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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, July 16, 2009

The Arrival of the Evangelical Left (III)

Deeds Not Creeds: How to Be Missional without a Defined Mission

We are still examining the article Mark Tooley, of The Weekly Standard, wrote about Donald Miller of the Emergent church and, indirectly, the Emergent church movement itself. In his book A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren explained that he was “missional.” According to McLaren, “The term missional arose in the 1990s, thanks to the Gospel and Our Culture Network (www.gocn.org). It was popularized by the Network’s important book called The Missional Church (Darrell L. Guder, et al., Eerdmans, 1998).”[1] McLaren goes on to explain that the term can also be traced to a number of missiologists, including Lesslie Newbigin of India.[2]

As I have pointed out a number of times, McLaren goes on in AGO to give us a blueprint of what has come to fruition in the development (or regress) in his “theology.” Part of that “theology” is contained in the Emergent church motto, “deeds, not creeds.” McLaren condescends to accept the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds (he never explains why those two, so the reader is left to guess why these at the exclusion of others), but he rejects most other creeds, thereby neglecting a preponderance of the rich tradition passed on through the history of the Church.

So what is the appeal of Miller? Like many of his “pomo” (postmodern for those in Rio Linda) counterparts, Miller exudes a comfort with same-sex marriages and is, at best, apathetic about pro-life causes, especially abortion. By the same token, one can only wonder where he would stand on euthanasia, geriatric euthanasia, and suicide. In addition, Miller makes casual, sometimes less than casual, references to profanity, liquor, sexuality, and marijuana, which are all considered part of his spiritual odyssey. For those of us who did not become Christians until later in life, they might be able to identify with Miller, but certainly once one becomes a Christian, sexuality outside of marriage is forbidden, as are marijuana and profanity. Miller, however, revels in pastors who “cuss.” They are seen as genuine, authentic, the real deal. He does not explain why.

Apparently, Miller had a checkered childhood without a father. To his credit, his book earnings have been used to create a foundation to mentor fatherless children. This is a highly commendable undertaking. In his books and speaking engagements, he seeks to displace traditional evangelical moralism with what he believes is a passionate search for Jesus, based on relationships and storytelling rather than creeds. In other words, deeds rather than creeds. Of course, there is nothing wrong with developing healthy relationships and using stories (parables, illustrations) to make spiritual points, but there must be more than that. I also applaud Miller’s desire to displace evangelical moralism, but what do you put in the place of it? If I examine Presbyterian and Reformed creeds, for example, many of them give rather complete expositions of the Ten Commandments. Is this what Miller has in mind? Is he, like the rest of his Emergent church movement counterparts going to talk to the fatherless children about “the ethics of Jesus,” as if that were different from the ethics of Paul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Moses, Peter, John, or any other human author of Scripture?

One of the more humorous lines in Tooley’s article states that “It’s not clear how politically outspoken Miller will remain. He promised last year that he would not ‘blindly’ support Democrats as he believed conservative evangelicals had Republicans.” (p. 2.) He even went so far as to challenge the Democrat party to stop mocking people of faith and to “give us a voice and a face within your party.” (Ibid.) In the first place, it appears that no one has heeded that challenge, including the President. Second, “people of faith” is a very generic term and does not mean the same thing as “Christian,” although in secular definitions, it is usually included. Third, Miller “enthused that Democrats during the campaign were doing an ‘exceptionally good job’ outreaching to evangelicals.” (Ibid.)

Given the numbers of young “evangelicals” adhering to McLaren, Miller, and others, it might very well be argued that the politicians did a better job of getting younger evangelicals to vote for the Democratic Party than the evangelical church did of equipping them to deal with ethical and political matters. This truth is a serious indictment against what the so-called evangelical church has accomplished with its emphasis on entertainment while eschewing doctrine. What is to be thought now of the many pastors who derided and ridiculed doctrine openly and publicly from the pulpit? Where are their students now? Many of them, unfortunately, voted for a man who had the most liberal voting record on many essential political, ethical issues, including abortion and partial-birth abortion. How could anyone be so undiscerning; so untaught; so naïve? If the Democrats did an exceptionally good job, then the evangelical church did an exceptionally poor one. We are now reaping the results of the trivial pandering to the “unchurched” that typified and characterized the mega-church movement. The children of the mega-church parents are the emergents of today.

