candle in hands

a maze

Emerging Church/New Spirituality: Part1 (General introduction)

Purpose

The purpose of this series of articles is fivefold:

i    Firstly, to address the beliefs and practices of the Emerging or Emergent Church (these terms are interchangeable).

ii   Secondly, to show that the extreme liberal edge of the Emerging Church has been influenced and shaped by adherence to the Postmodern worldview, Eastern forms of mystical spirituality and religious paganism.  As a result it has become aligned with the one world religion of tolerance (the so-called New Spirituality) and is no longer worthy of the name Christian.  See Part 3 of this series for more on Postmodernism and Part 5 for more on Mysticism.

iii  Thirdly, to show that mainstream Christianity (including the Evangelical wing of the church) is being affected by this movement.  The majority of evangelical Christians remain largely unaware of how deeply the ideas and practices of the liberal Emerging Church are penetrating the church at large.  According to Matthew 24:4-5, deception will be a major sign before the return of Jesus.

iv  Fourthly, to bring these issues to the attention of the church at large to prevent further deception taking place (Ezekiel 3:17-19; Matthew 24:10-11).  We believe that we have everything we need to avoid such deception.  The Holy Spirit is a wonderful guide who leads us into all truth.  The Bible is a lamp to navigate by.  The faithful bride (the Church) comes to our aid and Jesus is forever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

So whilst we need not fear deception, we will do well to remember that 'Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light' (2 Cor 11:14).  Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against he rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

v   Fifthly and finally, in the hope that should emergents caught up in this deception read this series of articles, that they will hear the Lord through what is written and turn away from this diabolical path.  Like many emergents, we too look for meaningful ways to reach the Postmodern generation, we long to experience more of God, wish to be fully authentic and reject religiosity with a passion.  However, we have reached very different conclusions in our search for these things.

The Lord takes no pleasure in seeing his body the Church become apostate and neither do we.  It is with great sadness that we have felt the need to embark on this project at all.  We long to see a pure and holy bride, and our prayer is that this work in some way might be of service to this end.          

This series of articles is of necessity a ‘snapshot in time’ and ‘a work in progress.’  The landscape of the liberal Emerging Church changes day by day as we shall show.  This series can be read in conjunction with the Emerging Church/New Spirituality teaching notes to be found at Downloads on the Home Page.

Introduction

The Emerging Church believes it has the spiritual answer for the 21st century.  The extreme liberal edge of this movement suggests we ditch orthodox Christianity in favour of a new spirituality more acceptable to the postmodern culture in which we live.

But what exactly is the Emerging Church?  This isn't an easy question to answer.  In fact, trying to get a handle on the Emerging Church is a bit like ‘trying to catch smoke.’  All we have to go on are the books, CDs, DVDs and websites of the main leaders.  No one claims to speak for the movement as a whole and it has no defined shape or set boundaries.  There’s no headquarters from which we can seek advice.

Emergent Conversation

The Emerging Church doesn't even like to be called a 'movement,' but prefers to be known as the 'Emergent Conversation' or the 'New Spirituality.'  It comprises an informal affiliation of individuals, churches, communities and minisries who engage in an on-going ‘conversation’ with the aim, amongst other things, of finding a faith or religion that is more acceptable to a postmodern culture.  The liberal edge of the Emerging Church also seeks to revamp how we access and think about 'truth.'  It endeavours to keep the Christian message pliable and ambiguous; the conversation tends to be intellectual, deeply philosophical, vague and mystical. 

Protest movement

At one level it could simply be said to be a protest movement against some unhelpful aspects of Evangelical fundamentalism ('holier than thou' attitude and aspects of legalism, for example) and the Modern worldviewSome however believe that the liberal edge of the Emerging Church has a more disturbing agenda related to redefining Christianity to make it not only more acceptable to Postmoderns, but so that it can also sucessfully merge with the one world religion of inclusiveness and tolerance - the so-called New Pagan Spirituality - actually, it's not new, it's 'as old as the hills' as we shall go on to see.  See Part 4 of this series for more on the New Spirituality

Different things to different people

And so the Emerging Church means different things to different people.  There’s no one set of beliefs and practice you have to adhere to in order to engage in the ‘conversation.’  You simply bring your own experience, beliefs, ideologies, philosophies, practice, ideas and ‘your truth,’ to the table and you’ll be welcomed.  This is what makes it so attractive to the postmodern generation which despises any notion of absolute truth – it’s ‘pick and mix’ spirituality.  Everyone can do and believe whatever 'feels' good to them.

