Monday, August 18, 2008

Response to re-interpretation of Scriptures on homosexuality

Response to re-interpretation of Scriptures on homosexuality

[Introductory note by blog editor Philip Rosenthal: The following article is a response to an article 'Perspectives on homosexuality' by Graeme Codrington published in Issue 3, 2008 of Baptists Today. Codrington's article concludes "Every single text dealing with homosexual activity in the Bible also refers aggravating circumstances such as inhospitality, idolatory, shrine prostitution, adultery, promiscuity, lust, violence and rape. Not one of these verses has a monogamous relationship in mind. Not one! Condemning someone to eternal damnation on such tenuous evidence would therefore seem a very dangerous thing to do..." Codrington is a leading proponent of the Emerging Church in South Africa and it is understood that his views are influenced by a postmodern/emergent interpretation of scripture.]

Following article by Rev Mark Christopher, Living Hope Bible Church, Wynberg

It is often true that the debate surrounding the issue of homosexuality and the church has produced more heat than light. Certainly as custodians of God’s word, the church has a tremendous responsibility to address current issues, like homosexuality, in a biblically responsible way. We constantly need to remind ourselves that we must hold truth in one hand while clutching compassion in the other hand. The danger here is imbalance in either direction.

The popular maxim “What would Jesus do?” certainly applies to the issue of homosexuality. The problem today is that there are contrasting views and dissonant voices regarding just exactly what Jesus would do in response to homosexuals.

So why is there now confusion on an issue that has been fairly cut-and-dried for over 2000 years? What has changed? The answer is fairly simple and can be found in the advent of a new method of interpretation. Over the last 40 years there has been a subtle paradigm shift in the way some professing evangelicals interpret the Bible. As western society has become more postmodern, segments of the church, like the emerging church, have followed suite. In the process a New Hermeneutic has emerged to replace the literal and plain sense approach to God’s word.

One of the predominate characteristics of this new approach is that it does not simply refine the traditional method, but it completely revises it by starting with the interpreter’s context instead of the original author’s. This produces a high degree of subjectivity and suspicion, which is then injected into the text as the interpreter seeks a revised understanding of what has been plainly understood for centuries.

The postmodern interpretation gave rise to the pro-gay interpretation (PGI)
of the Bible. The PGI is heavily reliant on current culture and various philosophical streams of existential thought. This leads to the exchange of word meanings while critical aspects of a verses’ context are ignored. Sodom in Genesis 19:5 illustrates this well : PGI advocates erroneously claim the phrase “that we might know them” (yada) refers to hospitality. Yet, 19:8 uses yada in an obvious context of sexuality. The PGI conveniently avoid 19:8.

As it relates to homosexuality, the PGI begins with two cardinal presuppositions which clouds their interpretation and application of related verses : The first assumption PGI practitioners begin with is that homosexuality is a result of genetic orientation. This has never been satisfactorily proven. The science used to promote this idea is dubious at best. While it might be that some are inclined toward homosexuality that is not the same as saying one is consigned to that lifestyle. If one is only inclined, then change is possible for a new creature in Christ! Science, whether good or bad, should never serve as the launching pad for our interpretation.

The second assumption of the PGI approach supposes since homosexuality is a result of orientation, then surely there must be some allowance in scripture for those of same-sex persuasion to be true to themselves. The caveat here specifies a “loving and monogamous relationship”. Never mind that the term monogamous refers to marriage (gamos) not a stable live-in situation.

This whole idea runs directly counter to the many studies done regarding “monogamous” homosexual relationships. In the study The Male Couple 156 male couples were studied and only 7 couples had a totally exclusive sexual relationship. Interestingly, all 7 couples had been together less than 5 years. The research suggests that monogamy is quite rare in homosexual couples and is the exception rather than the rule. It is therefore unrealistic to entertain the notion of relational fidelity among same-sex couples in the church.

Rather than relying on the two fallow assumptions above, we want to take our queue from one bedrock passage, Genesis 1-3. For in Genesis God established His unchanging boundaries for human sexuality within the context of a heterosexual marriage. This, combined with an understanding of the role of the Old Testament (OT) law in the New Testament (NT), should form the basis for rightly evaluating pro-gay arguments in the rest of scripture.

Genesis 1-3 is often overlooked by PGI advocates. Yet, we ignore this essential passage and its foundational forming truths to our own detriment. Though these three chapters do not speak directly of homosexuality, the foundation for understanding God’s parameters for human sexuality and gender distinction are well established here. Let us consider six contextual observations from creation that directly impact the rest of scripture. These should serve to frame the homosexual debate:

· Creation order : The first two chapters of Genesis quickly establish a pattern of creation order (1:1-2:24). The ancient Hebrew acquired his view of order based on the creative and sustaining power of Yahweh. The “goodness” in creation lies in its ordered state. An example of this principle is found in the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus 18: 1-30, which were given to restore and preserve God’s “good” order. Leviticus 18 details how social order in Israel was only “good” when the social network of familial relationships is properly ordered. Therefore, incest violates the order of kinship (18:6-18); homosexuality violates the order of gender distinction (18:22); and bestiality violates the order of species (18:23). These sexual boundaries were established at creation. Any violation here introduces chaos and confusion into human relationships, as our own age amply testifies.

· Gender distinction : Genesis 1:26-28 uses specific terminology to establish the distinction between the sexes—male (ish) and female (issha). The general term used for “man” in the OT is adam (1:26), which speaks of humankind as a species. Genesis 1:27 uniquely differentiates adam into specific genders of male and female. Both unique biology and chromosomal distinction bear witness to this. This vital distinction is maintained throughout the whole of scripture.