Don’t get me wrong: Miller disdains the mega-church, and I concur that there was and still is a great deal in that movement worthy of disdain. One of the aspects of his ecclesiastical background that particularly piqued Miller was that “His previous churches embraced ‘war metaphors’ that pitted Christians against ‘liberals and homosexuals,’ according the Blue Like Jazz.” (Ibid.) Jesus, he contends, taught love. Well, of course, Jesus did teach love, but he also taught a great deal more. People like Miller and McLaren, with, at best, a thin veneer of theology under their belts, have nothing to fall back on except the worn-out mantra, which is a remnant from evangelicalism, “My God, is only a God of love.” That phrase is a license to live like a neo-pagan. In fact, it can be argued that it is a thinly veiled excuse to live any way you desire or choose. After all, the God of love will forgive you no matter how you live or what you do.

And when you die, you go to “heaven,” where, of course, everyone goes, so that they can smile amiably and affably down on us for eternity. Did you notice that with Michael Jackson’s death? FOX News carried some socialite regaling his hearers with this silly, ridiculous, naïve, and poorly thought through aphorism. The “smiling down” thing is another way for neo-pagans to believe in universalism; that everyone is saved irrespective of whether they were a Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or Christian. In Christian circles, it is equally disconcerting that at funerals, someone insists on eulogizing that the departed is now smiling down on us. Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave that out, since, if the loved one is with Christ, he or she is going to be so enthralled that he is not going to be all that concerned to cast a smile our way?

Miller is also convinced that the Bush administration and, by extension, Christianity, or at least the dolts on the Christian Right, are responsible for making the United States unpopular around the world. Tooley adds that most of the Evangelical Left thinks like Miller does. Of course it does. Just like Miller, the Evangelical Left has swilled down the secular leftist progressive’s talking points. Why on earth wouldn’t they think that? It’s America’s fault. It has nothing to do with their ideology and hatred of us for our rights and freedoms. Think left. Miller is also convinced that it is the “ugly American” syndrome that has caused a number of our compatriots to think that Christianity is pugilistic, hateful, bigoted, anti-intellectual, arrogant, and possessing an inability to listen to others.

I’ll close this off with one of the funniest and inconsequential statements Miller’s made to date. It is consistent with his Emergent church movement cronies, but few within the movement ever see this glaring fallacy. What is it? Let’s put the statement on the table and then analyze it. Miller states, “Toeing the party line for the church is not my job; telling the truth is my job.” (Ibid.) I find this an amazing, egregious statement, not least because virtually all the emergents embrace relativism, Miller included. How can he tell me the truth if he is a convinced, inveterate relativist? Rob Bell did the same thing in his book Velvet Elvis. After spending 176 pages droning on about how everything is relative and the conservatives are out to lunch because of their views on truth, here is the sum of Bell’s efforts” “But I can’t do it alone. I need you. We need you. We need you to rediscover wonder and awe. We need you to believe that it is really possible. We need you to join us. It’s better that way. It’s what Jesus had in mind.”[3]

For the moment and just for fun, I’ll pass over the question of how one knows one has really discovered wonder and awe. That’s tricky in a relativistic world, except with the caveat of discovering it for me. You see, my wonder and awe from a Christian perspective might be different than yours from, say, a Buddhist perspective. What is amazing—and inconsequential in the Emergent church system—is the word “better.” Better as compared to…? The last sentence of Bell’s book makes him a candidate for “King of the Non-Sequitur.” After he’s spent himself telling us that we really don’t know about many, many things in the Bible (and his wife is complicit as well) he ends with the apodictic statement: This is precisely what Jesus had in mind. Wow. How does Bell know?

Miller is even more aggressive and assertive: Telling the truth is my job. Really? What is the truth? You see, this is precisely where all the emergents land. Why do you think McLaren continues to write books and give speeches if he is not convinced that his message is the right one; the true one? The rest of us are simply honest about it. But we’re prejudiced and bigoted and the emergents are right. Right.


[1] Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p. 105.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 177.



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10 Comments:

Blogger donsands said...

Excellent words. Great wisdom and truth written here. Thanks for this post.


"Is he, like the rest of his Emergent church movement counterparts going to talk to the fatherless children about “the ethics of Jesus,” as if that were different from the ethics of Paul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Moses, Peter, John, or any other human author of Scripture?"

Psalm 119:160: "The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever."

I suppose Miller and McLaren and others would not particularly enjoy this verse, but they surely would enjoy this Psalm where it speaks of love. They are "cherry-pickin'" Christians. How can a Christian not live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ?