A new spiritual era

Some within the liberal edge of the Emerging Church believe that every five hundred years a structural shift takes place in Christianity and a new spiritual era is born.  The last, according to this view, was the Reformation in the 16th century when Luther challenged Papal authority.  They claim that a new spirituality is now emerging that will shape the church of the future.  Many supporters therefore herald the Emerging Church as a ‘new Reformation.’  Its critics, however, see the more extreme beliefs and practices embraced by some within the liberal Emerging Church as a redefining of Christianity and a ‘different Gospel’ altogether (Galatians 1:6-7).

A diverse movement

What can be said with certainty is that it's a diverse movement.  Some within the Emerging Church could still be described as mainstream Christian evangelicals.  This group simply want to find ways to make the church more accessible to Postmodernists and they’re not trying to change the Gospel in any way.  But at the other end of the spectrum you have the main leaders of the movement such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Steve Chalke, who are redefining Christianity and no longer hold to traditional orthodox views.

When pressed for a definitive view on any topic related to faith, this latter group refuse to use the language of certainty, preferring to use terms like 'narrative,' 'journey,' 'mystery,' 'shape' and 'progress.'  They happily embrace ambiguity and reject all forms of propositional truth as a basis for faith.  On contentious issues like homosexuality or whether or not hell is real, they avoid giving direct answers.  One is reminded of the chameleon - masters of disguise, changing colour depending on what they’re talking about and who they’re talking to.

Speaking about this group within the Emerging Church, John MacArthur in his book 'The Truth War,' says:

Certain avant-garde evangelicals sometimes act as if the demise of certainty is a dramatic new intellectual development, rather than seeing it for what it really is: an echo of the old unbelief.  It is unbelief cloaked in a religious disguise and seeking legitimacy as if it were merely a humbler kind of faith.

Even amongst these liberal leaders there are differences in terms of practice and priorities.  Some focus on saving the planet and look to establish a utopia on earth - a new world order.  Some engage with pagans and New Agers looking to establish a universal religion of inclusiveness and tolerance - a one world religion. Some engage with Catholic and Eastern mysticism and seek to find ‘the god within.’  They chase after mystical spiritual experiences that make them feel good and, they believe, puts them more in touch with God.

Some focus solely on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teaching and promote left-wing social justice issues and works of compassion whilst largely ignoring personal salvation.  Some engage with the Gnostic Jesus, and so on and so on.  It can also be a mixture of any of these.  See Part 2 of this series for more on the different groups within the Emerging Church.

General qualifications

As we explore the ideas, beliefs and practices of the main liberal leaders of the Emerging Church (particularly those involved in the Emergent Village and those who relate closely to them), we'll not attempt to qualify every assertion we make to the effect that ‘this does not apply to everyone within the Emerging Church,’ and would ask you to take this as read.  However, since they’re generally reluctant to criticise each others views, and in the main support each other, we think it’s fair to paint them with a fairly broad brush stroke, even if to them it may at times seem like ‘guilt by association.’

Retaining the name Christian

It should be noted that they all continue to describe themselves as Christians even though many have clearly embraced theological heresy.  They generally present themselves as evangelicals, profess loyalty to Jesus and claim to teach about the Kingdom of God.  However, they deliberately give different meanings to words in common usage amongst evangelicals to hide their real beliefs.  For example, in the book ‘An Emergent Manifesto of Hope’ by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, one emergent, referring to the Kingdom of God, says:

Is our religion the only one that understands the true meaning of life?  Or does God place his truth in others too? . . . The gospel is not our gospel, but the gospel of the kingdom of God, and what belongs to the kingdom of God cannot be hijacked by Christianity.

