Conservatives certainly seem to have a good time kicking the emerging church around. Likewise, emerging Christians have plenty of criticism for conservatives. As different as these two groups are, I have noticed some similarities between conservative fundamentalists and emerging fundamentalists. Here are two similarities.
Both groups draw a tight circle around who represents true Christianity. If you’re in the circle, everything is cool. If you’re not, watch out! What’s ironic about the exclusive circle the emerging fundamentalists draw is their disgust with conservative circle-drawing! Not only that but criticism of conservative circle-drawing actually seems to be one of the distinctives of the emerging circle. Emerging fundies decry the intolerance of conservatives yet they themselves are intolerant of conservatives. I’ve seen this many times but one particular example stands out to me. Some emerging Christians actually left an emerging message board when too many conservatives (which was about 6 or 8 out of dozens of members) participated in the discussions there. They actually deserve credit for the name of this blog because the “conservative reformed mafia” is the phrase they used to deride us.
2. Doctrinal superiority
Both groups claim to have a superior understanding of Christianity. Again, this is something that emerging fundamentalists are very critical of conservative fundamentalists for but emerging fundies demonstrate a very similar belief. Emerging fundies believe that their approach to theology and practice is superior to the evangelicals’ (which is part of the reason they left evangelicalism in the first place). This may seem counter-intuitive due to the emerging desire to de-emphasize or re-imagine doctrine. Emerging fundies desire to de-emphasize doctrine is partly a reaction to what they perceive to be the conservative fundies’ doctrinal superiority and the divisions that are sometimes caused by doctrinal disputes. Emerging fundies clearly believe that their approach to doctrine is superior. They critique conservative fundy superiority while offering their superior approach.
Emerging fundamentalists see themselves as reformers of American Christianity. But why should Christians trade a conservative fundamentalism for an emerging one? Emerging fundamentalists are very critical of conservative intolerance and arrogance but apparently fail to see their own. This hypocrisy becomes especially evident when emerging fundies take the opportunity to criticize conservative ones.
Reform from within or without?
If emerging fundies have truly left evangelicalism and no longer associate themselves with evangelicalism, I wonder why so many are preoccupied with critiquing evangelicalism. Oftentimes this is when they reveal their own intolerance and superior attitude. If emerging fundies have left us evangelicals behind in order to move on to greener pastures (which I have no problem with, more power to you), why not focus on making a positive case for emerging Christianity/reforming-American-Christianity-as-a-whole and leave the clean-up of evangelicalism to us evangelicals? I know that’s not terribly realistic. If one wants to reform American Christianity, negative aspects of evangelicalism and fundamentalism are bound to be addressed. I’m not calling for emerging fundamentalists to cease discussing aspects of evangelicalism. I’m just pointing out that emerging fundies often reveal themselves to be engaged in many of the same practices that they are criticizing (ie., intolerance and superiority) when they do this. The point of reference is different but the behavior is the same.