How can a child of God with the Holy Spirit of the Lord dwelling in him not treasure the Word?

That baffles me, let me tell you.

And certainly there are times it's a struggle, as it was for Jeremiah:

"If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.",
but we can help but love it, and speak it. And the Word is awesome because the Word is Christ's heart.

"Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts." -Jeremiah

7:22 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

Ron,
Great post as usual, although I do disagree with you at one point
You say "but certainly once one becomes a Christian, sexuality outside of marriage is forbidden, as are marijuana and profanity."

Sexuality outside of marriage and profanity I can see, but I don't think you can make a biblical case against marijuana use, other than that it is malum prohibitum. I have never tried it (although if I do, I will be sure to inhale). I can't as a believer in Christian liberty declare to be sin what the Bible does not. Having been an observer of drug and alcohol use (I never even had a beer until I was in my 40's), as well as an amateur student of physiology, law, science, etc., I am convinced that the occasional use of marijuana is on a par with social drinking. I certainly don't think as Christians we should support the criminalization of something the Bible does not indicate is sinful. Driving under the influence of any drug or alcohol, for example, ought to be illegal, but there is no difference between someone drinking a couple of martinis after a hard day of work, and smoking a joint.
One of the big problems with modern Christianity is that we are eager to criminalize so many things that aren't immoral, yet stand silent while those things God declares sin are decriminalized, or ignored even though illegal. Christians encourage laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, slaughtering horses for meat, and countless other busybody ventures, while things that are malum in se (for those of you from Rio Linda, 'evil in and of themselves') are not only no longer illegal in many cases, but actually encouraged in our society.
Satan never takes a day off, so let's not as Christians waste our energy trying to change by law things in our society that believers in Christian liberty should leave to the conscience.
Advocate against, perhaps. Criminalize, no.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Bradley,
MJ is against the law and according to Rom. 13:1ff. Christians are to obey the law because it is honoring to the Lord. It was what God commands us to do.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Bradley said...

Ron, that is exactly my point. The use of marijuana is illegal not because the Bible says so but because a majority of people in a certain jurisdiction say so. It is unethical but not immoral.

This is a good way to show the way Satan and the world have turned things on their head. In the US, abortion is legal. It is still immoral. Theft by taxation and wealth transfer is legal. It is still immoral.

On the other hand there are innumerable things that are illegal that are not immoral. As Christians who believe in moral absolutes (as laid out in Scripture, the only standard) and liberty, we are stuck obeying many unjust laws that do not violate our duty to God. Thus, if a Christian lives in a place where marijuana use is not illegal he should be free to use it as long as it does not become his master.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Bradley,
I tend to like some libertarian ideas, but others I deplore, not least of which is because they would put increasingly more U.S. citizens at risk with their families on the road, not to mention the extra outlays of much-needed cash so pa and ma can get stoned.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

I didn't know we were talking politics I was talking doctrine and ethics.

10:24 AM  
Blogger randy buist said...

Thanks for shouting out about the GOCN (Gospel & Our Culture Network) Ron. They've done some great work over the past two decades.

The GOCN was created by Craig Van Gelder and George Hunsberger, and Hunsberger did his doctoral on Leslie Newbigin. Van Gelder currently served as Luther Seminary in MN & Hunsberer is at Western Seminary in Holland, MI. Both are amazing men!

9:38 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Did they do great work because you say so? What are the criteria you use to make such judgments?

11:03 PM  
Blogger Little Shepherd said...

There is a substantial difference between a couple drinks and a joint, and I'm one who used to indulge in marijuana some years back -- a single joint is guaranteed to seriously impair your thinking, judgment, and coordination in a way that a couple drinks will not.

The vast majority of people can drink at least a couple drinks -- taking into account factors such as genetics, weight, whether or not they've recently eaten, the type of alcohol consumed, any medications they are on, etc. -- without becoming drunk. Almost nobody can smoke an entire joint(or even a few small puffs) without becoming the marijuana-induced equivalent.

Even if recreational marijuana use did become legal, it seems pretty obvious to me that it still goes against the spirit of the command not to be drunk. The comparison to "a couple drinks" is simply laughable, especially to someone who's actually been there, done that.

6:51 PM  
Blogger sister said...

Little Shepherd,

I know I'm way late to this conversation, but I would love to talk this one out with you... please let me know if you're still around.

10:09 PM  

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