by Craig Branch

CBS news story a year ago began with a startling headline, “Some Say 20 Million Participate in the Emerging Church Movement.”  The story went on,

Many theologians believe the Emerging Church Movement is the fastest growing group in Christianity. . . .The Emerging Church Movement is made up mostly of mem­ bers of Generation X and Y, but these soul searchers feel like something out of the sixties, the decade that defined their baby boomer parents. Ironically, they’re rebelling against the churches boomers fill every Sunday. 1

 

A Christian apologist remarks in a new book,

In the not-too-distant future, most evangelical pastors [and evangelicals, and even liberals] will have to decide whether to support or reject the spirituality behind the emerging church. If this movement continues unfolding at the present pace, mainstream Christianity will be completely restructured, and the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ will be considered obsolete.2

 

Is this alarmist hype generated to promote his book?  I’m afraid not, although I would add a third response to his two options of either supporting it or rejecting it.  We must seriously interact with and reflect on what the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is saying to the evangelical Church, make appropriate corrections or adjustments, and exhort the ECM to merge back with us.

So, what is the Emerging Church Movement and why is it so significant?  Because of the multifaceted nature of the ECM, it is difficult to thoroughly explore all of its strengths and weaknesses, or to critique all its various applications in this short article. 3   But I will provide an overview and will focus on a few of the important strengths, and the most serious concerns (even heresies) in the movement.

 

What is the emerging church?

As was previously stated in my “Veritas” column in this journal,  new movements are usually motivated  and characterized by (1) a dissatisfaction with the existing movement or culture; (2) a shared commitment to new purposes; and (3) a foundation (consciously or unconsciously held) in a particular theology or worldview. Concerning the first of these, we may note that ECM is  a diverse  coalition  of  groups-sometimes  churches, sometimes  small groups  of  adherents-that  is usually dissatisfied with the traditional evangelical church (including the seeker-sensitive versions).  They propose to deconstruct and radically redirect the forms, the theology, and mission of the body of Christ.  Also common to the DNA of ECM is an attempt to relate to and connect with the emerging postmodern  culture (thought to be largely ignored by the traditional churches).

So the focus of this article is on whether ECM’s dissatisfaction with and criticisms of the existing church culture are valid, and, if so, on whether the remedies pro­ posed by ECM are helpful or harmful, and whether the underlying theology is faithful or heretical.

 

The Emerging Emergents

There are a growing number of books and articles explaining and responding to ECM.   One of the most respected, especially by those within that movement, is the book Emerging Churches, by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger.  They interacted with 50 ECM leaders in the U.S.  and U.K. for the first five formative years.  The following is a summary of the formation of the ECM.4

ECM began with a number of individuals who were trying to reach the Gen-X generation but were frustrated with the existing church structures and strategies. Probably the watershed moment was the formation of the Young Leaders Network in 1997. The members of this group, later joined by others, began to have conversations about the cultural shift toward postmodernity and its impact on Christianity.  The general outlook was that postmodernism wasn’t all bad and that Christianity needed to adapt to it in order to remain effective in ministry.  Indeed, it came to be thought that the Enlightenment, with its pursuit of absolute certainty, and the resulting modernism, with its scientific empiricism and rationalism, had shaped the Church in its doc­ trines and strategies, and that postmodernism could be a corrective.

The leader of the Network, Doug Pagitt, formed a team of like-minded believers who were motivated to explore ways to better interact with the postmodern culture. Early leaders in the movement were Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Karen Ward, and Mark Driscoll.

Brian McLaren has become one of the leading lights. He was older and was coming out of a personal crisis of faith.  Coming from a fundamentalist background, the challenges of philosophical postmodernism and life issues that bis biblical formulas didn’t seem to cure, made him question the truth claims of his faith. He told Gibbs and Bolger, “During this time, I learned I needed to trust God more than my theology about God. I tried to imagine a faith that was not so mechanistic, simplistic, and systematic.”   McLaren also noted that Middleton and Walsh’s book, Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be, helped him develop his own postmodern form of  Christianity.

