Kester Brewin, Peter Rollins & the ‘Year of Opposition’ in the Emerging Church

image Shortly after this year’s Greenbelt, Kester Brewin speculated on his blog about a coming ‘year of opposition’ to the ‘theological direction that a few of us have been taking’ in the emerging church conversation.

Brewin wrote that:

One of the things I’ve been wondering is if the theological direction that a few of us have been taking is entering into a period of more acute opposition. I had a long conversation with two people – one a good friend and the other someone I’ve known for some time – and I found both were, a couple of beers down, becoming quite aggressive in their opposition to, in particular, Pete Rollins’ work and the parallel stuff I’ve been writing too.

I think Brewin is on to something here. A gathering ‘opposition’ was perhaps becoming more obvious in the reaction to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins.

Love Wins spawned a hot debate about whether Bell is a universalist or not. I thought this debate prevented people from engaging with the more important messages and ideas in the book. (Although I admit that people who genuinely believe Bell’s book could lead people to hell would disagree with me!)

I think that what’s happening now is that the difference between what someone like Rollins is saying and what many emerging churches in the United States are saying is just becoming more obvious, especially in the US. Having moved to the US several years ago, Rollins is gaining a higher profile there and there is considerable buzz about his new book Insurrection, due to be released next week. This week Insurrection’s introduction and opening chapter has garnered two reviews on the Sojourners blog, for instance.

But back in 2008, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, associated with the neo-Calvinist movement in the US, were particularly alarmed about Rollins’ work, as seen in their discussion of his 2006 book How (Not) to Speak of God in their book, Why We’re Not Emergent. DeYoung wrote (p. 122-23):

… I was impressed and deeply disturbed. I was impressed because Rollins’s book is more than souped-up blog entries. It is an intelligent attempt – part theory and part liturgical examples from the Ikon community – to understand God from a mystical-emergent-deconstructionist perspective. I was disturbed because what Rollins (does not) say(s) about God from his mystical-emergent-deconstructionist perspective turns out to be profoundly unbiblical, unevangelical, and even – I’m not sure what other word to use – un-Christian. I can only hope that Rollins’s book is not indicative of the direction of the emergent church.

DeYoung goes on to say that he wished that this book would be ‘relocated to the extreme fringe of the movement’ (p. 127).

I disagree with DeYoung’s assertions that How (Not) to Speak of God is unbiblical and un-Christian, though I can agree with the unevangelical assessment.

Brewin predicts that this growing (or, perhaps now just more obvious) opposition will lead to a ‘retreat’ back to a more conservative position among many emergent/emerging Christians. Brewin sees this as a sort of taking of refuge in the church ‘institutions’ that some may have thought they had left behind.

Intriguingly, in a talk in Belfast earlier this month, Rollins said that he was an ‘institutionalist.’ There was not enough time in the question and answer session for him to explain fully what he meant by this. It’s a subject I hope he returns to in his future writing and speaking. I took it to mean that he’s not ready to throw out our church institutions altogether, though they endure a heavy critique in Insurrection.

But as I reflected yesterday in my blog post about my visit to the International Museum of the Reformation:

… the Christian story has rarely been one of absolute convergence around all Christian practices and beliefs.

I hope that if this is indeed to become a ‘year of opposition,’ that it’s an opposition characterised by civility and openness to the truths that are carried by those we (think) we disagree with.

(Image from Kester Brewin’s blog)

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