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  • « King's Church, Phoenix, Arizona | Main | Reformed Theology: Utterly Unreconcilable to the Modernist Assertion of Human Autonomy by R. Scott Clark »

    Book Review: Don't Stop Believing, by Michael E. Wittmer

    Synopsis: Today's Christianity is in the midst of a great conflict: modernity versus postmodernity, liberals versus conservatives, Emergents who emphasize living like Jesus versus Evangelicals who emphasize believing in Jesus; and in the heat of the conflict, each side tends to push the other to further extremes. But is there another way forward, a way that refuses to polarize the complementary spheres of orthodoxy and orthopraxy? Michael Wittmer suggests that there is; and while he would call on modern, conservative Evangelicals to prove their faith by their works, the primary thrust of his message is to the growing community of postmodern Emergents, who have made doubt the new Christian conviction. To them, he addresses the appeal in the title of his book, Don't Stop Believing!

    The postmodern movement of Emergence has been around long enough that it has received several competent analyses and evaluations from the conservative Evangelical theologians against whose form of Christianity the Emergents are largely reacting; so what sets this book apart? I would suggest that, while others have written books about the Emergent movement, Wittmer is writing to the Emergents; and the tone which he has achieved in doing so has been a commendable blend of the irenic and the uncompromising, the compassionate and the demanding. While conceding the problems in much of modern, conservative Christianity that they are reacting against (in terms that many of us who consider ourselves at odds with the Emergents would do well to heed!), he has also issued a clarion call to the necessity of a confident belief in the central tenets of the historic Christian faith.

    In a simple, clear, and non-abrasive manner, Wittmer explores the questions that Emergents have been asking, and demonstrates that, while the historical Christian answers to these questions may have led to wrong practices and attitudes among some Christians, the way forward is not to doubt the orthodox answers, but to believe them passionately enough that they affect one's lifestyle. Just as faith without works is dead, so works that are not grounded in certain belief are meaningless and empty.

    In addressing the positions of the Emergent movement, Wittmer dives headlong into a discussion of the most difficult questions and the most fundamental doctrines: the basic goodness or depravity of humanity, homosexuality and bigotry, penal substitution, inclusivism and pluralism, the reality of hell, the inerrancy of the bible – in these and other realms, he argues that the historic Christian faith is a non-negotiable foundation for anyone putting himself forth as a Christian. True Christianity is not merely ethics; it is doctrine driving ethics, belief expressed in action. Confident belief is not the enemy of right practice; on the contrary, it is the first and fundamental work that is acceptable to God. We are not accepted because of what we do for Christ, but because of our faith in him and in what he has done for us.

    After a friendly, candid discussion of all the hot-button topics in the Emergent movement, Wittmer delves into a brief history of the fundamentalist/liberal controversy of the last century, and in particular, the writings of conservative Evangelical J. Gresham Machen. Although Emergents are searching for a new, “third way” forward, ironically, their answer is too much like the doctrines of old liberals to be new. In fact, the true “third way” is a Christianity of the heart and the hand, a Christianity that believes in Jesus first, and lives like him too. Because a Christianity that ends with living ethically, and that accepts as Kingdom members all the “good,” sincere adherents to other religions – a Christianity that begins and ends with merely living like Jesus – is not enough. If we are looking for a “third way” forward, it is fundamentally important that we don't stop believing.

    Available at Monergism Books.

    Posted by Nathan on January 13, 2009 02:39 PM

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