· God’s image : As a subsequent corollary, Genesis 1:26-28 declares that man is distinct from the rest of creation because humanity is created in the image of God. Both genders reflect that image in very different, yet, complementary ways. A man and a woman together in a marital relationship mirror the image of God in ways the rest of creation can not. Any attempt to change this image through the androgynizing effects (merging of the sexes) of homosexuality, transexuality, or transvestism results in marring God’s image.

· Procreation : In Genesis 1:28 the man and the woman are blessed with the task of being the progenitors of the human race. In this, procreation is portrayed in a positive and normative light. This heterosexual union is the standard relationship for achieving this according to Genesis 2:24. Though procreation is not the only reason for sexuality, it is a very good reason which is often neglected and scoffed at in our pansexual age.

· Marriage : The first marriage is recorded in Genesis 2:18-25. The only aspect of God’s pre-fall creation that was “not good” was Adam being alone. So God blessed Adam with a complement (help meet) who made up that which was lacking in Adam! Though Eve was very different from Adam, she was still much like him. She was the perfect corresponding opposite for Adam. It is this relationship that ultimately serves to mirror and illustrate the relationship that Christ has with His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). To reinforce his argument, Paul reaffirms the creation ideal as he makes this comparison (Gen.2:24; Matt.19:5; Mark 10:7ff)! Clearly, same-sex relationships can never adequately reflect the relationship Christ has with His Bride.

John Piper summarizes the original purpose for marriage well, “Eve was like Adam yet very unlike him … this provides a unique opportunity for profound unity, and intimacy to exist. In this we see that God created heterosexuality not homosexuality. God’s first institution was marriage not fraternity.”

· Reaffirmed : One might rightly ask if the creation account is maintained throughout scripture? Did God ever amend His plan? Significantly, when Christ was being grilled by the Pharisees on the issue of divorce, how did He respond? In Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:5-9, Jesus reasserted the creation mandate from Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:24! Even in light of the fall, God’s original blueprint remains unaltered. The fall and the resulting curse just make it more difficult to maintain. This highlights the need for redemption.

Those who maintain that Jesus never condemned homosexuality rely on unconvincing arguments from silence. Christ never condemned other forms of sexual deviancy either--like bestiality, peadophilia, incest, necrophilia, or fornication. But when He underscored the Genesis account for marriage He said all that ever needed to be said on the issue. By reaffirming the creation ideal of heterosexual monogamy, Jesus covered all the potential bases in one succinct and definitive statement!

Another biblical context that is often summarily dismissed in the PGI scheme is the place of OT law in the NT. PGI logic assumes that passages like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are just as irrelevant as dietary laws and the mixing of fabrics. Yet, Romans 10:4 declares that “Christ is the end of the law.” This means Christ was the crescendo of the law. He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In view of His finished work on the cross, Christ is now superimposed over the Mosaic law and has transformed it into the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

So the law remains an authoritative part of scripture. But now law must be read through the lens of the cross. For example, we do not need animal sacrifice to stand in the presence of God, but we do need sacrifice—the sacrifice of Christ. Likewise, the husband who loves his wife, as Christ does the Church, will duly consider his menstruating wife’s (Leviticus 20:18) needs and condition above and beyond his own.

The law of Christ insures moral unity exists between the OT and NT. It has always been wrong to murder, rape, steal, to have sexual relations with an animal, to commit adultery, and to commit homosexual acts. God’s standard of righteousness has never been altered, but these righteous demands were met by Christ.

In light of His affirmation of the creation account, plus His perspective on the law, how would Christ respond to homosexuality today (WWJD)? The literal method of interpretation can confidently assert that Jesus would unashamedly preach the gospel, as He did to the woman at the well in John 4 and the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. Upon repentance, He would utter these glorious words of liberty, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”! How can His church do any less?

(Note: Due the space limitations it was not possible to deal with many arguments often marshaled by the pro-gay advocates. Those wanting a summary paper answering many of arguments can download this summary at . Just follow the link Papers and Booklets.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why so much interest in Emerging Church in South Africa?

Please click the link below to see some really interesting data on Google searches on the term 'emerging church'. South Africa ranks second after the United States, which is amazing considering our small population with broadband access. I was told by a Scottish minister that the Emerging church is not making much of an impact in the United Kingdom compared with America. Also interesting the number of Emerging Church leaders who have recently been in South Africa or are currently here: Brian McLaren, Scott McKnight, Shane Claireborne. I can't say what the reason is, but wonder if factors could include a post-apartheid and post-marxism ideological vacuum, which it is trying to fill. Also note the publicity it has had in the past 12 months with articles in Today Magazine, Joy Magazine and Baptists Today. So not all these searches are people necessarily in favour of it, but maybe just curious as to what it is about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Emergents respond to Joy magazine article on Emerging Church

Certain Emerging Church supporters have responded to the July 2008 article on the Emerging Church.

I also posted some dialogue responding on the first blog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Useful Web links on the Emerging Church Movement

Useful Web links on the Emerging Church Movement

* The main group promoting the emerging church in South Africa is
* Examples of unbiblical quotations from principal Emerging Church leaders:
- Brian McClaren
- Rob Bell
- Steve Chalke
* A chart comparing post-modernism to other worldviews:
* Overview of movement (mostly in favour but including some balancing criticism).
* A list of some key leaders opposing the emerging church movement
* Helpful web sites against the Emerging Church are:

100 words to explain the Emerging Church

100 words to explain the Emerging Church (by Philip Rosenthal)
Previously published in Joy Magazine 2008

The 'Emerging Church' is an attempt to respond to the philosophy of Postmodernism by accommodating it in the church to varying degrees, both in doctrine and in practice. Postmodernism values experiences, stories, relationships and feelings, but devalues absolute truth and questions our ability to know it certainly. It also encourages mixing of different ideas and methods without trying to logically fit them together. Aspects, of the Emerging Church, such as experimenting with new service formats, are not always harmful. But when these assumptions are used to interpret Biblical doctrine or ethics, it can result in serious error, doubt, weakness, confusion and moral relativism. We must defend the gospel against this undermining of our confidence in truth.


