Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Change to Blog Title 'Emerging' to 'Postmodernism'

To try to clear up misunderstandings shown in numerous comments received, I have changed the title of this blog from 'The Emerging Threat of the Emerging Church in South Africa' to

'The Emerging Threat of Postmodernism in the Church in South Africa'. There are three reasons for the change:

* Firstly, there are some people who label themselves 'emerging church' or 'emergent' who are orthodox evangelicals trying to find ways reach culturally people with the gospel, without compromising the gospel. There are some who also use the word 'emerging' and 'emergent' in a flippant way like 'cool' to mean anything that is up to date and in tune with the culture. There are others who have just jumped onto the bandwagon of the movement as they do with many other passing fads, but have not necessarily absorbed the theology. While I believe these people make a mistake to share this label with unorthodox people, I do not wish to alienate them as my brothers in Christ.

* Secondly, some people interpret the 'emerging church' movement as being a legitimate part of the church (the body of Christ). Thus they see attacking the movement as attacking the church or at least a denomination of the church. Really, the movement is not a church or denomination, but a movement spreading false and destructive teaching within the church. Postmodernism within the church is like disease within the body. A doctor fights the disease - not the patient. The term 'emerging church' is problematic because it lends credibilty to the group as part of the 'church'. The new title referring to 'postmodernism in the church' defines the disease more clearly as different from the patient.

* Thirdly, there are probably hundreds of thousands of South African Christians (maybe even a majority amongst under 35 year old urban English home language Christians), who do not call themselves 'emergent' or 'emerging', but who have without realising it, have incorporated false beliefs borrowed from Postmodernism into their Christianity. Many such people will have never even heard the term 'emerging church' and thus may think this blog is not relevant to them.

Many good pastors have churches full of young people who have been deceived by postmodernism - while the good pastor is blissfully unaware that they interpret everything he says through this new lens. The pastor may get frustrated when they don't understand, much less apply what he teaches, but he doesn't know why. Such a pastor might think this blog is not relevant to his church. One denominational leader said that the Emerging Church is a 'non-event'. In saying so, he demonstrates he is tragically out of touch with the youth of his own denomination, which is one of the most seriously infected with postmodern thinking. Reality is that just about every urban English speaking church in South Africa has been infiltrated to some extent by postmodern culture - and probably the more young and educated the members - the more they have been influenced.

How can a pastor or deacon know if the youth of his church have been influenced by postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement?

There are several tests: Firstly, discuss topical issues and listen to their opinions (this is easiest by reading online discussion forums). If you see expression of postmodern viewpoints (e.g. we should tolerate every kind of behaviour including e.g. homosexality and abortion; truth is personal and not absolute; we can never be absolutely sure exactly what the Bible means; Christians have no right to tell non-Christians what to do on ethical issues), then those are clues. Secondly, if your members like books, DVDs and blogs by postmodern/emergent authors (e.g. Brian McLaren; Rob Bell; Doug Paggit, Leonard Sweet, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Andrew Jones, Steve Chalke) that is another clue. Most young educated people are now on . This can help you get to know your church members. Here many list their favourite authors and books on their personal profile page - many also list interest groups they are part of, many of which relate to emergent church themes. Thirdly, read their personal blogs and see what opinions they write and who they link to (e.g. other Emerging Church blogs). If they write articles, see who they reference. Nevertheless one or two clues doesn't prove they have fully bought into the Emerging Church agenda, but it does show they are being influenced by it. If members of your church who were previously clear on core Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching, start to doubt and become fuzzy - it is probably worth investigating to check for 'emerging church' influence. If you want to check whether a leader or an author is part of the 'emerging church' movement, then just do a Google web search with the [author's name] and the words 'emerging emergent'. Then just click on a few links to check the context and you should get an idea. Then also do a web search for the author's name or the title of a book and the word 'heresy'. Unfortunately, many orthodox teachers are falsely accused of heresy on the internet, so you have to read the links to check what they are teaching, but it should save you the time of having to read all their works yourself.

Some Christians have misunderstood my articles on the Emergent Church as thinking that I am attacking a 'cult' or minority 'sect'. While many of the beliefs promoted in the Emergent Church are as unorthodox as those in 'cults' (e.g. acceptance of homosexuality; denial of hell; referring to God as feminine etc), the 'Emerging Church' movement is not sectarian as are most 'sects' or 'cults'. It is impacting the mainstream of the Evangelical Church - their books are published by evangelical publishers and on sale in almost all our best Christian bookshops. If the Emergent Church were simply forming a new denomination for their adherents, I would not waste my time attacking them. It is the success they are having in shifting the beliefs of believers of most denominations in the direction of Postmodernism, which is the reason why we must fight to defend the mainstream. If we do not, mainstream evangelicalism risks shifting to a liberal view of scripture, as did most of the Protestant denominations in the early Twentieth Century. If this scenario continues, it is we in orthodox evangelicalism, who believe the Bible is absolute truth and a binding authority that might be marginalised and considered by many to be a 'sect', as occured with many orthodox splinter denominations in the early Twentieth Century.

Neither is all of this shift due to the efforts of the 'Emergent Village' network. The culture of Europe, North America and most of the European language speaking world has in the last few decades shifted in the direction of Postmodernism. Many Christians, lacking adequate teaching on Biblical theology and Christian worldview, bring these false beliefs with them into the church without questioning them.

Thus the need to change the blog title to clarify the threat we are facing.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to say, as I don't share your assumptions. As we both know, I do not have such a negative view as you do regarding either the emerging church or postmodernity. I might share some of your criticisms of postmodernism, as I believe the gospel always critiques the culture it incarnates into. But not only that: it also embraces that culture and makes it better.

I'm glad you acknowledge that those who are "tainted by postmodernism" are also trying to follow God. We need to be tolerant, and more than tolerant. We need to acknowledge that together, liberals and conservatives, moderns and postmoderns, we form one Body.

Phillip, I'd be much more able to engage you if I knew what it was you stood for, celebrated, and cherished, rather than disagreed with: your image, it must be said, is one of a naysayer. While I appreciate your zeal for truth, I do not think you are being open minded about postmodernity, or the genuine opportunitues for the gospel within it. Richard Rohr says there are honest questions and dishonest questions. The honest ones are those we do not know the answer to. With the dishonest ones, we have already made up our mind, so their use is to audit the other, or to confirm ones own prejudices. I want to know your honest questions.

Graeme Codrington said...


You and the readers of this blog will find a great resource in Mark Driscoll's video on the four lanes of the emerging church. Although I disagree with his analysis of the "emerging liberal" lane, I think the video is helpful in identifying the real threat that people feel.

The threat is not emergence. Nor, actually is it postmodernism. It is a new liberalism.

Most people tend to conflate these three things and treat them as if they were synonyms. They are not. I am postmodern (I believe we basically all are). I am emerging (and missional). I am liberal in the sense that I am not socially conservative. But I am also a Reformer (in the sense that the original Reformers believed that we should be constantly Reforming our theology - this is a forgotten pillar of the Reformation!).

The video of Driscoll can be found at:

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