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Kick the Shins and Run! (A Favourite Debating Tactic of Emergents)

Back in my emergent days, everyone used to talk about reliving the glory days of Martin Luther. Starting a new debate, pushing a new way forward, being the new Christianity for a brave New World.

However, there are few, if any within the emergent camp who have the guts to actually STAND UP like Luther did. In actual reality, they seem to prefer to kick the shins of Evangelicals, then cower in a corner and play the martyr card when Evangelicals write reviews back. Let me explain.
Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the Wittenburg door. Contrary to belief, he wasn’t trying to start a revolution. He was simply opening up a debate. In this sense, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and all the other figures within a emergent are right alongside of Martin Luther. They also know how to start a discussion, and open a debate.
However, when Rome began to send delegates to argue with Luther, he stood up to them. More than that, he took the fight to them. He wrote high-level treatises. He did his research, and went toe to toe with the most eminent thinkers from the other side.
This is not what the emergents do. It seems as though they prefer to open the debates, but then retreat back to the confines of their emergent churches and organizations. When will Rob Bell schedule a debate with John piper? When will Brian McLaren schedule a debate with John MacArthur? It’s not going to happen. Has Bell even responded – just once? – with an intellectually-reasoned reply to the mountain of serious books written to address the flaws in his teaching? (If so, could you please direct me to it? I’d love to read it! Thanks!)
Unlike Martin Luther, who took the battle to his intellectual foes, emergents tend to just spool out more and more of the same sort of thing to their devoted followers, while casting furtive glances towards the conservative heavy-weights, and whining when their books get bad reviews.
There is another aspect in which emergents follow Luther. Luther was vitriolic and defiant. He was not ashamed to draw cartoonish caricatures of his intellectual opponents, to call them names, and even to question their salvation. The emergent village (broadly speaking, not referring to the actual organization) is very quick to do this.
It’s common to hear insinuations that conservatives are Pharisees, dead orthodox, heretic hunters and the like. Even the ageist and racist phrase “old white guys” is thrown around with gleeful pleasure.
Emergents are very quick to kick in the evangelical establishment in the shins. But are they prepared for a real battle?
Whenever an evangelical replies with a critique, or even in invitation to dialogue, the emergent folks cower in a corner. “Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!” They cry.
When their works are critiqued, they are not honoured as they should be (see “The Kindness of Critique.”) They do not rise to the occasion as Martin Luther did. Rather, they just cry “bully!” And when an evangelical makes a sound and rational argument that these emergent teachings lead towards heresy, the emergence says “witch hunter!”
Worst of all, the Emergent technique of “kick the shins and run” is WORKING! And working quite well, I might add! The Emergents are writing books on a popular level which are selling themselves off the shelves. They are making movies and trendy videos. They are questioning everything from Hell to Homosexuality, and calling conservatives all of the names mentioned above to boot. They are opening up a discussion, starting a new revolution, an intellectual war. But can conservatives fight back?
Perhaps. Very, very carefully.
But if they step out of line – WHAMMO! Here comes the school-yard principal (usually a member of the congregation) to discipline the “bully” (aka the “judgmental” teacher) in the playground . Words like “witch-hunter” and “heretic-hunter” are quick to fly – and from there, who knows how far things can spiral downwards?
The real fallout from this battle is not only in doctrinal ground lost. I think this next generation will lose hundreds of years of important doctrines. For a teacher like me, that is a devastating loss to contemplate. But the greater fallout is from broken relationships, and split churches. Of course, the emergent folks will blame all of that on the conservatives. But is it the conservatives who started the battle? Is it the conservatives who fought dirty? Is it the conservatives who brought the battle to the laity, instead of keeping scholarly debates within the scholarly community? And finally, was it the conservatives that refused to allow sound reason to dictate the answer, but resorted to emotional and psychological techniques to win the day?
There is no doubt that the conservative party will have much blame to share in this matter. Jesus says if anyone destroys the church, God I will destroy him (1 Cor. 3:17). It is a scary thing to be divisive within the church. However, within the pursuance of truth, we need to disagree at times (1 Cor. 11:19). And we need to have better debating techniques then what is often modeled by the emergent community, if we are going to follow Christ passionately together.
And let us be perfectly clear: If you start a debate, it is NOT rude, judgmental or pharisaical for a disagreeing party to debate with you. You started a DEBATE, not a monologue! So when people take the time to consider your points, critique them, and send you a scholarly reply, don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t play the martyr card! If their attacks are all ad-hominem, they will fade away. If they are substantive, take notice and modify your beliefs or write a reasoned defines of them as your hero, Martin Luther did.
It is truly amazing how this movement which supposedly values dialogue so much is, in reality, only able to dialogue with themselves. And a one-sided dialogue is, of course, a monologue and not a dialogue isn’t it?

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