16 timely quotes from Why We’re Not Emergent

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At the beginning of the year, I started what I called the re-reading project, an attempt to diversify my reading a bit in 2014 by re-reading one previously enjoyed book each month.

A few weeks back, I decided to take a trip back in time to 2008, to the days when men’s capris were (strangely) in fashion, and Rob Bell was still considered a Christian by the average evangelical. The purpose of this trip? To re-read Why We’re Not Emergent by then unknown authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why re-read a book tied to a movement most consider dead and buried? Even though the movement itself might be dead, the emergent mystique is alive and well, even if everyone eschews the term “emergent” (it is so early 2000s, after all…). The biggest difference is that the lines are clearer: today’s “progressives” are yesterday’s “emergents,” but more willing to be forthright about most of their beliefs. (And many of yesterday’s emergents have felt the freedom to start doing the same.)

But the same intellectual snobbery and cynical questioning remain—even as those who portray themselves as outside the cultural mainstream find themselves marching lockstep right along with the world. To these attitudes, Why We’re Not Emergent still has so much to say to us. Here are sixteen timely quotes that still offer necessary challenge to the thinking of progressives and conservatives alike:

  1. “It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity.” (37-38)
  2. “Arguing for the inherent uncertainty of knowledge causes problems when you write books trying to convince people to believe or behave in certain ways. That is to say, radical uncertainty sounds nice as a sort of protest against the perceived dogmatism of evangelical Christianity, but it gets in the way when you want to prove a point.” (41)
  3. “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to be there are several emergent Christians who honor the Bible less than Christ did.” (81)
  4. “Doctrine was to die for because it was the heartbeat of Paul’s saving message about saving historical facts.” (113)
  5. “The problem lies not in emerging Christian seeking the truth, but in their refusal to find and call out falsehood.” (119)
  6. “God is greater than we can conceive—but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand?” (123-124)
  7. “I would rather take a beating than argue (dialogue) on message boards all day, where people are brave and full of convictions without actually being brave and full of convictions.” (138)
  8. “Is the best corrective to domineering CEO pastors really bewildered Dorothy leaders? How about shepherd or teacher or overseer or herald?” (160)
  9. “At times I feel as if the emergent church is like that friend who goes off to college as an eighteen-year-old, and for the first year or so when he comes home feels like he has to quote Nietzsche just to impress you with his newfound intellect.” (172)
  10. “If my mother-in-law’s suburban crowd…is on board, then it [the emergent movement] is as mainstream as mainstream can be.” (177)
  11. “Too often emergent leaders force us to choose between salvation by following Jesus’ example or salvation that doesn’t care about good works. But this is another false dilemma.” (203)
  12. “Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t fill me with hope or warm feelings to hear my pastor…suggest that he may be, and probably is, wrong about all of this.… I want to believe, and do believe, that people can known things and still be humble.” (228)
  13. “…I’m really glad that we have a pastor who, instead of being ‘with it,’ is committed to being with God.” (235)
  14. “Doctrinally minded evangelical Christians like me would get more out of emergent critiques if they recognized that there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras in North America and the United Kingdom as there are loveless Ephesuses.” (241)
  15. “We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother’s sins instead of pointing our lights out into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished.” (244)
  16. “A therapist-Christ does not evoke an ardency of soul that wishes to be annihilated, emptied of self and filled with Christ and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity. We need a Christ from above.” (250)

The movement might be dead, but the mood isn’t. And although some of the examples might be a bit dated, Why We’re Not Emergent  is still a helpful corrective.

Book Review: Deep Church

Title: Deep Church
Author: Jim Belcher
Publisher: Intervarsity Press

The debate between the traditional and the “emerging” church has been raging for well over a decade now. Is the emerging church with its postmodern leanings destroying biblical Christianity? Is the traditional church nothing but a dead and useless institution held captive by modernism and the Enlightenment?

While some people have managed to get a good handle on the questions surrounding the debate, I suspect most are just confused by it. There are a great many Christians who want both strong biblical theology and authentic community, and feel like they’re being asked to choose between one or the other. That’s why Jim Belcher wrote Deep Church.

In this book, Belcher offers those caught in the middle a “third way,” one that he believes overcomes the divide between the traditional and emerging church by embracing what he calls “the Great Tradition,” the historic orthodoxy found in the early church creeds.

What’s Good

As a critique of the emerging church/traditional church debate, Deep Church is extremely thoughtful—perhaps the most generous that I’ve read so far. [Read more…]

It Makes Me Laugh: The Emergent T-Shirt

A pastor friend of mine, AJ Thomas, sent me this a few days ago. I got a kick out of it and thought you would too:

emergent-tshirt

The shirt reads:

God Said it.

