The Finite Representing the Infinite- A Quote on the Adequacy of Biblical Revelation

December 4, 2008

As you can see by my box to the side, I am currently reading a book entitled Reforming or Conforming?: Post-Conservative Evagelicals and the Emerging Church. It is an interesting new release addressing the ideology of the current pomo-emergent mish-mash of new liberalism being observed under the guise of the Emerging/Emergent Church. The format is a collection of essays written by 13 contemporary Reformed scholars on various topics of interest such as the humanity of Scripture, living in community, and the doctrine of hell.

In reading through an essay entitled ‘Sola Scriptura’ as an Evangelical Theological Method? by John Bolt, I ran across as interesting exchange that I thought I would share with you.

Dr. Bolt, professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, cites a quote from emergent leader Scot McKnight in an article in Christianity Today where he says:

The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositions is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

Dr. Bolt’s response to this statement (which, let’s be honest, is standard emergent rhetoric for denying certain clear, universal truths expressed in Scripture) is, in my opinion, one of the best replies to this sort of reasoning I have seen yet. He says:

[S]peaking of God with clear, thoughtfully-reasoned claims that are indeed intended to be universally true is not “linguistic idolatry” when it is rooted in biblical revelation itself. In fact, this self-celebrated epistemological humility — not making universal claims about God — when we do have revelation, should be seen for what it is: disobedience and a failure to give an account of the hope (and truth) that is in us (1 Peter 3.15). If one were to take seriously the objection that the finite cannot represent the infinite, then the incarnation is impossible. Furthermore, nothing that we humans do could then possibly fit the requirement that we image God. There goes the Word become flesh; there goes the imitatio Christi (p.90).

The major highlight in this for me is when he says that the emergent false-humility is actually “disobedience and a failure to give an account of the hope (and truth) that is in us.” That was a new thought which really struck me as timely, appropriate, and exceedingly true. If we believe Scripture is what it says it is (and what McKnight claims it is himself), divine revelation, then we must believe that what it says is adequate to convey what God intended for us to hear, and nothing less.

That said, 100 pages in I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in tackling the cogs and gears of the inner workings of the pomo-emergent brand of Christianity, particularly from a Reformed perspective.


Supplanting God’s Word with a Post-modern Mindset- Where “The Battle for the Bible” Exists Today

November 29, 2008

Check out these words recent from ex-Emergent Village National Coordinator Tony Jones as he speaks about the formation of his views on how Christians should handle homosexuality:

With that in mind, I always responded, “I’m holding that issue in abeyance. I haven’t made up my mind yet, and I’m in no hurry to. Homosexuality,” I would say, “[is] one issue that I don’t want to get wrong.”

And yet, all the time I could feel myself drifting toward acceptance that gay persons are fully human persons and should be afforded all of the cultural and ecclesial benefits that I am. (“Aha!” my critics will laugh derisively, “I knew he and his ilk were on a continuous leftward slide!”)

In any case, I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.

Wow! Now, I don’t necessarily want to engage his particular claim at this time (that is on the way over the next couple of weeks), but I want you guys to look at the language he uses. Jones claims that “Homosexuality . . . [is] one issue that I don’t want to get wrong” and then what is the authority for his eventual stance? “I could feel myself drifting . . .” After several paragraphs of intimating his life experiences with members of the GLBTQ community and mocking the conservative position on this issue, Jones finally puts his foot down based on how he is “drifiting”!

This, posted originally on November 19, is the state of things right now. More and more people in the Christian world, particularly among Jones’ own version of “Emergent Christianity” are determining God’s will by considering their own desires, seeking to do things in their own way in their own day (see my review of The Blue Parakeet). This is a problem. In fact, as JD Greear claims in a February 2006 article for SBC Life, this is “the battle for the Bible” recast in the 21st century.

In his article, “Is ‘The Battle for the Bible’ Really Over?,” JD Greear states that

[T]he statement that “the battle for the Bible is over” is dangerously wrong on two accounts. First, anyone who thinks the question of inerrancy is “settled” is simply not keeping up with trends developing among evangelicalism. Voices calling for “balance” in this issue, by which they mean we must learn to balance the truth in our Bibles with the errors, are as loud as ever. . . . But perhaps even more significantly, to say that “the battle for the Bible has been won” overlooks the fact that the preaching of the Bible seems less fashionable than ever – especially among younger evangelicals.

