Saturday, October 24, 2009

Evangelicalism, Neo-Gnosticism and churches of Christ

The picture to your left is that of the "Meloncoly Dane," Soren Kierkegraard who turned his manic-depression into a self-defined normative philosophy and became the father of what we today call "Existentialism." [1] Existentialism is at the root of our our current crisis that is the "Emerging Church." “Emerging Theology” among churches of Christ, like its denominational cousins, is Post-Modern in thinking, Evangelical in practice and has “reconstructed a new reality” from our common faith and biblical roots. The fully emerged church does not look like, act like, believe like or sound like the faithful church she has left behind. She is so radical as to cause the faithful to wonder if we have more in common with some of our denominational friends than we do with these erring souls who are “going out from us.” Sadly that assessment may be correct, though being “similar” and being “identical” are not the same thing.[2] The church of Christ is not a denomination, it is the singularly established body of called out believers of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18-20)! A head cannot have more than one body and a body more than one head. Denominationalism is a lie and condemned in Scripture in the the strongest of terms (I Corinthians 1, Galatians 1, et. al.).

Evangelicalism, out from which is flowing the so-called "emerging church," is itself existential, chaotic and contradictory. Reformed purists such as John MacArthur find themselves lumped in with "Sinner's Prayer" proponets such as Franklin Graham, Episcopalians who have "priests" rather than pastors and "name it and claim it" proponents of the so-called "Faith Movement." Jesus said that there is ONE WAY to the Father, Paul said that there is ONE Lord, ONE FAITH and ONE baptism. Evangelicalism in paticular, and denominationalism in general, contradict the Word of God claiming MANY ways to God, though there is but one. Such chaos prepared fertile ground for the even more chaotic teachings of "emerging theology." Since the first century, the church of Christ has called people away from denominating themselves in the doctrines of ment back to the Bible only which makes Christians only. Unfortunately, there are some among us who are turning away from the singular revealed gospel to the "myths" and "fables" of extant denominationalism, Evangelicalism, and "emerging theology."

As with other departures since the 1st Century, "Emergent Theology" among churches of Christ is being copied from the outside. As noted earlier, "Emergent Theology" first showed up ca.1992 among Evangelicals who felt disenfranchised by their various denominations. [3] The most noted denominational Emergent activist is a man by the name of Brian McLaren, recently named by Time Magazine as one of the top twenty five Evangelicals in the United States. He has a web site that touts the Emergent view called The Emergent Village. ® [4] In March, 2006, McLaren attended a United Methodist Church conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where he stated the essence of Emergent Theology. He said regarding the movement:
“It feels like the church community in our society today is about a lot of things, but it feels like we’re too often far away from the essential message of Jesus, of compassion for yourself and your fellow neighbor”. [5]
We must grasp the significance of McLaren’s statement in the light of Scripture. Jesus said that the Greatest Commandment is to; “…love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 KJV) Note that McLaren says the essential message of Jesus is to have compassion (self-love [RM]) for YOURSELF first and your neighbor second. JESUS says that we should love GOD first and our neighbor second. Who’s right? I humbly assert to you that Jesus is. McLaren’s view is so brazen regarding the "essential message of Jesus" as to leave God COMPLETELY OUT!

An excellent review on denominational emergent thinking and practices (provided in part by McLaren himself) can be found on a recent PBS ® broadcast on the subject. The reference will allow you to either read or view by link the entire story. [6] [Compare what you find on the PBS ® broadcast with the public statements from the Kinetic Christian Church of Charlotte found in the final chapter of this book..]

From here, things deteriorate further. “IF” McLaren does not promote a neo-Gnosticism, his most recent books are as close to such teachings as one can get. For the first time in 1900 years, significant portions of Gnostic teaching have seen a revival. Since a good portion of ancient Gnosticism is not found in McLaren’s theology, we cannot in good conscience actually call him a Gnostic. However, the Gnostic notion of a “secret gospel” is very much a central part of McLaren’s theology.