The Leadership Network evolved into the Emergent Village, an official organization which serves “to fund the theological imaginations and spiritual lives of all who consider themselves a part of this broader movement.”5  So the Emergent Village is distinct from the broader ECM, but is vitally connected as its centerpiece or philosophical think tank.

 

Emergent Beliefs

Followers of the ECM range from bona fide heretics to valid reformers.   Emergent Village leader Doug Pagitt defines three characteristics typical of all or most ECM churches: (1) a return to the Reformation;  (2) a push for deep systemic changes in the church, but theologically centered; and (3) a view of the church as not being necessarily the center of God’s intentions, but with a focus more on kingdom work than the church.6

Gibbs and Bolger, after “extensive interviews and research,” also identified common patterns among most emerging churches.  Among them is the idea of identifying with the life of Jesus.7  What Emergents mean by this is a primary focus on the gospels or narratives in  Scripture and Jesus’ engagement, in community, with people in culture, especially as articulated in the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon is prescriptive for Christians.  It is a call to “welcome and engage the outcast, hosting the stranger, challenge the political authorities and creating and alternative community.”8 Doing these things is to live out the Great Commandments (loving God and our neighbor), and to advance His kingdom. The Emergent Village website , as one of its values and practices, to commit to a “generous orthodoxy” which is a “commitment to the Church in all its forms,” affirming Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions.  This, of course, raises a “red flag.”

Another helpful taxonomy of the ECM is offered by Mark Driscoll who took part in the formative stages of ECM but “left the team” because of  “growing theological differences with some members of the team .” Driscoll represents the positive, more moderate aspects of ECM and is an outspoken critic of the more radical wing.   He divides Emergents into three categories: 9

 

(1)           Relevants are theologically conservative evangelicals who are not as interested in reshaping theology as much as updating such things as worship styles, preaching styles, and church leadership structure. Their goal is to be more relevant and appealing to postmodern people. They see some church traditions as mere cultural conventions (which are sometimes wrong) and need to be dropped or changed to overcome the objections of postmoderns.  Driscoll names Dan Kimball, Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz), Rob Bell and himself as like-minded in this category. 10 Driscoll notes that some Relevants are outreach-minded Reformed Christians who look to men like John Piper, Tim Keller, and D.A. Carson for theological direction.

 

(2)           Reconstrutionists are generally theologically evangelical and yet very dissatisfied with certain forms of church such as those which are seeker-, purpose-, or contemporary-driven . Driscoll notes that empirical studies have shown that our nation, like Europe, has become less and less Christian, and those who profess Christ are not living their lives markedly different from non-Christians. Moreover, the Church itself has adopted the errors of modernism as its standard. Reacting to the megachurch trend of growth without conversions, there is a tendency in this group to move toward house churches or “monistic communities. ”

 

(3)           Revisionists are theologically liberal (some even adopt new age mysticism) .  They have adopted postmodern philosophy whole-hog in their rejection of modernism  and therefore  question the human ability to know truth, even the truth of traditional evangelical doctrines.  Revisionists look to leaders like Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt , Tony Jones, Karen Ward, Spencer Burke, Steve Chalke, and Todd Hunter. Other leaders who fall within the Reconstructionist­ Revisionist  spectrum are Erwin McManus and Chris Seay. I I

 

Scott McKnight, professor of theological studies at North Park Theological Seminary, has seriously interacted with the ECM and aligns himself  with it to a significant extent .  Like myself, he is sympathetic with     many of ECM’s emphases but takes exception to its heretical dimensions.  McKnight describes  five “streams” of the movement which flow into the overall “emerging lake.”12 Different ECM groups may manifest or emphasize variations of these streams. They are the prophetic, the postmodern, the praxis-oriented (practice focused), the post-evangelical, and the political.

Briefly described, those in the prophectic stream aim to be provocative, calling for (as they see it) a dying, irrelevant Church to change. For example, Brian McLaren Writes, “Often I don’t think Jesus would be caught dead as a Chistian, were he physically here today…In fact, I think we’d call him a heretic and plot to kill him too.”13

One of the most controversial steams of the ECM is the postmodern one. These emergent see Enlightenment modernism (the pursuit of absolute truth and certainty through evidence, reason, and logic) as evil and therefore seek to be postmodern. They see any claim to know absolute truth as wrong, even within the church. It is here that the ECM becomes most vulnerable to criticism and rightfully so.