I could not agree with this assessment more. The decrying of inerrancy and gospel-preaching from the emergent streams is deafening. Looking at the major books out this year by those involved, The New Christians (Tony Jones), The Great Emergence (Phyllis Tickle), and The Blue Parakeet (Scot McKnight). In each of these books traditional evangelicalism and the practice of sola scriptura are ransacked as being vestiges of a by-gone era, an era which is either inevitably dying (as argued by Tickle) or which is crusted over and in need of new blood (from Tony Jones). They just take it as a for-gone conclusion that the Bible is fallible (see my discussion earlier for why McKnight tacitly denies inerrancy) and that Scripture is only part (and maybe not even a big part) of discerning God’s will for our lives. If “the battle for the Bible” is won, then somebody apparently did not tell these people who won it.

That’s why the battle for the Bible, as I have said before (standing in the shoulders of giants, of course) is every generations battle. Today’s generation, my generation, has to stand up and reclaim inerrancy and the authority of Scripture from this renegade sect of Christianity which would have us deny Christ’s own declaration (that we are not of the world, John 15.18-19) for a bad exegesis on Paul (to become all things to all people, 1 Corinthians 9.19-23). We must not fall asleep on this, we must watch and pray that Jesus’ message will not be betrayed!


You Didn’t Really Mean That, Did You?- Answering the Hell Question, Wrap-Up

October 13, 2008

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” -Titus 1.9

I just wanted to thank all of you who have taken the time to read this series of posts on the question of “If God is loving/good, how can he send someone to hell?” As I mentioned in the posts, and as I have stated before in various comments (here and here), this doctrine of hell is one of the most contentious points for evangelical Christianity today. It is being attacked from all sides and as such we need to have a strong, well-formed, and biblical position on it.

To close us out I would like to post a sermon by JD Greear from The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC that he gave a few weeks ago dealing with this question. In it I think he does a great job of answering the objections as well as using the doctrine of hell to give way to the Gospel. Please take the time to listen to this and to begin formulating your own response for the next time this question is asked to you.

JD Greear- How Could a Loving God Send Someone to Hell?


The Great Propoganda- A Review of Phyllis Tickle’s New Book “The Great Emergence”

October 1, 2008

Since established churches . . . could not accommodate such an ill-defined and amorphous presentation of the faith [as the emerging church], the new faithful began to meet among themselves and hold worship services among and with those of like spirit.” -Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, p.134

And these emergents, whose numbers increasingly included the white-haired as well as the young, could now use the term inherited church to name the goods being placed on the rummage sale table. Inherited church was that from which they had come and to which they, literally, now had no means of returning, let alone any desire at all to do so.” -p.136

The cub has grown into the young lion; and now is the hour of his roaring.” -p.163

The premise is interesting enough: “Every five hundred years, the church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale.” And the sample, though small, can pull you in (Gregory the Great/The Council of Chalcedon, the Great Schism, the Great Reformation). But in the end, I think a discerning reader must come away from Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence feeling slighted at a lack of real evidence for this cataclysmic change that she purports.

In fact, what I think most people who are not already dyed in the wool of the whole Emergent Village/post-modern subculture will find is that this book is more an apologetic for the emerging church than it is good sociological research. The authors allegiance to this movement is unquestionable when she says things like “In the hands of emergents, Christianity has grown exponentially, not only in geographic base and numbers, but also in passion and in effecting belief in the Christian call to the brotherhood of all peoples” (p.121) or “It is not unreasonable to assume that by the time the Great Emergence has reached maturity, about 60 percent of practicing American Christians will be emergent or some clear variant thereof” (p.139). There certainly has been a re-energizing of “Christianity” focused around the EV, but to say it is “exponential growth” is a bit of hyperbole. The resurgence of Calvinism in recent decades has rivaled this emergence all the way and any look into the increased growth of Christianity in America can not deny that obvious fact.

But the real problem I see with Tickle’s argument is two-fold: one, the lack of a genuine opponent which the Great Emergence must arise as a response to; and second, the mere dismissal of sola scriptura as being sufficient for Christianity.