Doug Pagitt, in an interview with MPR News (Nov 2006), says:

I have a number of friends who really like the phrase evangelical Christian and want to keep it, but they’re working very hard to get it back from the conservative definition of it . . .They want the evangelical impulse to care about the environment, to care about people, to be politically progressive, to be theologically progressive, and they feel like that really represents the evangelical expression.

Sadly, many sincere and devout Christian evangelicals are naively embracing the new ‘tolerant and all-inclusive’ spirituality on offer, seeing it as more acceptable to the postmodern generation.  Even God has been made to look more tolerant and acceptable by clearing him of any responsibility of suggesting the notion of hell and judgment!

Experience is all the rage

Truth based on experience is all the rage amongst emergents.  Truth, that is, no longer based on the Scriptures or processed by the mind.   In our view this is dangerous.  The Bible says:

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

Opposed to Christian Evangelical Fundamentalism

The liberal Emerging Church is opposed to all forms of evangelical fundamentalism.  Rather than use the term theists (orthodox Christians who believe God is separate from his creation) to describe those they see as their opponents, they use the loaded and provocative term 'fundamentalists.'  Because orthodox Christians claim to have exclusive truth they are seen by liberal emergents as the major obstacle to the religious and social harmony of the planet and a global unified religious syncretism.

They criticise Christians who take the Bible literally, who believe that we're living in the last days, who are pro-Israel, who study End-Time prophecy, who believe homosexuality is wrong and who believe in penal substitution, hell and judgement.  Rick Warren (a key leader associated with the Emerging Church), in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2006, likens Christian fundamentalism to ‘Islamic terrorism,’ calling it 'one of the biggest enemies of the 21st century.'

Liberal emergents stereotype the evangelical church as being heartless, right-wing, introverted, inflexible, fundamentalist, wedded to violence in theology and politics and of holding beliefs and practices that are judgemental, narrow, intolerant, exclusive, outdated, irrelevant to the under 25’s, politically incorrect and bigoted.

They also typecast the gospel message presented by the evangelical church as all about going to heaven and nothing about changing the world for the better now.  Blaming evangelical fundamentalists for everything that goes wrong in the world is the favourite pastime of secular humanists, Eastern mystics, neo-pagans and the liberal wing of the Emerging Church.  The liberal Emerging Church see little wrong with the Postmodern culture and everything wrong with the evangelical church.

According to D A Carson in his book 'Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church,' many of the best known emergent leaders were members of conservative, fundamentalist churches in their early years.  One can only assume that the churches they attended neglected the social and environmental dimensions to the Gospel, were lukewarm, doctrinally rigid, fearful to engage with culture, judgemental, inflexible, outdated, old-school, non-charismatic and humourless.

The birth of the 'Religious Left'

By their own admission, many within the liberal Emerging Church are politically leftist, social justice activists, ecologists, interfaith supporters, vegetarians, humanists, greens, environmentalists, pacifists, anti-industrialists, anti-colonialists, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, socialists, democrats, etc., and in our view this inevitably colours the way they view evangelicals and the so-called Christian Right.

Dr Peter Jones in his book ‘Spirit Wars,’ describes this movement as the ‘birth of the religious left.’  He says the religious left has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of earlier liberalism, and that:

The religious left wants the label of demonising bigotry stuck on anyone who does not buy into their worldview.

Simplistic, biased and irrationally intolerant

We believe the liberal Emerging Church's general critique of evangelical fundamentalism is overall simplistic, biased and intolerant.  They refuse to acknowledge that evangelical fundamentalists helped the poor and shed their blood around the earth as they took not only the Gospel, but schools, hospitals, railways, business ethics, fairness and political democracy to the Third World.  They also bravely defended God’s transcendence against earlier liberals.

