Is, or was, the emerging church merely a passing fad primarily for bored yuppies smugly unhappy with their conventional suburban churches and pining for a spiritual theater more hip and supposedly more relevant? One Sojourners writer, quoting a blogger, credited emergents for their contributions to “women’s issues, conversations about sexuality, environmentalism, anti-foundationalism, [and] social justice.” But those “conversations” have been mainly only that. Not for nothing do emergents usually insist they are not a movement but a “community” or an ongoing “conversation.”
‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ was a favourite of ours when the kids were young. Now they are all adults, but we still find ourselves quoting Kronk or Ysma (his evil boss). Phrases like “wrong lever”, or “demon llama!!!!” may not seem at first glance to be very cogent, but it is amazing how many times you can use them appropriately throughout life’s crazy moments.
Firstly though I want to talk about the challenge to the Kingdom of God that the Emerging church is issuing. Contrary to the quote from the above article, the Emergent Church is not simply a passing fad. It may describe itself in soft-focus terms, but their agenda, or rather the agenda of the spiritual forces arrayed against us through them, is decidedly direct and specific. Often we don’t look much further than the outward packaging with new ideas (dress vs tights). Those who propose new ideas often use the false logic that anyone who disagrees with them is just afraid of them. For the immature in the faith and for those who are not working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, this jibe can be very disturbing. The first reaction is often to rise up and challenge it, which is exactly what the other person wants. If they can engage you in emotional polemic they can easily out-manoeuvre you through verbal intimidation, straw-man arguments and ad-hominem taunts. Rather than respond with anger and personal offense we need to be sure of what it is we do believe. We need to do some bible study, make sure we are confident in our own faith, and then realise that these new ideas being proposed by the Emerging church are not that new. They are re-packaged especially for the younger generation and it is the younger generation who are selling them, but essentially they are simply an attempt by our enemy to destabilise genuine believers.
The Emerging church is attempting to distract us with it’s own conviction that it has something we do not: coolness…relevance…..life. They are distracting from the very important issue that they actually have no relevance or life at all when compared to the New Testament teachings of Jesus and Paul. This ‘coolness’ is simply a smug and self-confident front. If you are able to puncture the veneer of this vainglorious new generation of hip believers with the truth, the smugness tends to evaporate. What you see in it’s place is instability, luke-warmness and a lack of genuine integrity. They are in truth a mile wide and an inch deep, and as we all know, when presented with a vast expanse of water the first reaction is often to feel overwhelmed and think you can never cross it. When you realise that you can actually walk through it without getting even your ankles wet, you can relax. It is all a mirage, an illusion, and as Kronk has amusingly illustrated, all that is needed is a ‘begone’ and the confusion is dispelled. OK, maybe it will take a little more than that, but I want to help break the spell. I believe that the Emerging Church uses language, visual and sound technology and the leaven of lies and half-truths to first of all seduce and then overwhelm others in order to deceive and confuse us. It is all too easy to be influenced by what you see and what you think you see. In fact, the world uses these tools to change minds and influence behaviour through marketing, advertising and social media. They are powerful and world changing. They are not however grounded in scripture and in the kingdom of God. They are grounded in the ways of the Father of Lies, and they will kill your faith and shipwreck your spiritual life if you let them. The good news is that the truth will set you free. Or to be more specific, and cogent…..
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8 (NKJV)
Much of the emerging church preaches false doctrines of ecumenism, dominionism, the social gospel, the prosperity gospel and new age ideas of God in everyone. This is bad enough but it becomes worse with an attitude of smug arrogance. Many of the pedagogues of the emerging church put themselves at odds with the established church and or established church doctrines and claim victim status. They are being persecuted by the traditionalists (down with the old guard) because the traditionalists are not open-minded. The traditionalists are oppressive, antiquated and stuck in their ways. Yet although ostensibly the Emerging Church likes to rattle the cages of the Established Church, what they are really challenging is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Bible per se that they hate, but the word of God and its final, all-encompassing and over-arching authority. Generally, the Emerging Church is not a fan of the establishment, and let’s call the gospel of Jesus Christ the establishment for this argument. Their smugness and elitism, as with all rebellious and lawless thinking, is a symptom of their belief in their own ‘rightness’ and self-assurance. Yet our foundational belief as Christians, as believers of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, is that we have no basis for our own righteousness, and we come in humility before the Cross to acknowledge the authority, holiness and righteousness of God.
My problem is that the emerging church pin-up boys and girls are mostly of the genX and genY demographic and are influencing younger Christians in this same worldview.
I find it interesting that bloggers and authors like Rachel Held Evans for example proclaim earnestly that they want to speak for their generation as though the younger generation in the western world are not heard from. For those who are not familiar with Rachel here is a quick summary of her influence from the Eastern Mennonite University website in America
“ Rachel Held Evans, one of the most influential and quoted persons in the Millenial generation of Christians, has been spotlighted by NPR, Slate, BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), The Times London, The Huffington Post and Oprah.com
Here is a quote from one of Rachel’s recent blog posts
As I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds last night, the reaction among my friends fell into an imperfect but highly predictable pattern. Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning. Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Billy Graham ad: You’re losing us.