By: Philip Rosenthal

Many people have asked me to explain in simple language what is ‘post-modernism’? Most academic articles on the subject will leave people more confused than when they started reading. The simplest way of understanding it is by first explaining post-modern architecture and then drawing a comparison with philosophy and theology. In the past, every building had a uniform theme. It was either Classical or Gothic or Victorian or Edwardian or Modern or Japanese or Indian or whatever – but only one theme from one time period or geographical area. Post-modern architecture doesn’t have a consistent theme. It is a mix of themes from many time periods. So, for example, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Canal Walk Shopping complexes in Cape Town, both use post-modern architecture. They borrow ideas from many different time periods and themes and mix them all together. They don’t need or want a unifying theme. What is wrong with this? Nothing. It is just a preference – you either like it or you don’t like it.

But when you apply that attitude to philosophy or theology, the result is confusion and relativism and eventually a breakdown of absolute morals and belief. Roman Catholics and Protestants and Muslims disagree on certain issues – but they at least agree that truth is absolute and unified. Post-modernists don’t. To post-modernists, truth is just a subjective cultural or personal belief. To them, you can happily take ideas from different places and mix them together in any way you like without the need for any kind of logical continuity. Most of them don’t even want to argue about what is true, because they see truth itself as just a human opinion. In fact, they view anyone who is firm about truth and morals as arrogant and judgemental. Since truth is subjective, what is important is people’s feelings and relationships. Those who stand for truth at the expense of feelings and relationships are thus the problem.

While Modernism tended to reject historic Christian theology, Post-modernism borrows from it regularly. Their teachers will happily combine recitation ancient creeds with aspects of Catholicism and Reformed theology. This appears to give them some historic authenticity. But the problem is that they way they do it is void of any logic or coherence. It is just a case of picking various different ice cream flavours and putting them together into one cone.

Another difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that while Modernism emphasised individual rights and opinions, Post-Modernism emphasises cultural group thinking. Thus Christian truth and morality is relegated to a cultural group belief rather than a moral absolute applicable to everyone. The chief virtue is thus tolerance of other cultural groups. Also called ‘Political Correctness’. The chief vice is intolerance. Post-modernism accommodates Christianity quite happily provided that you respect the right of other groups to do whatever they like – including for example practicing homosexuality or committing abortion. So long as you don’t impose your views on anyone else, then you are accepted. Post-modernist Christians view Bible teaching not as absolutes which all must obey, but as the views of our particular cultural group, which we should not impose on others lest we offend them. Sound familiar? Do you see things this way? Maybe you have already been partially seduced by Post-Modernism.

Another difference is that while Modernism attacked the truth of scripture, Post-modernism attacks not the truth of scripture, but our ability to understand it. For them, scripture is mysterious and we can never be certain exactly what it means. Post-modernist teachers try to cast doubt on what it means and see such doubt as a sophisticated virtue. Thus for them, we can never be quite sure what the Bible says about for example homosexuality and abortion – so being unsure, we should not impose our personal belief on anyone else.

The Emerging Church can be described also as the third generation of theological liberalism. The first generation was Modernism – the elevation of human reason above scripture. This was advocated first by German theologians in the 1850s and spread from there through the rest of the world – destroying most of mainline Protestantism. They viewed their new beliefs outdated historic Christianity in a similar way that modern technology outdates old technology. The second generation was Neo-orthodoxy, invented by Karl Barth, which argued that the scripture was spiritually true but not necessarily true in other respects. What was important for the Neo-orthodox was your ‘spiritual experience’ of the Bible. They tried to marry existential philosophy with Christianity. The third generation of liberalism is now the ‘Emerging church’, which is trying to marry postmodernism with Christianity. Essentially, this whole stream of liberalism is following the secular culture. In response to Modernism, Orthodox Christians re-grouped to form what they called ‘Evangelicalism’ which rejected Modernism. Problem is though that liberalism, like a computer virus is changing its form all the time. Most evangelicals don’t understand that that the Emerging Church is just a new form of liberalism and so their defences are down. It is being taught at Evangelical Bible Seminaries and heretical books are published by what we thought were Evangelical publishing houses – especially Zondervan. The Emerging Church is not a new brand of Evangelicalism – it is a new brand of liberalism. It needs to be fought with the same strength as we fought the old liberalism (Modernism).

Many Christians have accepted post-modernism without realising it – and have already been applying these false assumptions for a decade or so. What is new is that a group of people calling themselves the ‘Emerging Church’ are now consciously promoting this false assumption. Most of the followers of this group still seem on most points orthodox Christians. But the problem is that as soon as one accepts the false assumptions of post-modernism, and apply this to theology, you go down a slippery slope that leads eventually to being allowed to believe whatever you like – and a lot of people end up in heretical belief and those who apply it practically, immorality in behaviour.

This month, one of South Africa’s chief proponents of Postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement published an article in ‘Baptists Today’ arguing that the Bible does not prohibit monogamous homosexuality. He takes each of the scriptures dealing with homosexuality and tries to cast doubt on the meaning. Space does not permit here a response to his heretical arguments – but the point is that these wrong assumptions lead to seriously wrong conclusions in reading the Bible. If you read the writings of various other leaders who have strayed into the Emerging Church – many come from Orthodox Christian backgrounds, but after they have been there a while, many of them stray into serious and heretical doctrinal error. Some people are going to listen to what I have written above and say – that sounds very academic – why does it matter? Well, it matters because if you have a wrong understanding of the meaning of truth, then you will get to seriously wrong conclusions on doctrine and morality. Thus, one cannot just treat this as an academic theological debate. It is something which if tolerated is going to lead people into serious sin and for some eternal damnation. Therefore, these false teachers must be stopped.

