Challenging the Critiques of Emergent


I would be a jerkheadface if I didn’t direct you toward the recent blog posts of my friend Josh Brown and his recent thoughts attacking the massive elephant of criticism of Emergent (Remember the old adage; “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”). Josh is biting some chunks off (and taking some serious hits for his courage); please join the conversation if you have something constructive to add…

And please, please, knowing that it’s been proven that, psychologically speaking, we tend to overlook the things we agree with and focus on the things we don’t, go out of your way in reading to be encouraging with areas that you and Josh may be flowing in the same direction and generous in listening and speaking where you’re butting heads.

Here’s the links:


A White Man’s World

A Trend/Flash in the Pan that will settle for Denomination

A Public Service Announcement on Friendship

I love/can’t stand Mark Driscoll

mark driscoll Maybe this post will be the beginning of more than a few focusing on Mark Driscoll’s Christian MPD (multiple personality disorder), because I’ve been sitting on a few thoughts from his talk at the Convergence Conference at Southeastern Baptist Seminary back a little while ago too.

Right now, my pleasure reading is split between several books I’m picking up for twenty minutes at a time; sometimes bathroom reading (I know, too much information), sometimes work avoidance, and sometimes divine coincidence (a sense that I was meant to pick the book up at that time…don’t push me theologically on that because you’ll find my Christian MPD).  The main ones are Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, and Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev.  If that lineup doesn’t hold the potential to confuse me, I don’t know what will, but I digress.

I’ll just go ahead and say this;  Mark Driscoll holds the power to both deeply convict me and deeply disgust me; sometimes in the same sentence.  And I think I’ve been able to pinpoint the times he disgusts me from a wide range of exposure to him (the Convergence talk, videos on Youtube, his blogging on the Resurgence blog, and comments he’s left on other blogs).  Mark is brilliant.  Flat-out brilliant.  And his insights into discipleship and what it takes to be a church planter have changed my life and radically affected my thinking about human/God interaction.  This is why I’m excited to read his Confessions of a Reformission Rev. But Mark, in an attempt to be funny, especially in his freedom from a script (but not necessarily), says incredibly hurtful things about various groups and then in the same breath claims to have great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from his own.  I’m not the first one to say this (and I won’t be the last); Newsflash Mark, you can’t have both.

This twisted way of relating with others was shown perfectly in his Convergence talk where Mark in one breath gave a stunning repentance of the juvenile, un-Christlike ways he has interacted with others in the past, and about fifteen minutes later said “Brian McLaren has a new organization called ‘Deep Shift,’ and I think somebody inadvertently put an ‘F’ in there.”  Really Mark, really?  You’re really repenting?

I go out of my way (seriously, I do), to pay attention to Mark’s good thoughts, because he has so much that is wise and passionate and mentors me as a young man.  But I can easily see how others, either because they’re lazy or they’ve been so deeply wounded by inconsistent relationships in the past, shut Mark Driscoll out, never to give him a listen again.  And that’s unfortunate, both for them and Mark; and, I should say, for the gospel.

These thoughts have been spurred by a little section in Confessions where he says (my asides will be in italics),

“Since the movement (emerging church), if it can be called that, is young and is still defining its theological center, I do not want to portray the movement as ideologically unified because I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church. (sounds ok so far)  I am particularly concerned, however, with some growing trends among some people; the rejection of Jesus’ death on the cross as a penal substitute for our sins (historically speaking, Mark, this as the only understanding of the atonement is only one thousand years old; half the life of the church), resistance to openly denouncing homosexual acts as sinful (with you); the questioning of a literal eternal torment in hell, which is a denial that holds up only until, in an ironic bummer, you die and find yourself in hell (funny, but oversimplifies a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of God’s sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, as if God were a junior-college professor who knows only bits and pieces of trivia (sovereignty and knowledge are two completely different issues, and again, this is a complex Biblical issue); the rejection of biblically defined gender roles, thereby contributing to the “mantropy” epidemic among young guys now fretting over the best kind of loffah for their skin type and the number of women in the military dying to save their Bed, Bath, and Beyond from terrorist attacks (shut up Mark); and the rejection of Biblical names for God, such as Father, which is essentially apologizing before the unbelieving world for the prayer life of the flamboyantly heterosexual Jesus who uttered the horrendously politically incorrect “Our Father” without ever having the decency to apologize for being a misogynist patriarchal meanie (I get your point and agree with it, but the majority of the sentence is so juvenile that it completely obscures your point).  This is ultimately all the result of a diminished respect for the perfection, authority, and clarity of Scripture, all of which was written by patriarchal men (again, Mark, the Bible never claims perfection, it’s not all on the same level of authority, and you, as a teacher, should know that the Bible is the opposite of clear on the surface, and in some cases on a deeper level is intended to remain a mystery).