In this context, McKnight quotes Emergent Village leader Doug Pagitt who puts emergent into three categories; those who minister to postmoderns, seeing them as trapped in moral relativism; those who minister with postmoderns, working with, living with, and being with and living out the gospel in that context; and those who minister as postmoderns, embracing the idea that there is no absolute truth or at last we can’t claim to know it absolutely. McKnight believes most emergents fall into the first two categories rather than the last. This may be true, but many of the leading influences of ECM fit the third category or are traceably headed that way, and some of the defining principles of ECM inevitably fuel that journey.

The third, praxis-oriented steam attempts to construct a new ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church).  Thus the focus is on worship forms, orthopraxy, and missions. For emergents in this stream, worship forms can include more sensual and experiential styles like liturgy, the use of incense, and the more controversial contemplative prayer, and praying the labyrinth.  But it also often includes a move away form traditional church buildings, steeples, pulpits,  “worship centers,” choirs, Sunday School classes, and even the sermon being the focus of Sunday “worship services.”  The orthopraxy emphasis stresses how a person lives over what he believes. McKnight states that many emergents believe that we need both orthodoxy  (sound doctrine) and orthopraxy, but that having right doctrine doesn’t guarantee good practice, which is the most important.

The missional aspect of the praxis-oriented stream is one of the strongest emphases of ECM.  It advocates the priority of  “the ministry of reconciliation”  (2 Cor. 5:18).  The language and focus of “walking with Jesus” means to get out of the church building to minister to the oppressed, the hurting, the marginalized.   They strongly criticize the traditional church for being inwardly focused and program-oriented.

The fourth stream of the ECM, post -evangelical, is also controversial.   McKnight  characterizes it as no different from the way neo-evangelicalism reacted to strict fundamentalism in the 1950’s. ECM reacts against the emphasis on sys­tematic theology, evidential and clas­sical apologetics, and the traditional seminary approaches for preparing people for ministry. Building on the postmodern and praxis streams, the argument presented is that even with all the focus on sound theology, evangelicals and fundamentalists still produce a diversity of theological views on many subjects. Because division and debate result from this lack of consensus, no one can claim to have it right, or to make any claim to know absolute truth.  No systematic theology can be final.  So, there is either suspicion or rejection of any exclusivistic claim that some people are “in” and some are “out.” They point to the Reformation saying of semper rejormanda (“always reforming”) as a justifica ­ tion. Post-evangelical emergents want instead to focus on the narratives of the life of Jesus as the way to min­ister-which they take to be inclusivistic.

The fifth stream, the political, focuses on social justice ministry.  Following Jesus’ emphasis on concern for the poor and down-trodden, the political emergents seek social change through political means that alleviates the suffering of such people. They look to Christian leaders like Ron Sider, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo for inspi­ ration , and they fiercely reject the Christian Right as being unconcerned about the poor and overly con­cerned about political power.

At the foundation of these “streams” of ECM, there is a protest against evangelicalism . The emergent leaders see the traditional Church as formal and plastic, without authenticity, individualistic and isolated from the culture, fixated on academic theology as an end in itself, and fixated on the Church, the Bible, and shallow tradition rather than radical Christocentric living.

 

Emerging Good or Bad?

We should be quick to say that there are some valid challenges that ECM brings to the Church.   Some of the problems in, and corruption of, our culture are due in part to the Church’s own weaknesses.   For decades, the church has been weak in evangelism, preaching an “easy-believes” and allowing our churches to be filled with unconverted members.  We have failed as well to disciple  church  members-in the  Christian  worldview apologetics, the need for sacrificial living, and the can’ to engage in authentic ministry. Many of the measures taken to gain growth and relevance have been framed by faulty modernistic Church growth concepts, political triumphalism, and an unswerving allegiance to some cul­tural church traditions.

