A Brief Synopsis of The Emerging Church

Pastor Daryl Hilbert
www.gracebiblegillette.org

 

I.     WHAT IS THE EMERGING CHURCH?

A.    It is difficult to pin down a definition of the Emerging Church for several reasons:

1.     They are not able to clearly define themselves.

2.     They have not made up their mind, what to deconstruct and reconstruct in historical Christianity.

3.     They do not know what the final emerging Christian is supposed to look like.

B.    Brian McLarenemergent networker and author of A New Kind of Christianity, says,

Right now Emergent is a conversation, not a movement. We don’t have a program. We don’t have a model. I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it. (Christianity Today, “The Emergent Mystique”)

C.    Basically, the Emerging Church is a postmodern approach to Christianity.

1.     What is postmodernism?

Postmodern thought is, in its very essence, an adventure and an expression of life experience. From its modernist beginnings, Postmodernism is an attempt to question the world that we see around us and especially not to take other people’s views as the final truth. Postmodernism puts everything into question and radically interrogates philosophies, strategies and world views. There is no such thing as a definition of the postmodern. It is a mood rather than a strict discipline. Postmodernism, with all its complexity and possible excesses, is an attempt to find new and more truthful versions of the world. (www.essortment.com)

2.     What is Postmodernism in Christianity?

The modern period of history… is coming to an end. We are entering “postmodernity,” an as-yet ill-defined borderland in which central modern values like objectivity, analysis, and control will become less compelling. They are superseded by postmodern values like mystery and wonder. The controversial implication is that forms of Christianity that have thrived in modernity [including evangelicalism] are unlikely to survive the transition. (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)

II.    HOW DID THE EMERGING CHURCH GET STARTED?

A.    Though there are many different voices in the Emerging Church, Brian McLaren is the unofficial spiritual leader.

From 1978 to 1986, McLaren taught college English, and in 1982, he helped form Cedar Ridge Community Church, an innovative, nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region (crcc.org). He left higher education in 1986 to serve as the church’s founding pastor and served in that capacity until 2006. During that time, Cedar Ridge earned a reputation as a leader among emerging missional congregations ).

B.    McLaren is known through his lectures, writing, and especially 2001 book entitled A New Kind of Christian.

A New Kind of Christian became influential not just because of its content but also its form. McLaren cast the book as a story of two friends, a disillusioned evangelical pastor named Dan Poole, and an enigmatic high school science teacher nicknamed Neo. On the brink of despair with his own ministry, Dan is led by Neo—who turns out to be a lapsed pastor himself—through a series of set pieces that introduce the initially skeptical Dan to a “postmodern” approach to Christianity. (Crouch, Christianity Today, “The Emergent Mystique”)

C.    Rob and Kirsten Bell are perhaps the most prolific followers of McLaren. Raised in traditional evangelical churches, they had their eyes opened while reading, A New Kind of Christian.

D.    Rob Bell confirms that the Emergent Church is not so much concerned with methodology as it is the message.

This is not just the same old message with new methods.  We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. (Crouch, Christianity Today, “The Emergent Mystique”)

[The Emergent Church] is something new in the cultural-identifying churches.  The seeker-sensitive church loudly proclaimed that they were fine-tuning the methodology but were not tampering with the message of the evangelical church (even though they were).  The emergent church is concerned about methods but they are even more concerned about the message.  They believe that conservative evangelical Christianity has it all wrong.  From the Scriptures to essential doctrines to the gospel itself, the church so far just doesn’t get it.  And the emergent people include themselves in the same camp.  As Brian McLaren states, “I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet.  What does it mean to be saved?… None of us have arrived at orthodoxy.” (Gilley, “The Emerging Church – Part 1”)

III.  WHAT DOES THE EMERGING CHURCH BELIEVE?

A.    Truth

1.     If defining the Emerging Church was difficult, stating their beliefs is like hanging on to soap-on-a-rope. The tighter you squeeze it the slipperier it gets.

2.     The main difficulty is that the postmodern Emerging Church rejects propositional truths, dogmas, and certainty.

3.     Propositional truths are truths that are stated in their simplest forms. Something is either true or false (Formal Logic’s “Excluded Middle”).

a)    Logic is not a philosophy but a proper way of thinking and deriving at the truth (in propositional truths). This is especially true when deriving propositional truth from the Scriptures. This has been a hermeneutical principle of historical orthodox Christianity.

