Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Emergent Church/Movement Briefly Explained - Finally

Okay, so after some feed back from my last post and questions about what the emergent church/movement is I will briefly attempt to explain it. First, I want to start by stating that what I am about to write is in no way comprehensive - if I do a good job I may scratch the surface in beginning to explain the emergent movement because it is very broad which makes it difficult to briefly explain. As a result, if someone who were emergent or had a good deal of knowledge about the emergent movement were to read this, I am sure they would (rightly so) point out many things that I have missed. Thus, my goal is not to fully explain this subject but, rather, I just want to provide everyone with a general understanding of this movement so that we can begin to see some of the helps and dangers it and perhaps at a greater degree, its leaders, present to Christianity and the world of those who don't know Christ.

First, much of the emergent movement forms its theology and practices out of reaction to the church over the few decades. Let me explain this further. Over the last few decades there has been a lot of debate about some of finer points of theology between Christians. Now, to be clear, not all debating is good and not all debating is bad. It is a mixed bag. However, many who would identify themselves as emergent have left conservative, orthodox, evangelicalism because they do not like the debating and want to seek unity. Sounds good right? You can probably resonate with that to some level. But, what is the outcome? The outcome is that these people have sought and placed unity over the gospel. In an effort to be peaceable and have harmony between them they effectively throw out doctrine because it can bring division. I'll make two points here. First, getting the gospel and God's Word right is worth fighting for. Read the NT, especially the letters from Paul, he is fighting for correct doctrine without apology for the sake of true unity - unity of those who are truly believers! Second, this quest for unity has degenerated into a denial and reaction against propositional truth in a growing number of emergents. Instead, there is a very heavy emphasis on experience and one's individual experience with God. The implication of this second point is that they minimize Jesus' work on the cross for us out of a desire to not offend people. So, instead of telling someone that they are a sinner and that they are going to hell if they do not embrace Jesus' sacrifice for them on the cross an emergent will often times boil the gospel and salvation down to following the social teachings and ways of Jesus. They will typically call people to follow the teachings and ways of Jesus to make this a better world. In a reaction to recent decades of the church neglecting social issues, they will only focus on the social component of the gospel.

The good side of this is that they have helped to point out the church's failure in the social dimension of the gospel over the last few decades and have called us to step up in this area. On the other hand, by only calling people to follow Jesus social teachings and ways to gain salvation they are misleading people in the worst way possible because the reality is that the people they are reaching are still sinners in need of a Christ's sacrifice on their behalf to escape hell. As believers our message should first be Christ crucified and that should result in a life of following and living out Jesus' teachings and example. What was the message of the NT church? "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:22-25).

Another dimension of the emergent movement is that they have done well to point out that the church over recent decades has too greatly separated itself from culture and this has hindered the church's ability to reach people. Unfortunately, the emergents have gone too far the other way and let culture dictate their philosophy and methodology. For example, many emergents will snub their noses at the many Christians who abstain from alcohol because the Bible does not teach abstention but only not to get drunk. But let me give you an example of what a group of emergents did with this liberty in order to reach people for the gospel. They bought a bar that was up for sale and continued to operate it using it as an opportunity to reach that particular neighborhood for Christ by having Christian bartenders and waitresses serving the patrons in order to build relationships with them to share the gospel (This example is from the book, The Shaping of Things to Come). Now, as someone who gets excited about evangelism initially this idea really got me excited but as I thought more about it I realized this is taking the cultural aspect of mission too far for a few reasons: 1) Jesus never told us to contribute to someone's sin in order to build a relationship with them to share the gospel. 2) Let's say they did lead someone to Christ, how are they to now explain to that person that they can no longer get drunk when in fact, the very Christians who are saying this are the same people operating and serving in an establishment of which that is the very purpose why many people go. It just does not make sense and immediately damages the credibility of the gospel. Remember Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

Finally, another major mark of the emergent church is a reaction to leadership. Many emergents will assert that the early church was so successful in reaching the world because it did not have organized leadership so it was much more free to move and adapt. This is simply not true. In fact, Paul writes twice about qualifications of Elders and Deacons (1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). He also tells Titus that he left him in Crete to set elders in place (Titus 1). In fact, when you read through the book of Acts it becomes clear that one of the major strengths of the early church was its strong leadership. Jesus did not leave the mission of his church up in the air; he directed the apostles to lead the mission (Acts 1:8).