We are too often guilty of compart­ mentalizing our faith. For example, we have made a wide gap between “full-time ministry” or full-time missionaries and what regular church folk do. Even traditional conservative seminaries and churches tend to have a strong emphasis on academic, analytical theology and doctrine with lit­tle emphasis on teaching (and demonstrating) the neces­sary link between orthodoxy (right belief) and ortho­ praxy (right practice) . Too many doctrinally -centered churches end up having a relationship with the “right” doctrine instead of with the Triune God who wants us to be “out there” seeking, engaging, sacrificing, loving, serving, and reconciling sinners to Himself, and pro­moting justice and mercy in the world.  ECM is right to criticize these failings and the radical individualism and pietism that often accompany them.

But despite these valid criticisms of many traditional churches, many in the ECM are off target in some of their criticisms and are moving into the abyss of heresy. Such a charge is not coming only from outsiders to the movement.   One initial subscriber to ECM was Jason Carlson who was a seminary student and close friend of Doug Pagitt, having spent much time also with Brian McLaren and Tony Jones.  He says that over the course of  his interaction with ECM members he “became increasingly concerned over serious deviations from bib­lical truth taking place within the Emergent conversation.”  He listed as “key errors” that he observed :  a highly ambiguous handling of truth; a quasi-universalist view of salvation; extreme inclusiveness and tolerance of false beliefs, practices and lifestyles; personal experi­ence over a proper appreciation of biblical authority; openly questioning the relevance of key historical doc­ trines such as the Trinity; little or no effort in evangel­ ism yet much emphasis on social justice issues; an uncritical acceptance  of  Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, yet an unbridled cynicism towards conservative and evangelical  churches. 14

I hasten to say at this point that some of the major thinkers of ECM have recently written a “Response to Recent Criticisms,” in which they state that some of their critics “have made hasty generalizations and drawn erroneous conclusions based on limited and selective data.” They also ask critics selective data.” They also ask critics” in fairness, abstain from adding your critique” to other critic’s cri­tiques “unless you have actually read our books .”15       In the “Response,” the ECM leaders seek to clarify that they are not radical relativists, not moral epistemologi­cal relativists, do truth believe in truth, affirm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith, do believe that Jesus is the crucified risen savior and no one comes to the Father but through Jesus, do not pit reason against experience, and do strive to accurately teach the Sacred Scriptures.

For what it’s worth, I have spent a great deal of time reading both the critics’ works and the works of ECM leaders and mentors.   I have done significant readings in 27 books and at least that many articles.  Yes, there are some short-sighted caricatures written, but there are some very valid critiques written as well.  And I can tell you that the ECM leaders have not been consistent in some of the above affirmations, and the nuanced word­ing they sometimes give in their statement is, I believe, intentionally ambiguous.  For example, McLaren else­ where states “that God’s final judgment  does not depend on Christ’s work on the cross (forensic justification), but “how well individuals lived up to God’s hopes and dreams for our world and for life in it.” 16

Tony Jones also opens the door for heresy when he stat­ ed, “This (the ECM) is actually about changing theolo­gy.  This is about our belief that theology changes.   The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes.” 17   Doug Pagitt also claims that “theology is inherently temporary. . . .[O]ur current best guess.”  In light of this statement, Pagitt was asked during a Q&A session if the theological claim that Jesus is God incar­nate may actually be wrong.  Pagitt answered , “Yeah, probably, could be.  I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. It’s  dangerous.” 18

There are many more examples of these troubling and vacillating statements by the Emergent Village leaders. Such problems are inevitable due to their faulty post­ modern epistemology carried out to it logical conclu­sions. In what follows, we will focus on the most impor­tant errors.

 

THREE MAJOR ERRORS

 

As I’ve read the ECM materials, I am struck with the fact that their leaders repeatedly are guilty of the either or fallacy, which is ironic because of their postmodern pre­ suppositions.   This leads them often to present half-truths and caricatures of their opponents.  We will see this as we survey three major errors found in ECM thought.   These concern (1) their views on knowledge and truth (i.e., epistemology); (2) their view on Scripture; and (3) their view of the cross and the gospel.

 

ECM on Knowledge and Truth

We must begin with their views on truth and epistemology-the question of how anyone knows anything. Their error here fuels the other errors.