Then, four sentences later, Mark says, “I assure you that I speak as one within the Emerging Church Movement who has great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from my own.”  Oh.  My.  Word. How could he even write that after all that had come before, writing it off as “poking fun”? And is Mark willing at all to step back from what he has inherited as “true” to ask some serious questions about whether it’s something clearly expressed in the Bible or whether it’s a way of thinking relatively recent in history? This is a wisdom question. If he admits that he is changing continually (which we all are), shouldn’t that lead to stifling knee-jerk reactions he has for those who would challenge what he thinks is “true”?

The willingness to question what we’ve inherited is an important (and I’d say necessary) element of the best that the emerging church has to offer; because much of the questioning is helping us all to read the Bible in a deeper and more wise way. Do people go too far? Yes. But is my opinion on whether they go to far inherently truthful and wise? Of course not. So I suggest we all get off our theological high horses and take a strong dose of a humility pill before we throw folks under the bus (wherever on the spectrum of belief we are). I’ll go ahead and say this; there are plenty of ways to stand for what we believe is true in a passionate way that respects the perspective of others. Slapping the label of “heretic” on folks who disagree with you (which Mark does three times in the Convergent talk) benefits no one.

That wraps up my extended thought on Mark.  A horribly inconsistent, repenting yet wounding, wise yet juvenile, relational yet relationally-destructive follower of Jesus.  Sounds a lot like me, but I do try to be careful about how I word my skewering of others’ sacred cows.

Tony Jones responding to charges of Emergent heresy…

tonyYou’ve heard it before just like I have if you’ve ever had a conversation with someone about “emerging” forms of church; they’re relativistic, they’re heretical, they don’t know what they believe in, they never challenge one another, they’re pluralistic, etc etc. Tony Jones presented a paper at Wheaton College at a conference that, while pretentious in its vocabulary, holds the potential to be a groundbreaking investigation of what it means to be church, what the people of God believe, and how the people of God act. You may not be interested in this subject, but I’ll post what I think is the most important section of his paper precisely because his thoughts are so incisive. Here you go.

“If I may borrow from the syntax of the Savior, let me now circle back to the emergent church and attempt to solidify our approach to orthodoxy and answer the question; Whence hermeneutical authority?

You have heard it said that the emergent church values orthopraxy over orthodoxy, but I say to you, if orthodoxy is an event, then another veil has been torn. There is no difference between the two. Orthoparadoxy, as my friend Dwight Friesen calls it, is the dialectical tension in which these two poles stand. Let me put it more boldly: there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. It doesn’t exist. People may talk about it, but they also talk about unicorns.

You have heard it said that the emergent church is run by relativists, but I say to you that we are all relativists. We walk into the Christian bookstore and choose a Bible off the shelf, one that’s been translated by a particular group of people with a particular theological bias. You choose that Bible relative to all the other choices in front of you. And you make a relative choice about where you go to church, what college you attend, and whom you marry. Like the umpire who has to call out “Ball!” or “Strike!” a split second after the ball hits the catcher’s mitt, some calls are easy: right down the heart of the biblical plate. But others are tougher, painting the outside corner. We make the best call we can, and live with the consequences.

You have heard it said that emergent churches abandon individual salvation for the sake of communal life, but I say to you that our communities of faith are made up of individual rational actors who have chosen to enter communities of orthoparadoxy, communities where, together, we are figuring out exactly where the strike zone is.

You have heard it said that emergent churches disparage biblical models of pastoral leadership and opted for egalitarian communities, but I say to you that leadership comes in many forms. Some charge that by opening up the Bible, even opening up the sermon, for many voices (including the marginalized) to speak, we are in danger of heterodoxy because we have forsaken strong biblical teaching. But history is clear: the danger of heterodoxy, even of cults, is far more acute when biblical interpretation is solely the purview of on leader or an oligarchy. Let’s put it this way, Jim Jones and David Koresh weren’t asking people to talk openly during the sermon about what they agreed and disagreed with.

And you have heard it said that the emergent church doesn’t stand under the hermeneutical weight of church history, but I say to you that we are more true to the church fathers because they are part of our dialogue. No, they do not rule over us, but they do enter into our event of orthodoxy with an authoritative voice. Have you looked at Luther’s 95 Theses? They’re not about systematic theology, they’re about the very specific issues of his day. Have you read Augustine’s treatises? They are confronting the Pelagianism of his day. And Aquinas? The Islamic Aristotelianism of his day. This is orthodoxy: an ongoing conversation asking; who is God?, who are we?, and what’s the relationship between us?”