In fact, a book I will reference below is entitled The Secret Message of Jesus – Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything. [7] Both the title and the contents articulate manifestly this clear Gnostic premise. There is much written about Gnosticism but for the most part it is very technical and difficult to understand. However in May, 2006, the usually Emergent leaning Christianity Today published an editorial entitled “A Faith Tailored Just for You” in which a not so favorable picture of Gnosticism is painted.
Gnosticism taught that some people were special, with the potential to understand spiritual secrets that common folk lacked. Once you were let in on the secrets, it became clear that you were among the special ones. Before an evil demiurge (fancy lingo for "second-rate god") created the material world, a select few were endowed with a unique spark of divinity. This spark could now be fanned into a flame that could be liberated from the flesh and rejoined with all the other sparks to reconstitute the true God.
Gnosticism's attention to the little-G god in the human self feeds the egoism of the American temperament. This sort of thing has long been growing on our soil. Blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for watering the seed. Now, Dan Brown (author of The Divinci Code) and those who hype the Gnostic gospels are packaging it for people who haven't read Emerson. This popularized neo-Gnosticism, says New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, "declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search." The message appeals "to the pride that says, 'I'm really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly.” This endless exploration of the self, says Wright, is in stark contrast to the very Jewish message of Jesus, which focused on God's kingdom. [8]
In The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, McLaren teaches his brand of “plug and play Gnosticism,” something we used to call “universalism,” i.e. there will be people in heaven from all religions, not just “Christians," and that in even the most general definition of “Christian.” Here’s what denominationalist Dr. Gary Gilley had to say regarding McLaren’s “ecumenicalism” in a recent book review:
McLaren is sure the kingdom is populated by people from all religions, not just Christianity. It is open to all but those who actively oppose it (pp. 163, 167). As a matter of fact it is possible that some Muslims, Buddhist and Hindus might “begin to ‘take their places at the feast,’ discovering the secret message of Jesus in ways that many Christians have not” (p. 217). Of course, “there is always hope that we Christians will not be the last to rediscover the truth that could change everything” (p. 217). [9]
If salvation from sin is not the message of the kingdom, just what IS? According, again to Dr. Gilley, McLaren’s idea of the message of the kingdom is vastly different from that found in the Scriptures:
This secret message of the kingdom—what does it look like? In a word, “missional.” It is a kingdom focused on injustice, poverty, education, integrity, the environment, hospitality, medical care, the healing of the earth, pollution, exploitation, greed, etc (pp. 84-89, 111, 141, 222-225). In McLaren’s view this is what the kingdom is all about, not the redemption of souls….In McLaren’s program the spiritual barely gets a nod—the kingdom is all about saving the planet (p. 128). McLaren believes that if enough people catch on to Jesus’ secret message this planet might just be rescued (p. 128) and even war will be no more (p. 160). [10]
The ancient Gnostic heresy taught a “secret gospel.” This “secret gospel” was obtainable by only a few people who had somehow achieved “superior knowledge.” The Bible, on the other hand, teaches us that, “…He has given us [ALL of us!] all things pertaining to life and godliness.” (II Peter 1:3) In addition to his neo-Gnostic leanings, here is what McLaren asserts in his own words regarding other doctrinal concerns:

On Our Ability to Find Truth: “None of us has arrived at orthodoxy.” [11]