I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again…(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):
My generation is tired of the culture wars.
We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.
This is not the 1950s. The young are heard from in every section of the media from the internet to reality TV. We hear your voices whether speaking singing, dancing, cooking, writing books or doing stand-up everywhere that it is possible to hear voices. In fact the younger generation has been heard from in every decade since the 60s. In Rachel’s case, if you read the Mennonite description of her career to date, you will see that she has a very wide readership, is being listened to by very influential people, including probably the most influential person on American television Oprah Winfrey, a 50 something. I think Rachel is maybe one of those types of people who like to create drama where there is none. She is being listened to and she is being widely distributed so others can listen to her. So what does she really want?
Like a lot of young seemingly mainly left wing politicians in this country, what you are saying is not resonating with the older demographic because frankly, we have been there and done that. The baby-boomer generation started the generation gap by protesting things like the Vietnam War, racism and sexism. What they spoke out about were genuine issues. The way they spoke out about it became overheated and probably more than a little tiresome for the previous generation who had already fought in the second World War and were emotionally exhausted, traumatised from 7 years of terrible and mind-numbing conflict and were sick of the continual turmoil. The war had not stopped the conflict. Had men and women died in vain? There always seemed to be something more to get in an uproar about, however righteous the cause. I will never forget my father, who had been a commando in the D-day landings and been badly wounded by schrapnel. He often would sit and watch the news and the look on his face was devastating. He would turn to the rest of his family and proclaim desperately “what is the world coming to”. Everything used to be so clear cut and understandable, now it was all falling apart. If the hippie generation wondered why nobody was listening to them, perhaps it was because they were so self-absorbed and focused on their own issues. Some of those issues were real and cross generational like racism, others were simply fuelled by drugs and the belief that the older generation had screwed up the universe and they were going to get it right.
Rachel Held Evan’s belief that the previous generation of Christians had ‘screwed up’ somehow and didn’t understand the need to embrace things like homosexuality as normal is taking things to a whole nother level. She has the same attitude at the baby-boomer generation, yet speaks as though this was all something new and revelatory and at the same time self-evident. She is getting frustrated that the rest of us aren’t getting her. She claims to be a Christian yet like so many emerging ‘believers’ they are not really sure what it is they do believe, they just know that they don’t want to go down the same path as the older generation.
The old paths are not what is holding Rachel Held Evans back. She, like many emerging church apologists is suffering from the issue of sin nature verses the Holy Spirit. They want to both embrace the flesh and the soulish nature and at the same time know God in the midst. That is not how this works. It has always been this way and always will. First you accept that we can’t have it our way, but God’s, and God’s ways are not determined by young minds re-interpreting the bible to make it mean whatever works for them.
We are not failing to hear the voices of the young people in this age. What the young fail to realise is that those who support the establishment are the young of 30 years ago who likewise tried to change the world by challenging the status quo. There is a lot to be said for institutions which can withstand the continual testing of younger generations who ‘just want to be heard’. The Younger generation who seem to be dancing to the Pied Piper’s tune of emerging church have a right to speak out on their own behalf, but they do not have a right to lead others down the broad path of destruction.
And in this I refer to the established church. When I say established church I am not talking about denominations or hierarchy, programmes, popes or priests and pastors. I am not talking about the institution of church which began with Constantine. I am talking about the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, those who believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, the son of God, the born again, the led by the Spirit and the bible believing word of God preaching gospel proclaiming and entirely annoying ‘fundamental-ists’ who refuse to allow the emerging church to poison all the wells.
Unfortunately, the blogosphere is a seductive beast. Somebody once said that Google is the great oracle of our time and likewise, blogs have an almost mystical appeal. They are an unprecedented means of publishing opinions which then garner popularity, praise and criticism based on their zeitgeist. You can be nobody in particular and become a celebrity overnight. In the same way, the emerging church has tapped into this celebrity culture and made media stars of its leaders and speakers. Rachel Held Evans is a perfect example of why the emerging church is so popular. She is young (in her 30s), female (and therefore empowered), engaging and puts her vulnerabilities out there. She is like a cast member of ‘Friends’ except ten years later. She engages others because she apparently tells it like it is, but all Rachel is doing is acting as a mouthpiece for the doctrines of the mostly older male vanguard. Previously I talked about the young speaking to the young. Emerging church leaders are a mixture of the young, and those seeker-sensitive types who speak to those younger than them in the same language. More specifically you are looking at the baby-boomer generation of Jesus freaks who became leaders in the wake of the 70s and 80s and are taking advantage of the power vacuum amongst the younger generation. They don’t act as parents or elders or teachers, they act as friends. This is all very comforting, and would be fine if they were simply just friends, but they aren’t. They are role models and they are leaders. They are leading these younger Christians down the broad path, or ‘the path that rocks’ rather than the path of righteousness.