Though postmodern emergent leaders want to distance themselves from a pure relativism that denies the existence of truth altogether, they are nevertheless suspicious of objective truth-claims, denying that anyone can have certainty in the quest for knowledge.  Since man is finite and sinful, he cannot be certain of knowing anything absolutely. As proof, they point out the many differing theological views that separate evangelicals . The members of these various groups all claim to believe in the same inerrant Bible and use the same rational methods of interpretation to form their systematic theologies. But they cannot agree on doctrinal truth.

ECM members  claim that the approach to Christianity which claims that we can objectively know doctrinal truth is a modernistic idea, the influence of Enlightenment thinking on evangelicalism .  As the remedy, they deny or deemphasize the need of theology and reduce Christianity to experiential encounters with  Jesus. They focus almost exclusively in their biblical teaching on the gospel narratives . They embrace the “mystery ” in Christianity and give attention to accepting, loving, and serving others.

It is hard to argue with the emphasis on loving and serving others.  And who would want to deny that Christianity involves elements of mystery?  But what we see here is an example of the either/ or fallacy I mentioned earlier.  Recognizing elements of mystery in our understanding  of  God and his relationship to us, and engaging in real, authentic ministry does not require an abandonment of  a stand for truth.  If the definition of “loving and serving others” leaves out the gospel, acknowledging the Deity of  Christ and the Triune God, and the objective authority of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 4: 17-24), then something has gone wrong in the definition.

Yes, Jesus Himself is the living Word and the Truth (John 1:1; 14:6), but so is the written word (Heb. 4:12). Jesus intercedes for us, “Father, sanctify them in the truth, for Thy word is truth.”  And He tells us, “abide in My word . . .and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 17:17; 8:31-32; see also Heb. 4: 12-13).

The Scripture tells us that we are to understand and know propositional truths from His revelation and that we can identify and avoid error (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet.2:2).  We can come to knowledge (understanding) of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).  There are false teachers, false Jesuses, false prophets, and false gospels to beware of (Gal. 1:1-6; Mt. 24:23-24; 2Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15; Mat.7:15; 2 Pet. 2:1-3), and Scripture instructs us in how to recognize them.

The postmodern emergents counter with Paul’s statement that he (we) “see in a mirror dimly. . . .I now know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:14). Again, they say, look at all the different denominations . And, they add, real knowing is not just head knowledge, is it? In response, we can acknowledge that we know in part because of the gap between God’s infiniteness and our finiteness (Rom. 11:33-34; Isa. 55:8-9). But the omnipotence and omniscience of God means He is able to reveal knowable truth to us and has done so both in the incarnation of Jesus and His divine superintendence of the writing of Scripture (Deut. 29:29; Isa. 55:10-11;2 Pet. 1:2-4; 2:19-21).  Moreover, he teaches us by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-13; John 14:12; 16:13).

So while we cannot know truth exhaustively, we can know truth truthfully.  And yes, true knowledge is not just head knowledge (gnosis).  Genuine knowledge involves both mental understanding and practice (epignosis), both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  For example, it is revealed in Scripture, “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands” (1 John 2:3).  Notice that the word “know” is used in two ways here.  The first usage clearly refers to propositional knowledge (knowl­edge that a particular statement or proposition is true). The second refers to personal knowledge (experiential or acquaintance knowledge).   And the text connects the two via a moral ground.

Regarding diversity among Christian denominations, those in ECM forget that Christians historically have universally agreed on the essential doctrines as explicitly given in the Scripture.  Our disagreements are typically over secondary matters. Moreover, it has been my experience that when consistent standards of hermeneutics (rules of Bible interpretation) are applied, and when each side to a dispute humbly listens to the other, and prays, there is much more unity or congruence among believers.

A key issue in the ECM emphasis on our alleged inability to have objective knowledge is the question of foundationalism.  This is a particular view in the philosophical area of epistemology that claims that beliefs can be justified only if they are so called “basic beliefs” or are based on (derived from) basic beliefs.  A basic belief is one that is immediately grounded in experience (“I currently see a tree”) or logic (2+2=4).

