Three years ago I never even heard of the emerging church. Today, it is one of my greatest concerns. To unravel any mystery, one must begin at the beginning. At the beginning of the emerging church mystery is the definitional designation. Just what does the word “emerge” really mean? Webster’s notes a revealing definition.
emerge \i-‘marj\ vi emerged; emerg-ing [L emergere, fr. e- + mergere to plunge – more at MERGE] (1563) 1: to become manifest 2: to rise from or as if from an enveloping fluid: come out into view 3: to rise from an obscure or inferior condition 4: to come into being by evolution. (1)
Theologically speaking the most horrific thing this author has ever experienced is the sudden appearance of this so-called “emerging church.” From the above definition, especially number 4, the name of this “other” gospel (Galatians 1) is critical. It is no accident that those who advance the theory that “truth” evolves over time have named (they will claim the name “evolved!”) their movement using a word with heavy Darwinian overtones. The emerging church arose out of Evangelicalism and spread rapidly, even into the church of Christ like an undetected cancer. Let’s examine a short history.
Most denominationalists today are more “Evangelical” than “denominational,” i.e. they identify more with a theological system than with any one denomination. For example, when asked, many people would rather identify themselves as “born again Christians” (THE overly redundant Evangelical catch-phrase so often heard in the media) than, say, as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. [Keep in mind that the term “Evangelical” has no practical reference to “evangelism.”]
As discussed elsewhere in this work, from the beginning of the church until about the 17th century, Western civilization accepted the biblical premise that truth is defined in absolute terms and said truth is found within the Word of God. The Protestant Reformation took place within this world view that we will term as “Pre-Modern.” The more “conservative” Protestant churches, known as “Reformed” churches, were and are “Pre-Modern.” Though the Reformers draw false conclusions from the Scriptures regarding many things, they do accept without question the inerrancy of the Scriptures, as has every member of the church of Christ since the Day of Pentecost. Though our culture is far removed from the Pre-Modern world view, many people are still motivated and defined by it. The late Vernon McGee, R. C. Sproul and John McArthur are all noteworthy Reformed scholars. The emerging church is far removed from the Reformed church; in fact the Reformed church sees the emerging church as its arch enemy. Emergent theology is not at all influenced by the Reformers. The Reformed church is Pre-Modern and is not influenced by Post-Modernism.
From the 17th century until the time of the First World War, the world view is known as “Modern.” Modernism asserts that truth is knowable and discoverable but it is variable and individually defined. The Evangelical church is a Modern church, having “truth” but the kind of truth is more like Jell-O ® than concrete! Though the time of Modernism has almost nearly completely past, many people alive today are Modern in their thinking and in their theology. Modern Evangelical theologians would include most notably Billy Graham, the late Dr. Bill Bright, Chuck Swindoll, Pat Robertson, the late Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, et al.
Unfortunately, as of May 7, 2008, our own brother Max Lucado added his name to what is now called the “Evangelical Manifesto.” This manifesto has two aims, one is to “soften” the belief system of Evangelicalism to make it more accommodating to the new post 2008 election political realities in the United States, and two – and most importantly – to leap frog Evangelicalism from “Modernism” to “Post-Modernism.” Today’s evolving Evangelicalism attempts to pitch a “big tent” made up of just about anyone who has “made a decision for Christ,” [the “Sinner’s Prayer” salvation experience] though Rick Warren [Purpose Driven Life] is now attempting to “straddle the fence” between “Christianity” and other “people of faith.” Warren has one foot in the old Modern Evangelicalism and one foot in the new Post-Modern emerging Evangelicalism movement. The pre-manifesto Evangelical church was Modern, the post-manifesto Evangelical church is Post-Modern and the emerging church is existential. Before we go any further, just what is an Evangelical?