Whilst we'd not deny or defend the excesses, and at times the downright bigotry, of certain classes of fundamentalists, we'd suggest that the five basic principles that define genuine biblical fundamentalism are accepted by the majority of genuine born again believers - a belief in:

*    The inerrancy of scripture (infallibility in the original language)
*    The virgin birth of Christ
*    Christ's substitutionary atonement (Jesus died in our place)
*    Christ's bodily resurrection
*    The authenticity of the miracles

Secret mystery tour

These charismatic, intelligent and persuasive leaders within the liberal edge of the Emerging Church are taking many young and biblically uninformed Christians on something akin to a 'secret mystery tour,' during which they drip-feed unbiblical ideas.  Their message is packaged to appeal to young people as an authentic, radical, humble and new interpretation of Christianity.

Development of ideas

There's been a progression in the development of liberal emergents ideas, beliefs and practice over the years.  What may have begun for many as a genuine questioning and searching after truth has evolved into something very different.  They say and do things today which they wouldn't have risked 10 to 15 years ago.  Unfortunately their followers are swallowing their deception, bit by bit, rather like a frog drowning in water which gradually gets hotter until it boils.  Yesterday’s half truths have now become today’s accepted norms on which further deception can be built in order to move it on to the next level.

Many reading this series of articles will have read emergent books and watched emergent DVDs over the years without fully understanding their 'hidden and veiled' content and intent.  Thousands, for example, have read Rob Bell’s books and watched his Nooma DVD series.  He’s one of the key leaders in the liberal Emerging Church and has recently indicated that he is a Universalist - he believes that all roads lead to God and everybody gets saved at the end of the day, whether or not they believe in Jesus.

Apostate/influence spreading

The liberal leaders within the Emerging Church, in our opinion, have become apostate - they no longer believe in the true gospel or follow the Jesus of Scripture.  They are theologically unorthodox and heretical.  And yet they are having increasing influence in the church worldwide and drawing many evangelical Christians into their deception.

The Emerging Church is found today in many parts of the world, including North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa.  Interestingly, it tends to be largely white and middle-class.  Here in the UK the most prominent emergent leader, Brian McLaren, has taught (or been promoted by) the Evangelical Aliance, CMS, CWR, the Lambeth Conference, Spring Harvest, Oasis, Fresh Expressions, Church Army, Youth for Christ and parts of the Vineyard.  Many Bible colleges and seminaries are also beginning to refashion their teaching along emergent lines.

Concerns expressed by church leaders

At the same time there are growing numbers within the church, including us here at Christian Spectrum, beginning to express concern regarding the liberal Emerging Church.  The following brief comments are an example of this.  Mark Driscoll, in discussing his former involvement with the apostate edge of the Emerging Church, says:

In the mid-1990s I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church and spent some time travelling the country to speak on the emerging church in the emerging culture on a team put together by Leadership Network called the Young Leader Network.

But, I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me.  Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake. . . . At best it’s new liberalism.  At worst it could be cultish and going in a completely new religious direction.

Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas believes the liberal leading edge of the Emerging Church is the forerunner to the One World Religious system spoken about in the book of Revelation.  He has called the views expressed by liberal emergents as a ‘doctrine of demons.’

Dr Sam Storms, 'Enjoying God Ministries' and former Visiting Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, who has ministered here at Immanuel Community, says:

My fear is that some, perhaps many, who are enamoured with the Emergent conversation simply haven’t wrestled with the far-reaching implications of (emergent leader Brian) McLaren’s theological convictions.

Biblical inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, the existence of a personal devil, and the reality of eternal conscious punishment all come under criticism (if not outright denial) in his published works.  He appears to embrace an evolutionary framework to account for the natural order, declines to identify homosexuality as sin or non-Christian religions as idolatry, and speaks approvingly of an exclusivist view on whether or not one must consciously believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

None of these leaders could be considered heresy hunters or conspiracy theorists.  They are thoughtful, mainstream, charismatic, evangelical theologians expressing genuine concerns that, in our view, are worthy of consideration.

Exchanged the truth of God for a lie

As we shall go on to see, Judaeo-Christian values, the uniqueness of Christ, the cross/penal substitution, the reality of hell and judgment are abandoned by the extreme wing of the Emerging Church in favour of such things as spiritual experience, ecumenism, pagan syncretism/pluralism, religious tolerance, creation worship, social justice, interfaith and Eastern mystical practices like yoga, Transcendental Meditation and technique-driven meditation and Contemplative Prayer.  In the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome: ‘they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie’ (Rom 1:25).