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (Westminster Confession 1:6)

Reason is the instrument of discovery of all doctrines and duties, whether “expressly set down in Scripture” or “by good and necessary consequence deduced from Scripture”: but their authority, when once discovered, is derived from God, who reveals them and prescribes them in Scripture, either by literal assertion or by necessary implication. (B.B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work)

Scripture frequently employs logical devices, such as antithesis, if-then arguments, syllogisms, and propositions. These are all standard logical forms and Scripture is full of them. (MacArthur, The Truth Warpg. 14)

4.     The Christian receives his propositional truth from the Scriptures. Those propositional truths are what is called church dogma. Dogma is a corpus of doctrines relating to beliefs authoritatively by the historical orthodox church based on Scripture.

5.     If the Emerging Church has any trademark at all, it is to claim uncertainty towards truth.

McLaren alone has written and co-authored about a dozen books, and his utter contempt for certainty is a motif he returns to again and again. (MacArthur, The Truth War, pg. x-xi)

Ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope’s, whoever’s) is orthodox, meaning true, and here’s my honest answer: a little, but not yet.  Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture…I’d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more spreads before us unseen and unimagined.  But at least our eyes are open!  To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall. (Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p.293)

6.     However, if there is one thing we can be certain about, it is that because God is a God of truth, Christianity and all its facets are centered around truth.

a)    There is no ambiguity in truth, especially the truth of Scripture (1Jn 2:21).

b)    The Scriptures are truth and reveal God’s truth (Ps 119:160; Jn 17:17).

c)     The Scriptures exhort the discovery and the guarding of truth (Pr 23:23).

d)    God is a God of truth and must be worshipped in Spirit and in truth (Ps 31:5; Jn 4:24).

e)     Jesus Christ is unambiguously called the Truth (Jn 14:6).

f)     The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth” and guides the believer into truth (Jn 16:13).

g)     The church is supposed to be the pillar of truth (1Ti 3:15).

h)    Believers are characterized by the love of truth (2Th 2:10).

i)      Believers are set free by knowing the truth (Jn 8:32).

j)     Godless men suppress the truth (Ro 1:18).

k)    False teachers turn away from the truth (Tit 1:13-14).

l)      False teachers will turn the church away from truth (2Ti 4:3-4).

B.    Bible

1.     Some in the Emerging Church see the Scriptures as a human-product and not as a divine-product (1Ti 3:16-17).

Rob Bell celebrates his discovering the Bible as a human product, rather than the product of divine fiat. The Bible is still in the center for us, but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it. (Crouch, Andy, Christianity Today, Nov. 2004, Vol. 48, No. 11, pp. 36ff)

Rob’s wife, Kristen, adds “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible.” Kristen says, “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.” (ibid)

2.     Evidently, the uncertainty of truth is better and more colorful than the certainty of God’s truth. Uncertainty has to be better because Brian McLaren does not support the inerrancy of Scripture but the “inherency” of Scripture.

The Bible is absolutely equivalent to the phrase “the Word of God” as used in the Bible.  Although I do find the term inerrancy useful… I would prefer to use the term inherency to describe my view of Scripture. (McLaren, The Last Word, p. 111)

As to what inherency of Scripture is, Gilley comments “By the use of inherency he is dusting off the neo-orthodox view of the Scriptures, which taught that the Bible contains the ‘word of God’ but is not the completed Word of God, for God’s Word can be found in anything He ‘inspires.'” (Gilley, “The Emerging Church – Part 3”)

3.     When the Emerging Church Movement rejects the inerrancy of Scripture, the next logical step is to reject expository teaching.

“There is more than one way to ‘kill’ the Bible,” McLaren says. “You can dissect it, analyze it, abstract it. You can read its ragged stories and ragamuffin poetry, and from them you can derive neat abstractions, sterile propositions, and sharp-edged principles.” (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, p. 158)

D. A. Carson answers why the Emerging Church has to take such a position on expository teaching: “At some juncture churches have to decide whether they will, by God’s grace, try to live in submission to Scripture, or try to domesticate Scripture.” (D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, p. 164)

4.     Finally, if the Emerging Church cannot be certain about the Bible’s truths, it must seek to find “new truths.” Such new truths are supposedly sought after in a sort of Reformational spirit.

