Thursday, June 12

As promised, my thoughts on the emerging church part one

"But the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble. Only a few people find the narrow gate." Matthew 7:14 GWT

I find it difficult, when pressed, to explain why I feel the Emergent Church movement is such a danger to those who walk in faith with the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm not an intellectual giant, as much of the emergent leadership is, nor do I have much time to research, correlate and decipher what the various 'sects' of emergents believe. Many Christians today don't worry about the emergent movement, even if it has infested their congregation and swayed their leadership. Numbers are numbers and community service is community service. Beyond that, so long as the teaching sounds sound, what's to worry about?

After all, the seeker movement—started to try and stave off the bleeding of our college aged youngsters that were departing from the church proper, was simply a response to carry the Gospel message in more impactful and meaningful ways. Gone were the 'hell and damnation' speeches, accountability, and stale reiterations of the Scriptures. The leadership of the Evangelical church only responded to the need to address this problem, right? Even Willow Creek, a major force in the 'seeker' movement came to realize that program-based teaching failed because of the lack of personal responsibility. But by that time, Postmodernism had smeared itself across the Christian landscape, and thus the emergent movement was birthed.

Postmodernism meets Scriptural authority. Insomuch as the Seeker friendly movement tried to reach the culture through adaptive methods, the emergents took this further by trying to shape theology to suit the culture. All this has done is removed the theological foundation of an objective basis for faith to be replaced by borders for orthodoxy, rejection of 'absolute-set' theology. This is one of the reasons there is no clear definition of emergent theology.

Absolute authority of one community's truth and morals vary from emergent village to emergent village. Exclusive claims to reveled truth and morals are declared arrogant and philosophical quicksand. The declaration of absolutes within these villages are considered to be nothing more than an illegimate power play; to manipulate others under a immoral authority. There is no room for proclamation of an historical, objective, and universal absolute declaration of scriptural text. This rejection of the quest for certain, objective, and universal knowledge that unites the postmodern thinkers that created the emergent movement.

Dualism and assumption of goodness are the knowledge they preach. No constructive paradigm to replace the modern vision of the cultural relativity of the Gospel exists.

Too much of what is central, definable (individually), and evident in the sweet, smooth whisperings of the subscribers and creators of the Emergent or Emerging church; NT Wright, Brian McLaren, Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Ryan Bolger, Wilbert Shenk, Elizabeth O’Connor, and Nancey Murphy, is sweetened by the humanistic and New Age distortion of postmodernism in alleged defiance of traditional doctrine to reach the straying generations of the 'evangelical' church.

The seeker movement of the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the Mega Church phenomena has warped themselves into a shadowy mirror of Christianity. The Millennials, trained in the seeker program format, have birthed leaders seeking a 'redirection' of the faith that has been hijacked by the evangelical 'old guard'. This is the draw of the emergents and the goal. Of course, the entire Emergent movement makes me feel like Joseph Smith's religion, the Mormons, have been reincarnated and revamped for the modern culture. Everybody is a god, everybody is good, and everybody lives in the heaven within. The words of the emergents are just as sweet as the serpent in the Garden, enticing and inviting.......and just as empty of truth and life.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made....... "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden '?" The woman said to the serpent, "...God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Just like the serpent, who actually sweetened the words that would've warned Adam to the usurping of his authority within the Garden, McLaren entices defection from God's family through sweet, seemingly generous statements such as;

"Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply." McLaren, Brian, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 93.

Like God, but never God Himself. Never with the ability to stand for the Truth, something that defines Him and yet IS Him.

We failed in the Garden to learn the lesson of sweet talking serpents and have been trying to find that promised 'blessing' of eating that forbidden fruit...........the ability to be like God and know good from evil. The closer we seem to be at being able to define, detect, and disassemble what we call God, the further we get away from the core reality: God cannot be defined by our standards, because our standards have been corrupted by the fall of our father Adam.

The closer we come to defining god, the further we go from the Truth that lies in our path.

John Gill points out that the way to eternal salvation is a gate, 'difficult to enter' and the way 'is unpleasant to the flesh to walk in, being hedged up on each side with afflictions and tribulations. Much of the emergent movement is too readily seen in Gill's comment, "Men choose large gates, broad ways, and much company. The flesh loves to walk at liberty, unconfined, and uncontrolled."

John Calvin relates this, ” For whence does it arise, that each of them knowingly and willfully rushes headlong, but because, while they are ruined in the midst of a vast crowd, they do not believe that they are ruined? The small number of believers, on the other hand, renders many persons careless. It is with difficulty that we are brought to renounce the world and to regulate ourselves and our life by the manners of a few."

The emergent church grows stronger and larger by the day. Mega churches are the norm, not the exception in this community of intellectual conversationalists. Is it any wonder that we are told "few there will be that find it"? This narrow way through the straight gate......

