The experience of "ironic faith" is pervasive—though rarely noticed—in the work of McLaren and other emergents. The irony is that they have deconstructed the very thing they were most committed to, and are left with what many call post-evangelicalism.
Ironic Faith as a Third Way
Listen to these lines from Jewish writer Joseph Epstein that describe his own ironic faith: "I find myself more impressed by the mysteries of life and more certain that most of the interesting questions it poses have no persuasive answers, or at least none likely to arrive before I depart the planet. … I suffer, then, some of the fear of religion without any of the enjoyment of the hope it brings. … You live and you learn, the proverb has it, but in my case, You live and you yearn seems closer to it."
I'm not saying McLaren's or any of the emergent leaders' thinking approaches Epstein's posture; their yearning emerges from belief in Jesus Christ. But the emergents' commitment to their previous evangelical faith is ironic, and no one can understand emergent without understanding this experience. For what it is worth, I, too, have been through the experience of ironic faith, for some of the reasons I'm about to mention, but I have come out of that experience with a modest, moderate, and chastened form of evangelicalism. For this reason alone, I stand alongside the emergent and emerging crowd as a fellow traveler. Consequently, I have as much concern with the strictures of neo-Fundamentalists as I do with the loss of theological clarity in the emerging movement. For me, the emerging movement offers the hope of a third way.
Very few emergent folks I have encountered have any chance of returning to a robust, traditional evangelical ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.