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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (XI)

The Emergents, Our “Framing Story,” and Reframing Jesus

I could have just as well entitled this section “Hi-ho, Silver! Liberal Theology and the Social Gospel Ride Again!” In 1988, Crossway Books published Carl F.H. Henry’s Twilight of a Great Civilization. Henry warned us in that work that the barbarians were coming. He also predicted that given the sad and dismal state of affairs in the modern Church that ironically the Church and the barbarians were getting increasingly difficult to identify, since they were looking and acting nearly the same.

Rather prophetically he wrote, “We are so steeped in the antichrist philosophy—namely, that success consists in embracing not the values of the Sermon on the Mount but an infinity of material things, of sex and status—that we little sense how much of what passes for practical Christianity is really an apostate compromise with the spirit of the age. Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God’s will, to the power of His redemption, and to the authority of His Word. For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift relapse to paganism.”[1] That was two decades ago. What, if anything, has the modern Church learned in the interim? The short answer is: Nothing.

It is far more accurate to speak of a pilgrim’s regress. For whatever reason, the modern Church and many of its pastors cannot fathom the truth that the Word of God is sufficient. While people such as Russell Kirk (Enemies of the Permanent Things) have lamented the disintegration of institutions that have existed for more than a millennium and wonder whether the whole fabric of civilization can survive the present rate of economic and social alteration, the modern Church has been strangely, deafeningly silent on the matter.

Henry opines that “Institutional Christianity has dropped the last barricade to the return of the pagan man; preoccupied with the changing of social structures, it muffles the call for a new humanity, and in doing so forfeits a mighty spiritual opportunity at the crossroads of modern history. The organized Church that ought to have been burdened for the evangelization of the earth has been too busy either powdering her nose to preserve an attractive public image, or powdering the revolutionaries and reactionaries who need rather to be remade in Christ’s image.”[2] Once the Church drops the ecclesiastical barricades a flood of neo-paganism comes rushing in and physical and spiritual barbarism is bred in the Church.

In fact, Henry warned two decades ago that in the modern Church:

…a whole generation is growing up with no awareness of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, a species without clear ideas about sin and sacrilege, a race for whom God and the supernatural are virtually eclipsed, individuals with no interest in the imago Dei, no eternal concerns. The forerunners of these half-men are being nourished wherever a pulpit no longer preaches the commandments of God and the sinfulness of man, the ideal humanity of Jesus Christ and the divine forgiveness of sins, and the fact of saving grace. Obscure the vitalities of revealed religion, detour churchgoers from piety and saintliness, and in the so-called enlightened nations not only will the multitudes soon relapse to a retrograde morality, but churchgoers will live in Corinthian immorality, churchmen will encourage situational ethics, and the line between the Christian and the worldling will scarce be found. Even in the church barbarians are breeding.[3]

He had no idea how accurate his pronouncements would be. In general, Henry was referring to the deleterious effects of the mega-church movement, its bad theology, and its lack of a spiritual legacy to pass on to the next generation. The truth of the matter is that now with the addition of the emergent tribe and their silliness and the morass created by the mega-church, less that 10% of those who call themselves Christians possess a Christian, biblical worldview. This is the spiritual legacy that these two movements are passing along to their adherents. Are we surprised, though? The mega-church spun off into psycho-babble, feel-good theology, and tawdry entertainment that passed for worship. The emergent chit-chat had no substantive theology to begin with, but what little it had, old Bri has chipped away at it until he has no place left to go theologically except into the arms of the worn-out social gospel. And that is precisely where his latest book ends up.

Eschewing such troublesome doctrines as penal substitutionary atonement, the sinfulness of man, and the commandments of God, Bri wants to move his non-following following to a reframing of Jesus, our global crises, and a revolution of hope. Contagiously thoughtful Bri can’t seem to grasp that doctrine is practical, and practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help or use at all. Foregoing doctrine, Bri wants to get on to the practical aspect of ethics. His problem, of course, is that he is attempting to build the second floor before the foundation is poured and the first story is built. The net results are disastrous and hazardous (spiritual HazMat) for those embracing the Emergent church movement. To parody an old Beatles song: it holds you in its arms ‘til you can feel its disease.

