The Emerging Church, part 2 – The theologically liberal stream

March 27, 2008

You can read my post, “The Emerging Church, part 1 – Overview″ hereThe nutshell of my first post was that there is a wide spectrum of churches and theologies that would employ the label “emerging church” – some are genuinely evangelical, but some have denied the truth.

In this post I want to highlight the undermining of biblical doctrine that is prevalent amongst some who would call themselves “emerging”. This is typically done without actually stating one’s position – it’s done more by questioning positions (or the importance of those positions) and withholding a conclusion. For example, many people who would consider themselves “emerging” will not take a stance on issues as clear in Scripture as Homosexuality being sinful or Hell being real. They refrain from taking a position on issues as important to our faith as what Jesus died on the cross to accomplish or who will go to Heaven. The result is what Mark Driscoll calls “the latest version of liberalism.” As he goes on to explain, The only difference is that old liberalism accomodated modernity and the new liberalism accomodates postmodernity” (Confessions of a Reformission Rev“, pp22-23). 

Many in this stream of the emerging church align themselves with “Emergent” or “The Emergent Village” – an official organization in the U.S. and the U.K. Brian McLaren (author of numerous popular books including A new kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy) and Doug Pagitt (author of An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, and other books) are some of the biggest leaders associated with this organization. Though not officially a part of “Emergent”, Rob Bell, another hugely popular author and speaker, is closely associated with the leaders of “Emergent”. I’ll post on specific concerns about these men and their theology soon. 

(Note: As confusingly similar as the terms “emerging” and “Emergent” are, they should not be confused. All Emergent people would consider themselves a part of the emerging church, but not all emerging church people would align themselves with Emergent. “Emergent” is an official organization, “emerging” refers to a wide spectrum of churches rethinking how to “do” church in current culture. “Emergent” Christians are not evangelical, but “emerging” Christians may or may not be.)  

D.A. Carson, one of my favorite theologians, has written a book called “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church”. I’ve read sections of it and found it excellent. It’s important to realize however that this book is really more of a critique of the theologically liberal stream of the emerging church than about the emerging church in its entirety. As Scott McKnight said in his Christianity Today article on the emerging church: “D. A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005) is not alone in pointing to the problems in the emerging movement… But as a description of the movement, Carson’s book lacks firsthand awareness and suffers from an overly narrow focus—on Brian McLaren and postmodern epistemology.” If you’d like to learn more of this particular stream in the emerging church, Carson’s critique is worth reading. His final analysis is chilling, “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the Gospel…I cannot see how their own words constitute anything less than a drift toward abandoning the gospel itself” (pp 186-187). 

How did this all come about? Well, in our post-modern world, many doubt how sure we can be of things… (Post-modernism is less a denial of truth than it is a hesitancy about how truth can be known with certainty). As these emergent theologians have applied this to Christianity, they’ve been hesitant to take doctrinal positions or state much with conviction…  

What can we say to this? Are there difficult passages in Scripture? Yes! Even the Apostle Peter said this of the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters, ”His letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Are some aspects of theology far too lofty for us to fully understand? Yes! In Ephesians 3:19, Paul desribes Christ’s love as a “love that surpasses knowledge”. But none of this changes the fact that God has spoken to us through Scripture, and that He intended to be understood. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 

God has been gracious to communicate to us through His Word. Let us therefore contend for the faith entrusted to us (Jude 3), let us study God’s Word to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and let us preach His Word boldly in season and out (2 Timothy 4:2-5). 

I’ll write more on this topic soon.   

~Donovan

 P.S: This is another video of Mark Driscoll describing the “lanes” of the Emerging Church. Some of the content is similar to the video I posted in part 1, but in this one he goes into more detail about prominent men in each lane and expresses his concerns with this theologically liberal stream:

(A few notes on the video: Though Driscoll refers to Tim Keller and CJ Mahaney as “Emerging Reformers”, these men have never been associated with the label “Emerging Church”. They are both Reformed in theology and and are big on church planting (and are therefore concerned with how best to plant churches in the culture of modern day America). Another term used quite often to describe this camp is “The Young Calvinists”. Driscoll said the “Emerging Reformers” are generally charismatic, and this is true – for example, CJ Mahaney is, but Tim Keller is not. Also, note that John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson were referred to as men these “Emerging Reformers” like, not as “Emerging Reformers” themselves. Not that any of that is really all that important – just thought I’d try clear up any possible confusion.)  

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One Response to “The Emerging Church, part 2 – The theologically liberal stream”

  1. Tyler said

    good overview. great stuff.

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