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Calvary vs. the Emergents – #3

One of the reasons for Calvary Chapel’s denunciation of Rick Warren is what they perceive as Warren’s “endorsement” of the Emergent Church. In an email from Rick Warren to Lighthouse Trails Publishing, czar.jpghowever, Warren denies any affiliation:

. . .Zon- dervan publishers asked me to write a commentary on an “Emerging Church” book, although I am definitely not a part of that group.  If you read that book, you saw that I often disagreed with the author in my sidebar commentary.  But when the book came out – it had my name paired with Brian McLaren’s on the cover!  If I had known that Mr McLaren was asked to be a commentator too, I would have declined, because I have some major disagreements with his views of the so-called “emerging” movement.

Nevertheless, in a recent pastor’s newsletter, Warren quotes favorably from several Emergent adherents (Brian McLaren and Dan Kimball) and even links to The Ooze, an openly Emergent ministry. 

I’m not sure what to make of this. Is Warren, as some contend, being deceitful about his affiliations? Or is this a case of guilt-by-association, and is Calvary trying to force a connection that is, at best, superficial?

Of course, behind all these questions is the assertion that the Emergent Movement is apostate.

In an article entitled, The Emerging Church: Another Road to Rome, Roger Oakland concludes:

I believe we are seeing the apostasy that Paul warned would be a sign we are in the last days. Is it possible the grand delusion is underway and the world is being set up for a counterfeit bride for the counterfeit Christ?

Shades of Dave Hunt! Similarly, in their official statement, Calvary Chapel quotes II Peter 2:1 and Jude 1:4 which mention “false teachers,” “damnable heresies,” and “ungodly men. . . denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ”. Immediately after these quotes the paper states, “We see a tendency toward this in what is commonly called the ‘Emergent Church’ teachings.”

Wow! Is the “Emergent Church” as bad as Calvary Chapel suggests? Are they apostates who deny God and construct a “conterfeit Christ”? These are the questions I’ve been wrestling with since I’ve learned there was such a movement. The problem is nailing Emergents down to what they actually believe.

In their statement, Calvary isolated these concerns about the group:

  • “That Jesus is not the only way by which one might be saved”.
  • “The soft peddling of hell as the destiny for those who reject the salvation offered through Jesus Christ”.
  • [A] “touchy feely relating to God”
  • “The use of icons to give them a sense of God”
  • [Seeking] “to make sinners feel safe and comfortable in church”
  • [Condoning] “what God has condemned, such as the homosexual lifestyle?”
  • Looking to “Eastern religions with their practices of Yoga and special breathing techniques or repeating a mantra to hear God speak to us”

meditation1.jpgInsofar as these caricatures are accurate, I would definitely have a problem with some elements of this movement. However, the language assumes that the Emergent Church is a unified group, a denomination, a monolithic entity that defines doctrine for a group of card-carrying adherents. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the final point (#8) of the piece undermines Calvary’s inference:

    The great confusion that exists in the divergent positions of the Emergent Church results from their challenging the final authority of the Scriptures. [emphasis added]

An essential characteristic of the Emergent movement is one that Calvary Chapel openly identifies here: “divergent positions.” Even Wikipedia defines the Emergent Church as “a diverse conversation within Christianity.”  

Calvary Chapel levels some serious allegations against the Emergent Church. But the fact is, the Emergent movement is “a diverse conversation within Christianity.” It has no headquarters. No president. No Board of Trustees. No agreed-upon doctrinal statement. No Kool-Aid bar for initiates.

In a Pastor’s and Theologian’s Forum on the Emerging Church, one minister writes:

There have been many attempts in recent years to have a “dialogue” with the emerging church. In reality, the so-called emerging church is so diverse that I’m often left wondering with whom this dialogue is supposed to be taking place.

The amorphous nature of the group makes blanket condemnations difficult. Yes, some Emergents challenge “the final authority of the Scriptures.” And some don’t. Some use icons. Others abstain. Some are more inclusive of outsiders and mystical traditions. Some are liberal, others conservative. Like any new movement, many different people and positions are represented there. And, in the case of the Emergent Church, some of those positions even veer into potentially dangerous theological terrain.

