The Arrogance of the Emergent Church Movement (I)
I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but the more I read books by Emergent/Emerging authors, the more I’m convinced that what I said a couple of years ago—at least—is becoming increasingly evident. When I finished reading McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy it was clear to me that this was going to be an aberrant, heterodox movement. McLaren’s new book Everything Must Change seems to be his (vain) attempt at ethics and deviates even further from true Christianity. I have read a large number of books on ethics and this one—along with Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics—qualifies as one of the worst. I hope to make this clear in the course of this series on his book and other Emergent nonsense.
Let me state at the outset that in his latest book McLaren comes out looking very much like a left-wing Democrat who despises George Bush, hates the war, and believes that we are all going to become crispy-critters due to global warming unless we heed Al Gore’s “facts,” which a number of scientists have debunked. In many ways, McLaren’s book parallels Wallis’ books and makes many of the same left-wing points that Wallis makes, only more poorly.
Another aspect of McLaren’s book that irked me as I read it was McLaren’s arrogance. Like N.T. Wrights What Saint Paul Really Said, McLaren gives us the impression that up until this point in theology and ethics we have been surrounded by incompetents and dolts, but now Bri is here to rescue us from our blatant ignorance. While the old dead guys were spewing out all that doctrine stuff and burning witches at the stake, Brian has bigger, better, kinder, and gentler fish to fry. Heck, he’s even willing to stop admiring his Birkenstocks long enough to help us discover the real Jesus. How kind.
But before we launch into McLaren’s ethical commentary, I want to say just a few words about one of his colleagues: Dan Kimball. This year Zondervan released Kimball’s work They Like Jesus but not the Church. On the back cover we read the following: “Ask someone today is he or she likes Jesus, and the answer is usually Yes. But ask if that person likes the Church, and chances are you will get a far less favorable response.” This is, quite possibly, an apt description of the emerging generation, who, we should remember, are the children of those who were entertained to death in the mega-church movement. Their parents had no spiritual legacy to pass on to their children and these children are merely the devastating spiritual result of parents who either could not or would not pass on scriptural truth to their children; who had little or no concept of what it means that God desires a godly seed (cf. Mal. 2:15).
As I unfold Kimball’s comments this will be one of my guiding theses: the “emerging generation” and what they think, feel, and sense—these are their operative words—is comparable to what the mega-church movement sought in unchurched-Harry and Harriett. It’s the same old pile; it’s just been re-stacked. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any real Christian would find anything attractive about the lack of exegesis, lack of use of Scripture, and constant use of vague platitudes in the Emerging chit-chat. It is, quite possibly, the most superficial theology to date. But what concerns me even more is that some in my own denomination have found Emergent books witty and amusing. To date, no one from our Mission to North America office in Atlanta has issued anything resembling a warning about a wide variety of heterodox statements coming from the Emergents (e.g., the penal substitutionary atonement of our Lord is tantamount to cosmic child abuse), and some cutting-edge pastors are even embracing some Emergent tenets.
For example, those in the PCA who do not have their heads in the sand know that we are heading—and have been for quite some time—to a showdown about women in leadership positions. Some churches already have women reading Scripture in worship, leading in prayer (shouldn’t the pastor and Elders, who really know what’s going on the congregation be doing this?), and serving as “unordained Deacons,” which is contrary to the PCA’s Book of Church Order. Without getting involved in a kind of Christian feminism (oxymoron), how do Emergent advocates think about the use of women in the church and, equally important, how to they come to their conclusions? This is where Kimball’s book is instructive. In his less than subtle title to the 7th chapter (“The Church is Dominated by Males and Oppresses Females”) Kimball gives us some insight into how he came to this conclusion.