Now not everyone who goes by the name 'Emerging Church' is necessarily a theological liberal or applying post-modernist thought to theology. Many, like those who like post-modern architecture are just applying it to things like church service format. And I don't label such people heretics. There is nothing evil about this. But those who do apply it to theology are starting down a slippery slope that will lead them into doubt, confusion, possibly heresy, likely tolerance of evil and possibly immoral behaviour. We have to stop this.

Will you stand up and speak out against these wolves in sheeps clothing that are preying on Christ's church?

[Certain Emerging Church leaders have registered protest at my reference above to 'wolves in sheeps clothing', so I clarify that, while I disagree with all of them in their response to post-modernism, I don't apply the term 'wolves' to all of them, but to those who stray into heresy or sow doubt or undermine the importance of core Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement (Christ dying in our place), the sanctity of life of the unborn, the requirement to keep sex within man-woman marriage only.]

Emergent or Divergent? When Doubt Becomes a Virtue

Emergent or Divergent?
When Doubt Becomes a Virtue

By Tim Cantrell – August 2007, Sr. Pastor, Honeyridge Baptist Church, Johannesburg

With endorsements from: Rev. Leigh Robinson, Rosebank Union; Rev. Frank Retief, CESA; Rev. Colin Bishop; Rev. Rowland Myburg, BU President

(Article was previously published in Today Magazine and Baptists Today)

If you were about to undergo an operation and your doctor planned to use you as a guinea pig for new, emerging methods, should you know about it? If your bank was going to re-invest your money in high-risk ventures, should you know about it? Of course! Yet in churches today, leaders are jumping on the bandwagon of the latest theology, called the Emergent Church, while their people know little of the consequences at stake.

This is where a magazine like Baptist Today can serve a vital role in alerting ordinary church members to trends and equipping them to hold their leaders accountable. We too easily forget that it is the biblical responsibility of each member of the congregation to guard the purity of the church (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 5; 1 Tim. 5:19; Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 2-3).
I write this article to sound a warning out of love for Christ’s church and out of a desire to “guard the trust” of Scripture that is under attack (1 Tim. 6:20-21), so that we will stand firm in our faith and fulfil our mission to the ends of the earth.

What is the Emergent Church?
As defined in the March 2007 issue of Christian Living Today, “the emerging church is a conversational, grassroots movement to contextualise the gospel for the changing world of the 21st century”. These Christian leaders call themselves ‘emerging’ because they believe that as Western culture emerges out of modernity and into postmodernity there must be a new, ‘emerging’, more relevant way of doing church and reaching our world. (Note: The very nature of the movement defies definition; some treat ‘emergent’ and ‘emerging’ as synonymous, but for the sake of clarity and fairness I will focus only on the strand of this conversation that labels itself “Emergent Church,” hereafter, “EC” [Cf. “An Emerging Church Primer” at ].)

The most prominent leader in this EC ‘conversation’ is Brian McLaren, a pastor and author that Time Magazine proclaimed as “one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America”. His influence is also growing in South Africa as he has just completed his third tour in three years. Another key leader related to the EC, who visited South Africa last year, is Rob Bell. His Nooma videos are especially popular. Likewise, Erwin McManus is an influential voice related to the EC and he too visited South Africa this year.

The EC is a reactionary movement that wins a hearing through insightful critiques of evangelicalism that resonate with many who are disenchanted by a weak and ineffective church. No one can deny that evangelicals have often failed in our passion for the lost, social concern, good works, deeds of love, abuse of power, abuse of Scripture, and lack of authenticity and humility. We have also been uncritical at times in conforming to modernity. But sadly, the EC appears no less naïve in their zeal to conform now to postmodernity. Some of their descriptions of the problem may be accurate, but the solutions they offer are more culture-driven than Scripture-driven.

What are they actually teaching?
Few people realise the doctrines that leaders of the EC are teaching. For example, they teach:
· That it should not shake our faith if we found out “that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry... and that the virgin birth was just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in...” (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pp. 26-27).

· That we should shy away from describing the Bible in such terms as “the authority,” “infallible,” or “inerrant” (McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, p. 164).

· That it is fine for leaders of the EC movement to frankly have no idea what “most of the Bible means” (Rob & Kristen Bell, Christianity Today article, Nov. 2004).

· That the church should consider taking “a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements” against homosexuality (

· That we should not be so concerned with “being saved” or finding “right answers”, and that any Christian who sees a difference between us and the world is probably arrogant (Christian Living Today magazine, March 2007, p. 56).

· That the church should be inconclusive about the eternal destiny of non-Christians and should change its historic belief in hell (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 111-114; The Story We Find Ourselves In, pp. 167-68).

· That you believe in “a form of cosmic child abuse” if you say that Jesus died to pay the price demanded by His Father’s holy wrath (Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, Zondervan: 2003 [foreword by Brian McLaren], p. 182).

· One of the chief proponents of the Emerging Church in South Africa is saying that he must now “leave church” and “give up belief in God in order to find God” (

Not everyone identified with the EC teaches all these things. But these are views held by leading voices in the movement. And any Christian who knows His Bible should be alarmed when hearing of such aberrant views. Even some leaders from within the wider emerging church movement are sounding the alarm, such as Mark Driscoll who writes:

…the Emergent Church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity. (Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev., p. 22)
…I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell…. (Driscoll, (Cf. also Jason Carlson, “My Journey Into and Out of the Emergent Church,”

What is the greatest concern about the Emerging Church?
There is one doctrine that the EC attacks most, a doctrine upon which all Christian faith and teaching rests: the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. This has been a cornerstone of evangelical belief ever since the time of the Reformation – the settled confidence that, on the whole, the Bible is not obscure or ambiguous but that it is clear and understandable for the ordinary Christian. Saints have faced persecution and suffering with unshakable certainty because their faith was grounded in the clarity of God’s Word. Jesus frequently appealed to and assumed the clarity of Scripture when He rebuked the religious leaders: “Have you not read in the Scriptures? Do you not know?” (Matt. 12:3,5; 19:14; 21:42; 22:31, etc.)

