Monday, November 10, 2008



Some 'emerging church' followers reading this blog 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.


Roger Saner said...

But Philip, Everything I need to know I learnt from the emerging church...!

Roger Saner said...

@Philip: playing guilt-by-association is unfair and wrong. Just because someone reads a particular author or is in the same backyard as them doesn't mean that they support or deny that person's particular beliefs.

From the Emerging Response to Critics a few years back:
"Seventh, we have repeatedly affirmed, contrary to what some have said, that there is no single theologian or spokesperson for the emergent conversation. We each speak for ourselves and are not official representatives of anyone else, nor do we necessarily endorse everything said or written by one another. We have repeatedly defined emergent as a conversation and friendship, and neither implies unanimity – nor even necessarily consensus – of opinion. We ask our critics to remember that we cannot be held responsible for everything said and done by people using the terms "emergent" or "emerging church," any more than our critics would like to be held responsible for everything said or done by those claiming to be "evangelical" or "born again." Nobody who is a friend or acquaintance of ours, or who agrees with one of us in some points, should be assumed to agree with any of us on all points. Nobody should be held "guilty by association" for reading or conversing with us. Also, contrary to some uninformed reports, this conversation is increasingly global and cross-cultural, and because North Americans are only a small part of it, we urge people to avoid underestimating the importance of Latin American, African, Asian, European, and First Nations voices among us."

Roger Saner said...

@Philip: here's the TallSkinnyKiwi's take on Brian McLaren:

"Brian McLaren is the worlds worst liberal - He may smile like a liberal and he certainly has the tone of voice of a liberal, he may even aspire to become a liberal to reach liberals but he frustrates his critics by not claiming to be a liberal nor holding liberal beliefs. He certainly reads their books and listens respectfully to their arguments - as we all should do - but at the end of the day, he is not a liberal and he certainly is not a pan-entheist. Many of his critics (who are many) solve this problem with a guilt-by-association game, which could be called "Six Degrees of Separation From Matthew Fox", which is interesting but not always convincing. Because when Brian eventually comes to what he is trying to say, there is scant real evidence to back up the claims that he is heretical. "

Roger Saner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger Saner said...

I hope we don't get into Atonement Wars in South Africa. Besides, penal substitution is *one* of the many ways to talk about atonement. The term, btw, refers to a theory of the atonement developed by Calvin and the Reformers and built on the Satisfaction Theory of Anslem.

The TallSkinnyKiwi (reading him yet?) has an in-depth post (with lots of links, so it must be true!) looking at the issue.

geesbouer2000 said...

@roger: haha! we meet again!

@philip: I agree totally with Roger. McLaren (despite the controversy surrounding him) has never given me any reason to doubt his orthodoxy. The vicious criticism he endures completely baffles me!

geesbouer2000 said...

@roger: ooh...the steve chalke comment got the axe!

Roger Saner said...

@geesbouer2000: Ja, it did! I axed it myself! I thought Philip had written something somewhere about Chalke's thinking on atonement, but couldn't find the right place to post it. I might post it on Tim Cantrell's article, which Philip has re-posted, but Cantrell isn't engaging anyone in online dialogue and Philip hasn't yet said too much about it, so I'll save it for a rainy day ;)