Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Foundational Sands of Emerging Theology

Emerging theology had more of an evolution than a beginning. According to denominational Evangelical Free Church of America scholar Grant R. Osborne, the 1980’s saw a number of theological guru’s begin writing about what was then called the “Post-Conservative” movement.(1) The term “post-Conservative” is generally attributed to a man by the name of Roger Olson. Along with Olson, Nancey Murphy and the late Canadian Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz all began writing about Post Conservatism about the same time.(2) All these writers came out of the already described Evangelical movement. Grenz is especially significant because Brian McLaren, an existential theological philosopher we will soon discuss at length, lamented Grenz’s untimely death in 2005 as being to him a “mentor.” He wrote quite a lengthy obituary for Grenz on his Emergent Village ® blog at the time. Osborne asserts that the foundation of the movement was a desire to “shift from battles over the Bible, theological details and liberalism to a new constructive theology that is more open to innovation and movement.”(3)

Closely examined, the pseudo-interpretive dream of Grenz, McLaren, et al very closely mirrors King Saul’s interpretive view of God’s very clear directives in I Samuel 15 which is illustrative of all that is wrong in the way that many are now interpreting Scripture at the beginning of the 21st century. The clear Word of God was given to Samuel. The same clear Word of God was given to King Saul. The Word of God given to both men was identical, with no variances, changes or exceptions. That Word clearly, and without ambiguity, required King Saul to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites… no “if’s, and’s or but’s.”
“Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
– I Samuel 15:3 (NKJV)
How could King Saul misinterpret the above portion of God’s Word? God spoke a straight line, Samuel saw a straight line but King Saul saw a circle. Samuel used linear methodology while Saul used circular. Linear interpretation asks the question, researches the Word of God, hears the Word of God and comes to a correct and verifiable answer. Circular interpretation, on the other hand, asks the question, brings up life experiences and emotional feelings, filters the Word of God through these experiences and emotions, comes up with multiple “truths” and literally manufactures its own “truth.” King Saul changed the Word of God to suit his pragmatic plans for military glory and honor. When challenged by Samuel, Saul blamed the people and made up excuses. His circular defense utterly failed. Saul lost the kingdom to his rival that very day.

The way we interpret the Bible has consequences, potentially catastrophic ones!

Yes, the Bible teaches proper interpretive methods, illustrates said methods and shows us consequences of changing the Word of God. And yet, many among us are turning lines into circles.

The greatest challenge to the 21st century church of Christ is this; “Are we going to be Samuel or are we going to be Saul? Are we going to hear and obey or are we going to hear and ignore?"

I explore these issues regularly on my Biblical Interpretation blog, Come pay us a visit!

We will explore the ramifications of interpretive systems latter. Below, I have summarized what Osborne notes as general characteristics of “Post-Conservatism” that soon evolved into what we now call “Emerging Theology.” We will abbreviate “Post-Conservatism” with the letters PC.
• PC relies on experience rather than doctrine.
• PC is critical of Evangelical orthodoxy.
• PC is inclusive in matters of fellowship.
• PC is inclusive in matters of salvation.
• PC promotes experiential truth rather than propositional truth.
• PC states that truth is more found in a fluid rather than a static state.
• PC states that the Holy Spirit speaks, not just through the Word of God but equally through community and tradition. [NOTE: You will hear many among us who now embrace the instrument “defend” a-cappella singing as a “tradition” and no longer defend it as “truth.”]
• PC states that there is no “universal set of criteria for affirming belief.” (4)

Osborne concludes, “So theology becomes a conversation [a BIG buzz word among the emergent (RM)] in which the community (and its tradition) reflects, reforms and delineates its belief structure into an integrated and prescriptive set of doctrines.”(5)

Post-Conservatism was the theory that soon became the reality of emerging theology with which we now must deal. It has spread like wild fire among the evangelical world and has spilled over into the Lord’s church like a broken dike. While the Lord's church slept, the emerging church began its institutional evolution in the early 1990’s.

A telling insight into just how emerging theology has impacted traditional Evangelical churches is found in an interview by Andy Crouch with a noted emergent preaching team of Rob & Kristen Bell who “pastor” the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 10,000 member mega-church that meets in an abandoned shopping mall purposely painted gray proudly proclaiming, as it were, the "noble ignorance" of existential Post-Modernism:
The Bell’s started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself – “discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat, [Kristen further states], ”I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible,…that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means.(6)