And like Kronk, the younger generation are ‘sort of confused’ about what is right and wrong. In this video excerpt from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’, Kronk, a minion of the evil Yzma, is listening to the discussion between an angel and demon on his shoulder. In trying to get him to go down the path ‘that rocks’, the demon has only two (rather than his stated three) points to consider. The first is that the angel looks stupid (ad hominem argument) the second is that the shoulder demon, is impressively athletic. As Kronk points out “what does that have to do with anything”. As the angel points out, maybe there is something to the fact that this demon is so good at standing on his hands. Even the elect are being deceived by the verbal gymnastics (as above so below) of those who wish to go down the ‘path that rocks’.
Rachel Held Evans appeals to the young and because she is a woman she is being accepted. Women are a perfect mouthpiece for the disillusioned, abused, minority groups out there who need acceptance. The GLBT community, those who grew up in authoritarian controlling churches and had authoritarian controlling fathers and pastors, women who are tired of being told they aren’t allowed to speak in church and many others. As a woman who belonged to all of these sub-groups except the GLBT (but had a mother and sisters who sympathised) I understand perfectly the appeal of the emerging church.
Incidentally, Rachel denies being part of the emerging church but either she doesn’t see who she is being influenced by or she is not being honest with herself. She is hanging out with the likes of Rob Bell, and attending conferences with speakers such as Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren. Evan’s views are very much in line with the emerging church, therefore she can’t really say she is not part of it. The fact that many emerging church writers and leaders don’t like to align themselves officially with the emerging church is something of a comment on the nature of the Emerging Church itself. They don’t want to offend anyone and they don’t like being pigeon-holed which makes them in their own eyes, amorphous and ‘part of the conversation’ which is a euphemism for “don’t label me cause I might change my mind”. This vague non-specificity is apparently very cool right now. It is better to have fluid views because let’s face it anyone with popular appeal generally ends up being proved wrong or fails publicly in some way sooner or later. If you have fluid views you can always say that you were ‘experimenting’ with whatever or whoever it is who ends up being publicly disavowed.
Here is a quote from one of her blog posts wherein she makes it perfectly clear that it is not politically correct for her to align herself with the Emerging Church.
As the book launch approaches, I’ve been warned by several advisors to avoid aligning myself with the “emerging church.” Identifying with this group will alienate potential readers, they say. It will box me in and limit my influence, they say. It will subject me to unwanted criticism, they say.
While I’m no fan of labels—(and “emerging” or “emergent” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people)— it would be dishonest for me to say that I have not been influenced by many of the writers and speakers that are associated with this movement. In fact, I’m currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, and plan to include an interview with him on the blog later this month.
But then it is this deliberate commitment to changing ideas and experimentation which makes the emerging church ‘theology’ so destructive. They know what they don’t believe, they just don’t want to tell you what they do believe. It always comes back to the revolutionary goal of undermining the establishment without really having anything of substance to replace it.
As an aside here is Rachel’s blog comments policy…
“Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.”
It’s her blog, and she is entitled to delete whomsoever she pleases, its just that this policy is so emergent its not funny. OK, well it kind of is I mean I laughed. The last sentence says it all. “The definition of terms is left solely up to us.” This could quite easily be the motto for the Emerging Church, and if nothing else is enough to convince me that Rachel Held Evans is a voice in this community.
Emerging church doctrines however do not attempt to violently destroy the established church. In fact in many ways, the established church has done the destroying for generations. The Catholic church engaged in murder on a heinous scale, and destroyed anyone who didn’t recant their own egregious ideas or beliefs. The Catholic church has been psychopathic in its hatred of the outsider or the dissenter. The true church has always been killed or imprisoned by the establishment, and the emerging church is ironically becoming the very thing it thinks it is working against.
Who has the greatest growing church in the western world? The emerging church has the giga-churches, the air-waves, the music industry, the ear of politicians. In fact, we believe that the emerging church is simply another strand of the newly forming world church where there are no fundamentals of doctrine, no specific and strict beliefs, no exclusions, no sinners, no sin, no need to repent, no cross, no blood, no call to renounce the world, no boundaries. This new church includes all denominations, all religions in fact, and all ideas and theologies. The agents of this change are the emerging church leaders, the catholic church leaders, the new age leaders, and even the established protestant church leaders. All are falling prey to this non-doctrine doctrine and as long as you lay down your long-held bible based beliefs and join with the new world order, you will be accepted and loved. By the world. But as scripture tells us..
New King James Version (NKJV)
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and[a] adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
As I said though, the gospel can’t be re-defined because it is beyond temporal or worldly understanding. It is the word of God who is eternal, and his word is eternal and unchanging. How then can you define or even re-define terms when those previous definitions become out-dated if God’s word is unchanging. People don’t change, there is nothing new under the sun (from the Solomon, world’s wisest man), and therefore the only point to re-defining Christianity, our beliefs, the gospel, or the tenets of our faith is to insert something in there that wasn’t before…yourself.
Willow Creek and the Socialist Agenda
*See this excellent article for the examination of the attitudes of leftwing politics in Australia http://www.melbournereview.com.au/features/article/The-Toxicity-of-Smugness