In every case which Tickle presents to advance her semi-millennial argument we see a clear dichotomy of two choices. Yet when we get to the so-called Great Emergence there does not seem to exist this major conflict. Tickle even asserts this herself by saying “There is simply no grand framing story or even unanimity of opinion yet about when precisely it was that this new thing- this new, emerging way of being Christian in an emerging new world- became so clearly distinct from what had been as to be worthy of a name of its own” (p.124). In effect, this movement just arose as a response to nothing-in-particular, an almost adolescent expression of angst and rebellion. Tickle tries her hardest to equate this movement with the Reformation, but simply put that idea falls flat. The Reformation was driven as a response to widespread religious oppression of the people, a desire to educate the masses, promoting literacy as well as a return to a biblical instead of extra-biblical practice of the faith. The environment surrounding the Reformation was ripe with church corruption and a manipulation of the people. Where is this today?

Of course, Tickle “perceives” much oppression in the church and uses $10 words like ‘hegemony’ to conjure up feelings of fear and distrust (surprisingly, I do not recall reading the word ‘hubris’ in here though). Some examples of this oppression, and the emergent solution, are her unsubstantiated charges of colonial injustice, sexism, and status quo theology on the church:

But the more or less colonialized Church that Reformation Protestantism and Catholicism managed to plant was, obviously, more or less colonialized, with all the demeaning psychological, political, cultural, and social overtones and resentments which that term brings with it. One does not have to be particularly gifted as a seer these days, however, to perceive the Great Emergence already swirling like balm across that wound, bandaging it with genuinely egalitarian conversation and with an undergirding assumption of shared brotherhood and sisterhood in a world being redeemed. (p.29)

In a relatively short time, women got the vote, and men got their suppers hot and on time again. It was hardly a religious solution, but nonetheless it was a very welcome one. (p.99)

When the country preacher of the mid-twentieth-century America decried divorce as a threat “right at the heart of America,” he was neither in error nor benighted. He may not have been arguing from religious conviction so much as from his own private unease about what a Pandora’s box there was for the status quo at the end of that road; but he was still right. (p.112-113)

This type of fear-mongering does not get very far when you are trying to argue for a position, and in fact, when you misrepresent or over generalize things it could be termed as misleading or even lying. It suffices to say that the lack of a propelling force (outside of personal malaise) combined with the inaccurate portrayals of Protestantism (which I take to be the intended Satan here) is argument enough that “the Great Emergence” is not so inevitable as we are being led to believe.

The second issue I have with Tickle’s argument is her haphazardness with the authority of Scripture. As she says on pages 150 to 151,

The new Christianity of the Great Emergence must discover some authority base or delivery system and/or governing agency of its own. It must formulate- and soon- something other than Luther’s sola scriptura which, although used so well by the Great Reformation originally, is now seen as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient, even after it is, as here, spruced up and re-couched in more current sensibilities.

The authority of Scripture is “outmoded or insufficient”!?! Why is this the case? Oh, well, as we see, it is because of the mood of “current sensibilities.” So, the Word which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work,” which is “breathed out by God,” who “do[es] not change,” is usurped by the authority of humanistic philosophy (2 Timothy 3.16-17, Malachi 3.6)! But Tickle does not stop there:

Now, some five hundred years later, even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of “Scripture and Scripture only.” We question what the words mean- literally? Metaphorically? Actually? We even question which words do and do not belong in Scripture and the purity of the editorial line of descent of those that do. (p.46)

When it is all resolved- and it most surely will be- the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught for almost five centuries will be dead. . . . While the erosion of sola scriptura is clearly an erosion of the base of traditional denominational Protestantism’s authority, we must remember that it is a corporeal, not a spiritual or moral, issue. (p.101)

So, not only is the authority of Scripture outdated, but that’s not such a big deal! And it’s not a spiritual or moral issue if we are questioning the Word of God as revealed to us, it’s just a corporeal matter (which is a fancy way of saying a matter of taste)!

This truly is incredible. Tickle’s advancement of the whole monster is that Scripture is no longer sufficient for us because we have changed (or as she would argue, grown and become more aware). Yet, it’s funny what God’s broken Word has to say about such dependence on intellect:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1.18-23)

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1.20)

Clearly those are the uninspired parts though (having been written by that misogynist Paul).

In the end, I find Tickle’s book to be nothing much more than propaganda in an effort to prop up a movement which is all-too-quickly being played out. Her friendliness with the emergent “conversation,” at times referring to them as “the new faithful” and with other pious platitudes, undermines any credibility she would have as a disengaged informer of the masses. Rather, in the way that traditionalists have been accused of covering up the warts in order to push their agenda, Tickle shows that the emergent crowd is not above this dishonest self-aggrandizement either.