I can’t see church history in any other way, except this: “semper reformanda”, continually being lead and taught and guided by the Spirit into new truth. (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 193)

It is our turn to step up and take responsibility for who the church is going to be for a new generation. It is our turn to redefine and reshape and dream it all up again. (Bell, Velvet Elvis, p. 164)

a)    The spirit of the Reformation was not to find “new truth” but to confirm the truth of Scripture. Once found, the Reformers were willing to die rather than change the truth of Scripture.

b)    The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth Who guides not into “new truth” but into God’s truth, which is revealed in the Scriptures (Jn 14:26; 16:13).

C.    God

1.     The Emerging Church’s thought on God is that God, can’t ever really be an object to be studied. (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, p. 161)

2.     Historical Orthodox Christianity would agree that God is transcendent in the sense that an infinite God cannot be fully known by finite minds and that unless God reveals Himself, man could never attain knowledge of Him.

3.     However, God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and in the person of His Son (Heb 1:1-2; Jn 1:18). God has given us His Spirit that we might know Him and His truth (1Jn 4:7; 5:20; 1Co 2:10-11).

D.    Sin

1.     The Emerging Church does not appear to make any room for sin being brought into God’s creation.

McLaren writes, Many of us have grown uneasy with this understanding of “the fall” (and with it an exaggerated understanding of the doctrine of “original sin”).  We are suspicious that it has become a kind of Western Neo-Platonic invasive species that ravages the harmonious balance inherent in the enduring Jewish concepts of creation as God’s world. (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxyp. 235)

2.     One gets the idea that McLaren sees all evil stemming not from the fall of man but from those who believe in original sin (Ro 3:23; 6:23; Ro 5:12).

E.    Substitutionary Atonement

1.     Take away the truth of the Bible and it is only a matter of time before the heart of salvation is questioned.

2.     The doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement is all but ridiculed by the Emerging Church.

3.     That just sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation. It sounds like divine child abuse. You know? (Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In, p. 102)

4.     Substitutionary Atonement is the pinnacle for understanding the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross on behalf of sinners (Ro 4:25; 5:8; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2).

F.     Salvation

1.     The Emerging Church struggles with any exclusiveness to the Gospel. It would embrace Universalism (everyone is saved) and reject an exclusive Gospel in which only those who have the Son are included.

Maybe God’s plan is an opt-out plan, not an opt-in one. If you want to stay out of the party, you can. But it’s hard for me to imagine somebody being more stubbornly ornery than God is gracious. (McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That, p. 138)

2.     Salvation for the Emerging Church is not centered on getting into heaven, but rather getting heaven into our eco-system and political correctness.

Is getting individual souls into heaven the focal point of the gospel? I’d have to say no, for any number of reasons.  Don’t you think that God is concerned about saving the whole world?… It is the redemption of the world, the stars, the animals, the planets, the whole show. (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, p. 129)

3.     Furthermore, the Emerging Church defines “eternal life” (though they do not like definitions) as, “life as people are living in these days.”

McLaren comments: Unfortunately, the phrase “eternal life” is often misinterpreted to mean “life in heaven after you die” – as are “kingdom of God” and its synonym, “kingdom of heaven.” (McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, p. 36-37)

4.     While it is true that the believer receives life now when he trusts in Christ as Savior, that life is a spiritually regenerated life through the Holy Spirit (Jn 5:24). But more importantly, the usage of “eternal life” in the Scriptures means exactly that, life that is eternal, even after we die and go to heaven. The Greek words are zōến aiṓnion, and literally mean, “life which is eternal.” Aiṓnios (eternal) which literally means, “ages” is quite clear in referring to”life in heaven after you die” (Jn 6:40; 10:28; Jude 1:7; Jude 1:21; 1Ti 6:16).

G.    Hell

1.     With a Bible that holds no propositional truths, an all-inclusive gospel, and a salvation from mistreatment to the earth and its people, how could there be a belief in hell by the Emerging Church?

