Compare and Contrast
A Call to Christian Groupies, Junkies, and Other Faddists
Ronald Reagan spoke the italicized words above in his presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter. It was only then that voters actually paused and reflected on the Carter years. What had they accomplished? Many young people today weren’t even born when Carter was President, so they don’t understand historically what a miserable failure he was. Interest rates for home loans and other loans were in double digits as were inflation rates. We won’t even begin on the Iran debacle that he completely botched. For those who don’t know better, when Reagan was inaugurated, the hostages were set free that Iran had held for over 400 days. That was a major difference between Carter and Reagan.
My point in using his quote, however, is not to speak of politics, but rather to ask why those who are the Emergent church movement junkies are still with such an unorthodox outfit. But there are some interesting political comparisons to make along the way, however. Conservative columnist, George Will, once commented that Barack Obama viewed the “mainstream” American voter as primitive, superstitious, and bigoted. There are some interesting parallels here with the Emergent church movement.
Old Bri, for example, likes to hang with trendy, “thoughtful leaders” who know how to “go a little deeper, addressing the need to be relevant to culture and to contexualize their ministry to today’s world.” You see, old Bri hangs with the hip, relevant, and culturally contextualized intelligentsia. What about mainstream Americans? Well, according to Mr. Relevant-to-Culture (a.k.a. ole Bri), the overwhelming preponderance of North American church leaders haven’t been “thoughtful” ever since colonization, which, if you’re a history buff, has been quite a while. Bri’s “generous orthodoxy” describes those unthoughtful modernists this way: “Most were preoccupied with other matters—arguments about religious esoterica, fights over arcane biblical interpretations, fanciful escapes into theological speculation, heat and fury over drinking or gambling or playing cards or using tobacco, controversies over whether guitars and drums can be used in worship gatherings or whether only pianos and organs produce holy music, and other matters that—in comparison to racism, genocide, carelessness toward the poor and various minorities, exploitation of the environment, and unjust war—seem shamefully trivial, weapons of mass destruction.”
Here’s the comparison: At a private fund-raiser in
But isn’t old generous Bri saying pretty much the same thing? Yes he is. Time and time again he references his “thoughtful” and “intelligent” friends, who ask all the right questions and support all the right social issues in all the politically correct liberal social gospel ways. While descrying and demeaning those who pursue religious esoterica, old Bri identifies himself solidly with the theological Left. For someone who is ostensibly writing about how to be generous, Bri falls far short of the mark. Apart from that, however, is the fact that Bri and the Emergent church movement tribe will acknowledge that an issue like abortion is important, but not as important as global warming or poverty. What ethical directives allow The Generous One to make such a statement? Wallis, McLaren, Bell, Pagitt, and others are just as adamant about their exegesis of Scripture and adherence to their perceived truth as the foundationalists they vilify.
What, other than theological and political liberalism, would ever cause a person to make such a statement. And even though Wallis and ole Bri claim that coveted (in the good sense, of course) territory of “neutrality,” in reality they are as liberal as Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Deciding-about-abortion-is-above-my-pay-grade Obama. As Wallis and ole Bri wax eloquent about how bad the war is, they fail to give us even the most fundamental information about the comparison of war related deaths and abortion. To liberals like Wallis and Code Pink Bri 5,000-plus deaths in the entire course of a war in Iraq is unconscionable, but the abortion of approximately 1.5 million babies every year is not as important as global warming (climate change), which is now taking on the moniker of “junk science” by reliable climatologists other than Al Gore and Michael Moore, and poverty. Of course, the Emergent church movement crowd doesn’t want you to think about poverty and recognize that the annual rate of real poverty has remained the same irrespective of whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power. They only tend to bring up “the problem” of poverty, however, when conservatives are in power.
Before we move on, I want to give you a rationale of why I believe abortion is more important than global warming. On the tenth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Ronald Reagan wrote a courageous article to the citizens of the United States, appealing to their morals and compassion. The title of the article is “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation.” President Reagan pointed out that “Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators—not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973.” The President went on to explain that since the inception of Roe v. Wade, just a decade prior, “more than 15 million have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions.” Today, that number exceeds 40 million.
In 1983, when President Reagan gave those statistics, he stated to the American public that 15 million was “over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars.” That means that the number of innocents slaughtered in our country in the name of legislation currently exceeds the number of American lives lost in war almost twenty-seven fold and continues to increase yearly. As the pacifists and anti-war crowd rant about the length of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (do they recall that the Revolutionary War lasted eight years?) and about the loss of life (does anyone remember that in the battle of Cold Harbor, VA, 7,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in half-an-hour?), there is a strange and eerie silence about those who were unable to protect or defend themselves and who died at the hands of those who had sworn to protect their lives.
