For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
The emergent church has finally made it to Philippine shores.
I guess it was just a matter of time.
What is the emergent church? There’s no way to sum it up in a pithy one-liner. If you’re dying to know what all the fuss is about I suggest you go over and read what David Kowalski has to say about all things emergent/ing over at Apologetics Index. His definitions and summations are spot on.
But for those of you who don’t have time to read through several pages of material and want something in a nutshell, let me have a stab at it:
The emergent church is a movement in evangelical Christianity that seeks to do things differently, usually in ways that challenge evangelical church traditions.
I’d say that’s a very basic definition of what it is to be emergent. Mark Driscoll, himself an “emerging” pastor, sums it up this way:
The emerging church is a growing, loosely connected movement of primarily young pastors who are glad to see the end of modernity and are seeking to function as missionaries who bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to emerging and postmodern cultures. The emerging church welcomes the tension of holding in one closed hand the unchanging truth of evangelical Christian theology (Jude 3) and holding in one open hand the many cultural ways of showing and speaking Christian truth as a missionary to America (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Since the movement, if it can be called that, is young and is still defining its theological center, I do not want to portray the movement as ideologically unified because I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church.
So far, so nice. I myself gravitate towards conservative emergent thought, especially the idea that we should be missionaries that truly speak the truth in a culture that mostly despises it, in a way that is clear and not hindered by “old fashioned” sensibilities (i.e. I have long hair, wear an earring, but can and will make a coherent presentation of the gospel of Jesus whenever possible). It’s probably this part of the emergent movement that young people mostly gravitate to – the promise that there are new and exciting ways to express one’s faith and not just be a product of a legalistic and boring system.
But I reject emergent values mainly because of the liberalism and heresy that typifies most of the movement. Driscoll, a theologically conservative pastor himself, explains why he had to distance himself from his peers:
I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church Movement in its early days and spent a few years traveling the country to speak to emerging leaders in an effort to help build a missional movement in the United States. The wonderful upside of the emerging church is that it elevates mission in American culture to a high priority, which is a need so urgent that its importance can hardly be overstated.
I had to distance myself, however, from one of many streams in the emerging church because of theological differences. Since the late 1990s, this stream has become known as Emergent. The emergent church is part of the Emerging Church Movement but does not embrace the dominant ideology of the movement. Rather the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only differences is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity.
The liberal stream that Driscoll refers to is the real cause for alarm. And at this point in its development, it is a dangerous mix of post-modernism and heresy that is systematically attacking Biblical truth and undermining the Body of Christ.
I suppose that’s a pretty harsh summary for a movement that seems so bent on recapturing what it means to “live like Jesus” in a needy, dying world. As Driscoll mentions, US emergents have elevated mission work in their country and others across the world are following suit. It’s a good thing, for sure, to authentically reach one’s community for Christ by loving and serving people while proactively and unashamedly sharing the gospel (Galatians 5:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
The problem is, many emergents don’t believe in the Biblical gospel; many don’t even believe in a Biblical hell. And that’s not all; most of the emergent church’s key leaders have embraced relativism and liberalism in exchange for orthodoxy and the reliability of Scripture.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, says of the movement:
“Unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, this [emerging church] movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind.”
And this is the heart of the emergent/ing brand: truth is unknowable, so let’s all stop making creedal propositions and start a conversation.
Emergent pastors and leaders have a real disdain for the idea of absolute truth. They teach that the Bible is ultimately a big mystery. That we should be “humble” in approaching the Word and not make big, definitive pronouncements.
Consider what Brian McLaren, the emergent movement’s principle spokesperson, has to say about the gospel:
“I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be ‘saved’?…. I don’t think the liberals have it right. But I don’t think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy.”
Compare that to Jesus’ declaration: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). The Lord sounded pretty sure that his gospel would have its desired effect. For McLaren to assert we’ve somehow missed the point after two thousand years of Christianity seems to undermine Scripture and all that the Lord has accomplished in history so far.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who attends an emergent church in The Fort. I asked him what they’re all about. He gave me the run down: they’re about reaching people in their contexts.
In this case, they’re reaching young people who have “short attention spans and communicate through music”. Which explains why they do church inside a bar with alternative rock bands holding down the stage. You can also sit and drink beer while worship is in motion; he once drank whiskey during a service.
Anyone can attend; the preaching is “inspiring and unthreatening”. The atmosphere is “non-judgmental,” my friend told me. The overarching idea is that his church is hip and cool, the preaching short and peppy, and you can be yourself, whatever you may be.