Author and Pastor Brian McLaren, one of the 'influential thinkers' of the emergent movement believes that a literal, global, and pre-Christ return kingdom of God exists now and the world's preparation for Christ's return is simply a matter of incorporation of the world's religions in a 'world yet to be born' that protects, practices, and melds together all the 'spiritual practices' from the 'three Abrahamic faiths' and the other religious movements that scatter the face of the planet like small pox.

In his latest book, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, McLaren tells us that we shouldn't oppose these spiritual disciplines; they cleanse, enlighten, and bring us closer to God helping us surpass the unsatisfying alternatives of secularism, fundamentalism, and 'mushy spirituality.' McLaren states: "[W]e need to move beyond our deadlock, our polarization, our binary, either/or thinking regarding faith and reason, religion and science, matter and spirit ... We need a fusion of the sacred and the secular" (pp. 4-5).

Sounds like soundbites from the LEFT BEHIND series of books, the book of Revelation, and a host of other movies, commentaries, and sermons which have touched upon the Deceiver and his 'reign' on this world. The alleged "end times". Only in this case, it is an alleged 'follower of Christ' that is saying there is nothing more desirous than such a world religion rather than the Anti-Christ character of Nicolas Carpathia.

The solution, believed by many of the emergent movement leaders, is to turn to mystical practices, contemplative prayer, and 'conversations' with the unsaved, as an avenue to being closer to God. By identifying and preserving the classical experiences of enlightenment as given through Buddhist monks, Hindu gurus, Aboriginal shamans, Sufi sheiks, Hebrew kabalists, and even such 'bold' Christians that describe themselves as 'spiritual guides' or mystics, we can gain the necessary impus to have Christ return and tells us we've realized the kingdom...which is already here and waiting for expressions of unified peace and human spirituality.

These human-defined religious experiences have commonality; radiant light and an experience of 'oneness' with creation. Without a mystical connection, there is no oneness. And without oneness, there can be no mystical connection. The perfect Catch-22.

This was once misidentified; the emergent leaders apparently want us to believe, with the heart of occultism.

Now it is called, "Emergent theology". A religion of the young. has this to say about McLaren's book, "McLaren spends page after page trying to prove his points. He condemns traditional Christianity to dangerous and fearful, he applauds efforts to reconcile all religions together, he rejects any thoughts that Christ's kingdom is only for the born-again, and he upholds a New Age kingdom in which man is in union with God (regardless of beliefs). He embraces mysticism wholeheartedly and in fact believes the world cannot be healed without it.”

This is nothing new for McLaren. The focus of his latest book is the emphasis on HOW to attain an awakened state of 'reconciliation with God, one another, and all creation in a global community' (p42.) through the mystical practices, such as contemplative exercise, of the world's religions.

Josh Graves, a minister and prolific author himself, interviewed him about. I took offense to one of the 'greatest moments' of the interview, in which Graves asked McLaren about a statement made in his new book; Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, regarding eschatology, the belief of the end times.
Graves asked McLaren what he meant by "Eschatology always wins."
McLaren seems to look down his nose at us poor souls, who believe in the prophecies of the Bible in regards to the end times with the reply,
"If you thought your house was going to burn down tomorrow, there's no incentive to clean up your room."
Of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg for McLaren. In the PBS special about the Emerging (aka Emergent) Church, he expanded upon the eschatology comment further. "The church has been preoccupied with the question, 'What happens to your soul after you die?' As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, 'Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die.' I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water. I don't think that the entire message and life of Jesus can be boiled down to that bottom line."

Fellow emergent, Alan Jones, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, in his book Reimagining Christianity, looks at it this way. "The church's fixation on the death of Jesus as a universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it." Page 132

This is nothing new for the emergent movement, this rejection of the evangelical 'resistors' that have stood the line between the Gospel accounting and the postmodern attempts to rewrite it. Rick Warren, the famous pastor of Saddleback Church, who wrote the Purpose Driven Life and variations of it, recognized this resistance to the emergent eschatology early on;

"Moses had to wander around the desert for 40 years while God killed off a million people before he let them go into the Promised Land. That may be brutally blunt, but it's true. There may be people in your church who love God sincerely, but who will never, ever change."

Missed is the fact that it was the people themselves, who refused to listen to God's absolutes that required them to journey through the desert for 40 years. It was their sinful ways that caused God to make them stay out of the Promised Land until the generation that committed the abominations against God all died. And it was Moses' own disobedience of God's command that caused him to be prevented from entering the Promised Land. The punishment for sin was death, and the generation passed before God would bring His people home.

