Emerging/Emergent Church Movement

Notes on the Apostle John’s Epistles
Taken at a Bible Study Led by Walt Henrichsen
In San Francisco, 10-14 March 2008

Post-modernity now finds its expression in Christianity in what is called the Emerging Church (新興教會) or emergent church.  Like Gnosticism itself, this is not an organization.  It’s not even a theological construct.  It’s just a worldview.  It’s how some people perceive reality.  So if you talk about what its tenets (信條 – principles, beliefs, doctrines) are, you only talk about them in a general way, and not everybody who agrees with that term necessarily agrees with every one of the tenets.  Just like not everyone who calls himself a born again Christian believes that the commandments of the Bible are absolute.  So you’ve got mixture of viewpoints coming together.

The Emerging Church’s thesis: truth evolves

The emergent church simply says that truth is evolving.  It’s emerging (在暴露中).  For example, they say, you look at how God dealt with the patriarchs.  Everybody offered his own sacrifice, and there were very few rules.  Then, when you moved into the Mosaic system, only one family offered sacrifices, and there were lots of rules.  Then, you moved into the New Testament, and you saw the elimination of the Mosaic Law, fewer rules and no sacrifices.  So they conclude that God is constantly revealing Himself in fresh and new ways.  They say that truth is never static (靜止的).  It’s always dynamic (一直有活力的).  It’s always evolving (一直在逐步形成中). [Thus, proponents of this movement call it a “conversation” (非正式會談) to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature as well as its emphasis on interfaith dialogue rather than verbal evangelism.]

The Emerging Church’s agenda: redefine God and His expectations of man

Thus, they conclude that it’s the same today – as God speaks to His people today, it’s as different it’s as different as the Old and New Testament.  They say that now God [no longer brings evil or disaster upon people but] is a God of love and [He no longer demands obedience and righteous living but has] tolerance (寬容), [He no longer disciplines or judges His people but is] a God of acceptance (歡迎), so that in the olden days we thought homosexuality was a sin, but now we’ve learned that that’s how God makes people.  So [they say], it makes us much more accepting and much more broad-minded (胸開闊).

The Emerging Church’s view of the Bible and absolutes

The emerging church would not argue that truth is relative.  They would say it’s absolute, and the community decides what it is.  The community defines the absolutes, and the community now says that the moral construct of the Bible is passé (過時的).  It’s not that the Bible is wrong.  It’s that the Bible is irrelevant.  The Bible will afford us the opportunity to see God in action.  It’s a narrative, so we read it for narrative purposes.  Therefore, you go to church not to learn about God. You go to church to experience God.  Now you know God through experience, not through the revealed word of God, which is absolute and infallible.  They still say it’s the Bible; that’ the Word of God – of course it is.  They say if you want to see a narration of how Gods moves, if you want to see a narration of His movement, the Bible is a great place to go.  In this line of thinking, therefore, an insistence in obeying the commandments of God is legalism.  As a matter of fact, if I obey them, it’s because I agree with them, not because I’m obligated to keep them.  The agenda of the modern man or postmodern man – global warming, AIDS, distribution of food to the common man – these are the absolutes.

The Emerging Church’s view of sin and evangelism

I came to Christ about 54 or 55 years ago.  When I went to church I went to feel bad about myself.  I knew I was a sinner and expected the pastor to reveal the world of God in a way to expose my needs so I could go and work on them.  Now, people go to church to feel good about themselves.  Therefore, in the postmodern Emerging Church, preaching on sin is out.  Helping people connect with God is in.  Evangelism is out.  Evangelism is chauvinistic (unreasoning devotion to one’s own ideas with contempt for others – 沙文主義的).  It’s an unwarranted dogmatism based on assuming you can know.

For instance, I read an article by senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, which used to be a bulwark (wall built as a defense – 壁壘) of conservative thought.  The pastor, Mark Labberton, said, “Surely the God who made 500 different kinds of hummingbirds is not the same God who insists that there is only one way to heaven.”  And so you don’t go to church to get to know God.  Instead, your goal is to experience Him.  So essentially, you get a biblically illiterate congregation, and it opens us up to eastern mysticism.