Eight reasons why we shouldn't embrace the 'new spiritual way'

The liberal leaders within the Emerging Church encourage evangelical Christians to renounce what they describe as ‘dry fundamental evangelicalism’ in order to embrace a ‘new spiritual way.’  We now suggest eight reasons why this is not such a good idea and give quotes (not exhaustive incidentally) by key emergent leaders, since we feel it best that they 'speak for themselves':

i    The new spiritual way includes embracing a new religion and denying the true Gospel

Tony Jones, a leading liberal emergent, in his book ‘A New Theology for a New World,’ says:

We do not think this (Emerging Church Movement) is about changing your worship service.  We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff.  This is actually about changing theology.  This is about our belief that theology changes.  The message of the gospel changes.  It’s not just the method that changes.

ii   The new spiritual way means renouncing the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to the Father and an acceptance that all roads lead to God - Universalism

Universalism is gaining a hold within the liberal Emerging Church.  Spencer Burke in his book 'A Heretics Guide to Eternity,' says:

I don’t believe any single religion owns heaven or God - even a religion that tries to include everyone.  When I say I'm a universalist, what I really mean is that I don't believe you have to convert to any particular religion to find God.  As I see it, God finds us, and it has nothing to do with subscribing to any particular religious view . . . Universalism says that a theology of grace implies salvation for all, because if grace could be limited to some people and not to others, . . . it is in fact no grace at all . . . grace is bigger than any religion.

In his book 'The Last Word and the Word After That,' Brian McLaren says:

Universalism is not as bankrupt of biblical support as some suggest.

In ‘A New Kind of Christian,’ he says:

The news that the Christian message is universally good news for Christians and non-Christians alike is, to some, unheard of, strange, and perhaps heretical.  To me it has become natural and obvious.

Rob Bell’s latest book ‘Love Wins,’ has caused great controversy since it suggests that he has become a Universalist.  Dan Kimball, in his book, ‘The Emerging Church,’ says:

In a post-Christian world pluralism is the norm.  Buddhism, Wicca, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or an eclectic blend – it’s all part of the soil.

Alan Jones, in his book, Reimagining Christianity,’ says:

The image of the child Jesus sitting on the Buddha's lap appeals to me . . . It is an image of the Kingdom.  ‘The Kingdom’ is a sort of shorthand signifying an inclusive community of faith, love and justice.

McLaren, in his book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy,’ says:

For too many people the name Jesus has become a symbol of exclusion, as if Jesus’ statement ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me’ actually means ‘I am in the way of people seeking truth and life.  I won’t let anyone get to God unless he comes through me . . . The name Jesus has too often become a symbol of elitism, exclusivity, and aggression.

In the same book he says:

I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion.  It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.

This bears no relationship to Christian orthodoxy or to the practice of the New Testament Church.  The Postmodern liberal Emerging Church does not believe in the superiority of either Western culture or Christianity as a religion.  To liberal emergents, all beliefs are equally valid.  In his book ‘The Church on the Other Side,' McLaren says:

The church must present the Christian faith not as one religious army at war against all other religious armies but as one of many religious armies fighting against evil, falsehood, destruction, darkness and injustice.

In his book 'Quantum Spirituality,' Leonard Sweet says:

One can be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ without denying the flickers of the sacred in followers of Yahweh, or Kali, or Krishna.

It is clear that the walls that once separated biblical Christianity from pagan religious belief systems are slowly being dismantled by the liberal Emerging Church.  In claiming that all beliefs are valid they refuse to acknowledge if any is more evil or idolatrous.  In his book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy,’ McLaren says:

Ultimately, I hope Jesus will save Buddhism, Islam and every other religion, including the Christian religion, which often seems to need saving about as much as any other religion does.

He also says:

I don’t hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion.  But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus.