For the life of me, I cannot fathom why anyone who is a Christian could or would support abortion or minimize this blight on our nation’s conscience. If you have merely a rudimentary grasp of the sanctity of life taught in Scripture, you must be vehemently outspoken against such an atrocity. But not ole Bri. He’s too sophisticated and thoughtful to demonize abortion. It’s important, but other issues are more important. Far be it from me to tell someone how to vote, but if I’m talking to a Christian, I would love to hear a biblical apologetic of how any Christian could be in favor of it for two reasons: First, “Our nation-wide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators—not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973…. Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution.” Second, it does not and cannot square with the sanctity of life and the concept of the imago Dei in the Bible. But given the deplorable immorality that runs rampant in the modern Church, what’s the big deal? Ann Coulter is correct when she writes, “No liberal cause is defended with more dishonesty than abortion.” It’s one thing for biblically illiterate politicians to make such assertions about abortion. Democrats are only playing to their base. But for those who are supposedly Christians to make the same assertions makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Another interesting twist and quirk is that repeatedly Bri and the Emergent church movement claim that they are on a journey and that a modernist is quite arrogant to claim that they have or know the truth. But that’s all just a ploy for the emergents. Even if there are some simple souls that have drunk the Kool-Aid and truly believe that you can’t ever know anything for certain, they all certainly act like you can know things for certain, specifically what they know for certain, even if they’re uncertain that they’re certain.
It’s in vogue to wrinkle your forehead, raise one eyebrow, take a sip of your latte that you really can’t afford anymore because gas prices are through the ceiling and Nancy Pelosi is on a five-week vacation and claim that all life is less certain and less absolute than the modernists think. Some theologians like the late Stanley Grenz and John Franke want us to believe that we know what we know about God because it is the expression of our community’s understanding of the biblical message that the Spirit is speaking through the Bible in our called-out community. Yep. That all sounds relevant and contextualized. What are they proposing? It is a form whereby the community informs the Church what it believes and that then becomes biblical.
What irritates me to no end is the disingenuous manner in which the emergents write. If we really and truly cannot know anything for certain, why do old Bri, Pagitt, Bell, Miller, Spencer Burke, the heretic by his own admission (wouldn’t you just love having him teach your teenagers?), and the whole crew bother to write books? Why, does generous Bri still use language and trust that his readers will understand what he means? Why does he expect us to believe him when he tells us that he has discovered the “secret message of Jesus” or when Stephen Chalke is adamant about finding the “lost message of Jesus”? Why doesn’t anyone question the absurd comment of Rob Bell affirming that both heaven and hell are full of forgiven people? (cf. Velvet Elvis, 146.) How can Chalke make the blanket statement that Jesus believed in original goodness and not original sin? Why is there no protest when Dave Tomlinson finds the biblical notion of radical depravity unbiblical, extreme, and profoundly unhelpful?
Why is it that the emergent tribe rejoices in being thoroughly postmodern until they come to crucial points in their talks, writings, and books? Rob Bell spends way too many words and far too much unused—but no doubt recycled—paper to tell us about his loopy journey only to hit us with certainty at the end of Velvet Elvis. He writes, “We need you to join us. It’s better that way. It’s what Jesus had in mind.” That’s really funny and inconsistent at the same time. Are we, is
In his new book on Democratic presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, Jerome Corsi makes the following comment about Obama’s gaff in San Francisco by quoting what Karl Rove said on Hannity & Colmes recently. Rove said, “There is a sense in places like San Francisco that the United States consists of a narrow sliver on the East Coast and the narrow sliver on the West Coast and the rest of the country is uninteresting and unimportant, and that kind of attitude was evidenced in Senator Obama’s comments.” With the necessary changes being made, something very similar is true of the non-leader emergent church leaders.
Are they really concerned about those to whom they refer, generously, of course, as religious esoterists or is their focus on those in the large cities that agree with Bri and the boys? What matters to them, it seems, is the elite and those twenty and thirty-somethings that toe the emergent line. They act like mind-numbed robots gnashing their teeth against anyone they perceive to be modernists and bowing at the altar of Birkenstock and the now-failing Starbucks to the god of postmodernism, at least until the end of the book when they tell you they’re right and everyone else is wrong. But the emergents are the “enlightened” postmodernists, while “the others” (read: uninformed rabble) are the despised modernists, those who love religious esoterica, and bow before the shrine of Enlightenment foundationalism—as if there were no foundationalism prior to the Enlightenment. Not only are the emergents bad theologians, they also have a very low view of Scripture, until, of course, we can prove that Obadiah was writing about Karl Rove.
 George Will, “Candidate on a High Horse,” Real Clear Politics, (April 15, 2008).
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 32.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ronald Reagan, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), p. 15.
 Ibid., 15-16.
 Ann Coulter, Godless, (NY: Crown Forum, 2006), p. 78.
 Steve Chalke & Allan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, (
 Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical, (
 Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).
 Jerome Corsi, The Obama Nation. Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, (NY: Threshold Editions, 2008), p. 8.
 D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 186.
Labels: Emergent Church