ECM was shaped by the works of  Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Stanley Hauerwas,  and other philosophical promoters of what is called postfoundationalism. Postmodernists  of  all stripes reject foundationalism because they believe it reflects the Enlightenment quest for absolute certainty.  But if the truth be known, what postmodernists  really (but often unknowingly) object to is not foundationalism per se, but a particular version of it called classical foundationalism .  The classical foundationalists (like Rene Descartes and John Locke) say that basic beliefs must be absolutely certain, not subject to any doubt.  In this way, he can guarantee that all justified beliefs are certain.  Of course, the postmodernist is right to reject classical foundationalism.   It has been shown to suffer from numerous problems. 19  Yet, those in the ECM camp demonstrate  once again the either /  or fallacy.  There are other versions of foundationalism that do not commit the errors of the classical version and do not insist that knowledge requires absolute certainty.  The postmodernist and the ECM adherent, however, in naively rejecting all forms of foundationalism, says that we either must choose between having absolute certainty (which is unattainable) or being uncertain and unable to claim to have knowledge.  But this is a false dichotomy.20

 

ECM on Scripture

Closely connected to their focus on uncertainty is the view of Scripture held by some advocates of ECM. They believe that the traditional evangelical view of the Bible as the infallible, inerrant Word of God is wrapped up in modernism . That traditional view is motivated, they think, by the modernist quest for certainty and it ignores the cultural situatedness of the Bible’s human authors. Emergents tend to favor a more fluid, less dogmatic view of the Bible, a view that does not require that the Bible be without error.  But in so doing, these emergents have, perhaps inadvertently, become aligned with liberalism and neo­ orthodoxy.  They deny the inerrancy of Scripture, claiming it reflects human cultural concepts.   It is inspired only to the extent that it becomes the Word of God as one is positively changed by the Holy Spirit when reading it.

However, the messages of the Bible are not culturally fixed but are for all people in all times.  The Bible asserts its own authority, inerrancy, and abiding relevance (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12; Ps. 19:7-13; Isa. 40:5; John 10:35). The Bible is full of objective propositional truths and even arguments to establish correct doctrine and protect God’s people from false doctrine. The traditional evangelical view of the Bible is not a modernist idea. The evangelical view is the Bible’s own view of itself, and the words of the Bible pre-date and transcend modernism.

I appreciate the word picture given by a non-radical and balanced emergent leader, Mark Driscoll, when he describes the postmodern deconstruction of the centuries old doctrinal consensus of traditional Christianity as a “house” that is being torn down.  He writes that “deconstruction without a rebuilding plan leads to homelessness . . . .This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning to life, and anything else they can find.”21   The postmodern emergent falls into the same trap as did Adam and Eve in the garden. Satan did not begin by openly lying, but first planted the seed of doubt which blossomed into disobedience and the Fall.   Satan asked the question, “Did God actually say. . .?”  The postmodern emergent needs to heed the warning of Scripture, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth, and wander off into myths. . . .[They are] always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim.4:3-4; 3:7).

 

 ECM on the Cross and the Gospel

Concerning the cross, ECM leaders repeatedly fault the evangelical emphasis on the substitutionary and propitiatory nature of the atonement of Christ.  They either deny this emphasis or make it secondary to seeing the cross and the gospel primarily as relational and missional rather than objective and proclamational.  The post­ modern emergents believe the gospel and cross really teach a message about self-sacrifice and social action. McLaren says of the gospel, “We must continually be aware that the ‘old, old story’ may not be the  ‘true, true story.”’22    Echoing the views of Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt, previously noted, McLaren states, I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be “saved”? When I read the Bible, I don’t see it meaning,  “I’m going to heaven after I die”. . . .Election is not about who gets to go to heaven; election is about who God chooses to be part  of his crisis­ response team to bring healing to the world.”23

McLaren agrees with fellow postmodern emergent Steve Chalke of the U.K. in asserting that, if the traditional view of penal substitutionary atonement is true, then God is guilty of “cosmic child abuse.”24

For these reasons, the emergents claim that orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy; that practice which is the embodiment of God’s concern for redemptive acts in areas such as environmentalism and social justice is the true way of carrying the cross and declaring the gospel. They also tragically display their relativistic, reductionistic view of the objective gospel message in their inclusions of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and in their ambiguity concerning the fate of people like Gandhi and the Dali Lama.

