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Calvary vs. the Emergents – #5

Wikipedia identifies seven key values and characteristics of the Emergent Church:

  • Missional living 
  • Narrative theology 
  • Generous Orthodoxy 
  • Christ-centeredness
  • Biblical Interpretation  
  • Authenticity   
  • Conversation/Dialog 

Foundational to most of these traits is the Emergents’ desire to reach the postmodern world. Postmodernism is a vast, complex system of beliefs that arose in the late twentieth century, which challenges many common assumptions about churchinflames1.jpgthe nature of reality, society, communication and meaning. Most Emergents believe that reaching our culture with the Gospel requires a radical reshaping of the Church’s beliefs and approach. While the Church has historically debated the parameters of adapting the Gospel to a changing culture, for many Emergents this often involves redefining explicit Christian concepts and moving once impregnable boundary lines. (For a more in-depth discussion of postmodernism’s influence, check out this series of articles entitled Postmodernism and the Emerging Church Movement.)

Of the seven key components listed by Wikipedia, these four stand out as having suffered particular postmodern tweaking (definitions per Wikipedia):

Narrative Theology  — Narrative presentations of faith and the Bible are emphasized over exegetical and propositional presentations such as systematic theology which are viewed as reductionism.

Generous Orthodoxy  — An ecumenical, non-dogmatic view of doctrine which attempts to move beyond the conservative versus liberal impasse in Christianity while honoring some of the traditions of premodern and postmodern Christian denominations.This generosity also extends to dialogue with non-Christian religions and non-religious people for some like Brian McLaren but not others, like Mark Driscoll.

Biblical Interpretation — An openness to consider a plurality of interpretations as well as the impact of the reader’s cultural context on the act of interpretation in contrast to the primacy of the author’s intent and cultural context. The influence of postmodern thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Stanley Fish can be seen in the emerging church approach to interpreting Scripture.

Conversation/Dialog  — Creating a safe environment for those with opinions ordinarily rejected within historic orthodoxy to talk and listen freely, as opposed to the dogmatic proclamation found in historic Christianity.

In its early days, Calvary Chapel was often criticized for its cultural concessions. Their dress, music and speech all pressed the envelope of the status quo. That said, the concessions of the Emergents involve much more vital issues. The Stand to Reason blog, notes the same: 

One might argue that Calvary Chapel has become a conventional church, but the group’s very genesis was motivated by contextualizing the Gospel to a new generation. The idea of being culturally relevant is in the DNA of the group. What they are identifying [in their position paper regarding the Emergent Church] is the difference between that value and actually changing the Gospel message.

Of all the concerns expressed by critics of the Emergent movement, this is the one that most troubles me. An “ecumenical, non-dogmatic view of doctrine” and its corresponding “openness to consider a plurality of interpretations” is a potential prerequisite for heresy.

jesus4.jpgOf course, none of us has the corner of the market on truth. I believe legitimate spiritual wisdom can be found many places — including non-christian religions. In this sense, a “generous orthodoxy” and charitable “dialogue” is important. Nevertheless, Christianity is defined by a series of exclusive, non-negotiable beliefs. For instance: There is one true God. Christ is God incarnate. He died for the sins of the world, rose bodily from the grave and will come again to judge the living and the dead. All men are sinners by nature and in need of redemption; good deeds cannot save us. There is a literal Heaven and Hell in which all souls will live eternally. These distinctives are foundational to the Christian Church. If we deny, diminish or dilute them, we compromise the entire structure.

To the degree that any Emergent adherent attempts to minimize these biblical distinctives and/or synthesize the Gospel with non-christian concepts, they cease to be orthodox. As much as I disagree with Calvary Chapel’s blanket condemnation of the Emergent Church, the warnings about apostacy are legit.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galations 1:6-9 NIV).

Them are fightin’ words! There is obviously an urgency about the apostle Paul’s admonitions — an urgency of which every Christian should take heed. No doubt, there are many Emergents who would battle tooth and nail for biblical orthodoxy. Yet, from my persepctive, there are others who are dangerously close to “trying to pervert the Gospel of Christ.” To those individuals, Paul issues the harshest warnings. As much as we are called to be loving, inclusive and merciful, we must never relinquish the fact that Christianity is incompatable with other gospels. 

Not long ago, I was asked to be a part of a religious blog aggregator, The Daily Scribe. (The lotus banner is on my sidebar.) The Scribe calls itself as “A Space for Religion, Faith and roadsign.jpgPhilosophy Bloggers.” As such, there is a diversity of beliefs represented, from Buddhists to humanists to pagans. I enjoy being in that group, partly because I believe real Christianity can distinguish itself in the marketplace of ideas, and partly because I wasn’t asked to “tone down” or alter my message to fit in. Some would say that being a member of such a group constitutes an unholy alliance. I see it as no different than living on the same street with perverts, communists and crackheads.