Because of the nature of the Emergent Church — and the serious charges being brought against it — I believe we must guard against “broadbrushing” the theology of the entire movement, and categorically assigning the Emergents, en masse, to one big, fat “damnable heresy.” It’s like saying “All Christians are hypocrites.” The generalization just doesn’t wash.

more. . .


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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jeanne Damoff October 23, 2006, 1:11 PM

    Your intellectually honest, unemotional attempt to understand this conflict is refreshing, Mike. Thanks for sharing the results of your research and ponderings with us. I’m learning from your posts.

  • Mike Duran October 23, 2006, 1:47 PM

    You’re right, Jeanne, I am pondering. There are some Emergent elements that I find totally refreshing; there are others that make me very nervous. While I want to avoid blanket condemnations (which I feel Calvary has done), I also don’t want to slip into doctrinal murkiness (which some EC’ers have done). Thanks for staying with the posts. Your comments are always a delight!

  • Linda Gilmore October 23, 2006, 2:18 PM

    I second Jeanne. This is a good series.

    Have you looked at Scot McKnight’s blog (the Jesus Creed – http://www.jesuscreed.org). Scot is a professor at North Park University (my daughter’s alma mater) and has discussed the emergent movement a lot. So has the IMonk (aka Michael Spencer — http://www.internetmonk.com). Both of these guys are about as doctrinally sound as they come, and weigh everything against scripture, so their perspective is helpful to me.

  • Mike Duran October 23, 2006, 3:20 PM

    Hey Linda, thanks for the links. For those who want to dig into the subject, there’s no shortage of discussion in the blogosphere. The real challenge is finding ones that refrain from rhetoric, sensationalism, and guilt-by-association, while staying true to Scripture and Christian courtesy. In that vein, I-Monk’s Suggestions for Critics of the Emerging Church is worth reading. I also appreciate JollyBlogger’s takes, like this and this.

  • Michelle Pendergrass October 23, 2006, 4:56 PM

    Just a thought.

    If I have a lesbian friend and associate with her and am seen in public with her, does that make me a lesbian?

    That’s the way I see Rick Warren’s association with the EC.

    I like Calvary, but they’ve been feeling more and more legalistic lately. But then I’ve been hating being labeled “un-Chrisitian” because I have gay, atheist, and other friends. In fact, at times, I’d rather be around them. They’re far less judgmental. They know who I am and what I believe and we have good discussions about it. Yet, they love me and accept me. I can’t say that for all Christians.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller October 23, 2006, 6:49 PM

    Mike, very thoughtful.

    The emergent church movement had a lot to do with my taking some time to study postmodernism because I think that prevaling philosophy drives much of the ECM.

    Rob Wilkerson has some excellent posts on the subject. The sidebar of his blog, Miscellanies on the Gospel, provides links to the posts. 

    As to Dobson and Rick Warren, I think your comment about babies and bath water is appropriate. I don’t agree with everything those men do. I may not even agree with their choice of methodology to accomplish what they would like to see take place. But apostasy?

    Doesn’t that require one to actually deny Christ, not just in someone else’s mind because of his choice of ministry?

    I think it’s like saying, Well, that fiction writer is totally ineffective in evangelizing people. In fact, a good many readers might misunderstand, so let’s start burning Lord of the Rings books.


  • Kelly Klepfer October 25, 2006, 6:01 PM

    Generalization – the mother of prejudice and bigotry.

    I am so grateful that God will evaluate each of us as individuals.

  • Ame October 26, 2006, 8:18 AM

    Gosh, Mike, these posts are so informative for me; I’ve been so burried in my own little world.

    I like the way you write about stuff like this. You really do your research, but what I like best is that you are able to take very complex issues and present them well. Just more kudos to your great ability to write!

    For the record, if there is one, from what I know of the two men, I like Warren and Dobson.

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