They are again guilty of  either/or thinking.   The emergents are right to point out when evangelicals neglect our cultural, missional calling to be salt and light in the world (Matt.5: 13-16).  But the Scripture is full of the priority  “of first importance” to proclaim the propositional truth of the cross and salvation (1 Car. 1:18; 2:1- 5; 15:1-4; 1 Pet.1:3-5).

A major critic of the more controversial forms of the ECM is D.A. Carson. In light of the problems we have outlined with ECM (as well as others), Carson warns, “If emerging church leaders wish to become a long term prophetic voice that produces enduring fruit that does not drift off toward progressive secularism and even, in the worst instances, outright heresy, they must listen carefully to the criticisms of their movement as they transparently want others to listen to them.”25 This is our advice to ECM adherents as well.

 

CONCLUSION

 

In conclusion, we concur with Tim Keller, a fruitful Presbyterian pastor to postmoderns  in New York City in his assessment of ECM.  He wrote.

“I see people [postmodern emergents] who are desperately trying to reach the post-everythings who in their desperation are trying to throw out essential elements such as the substitutionary atonement, forensic justification, imputed righteousness, the Sovereignty of God, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Many of them are probably over-adapting to the post-everything situation. But while they do not have our theological resources, often we do not have their level of engagement with the people of the emerging society. To correct this, let us confess that we really have failure across all our parties to reach the coming society, and let us resolve to use the premier resources of Reformed theology.  If we can make these changes, then we may really start to see renewal and outreach, and we might actually be a resource for the broader body of Christ in this culture.”26

 

 

Craig Branch is the director for the Apologetics Resource  Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

NOTES

1  See www.religionnewsblog.com/15295.

2 Roger Oakland’s commentary on Faith Undone, soon to be released (www.understandthetimes.org/  faithundone. shtml).

3  Be on the lookout for a much-expanded manuscript which will either become a book or will be published on our website at a future date (arcapologetics.org).

4   Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2005), 30-34.

5 See their website at www.emergentvillage.org.

6 Ibid, 42

7 Ibid, 43-45

8  Ibid, 44

9 Ed Stetzer, “Understanding the Emerging Church,” The Baptist Press

(Jan. 6, 2006).

10  In recent days, however, Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, has begun to reflect the beliefs of liberal and new age relativist theology.

11 Mark Driscoll, “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church,”

Criswell Theological Review (Spring 2006), 87-93.

12   Scot McKnight,  “Fives Streams of the Emerging Church” in Christianity Today (June 19, 2007).  You can read it at www.christianity­ today.com/  ct/ article_print.html?id=40534.

13  Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

14  See www.christianworldviewnet.work.com/ pring. php?&atricle ID=514.

15 See http:/ /brianmclaren.net/archives/000429.html.

16 Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 166-167.

17 Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, “A New Theology for a New World,” 2004 Emergent Convention, audio available through PSI, Inc. (1-800- 808-8273) (emphasis mine).

18 Ibid.

19 See Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Faith and Rationality, eds. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 16-93.

20  This is a weighty topic and deserves more attention that we are able to give it here. I urge the reader to order previous issues of Areopagus Journal that can help you navigate these philosophical issues: “How Do You Know?” (April 2002), “The Breath of God” (January 2002), “Biblical Interpretation” (Jan-Feb 2006), and “Do We Have the Right Books” (Nov-Dec 2005) wherein we demonstrate the straw man fallacy of holding classical foundationalism up as the evangelical standard, and that one doesn’t have to have absolute certainty to know something is true. I also strongly recommend R. Scott Smith’s book, Truth and the New Kind of Christian (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005).

21  Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 169.

22 McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 261.

23  Quoted in Andy Crouch, “The Emerging Mystique,” Christianity Today (Nov. 2004), 36f.

24 See Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 182-183; and Brian McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In, 102.

25 D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 234.

26   See www.wts.edu/ publications/ articles/keller-posteverythings. html.