In a study on John 14:6 he says:

No one comes to the Father except through me?  Clearly, taken in context, these words are not intended as an insult to followers of Muhammad, the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Enlightenment rationalism, or anybody or anything else. 

iii  The new spiritual way means embracing Postmodernism hook, line and sinker, including its view of the Bible

McLaren, in his book, ‘The Church on the Other Side,’ says:

But for me . . . opposing it (Postmodernism) is as futile as opposing the English language.  It’s here.  It’s reality.  It’s the future.  It’s the way my generation processes every other fact on the event horizon . .

Postmodernism is the intellectual boundary between the old world and the other side.  Why is it so important?  Because when your view of truth is changed, when your confidence in the human ability to know truth in any objective way is revolutionised, then everything changes.  That includes theology . . .

In embracing postmodernism, the liberal Emerging Church rejects creed-based identity, propositional statements, proof texts and doctrine for what they imply is a spirituality-based identity founded on experience.

As we shall go on to see in Part 3 of this series, the Postmodern worldview, embraced by the liberal Emerging Church, does not regard the Bible as God-breathed, authoritative, inerrant, infallible, able to declare who God is or to reveal his message to humanity.  It believes that objective knowledge is neither attainable nor desirable and this results in a low view of the Bible.  Some within the liberal Emerging Church refer to the Bible as simply another ‘conversation partner.’

Marcus Borg is a lecturer and the author of several books, some of which are 'Jesus and Buddha,' 'The God We Never Knew,' and 'Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking The Bible Seriously But Not Literally.'  While most would not consider him an emerging church leader, his thinking has greatly influenced the movement and its leaders, particularly McLaren and Bell.

Borg is a key player in the emerging ‘new paradigm’ of Christian faith - the New Spirituality.  He explains in his book ‘The God We Never Knew,’ that his views on God, the Bible, and Christianity were transformed while he was in seminary:

I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product.  I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity.  As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God.… I realised that whatever ‘divine revelation’ and the ‘inspiration of the Bible’ meant (if they meant anything), they did not mean that the Bible was a divine product with divine authority.

This view, sadly, is typical of the liberal Emerging Church.

iv  The new spiritual way means we will have to remove the centrality of the cross, the notion of penal substitution, judgment and hell from our message

Roger Oakland (Lighthouse Trails Research & Publishing) rightly says:

The heart and core of the Christian faith is based upon Jesus Christ’s shed blood at Calvary as the only acceptable substitutionary atonement for mankind’s sins.  The Gospel message requires this foundation . . . Satan hates the Gospel message.  He understands what the Gospel means, and his agenda is to deceive mankind from understanding and believing so they can suffer eternally with him.  While Scripture is very clear about the necessity of Christ’s death in order for us to be saved, some believe this would make God a blood-thirsty barbarian.  Embedded within the structure of the emerging church is just such a belief.

Many, like McLaren, Alan Jones and Steve Chalke reject penal substitution i.e. that the death of Jesus was dying in the place of sinners, averting the wrath of a righteous God (1 John 2:1-2; Romans 3:25).  They describe this notion as a form of ‘cosmic child abuse.’  McLaren in his book ‘The Story We Find Ourselves In,’ says:

If God wants to forgive us, why doesn't he just do it?  How does punishing an innocent person make things better?  That just sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation.  It sounds like divine child abuse.

Steve Chalke also describes penal substitution as ‘comic child abuse.’  In his book ‘The Lost Message of Jesus,’ he says:

The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed . . this is a twisted version of events which is morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith . . . If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil.

Alan Jones in his book ‘Reimagining Christianity,’ says:

The church's fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be re-imagined in Christian faith.  Why?  Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.

Many within the liberal Emerging Church also reject the concept of hell and judgement.  Maybe in part this results from their leaning towards pacifism.  They believe that man is basically good and so they have little regard for the abhorrence of human sin, guilt, idolatry, shame and the certainty and righteousness of judgment.

During an interview McLaren said:

This is one of the huge problems with the traditional understanding of hell . . . the Kingdom of God doesn't come like the kingdoms of this world by inflicting violence and coercing people.  But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing voluntary sacrifice - right?  But in an ironic way the doctrine of hell basically says no, that's not really true.  At the end God gets his way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination just like every other kingdom does.  The cross isn't the centre then, the cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.