I interpreted it
as best I could in light of all the filters imposed by my upbringing and culture which I try to control for but you can never do a perfect job.

That doesn’t exactly settle it
but it does give me enough of a platform to base my values and decisions on.

Thanks for the laugh, AJ!

Religion Saves: Humor, The Emerging Church, The Regulative Principle

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893 questions posted. 343,203 votes cast. Nine controversial subjects. The resulting sermons were then reformatted and expanded in the book, Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions, released in June, 2009, through Crossway and RE:Lit.

This post will be dealing with three subjects from the book: Humor, the Emerging Church and the Regulative Principle.

Humor

There are few things about Mark Driscoll more talked about than his sense of humor. He’s got a sharp wit, is quite cutting in his delivery… but sometimes he’s just downright mean. And the question that prompted this chapter is a great one:

Why do you make jokes in sermons about Mormon missionaries, homosexuals, trench coat wearers, single men, vegans, and emo kids, and then expect these groups to come know God through those sermons?

Generally speaking, I appreciate Driscoll’s humor. Most of the time he avoids the edge of completely inappropriate, although there are times when he skirts dangerously close to the edge. As he says in the opening of the chapter, “I am on a mission to both put people in heaven and put the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundamentalism'” (p. 45). This is a noble goal to be sure; we can all stand to laugh at ourselves a little bit. In my younger days, I was a pretentious, trench coat wearing, comic book reading, intellectual snob who used a lot of big words to show off (and divert people’s attention from my insecurities).  I can laugh about that and poke fun a bit. And truly, there are some things that we do that are simply ridiculous and do need to be made fun of.

That said, this chapter is by far the weakest in the book, for a number of reasons. [Read more…]

Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words?

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Some of our Christian clichés are fairly innocuous. Many, though are quite contentious. This is one of the worst:

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.

This is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who, born in 1181/1182 (sources vary) was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks. However, while it appears that he never actually said this, it does correspond with much of this Roman Catholic Saint’s theology. So here’s the big question… is it true?

Maybe. Kind of.

Not really.

Two views

Consider two basic perspectives on our cliché. Some would call it gospel truth. After all, all we need is love. Remember, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and Paul said the whole law was summed up in this one phrase (Galatians 5:14). Thus, what really matters is how we live—our acts of kindness, our compassion for those in needs. And our deeds will be the thing that make people turn to Christ.

Others would look at St. Francis’ words and call them bunk.Sure, Paul says the whole law is summed up in loving our neighbors, but he also says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:14, emphasis mine). Without someone telling them the message of Jesus, people aren’t going to be saved.

Though these two rough sketches undoubtedly don’t give credit to all the various nuances of both sides of the argument, I trust you get the point: People tend to set up words against deeds. The reality, though, is more complicated. It’s actually kind of both. We must proclaim Christ with our mouths and our lives tell people whether or not we’re telling the truth about what we believe.

Living and proclaiming Christ

This is really the point of the Bible’s repeated commands to love one another. This is central to all of the Christian’s life because it is a critical indicator of the legitimacy of one’s profession of faith. After all, as John wrote, “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar… whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). James, likewise, wrote extensively about this in his letter to the churches in exile.

He tells his readers, that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

But that’s just the start. He continues:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)

So James makes the following conclusion inescapable: If you say you have faith, your life will bear it out. Otherwise, your profession of faith is utterly bankrupt. But our works, James says, are an evidence of, or witness to, our faith (v. 18).

And these actions, our works, give us an opportunity to verbally speak the truth, Peter tells us.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:13-16)

Peter wants his readers—and us today—to press on in doing good, even as they face suffering and opposition. We are to live a life honoring to Christ, so that we will have an opportunity to make a defense—to share the gospel with our words, and our good behavior in Christ will shame those who are against us. And he is not alone. Paul told Timothy (and still tells us today) to preach, in season and out of season. To always be fulfilling his ministry as a minister of the gospel—not just as his calling as an elder, but in all of his life (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Not only when asked, or when it’s convenient. We are to live Christ through our deeds, and we are to proclaim Christ with our mouths. That is the call of every believer, in every circumstance. When the Lord gives us an opportunity, we are to tell people about Jesus.