*Update* The links to the paper and the accompanying powerpoint presentation are here, in the post on the top of the page.

The importance of frustration

“Educational theory tells us people really only learn out of frustration- the frustration that they don’t know but need to, the frustration that life isn’t working but there could be a better way. Frustration is not a bad thing- it’s a necessary thing.”
– Doug Pagitt

In case you hadn’t grasped the connection yet, the picture above is of Pagitt himself. I’ve been reading Preaching Re-Imagined, a great great book that’s scratching me where I itch right now. Introduction aside, my girlfriend Bethany and I have talked about Pagitt’s subject often recently (really over the course of our entire friendship that moved into a dating relationship); reality is often frustrating! And we often interpret that frustration as a negative thing. But what if that frustration is neither positive nor negative, but instead teaches us that reality is mysterious and complex, and so we can’t nail it down right away? So we wrestle with ideas and people and remain committed to growth and find that somehow, in the midst of the frustration, some degree of clarity arises that wouldn’tve if we hadn’t let the frustration motivate us.

Some issues that were before complex will become clear, some issues that we assumed were clear before will become complex, and some of reality remains downright mysterious. I like that. I like that that reality demands I be in relationship with others. I love that Bethany and I have the kind of relationship to be able to wrestle with these things and trust one another along the way. I hope to continue to grow in my relationships with others to have that same kind of mutuality, trust, and room to wrestle, vent, and grow. A good goal, I think.

So what do you think? Frustration negative? positive? both? why?

Thoughts on avoidance, alcohol, tobacco, and obesity

In keeping with running my own avoidance pattern on posting blogs from my head, I stopped by David Fitch’s (author of “The Great Giveway” pictured to your left) blog this morning, and read an incredibly insightful post on virtue/vice, the development of character, and the strange reality that in many churches that hammer alcohol and tobacco from the pulpit, the vice of overeating is overlooked…even encouraged. Combine that with the fact that your average pastor across the face of this land is heavier than his/her parishioner leads to some interesting thoughts.

Fitch manages to toss some post-postmodernism in there as well. 😉

The post is here.

Happy reading (thinking, and praying).

On the rootless (post)modern human…

I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s incredible book The Wounded Healer, well, since yesterday, and he’s really been laying it down hard! Here’s a few of his musings on the state of the modern person:

“Crucial for nuclear man is the lack of a sense of continuity, which is so vital for a creative life. He finds himself part of a non-history in which only the sharp moment of the here and now is valuable. For nuclear man life easily becomes a bow whose string is broken and from which no arrow can fly. In his dislocated state he becomes paralyzed. His reactions are not anxiety and joy, which were so much a part of existential man, but apathy and boredom.

Only when man feels himself responsible for the future can he have hope or despair, but when he thinks of himself as the passive victim of an extremely complex technological bureaucracy, his motivation falters, and he starts drifting from one moment to the next, making life a long row of randomly chained incidents and accidents.”

Now listen to this:
“When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberative power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future. But when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.” (Quotes from pp 8-9)

The last part, especially, is what has gotten me thinking. I think the post-modern person (whom Nouwen was describing unwittingly) IS ahistorical in terms of the value of the past and hope for the future shaping who they are TODAY. There are so many things that look like they’re spinning out of our grasp in the world today, along with a dizzying advance in technology, etc etc that lead us to a place of confusion and doubt that God’s really in control of history. It seems obvious to me that into this vacuum of trust has stepped the modern nation-state, which has (for all intents and purposes) assumed the position of God in our society: requiring some percentage of our monies, time, and energy to perpetuate, demanding ultimate claim on our lives, carrying the “meaning” of history. I’m not surprised that most of the people I know (including Christians) uncritically endorse the decisions and actions of our country simply because we believe it can do nothing wrong.

How do we emerge from this apathy to re-engage our brothers and sisters in Christ with the reality that God IS in control, and that it is not only possible, but necessary that we recover a vision for the church as the bearer of the meaning of history?

On Authority (Jesus, Scripture, Tradition, Community)

I was doing some reading for my Systematic Theology class today (I know, sounds fun), and the writer, James McClendon, in writing about the subject of Authority, has brought up significant food for thought in my mind…thought I’d share a little.

I must say, when it comes to systems of thought, I would label myself clearly as a postmodernist who continues to struggle with the polemical debating going on between those who find freedom in postmodern approaches vs. the modernist camp that tends to write off postmodernity.