An “Evangelical” is a “liberal Reformer.” Orthodox reformers such as Luther and Calvin wanted to “reform” the apostate Roman Catholic Church but were not “totally back to the Bible” people per se. A Reformer could not be a Catholic and a Catholic could not be a Reformer. In fact, the Reformation sparked numerous wars in Europe that lasted for nearly 300 years until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. NOW, however, an Evangelical can be either Protestant or Catholic! The “liberal Reformer / Evangelical” no longer feels the need to reform the Catholic AS LONG as the Catholic embraces those things that matter to the Evangelical. On the other hand, this writer asserts that a CHRISTIAN cannot be Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or Emergent. In order to discuss the “Evangelicals,” we must first arrive at a working definition. Where did the term “Evangelical” come from?
“Evangelical” was derived from the Greek word “euangelion” which means: Gospel or good news. During the reformation, Martin Luther referred to his movement as the Evangelische kirche (Evangelical church). Later, “Evangelical” became a near-synonym for “Protestant” in Europe. It retains this meaning in Germany today. (2)
Open cooperation with these self proclaimed "Evangelical Christians" unfortunately exposed biblical Christians to an earlier Post-Modern misinterpretation of scripture, i.e. the error espoused by The National Association of Evangelicals, aggressively promoted by media giant Christianity Today along with the Dwight L. Moody Institute. Evangelicals often appear with Dr. James Dobson on the daily radio show, Focus on the Family as well as with Pat Robertson on his daily television show, The 700 Club. The National Association of Evangelicals, founded in 1942, is dominated by the theology of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and is articulated by the teachings of the late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of "Campus Crusade for Christ." In 1956, Bright published a pamphlet entitled The Four Spiritual Laws which is foundational to the modern day “sinner’s prayer salvation experience," so called. [President Woodrow Wilson had his Col. House and Billy Graham had his Dr. Bright.] You can reference my web site, www.sinners-prayer.info, for a detailed exegesis of this false doctrine and its primary proof texts, all explored biblically and in full context.
An exhaustive attempt to define “Evangelicalism” could fill another book! For brevity’s sake, we will settle for just two definitions, the first being a philosophical self-definition. The second definition is a more “real world” definition based upon everyday experiences and conversations of the author. Since Evangelicalism attempts to “unify” diverse belief systems, iron clad statements of belief are difficult to come by, though there are a few. Gary Stern, an Evangelical blogger, posted in January of 2007 an answer to the question, “What Makes One an Evangelical?”
What makes someone an Evangelical Christian? Defining what it means to be an Evangelical has long been an issue of contention among scholars, reporters and…yes…Christians.
The Barna Group ® which does all sorts of Christian research uses its own fine tuned definition. [It may be fine tuned but it is VERY similar to the official definition put out by the National Association of Evangelicals ® on their website.] To be considered an Evangelical, one has to adhere to or believe nine particular points.
According to (The) Barna (Group ®), about 38 % of Americans define themselves as Evangelical. These are the folks the media refer to when reporting on the political and social influence of Evangelicals.
But only 8% of adults qualify as “nine point evangelicals.”
The nine points? Evangelicals:
• Have made a personal commitment to Jesus.
• Believe they will go to heaven because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus.
• Believe their faith is very important in their life.
• Believe they have personal responsibility to share their beliefs with non-Christians.
• Believe that Satan exists.
• Believe that salvation is available only through grace, not good works.
• Believe that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth.
• Must assert the Bible’s accuracy.
• Must describe God as the all-knowing, all powerful perfect deity that created the universe and still rules it. (3)
Secondly, from this writer's observations, "Evangelical Christianity" is a unity movement among sectarian people based upon a "lowest common denominator" (author Michael S. Horton’s phrase – RM) theology that unites people around:
• Watered down Calvinism, (4)
• The "sinner's prayer salvation experience", (5)
• Obsessive pre-millennialism and
• Blind loyalty to the modern state of Israel all wrapped up into
• A “personal” relationship with Christ at the expense of the “corporate” (the church for whom Christ died).
These items are readily observable by viewing Evangelical T.V. broadcasts, listening to radio presentations by Evangelicals and engaging in conversations with Evangelicals. The items noted above are what Evangelicals LOVE to talk about! Just ask one!