Through the threat of hell the Pharisees could motivate sinners to stop sinning and then perhaps God would send the Messiah along with His kingdom. Jesus takes the Pharisees’ club and turns it on them. Jesus didn’t really believe in or endorse hell, as we understand it; He just used it as a “truth-depicting model”. (McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That, p. 61-64, 71-79)

2.     Jesus was not using a cliché when He spoke of hell, but rather a description of a literal place where those rejecting Christ’s salvation will experience God’s eternal wrath (Mk 9:48; Mt 13:42; 25:46).

IV.  HOW DO WE RESPOND TO THE EMERGING CHURCH?

A.    False teachers had crept in unnoticed among Jude’s readers (vs. 4). It was such a problem that Jude was compelled (anágkê – pressed tight, constraint) to write concerning them. Jude was so compelled to write that he changed his subject matter from “common salvation” (possibly common blessings in Christ) to “false teachers.”

B.    His appeal (parakaléō – strong encouragement) was that his readers would “contend earnestly” for the faith. The phrase “contend earnestly” (epagōnízomai) is an interesting word.

1.     It is only used here in the NT by Jude.

2.     It contains the root word agōnízomai which was an athletic term used for the effort put forth by an Olympian (1Co 9:25 – “compete”). We get our English word, “agonize” from this root. It was used for a strenuous and heroic struggle with the metaphor, “to fight” (1Ti 6:12, 2Ti 4:7).

3.     Epagōnízomai means to make an emphatic and strenuous effort on behalf of something.

4.     Jude uses epagōnízomai to appeal to his readers to put forth an emphatic effort and strenuous struggle on behalf of the truth. Metaphorically, they were to wage war for the truth.

C.    For what truth were they to wage war? They were to wage war for the truths and dogma of “the faith.”

1.     “The faith” (tê pístei) is the Christian faith. It is the objective beliefs of the Christian faith.

2.     This faith was handed down once (hápax – once for all time cp. Heb 9:28; 1Pe 3:18), meaning that there is one faith (Eph 4:5) with one set of beliefs.

3.     It was handed down for all saints (true believers) because there is only one set of beliefs that the saints were to contend for.

4.     Jude emphatically describes what “the faith” really is. In the Greek it is literally, “the once handed down for the saints faith.

D.    Exhortations From the Scriptures

1.     The believer is to stand in the truth (Eph 6:14).

2.     The believer is to discern between truth and error (1Jn 4:6).

3.     The believer is to recognize the earmarks of false teachers (2Pe 2:1; Jude 4ff).

4.     The believer is to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15; 2Ti 2:24-26; Tit 1:9).

E.    Conclusion

1.     The Emerging Church has only one struggle. Their struggle is against those who claim to have the truth with certainty. The Emerging Church would have had a struggle with a Christian like Jude, and with the saints to whom Jude was writing because they were unambiguous about the truths of their faith.

I drive my car and listen to the Christian radio station, something my wife always tells me I should stop doing (“because it only gets you upset”). There I hear preacher after preacher be so absolutely sure of his bombproof answers and his foolproof biblical interpretations … And the more sure he seems, the less I find myself wanting to be a Christian, because on this side of the microphone, antennas, and speaker, life isn’t that simple, answers aren’t that clear, and nothing is that sure. (McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, p. 14)

The Bible requires human interpretation, which was [is] a problem…. How do “I” know the Bible is always right?  And if “I” am sophisticated enough to realize that I know nothing of the Bible without my own involvement via interpretation….What good is it, liberals would ask conservatives, to have an inerrant Bible if you have no inerrant interpretations? (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, pp. 133-134)

2.     The Emerging Church would have fought against Jude and his readers until, if it were even possible, they gave up contending earnestly for the faith and started contending earnestly for many faiths.

Although I don’t hope all Buddhists will become (cultural) Christians, I do hope all who feel so called will become Buddhist followers of Jesus; I believe they should be given that opportunity and invitation. I don’t hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion. But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus. (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 113)

3.     How do we respond to the Emerging Church Movement? Answer: the same way the Scriptures have always exhorted believers to respond, by putting forth an emphatic effort and strenuous struggle on behalf of the truth, by contending earnestly for the faith once for all handed down to the saints, and metaphorically, by waging war for the truth.

Used by Permission.

 

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