But McLaren and the EC celebrate their ignorance of Scripture and their certainty that no one can be certain of what Scripture says. McLaren summed up his motto well when he wrote, “Certainty is overrated” ( But Luke’s whole aim for Christians was that they might “know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). And Scripture says, “faith is being…certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).

EC leaders say it is more humble to embrace mystery than to seek certainty. But this is arrogance disguised as humility, claiming to be wiser than God regarding whether He spoke clearly or not. Here’s how God defines humility: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). God is not looking for those who only dialogue or converse about His Word, but for those who take it seriously enough to tremble and obey.

McLaren even wants to throw out certainty about the gospel, the very “evangel” that defines evangelicalism! He writes, “I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet…. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy” (Christianity Today, Nov. 2004). Because authorities have been certain about wrong things in the past (a flat earth, apartheid, etc.), McLaren jumps to the conclusion that we must beware of thinking we’re right. But the only way for a preacher to be unashamed and approved by God is to be sure that he has “rightly divided the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul was so sure of the rightness of the gospel that he told the Galatians anyone preaching another gospel should be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).

God’s Word treats certainty of spiritual truth as essential. To be saved is to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:4); it is to join those who “believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). It is not a complement to be described as those who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

McLaren believes that we must accommodate other religions – that new converts to Christ would not necessarily have to leave Buddhism or Hinduism, and that we need more “gentle and respectful dialogue” with other religions in order to improve Christianity (A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 255-60). But one searches in vain to find the OT prophets or NT apostles suggesting that conversion could come at such a small cost, or that the truth becomes richer by bartering with error.

Why certainty matters
While writing this article, I received a testimony from a young pastor whose wife was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. He writes:

I am more convinced than ever as I walk through this valley that God’s truth is all that can sustain us – Satan wants to rob God’s people of this confidence so that in their day of battle they will shrink back or grow weary and abandon well doing. [The EC] may be a new and avant-garde thing to discuss on the lecture circuit and in books – but in the valley of the shadow of death it falls pathetically short when measured against the blessing and comfort that comes from accurate, confident exposition of Scripture!

God pours His peace into the soul that is certain of His promises. Any movement that exalts doubt over certainty and that undermines the clarity of God’s Word is a movement that endangers the faith of God’s people. The EC is not evangelical at all if it throws out the clarity of the gospel. It should be classified as “divergent” rather than “emergent”.

The Emerging Threat of the Emerging Church Movement


By: Philip Rosenthal ;
Last updated: 8 April ‘08
Types of emerging church leaders and participants 4
Answering the evangelistic argument 5


Recently, Christian bookshops have started to stock books published by leaders of the 'emerging church movement'. Speakers use new words like 'missional'. Christian blogs discuss the issue. Pastors are told that they need to adapt their message to reach a new 'post-modern generation'. Some of the statements of these leaders can seem worrying, but their attacks on the established church resonate with many who are fed up with hypocrisy, authoritarianism and institutionalism. Nobody wants to be seen as 'out of date', so they hesitate before challenging this movement. What is this all about? Is it just a new fad? Is it a new movement in evangelicalism?

I argue this is something much more dangerous and serious, and about which every Biblical Christian needs to be warned. The 'emerging church movement' is an attempt to merge Biblical Christian faith with the religious worldview of Postmodernism. It includes a range of responses. At the one end of the spectrum are those who are just trying to adapt our methods to appeal to Postmodern youth without compromising the gospel. The other end of the spectrum to which the most popularly read leaders belong, however, are essentially preaching a new way of interpreting scripture and a different gospel. This is I believe the most serious threat to Biblical Christian faith to 'emerge' in the last hundred years. I predict it will be the primary ideological battle in the church of at least the first half of the 21st century.

This attempt by another religion to infiltrate Christianity is similar in many ways to the attempts of Gnostic mystics to infiltrate the early church in the first few centuries. It is similar to the attempt to infiltrate Christianity with Modernism in the 19th and early 20th centuries; or with Liberal Christianity. Marxism tried to infiltrate Christianity with Liberation Theology in the late 20th century. Animists have attempted to merge with Christianity in certain African Independent churches. The Interfaith movement has attempted to merge Christianity with the New Age movement.

It is essential to understand that this is not a new stream of Christianity. It is an attempt to merge Christianity with another totally different religion. It is an attack on the core of the gospel. Orthodox Protestants have more in common with Catholics and Eastern Orthodox than they have with the 'Emergent Church' At least these major streams agree on the basic concept of absolute truth. The 'emergent church' does not.

In the past five years, a number of popular evangelical Christian writers, particularly those on the fringes, have abandoned orthodox Christianity in favour of the emerging church movement. You may find an author you like now promoting this heresy, without telling you he has changed his views. Evangelicalism is bleeding to the Emerging Church/Postmodernism now in the same way Protestantism was bleeding to Modernism in the late 19th century.

Tragically, many Christian leaders are not seeing the threat at present. Many good pastors who are friends of mine have already got involved in it. Thus 'emerging church' books are being published by reputable Christian publishers, sold in evangelical Christian bookshops and their speakers are allowed to speak at Christian conferences. It has already taken over many evangelical Bible seminaries overseas. This is sadly similar to the way Modernism infiltrated both Protestantism and Catholicism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If it is not fought with all the strength we have now, it will likely either take over or force schism in most of the currently evangelical denominations.


