Saturday, April 29, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (8) - Too Many Words

The Bible does have some interesting things to say about our words. First off, too much talk leads only to trouble.

Proverbs 10:8 A babbling fool will come to ruin.

That being the case, a wise person will learn to speak less than he will listen. There is wisdom in learning to keep your mouth closed.

Proverbs 21:23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue / keeps himself out of trouble.

Proverbs 13:3 Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.

Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking. but whoever restrains his lips is


Proverbs 17:28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed


The sheer volume of EC materials in books, web sites, blogs, podcasts, and emails, along with the overemphasis on dialogue at the expense of proclamation has created a library-sized collection of words. Some of these words aren’t even real words (“missional,” “emergent,” and “liminal” all come to mind), just made up phrases and verbal adjectives that make the outsider wonder if EC isn’t just really a collection of angry artists and English majors.

I am all for expressing ideas in fresh and riveting ways, but this might be better done by EC with fewer and more precise words. I know this may sound petty, but I believe this to be one of the foundational problems with the movement as a whole. In all this talk about meditation and silence and listening and dialogue and friendship, you think somebody would get the idea that actually not speaking or writing for a few minutes might be a good thing.

This becomes all the more frustrating when one is trying to study the movement and figure out what it is really saying. I am sure some will read this paper and say, “That is not what we are saying. You are not representing us fairly. What about this or that author/blogger/talker?” That makes for a nice out, but how can any one person possibly read all there is to read about EC?[1]

[1] Then again, maybe that is just my “out!”


ScottB said...

I'm not sure how to say this, but this post just sounds silly. For example: "Some of these words aren’t even real words (“missional,” “emergent,” and “liminal” all come to mind) just made up phrases and verbal adjectives that make the outsider wonder if EC isn’t just really a collection of angry artists and English majors."

In fact, these are all real words. Look, I could dive into a discussion about linguistics here and talk about the fact that if a collection of letters takes on a meaning that can be conveyed between people, then it has pretty much by default become a word - but I don't need to do that. Just march on over to and look them up. They're real words, honest and for true. They even have definitions to which one can refer - which might be a suggestion for someone wanting to find out what the discussion is about, instead of making assumptions that those using the words in question are just making them up.

Ok, and this is just a strange complaint: "In all this talk about meditation and silence and listening and dialogue and friendship, you think somebody would get the idea that actually not speaking or writing for a few minutes might be a good thing."

When you read books and websites and have discussions and gatherings, you are by definition communicating. So if you see a lot of that happening, that's because it's observable.

How do you suggest that we observe someone being silent online? Stop and think about the sheer irony in that statement for a second.

And, as far as that goes, how does your criticism here apply to other Christian traditions, which also seem to do a lot of communicating?

bob said...

so, let me get this straight... in one post, we're tutrles who retreat into silence and refusal to answer at the slightest pushback, but in the next post we just can't shut up and talk too much?
So which is it?

You were right- this is pretty petty :)

So let's do a little experiment. Do you think there are more:

Blogs by emerging church folk
blogs by "reformed" folks

and who "talks" more?

Smart money is not on the emerging church folk... not by a long shot.

What your critique in this post really comes down to is this: "They write so much, it's hard for me to get a handle on where they are at without reading a lot!"

Sorry man- but if you are going to critique an entire movement that spans thousands of churches all around the world, you just might have to do more than read a couple of Brian McLaren books.

Oh wait... no you don't. Just ask DA Carson...

oohh... that was just mean, wasn't it?

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I was in the Christian bookstore recently. I saw several EC books... out of tens of thousands of non-EC Christian books. Enough said?

Listen, if you expect your critique to be taken serious, if you expect people in or outside of the EC conversation to learn from what you are saying, you need to be careful not to undermine your own arguements with this kind of post. We need critics, but this is neither helpful nor even logical.


Dave said...

The apostle Paul talked about "setting forth the truth plainly" (2 Cor. 4:2). Though I am disposed to be sympathetic with the attempts of Emerging church authors, pastors and leaders to define new ways to live out the faith, some of them are quite abstruse and prolix, as this post suggests. (And I'm a pretty well-educated person, btw.)

That suggests to me that the ideas they're trying to express haven't quite crystallized in their own minds. It's one thing to react against something that seems wrong; it's another thing to see and proclaim clearly what we should do. "...if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8). Both sides need some humility and patience; they also need to be a little less defensive and critical.

matthew lipscomb said...

Dear Pastor Martin,

I know that this is an older blog post - but I thought that I might add on a comment. I am of the opinion that that church at large is suffering from both a doctrinal and intellectual stupification; I remain concerned that we have made things so consistently shallow that when someone of some degree of depth graces us with their presence -such as Ravi Zacharias, to name, just one such person - we just kind of look at them with our heads cocked to the side. I saw this effect in real life at a Promise Keepers Conference; and those with dumb looks on their faces were not layman; it was a clergy conference! If you are just assembling large words for the purpose of meaninglessly puzzling your readers then that is one thing; but God forgive us if we mistake those that God has sent us to stir the deeper waters as being inconsequential and not worth our efforts if we ourselves are not willing to stretch ourselves mentally a bit. Anyone who would trivialize deeper, nuanced and meaningful exposition would no doubt better their libraries by the removal of any works of a Puritan extraction as these are notoriously verbose and contain intrinsically complicated "prolix" as I believe Piper references the writing style of ,I believe, John Owen's style as being in his "Men the World was Not Worthy of" Series. So much of what the church publishes is mere paladlum and does not challenge neither doctrinally nor intellectually. I believe that we are called to wrestle with God's truth on both accounts; being a saint does not preclude being a vernacular simpleton.

As for those who would engage themselves in the business of neologisms; may I rememind you that the word "Trinity" is a Tertullian neologism; he created it as well as many others in his day. It should not be unthinkable that the church would regain her rightful center as one of a creative and inventive voice. Popular culture invents and drives the language all the time, and we readily accept the words and jargon as they steadily evolve. Heaven help us if the church took part in a process that society regarded as intrinsic to the advancement of not just language but actual human culture.

Sincere Best Regards
-matthew lipscomb