The Emergent Emergency

I mentioned last week that I recently gave a lecture at TCBC on the Emergent Church. That message is now available online. As I state in the message, I depend heavily on secondary sources and, frankly, I really don’t offer new information. However, the organization of the information and the response to the EC from the perspective of a biblical fundamentalist may be helpful. Here’s the gist of the message:

1.  The Emergent Church is a REACTION to recent Christian movements.

Specifically, it is a reaction to the commercialism of the Church Growth Movement and to the certainty of conservative Christianity.

2.  The Emergent Church is an ACCOMMODATION to Postmodernism.

3.  The Emergent Church is a REINCARNATION of Theological Liberalism.

Of course, now that I’ve finally invested a little time in getting a handle on the Emergent Church, there is talk of their ditching the name. (Story of my life.) Whatever they call it, I believe this new presentation of old heresies is worthy of serious and practical thought. We need to consider why the EC has been at all appealing to young people from evangelical and fundamental backgrounds. We need to renew our commitment to biblical truth. We need to promote and model a vibrant commitment to Christ and Christian doctrine. And we need to learn to discern and teach those under our care to do the same.

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16 Responses

  1. I’m on a quest that seems to be related to this post. I’d like to make an effective, reasonable argument for the absolute truth of Christianity that does not pre-suppose the authority of the Bible and is not dependant on cultural upbringing.

    Some background…I am a Christian and have made a choice (a leap of faith if you will) to believe the truth of Christianity. What I’m struggling with is describing my choice to post-modern intellectuals in a way that doesn’t make Christianity appear to simply be “believing in unbelievable things” or “a crutch for those in need or those that are weak.”

    I often hear other Christians describe faith as believing when there is no evidence. This may work Christian to Christian. But, it sounds ridiculous to a post-modernist. They believe that dogmatic beliefs are actually harmful to society (e.g, opposing stem cell research or promoting abstinence-only education), favoring a more pragmatic approach. They ask why faith-based beliefs are held to a different (lower) standard than any other belief that we claim to have. Don’t we need to be able to make a reasonable argument based on evidence? Don’t we need an effective argument that the Bible is truly the word of God as opposed to all of the other ancient books that also claim to be?

    If this answer is out there, I’d appreciate if you could point me in the right direction. I’ve tried reading a number of Christian intellectuals. However, they seem to all start from the pre-supposition that the Bible is true. I do believe that the Bible is true. But, how can I prove (even to myself) that this belief isn’t largely because of the culture that I was brought up in? I’m an obedient person. If I had a different upbringing in a different place, wouldn’t I be a “good” Muslim, Jew, or even Communist?

    The only other explanation I’ve heard other than starting with Biblical truth is that one had a “personal experience.” I don’t doubt these personal experiences and have had some of my own. However, can any of us say we had a personal experience where God explicitly told us, “It’s Jesus, not all those other prophets” or “It’s the Bible, not the Koran???”

    Any suggestions?

  2. Start with the Bible. But here are a few good apologetic books to get you going. Easy to follow, and not too deep (although the updated “Evidence” is a little larger and more expansive than earlier versions):

    “Evidence That demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell (and other McDowell writings)

    “The Real Face of Atheism” by Ravi Zacharias (check his website).

  3. Also, “www.reformed.org” click the “Apologetics” link.

    Get familiar with the history of the church after the Canon was completed: study the creeds and their formation. There are other churches than the Roman Catholic.

    Get familiar with the current atheist attacks from the Big Three (Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens). They are fairly easy to debunk as they are repetitive and side-stepping (they never answer the questions). Never let yourself get caught into answering for the entirety of everything the “church” did that was wrong (differentiate what “church” you are discussing), and ALWAYS differentiate between FAITH and RELIGION (the two are different, you know).

    The “faith and science” argumentation is a diversionary technique. Don’t fall into the trap. Science is just as much about “faith” as true faith in Jesus Christ.

    “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

  4. Btw, MRP, one can NEVER make an effective, reasonable argument for absolute Truth without presupposing the authority of Scripture which is NOT a matter of cultural upbringing. Period.

  5. MRP, Is your life in the hands of God by faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by his grace? You have to answer your own standing with God before you ask others to believe.

  6. MRP,

    Great questions. Christians are very used to “preaching to the choir,” and seeking effective ways to communicate truth to those who aren’t coming from a God-acknowledging worldview is certainly worthwhile.

    The “start with the Bible” comment may seem like a “duh-ism,” but there’s a great deal of truth there. It is, after all, the means by which God has communicated His character, plan of redemption, and Son (Heb 1:1-3); it is the object God uses to produce faith (Rom 10:17); and according to Christ, if skeptics refuse to hear Scripture, even miraculous evidence won’t be sufficient (Luke 16:27-31). Also, don’t underestimate the need for the Spirit of God to do a miraculous “eye-opening” work in the hearers’ heart (1 Cor 2:14-16; 2 Cor 4:3-6). No one is going to be overwhelmed by evidence and therefore repent and trust Christ. It’s a spiritual struggle, not just intellectual.

    That said, presenting thoughtful answers from and about the Scriptures is certainly a good thing. Any definition of faith that communicates the need to “stop thinking” is bogus. Paul’s example of reasoning/disputing with people about the Scriptures and the identity of Christ throughout Acts indicates that there is definitely a persuasion and convincing element to evangelism. (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; etc.)

    Among the scholars that I trust the most is D. A. Carson, and I think his The Gagging of God may be just the thing you’re looking for.

    I’ve also heard good things about Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, though there may be a few things with which I don’t agree.

    As for a general gospel explanation, the church I pastor has made this audio presentation available, and it’s proven to be helpful to many.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you, Dale. So far, I’ve taken a quick look at the McDowell and Zacharias books and they look like they will be helpful.

