“Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, the God’s wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.” (Tony Jones “Why Jesus Died,” 4-10-09, http://www.beliefnet.com)
The Emergent church has received much warranted and unwarranted criticism over its inaugural decade. Because the Emergent doctrine is intentionally nebulous in definition one cannot speak generally about the movement as a whole. Therefore in order to gain any sort of pulse as to what is being said by this group, we are left with no choice but to look to the individual leaders who are driving it through books, conferences, and social mediums of every kind. This leaves us with quotes like the one above to help piece together the mosaic of the Emergent movement.
The above quote is emergent church guru Tony Jones, author of the book The New Christians. Though he is clear to state that he does not speak for everyone in the movement, I’ve been hard-pressed to find an author/ “leader”/ Emerging “ethos” contributor within the movement that has a differing opinion with Mr. Jones concerning relative/absolute truths. Hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t make Christianity a philosophical, humanistic understanding rather than about Jesus. I’ve read somewhere near 45 of the main books driving the movement, talked to different leaders like Mr. Jones, and was once a part of the movement or at least the “vibe” of it for many years.
The goal of this post is to be merely an introduction to some of the concerns within the Emergent church. My fight is to see that the truth of Jesus Christ be forefront in a place where people like Brian McLaren, Doug Padgitt, Peter Rollins, Phyllis Tickle, Spencer Burke and many others are diminishing His value
For the un-initiated, allow me to try to add a little definition to the movement that they do not to define. The Emergent church is a group or collection of people who are seeking to make a form of Christianity that is more relevant to our present Western Culture. In theory, it’s a way for Christians to join the ranks of the society around them and be Christians within their environment. Whether that’s hanging out with the fray at the local bar or joining a local bowling league. The premise is that Christians should not separate themselves from society into sheltered Christian circles, but they join society as Christians. They call this being “missional”; missionaries to our communities. Here is how Mr. Jones puts it:
“The emergent church is a way for us to figure out how to be Christians in a globalised, pluralized environment. Making the church reflective of the society that is around it… The push is for the church to become more participatory. In other words your opinion about the Bible becomes part of your churches orthodoxy”
This statement is where the Emerging/ Emergent “ethos” gets fuzzy and is translated into an unnecessary dichotomy between Faith and Practice. This point is also where the average person shrugs their shoulders and where most theologians throw up in their mouths. Being that my aim isn’t to help theology students but the average “Joe” better understand the Emergent church, I’ll leave the comparison/ contrasts for those capable theologians who have books out on the matter. (see- D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll John McArthur etc.) I’ll state the problem as plainly as I see it:
To make Christianity reflective of a society and culture that hates God and has made sexual immorality, self gratification, and greed idols of worship isn’t a new way to do Christianity, it’s a way to depart from Christianity. Scripturally, I believe a lot of what is being said is what the Apostle Paul warns us to stay away from in I Timothy 6 when he says:“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of Jesus Christ and the teaching of godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.”
Adele Sakler, who heads up the Gay, Lesbian, Trans, and Questioning side of the Emergent church called “Queermergent” is one of many whose life has been led away from Christ and into sin because of the teachings of the Emergent church. On her site Why Queermergent? She describes her transition in the following statement:
“I began to read Brian McLaren and found him writing things I had felt inside but was very afraid to express outwardly to anyone. In 2002 I went to Northern Ireland to do a DTS with YWAM.I met the great Peter Rollins and we developed a great friendship. His teachings and writings on postmodernism and Christianity radically shaped how I viewed my faith. I could no longer hang onto certaintywith regards to interpreting scripture… There were more important things in kingdom living than where we go after we pass from this world to the next, like poverty, AIDS, the environment, etc. About 2.5 years ago I FINALLY came to terms with my sexuality. I found peace with myself and with God. Coming out was fairly painless with the exception of a few people who still think I am in sin and going to hell. I no longer hold this view and I am ok if people think that about me.” (Adele Sakler, “Why Queermergent?” queermergent.wordpress.com)
I Timothy 1:15 “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Again, my fight is not against Adele Sakler, Peter Rollins or Brian McLaren. My fight is for people to know the truth about Christ before it’s too late. I want them to know that there is reprieve from suffering for the next 40-60 years of their lives and to know that they were created for so much more than simply trying to survive life without pain. Humans were created for so much more than coming to grips with their sin. They were created to experience the Divine pleasures of a loving God. We were made to communicate with Heaven, and live lives of peace and joy that only comes from life in the Holy Spirit. My fight, my cry is that people know that they can answer the question “Why do I exist”. We can have real freedom from the one thing humanity has been longing to be free from since Adam and Eve took a bite of that apple; sin.
I agree that the church in our culture is failing. Newsweek estimates that 25% of nationwide congregants have left the church in the last 10 years. The church has failed to love its fellow man as secular organizations out give and out serve the church worldwide. Yet, that lack of innovation is not our greatest peril.
The problem in the church is that it has wavered from making Christ the center and adopted a humanistic deism that puts the responsibility on the church to be inviting instead of Christ to be impacting.
The solution is simple and found in Luke 18:1-9, Col. 3:1-4, and Matt 5, 6, & 7. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the Earth?”
He won’t if we are found putting more faith in our intellect, schemes, and ministry models. The answer is knee wrecking, ear straining, eye squinting, heart wrenching prayer. The answer is a people with faces set like flint, stumbling in a dark world with only the light of His face to guide them. (Is. 50:7-11) In our misunderstanding of prayer, we have cheapened our primary tool to seeing God’s power break in to our lives, and we have been found bankrupt in our attempts to impact society.
My desire is to expose lie of the Emergent church so that Jesus can have His glory. My prayer is that those perpetrating such lies would be set free by the power of Christ that they have so wrongly ignored and misinterpreted.