He quotes “Alicia,” who by Kimball’s assessment has a limited knowledge of Scripture (p. 115). She says, “I feel the church is very sexist, yet I don’t believe that Jesus was sexist. From what I have observed, women in the church basically sit on the sidelines and are only able to work with children, answer the phones, be secretaries, and serve the men. They seem to be given no voice. The church seems pretty much like a boys’ club for adults.” (Ibid. Italics mine.) Be prepared and forewarned for many words like “feel,” “sense,” and other emotional words are used by both Kimball and McLaren. They are operative words in the Emergent group think. Kimball also informs us that “Alicia isn’t part of any church.” Yet, with her “limited exposure to churches,” this is what Alicia observed and felt about how the church views women. (Ibid.) Yet, Kimball is willing to concede that Alicia is correct in that “she senses that Jesus would want women to have more options than just becoming secretaries and children’s workers in the church.” (Ibid. Italics mine.) Well, of course, Jesus would! Women could become cooks too. Just kidding.
So here we have a biblically uneducated woman feeling and sensing what Jesus would want. This is a phenomenon that McLaren employs often. For example, on pp. 177-178 of Everything Must Change McLaren makes this creative statement: “If Jesus were in a conversation with Chris Hedges and others like you and me who are concerned about the pervasive human pull towards war, I think he might say something like this:” McLaren then proceeds to have Jesus say nothing of sin and salvation, but puts all kinds of pronouncements in his mouth about war and global warming. In short, McLaren has created a Democrat Jesus in Birkenstocks drinking a Starbucks $5.75 (plus tax) cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles. This is the “real Jesus of the Bible” that the rest of us knotheads have missed, but if we had only looked closely enough we would have discovered that he really looked just like Brian McLaren all along.
So the Emergent church is paranoid about what outsiders (unbelievers) might think of the Christian Church. “This conclusion keeps many people away who might otherwise trust the church enough to enter into community with us.” (Kimball, 115). I don’t know who did the survey among the neo-pagans and I’ll leave the comment about trusting the church or trusting the Jesus of the Church until later. But Kimball is sad, he tells us, because there have been heated arguments in the church concerning the role of women. By the way, Dan, there have also been some pretty heated arguments in the church about the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, miracles, justification by faith, and a host of other biblical truths. I’m not necessarily “sad” that we had those debates. In fact, I’m quite happy we did. Dan’s hope, however, is “that the mission Jesus has sent us on to emerging generations will override divisive and critical attitudes towards those who hold different viewpoints.” (p. 116.) The caveat is that Dan hasn’t told us what that mission is. Moreover, divisive and critical attitudes towards those who hold different viewpoints (feminists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Satanists, etc.) isn’t always a bad thing. Some might even term it “discerning.”
Now we need to keep in mind that both Bri and Dan have had disturbed childhoods and the Church is partly to blame for their excruciating pain. We can include Jim Wallis in this list of people as well. They just have not been able to get over the fact that when they were teenagers and a little older that people in their local congregations got tired of their liberal rantings and said, Enough is enough. They’re still cheesed off. In Dan’s case, however, his experience of church folk was that they were Gestapo-like, especially the ushers. (They’ve always been a troublesome group in the church, just one step away from starting a revolution.) Here is what poor Dan experienced: “Quite honestly, the all-male ushers in this one church looked and acted like intense Secret Service or CIA agents.” (p. 117.) See, I told you that they were a disruptive, seditious lot. What made matters worse, “They wore dark suits and ties and were even signaling each other across the room with hand signals.” (Ibid.) That’s phunny even if you’re Emergent! No doubt these charter members of the adult boys’ club were signaling how they might more intensely persecute the female members of the congregation and show them who had the dominant power—or, how to find some empty seats for those who arrived late or how to adjust the thermostat in the sanctuary. I sense that the hand signals that ushers use are sometimes notoriously hard to decipher and that if the real Jesus were here today he would come down pretty hard on usher hand signals and global warming. Oh, and he’d also make certain that George Bush was the only one in hell, but other than that he’d be for world peace.