He goes on:

The view of God as vengeful torturer . . . has played a role, I believe, in horrible behavior on the part of Western Christians . . . if we can identify some people as God’s enemies, hated by God for all eternity, we can find ourselves directly disobeying Jesus’ clear teachings about loving our neighbours and our enemies.

In his book ‘Everything Must Change,’ he says:

The eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we've said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.

In his book 'Velvet Elvis,' Bell says:

For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities.  Ways of living we can enter into here and now.  He talked very little of the life beyond this one.

The advert for Rob Bell’s latest book ‘Love Wins’ reads as follows:

‘. . . Love Wins’ is about a deep secret of faith for millions of Christians.  The secret is that Christians essentially don’t believe what they have been taught about their faith, but for tradition they keep quiet and confide in close friends and family their doubts and questions about salvation regarding Jesus – The only way?  And God - Is God violent?  Are billions of people going to be punished forever in torment in hell? . . .

Rob Bell answers such questions and beliefs that concern people of all viewpoints, Christian and not.  Bell draws a vibrant understanding of faith and Christianity in today’s society as Jesus would have wanted it to be, rather than its typical stereotyped view by fundamentalist Christians and the new atheist in recent years.

Spencer Burke in his book 'A Heretics Guide to Eternity,' says:

Because of an overdeveloped sense of both heaven and hell, many people’s theology almost obsesses with our afterlife destination.  Christianity is all about getting saved from sin and saved from hell, the punishment for sin.  But this is a distortion, or at least a reduction, of the Bible’s notion of salvation.  The idea of salvation in the Bible encompasses many ideas, including things like bondage and liberation, separation and reconciliation.  What it doesn't mean is 'saved from hell' or 'get eternal life when you die.'  When Jesus said to Zacchaeus the tax collector, 'Today salvation has come to this house,' I am not sure he meant that Zacchaeus was guaranteed a spot in heaven.

McLaren in his book ‘The Last Word and the Word After That,' says:

The conventional doctrine of hell has too often engendered a view of a deity who suffers from a borderline personality disorder or some worse sociopathic diagnosis . . . The language of hell is not intended to provide literal or detailed fortune-telling or prognostication about the hereafter.

We should consider the possibility that many, and perhaps even all of Jesus’ hell-fire or end-of-the-universe statements refer not to post-mortem (after death) judgement but to the very historic consequences of rejecting his kingdom message of reconciliation and peacemaking.  The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 67-70 seems to many people to fulfil much of what we have traditionally understood as hell.

The liberal Emerging Church majors on God’s love, but says little about God’s wrath, his holiness, sovereignty and power.  It shies away from divine judgement, the wrath of God, human depravity, the necessity of new birth, etc.

Whilst the clarity and sufficiency of the Bible, the utter sinfulness of humanity and the justice of God to judge and condemn sinners have been the convictions of every major strain of historic Christianity, the liberal Emerging Church remodels 'God's truth' to make it more personally palatable. 

v   The new spiritual way will mean that we will find ourselves in conflict with those who serve God faithfully and who hold to the truth as revealed through the Bible - evangelicals who take God's revelation at face value

I've referred to Rick Warren's view earlier.  Dan Kimball in his book ‘They Like Jesus But Not The Church,’ refers to them as:

 People who are always saying negative things about the world, are anti-gay, take the whole Bible literally, are card-carrying Republicans, are pro-Israel, read end-time novels, and endorse snake-handling and fire-and-brimstone preaching . . . people who credit God as using natural disasters to punish people for sin and who use Christian jargon and are arrogant and unloving towards anyone but themselves.

vi   The new spiritual way will mean we will have to water down the moral teachings of scripture

On the issue of homosexuality for example, Tony Jones in an Online source says:

I now believe that GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexuals, Transgender, and Queers) can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (as least as much as any of us can!), and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.