Is the church changing? Sure. The expression of the church is constantly changing. Is there anything inside this emerging movement which is good? Certainly, I believe that the move to a more authentic worship and a destruction of the white-washed tombs which have adorned many a sanctuary for the past hundred years is a welcome change. But is it necessary for us to adopt the radical authority denying theology of “the Great Emergence”? Most assuredly not. Some pieces of church corporeality may need to change, but the casting off of sola scriptura as just another oppressive arm of Protestantism, a step which Tickle giddily takes in this book, is a step too far.


Wandering in Wonderland, part 3- A Scriptural Defense for Focusing on the Destination

August 12, 2008

Over the course of the last two posts I have attacked the emergent position that we should be focused on the journey and not the destination in the Christian life. I have argued that this leads to meaningless statements about “the right thing” and “a better way,” particularly when combined with the emergent attack on identity. I have also discussed that I feel that it is that living-in-the-now approach which has caused for emergents to avoid standing on biblical truth when it comes to issues which are divisive and not popular among a majority of people.

However, the one thing I need to do is offer a defense from the Bible of why we should focus on the destination. Now, take note, I do not intend to argue that we shouldn’t focus on the journey, as I have already conceded the importance of doing so in the first post (and besides, only free grace theologians would argue for this position), but instead I wish to show that this is a “both-and” issue.

First, let’s look at Hebrews 11.13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Now, in this passage, which is referring to the faith of the patriarchs, what does the author of Hebrews say? He says that the patriarchs made it “clear that they are seeking a homeland.” So, their focus was on the destination, on the homeland, the “things promised.” And what was the reaction to this? We’re they rebuked for having an improper focus? Far from it. Instead, we are told that “God is not ashamed to be called their God” and that per their expectation “he has prepared for them a city.” Then it seems as if God is actually rewarding their faith in him, their focus on the destination, with a “heavenly” country. Not bad, huh?

But then you may argue, “Well, that was the Jews and the promised land, not us.” To that I would say look two chapters later at Hebrews 13.13-14:

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

This time it is certainly being directed at believers in Christ, as this comes just two verses after a commentary on what Christ did for us. Also, this passage parallels the image given in chapter 11 of the city that has been prepared. Thus, it seems pretty clear that it is a good thing for our focus to be on the destination, the completion of God’s promises.

Where else can we turn for support of this? How about Romans 8.18-25:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Where is our hope? What do we seek? It is the redemption that is to come. For this we wait, with patience yes, but wait for it nonetheless. Or take 1Corinthians 9.24-27:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

We run to obtain the prize. We train to receive the imperishable wreath. This is an excellent illustration for what we need do. Yes, it is important that we “discipline [our bodies],” but we do not do so aimlessly. We are to focus on the journey because we are striving for the destination. We also see this echoed in Philippians 3.13-14.

Therefore, I think we have adequately shown by the word of God that as much as we are to focus on executing the journey in a manner which is honoring to God, our reason to do so is because we are “eagerly [awaiting] adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” I don’t think it could be any clearer. If we lose the goal, then the journey, however good it might make us feel, is completely worthless.


Wandering in Wonderland, part 2- A Quote by Dan Kimball Adressing Emergent Motivations

August 10, 2008

In discussing the topic of emergent motivations and whether or not we should be concerned with “the destination,” I think it would be nice to post a quote by someone who is so closely linked to the debate that he even has a book out entitled The Emerging Church, that being Dan Kimball (for the distinctions/relation between “emerging” and “emergent,” at least in my own use, check out the “Emerging vs. Emergent” tab above).

Now, I know I have not always agreed with everything Dan Kimball says, but in this ever growing divide between orthodoxy and “generous orthodoxy” I think it is important to know who you can trust to maintain the integrity of the truth, and I believe Kimball is one of those people.

The following quote comes from a message Kimball delivered at the recent Shift youth ministry conference at Willow Creek Community Church. What makes this even more impressive a statement is the context in which it was delivered: Kimball’s remarks came two days after Brian McLaren got up and spoke about the fact that “Many of us [theologians] have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly.” So, what did Kimball have to say in response to this?:

“This is what I’m just concerned about a little bit with some of the things that are going on today. The church is waking up to the fact that we have to be involved in global social justice issues. And that is fantastic. We should be repenting (and saying), ‘I can’t believe we did not think of this. This is the command of Jesus and what we should be about.’ And we need to be so involved in all of this because the kingdom is about life on this planet here and not just about when we die.