Like I said before, this is a very very brief and simplistic explanation of the emergent movement and we could discuss some finer points of it and the myriads of things I left out all day. Here is the bottom line, the emergent church has done well to make some good observations of problems within the church. However, they have made a major mistake by letting their negative experiences and observations dictate their theology (they have a theology even if they do not want one; we all have theology in every aspect of our lives, unfortunately much of our theology is formed out of ignorance rather than God's Word - myself included) and methodology.

So in my next few posts I will show the dangers of this type of theology in more illustrative ways. In my very next post I will post a gospel presentation from an emergent perspective and that will be followed by one from a Biblical perspective. Then to finish this rant off I will critically review a book by one of the emergent movements very popular leaders, Rob Bell. The book I review will be Velvet Elvis.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Theology Matters! A Must Read

The following is taken from a journal entry that I wrote on 3/11/08. It my heart was stirred by an upsetting and sad situation as I have seen some throw out solid theology for a particular methodology. I know from the title you may be thinking, "BORING", but I hope you take the time to read this and are convinced otherwise.

Theology Matters. Whether we realize it or not we have a theology in every area of our lives. Good theology drives us toward Christ-likeness in a particular area; while bad theology allows us to drift, or dive head first, more deeply into worldliness. Our theology shapes our lives. Good theology helps us to discern truth from error. It helps us to protect us when temptation comes - including the temptations to buy into errant although clever, well-packaged theologies, systems of belief, or philosophies, and/or practices.

Theology matters. It is not just for the professionals, leaders, or Bible scholars. It is for every follower of Jesus. It is life or death. The 7th grade choir teacher, the middle-aged engineer, the young career man, the stay-at-home mom, the young child - they (or I should say, we) all need good theology. When we throw it away or it loses its importance in our lives we risk our very faith. Of course, the true saint will persevere and cannot lose their salvation, but that will only be seen at the end of their life. In the mean time we have to FIGHT! We have to fight for our faith. We have to care passionately about what God's Word tells us and live it out as if our lived depend on it - because they do. Remember, "the tree is known by its fruit" (Matt. 12:33). We have to cling, white-knuckled, to the cross holding on to a pure gospel. A pure gospel that works itself out into our hearts, minds, and lives that we must fight to protect . We must protect it from attack and use it in the battle for the souls of those around us. A pure gospel that says, "No Compromise!"

Oh Lord, give us the grace, strength, endurance, patience, passion, wisdom, and discernment for the battle. Without the purifying power of the Spirit that leads us into all truth (John 16:13) we too will follow a tainted gospel, which is no gospel at all. Theology Matters.

An additional note (not from my journal entry): I truly believe that the greatest attack on theology that this generation of conservative evangelicals (people like me) will face and must defeat is the theology of the emergent movement. Some of the accurate critiques of current evangelicalism that the emergents have made have led them to effectively throw out the gospel by diluting it and deconstructing it in a variety of ways. The end result is that the cross loses its true meaning and people are led astray. All of this is done for a multitude of reasons, but at the forefront are a reaction against propositional truth and the desire for inclusiveness. Unless we, the teachers and leaders of God's people, step up and teach our people solid theology and the its real life implications we will continue to lose people to this false gospel. Perhaps the biggest mistake we often make when teaching. preaching, or talking theology is that we tend to leave it at the academic level instead of doing the hard necessary work or showing how if fleshes itself out into our everyday lives. Sadly, those from the emergent movement are deceiving themselves and others and are the very people Paul warned the Ephesian elders of in Acts 20:20-30, "29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. " We must FIGHT for the faith. We must fight "for the sake of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness" (Titus 1:1).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel

I first saw this on Justin Taylor's blog and WOW! Piper is so on. Definitely worth watching.