Wikipedia identifies seven key values and characteristics of the Emergent Church:
- Missional livingÂ
- Narrative theologyÂ
- Generous OrthodoxyÂ
- Biblical InterpretationÂ Â
- AuthenticityÂ Â Â
Foundational to most of these traits is the Emergents’ desire to reach the postmodern world.Â Postmodernism is a vast, complex system of beliefs that arose in the late twentieth century, which challenges many common assumptions about the nature of reality, society, communication and meaning. Most Emergents believe thatÂ 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.Â (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 TheologyÂ — Narrative presentations of faith and the Bible are emphasized over exegetical and propositional presentations such as systematic theology which are viewed as reductionism.
Generous OrthodoxyÂ — 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/DialogÂ — 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:Â
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.Â The idea of being culturally relevant is in the DNA of the group.Â 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.
Of 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” andÂ charitable “dialogue” is important. Nevertheless,Â Christianity is defined by a series of exclusive, non-negotiable beliefs.Â For instance: There is one true God.Â 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.Â 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.Â These distinctives are foundational toÂ 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 â€” 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!Â 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.Â
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 Philosophy 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 aÂ 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.Â This is all he’s left us with.Â
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 orÂ 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…