An Emergent Manifesto, one of the latest and most important documents from the emergent camp, is a lot to digest. Edited by two key leaders in the movement, it contains twenty-five chapters, each written by a different emergent author. The diversity of the movement is evident from the background and ministries of these authors who each writes in his area of expertise. Topics covered vary widely, everything from theology to social justice. All the threads of emergent thought are found somewhere in the book, but if there is one central theme it is the kingdom of God. Emergent has taken a decidedly liberal postmillennial stance on the kingdom of God: the kingdom is on earth now but will progressively become more like the kingdom of heaven as the it is advanced through betterment of the world. As social injustice, disease, poverty, racism, war and ecological concerns are improved, the kingdom of God will more and more come to earth. In one way or the other this concept of the kingdom is addressed in almost every article.
Both the weaknesses of the emergent conversation and its strengths are evident in this volume. Its great weakness continues to be its theological unorthodoxy which is virtually a return to old liberalism. At issue:
• Its above mentioned view of the kingdom (e.g. pp.80-81).
• Its lack of concern for spiritual conversion—the true gospel (pp. 35-37, 49, 100).
• Egalitarianism (pp. 42,175-188).
• Rejection of original sin/sin nature (p. 43).
• Inclusivism (pp. 44, 49-50; 190-198).
• Rejection of sola fide (pp. 82, 159; 194-195).
• Rejection of sola Scriptura (pp. 154-156).
• The inability to understand God due to our subjectivity (p. 156).
• Orthoparadoxy—chapter 17.
While all of these aberrant views, and many more, are found in An Emergent Manifesto, what you will not find is a presentation of the true gospel or any emphasis on biblical theology. Dan Kimball’s chapter, “Humble Theology,” makes a stab in this direction by at least recognizing some essential beliefs (pp. 216, 222), but he does not go far enough and stands virtually alone among the other authors. One exception is Rodolpho Carrasco’s chapter “A Pound of Social Justice,” which was the best essay in the book.
Carrasco’s article represented the best of emergent—its interest in social justice. This chapter presents a reasoned, well thought out call for God’s people to be involved with the needy. Carrasco even talks of reaching people “with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross” (p. 250), a concept totally misplaced with the rest of the book. With this balance—activism for the needy and evangelism of the lost, followed by discipleship, we would say amen. This is exactly the balance of Scripture. But unfortunately this balance is not representative of the emergent movement.
Some of the newest elements of emergent, a movement that continues to emerge, is evident in this volume. For example, McLaren has grown tired of postmodernity conversations and wants to move the target to postcolonialism (pp. 142,148-149). Postcolonialism is most fully exemplified in the last chapter by American Indian Randy Woodley, “Restoring Honor in the Land,” in which he is advocating some form of restitution to First Nations people because of past colonialism. Barry Taylor sees such a blurring of the lines between emergent Christianity and other religions that he doubts the future of Christianity as a stand-alone religion (p. 165-169). He advocates that Christians “go with the flow” (p. 169). Samir Selmanovic, in the most troubling chapter in the volume, “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness: Finding Our God in the Other,” would agree.
Chapter seventeen by Dwight J. Friesen gives the uncertainty of emergent thought a name—he calls it orthoparadoxy—living with contradiction so that we might maximize relationships.
A final new buzz term is the “shalom of God” (p. 298ff). “Shalom is the very DNA of God” we are told. Woodley attempts to wrap the whole Christian life and theology around the concept of shalom (p. 299).
An Emergent Manifesto of Hope is on the cutting edge of where the emergent church is headed. Read to understand what emergent is attempting to do with the faith. Be warned, it is a frightening endeavor.