On the Final Judgment Day:
The phrase “the Second Coming of Christ” never actually appears in the Bible. Whether or not the doctrine to which the phrase refers deserves re-thinking, a popular abuse of it certainly needs to be named and rejected. If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn’t his “real” and decisive coming - it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing - then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture. This vision reflects a diversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight...
If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so-called redemptive violence in the end. The gentle Jesus of the first coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of a violent second coming. This is why I believe that many of our current eschatology’s, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral. [12]
Please don’t miss noting that McLaren considers you and I…should we believe that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the world…as intoxicated, as dubious, as ignorant, as wrong, as dangerous, and as immoral. More importantly, he blasphemes by referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a jihadist. [13] As we point out in other passages in this book, this is the SAME Brian McLaren who lectures at Pepperdine University, who writes regularly for New Wineskins magazine, who often appears at various ZOE conferences and who was honored with marquis lecture slots at the September, 2008 “Summit Lectureship” at Abilene Christian University and the October, 2008 Lipscomb University “Preachers Conference.” As I am writing these words, I remain mortified at even contemplating these watershed events. Peter, John and Jude would weep openly at such an event and so should we! Here are some disturbing McLaren quotes:

Salvation Quote #1: “I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be “saved?” When I read the Bible, I don’t [emphasis mine, RM] see it meaning, “I’m going to heaven after I die.” [14]

Salvation Quote #2: “Most people think about the Gospel as "how to go to heaven after you die." But, is that really the Gospel?” [15]

Salvation Quote #3: When asked “how a salvation experience” looked to him, McLaren replied;
Very, very rarely does someone have the date-and-time experience of conversion. Typically, a person comes to us because they're spiritually searching. They participate in our services, they get to know some people, build relationships, join a small group or maybe even start volunteering. And at some point, they connect with God. The Gospel makes sense to them. They know that God loves them, and they just say, "I'm in.” [16]

Salvation Quote #4: In 2003, New Wineskins editor Greg Taylor (also at that time employed by the Garnett church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma along with Wade Hodges) interviewed Brian McLaren and asked him to discuss the “salvation experience.” Here is what he had to say:
The fact that there are thousands and thousands of people who can point to an exact moment when they were saved, I wouldn't deny that for a minute. There are millions of people like that. But there are also many, many people who cannot. They either had so many different moments that were significant that they can't pick which one really marked them as regenerated or whatever. I'm just trying to acknowledge that you have both categories. Now in the New Testament, what's interesting, to me, is that the moment that seems to be very, very significant is baptism. So, very often when people talk about accepting Christ or being born again that's always based on an approach to evangelism--that really is pretty hard to find in Scripture. For example, the phrase "praying to receive Christ--I'm not against those at all, but I think we sometimes take an experience that really comes out of nineteenth century revivalism in America and then read it back into Scripture. And I don't think we should restrict the Holy Spirit to our own practices. I think we should just be glad for however the Holy Spirit chooses to interact with people and bring them to Christ. [17]

Note how McLaren in true existential and Post-Modern form can be FOR baptism and AGAINST baptism in the same quote! Not only that, he is PRO Sinners’ Prayer and ANTI Sinners’ Prayer in the very same quote.

We must pause here for a moment and note that such “double mindedness” did not originate with Brian McLaren! The thought process of Brian McLaren is very similar to that of the agnostic educator, John Dewey, of whom Breese has this observation:
The frustration of attempting to categorize Dewey is compounded by the fact that in the large number of books, essays, and magazines he wrote over the course of his life he dealt with topics in such a fashion that he could be quoted on either side of most of the current arguments. For him, nothing was constant, given, or finally true, but rather all things were pragmatic, adaptable, and subject to whatever interpretation seemed appropriate for the day and hour. [18]
Having said that, Dewey did not originate the idea of embracing the darkness of contradiction as truth…that dubious honor goes to a man we have already observed - Soren Kierkegaard.
There is no doubt that Kierkegaard confirmed and denied many of the same things. On one page, he seems to contradict what he has said on the preceding page. One reads Kierkegaard with compelling interest, but the frustrations of attempting to understand him go on and on. [19]