“But my subtle fear is that we don’t then swing the pendulum so much that we forget that there is life after we die and that we do have to still remember that there is an eternity with God and an eternity apart from God.”

These are surely pertinent words, and awfully brave things to say in front of a room which has been digesting the social gospel/universalist biases of people like McLaren and Shane Claiborne. I am thankful for people like Kimball who, though I may disagree with them on some issues, they understand the importance of submitting to God’s revealed word in the Bible and being disciples with a big enough a pair to live out Titus 1.9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.


Wandering in Wonderland- A Commentary on Emergent Motivations

August 9, 2008

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“- so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Continuing on the idea which I have been developing about the emergent attack upon identity, I would also like to point out that in fighting against identity the post-modern ideologies of emergent also seem to be fighting against ultimate ends as well.

In as much as emergent weakens identity by erasing lines of distinction and fuzzing out moral clarity, they also destroy purpose by viewing as their ends some sort of vague spirituality. In fact, all one needs do is listen to Rob Bell in his stage production Everything is Spiritual and you will hear the emergent drumbeat that the gospel is Jesus coming to tell us that we are living in an “integrated, holistic spirituality” and that we don’t need to seek anything or anywhere else.

What?

Or, maybe we can see how Rob Bell handles the question “How do you learn to redeem yourself from a mistake? How do you learn to overcome that on the inside and continue being a compassionate person?”:

“I think that many people pick up along the way that life is about destination, so they are taught it is about arriving, it’s about having all the answers, it’s about creating a nice box that you can sit in and defend. But my fundamental understanding is that life is a journey and journey is a fundamentally different way to understand life than destination. And on a journey all I am responsible for is the next step, and that’s all I’m ever asked for is the next step. I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to defend it all. I don’t have to have it all nailed down. And if you can shift from destination understanding to journey it frees you to take life as it comes, let it be what it is, and then do the next right thing.”

So, to the poster boy of emergent, the “next Billy Graham”, we see that an “integrated, holistic spirituality” is not about the destination, but instead it is about the journey and about being “free” to “do the next right thing.” Those words are so devoid of any meaning that it is almost laughable. But what should you expect? These words, though completely useless towards anything, particularly for a Christian, are also so dainty that they are sure not to offend anyone or polarize any conversation that they occur in. Which, of course, is the point.

Now, I’m as big a fan of Jack Kerouac and On the Road as anybody else, and I agree that Christ teaches us to be concerned with the journey and what we do in this life (Matthew 25.34-36, 28.18-20), but the thing we must recognize is what Lewis Carroll says in the opening quote, which he summarizes more succinctly like this: “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” To me, this is the error of emergent. They have become so focused on “the journey,” so focused on “compassion” and social justice, that they are open to taking any road to accomplish this, including roads which deny Christ.

In order to maintain peace those within the emergent circles have bent on the sin nature of homosexuality (either openly like Campolo or passively like McLaren). They have bent on the necessity of the substitutionary atonement (embracing the “cosmic child abuse” view of Chalke). They have bent on the existence of hell (through universalism like McLaren or by arguing that Hell is a state of living on earth like Bell). At any fork in the road where emergent would be forced to choose one way or the other, inevitably alienating some, they always try to take both. They do this because in the end, emergent is truly not concerned about the destination, they are not concerned with where you’re going. The only thing they ultimately care about is how you intolerant you are and how many trees you kill along the way.


The Emergent Invitation to War- What Post-Modernism Does to Christianity

August 7, 2008

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” -1 Peter 3.13-16

I first became a fan of Natan Sharansky after reading his widely acclaimed book The Case for Democracy in early 2005. The unashamed way in which he spoke right to the heart of the matter of fear and freedom in our societies greatly influenced my outlook on the practices of governments around the world. Thus, when he released his most recent book, Defending Identity, I knew that I would eventually want to read it, regardless of the subject matter. However, when I began reading the reviews I saw that this was a book I would be interested in even if Mr. Sharansky had not been the author.

