So, upfront warning, this is a book review. Not many people care to read those, so I figured I’d throw that out there in the beginning. I will say, though, that you want to read this book.
Those who know me know that I benefit from an incredible relationship with my older brother. Aside from being indirectly responsible for my passion for theology and study, he is an academic, a Bible scholar and a Kingdom of God servant. One of the many ways that we engender Koinonia between us is by suggesting and pointing at great books that help us to develop an intellectual life as a form of worship. This is how I came across Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God by Kyle Roberts. So, after reading it in its entirety in about three days, my brother asked me to write this review.
Here we go.
First, let me give some general thoughts about the book and point out some important features. This book was the product of a personal fascination with Kierkegaard on the part of Roberts and a deep need in the Emergent culture of Christianity for some structure. Roberts does a fine job of demonstrating throughout the book how Kierkegaard was, in many ways, a prophetic voice for the generation that is before us today. In his day, Kierkegaard was sorely out of place and anything but a follower of trends. As the intellectual world headed into modernism, Kierkegaard was laying the foundations for a healthy theology of sin and ecclesiology (among other things) through his titled and pseudonymous works. Roberts’ thesis is that Kierkegaard’s thought essentially anticipated what would come after what was developing before his eyes – prophetic indeed.
One of the most contributing factors of Robert’s work is how he thoughtfully crafts a parallel between Emergent cultural concerns and Kierkegaardian theological thought. One thing that can be rightly charged to Emergent Christians is an all-too-common aversion to critical thought and scrutiny in proclaiming and defending their beliefs. Specifically, we (yes, me too) can fall prey to the ease of not wrestling with the broader implications of the doctrine of the fall and human sin. Kierkegaard’s major gift is in the language and structure he gives to the innate convictions of post-modern thinkers and Roberts demonstrates this well in his writing.
I think that personally, this book was impactful in giving me the sense of a tradition. One of the most difficult things for those who identify themselves as part of the Emergent culture is the potential for a lost sense of tradition; especially when re-thinking ecclesiology in all of its complexity. Growing up in the modern-minded church with all of the cultural assumptions that goes along with that imparts a sense of identity. When one challenges the social norms (especially in the context of the church) and then bravely steps away from some of those traditions, it’s easy to feel like you might be alone or that there is no connection to history. This book allows those of us who are starting to look at the pragmatic application of our faith to be able to point back in history to a well respected philosopher and say with confidence that there are good grounds for believing what we believe and there is a tradition we can connect to.
Having said all of this, it is only fair to point out that not everything was totally agreeable to me (this is healthy, though). I feel that after reflection I had a cognitive issue with the strong language of Kierkegaard in his assertion that there are no objective truths and only subjective ones. This seems like an extreme claim based on what we experience in the world. An example: I can say with sufficient certainty that while it may be true that I, as a subject, experience my coffee, there is still actually and objectively coffee in this cup on this table. This is an objective truth with no reasonable reason to doubt it. So, I would personally take a more moderate approach and say that there are objective truths, but that they are only relevant to the extent that we experience them subjectively. This restrained claim seems to be more humble in that it leaves room for error and functionality. This point of contention aside, it is still true that Kierkegaard points out what many Emergent thinkers believe: an objective assent to a list of doctrine is insufficient to the Christian life; only subjective submission to the person, Jesus, is sufficient to impart life.
In conclusion, this book has far more gifts and spiritually forming ideas to give the Emergent generation than I could possibly espouse here. I can say from experience, however, that if you want an approachable book that will help you critically think about your faith, this is it. Also, if you want to better understand the Emergent culture, this is a great place to start (though it couldn’t be said accurately that this book contains all of the movement; that would be presumptuous). At the risk of sounding like a salesman, this book is worth the read. There is a reason I read it as quickly as I did and that reason was not to get it over with. ;-)
P.S. the ISBN number is 978-1-61097-222-2. I bought it from Amazon.