The Emerging Church’s definition of meditation

When I met the Navigators we talked a lot about meditation.  You meditated on scripture to make it part of your life.  Today, meditation is viewed as emptying your head and allowing thoughts to fill you.  That’s how you know.  That’s a modern expression of Gnosticism.

How widespread is the Emerging Church?

I would say – [this is] one’s man point of view – it is so prevalent, so pervasive, that the war is over!  The battle is done!  Increasingly, men like us who sit at this table will be marginalized, not only in society but also in the church.  I don’t believe that my grandchildren will be able to find Christ in the church.

So we have, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that English law has got to adapt to the other cultures, such as Islam, and that we should allow their people to judge their people based on their religion and we on ours.  Even evangelical leaders are saying we worship one God, but we just call Him different names.  We enter into dialogue not for the purpose of converting the individual, but for the purpose of mutual edification in the hope that we can blend together religions and thus eliminate war.

So I would suggest that in this country, the most we can hope for is to identify and invest in the overcomers.

If you are at all interested in this, all you have to do is google “Emerging Church” or “Emergent Church” or “post modernism”, and you’ll have a clear picture of what’s going on.

Notes on the Apostle John’s Epistles
Taken at a Bible Study Led by Walt Henrichsen
In San Francisco, 10-14 March 2008

Books About the Emerging Church

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (認識新興教會), by Don Carson (卡森)

  • Walt Henrichsen encourages people to read this book, because he says Carson is very even, very charitable and addresses a lot of questions, but he’s also very strong in his position that you cannot compromise with the Bible.
  • The book is very scholarly and starts by examining the strengths of the Emerging Church: it’s good at reading the times and knowing that the presentation of the Gospel must change with the times; it values authenticity (確實性); it recognizes that the Church is within a cultural context and cannot be removed from it; it places high value on evangelism; it looks at tradition and seeks to build a faith that is rooted in the past while still being relevant to the present.
  • Referring specifically to McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy and Chalke’s The Lost Message of Jesus, Carson says: “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel. Perhaps their rhetoric and enthusiasm have led them astray and they will prove willing to reconsider their published judgments on these matters and embrace biblical truth more holistically than they have been doing in their most recent works. But if not, I cannot see how their own words constitute anything less than a drift toward abandoning the gospel itself.” (p.186-7)
  • If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you can also read summaries and reviews on the Internet: Summaries and reviews on AmazonShort summary and review by Paul Alexander or do your own Google search.

Faith Undone, by Roger Oakland of Understanding the Times International

  • This book, published by Lighthouse Trails Publishing, aims to expose the dangers of the Emerging Church movement from a Biblical perspective, including its retreat to Roman Catholicism with its ancient rituals and practices, contemplative spirituality and mysticism and its unbiblical view of Hell, the Atonement, missions, evangelism and prophecy.  It also identifies some key leaders of the Emerging Church movement
  • The book is helpful for normal folks to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, but Walt Henrichsen does not personally feel comfortable with one of Oakland’s ideas that people are guilty by association.  He also doesn’t seem to like Oakland’s exposé (逸聞) style.

Internet Articles and News About the Emerging Church

Lighthouse Trails Research Project

Understanding the Times – An international missionary outreach founded by Roger Oakland in 1990 and dedicated to evangelizing the lost and equipping the church for discernment (especially to expose the Emerging Church)

Congdon Ministries Int’l, Inc., led by Dr. Rob Congdon, who speaks regularly about the European Union and the Emerging Church on Prophecy Today and in churches across the U.S.

Audio About the Emerging Church

Prophecy Today

Understanding the Times

  • Founded by Roger Oakland in 1990
  • Has daily 5-minute radio programs

Dr. John MacArthur on YouTube

Video About the Emerging Church

Questions and Answers about the New Emergent Church

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