In Charlotte, N.C. where I live, I recently heard a radio ad for a reformed church that is attempting to oppose this emerging Evangelical theology. It states; “We don’t dumb down the Christian faith in order to market it to the marginally interested.” (6) (It scares me when those in error make more sense than some of my own brethren!) Many Evangelicals, however, still cling to the idea of “Jesus, YES, the church NO!” These people make up the vast “stay at home on Sunday T.V. evangelist” non-affiliated church. Other than the above mentioned few “essentials,” little else seems to matter to Evangelicals. They can be confessing or non-confessing, they can be charismatic or non-charismatic, they can be Protestant or Catholic, they can be orthodox or contemporary, just as long as they hold to these few core beliefs. According to denominational scholar Michael S. Horton, "Evangelical Christianity" has a number of characteristics the most prominent of which is a "lower view of Scripture." (7)
Post-Modernists believe that ultimate truth is un-obtainable. The absurdity of such a position is striking. A quote from a blog called the “Aspiring Theologian” puts Post Modernism to the test with this rhetorical question regarding absolute truth: “Absolute truth does not exist.” Really? Is that statement absolutely true? Or does absolute truth exist after all?” (8)
Emerging "Evangelical Christianity," under the influence of Post-Modernism, says that unity based upon a common view of scripture is NOT obtainable so everything other than the few core principles are simply thrown overboard. A “pseudo unity” is the sad result, having a familiar ring to the “unity” of the Tower of Babel. Presbyterians begin to look and sound just like Baptists who look and sound just like Methodists who look and sound just like the Assemblies of God, etc. We know, however, that God has given us, "...all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." (II Peter 1:3b) This same “pseudo unity” sentiment is now showing up among some of us. Later we will reference an address by bro. Terry Rush, the senior minister at the Memorial Drive church of Christ in Tulsa, OK who has sadly bought into this “unity at any price” philosophy. Long before, however, we began “sipping the Kool Aid” ® of emerging theology,” the denominational world downed it by the gallon. The emerging church is 100% existential to the point of making Post-Modernism appear almost orthodox.
Emerging theology is about to split the Evangelical movement into two groups, the “here and now” faction of Brian McLaren / Rick Warren and the “here and the hereafter” faction of Billy Graham. Strange as it seems, there are a growing number of “agnostics” within emerging Evangelicalism…and they want to take up residence in your congregation. (To Be Continued!)
Cathedral Window Photo Courtesy of: www.public-domain-image.com
(1) Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, MA, Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1991) pg. 407
(2) See: www.religioustolerance.org/evan_defn.htm
(3) See: http://religion.lohudblogs.com/2007/01/22/what-makes-one-an-evangelical/
(4) NOTE: What I mean here is this: “Watered down Calvinism” is a salvation position more broadly defined by the Evangelicals than the Reformers. Evangelicals teach a much more generous “grace” than do the Reformers. Many Evangelicals, such as Charles Stanley et. al., often emphasize that a person, once saved, cannot be lost for any reason regardless of the heinous nature of their sins while the Reformed church emphasizes that heinous sin is a sure sign that the person was not “saved to begin with.” Salvation according to Evangelicals is more generous than that of Reformers. A Reformer would see the “sinner’s prayer” as “salvation light.” Evangelicals promote a “private” salvation experience while the Reformers promote one that is “public.” Evangelicalism is “watered down” Reform Calvinism.
(5) For more information see: www.sinners-prayer.info
(6) This is from an ad that ran for a time for Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. The ad ran on WHVN Radio, AM 1240.
(7) From Michael S. Horton, "What is an Evangelical?" Article published in 1992. Currently on the web at geocites.com/HEARTLAND/9170/horton2.htm.
(8) From “The Aspiring Theologian” blog site. See aspiringtheologian.modblog.com/
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Title :: Denominationalism, Post-Modernism & Emerging Evangelicalism
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