Oftentimes the folks who reject postmodernity as a legitimate development and system of thought couch their arguments in the primacy of Scripture (inerrancy and infallibility); accusing post-modernists of relativism and an unhealthy suspicion of authority. These folks also often cast suspicion (sometimes rightly so) on the postmodern emphasis on the primacy of experience. Being stuck in the middle (struggling with how to approach authority, recognizing the reality of experience) is clearly an uncomfortable place to be. But it seems right…and McClendon addresses well, by my estimation, the heart of these issues.

On Experience

He writes,
“While experience is essential, it cannot of itself be foundational for Christians…Peter Forsyth highlighted that experience is real enough, but necessarily points away from itself. It is an experience of the love of God, but deeper than love in God’s nature is holiness, which embraces even love and entails it. By holiness, Forsyth understood a claim laid upon one’s life such that one knew oneself both condemned of sin and forgiven. God’s holiness was a claim that transformed the life that it claimed into one that could only confess itself so condemned, so claimed, so forgiven. If that is the content of experience, then experience has nothing of its own of which to boast, nothing save the authority of the Holy One that it meets in Christ Jesus.
Only that experience that points away from itself and toward a holy and loving God as its author and final authority deserves the claim made for it as its (proximate) authority. To qualify experience in this way is to presuppose a formative community of interpretation (church) with its definite history (Bible and its tradition); thereby the entire triad we are investigating here (experience, Bible, community) could be invoked.”

I think McClendon’s made an excellent point. In the local church community of which I am a part and the larger church community, I sense often that folks have exalted their experience to a place in their lives that nothing else can touch. That strikes me as wrong, and if we took the time to analyze it, is terribly subjective. My experience is clearly different than others around me…am I right or are they? Instead of holding each other accountable, our society has settled on pluralism (That’s true for you, but not for me). That’s clearly relativistic and wrong. But if we are given only one other option (inerrancy) as faithful Christians, I think I would choose the primacy of experience myself…please hold your opinions for a bit till the end.

McClendon continues, remarking that,
“Once we recognize its narrative quality, the primal authority claimed for Christian experience readily falls into place. It can neither be idolized as though itself God, nor be dissolved into human subjectivity…it is Jesus Christ who is the center of Christian faith. Authority as Christians know it will be found in the center if it is found anywhere. Nor is it an absentee Christ who exercises this authority. Christological understanding begins with the present Christ- one who confronts Christians in their spiritual worship and their kingdom work, in their common witness, and in Scripture’s holy word.”

The reality, then, of life in Christ, goes beyond the two opposite poles of suspicion of authority and uncritical claims of inerrancy (when it comes to Scripture). Paul gave us an incredible picture in Romans 6 that we have been delivered from one realm (sin and death) to another (freedom in Christ), and in his argument clearly showed that though we are now free, we are called to submit to the authority of Christ in our lives (a fun little play on freedom and servanthood). As followers of Christ, there is no other Lord in our lives but him, but there are many voices that can inform us as we move forward.

On Scripture

When it comes to the authority of Scripture, clearly we must subordinate ourselves (beyond our built in suspicion of authority in our day) to the reality that the Bible is the central authority on how God revealed himself to us his people and live from this first premise. Because we affirm that Jesus is the reason why we have been freed from the chains of sin and death in the first place, we must submit to the Bible asI emphasize again that inerrancy is not part of this first premise, by my estimation. In the river of the greater family of God, my stream has been that of Anabaptism, and the early Anabaptists had a clear way of approaching their lives as followers of Christ that strikes me as beautiful and wise.

1) They took Scripture’s role to be the provision of broad models for Christian teaching and church order
2) In finding these models they decisively subordinated the Old Testament to the New, and
3) they sharply distinguished, though in differing degrees, the outer word from the inner, or the letter from the spirit.

The emphasis here on their approach should be on the words “broad” and distinguishing the “letter from the spirit.” How ironic that Paul would write that the “letter kills,” yet in seeking to be true to the intent of the Bible, we have found ourselves imprisoned either in drinking the inerrancy Kool-aid or tossing out a trust in the Scriptures either because of the excesses (and obvious contradictions) of the inerrantists or (probably more accurately) the distrust we carry of authority in general in our lives.

I’ve said enough to clearly ramble here, but it seems to me (and I’m sure I’ll wrestle with this further), that our roots as followers of Christ exist in trusting the Bible as a (secondary) guide, the community as a (secondary) guide, tradition as a (secondary) guide and giving primacy to God centrally revealed in Jesus Christ as the fullness of the life we are called to. Jesus, the apostles, the early church, and faithful followers throughout the centures have given us clear evidence that a life lived in compliance with the commands of God by its very nature is revolutionary and world-changing…a submission to Christ is a clear pillar of such a lifestyle.