Why is that? Because, in this book which focuses mostly on the need for strong identities to coincide with strong democracies, I saw a deeper message pertaining to the struggle between strong identities and strong Christianity going on within the Church in our present emerging culture. Go onto any emergent blog, read any emergent book (say the upcoming Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell for example), or engage any emergent thinkers in your congregation, and you will see this idea of a strong Christian identity being the cause of great travesties throughout the world and a drive to neutralize that identity and try to appeal on a broader range of issues which seem more agreeable to more people and thus promoting more “peace”. This all comes from the “perfectly compelling” syllogism of post-modernism, namely: identity causes conflict; conflict is evil; therefore, identity is evil. It is this false argument which I believe leads emergent Christianity down many a dangerous path in its theology and application, and it is that which Sharansky’s book, when read with a properly discerning eye, argues wholly against.

Below are a couple of quotes which I found particularly striking. In reading them, try and cast the ideas of war and totalitarian forces into the mold of religious conflict and Satan, and see for yourself if you can find the parallels which I was drawn to:

“Post-identity (post-modernism) weakens identity to decrease tensions between people, but doing so leads to vulnerability, threats, blackmail, and ultimately to an inability to defend against aggression. That is why post-identity is an invitation to war.” (Natan Sharansky, Discovering Identity, p.205

“People are willing to make sacrifices when the choice is clear, when they know what is right and what is wrong. yet, if nothing is right, if no value judgments can be made, then nothing is wrong. Post-identity has created a world in which there is no right. But if there is no right, why fight?” (ibid., pp.100-101)

“It should be obvious that wagging a struggle against totalitarian forces first requires moral clarity. Unless you recognize evil, you cannot begin to fight it. But this is where the champions of post-identity have done the greatest damage.” (ibid., p.221)


The Laodicean Project- Malachi Speaks to Our Emerging Bretheren

May 30, 2008

It never ceases to amaze me at how while reading the Bible you can come across certain verses that seem so appropriate for our modern/postmodern context that you almost forget they were written over 2000 years ago. It is such a reminder of how the problems we deal with today are problems that the people of God have always had to deal with. This is both comforting, because it helps you know that the things that are being said today have already been tried and argued and God has already come out on top, and frustrating, because you see that the church has really not come all that far in the 2000 years since Christ’s death.

The verse which spoke so heavily to me can be found in the book of the prophet Malachi in his prophecy to the Israelites as they continue working on rebuilding Jerusalem.

You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17)

This verse seems so pertinent to me in light of our last post concerning the emerging church and how they tend to struggle with losing their saltiness while out in the world. The reason why I think this is so is because in this one verse we see two claims that the emerging people are so frequent to make and we can see how God responds to them.

Working in reverse, the first statement we see is the question “Where is the God of justice?” So many are want to rail this claim against God, that he is unjust because he appears to be sitting idly by while people suffer and die in poverty and obscurity or from painful sickness and disease. He seems to sit by while families are torn apart by drugs and cheap cons. Emerging leaders such as Brian McLaren are so concerned with injustice that it becomes the focal point of who they are and what their ministry preaches, like his book The Secret Message of Jesus. Bart Ehrman wrote a book on this called God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer. Rob Bell is writing a book concerning social justice to be released in the fall called Jesus Came to Save Christians. The Emerging Church views God’s inability, or the inability of God’s people, to end suffering and promote social reform as the primary concern of the Church today. And yet, how does their evangelism prosper when they do such things? How does it help Brian McLaren’s ministry when he is arrested for protesting the federal budget?

The second statement made is that “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” This takes on various forms in the emerging church, but probably the most obvious is in their promotion of homosexuality. For whatever reason, the emerging church and gay rights have become inextricably intertwined. Whether it be the out-and-out acceptance of it by leaders such as Tony Campolo, or if it is the tacit acceptance by McLaren and his slippery line of “Frankly, many of us don’t know what we should think about homosexuality.” To me this type of response is beyond disingenuous. With the current climate of moral and social living in America, there should not be any person going into the ministry who is unsure where they stand on homosexuality. Go to the mountains like Jesus, or take three years out to study like Paul. But whatever you do, don’t go stand up in front of the people you are supposed to shepherd and tell them you don’t know what to do with probably the single most pressing moral issue of our time! It is the same with abortion, sex outside of marriage, alcohol and drug use, and manner of speech. The emerging church has decided that there are a set of things that they want to do, either out of their own desires or out of a desire to appease the world, and instead of calling things black and white as stated in the Bible, they hide under a cloud of cultural relativity and freedoms in Christ to maintain these behaviors. They pronounce what is evil as being good in the sight of God, even to the point that some consider God as being a universalist!