Previously cited Michael Horton sees several things as marks of Post-Modern emerging theology. These include;
• "Leading Evangelical institutions doubt the Bibles trustworthiness and infallibility." (7)[doubt by default…i.e. the scriptures are unable to bring about unity [RM])
• "Sermons are often "Pop Inspirational" rather than serious expositions of scripture." (8)
• "The electronic age has produced a new crop of God-man go betweens; i.e. radio, TV, phone calls, (websites, social networking sites, etc. [RM]), etc." (9)
• "Money and salvation have become intertwined around many of us. "They sell you salvation," sings Ray Stevens, "while they sing Amazing Grace." (10)
• "Self esteem, self glorification, self centeredness (dominates [RM]) the preaching, teaching and popular literature of the evangelical world." (11)
The “lower view of scripture” that Mr. Horton refers to, as noted above, has several characteristics that now are accelerated to an even greater degree by existential Post Modern emerging theology which we will soon define. The emerging church was Post Modern and Evangelical before it “emerged.” Apostasy is a slow but steady process, error is progressive.
(To Be Continued)

Public domain picture of sands on the seashore courtesy of:


(1) Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral - A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2nd Edition 2006), pp. 402-403
(2) Ibid. pp. 402-403
(3) Ibid. p. 402
(4) Ibid. pp. 402-403
(5) Ibid. p. 403
(6) Crouch, Andy. “The Emergent Mystique,” a posting on the Christianity Today website 11.01.04. See:
(7) Michael S. Horton, op cit, “What is an Evangelical?” - My point here is that “if” we cannot learn unity principles from the Bible then scripture is lacking in power. “IF” the Scripture is lacking in power in any way…it is not inspired, Christ is not raised, and we “above all men are most miserable.” The evangelicals do not believe religious unity is possible so they have ceased discussing it, thus denying the power of the scriptures.
(8) Michael S. Horton, op cit “What is an Evangelical?”
(9) Michael S. Horton, op cit “What is an Evangelical?”
(10) Michael S. Horton, op cit “What is an Evangelical?”
(11) Michael S. Horton, op cit “What is an Evangelical?" Registered & Protected

Copyright :: All Rights Reserved
Registered :: Sat Oct 24 19:53:33 UTC 2009
Title :: The Foundational Sands of Emerging Theology
Description :: The Foundational Sands of Emerging Theology
Category :: Blog
Fingerprint :: 6148490d758f3cc5d33c4854346b5388785e67c477bbfe807ea9ef064a1a1c41

1 comment:

  1. Good articles. I see this blog is new and myself am new to blogging.

    My question is if you see emrgent as I see it. This being a postmodern turn to leave modernism i.e. Fundamentalism/Conservatism and liberalism in Christianity. Yet, only fundamentalism and conservatism is critiqued and liberalism as the "post modern" emergent theology to take its place.

    when in "A is for abduction" they define fundamentalism as "out modernizing the modernist".

    Yet, when looking at modernism-Rationalism seen as based on emperical evidance-what I can touch, hear, see, smell and reason, investigate in our minds and then be able to test a hypothesis in the science lab-When viewing the actual fundamentals proclaimed in the "Fundamentals of the Faith", I see fundamentalism as placing faith in that which is irrational to our minds. Example: Genesis 1-3 was seen by many modernists as not truth, but based on surrounding cultures "contextualized" for the Jewish nation.

    Evolutin took its place and many mainstream denominatins started adapting this paradigm of modernism-We cannot test it or see it, therefore if it something to be believed by faith-faith is against the modern/rational mind as ma as the center and determiner of everything truthful.

    Many conservatives and eventually fundamentalists saw this as an attack on the very core of Christianity-faith.

    So when the emergent theologians such as McClaren who wants to sound the death nell of conservatism/fundamentalism while bringing the liberal social gospel movement back after seeing it die a quick death between WW1 and 2.

    I kind of see this at best a contradiction if not a bold faced lie when I see McClaren believes in evolution and Marxism which both are purely rationalistic-modernistic philosophies.

    Of course, when "contextualizing" beliefs or systematic theologies-it is wrong to critique post colonial, gay, femenist, racial(black liberation theology) as we should consider them as a post modern view that we cannot grasp beyond our own paradigms-therefore there is no such thing as absolute truth unless you are conservative or fundamentalist in your views-the this is absolutely wrong and sinfull.

    How I see it, it is intended to destroy fundamentalism and conservatism while replacing it with liberalism and social gospel structures with a new suit on called "postmodern" and "emergent"

    If one took the time to learn al the differing philosophies and beliefs from liberal Christianity-I think we will often see the same paradigm shift taught by emergents.

    In fact, Doug Padgitt speaks in a book of finding a book printed at the turn of the century that taught all he believed.-Do not have it in front of me, but is a book with 5 diferent Emergent authors including Mark Driscoll called, "Listening to the Beliefs ofEmerging churches: Five Perspectives."

    Perhaps as I get into more blogging we might collaborate on something together as I am trying to write a book about this slippery slope back into liberalism.

    God bless
    Dave Emme