Answer: Because it is an attempt to unite Christianity with Postmodernism, and Postmodernism is the dominant worldview of the educated elite of our society - particularly the younger generation (under 35 years old). Almost every university course, film house, newspaper and TV programme they are exposed to is promoting this ideology. And if they attend a Bible believing church or listen to Bible believing Christian radio, then the two
ideologies don't fit together. Real Christianity to many of them seems somehow intolerant and out of date. 'Emerging Church' Christianity does fit with the trendy youth culture. You can be 'cool' with your Post-modern peers and educators and yet still be ‘a Christian’.

But is this an authentic Biblical response to a culture gone astray? No! The correct Biblical response is to challenge the unbiblical culture with the truth of scripture, however unpopular that might make us. Jesus was despised and persecuted and so were his apostles (Hebrews 13:13). We must be ready to do the same. In the same way that the Judaisers of Galatians tried to adapt Christianity to avoid persecution (Galations 6:12), so the 'Emerging Church' tries to create a more tolerant, less certain, uncontroversial Christianity which does not offend the world.

Actually, many of our educated Christian youth are already Post-modern thinkers. They have already tried informally to merge Christianity and postmodernism in their own minds. It is just that now a group of Christian leaders is formalising this merger and articulating it as a movement and a theology.


There are many problems with the teaching of the 'Emerging Church', but most serious is its attack on the importance of truth and the certainty of the meaning of scripture. In postmodernist/emergent belief, truth, doctrine and logic is not all that important. What is much more important is tolerance, relationships, stories and people's feelings. Truth is not considered absolute but rather subjective. Truth relates subjectively to the human who hears it rather than to the absolute reference point of God. Hitherto, Biblical Christians may often disagree with each other, but they argue in the hope of convincing each other because they believe something must be true and the opposite must be false. Postmodernists don't see the world this way. Instead of an absolute truth to search for, all there is are people's opinions, and we must all respect each other’s opinions.

While Modernists attacked the truth of the scriptures, Postmodernists do not attack the scripture itself, but rather our ability to understand it. They refuse any systematic attempt to try to understand and interpret the scriptures. They just let everyone pick and choose what they want to believe and what not believe, without attempting to fit these beliefs together logically. The result is that scripture interpretation becomes entirely subjective to each individual. You can believe whatever you 'feel' like believing, as long as you respect everyone else's right to do the same. In their view, for example, it is simply impossible to determine certainly whether or not the Bible condones abortion or homosexuality.

They theological view truth as something that is 'emerging', 'progressive' and moving forward, rather like technology. Each generation is more enlightened than the last. That leaves open the door for the next generation of Christians to believe something totally different to us.

See MORE INFORMATION on page 8, for web links to some unbiblical quotations from Emerging church leaders).

The Emerging Church/ Postmodern interpretation of the Bible matters because it's subjective interpretation of the Bible is unbiblical, false and wrong. But it has damaging practical consequences for numerous other issues.

Firstly, if the Bible's teaching on ethics is mysterious, then we can never understand it. So, what authority does it then have? Emerging church supporters may apply their interpretation of the Bible to themselves. They may accept that the authority of their church or denomination to determine policy for church discipline. But how can they challenge anyone else outside their group’s belief? How can they tell non-Christians not to abort a baby or the government to ban abortion or 'same-sex marriage'?

Answer: They don't. Emerging church leaders generally discourage this. For example, their principal false prophet, Brian McLaren has called for a 5-year moratorium on speaking against homosexuality.
( The Emerging Church beliefs fit well with the pro-choice position on abortion. “I would not have an abortion myself, but I will not try to stop someone else from having one”. A post-modern church leader recently took the position ‘Our church denomination will not perform same-sex marriages, but we think the government should allow same sex-marriage for those willing to do them’.

So Emerging Church leaders undermine the whole basis for Christian activism against sin in society. They are not sure what is right and wrong themselves, and they are embarrassed by others who do. What were formally moral absolutes now become a 'grey area'. Just at the time when courage is needed to fight the evils such as abortion and homosexuality in society, the emergent church leaders discourage people from taking a stand.

Secondly, they attack core Biblical teachings as unimportant. While many Modernists will argue there was no virgin birth, some post-modernists will argue that they believe there was a virgin birth, but that if it were proved that there were no virgin birth, that would not affect their faith. What is the problem with this? Precisely because, if there was no virgin birth, then the scriptures are false, and if the scriptures are false then our faith in them is false.

Actually truth does matter. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul explains how our faith hangs on the doctrine of the resurrection. Many other teachings of scripture are similarly integrally linked to the core of our faith. By arguing that truth is not important, they pave the way for others to follow into complete unbelief and apostasy.

Thirdly, if truth is not absolute, why should we care about those who are persecuted for their faith? Generally postmodernist Christians don't care. If truth is not clear in scripture, then why suffer for truth? Why not just compromise or shut up on that aspect of the truth which is under attack and thus escape persecution. To the postmodernist mind, Christian's suffering unpopularity, jail, torture and death for their faith seems weird. This is why the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission has identified Postmodernism as a major threat to religious liberty (Newsletter 15 February 2008).

While this section highlights the problems of post-modernism in interpreting the biblical position on a handful of ethical and theological problems, it potentially affects all aspects of ethics and doctrine. The result is that people hold to a weak, subjective view of ethics and doctrine that is highly tolerant of alternative viewpoints and behaviours.

Three hundred years ago, Protestantism meant a specific set of beliefs. Modernism re-defined Protestantism by destroying its boundaries and re-defining its terminology. ‘Fundamentalism’ was an attempt to re-define these boundaries. Many believed the boundaries set by Fundamentalism were too narrow and so created the broader category of ‘Evangelicalism’. The Emerging Church is a movement without boundaries. While claiming to be a part of Evangelicalism, it is attempting to re-define ‘Evangelical’ in a manner that is so broad that it can accept all kinds of heresy and unbiblical behaviour. We must look not only at what it leaders do and believe but what they tolerate. Before removing the fences we must consider why they were put up there in the first place and what has happened historically to groups which remove the fences.