Anyway, last week Shawn Anthony, founder of The Daily Scribe, tendered his resignation. According to a statement he issued (which he’s since pulled from the web), his renewed commitment to Christ forced him to disengage. He had come to believe that hosting a platform for blatantly non-christian views — views as extreme as witchcraft — was incongruant with his faith. Either the Gospel is true or it isn’t, and handing the mic to folks who must necessarily challenge or undermine its claims, all in the name of ecumenism, is wrong. This is all he’s left us with. 

Yes, we must dialogue with our culture, listen, remain humble and respect the beliefs of others. Nevertheless, the Bible does not say there are many ways to heaven. Postmodernism would have us renegotiate the ultimate authority of Scripture and dilute the claims of Christ. But to do that is to erode the very foundation of Christianity. The only way ecumenism works is by denying or disregarding the distinctives of the Gospel. Yet for that man, the Bible says: “. . .let him be eternally condemed” (Gal. 1:8,9).

Lord willing, I’ll conclude this series in my next post and discuss what I believe is the paradigm for approaching such potentially volatile controversies. Grace to you…


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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • cd October 30, 2006, 8:44 PM

    For the man who seeks wisdom, Proverbs commands him to be open to instruction and correction, ask questions and listen. However, there are also strict commands to uphold certain values such as justice. This seems similar to the situation the Emergents are in.
    As you’ve said, one of the conflicts for the Emergents is to continue their converstaion/dialog value while also upholding the true gospel. I think both can be achieved.

    By the way, tell everyone on the Decompose staff I said HI!

  • Mike Duran October 31, 2006, 12:34 AM

    Hey cd, you’re right about the Emergents need to balance the two — both continue their “conversation” and uphold the true Gospel. Nevertheless, agreeing to a conversation may, in itself, suggest an erosion of faith. By the way, I have told the Decompose staff about your salutation… before cursing their ineptitude and surrender to inertia. Thanks for stopping by!

  • siouxsiepoet October 31, 2006, 11:24 PM

    hi mike, long time. (again) and i’m sneaking around so don’t tell anyone i was here (like anyone cares!).

    i’ve come in on this topic late, so i have to reread all you’ve said previously, but i guess my big problem with labeling entire movements, like postmodernism is it really makes it hard to have a conversation.

    when does listening and considering others’ opinions become selling out? i don’t know where to make that distinction and find it troubling that so many

    (man my kid’s tamagachi just went off, brb)

    see, now someone will probably tell me tamagachi are from the devil and to have one in my home is akin to the satanic bible (blegh). but i’m exaggerating. hyperbole is a gift.

    i forgot what i was saying but it was meant to be brilliant.

    be well.

  • Vicki November 1, 2006, 3:44 PM

    Excellent writing on a very controversial topic these days.

    I have to admit, everything ’emergent’ causes me to bristle, simply because of Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy. That body of work hurt me…just to read it. Although I know not everyone having a ‘conversation’ shares so generous an orthodoxy as McLaren’s, we’re on the slippery slope whenever we try to be ecumenical. We’re to watch our doctrine carefully and never sacrifice the truth for unity’s sake.

    Thanks for the great series.


  • Phil Perkins November 9, 2006, 6:26 PM

    Vicki and Siouxi,
    Actually, the conversation is the problem. The Scripture calls us to bring every thought captive to God. That means being quiet and obedient.

    Vicki’s instincts were right.

    God has not changed. Nor have His approved methods. Remember that salvation comes by “the foolishness” of preaching.

    Kerygma (proclamation) is biblical. It involves a prophet or a teacher that has God’s words to convey. We do that by studying Scripture and telling others.

    Conversation is man-centered and unbiblical. It elevates the wisdom of man. Hence, all the books and blogs.

    Where is the zeal for God’s untainted word? Why do I even want to hear about Brian McLaren, Spencer Burke, or Donald Miller? They are apostates. Mclaren has called for the normalization of homosexuality in the church–he called it a moratorium. He also called us to stop presenting Jesus as personal savior and to stop worrying about people going to hell since that is not our mission. (Read A Generous Orthodoxy, Missional Chapter.)

    The proper balance between our conversation and God’s authoritative proclamation is for us to shut up and listen.

    In Christ,
    Phil Perkins.

  • Phil Perkins November 9, 2006, 6:57 PM

    Mike, Vicki, and Siouxipoet,
    God has said this in Deut. 12:29-3o, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'”

    Here is a conundrum. Mike says, “I have some real struggles categorically condemning certain — maybe any — form of prayer.”

    Then he turns around and says that Jesus did just that. Mike–“Jesus clearly condemned “vain repetition” (Matt. 6:7) and prayer distinctly practiced for show (Matt. 6:1-4).”

    So, Mike, are you more loving and open-minded than Christ?

    This is my point, Mike. You are trying so hard to be even handed, you cannot condemn any evil practice, but you can condemn those who condemn evil.

    So, even though you cannot condemn pagan prayer practices, God did. Who’s right. You or Christ?

    In Christ,
    Phil Perkins.

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