At best, Emergent theology turns ambiguity into an art form, at worst we realize that Brian McLaren has embraced the dark teachings of Kierkegaard and his disciple, John Dewey.
In the July/August 2005 edition of Modern Reformation Magazine, denominational theologian D. A. Carson summarizes McLaren’s points made in his Generous Orthodoxy manifesto, explaining his theological presuppositions:
Accept co-existence with different faiths gladly, not begrudgingly. It is not their fault if they are alive.
• Dialogue presupposes commitment to one’s position, so it is surely not a bad thing to listen well. Dialogue should be congruent with confidence in the gospel.
• We assume that the dialogue takes place in the presence of God, the unseen Presence. In such dialogue we may learn things, as Peter does in Acts 10–11. Similarly, Jesus learns from his interchange with the Syrophoenician woman.
• Missional dialogue requires humility and vulnerability. But that should not frighten us, for when we are weak, we are strong. It is surely right, for instance, to acknowledge earlier atrocities committed by Christians, even as we remain careful not to disparage those earlier Christians.
• Each religion operates in its own world and therefore demands different responses from Christians. Christian witness does not preclude dialogue.
• The “old, old story” may not be the true, true story, for as we continue to grow, and even our discussion and dialogues contribute to such growth. In other words, the questions raised by postmodernism helps us to grow.
• Live with the paradox: we know no way of salvation apart from Jesus Christ, but we do not prejudge what God may do with others. We must simply live with the tension.
The “co-existence,” the “dialogue,” the “paradox” and the “tension” that McLaren mentions is nothing less than the embrace of the dark teachings of Soren Kierkegaard…contradiction is truth. [20]
Brethren, this is nothing short of madness!

You may wonder why I have spent so much time speaking of Brian McLaren and his theology. Here it is:

Brian McLaren has had, and continues to have, expanding influence among “some” members of the church of Christ and he wants to extend that influence even further. He is bringing the dark teachings of the madman Kierkegaard to your congregation and mine unless he is opposed…and opposed now!

[1] Picture courtesy of:
[2] See David R. Pharr, “What it Means to be Distinctive,” The Spiritual Sword 39 (January 2008): pg. 31
[3] For a full discussion of denominational "Emergent church" theories see a book: Ryan Bolger & Eddie Gibbs, Emerging Churches – Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005)
[4] See
[5] From
[6] See NOTE: To view either clip, you must have RealPlayer ®
[7] Brian McLaren and Anne Ortlund, The Secret Message of Jesus – Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, (W Publishing Group, Waco, TX, 2006)
[8] From; “A Faith Tailored Just for You” [9] Dr. Gary Gilley:
[10] Ibid.
[11] Andy Crouch, op cit. previous post
[12] See quoting: Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change – Jesus, Global Crises and the Revolution of Hope, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007), pg. 144 (Emphasis added – RM)
[13] Please join me in prayer: Our Father in Heaven; We thank You and praise You for Your great mercy and patience with us. We pray, Lord, that Brian McLaren will have time and opportunity to reconsider these words, repent of his sins, confess the Name of Jesus Christ and be immersed for the remission of his sins. In Jesus Name, AMEN
[14] Andy Crouch, op cit. previous post
[15] Lynne Marian; “Conversations Count: An Interview with Brian McLaren,” Outreach Magazine,, July/August 2005. See
[16] Ibid.
[17] From Greg Taylor interview with Brian McLaren in 2003.
[18] Dave Breese, op cit, pg. 157, previous post
[19] Dave Breese, op cit, pg. 215, previous post
[20] D. A. Carson, “The Emerging Church.” Modern Reformation Magazine. “Faith a La Carte?” (July / August 2005 Issue, Vol. 14.4. See: Here Carson summarized points made by McLaren in chapter 17 of Generous Othodoxy, pg. 256 – 266. NOTE: This is my assessment. With the possible exception of Beowulf and Canterbury Tales, Generous Orthodoxy was the most difficult book I have ever attempted to read. Thinking you have run a great distance, you discover that you have run all day in a circle and wind up where you started, though exhausted and out of breath. Compared to reading McLaren, I am rested and relaxed after mowing my lawn on a 100 degree August day! Registered & Protected

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