Bri is simply powdering the revolutionaries and reactionaries who need rather to be remade in Christ’s image. Given his theological methodology—and make no mistake his direction is intentional even though he would have the naïve believe that he is simply taking a pleasant, wandering theological stroll—he has landed in nothing eternal, but rather must focus solely on the secular, the here and now of saving the planet. He’s a quasi-Christian version of Al Gore. In a work that purports to be about ethics, it’s not until you are deep into the work that the word sin even occurs from Bri’s Starbucks stained pen. Rather than Bible, he gives his readers large does of Babel, which is different from babble. Instead of presenting biblical truth, Bri is more concerned about “the suicidal machine” and earth’s ecosystem. In point of fact, the entirely of this latest work contains precious little biblical truth, but is chocked full of revolutionary and reactionary drivel, putting words in Jesus’ mouth, and inane questions called “Group Dialogue Questions.” They are as tendentious as Bri’s biased writings. They’re also very funny. McLaren is a worse ethicist than Jim Wallis, although their conclusions are often quite similar: liberal theology, grossly distorted biblical hermeneutics, and a left-wing political agenda.

Historically, this is where these types of theologians have landed. The Bible really isn’t their standard for doctrine and life, so they seek profundity in caring more about the war, the poor, and sounding contagiously thoughtful. That is not to say that questions about the war, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the Christian family aren’t important, but they demand a truly biblical answer if you claim to be a Christian and you’re purporting to write a Christian ethics. A little Bible would go a long way. With both Wallis and McLaren, however, the texts are twisted and distorted to serve their purposes.[4] There is little or no exegesis either. Apparently for these two geniuses exegesis is a waste of time.

Here’s the deal: Ezekiel 33:1-9 paints a vivid picture of Ezekiel as appointed by the Lord to be Israel’ “watchman.” As such, he is to warn God’s people of impending danger. If they choose to give him the universal sign of peace and prosperity, so be it. He has done his God-given duty and warned them. If, however, he sees a danger coming and keeps his mouth shut, then God will hold him accountable for the death of that person. That’s a chilling thought and modern pastors—all of us—would do very well to heed those words.

In our next installment, we shall, Lord willing, begin to dissect this non-exegetical ethics book that supplies fodder not for Christian maturity, but for a secular opinion on a gaggle of social issues. It is little more than secular clap-trap with a quasi-Christian sauce thrown over it. I mentioned above that according to the “stats jocks” less then 10% of those who claim to be Christians possess a biblical worldview. Add the following to that fact: 66% of “born again” Christians assert that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Only 40% of those who claim to be Christians say that they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith. 44% of churched youth believe that human beings are capable of grasping the meaning of truth. That means the majority of Christian young people surveyed believe that truth cannot be grasped. One can only wonder how they were able to grasp that truth could not be grasped. 85% of churched youth agreed that what is right for one person might not be right for another person in the same situation. 85%! Finally,62% of churched youth agreed that nothing can be known for certain except what you experience in life. This is why reading and agreeing with theological liberals like old Bri and Jim Wallis is detrimental to your spiritual health, growth, and maturity.


[1] Carl F.H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization, The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988), p. 15. Italics mine.

[2] Ibid., 16-17.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] For example, in Wallis’ book, God’s Politics he tortures texts in Isaiah (Isaiah’s Platform) and Amos (Amos and Enron) to suit his agenda. He does the same in his section “When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?” Asking “When Did Jesus Become a Selective Moralist,” without providing a shred of biblical support, Wallis concludes that Jesus was against capital punishment, even though YHWH prescribed it in the Old Testament.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Bri can’t seem to grasp that doctrine is practical, and practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help or use at all.

I guess, this is one of the tragedies of liberalism. To reject theology in order to make religion relevant. Sadly for them, and those to whom they minister, orthodox theology is one of the most wonderfully relevant things a pastor can teach and a Christian can experience.

