical at times, Kluck is a critic that is engaging and insulting. For example, tongue-in-cheek much of the time, Kluck writes, “At times, I feel as if the emergent church is like that friend who goes off to college as an eighteen-year-old, and for the first year or so when he comes home feels like he has to quote Nietzsche just to impress you with hisnewfound intellect” (172). Other times, his wit is biting, like when he argues that artists who don’t feel supported in the church community “are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway” (143). It’s a bold statement from a writer who admits that his first book didn’t sell well (171).
The strength of Why We’re Not Emergent is that it tackles very real concerns about absolute truth, doctrine, the Trinity, Hell, and other issues with which the emergent church has been purposely vague in a thought-provoking manner. However, sometimes it takes DeYoung a bit too long to get to the main point, which is especially compounded by his heavy use of quotations. Yet when he makes a point, it is well-researched and intelligent, but perhaps oversimplified. Instead of making assumptions about what the authors mean in their writing, it would have been fascinating if Kluck actually interviewed Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, and to further investigate the views of the authors discussed in the book. As a former student of Dr. John Franke, I know that as one of the leading minds in postmodern circles, he believes that absolute truth has to exist for postmodern Christians and embraces reformed theology. Perhaps interviewing Franke on his book, Beyond Foundationalism, co-written with Stan Grenz would have allowed for mutual understanding between the parties.
Why We’re Not Emergent is an uncomfortable book to read, especially for those who feel caught in the battlefield between emergent and non-emergent. The discomfort, however, invites readers into deeper thought and consideration about what the emergent movement is feeding so many eager mouths—ones that don’t feel satisfied at traditional churches and feel the emergent church is the only alternative. Interestingly enough, as a 20-something woman that is sympathetic to the emergent church, I chuckled when I read Kluck’s description of those in attendance as a Tony Jones lecture, “They are all white males, with the exception of one girl, and none of them—myself included—knows what to do when Tony encourages us to ‘lie on the floor, walk around, dance, or type e-mails’ while he is praying and speaking’” (225). It’s so true! There’s a certain irony about two middle-class white guys writing a book in response to a movement largely composed of middle-class white guys, who claim to urge diversity for women and minorities yet as Kluck observes poorly execute drawing a diverse audience. Then again, that’s what makes Why We’re Not Emergent a perfectly delicious response to the writings of the emergent church.