Dan Southerland, another Emergent, gives embattled pastors a method of labeling such 'resistors' in his book Transitioning: Leading Your Church Through Change, written to support Warren's Purpose Driven agenda. "If you have read Nehemiah recently, you will remember that Sanballat is Nehemiah's greatest critic and number one enemy. Let me put it plainer than that. Sanballat is a leader from hell. We all have some Sanballats in our churches. This is the guy who opposes whatever you propose.... You cannot call this guy a leader from hell to his face - but you could call him Sanballat (p. 115)."

Religious profiling at its finest. But often times, it is the emergents that say the evangelical born-agains are the 'hate-mongers' and 'name callers'.

This may seem innocuous on the surface, but the 'get with the program, change, or die' is a common trait of the New Age movement, of which the emergent is only a new twig. Those who don't get onboard, or ride the wave, of the emergent movement will simply be washed away or die, in the opinion of the emergent leadership. The focus of the emergent isn't on the 'old guard' evangelicals in the church, though. History has taught them its lesson well. They are targeting the youth. Emergents Doug Pagitt and Tony clarify this agenda in their An Emergent Manifesto of Hope:

"Since the church has been one of the main perpetrators of parental fear-mongering, it's only fair we take up the cause of creating a culture of parenting that is less about what we don't want for our children and more about what we do want." p52

The new thinkers of this so-called hijacked Christianity, like McLaren, preach that emergents must infiltrate "institutions that reject it" –which they consider to be conservative Protestants who have managed nothing more than to repeat the Roman Catholic mistakes, like the rejection of Galileo, with this refreshing and spiritual emergent movement. McLaren encourages his followers to wait for the evangelicals eventual death with "…..over time, what they reject will find or create safe space outside their borders and become a resource so that many –if not most—of the grandchildren of today's fundamentalists will learn and grow and move on from the misguided battles of their forebears (biblical believers)" p133. These forbearers are considered 'pushy religious fundamentalists' by the emergent leaders.

Gone within the emergent movement are the absolutes that evangelical born-again Christians have declared for generations and Jesus Himself declared:

1. We can properly proclaim the truth of who God is.
2. We can properly proclaim what God requires for salvation.
3. We can recognize errors that that would jeopardize salvation.
4. We can allow for a diversity of worship practices as long as the essentials are not violated.

All McLaren claims to offer, as do many of the emergent leaders dotting the landscape today, is a creative and fresh alterative to the seeker-friendly and 'hell-and-damnation' models of Christianity, that gains its strength from the old worldly religious traditions to bring fresh life to an emerging worldwide postmodern unified spirituality that brings a global community of dysfunctional and opposing religions under a "Love, Love, Love" banner of distorted truth. This reawakening of mysticism will bring about interspirituality to awaken man's own understanding of his divinity. Open to people of all faiths, this will narrow the gap to "becoming awake and staying awake to God." P18. The admonishments of the Bible and the scriptural support opposing this 'reawakening' is strangely missing from McLaren's 'improved' Christian model.

Not all emergents are so opposed to the evangelical born-again belief system. There are teachers who hold to the essentials and just graft the emergent postmodernism to its structure and keep their heads down. The danger is there are also emerging church teachers who not only deny them, but consider them to be somewhat irrelevant to their view of the "Christian conversation", which is the eschatology that McLaren preaches to the converting masses.
There is silence with the comparisons to occultism and new age thinking within the emergent villages, no matter how little or how much they subscribe to the essentials of the Christian faith.

In the book entitled, Metaphysical Primer: A Guide to Understanding Metaphysics, which outlines the basic laws and principles of the New Age movement there is an echo of the emergent movement's philosophy, "You are one with the Deity, as is all of humanity. Everything is one with everything else. All that is on Earth is an expression of the One Deity and is permeated with Its energies." Doesn't this also sound like Oprah's religion?

Oprah's promotion of New Age thinking alarms Christians in the evangelical movement and the musings of the like of Eckhart Tolle send shivers down the spine, but no one is alarmed by the emergent message. Live and let live is the common thread of Christian thought. 'Emergent isn't New Age' is the claim to keep the evangelical born-agains silent.

Gone within the postmodern eschatology of the emergent movement are the absolutes of the Trinity, the virgin birth, authority of Christ to be the only way to salvation, monotheism, the Gospel, the resurrection of Christ in bodily form, the grace of Salvation free of human works, and even the deity of Christ as unique and unattainable by human means.

Even those who would offer praise and accolades to the emergent leadership have inadvertently shown its ties to the New Age and postmodern philosophies. George Mair, attempting to offer a candid accounting of Warren's life as a testament of praise, reveals a connection to New Age prophet Norman Vincent Peale and an obscure teacher of occult science, Florence Scovel Shinn. Mair praises Warren's Saddleback with the statement, "Saddleback distinctly bears the stamp of Reverend Norman Vincent Peale" with the teachings of unification of psychology and religion.