Which suits people of many persuasions, of course. Another friend of mine, a gay non-believer, informed me she attends this same church. I asked her how this came to be.
She basically finds it a really cool place to hang out (it is held in a bar after all) and besides the fact that she can drink alcohol while the worship service is in motion, she likes what she hears.
“Did you know that Jesus never once condemned homosexuality?” she asked me.
I was astounded. “What else do you like about that church?” I asked.
“It’s just really nice to know that God loves me.”
Indeed. This seems to be the trend. And it’s easy to see why people buy it. A fun, modern “church” where you can sip beer and listen to perky, non-confrontational messages and funky music sounds like a good deal.
Except it’s not anything like a New Testament church.
Yet emergent churches embrace this “anything to everyone” approach because it fits their pragmatic ideals. It’s rooted in the seeker sensitive philosophy that if you’re cool enough, if you rock like the world, look just like the heroes of the young, and preach (or dialog, as is the emergent buzzword) in non-threatening sound bites, then you can win people over.
Forget teaching about sin, the atonement of Christ, the holiness of God, and what it means to obey Jesus as unequivocal Lord; what do you want to do, scare people away?
“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are, to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord.”
“The problem with the critics [conservative Evangelicals] here is that they think they have a superior, timeless gospel that floats above any culture…”
McLaren can say things like this because according to him, truth is ultimately inscrutable. Yet is that accurate? If so, the gospel is truly unknowable and we conservatives really can’t believe in a “superior, timeless gospel”.
But what does the Bible have to say about itself?
“For the word of the LORD holds true, and everything he does is worthy of our trust.”
“The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.”
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It would seem the Word of God is clear on how truthful it actually is. And it’s not some kind of unreachable truth that’s shrouded in mystery. Jesus promises that we’ll know and truly understand the truth – and it will set us free.
McLaren, of course, is not the only one who espouses such ideas. He and many others have jettisoned orthodox Christianity for a post-modern approach. And in their abandonment of sound theology they have opened the floodgates to gross error; error that can lead to damning results.
How much of the emergent movement has infiltrated the Philippines? I honestly don’t know. I see strains of it here and there; there are a couple of churches that seem to be leaning in the emergent direction.
I heard one local pastor preach and infer that theology and knowledge are not really that important to the Christian life; simple faith is what has the most potent and lasting impact. This may sound wise and appealing on the surface (especially to those who are tired of dead orthodoxy and “divisive” theology) but in reality it’s just another way of saying, “It’s OK to not pay attention to sound doctrine as long as your heart is in the right place.”
Which of course is nonsense.
Faith and knowledge go hand in hand; the greatness of your faith is informed by how much you know about God, his Word, and His character as revealed in Scripture. There’s no big mystery to it: the more you know about Him, the more faith you have. The less you know about God, the less your faith.
But things like knowing God, Biblical truth, and orthodox theology have little place in emergent churches. These things come across as outmoded, heavy handed, and too certain (not enough mystery).
Says Kristen Bell, wife of emergent superstar pastor Rob Bell:
“I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible, that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again — like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.”
Tony Jones, another prominent emergent leader adds that we should,
“…stop looking for some objective Truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible.”
In abandoning the truth and clarity of the Word of God, many emergents have fallen headlong into serious error. We’ve already seen how far off the theological deep end Brian McLaren is. Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, flatly denies the reality of eternal punishment for sinners in hell. And read what Rob Bell has to say about the virgin birth:
“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?
“But what if, as you study the origin of the word “virgin” you discover that the word “virgin” in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word “virgin” could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?”
I’m watching how the movement evolves here in the Philippines. I pray the extremes of emergent thought never take root. To now deny absolute truth and weave in its place a concoction of half-truths masquerading as Biblical wisdom is even more perilous than just being seeker sensitive. (A marriage of the two, which seems to be the happening thing, is probably our worst nightmare).
John MacArthur helps put things in perspective:
I believe the church has one function, and that is to guard the truth, to proclaim the truth and to live the truth. So you take the Word of God, you teach it, you proclaim it, you protect it, you defend it, and you live it, and that’s a church. The Word of God rightly divided, rightly understood.
That’s not the idea in a seeker church; that’s not the idea certainly in an emerging church. Everything becomes style and contextualization and everything is built around the manipulation of people’s hot buttons as if we were selling a product like any other product in our culture. This fails to understand that the only real power in the spiritual realm is Divine and that God works His power through His truth, and that’s all that matters.
Stand for the truth people. God bless.