Some 'emerging church' followers reading the above are probably going to protest at some point and say 'you are misrepresenting me' and 'I don't believe that'. Or 'my pastor is a good Bible believing Christian and he is involved in this' - are you saying he is a heretic?
Types of emerging church leaders and participants

No. Firstly, there are many different streams in the emerging/ emergent church/ 'missional' movement. Secondly, the post-modern belief system itself encourages diversity of belief. Thirdly, different people joining the movement have mixed it in different proportions with Biblical Christianity. Some are mostly Biblical and a little post-modern. Others are mostly post-modern and a little biblical. Some fall within the boundaries of Orthodox Christianity, some do not. Fourthly, post-modern beliefs have logical implications, which will lead progressively to a straying away from belief in the Bible. New 'emerging church' followers have not realised where their new 'uncertain' Biblical interpretation method will lead them. For now most of them remain mostly biblical, but in a decade or two they will have strayed further. Future generations of 'emerging church' followers will probably slide all the way to apostasy and rejection of Christian ethics, as many modernists have done.

One must draw a very big distinction between Christians who are trying to reach ‘post-modern’ youth by adopting cultural elements of post-modernism in their style of preaching and service format on the one hand and Christians who are re-interpreting the Bible through a post-modern lens. Some of the former category, call themselves ‘emerging church’, while others do not. My big problem is with the latter category – and I would prefer if the former category disassociated with the latter type and called themselves something different.

There are some areas where Christianity does not clash with post-modernism and on these areas we can adapt without compromising on essentials to try to win over youth influenced by post-modernism. For example, post-modernists tend to prefer stories illustrating a point to abstract theory. Jesus also taught that way in his parables. The Bible is full of stories and so is your personal testimony. Secondly, one can cater for their desire for meaningful relationships. Thirdly, we can also affirm the unity of true orthodox Christians across sectarian boundaries. Fourthly, the emerging church often encourages experimenting with changing the format of the worship service, often re-including elements practised centuries ago or borrowing ideas from contemporary youth culture. While this should be done with caution, truth is sacred, but service format is not.

The issue is very similar to evangelising any culture. For example, there is good and bad in traditional African culture. For example the emphasis on the extended family is more biblical than Western culture. Nevertheless, as Christians, we can’t compromise with ancestor worship. Missionaries to post-moderns need to filter the good from the bad.
Answering the evangelistic argument

Now some orthodox, Bible believing Christians have aligned themselves with the ‘emerging movement’. For example Mark Driscoll writes “In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time traveling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network. But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake.”

Such people often see the ‘Emerging Church’ movement as a means to reach a generation of culturally post-modern youth. A question must be asked as to why they choose to align themselves in the same group and under the same name, with a movement whose principal leaders are not doctrinally orthodox Bible believers? By doing so, do they not risk lending credibility and leading others astray to follow the heretical leaders who share the same banner? Why do they not call themselves by another name and clearly disassociate themselves from the heretical leaders and beliefs? For example, they could use the name ‘Mission to Post-moderns’. By failing to demarcate a clear boundary between evangelical Christianity and the Post-modern adaptation of the gospel, they leave the door open for false teachers who use the same label and banner. The question is which direction is the influence mostly going? Are these Christians mostly influencing Post-moderns to become Orthodox Christians or are they leaving the door open for Orthodox Christians to be seduced into Postmodernism?

To respond to the evangelism argument, I would give two responses. Firstly, the main reason why Post-moderns fail to convert is not because the gospel is not formatted in a trendy culturally appealing ‘Post-modern way’. Actually, Post-moderns are generally more open to listen to the gospel than their Modernist predecessors, but they tend to just filter the gospel through their Post-modern lens, which treats it as just another opinion – and thus evade the challenge to repent of sin. They don’t see themselves as sinners because they don’t understand the concept of sin and thus don’t see any need to repent. Thus to really reach Post-moderns with the gospel, one needs to spend double the effort emphasising the differences with Biblical Christianity – the basic themes of absolute truth, God’s absolute moral standards, sin and repentance. Similarly a new generation of weak post-modern Christians has grown up who see their feelings as more important than their holiness and right belief. To really help such Christians, one needs to bring them back to orthodox Christian basics. I argue we need a more challenging gospel presentation emphasising the differences rather than the similarities with postmodernism.

Secondly, the emergent church tends to blur the focus in evangelism from calling the ‘lost to repentance’ to ‘dialogue’ with other religions. While this may result in less people being offended by Christianity, I believe it will likely lead to a diversion of effort from evangelism to ‘dialogue’, false conversions of those who have not really repented of their sins and ultimately less people being converted to the true faith.

Firstly, emerging church leaders like to confuse Christians with difficult questions from scripture. Then instead of encouraging study to answer these questions, they try to lead them to the conclusion that scripture is unclear on ethics and so we should not impose our beliefs on anyone else. Doubt and tolerance become virtues, while faith and standing for truth become vices.

While it is true that there are some things in scripture that are hard to understand, those things which are essential for righteous living and salvation are fairly clear and there is a consensus of interpretation among those who respect the authority of scripture.

Secondly, they try to argue that they are 'up to date' and that orthodox Christian belief is outdated. This is inherent in the terms 'post-modern', 'emergent' 'future church' - as if there was a forward march of history, which is unstoppable and we should not get left behind. Modernists, Progressives, New Agers also use this manipulative language to try to link their belief to a time period. Everyone in this time period now must believe what they do.

Thirdly, they try to label orthodox Bible believing Christians who believe in absolutes, reason from the scriptures and stand up for truth as judgemental, bigoted, intolerant Pharisees. In doing so, they distort the
Biblical meaning of judgmentalism and substitute a post-modern meaning to the term and evade the real reasons why Jesus fought with the Pharisees. Many Christians, afraid of such ugly labels, shrink from challenging emerging church leaders in debate.