In offering his own take on what he believes is his calling, McLaren mirrors such New Age thinking. In the via illuminativa, McLaren defines his calling:

"The purpose of the via purgativa [the practices] is to prepare us for the via illuminativa [the awakening], and the purpose of the via illuminativa is to prepare us for the via unitiva [all is one], the union of our nature with the nature of God" (pp. 171-172). "We join God in being fire ... Before the beginning ... God was All, and All was God"

McLaren declares that this isn't something that is new, but a 'return' to the true path set forth by the greatest man of faith that Christians acknowledge, Abraham. Somehow McLaren has deciphered that the Old Testament priest Melchizedek was from a different religious movement and Abraham himself used a mystical practice to relate with this priest. McLaren believes that this shows us that we can discover commonality in another's faith that mirror our own. So did Occultist Aldous Huxley. Mysticism, Huxley declared in his book As Above, So Below, is the highest common factor in every one of the world's religious movements that leads man to recognize the divinity of everything, including himself.

Fellow emergent Tony Campolo, in Speaking My Mind, offers that mysticism unites the two largest religious movements; Christianity and Islam. Of course, the New Ager Barbara Marx Hubbard echoes the emergent thought with "Christ-consciousness and Christ-abilities are the natural inheritance of every human being on Earth."

The difference between Christians and these 'followers of Christ' are large and looming. Whereas the 'follower' believes that there is a method in which he can call God unto himself and become divine, that inherent and natural right of humanity. A Christian knows that Christ dwells within and it is His life that gives the power to become progressively more like Him (sanctification). This is shown in the Scriptures:

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).


Al Owski said...

Those “emergent” authors you mentioned, NT Wright, Brian McLaren, Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, comprise much of my reading list. But also in that list are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Luke Timothy Johnson, C. S. Lewis, Charles Swindoll, and Billy Graham who are as “orthodox” in their Christianity as anyone.

It is true that the “emergents” cover a wide swath that overlaps non-orthodox (non-Nicean) views of Christianity. Be that as it may, it is also true that the Emergents have also helped us by illuminating our blind spots. A big blind spot has been ignoring the Beatitudes. While I don’t agree with everything that McLaren says, he is correct when he states, "If you thought your house was going to burn down tomorrow, there's no incentive to clean up your room." Jesus taught about an imminent Kingdom, breaking in on the groaning Earth of Romans 8. If all that matters is “the End Times”, then why did Jesus ask his disciples to pick up the left-overs of the miraculous feeding so that “nothing would be wasted”?

How arrogant of any of us to presume that we have “perfect truth” in spite of our personal predjudices, our upbringing, our cultural context, and information passed down through the generations. If we have Perfect Truth, then we are right and everyone else is wrong. Jesus, who was perfect truth incarnate, became sin for us by allowing himself to be judged “wrong”. Jesus didn’t have to be “right” nor did he have to prove anyone “wrong”. His opponents proved themselves wrong the moment they opened their mouths “seeking to justify themselves”.

Many of us see Salvation as purely transactional, i.e. the “Roman Road”. Indeed the transaction of Jesus’ blood paid for our sins is essential to our salvation. Unfortunately we see Salvation as only a contract where we must have an exact understanding of the terms to receive it. But if that’s all there is, what do you do with Luke 15:11? Where the father embraces the wayward son who spent half the father’s wealth on wild living and harlots. Where is the transaction when the father embraces his son and weeps over him? What theology explains the hug? It seems to me that the transactional emphasis was manifest by the elder brother. How could the father pour out lavish grace on the prodigal brother when he himself had fulfilled requirements of righteousness.

Jesus taught us who would be first to become last, who are rich to become poor, who are wronged to endure it, forgive, and not lift a hand in response. To be a light. To restore the sin-marred imago dei in the most broken of us. Most importantly, Jesus taught us to pick up our cross and follow him. The cross is where our will is broken. It is where we have totally given up control of our lives to the Father. If we have not reckoned ourselves dead so that Christ can live through us, I don’t think any cognitively correct understanding of Salvation can save us. The Emergents are the least of our worries.

Al Owski

P.S. Let's all manifest some more of that blood-bought grace, even to those we don't understand and don't agree with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with alot of your comment, although I believe that there is a 'absolute truth' and it is Christ. We, as sinful human beings, cannot perfectly emulate that truth. But, it stands before us unaltered.
This is not an 'attack' on the emergents. This is just my opinion on the 'dangers' of lightening up the gospel, mixing in the practices of the pagan mystics, and calling it all good.
Christ Himself declared that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Light and none should come to the Father but through Him....not some spirit-animal guide, etc..........
Dallas Willard is part of the reading for my studies I do, and I have read some of Rob Bell's material.
Just my thoughts, thank you for your comment and your thought-provoking response.
In Christ,