Now having had a second child (our fourth and final naturally born child) with Cystic Fibrosis, the doctrine of providence is proving itself very precious to Kate and I. We grieve his sickness, but we praise God for giving him to us.

There are some things that have to change in the church. But throwing out orthodox doctrine isn't one of them!

8:04 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Interesting how you seem to suggest that issues such as 'the poor' only matter if one holds a correct biblical view... yet Jesus never says this.

He simply says "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me."

That's it. It is social. It is also part of the gospel.

John writes, in his third letter, that if you don't love one another, you don't love God.

That's it. He doesn't mention knowledge that we attain nor does he mention the biblical text at this point in his letter.

Ron, you mention Ezekiel 33:1-9... paints a vivid picture of Ezekiel as appointed by the Lord to be Israel’ “watchman.” As such, he is to warn God’s people of impending danger. If they choose to give him the universal sign of peace and prosperity, so be it. He has done his God-given duty and warned them. If, however, he sees a danger coming and keeps his mouth shut, then God will hold him accountable for the death of that person. That’s a chilling thought and modern pastors—all of us—would do very well to heed those words.

In other words, you have proclaimed yourself the 'watchman'?

What are the biblical signs of someone being designated a 'watchman'?

If 'gospel' means good news, then how does a watchman declare any sort of good news. It seems they are more in the business of crying 'wolf.'

I believe that most people in America are tired of hearing 'wolf' or 'sin' and are crying out for a cup of cold water or a good meal or a decent school for their kids or... you name it.

"Wolf" doesn't mean much when people are living in pain.

On the other hand you may be right.

My hope is that we serve a sovereign God who reigns in the here and now, his Spirit is well and alive, an ultimately God, and those who love him, will win the day.

Thus, we end up where Jesus began. We can start with, "Where were you when I was hungry or thirsty or in jail?" We can also start with "Blessed are the peacemakers."

Those may have been pieces of a gospel that has social implications. Is it a social gospel? If we as humans created in the image of God are social? Sure. So be it. It's still the gospel.

Sleep well!

10:24 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Interesting how you seem to suggest that issues such as 'the poor' only matter if one holds a correct biblical view...

No, Randy, what he suggests is that we need to have a correct biblical view of issues such as "the poor," rather than a view that is simply warmed-over liberalism dressed up as Christianity.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Thank you Kyle for directing Randy to the patently obvious. Even when the liberals talk about "the ethics of Jesus," they completely forget that Jesus tells us (in the good news) that he came to do the will of the One who sent him. Or, Randy, will just any ethics do?

4:30 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

If I am given a nice warm bed to die in, only to go off into a Christless eternity, how is that loving?

Just asking.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Thanks for asking.

A nice warm bed is good for the body regardless of my eternity. An empty stomach still hurts regardless of my eternity.

Jesus made these commands without any mention to eternity or evangelizing people.

While I believe the later is also important, it wasn't always the main point (or even any point) of Jesus.

We need to put 'liberalism' and 'conservatism' aside for the message of Jesus. Frankly, I doubt the Father cares much if people are living in liberal England or communist China or democratic America.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
I've read Jim Wallis' book, "God's Politics" and his new one with the Intro by Peanut Jim Carter. I've read Yoder, Sider, and McLaren. Do they give us the true message of Jesus? Do you give us the true message of Jesus? Your words sound very much like the Social Gospel movement: Big on "social" but bereft on knowing the gospel. Am I wrong? Why?

7:04 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Randy,

You didn't ask me anything, but here's my answer.

I am not against giving someone a warm bed to die in. I am not against filling someone's stomach. We should. But they are going to get the Gospel as part of the package.

Think of this. In addition to the person who goes into a Christless eternity, those who had the opportunity to call them to repentance and give the Gospel but failed to do so will also be called to account. To say that Jesus didn't think it was as important is to make a mockery of His atoning death on the cross.

9:24 AM  

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