January 15, 2021

An Emerging Critique Worth Reading

doggiepj.jpgUPDATE: Adrian Warnock comments on the “Phil and Monk” show. Worth reading.

The entire transcript of Phil Johnson’s Shepherd’s Conference seminar on the Emerging Church can be found here.

I’ve read the seminar twice, and here are my thoughts.

I think Phil has done a great job. A solid “A-.” Considering Phil’s position and commitments, there’s very little to complain about here and much to benefit from. I recommend this seminar to anyone interested in the Emerging Church, and especially to those interested in a fair critique. (I do not recommend the blog on which it appears. In fact, I apologize that I have to link to it.)

Sure, there is plenty to quibble about, but this is one analysis that has a generous helping of humility. Phil admits this is a hard thing to get ahold of, that it’s in transition, that it’s starting to fall out into sub-camps, and very little can be said in general about the whole movement. *Applause* What he sees and understands, he comments on with restraint and helpful criticism. Even when I disagree with him, he’s pretty much on target. Example:

And that is why some of the essential features of faith and assurance that you and I might think are absolutely essential to communicating the gospel clearly and in a strong, biblical way are sometimes actually held in contempt by people in the emerging subculture. I’m speaking of features such as authority, strong convictions, doctrinal precision, clear definitions, and candor. All of those things run counter to the values prized by postmodernists.

I would want to sort through this bag of criticisms a bit (there’s a difference between conviction and obsession with precision, for example, and “contempt” is a bit much) but I think Phil is exactly right in terms of how the EC differs from his own tradition, and I think that is helpful.

I think his concerns are the appropriate ones, and I think his commendations and applications are excellent. For the sentence that critiquing Mclaren is critiquing Mclaren I say a loud “amen.” It really improves on this, and it runs circles around the playground bully-talk one hears from some mongrel corners of the blogosphere.

Maybe Phil pulled this off because his goals are open, precise and realistic:

My goal in this hour is not to persuade people who are already sold on the emergent idea that it’s a bad idea. My aim is to help conservative pastors of established churches who are committed to biblical principles by making you aware of some of the things that are going on in the so-called emerging church movement. And I hope to explain why I believe it is worth the struggle to resist these trends. Because you will invariably be confronted with pressure to embrace some of the philosophy and style of the emergent movement in your own ministries. And judging from what I know of church history–especially recent church history–it will be a difficult struggle for some pastors to resist.

With this seminar, Phil makes a contribution to the emerging conversation that ought to be valued. Put this with Andrews Jones’ and Mark Driscoll’s admonitions to the emerging to keep the important things in view. This is the best conservative evaluation of emerging that I’ve read. Considering how difficult it is to talk about emerging, this kind of essay is major positive step forward.


  1. a simple blogtrotter says

    First time poster here. I would not even call myself a “fan” of your points/positions on very many topics at all. But… I just want to make sure I am squared away on this post: The iMonk just gave a favorable review of the “Emerging Critique” written by Pyro at The T.R-fest (MacArthur’s Shepherds Conference, and linked to Emergent No to cite the full text? Is that correct?

    As a T.R.-ish fellow me-self, I gotta say, this is…. well this is…

    What is this again?

  2. a simple blogtrotter says

    First time poster here. I tried to post this once already, I will give it one more try. I have to confess first off that I am not really a fan of most of your points/positions on much. I do enjoy reading now and then. The great blog wars peeked my intrest in the Tavern.

    So, let me see if I have this right: The iMonk just gave a favorable review of Pyro’s “Emergent Critique”…given at T.R.-fest 06 (The Shepherds Conference…I would love to have been there), and linked to Emergent No to give readers the full text? Is that correct?

  3. First of all…I am not an unquestioning fan of the emerging church. My basic stance is one of openness to a number of things that TRs want to hear nothing of.

    You’ve read no blanket endorsements of Mclaren on this blog. He raises good questions.

    I could argue with a number of PJohnson’s points, but given his assumptions and position, this is a remarkably fair piece, and I think many ECers would agree, particularly those wanting the reformation to influence the future shape of the emerging church.

    I think Phil gets the missional thing, and that is crucial.

    I am embarassed to link at Emergent No. The hit job done on Tim Keller over there was….***words failing*** But I am sure a lot of blogs that find me obnoxious link to me at times.

  4. a simple blogtrotter says

    …my wife just called me a dweeb for double-posting.

    maybe this will get easier.


  5. I’ve grown weary of Phil Johnson and John MacArthur’s self righteous condemnation of other Christians. They should conduct some self examination on why their Sheperds Conference apparently didn’t feature any speakers who addressed helping the poor or exhorting pastors to a sense of urgency in making their congregations aware of the persecuted church. It seems to me that MacArthur is more interested in writing books to correct heresies (Gospel According to Jesus, Charismatic Chaos, Our Sufficiency In Christ, Reckless Faith) and Johnson would rather devote more energy to his website where he has the nerve to categorize the websites of other ministries according to Johnson’s standard of purity. They pride themselves on being Biblical and are the first to point the finger when they detect others have strayed. According to the ESV Comprehensive Concordance, “justice” is mentioned 135 times. How many times was it heard at the Shepherds Conference? “Justification” and “Justified” are only mentioned 34 times in scripture. Obviously doing “justice” has a strong Biblical mandate, but why aren’t MacArthur and Johnson (and Sproul for that matter) speaking out about it? “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede.” (Isaiah 59:15-16) I’ve already been accused of selling out to the social gospel on Challies.com and raised the ire of MacArthur’s followers who are stunned that someone would dare question them on just how Biblical they truly are. And for a group that never hesitates to blast others, they are about as thin-skinned as it gets. Before they get too prickly, they should consider this quote from MacArthur in “Reckless Faith” Catholics have “abandoned the true faith for ‘another gospel.’ Catholics and Eastern Orthodox “are not entitled to be embraced as members of Christ’s body.” I’m afraid quotes like that reveal the true heart of MacArthur, Johnson and all their adoring sycophants. Perhaps when they take their show on the road they can explain their stubborn adherence to the theological fiction of premillinial dispensationalism.

  6. Re: jfred’s comments;

    Amen. And again I say, Amen. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    BTW, the show is on the road, including the premillenial dispensationalism:


    It’s all there, and more.

  7. With due respect to Dr. Mac…he mentions two books as sources, and neither are well-known or representative.

  8. Michael–

    Actually I mention four of MacArthur’s books and I would add “Hard To Believe” to that list. The point is that all of these titles were written in response to what MacArthur condemns as dangerous trends, if not heresies in the church and are representative of his bestselling books.

    Until recently I was a big fan of both MacArthur and Sproul (even subscribed to Tabletalk)but I began to notice the conversations I was having with like-minded devotees was characterized by smug self-satisfaction and little concern to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbor. Any expressions of ecumenism around MacArthur and Sproul’s followers are laughed at. The funny thing is they don’t realize how laughable they become. Take a look at this post from Challies.com from someone live-reporting from the Ligonier conference in Orlando:

    “We are sitting here inside the auditorium at First Baptist Orlando.Wow, this place is huge. This initial meeting is just about getting ready to start. Dr. Sproul and Mel Duncan (Ligon’s brother) are standing up at the front talking as R.C. get s ready to take the stage. He looks really good, by the way.”

    This is Christian groupie-idol-worship gone mad! And they think that the guys on TBN are wacked!

  9. I meant that DR. MACARTHUR mentions only two source books.

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