Rather, he said, the church should be an open community, welcoming strangers as Jesus welcomed sinners.
Relatively few churches will change from the fortress model to something else, he said, but even as new church forms sprout and grow, their leaders must honor other forms. "These new hives of Christian vitality could be abuzz in all sectors, forms, styles, or 'models' of the church," he said. "They would in this sense be catholic—honoring and receiving rather than protesting and rejecting one another, with no sense at all that there's one model or one 'right way' of living as the church."
Duane Litfin: We've Been Here Before
For his part, Duane Litfin said the "get the salt out of the salt shaker" vision is not new among evangelicals. More than half a century ago Carl Henry jolted evangelicals awake on these very issues in his The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947).
The evangelical take on salvation has for half a century stressed all three tenses of salvation: past (saved from the penalty of sin), present (saved from the power of sin), and future (saved from the presence of sin). So the Emergent emphasis on "salvation within history from sin by grace" need not be set against "salvation beyond history from hell by grace."
Likewise, Litfin said, the gospel as "information on how one goes to heaven after death" is but one part of the holistic gospel that evangelicals in general—including, now, Emergent—advocate.
The radical objectivism and neutrality of the Enlightenment have long been critiqued by Christians, Litfin said, and Emergent is right to repudiate them as unchristian and unbiblical.
"But Christians also have no business embracing the equally radical perspectivism of postmodernity," he said.
"If one has been captured by a constructivist epistemology, a position that repudiates anyone's right even to make a truth claim, and which considers truth instead to be utterly situated," Litfin said, "then any truth-claim dimensions of the gospel will be dramatically muted."
An appreciation for the value of good reasons and "argument" should not label people as modernists, he said, as argument by reason long preceded Enlightenment thought.
If we refuse to buy into a postmodern epistemology, we will experience no discomfort in acknowledging that every statement in the Pauline summary of the gospel (1 Cor. 15) is itself a truth claim, Litfin said. Rather, we will be relaxed because it is precisely this body of truth claims, this "word of the cross," that the Apostle identifies as "the power of God" unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:18).
"In fact, recognizing this, we will be inclined to call into question any epistemological stance which would rule such modes of thought out of order, and to resist any analysis which attempts to undermine such modes of thought by identifying them falsely with 'modernity.' "
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today's cover story on the "emerging church" discusses the strength and weaknesses of the movement.
Duane Litfin is president of Wheaton College.
Brian McLaren is a contributing editor for Leadership. Some of his columns include:
Passionate, but Not for Mel's Movie | Why The Passion 'outreach' was all hype, and I didn't fall for it.
Bless This House? | Why efforts to renew the church are often misguided.