In my first blog post 14 months ago, I mentioned that if you have a big question or issue you would like me to respond to, please let me know. I have previously written one such post. This week’s post is in response to another question, an excellent one, from another very regular reader of this blog.
In researching this question, I discovered that the “emergent church” goes by other names as well, including the “emerging church,” “progressive Christianity,” and the “post-evangelical movement.” First of all, we should not expect a church to identify as “emergent” or “progressive.” Second, as you can probably guess from some of these names, it is questionable whether this kind of church or movement is a true church as the Bible defines it. The church is the Body of Christ, meaning all people who have come to saving faith in Jesus. Before the church even existed in a more formal way, Jesus said this in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Michael Youssef in his book Saving Christianity? gives an excellent overview of the emergent church: “Whereas Biblical, evangelical Christianity emphasizes the authority of the Bible, the forgiveness of sin, the atoning death of Jesus on the cross, and eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus alone, ‘progressive Christianity’ rejects these doctrines. This mutated form of Christianity cherry-picks the Bible and the words of Jesus, claims that all religions lead to the same God, and seeks to build a utopian ‘kingdom of heaven’ on Earth through a liberal-progressive social and political agenda. Leaders of this movement, many of whom claim to be evangelicals, say that truth is unattainable and that certainty should be condemned as a lack of faith.”
Notice that emergent church leaders do not accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, instead choosing the parts they like and rejecting what they don’t like. For example, and perhaps most importantly, in their belief that all religions lead to the same God, they reject what Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
One of the emergent church leaders is Brian McLaren, who writes in his book A New Kind of Christian: “There [on Christian radio stations] I hear preacher after preacher be so absolutely sure of his bombproof answers and his foolproof biblical interpretations… And the more sure he seems, the less I find myself wanting to be a Christian.” In another book, A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren writes, “A generous orthodoxy … doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is humble; it doesn’t claim too much; it admits it walks with a limp.” On the surface, perhaps being “humble” and even “less sure” sound good. However, on his website, brianmclaren.net, he says postmodern Christians like himself are “eager to engage with questions that have been suppressed–including rethinking penal substitutionary atonement theory, biblical inerrancy and interpretation, and the violence of God.” That first question is regarding whether or not Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself, dying in our place. Notice the second question, alluded to earlier: whether or not the Bible is without error. The third question is about his questioning the God of the Old Testament, who destroyed the world with a flood and brought judgment on the various Canaanite tribes who, for example, sacrificed their children to idols.
It should be obvious by now that at least some of McLaren’s questions strike at the very heart of the Christian faith. Regarding McLaren’s self-proclaimed “humility,” Michael Youssef notes this about McLaren and others like him: “They don’t have any doubts whatsoever about the progressive sexual agenda… They question the Bible while making certainties and sacraments out of gender politics, victim politics, [and] environmental politics.” In 2015, for example, McLaren stated that he did not believe homosexual conduct to be sinful. It’s clear that his desire to be humble does not extend to his politics or his firm views on sexuality. In contrast to McLaren’s so-callled humility, Youssef wisely writes, “Genuine Christian humility begins when we submit ourselves in awe and reverence before God and His Word. Genuine Christian humility begins when we accept the gospel of Jesus Christ as truth.”
Brian McLaren is not the only leader of the emergent church; another example is Rob Bell, who I’ve written about before. Bell is a universalist who believes everyone will eventually end up in heaven, and McLaren has defended Bell against critics. Thankfully, Bell is no longer a pastor, but I’m sorry to say that McLaren is.
While I was researching the emergent church, I was reminded of Pilate, who in John 18:38 scoffingly asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Emergent church leaders do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, which is what causes them to question the fundamentals of the Christian faith while at the same time being very firm about issues that agree with their politics.
I once had a conversation about churches with a colleague who I believe is a Christian. She told me about the church that she and her husband were attending. Among other things, the pastor was very affirming of homosexuality, including gays and lesbians in church leadership. My colleague also mentioned a couple of other things, expressing concern about the direction the church was heading; however, when I asked her if she had considered changing churches, she said that she and her husband wanted to stay there because of the people they knew there. I hope that if you ever find yourself in a similar position to my colleague, you will leave and not look back.