Do not be ashamed—and do not be afraid

But too often, when people say, “preach the gospel always, if necessary use words,” it’s actually an excuse to not proclaim the gospel. Perhaps it’s insecurity, being uncertain of what to say. Maybe it’s fear of a negative response. But some, I fear, do so because they actually don’t want to talk about Jesus at all. They are ashamed of him. But those who know Christ should never be ashamed of him.

But do not be mistaken—doing good deeds, living an impeccable life, but never speaking of Jesus means we’re just going to be seen as really nice people. And being a really nice person never saved anyone from the wrath of God. Our deeds show the love of Christ working itself out in our lives, but our words proclaim him so others may know him, too. Words and deeds always go together, just as loving the Lord with all of our being will always work itself out in how we love others. They are inseparable. So do not be ashamed, and do not be afraid. Preach the gospel always—and always use words.

Book Review: The Truth War

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One of my favorite books of the New Testament is Jude. This very short letter, in many ways, shows just how much control the Holy Spirit had over the authors of Scripture, in that Jude wanted to write about one thing, but felt compelled to write about something entirely different. He says in v. 2-3, “although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

Why do I bring this up? Because in writing The Truth War, John MacArthur seeks to carry out the command to contend for the faith.

As a Bible teacher, there are few that surpass MacArthur. He knows how to handle the Scriptures well and carefully. In reading the book, you can feel a deep love for doctrine, for the truth of the Word, and it’s a great thing—indeed, I think we would all do well to learn from his example in this regard.

But truth and sound doctrine aren’t things that are highly regarded or desired, according to MacArthur (and a quick perusal of iTunes and any bookstore’s “Christianity” section would agree with his assessment).

“The idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems especially attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age and can’t stand to have authoritative biblical truth applied with precision as a corrective to worldly lifestyles, unholy minds, and ungodly behavior. And the poison of this perspective is being increasingly injected into the evangelical church body” (Introduction, xi).

There is an idea that you’re more mature and holy be being ambiguous or uncertain about what you believe, but, MacArthur rightly states, this is by definition a kind of unbelief, and “[r]efusing to acknowledge and defend the reveald truth of God is a particularly stubborn and pernicious kind of unbelief” (ibid).

MacArthur sets the stage for his critique of the Emerging/Emergent Church movement discussing the rise of postmodernism (which is really just repackaged existentialism), and its “tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth” (p. 10), because “the subjectivity of the human mind makes knowledge of objective truth impossible” (p. 11).  But Scripture disagrees with this idea, as Jesus said “I am…the Truth” (John 14:6).

As I read through the book, I found I could easily relate with most every critique and concern that was raised. The idea of looking at the Bible as a human product, as Rob Bell sees it, is terrifying and foolish. The idea that we’re to “search for a kind of truth” and that doctrinal distinctives are of “marginal” value, as Brian McLaren says in A Generous Orthodoxy, will surely lead to a shipwrecked faith. That the atoning death of Christ on the cross was an act of divine child abuse, as many, including McLaren, have written in the past is nothing short of blasphemous and damnable error.

But while I read, I also felt myself grating against his words. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s because I have never experienced pastors contending for the faith by speaking against error, or if it’s something else. One passage in particular hit me a bit close to home:

Sound doctrine? Too arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the ‘unchurched.’ Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people” (p. 150).

I read this and it stung, because I’ve heard very similar words from some people that I know well, who are in my prayers more frequently than ever.

While I think that MacArthur does a terrific job outlining his concerns, I have to wonder if his painting of all “contextualization” as worldliness is a bit too broad? Everything—from the Scriptures themselves, to our clothes, to our methodology in church—is contextualized. But using methods that make sense for 2009 doesn’t mean you have to compromise on doctrine. That speaking in everyday vernacular means you’re selling short the gospel. I have to wonder if maybe he’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this issue? I honestly don’t know, though. Perhaps I’m reading in something that’s not there.

Additionally, there are a couple of men addressed briefly in his critique—Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll—who at the very least are being implicitly labeled as false teachers, which is not a fair assessment of either man. The comments about Driscoll are based on his over-hyped reputation as “the cussing pastor” as described in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Do I affirm everything that Mark Driscoll or Rick Warren does as good and right and true? Heck no! But it seems unwise and uncharitable to put them in the same category as some of the other gentlemen MacArthur critiques in this book.

Bottom line: Would I recommend The Truth War? Yes. The biblical principles espoused are rock solid and the message is sound: Contend for the faith. Where I would caution any reader is on his critique of other pastors and teachers. Do not build your entire opinion of any of these men solely on the opinions of MacArthur; do your homework and avoid straw-men.

Purchase a copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca