“I’m sure I am wrong about many things, although I’m not sure exactly which things I’m wrong about. I’m even sure I’m wrong about what I think I’m right about in at least some cases.”
Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
I’m not into conspiracy theories. I cringe when I get a Facebook post about the pope’s brother’s cousin or the mark of the beast being implanted in a chip somewhere in the USA (usually only a select few know where it is). There are however, issues that merit warning and serious reflection. Enter the Emerging Church. I must be honest; ministering in the Hispanic context we had very few problems with discussions on issues such as Origins, The Emerging Church, homosexuality, even Women’s Ordination. Since the subject of the Emerging Church comes up frequently in conversations now, I’d like to share my thoughts on it. I have three concerns:
1. The Bible.
The Bible is inspired by God, for us. It is more than a collection of stories, a narrative or a conversation. Its details are important. The bible both declares and assumes that it is truth. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17) Truth is not relative and it can be known. Here is an example: I know that my wife is real, although I don’t know EVERYTHING about her, I never doubt for a moment she exists. Let’s not get into the “This is what I believe, but I could be wrong. What do you think? Let’s talk” mode that the EC proposes. We must be humble, but not uncertain. The emerging church seeks to minimize the “absolute truth” aspect of scripture. This is problematic, because truth inspires beliefs which in turn determine methodology and practice. There is no such thing as my truth or your truth. There is truth.
2. The blood.
Once the Bible is replaced and re-explained, another mayor problem, probably the central one, emerges. The Emerging Church minimizes or eliminates the need for the atonement. This belief makes us Christian. Therefore, a statement like this one is troubling:
“The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 182-183.
The authors consider the cross as both reprehensible and unnecessary. The truth is that the cross was necessary. It was not just a last gasp resort, an accident or just a demonstration of love. It was necessary. In many ways, the emerging church attitude is similar to Peter’s, as he rebuked Jesus and his impending death.
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:31-33
Necessary. Essential. Not up for discussion. Someone has said: In the essential, unity. In the non-essential, liberty. In everything love. Well, this is pretty essential.
3. The body.
By body, I am referring specifically to the church, and what grows it. If all religions are the same and if people can access the same God through other avenues, where Buddha, Jesus and Mohamed’s Allah are all good options in the salvation buffet, then Jesus was either crazy or mistaken. Why would I try to present to you the claims of the bible, if your faith tradition is as good as mine? This assumption eliminates the need for evangelism. I believe the bible does not encourage us to condemn, but it does encourage us to confront, with love, equivocated concepts about God, ourselves and the destiny of our existence. The church is not just about lost souls but it is primarily about lost souls. We serve, we love, we give, we do what we do, because we want to see people in heaven. Penn (from the famous magician duo Penn and Teller) who is an atheist puts it very well:
“I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who do not proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize, [saying] “Just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself”—uh, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/may/2051109.html
The emerging church, as with most things, has elements that can be commended. The call to live out our faith and not reduce it to just a set of beliefs is one example. The desire to reach this generation is another. But I am afraid that its foundational driving forces are outside of orthodox Christianity and that is a deal-breaker.
I am generous. But not that generous.
Here are three resources you may find helpful:
1. Southern religion faculty statement on the emerging church.
2. Good blog that is very detailed on emerging church, from an evangelical perspective.
3. One of the main proponents of the emerging church presents his view.