So what does the passage say is God’s response to all of this? “You have wearied the LORD with your words.” God says through Malachi that he has been wearied by these statements made by his people. To weary means to make jaded or exhausted. With their words, the people of God, and I believe the emerging church as well, have exhausted God. Not that he is tired, but that his patience and his exercise of mercy have been exhausted on them. And honestly, the last place I want to stand is on the brink of God removing his mercy. It is like when your mom says, “You’re getting on my last nerve,” only it is the most powerful being in the universe who is about to unleash his cosmic discipline upon you!

Of course, we may discuss the merits of these claims and argue over whether the things mentioned above are really sin, but as far as I see it, the emerging church needs to refocus their efforts on being the Salt and working to preserve God’s goodness and turn away from the attitudes which God has warned before lead to his weariness with them.


The Laodicean Project- And Add a Pinch of Salt

May 29, 2008

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:13-16

In our first post concerning the above passage we discussed how the evangelical church has tended to fail in the way in which they behave as a light to the world, hiding that light under a basket and burning the skin of the ones whose path they need to illuminate. Today, in the second post on this passage I wish to discuss how the emerging church fails to do its job as the Salt.

Though I imagine we are all mostly familiar with this by now I think it is important that we review what salt meant to the people during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Today we view salt only as a seasoning for our food, and possibly (depending on your climate region) a substance used to keep roads from freezing. However, salt in First century Rome held a slightly different meaning. At that point in history there was no such thing as refrigeration, and since it wasn’t exactly practical for people to slaughter an animal every night and eat it in its’ entirety before the heat spoiled it, the people had to find some way to preserve food. They did this by using salt. With the salt as a cure for the meat they could then keep it for longer periods of time, allowing them to save both work and money on dinner. Salt also worked as an antiseptic to pack wounds with and keep them free of infection (Ouch!).

But, another thing that the ancient world lacked, besides fridges, was manufactured table salt. Instead, the people of that time used salt extracted from the sea. And one inherent problem with sea salt is that it does not retain its capabilities as salt forever. This is what Jesus is alluding to in saying the salt has “lost its taste.” That means that the salt no longer worked as a seasoning, and more importantly, it no longer worked as a preservative or antiseptic.

So, with this understanding, let’s look again at what this passage means. If we are called to be “the salt of the earth” then this means that we are to act as both a preservative and an antiseptic for the world. Christians should act both to preserve the world in keeping away evil, encouraging people away from evil deeds and in general promoting holy living, and as an antiseptic by helping to cleanse out evil and remove the infection of sinful living in various aspects of the culture.

Thus, my claim against the emerging church is that they have lost their saltiness. They are effective at getting out into the world, being wrapped around environments which need preservation or being packed into situations that need cleansing, but they have lost their saltiness and so their presence does not make a difference and does not keep things from going bad or getting worse. I see the emerging church as very effective at being the Light that we desired of the evangelical church; at engaging the culture, at getting down into the gritty places where many Christians have trouble reaching, and relating to sinful people on a level where they don’t burn them. However, at this level, I don’t see much preservation or cleansing. Sure, they are able to pull people into the church, but are they really preserving them from the corrupting influence of the world? I don’t believe so.

Instead, I believe that we see too much association with the sinful world on behalf of the believers in the emerging church. So much so that they lose their own saltiness and instead of influencing the culture they are letting the culture influence them. This can be clearly seen in the decidedly liberal bend of most emerging congregations. Congregations which have traded in standing on Biblical truth for being acceptable to the general population. Congregations which have decided that the Cross was too offensive and so have decided to remove the offensive parts on their own without ever getting God’s permission to do so. They have fully accepted their role as being Salt to pack the culture in, but because they have lost their taste they are of no more good to the culture than if they were just thrown out into the street and trampled on.

If the emerging church is going to have a lasting positive impact on “Christian” societies I truly believe that they need to try and regain their saltiness, regain their preservative and antiseptic abilities, so that in their myriad interactions with the world they can be an effective agent for removing and keeping away the corruption of sin. It is real encouraging to see the passion which so many in the emerging movement seem to bring, and to see their excellence at engaging the secular culture of our society. But, at the end of the day, if they stand in a position where Jesus says they are just as well off being trampled under foot, then their connections with the culture are going to make no more difference for the kingdom than if they had never even tried.