    Could I ask you how you were able to become so certain that the Christian Bible is the word of God and that Jesus is his Son, etc.? As I said, I agree with you that Jesus is God’s Son and the Bible is the word of God. But, this is a leap of faith that I am making – in a way suspending my intellectual side. It seems to me that you “know” these things to be true. How do you know? Muslims and Jews think they “know” too. Why is our faith different?

  8. Thanks, Chris. I appreciate the response. Looks like I have some more reading to do!

  9. MRP,

    You ask some excellent questions. I would second Chris’s recommendation of Tim Keller’s The Reason For God. That book is the outflow of 20 plus years of Keller’s interaction with skeptical New Yorkers.

    One thing that I would encourage you with: everybody has faith in something. You mention “believing in unbelievable things”, etc. I would contend that the Christian world view makes far more sense than anything else. At some point, everybody has to admit that something came from nothing. Your faith is either in a Creator God or something else. It takes a lot of faith to not believe in God and yet still believe that something came from nothing!

    I pray that God will continue to reveal Himself to you and that you will find as you seek.

  10. MRP

    Listen to Chris’s audio that he linked. It is awesome! I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. I am convinced by the power of the Holy Spirit who, it is stated, convinces my spirit that I am a child of God.

    Jesus said, “He who has the Son has life. He who has not the Son of God has not life.” For me, that’s the end of the story. God, in his infinite love, came down to earth in the form of a man, and took upon himself the sins of the world. Christianity is NOT just an assent to the “truth” of christianity, it is a personal relationship with the God who loves us. There is NO other religion on the planet that can make that claim. Christ comes to us! Seek, and you will find.

    But, MRP, men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. Thanks be to God for his gift of the Gospel: the Eternal Word of God in the flesh! By faith, my friend. Only by faith are we saved unto life everlasting. Amen, and praise be to God! I was damned in sin, but now i am found. I did not DO or assent to anything but accepted God’s grace. My sin is washed forever under blood of Jesus. That is about as liberating a belief as anything I have ever read, heard, or thought about written by any human being alive or dead. Jesus Christ makes the only claim. There is none other who can do that. Jews, Muslims, atheists, ad infinitum, live unto themselves. THEY have to DO something to gain God’s favor. It kind of mocks Christ’s sacrifice. Christ did it ALL or we are of all men most miserable for we have believed a lie. Christ rose from the dead. It’s a fact. No other “faith-man” whatever ever did that.

  11. I’ll continue to be in prayer for you, MRP. Rest in the arms of Christ, and he will give you peace that passes all understanding that last for all eternity.

  12. Thank you all for the prayers.

  13. When postmodern thought is identified and refuted in all arenas (not merely the theological one), you’ll see greater discernment among our Bible college graduates. Having taught in both English and Education departments, I found that postmodern philosophy pervades the textbooks, and in my experience, even godly teachers aren’t always prepared to address it.

  14. Michelle,

    I’m surprised to see how much the idea that relationships trump truth has pervaded thinking even among Bible-believers. Being “nice” seems to trump being “right” for many. I’m obviously not arguing for being a crank, and I appreciate the importance of a godly spirit in addition to sound positions, but I think we’re more influenced by our culture’s devaluing of truth and exaltation of tolerance than we think.

  15. I agree. I often hear that asserting that Christianity is right is implicitly saying that other worldviews, including post-modern atheism, are wrong. This doesn’t fly well in our culture where pluralism and tolerance are valued. We appear to be arrogant and judgmental. As Kimball has said, we are becoming identified by what we are against rather than what we are for. I think that this has been some of the appeal of EC, which I agree has moved too far from orthodoxy.

    This is why I am on this quest. I do think we have to make a case for why the Bible is THE place to go for truth. I haven’t done all my reading assignments yet. But, I am still looking for something more than, “if you read it, you’ll know it’s true.” Many have read it and don’t think it’s true. Others have asked God to reveal Himself to them and they still don’t believe.

    As I’m sure you all know, the majority of folks think that all “good” worldviews point to the same truth. They are troubled by the dogmatic beliefs that divide us. I believe that Christianity is the best worldview for me. I want to be so certain that I know that it is the best worldview for everyone. Of course, this can’t be based on my wanting to impose my view on others. It must be based on absolute truth.

  16. MRP: I love you, friend. Your ambivalence makes it appear that you yourself are still struggling with the truth of Scripture. To use your quote, “I believe that Christianity is the best worldview for me” is not the proper approach.

    First of all, your assent to christianity is just that: acknowledgment of some truth. No big deal, even satan believes in christianity. What is in your heart and mind and soul is what Christ looks at when he sees his children. What is in your heart, MRP?

    Second, it is Christ and his grace in us that makes us his, not just a consent of, or belief in the truth of christianity. You have to grasp (with all your heart, mind, and soul) his faith and grace that tells you you are in need of a Savior who is Christ the Lord before you know the Truth. You seem not to embrace this concept.

    Third, all worldviews are impossible on their face to be all true. Christ can not be the Incarnate God in the flesh (christianity) and just a mere revered prophet (islam) at the same time. There are certainly enough contradictions between all religions and christianity that all of them can NOT be true.

    No other religion claims God desires a personal relationship with human beings that he himself made the way possible. My bible tells me God does that very thing. All other religions say man must appease God in some way to make the way TO him. Christ comes to us. All we do is accept his faith and grace acknowledging him as Savior and Lord. He does what we can never do for ourselves. All other religions tell us what we have to do FOR God. Only christianity tells us what Christ has done for US. That is the difference. Not the feeling that all folks believe their way is truth. You seem to struggle with this also.

    I pray you find God’s peace which can only come when we give ourselves totally to him by faith and only through his grace. Peace to you, friend.

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