But the worst is yet to come. Dan looked at the bulletin and—you guessed it—it “listed only men as pastors and elders.” (Ibid.) This was really a moot point, because by his own admission he “didn’t even know what an elder was…” (Ibid.) Possibly, conceivably he still doesn’t. He attends a church, has no clue what an elder is, and yet knows intuitively that it was wrong that no women were listed. He’s about as informed as Alicia. It’s a good thing “elder” doesn’t mean “one with excessive facial hair.” The really sad part about this description from Kimball is that he didn’t stay in that congregation but moved on. I’m certain something could have been worked out to give some horse tranquilizers to the ushers.
His point to his readers is this: “Remember, at this time I was not a churchgoer, and I noticed these things on the very first visit. People in emerging generations also notice whether we have women in leadership roles.” (p. 118.) A case in point is Erika. She is one of those emerging folks that has “given up on the church, but she has not given up on Jesus.” (p. 119.) She’s a metro-spiritual. Let me see if I have this straight. Erika has some kind of vague relationship with Jesus wherein she has not given up on him—whatever that means—but she has given up on the Church that he spoke about in Matthew 16:18ff. Erika waved farewell in her teens—one can only wonder where her parents were—to the church because she felt it focused too much on negative things. (Ibid.) Let’s parse that genial statement for a moment. A teenage “hormonal” feels a certain way and beats feet out of the local congregation—with or without daddy’s and mommy’s approval who were morphing from unchurched into churched-but-not-knowing-squat Christians—because there was a focus on negative things. Again, one can only speculate what those negative things might have been. Could it have been that her church was speaking against shacking up? Using controlled substances? No sex prior to marriage? Or, it could have just been the ushers.
Dan assures us that Erika is not a feminist, but then regales us with this quote from the one who had her self-esteem destroyed by the ushers: “America was birthed primarily from a male-dominated European society. So the church naturally is rooted from there. However, in our society today, there are great steps being made of seeing females as more equal in the job market and other places. So I certainly would think that the church would be doing the same, but it doesn’t seem to be. I have only seen and heard about churches shooting down women who both aspire in their faith and then desire to be in church leadership.” (Ibid.)
If there is anything worse than the ushers, it’s the Europeans that founded this country on the principle of squashing women. Erika—wrongly—concludes that the church is rooted in Europe. Sorry, Erika, but your geography is just a little off. How about the Church being rooted in God in the Old Testament and gathered, protected, and defended by Jesus Christ, the Head of his Church in the New? Erika is also convinced that as matters go in society, so they must also go in the Church. Based on her observation about society she opines that the Church should be doing the same. Solid, solid reasoning.
To her credit, she must have had my church in mind when she wrote about the church shooting down women. Now listen. I can explain that. We did receive a petition from a group of women who, according to their words, were aspiring in their faith and who wanted to be church leaders. We weren’t exactly sure what “aspiring in their faith” meant, but we were convinced that it probably wasn’t a good thing. To that point our ushers didn’t even have a hand signal for “aspiring in their faith,” so we knew we had to move swiftly. We got them to believe that if they helped us change out the light bulbs in the sanctuary we’d consider their requests. Once they were up on the scaffolding, we shot them down, one by aspiring one, but we only used paintball guns so they were only slightly bruised.The other day, I asked a neo-pagan named Seasons how she thought Jesus came to earth. She assured me that an alien impregnated her grandmother, who eventually gave birth to him from her left big toe. She might be our first female usher except she’s Emergent. I asked her how she knew what she said was true. She smiled affably, shook her long blonde hair and said, “Math is hard!” Then she informed me that she really didn’t know and that it really didn’t matter. She just felt and sensed that what she said was true and it was true for her. Her experience growing up in a church impacted her so much that she has not felt the need to return. But not to worry: She may have given up on the church, but she has not given up on Jesus. Where does it all stop? I cannot answer that question, but I can assure you that Kimball’s stuff gets worse and worse and McLaren is off the charts. If you want to know what is wrong with the modern Church, then stay tuned and buckle up because it’s going to be a rough ride and eternal destinies are at stake.
Labels: Emergent Church