Fourthly, they attack the problems plaguing the contemporary church such as authoritarianism and hypocrisy. While these problems are real, the answers offered by the 'emerging church', such as simply lowering the moral standards required for biblical church discipline and speaking out on moral issues in society on grounds of 'non-judgmentalism', are false.

Fifthly, many emerging church leaders do a lot of good works and fight for some good causes. For example, some run charities, which help the poor. How could people doing so much good be teaching error? Modernists also did a lot of good works and fought for good causes, often more so than orthodox, but pietistic, Christians.

Sixthly, 'emergent church' leaders try to pose as orthodox Bible believing Christians. They publish through respected Bible believing publishers like Zondervan and join evangelical associations and preach in evangelical churches. But this is “wolf in sheep’s clothing” teaching.

Seventh, against charges of heresy, they argue for 'tolerance' and act like wounded lambs. This was the same tactic used by them Modernists in the late 19th and early 20th century. The modernists, once they had seized control of Protestant institutions, then used their power to persecute, silence and throw out Bible believing leaders who opposed them. 'Tolerance' was just a tactic to gain an advantage. The same will probably happen if we don't act now.

Eighth, they promote the 'emerging church' and postmodernism as a platform for unity across denominational and sectarian boundaries. While we should promote unity amongst true Christians, the 'emerging church' is not the correct platform to do so.

Ninth, when an 'emerging church' leader is attacked on any specific point of heresy, then they tend to just disclaim that person as 'not one of them' or part of a different faction. Reality is that the movement is fragmented in belief and its ideology promotes that fragmentation. That is why it is hard to argue with because everyone believes something different.

Tenth, 'emerging church' leaders pose as 'youth experts', offering to help pastors and denominational leaders to relate to the youth. Since they assume the church going youth have already swallowed the lies of post-modernism, they expect their pastors to follow them into error in order to reach them. Actually, a shepherd is supposed to lead the sheep and rescue and defend them from wolves - not follow the sheep who are following wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. Pastors need to understand postmodernism like a doctor studies disease.


* We must fight the 'emergent church' heresy with all the strength we have. The sooner people are warned about this emerging threat, the more easily they can be saved from it. If we don't fight now, we will have to fight later and then it will be harder to win. This is a priority we cannot ignore. We must be prepared to sacrifice our popularity, our positions, our money, our time, our friendships, and our ministry relationships to fight this uncompromisingly.

* We must fight not only intellectually, but also to ensure that only Bible believing (non-emergent) leaders are appointed to positions of authority in Christian institutions. That means for example, making it a criterion when
you call a new pastor to your church, or choose presenters for a Christian radio programme or who you support in choosing the next leader of a Christian organisation. Christian organisational leaders need to screen their new workers for 'emerging church'/post-modern beliefs.

* We need to be kind and gentle with pastors and leaders who have been recently influenced by the movement, while discussing and giving them resources to help explain its errors. Many have joined it because they are
disillusioned with contemporary Christianity and see it as a more hopeful alternative. It will be doubly painful to be disillusioned twice, first by contemporary Christianity and now by the 'emerging church' movement. We shouldn't add to the pain by being brutal with our words.

* We must encourage a return to the alternative historic Orthodox Biblical Christianity - a study of respected teachers, creeds, confessions statements of faith interpretation the Bible that have stood the test of time to serve
as a balance with new writers. While we must be open to the Holy Spirit shedding some new light on the Word of God, orthodox Biblical movements generally affirm and re-state old accepted truths more than they introduce new ones.

* We should warn Christian bookshops, magazines, churches, publishing houses and denominations and radio stations against 'emerging church' false teachers like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell and ask them not to stock their books, publish their articles or give them a platform at conferences. 2 John v11 explains why assisting heretics is sharing in their work.

* We need to also go onto the offensive against the Postmodernist worldview of which the 'emerging church' is an accommodation, and promote instead the alternative of a Christian worldview. In other words, we must explain how true Christianity applies to all of life and how it differs from other ideologies in its answers to the questions of life.

* Most of the power in Christian institutions is currently in the hands of people who are over 45 years old. Most of these people do not understand the ideology of Post-modernism, which the youth are embracing. They may have biblical views. They may see a few problems, but they don't understand the seriousness of the threat. Most don't like conflict amongst Christians and want to be nice to everyone. They may view conflict as unnecessary trouble-making. We must educate them about the threat, otherwise, in twenty year’s time, most of the orthodox evangelical institutions will be taken over by postmodernists/ 'emerging church'. They must choose their successors from those who stay with Biblical Christianity and they must re-affirm Biblical Christianity to their followers particularly on points such as the clarity of scripture where it differs from post-modernism.

* We can cautiously consider legitimate ways of adapting cultural elements of our church and organisational methods to attract post-modern youth, while being careful not to compromise the gospel and Christian ethics.

* We must have hope and confidence that ultimately, the 'emerging church movement' and its mother, 'postmodernism', will eventually go out of fashion just like Modernism, Marxism, Fascism and their attempts to synchretise with Christianity. Already Postmodernism is losing support amongst the worlds top intellectuals and that means it is only a matter of time before it loses support in popular culture. That however, could take a few decades. Until then, we must fight to stop it corrupting Christianity and present a Biblical Christian alternative.

* Please print out this document and give it to your pastor or Christian organisational leader.


* The main group promoting the emerging church in South Africa is
* Examples of unbiblical quotations from principal Emerging Church leaders:
- Brian McClaren
- Rob Bell
- Steve Chalke
* A chart comparing post-modernism to other worldviews:
* Overview of movement (mostly in favour but including some balancing criticism).
* A list of some key leaders opposing the emerging church movement
* Helpful web sites against the Emerging Church are: