Archive for October, 2006

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Why I am not Part of the Emerging Church – Part 3

October 19, 2006

For me, the hardest part about disagreeing with the Emergent Church is that we actually agree on one fundamental principle. We just don’t agree with how far to take it, where to apply it and how it relates to other beliefs about God.

I am speaking of the concept of Grace.

Grace is easily explained on the surface of things. Grace is receiving from God what we do not deserve to receive. See how easy that is? The problem is that someone in the back row will always have a question about Grace. Let me see if I can give an inexhaustive list of these questions:

What does God give us we don’t deserve?
Why does God give them to us?
To whom does God give grace?
Is grace for everyone?
Can you earn grace?
If you can’t earn grace, how can it NOT be for everyone?
What if someone doesn’t know they can have grace, will they be given it?
Will Grace get you into heaven?
Can Grace and Hell co-exist?
Can the God of Grace and Hell co-exist?

And on and on.

The Emergent church, as a deconstructionist movement, loves to ask questions that strike at the very heart of long-held traditions. That is the nature of deconstructing anything – question the validity of their traditions. And this is why I yearn at times to be part of the Emerging Church. I see a lot of what is wrong with the existing Church. She is like the Bride that Paul pictures her as, but she is wearing dirty and ragged clothes, not at all ready for her bridegroom. As a counselor and pastor, I yearn to see her rip off those filthy and old clothes and be clothed with more Godly and appropriate wedding clothes. I have spent many years tearing off some of the fallacies of the Traditionalism, Legalism, Veiled Hatredism that covers much of the Evangelical arm of the Church.

So I sympathize with deconstructionism. But I get nervous when it is applied to Grace. Grace may be the doctrine we have understood best. I am not saying we have practiced it best, but we have understood it better than almost any other theological tradition. The Orthodox church, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran, Episcopal and Presbyterian traditions have all stumbled over Grace. They have mixed rules in with their doctrine of Grace. Of course, legalistic Evangelicals have practiced this, but their doctrine of Grace has been good and biblical.

So what is the Emerging Church proposing? Well, that is the confusing part of course, because they don’t believe in Foundationalism – hence, they don’t propose much of anything. But they do hint at some things regarding Grace. Let me lay out a few of them.

1. Grace is non-transactional. That is to say, they believe you cannot do anything to buy grace, to earn it, or in any way transfer it to yourself by anything you do in terms of merit. By definition, Grace is unmerited. We don’t do anything to deserve it. I can hear people reading this and saying “I agree with that”. Oh, but wait for the implications before you agree too soon. If there is nothing we can do to transact Grace, then Grace is just given. Since we are saved by Grace, then no one can receive salvation, they just Have It! Since no one can transact it, it is freely given to all. Bishop Farrar is one of the most famous proponents of this. Though he himself would hardly be called a part of the Emerging Church, many Emergents are great fans of Farrar’s teachings. Therefore, since all receive Grace, and we are saved by Grace, all are saved. Since all are saved, there is no need for Evangelism. There is no need to see people rescued from Hell, for there is no more Hell. Our ministries exist then to help people live more healthy lives, more productive lives, more loving lives. We can do it because all have been recipients of Grace.

2. Grace covers a multitude of Sins. In fact, since Grace extends to forgive us for all our sins (past, present and future) we have no need to ever ask forgiveness again. There is no longer any need to be forgiven or to seek it. There is still a need to forgive people, however, because otherwise our hearts would be unhealthy.

3. Grace declares all things clean. Basically, all people are declared clean by God and encouraged to live a life of cleanness to match the declaration. This is not much different than teachings on Justification throughout history. The only difference is that it is applied to all we do. God will never be angry with us again for anything we do because Grace has already covered that. We may have to suffer for our foolishness, but the suffering is temporary and does not concern God at all; only other people. Thus, Grace condones filthy language, the watching of dirty movies, violent activities, alcohol use and abuse, drug use and abuse, and a host of other rationalized behaviors. If someone objects to any of these, they are immediately labed Modernist, Legalistic and anti-Grace. Now, not every Emergent would agree that you are allowed to abuse drugs and alcohol for instance. But they would say that this is because we have a responsibility to the community we live in, and drunk, high Christians make lousy community examples. But as far as Grace goes, God doesn’t care about what we say or do as long as we don’t hurt others.

I was in a discussion with one famous Emergent blogger about the issue of using the “F” word. He sees nothing wrong with sprinkling it in his everyday language and accused me of definite legalistic tendencies (to say the least) for objecting to it. No argument was sufficient for him, since his belief is that God had redeemed everything, including “salty” language. It no longer means anything evil to him because it can’t. Grace has eliminated the evil in the “F” word, so it cannot be evil any longer. Use it however you want. I tried to tell him that it was profane…meaning to take something sacred (marital sex) and making it less than ordinary (using it as an adjective or vocative). He ignored my argument. As a verb, I had no objection to its validity. But he never used it as a verb at all. This is just an example of what you get with Emergents…a distaste for calling anything evil unless you are referring to something unhealthy.

I agree that Grace is for all. But it is not activated except through Faith. The whole verse says, “It is by Grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH (emphasis mine).” We don’t earn it, but because we have freedom of choice, we have to actively receive it. It cannot just be given against any act of our choice.

And to say that God no longer gets angry with us is ludicrous. In the New Testament, God actually killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. Though he was making a point and not stamping out a pattern, it seems to belie all that the Emerging Church says about Grace. I love God’s Grace. I can’t go along with the Grace of the Emerging Church. It goes too far.

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Now America Has Started Its Final Days

October 18, 2006

You have to read this. I am not kidding. If you don’t read this article from Massachusetts you may miss out on reading the moment when our country finally went over the edge and qualified us for what Lewis Black calls “A National Aneurism waiting to happen”.

Here is the essence of the article:

Officials at an elementary school south of Boston have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they’ll get hurt and hold the school liable.

Recess is “a time when accidents can happen,” said Willett Elementary School Principal Gaylene Heppe, who approved the ban.

While there is no districtwide ban on contact sports during recess, local rules have been cropping up. Several school administrators around Attleboro, a city of about 45,000 residents, took aim at dodgeball a few years ago, saying it was exclusionary and dangerous.

Recess is a time when accidents can happen? Who let this woman out of her padded room? Of course recess is a time when accidents happen. So is 6 a.m. So is noon. So is that time on Sunday afternoon when you can’t stay awake any longer. Accidents happen all the time, doing any kind of activity.

A friend of mine got out of bed one morning and stepped on a toothpick that was laying in wait on the carpet. That seemingly benign event resulted in (and I am not kidding) 3 years of medical therapy! So what can we conclude from his ordeal? That we should not get out of bed in the morning.

Later in the article, another school official is quoted as saying, her son feels safer because of the rule. “I’ve witnessed enough near collisions,” she said”. We have a perfectly good word for near collisions in English – it’s called a “miss”. I have near collisions every time I go on the Freeway. I have thousands of near collisions every week going from my home to my office. In fact, the car that just drove past my house as I write this had a near collision with my house…and I am thankful he did. About the only thing we really ought to be concerned about in this country is when objects larger than my house have near collisions with each other. Like oil tankers and bridge abuttments, two random airplanes, and the egos of Hugo Chavez and anyone moronic enough to enter into a discussion with him.

In the article, they talk about banning tag, dodgeball and touch football. Think about it people. These games were developed so kids wouldn’t play some of the games I played as a kid, which included full-contact fighting, real football, hitting people with stick games and my son’s personal favorite “Smear the Idiot”. You play Smear the Idiot by placing a football in the middle of about 6-10 guys. The stupidest of them, also eroneously assumed to be the bravest, picks up the football and tries to survive all the others smearing him. Schools invented tag to avoid Smear the Idiot.

But really, what was this school thinking? Most school psychologists will tell you that fairly soon, school will only be for girls. For boys to learn most effectively, they need to be almost continuously active. ‘Four recesses a day’ is the bare minimum proposed by one of America’s most eminent educational psychologists and head of that department at Rosameade College. Boys do well at tests and competitions. So it really seems that someone’s goal is to make education more feminine; Look at it: we eliminate most testing, most competitions and all contact sports.

I used to count having a bloody nose from an actual collision the mark of a good day – not the basis of a lawsuit.

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Why I am not Part of the Emerging Church – part 2

October 17, 2006

Now for the meat of my divergence from the Emerging Church.

The most pragmatic thing about my relationship with God is that …well, it’s a relationship. When I listen to the seemingly endless speculations of the Emerging Church writers and leaders, that is what seems to be missing. They talk a lot about theology, church structures, community, missional ideals, projects, politics, political community projects, etc. etc. But as I look through what they are saying, there doesn’t seem to be much mention (or concern about) the deeper things of intimacy with God.

Curiously, that is the same problem I have with most “fundamentalist” christians who fight over every doctrinal difference imaginable. They often have their theology fully determined, but feel very uncomfortable talking about their experience of God.

Many of the doctrines that form the center of the Emerging Church concern how we live in the current world. As Brian McLaren says it in his book “The Secret Message of Jesus” the Gospel is all about “The Kingdom of Heaven is right here”. To him, and to many Emergents, God shows Himself to the world through our actions of love and concern. But what is missing at times is the deep, deep love of Jesus that comes when there is no other community around and when no one else is following Him. Emergents that I have spoken at length with seem to consider the realm of the spirit to be too neo-Platonic to be of any use in a postmodern world.

It is hard for me to consider what it looks like for Jesus to flow out of me until I have begun to comprehend the wonders of Jesus flowing into me. Before Jesus said “Out of your innermost being will flow streams of Living Water”, he said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” The drinking we do in the Spirit is in the spirit realm and cannot be substituted for community, social concern or even great worship.

The Emergent church is into defining our relationship with God by what we do. The Book of James is center to their belief system and practice.

To me, the Gospel starts with “Jesus loves me, this I know”.

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Why I am Not Part of the Emerging Church – Part 1.

October 13, 2006

There are no complete or concise definitions of the group that is being called the “Emerging Church”. There are many who associate with the phrase however, and through their writings, a few consistencies are clear about them. Let me summarize – but in summarizing, I want to stress that there will be many who will consider themselves part of the emerging church who don’t believe all of these things. The Emerging Church has not completely gelled into a structure or belief system yet that can be agreed upon by more than just a handful of people. But here is what I think they believe and practice.

1. Proponents of the emerging church embrace the reality of postmodernism and seek to deconstruct and reconstruct Christianity in order to meaningfully engage with Western society which is pre-dominantly post-Christian. That sounds pretty confusing, and it can be if you don’t know what post-modernism is. The modernist movement began in the Enlightenment and continued until the late Twentieth century. Since that time, postmodernism has become the dominant societal belief in the West.

2. The emerging church does not like to become part of structures (since they are primarily a deconstructionist movement) and uses networks to communicate within instead. They reject hierarchical systems per se, though they see value in mentoring, strong leadership and interconnectedness.

3. The postmodern way of looking at anything is to see many sides to certain absolute questions and to answer them with a dialogue instead of a systematic belief or theological approach. Therefore, it is not so much “what” an emerging church person believes but “why” they came to believe it. Therefore, you can have Christians with greatly divergent belief systems who are both part of the emerging movement. They reject foundationalism as a way of approaching Truth, and believe that no one can understand or completely articulate absolute truth. It is only in dialogue that we find a way to make absolute truth a part of our daily life.

4. The emerging church is missional in focus. They believe in living a life instead of preaching it. Their favorite quotation is “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”. They do not believe in “us” vs. “them”. As a result, there are many within the emerging church movement that struggle with traditional concepts of heaven and hell, proclamational evangelism and missions work.

5. They focus on things that traditional evangelicalism ‘seems’ to ignore: Social justice, helping the poor and despised, having a globalist point of view, seeing the “good” in God’s creation, environmentalism and women and children’s rights. As you look at that, you may conclude that this lines up fairly well with left-of-center politics, and you’d be right.

Have I done justice to the EmergingChurch movement? Not at all. If you want to know more about the movement, or in particular its proponents, I advise these web sites that I have spent more than two years reading:

www.brianmclaren.net
www.theooze.com
www.internetmonk.com
www.opensourcetheology.com

There are many, many others. The Emerging Church counts blogs are their primary source of interaction and information. Once you start to get into these websites you will launch yourself into the fascinating and sometimes confusing world of the Emerging Church.

Many people just assume I am part of the Emerging Church for a number of reasons. First, because I espouse several beliefs that line up with left-of-center politics, they assume this makes me at least sympathetic with the Emerging Church movement. Second, many of the people who have shaped my practice of Christianity over the years are now part of the Emerging Church movement, and friends of mine assumed that my journey would take me to the same groups and conclusions. Specific to this are my associations with the cell church/home church movement and the Releasing God’s People movements. Third, I believe in full interaction with the dominant culture and do not believe that proclamational evangelism as it is often done in Evangelical churches is effective. Fourth, I am suspect of the mega-church phenomenon, as are most leaders in the Emerging Church.

The problem is, that even though I believe these things in common with the Emerging Church, my differences with them are absolutely definable and significant. To this end, I am a firm believer that the Emerging Church is a rest stop for God’s people, not an end. I think it has been valuable to discuss the issues they bring up, but not the conclusions they draw. I think we will see a Church emerge in the next 20 years which will address postmodernism more fairly and accurately, that is missional in approach.

However, I don’t think today’s Emerging Church is it.

Why?

That is what I will take at least a half dozen postings this week and next to explore.

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