The “Emergent Church” (Part III)

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

While my own introduction to the Emergent Church came through Rob Bell and his Nooma DVDs, further investigation led me to a man named Brian McLaren. McLaren is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, the author of several books, and one of the most prominent leaders (if not THE leader) of the Emergent Church movement. As such, McLaren’s beliefs and teachings might better reveal the theology of the Emergent Church overall.

I wanted to know if McLaren shared some of the humanistic, relativistic tendencies I had noticed in Bell. It didn’t take long to find out. Just the titles of his books indicate a belief system that apparently compromises sound biblical doctrine (A Generous Orthodoxy) and embraces Gnosticism (The Secret Message of Jesus). Book reviews of A Generous Orthodoxy (one by Dr. Al Mohler and the other by Bob DeWaay) confirmed the suspicions raised by the title.

Apparently McLaren is reluctant to rely on Scripture as an authority. In one interview I read McLaren said, “I intentionally avoid including a lot of Biblical references in my writing because the method of ‘proof-texting’ is terribly problematic. Yes – it can show the Biblical roots beneath a statement, but it also can be used to give the appearance that a statement is supported by Biblical authority when it isn’t.”

This statement reminded me of one I saw while glancing through Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. In it Bell commented that every time he heard someone back up a statement with a Bible verse it made him want to throw up. He also used the term “proof-texting.”

It is true that proof-texting (also known as eisegesis) is not the proper way to read Scripture. It means reading one’s own interpretation into a given text. It is the practice of using Scripture to justify a predetermined belief. But the more I learned about McLaren, Bell, and the Emergent Church the more I came to realize that they consider even proper biblical interpretation as “proof-texting.”

The proper way to read Scripture is to use a method called exegesis, a term which means “to draw meaning out of.” It is the practice of going to Scripture, reading it with consideration of the author, the audience, the intent, the cultural and historical contexts and the original language, determining it’s meaning and then forming your beliefs accordingly. But even this is insufficient for McLaren.

He claims we can’t know absolute truth from reading the Bible because we, the readers, are fallible and therefore incapable of determining for certain the intent of the message. The Emergent Church, as a whole, embraces this view. They do this because the Emergent Church is founded on post-modern principles (primarily “relativism”) and a rejection of modern principles (including the idea of “absolute truth”).

McLaren goes on to assert that the Bible is about doing good works for the benefit of all people and not about propositional, objective truth. Instead of trying to form our beliefs about God from Scripture we should do so from “experiencing Jesus.” But even this method (whatever it is) is problematic because, according to McLaren, there are seven distinctive Jesuses, each of whom provides us with valuable information about God.

Now, he’s not claiming there were literally seven different Jesuses but that various Christian groups have emphasized different characteristics of Christ. Bob DeWaay, in his review of McLaren’s book said this:

From Eastern Orthodoxy McLaren learned about Jesus saving the whole cosmos by entering it and becoming part of it: “Second, as humanity (and all creation) enters into God through Jesus, God also enters Jesus’ people, species, and history. And by entering all creation through Jesus, God’s heart is forever bound to it in solidarity, faithfulness, loyalty, and commitment.”

This aspect of Jesus becomes ground for McLaren’s understanding of planetary, cosmic salvation within history. He later describes an experience where he personally felt the interconnectedness of all things in God: I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water become especially eloquent with God’s grandeur. Somehow they seemed to become transparent— or perhaps translucent is the better word—because each thing in its particularity was still utterly visible and unspeakably important . . . These specific, concrete things became translucent in the sense that a powerful, indescribable, invisible light seemed to shine through. . . . It was the exuberant joy of simply seeing these masterpieces of God’s creation…and knowing myself to be among them. It was to be one of them, and to feel and know that “we”—all of these creatures, molecules, and phenomena— were together known and loved by God, who embraced us all into the ultimate “We.”

This New Age, pantheistic worldview leads in a direction that one would think is unmistakably unbiblical. It is reminiscent of Bell’s Nooma DVD “Rythym” and the idea of just being “in tune with God.”

Another review I found in the Christian Examiner revealed even more troubling information. In it McLaren said, “I want to help people understand everything they can about the cross. … I wouldn’t say that having that understanding (Jesus dying as a substitute for sinful humanity) is all that it means to be a Christian. I think that some people might have that understanding and not be interested in following Jesus. They want Jesus’ blood to pay for their sins so they can go to heaven, but they aren’t really interested in following Jesus in this life.”

Jesus is not a “ticket” to heaven nor is He “fire insurance.” Jesus said to believe in him meant to “take up your cross daily and follow me.” The Lordship of Jesus Christ and His salvation are intertwined. Preaching that you can have one without the other in order to appeal to a post-modern culture is NOT preaching the gospel. It may appeal to this culture but it is inconsistent with Scripture and is NOT the gospel.

I’ll share more in Part IV.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

One Response to The “Emergent Church” (Part III)

  1. Pingback: Nooma “Open”: A Review « Thideology™

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