McLaren in ‘Out of Ur,’ says:

Frankly, many of us don’t know what we should think about homosexuality.  We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say ‘it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us.’...Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements.

vii  The new spiritual way will mean that we will have to embrace ancient practices, including Eastern mysticism.  We'll be encouraged to chase after mind altering mystical spiritual experiences through techniques borrowed from Hinduism, Buddhism and the Zen masters

Going back to the past to find experiences that will attract the postmodern generation is another trait of the liberal Emerging Church.  They question the power of human reason in favour of acquainting themselves with ancient ideas, rituals and mystical experiences.

The liberal Emerging Church suggests that the Bible needs to be supplemented by the teachings of spiritual mystics from the past - people such as Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila and numerous others - all of whom incidentally were Roman Catholic mystics.  Whilst there may be aspects in their lives and teachings we can benefit from, we must stay alert for deception that will take us into pluralism and pantheism.

The Emerging Church offers an eclectic use of traditions in worship including, symbols, candles, liturgy, icons, conversations (sharing their personal stories), reflection, technique-driven meditation and Contemplative Prayer and the use of the labyrinth.  Increasingly they embrace unhelpful and potentially dangerous aspects of Roman Catholicism, New Age, Eastern religions and paganism.

Another aspect of Roman Catholicism popular with some within the liberal Emerging Church is Eucharistic adoration.  The Eucharist is believed to be transformed into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation), and can then be worshipped as if worshipping Jesus himself.  In the mystical experience of adoration of the Eucharist, salvation becomes solely sacramental and the ritual itself a form of idolatry.

‘Rekindling amazement’ for the Eucharist is an explicit aim of the current Pope, who suggests that praying to Mary would help all Christians draw closer to the Eucharistic Christ.  He says:

Mary is the Eucharistic woman . . . Let us pray to the Virgin that all Christians may deepen their faith in the Eucharistic mystery, so that they live in constant communion with Jesus and are his valid witnesses.

Technique driven meditation and Contemplative Prayer is gaining popularity within the liberal Emerging Church.  See Part 5 of this series for more on this.  This enables the prayer to ‘centre down’ (i.e. reach God’s presence) by means of a labyrinth, prayer stations or by means of a mantra.  The labyrinth originated in early pagan societies and called for some sort of meditative practice in order to centre down.

Lauren Artress, canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is considered to be the modern-day catalyst for the labyrinth.  In her book 'Walking a Sacred Path,' she says:

The labyrinth is truly a tool for our times.  It can help us find our way through the bewildering multiplicity, to the unity of source.  The labyrinth is an evocative experience.  It provides the sacred space where the inner and outer worlds can commune, where the thinking mind and imaginative heart can flow together.  It can provide a space to listen to our inner voice of wisdom and come to grips with our role in humankind’s next evolutionary step . . . it gives us a glimpse of other realms and other ways of learning.

She also said that:

. . . the sacred geometry (of the labyrinth) is based on ancient, sacred knowledge

She sees the labyrinth as a way to connect with the ‘divine feminine.'  Whilst not part of the Emerging Church, she has a strong tie to it and her spirituality is similar.  Alan Jones, an emergent and the author of ‘Reimagining Christianity,’ is Artress’ pastoral overseer at Grace Cathedral.

It is reported that labyrinths are 4000 years old, originally dating back to the Bronze Age.  For a variety of reasons some were decorative and used to connect to pagan gods or goddesses, other uses were for phallic purposes according to O A Hall in his book 'Sex and Sex Worship.'

Technique-driven Contemplative Prayer is not biblical.  In order to have the ‘interior silence’ the mind has to be rid of thoughts and distractions and this is done through a hypnotic, repetitive practice.  Mystical prayer was initiated and endorsed by Roman Catholic monks, but while it is common to Eastern religion, it’s foreign to Scripture.  Blanking out one’s mind to arrive at a meditative state has long been practised by pagans as a means of contacting the spirit world.

Ray Yungen in his book ‘A Time of Departing,’ says:

While certain instances in the Bible describe mystical experiences, I see no evidence anywhere of God sanctioning man-initiated mysticism.  Legitimate mystical experiences were always initiated by God to certain individuals for certain revelations and were never based on a method for the altering of consciousness.

These practices have been encouraged by many Christian writers in recent years, including Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen.

In their book ‘Finding Grace at the Centre,’ Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington give the following advice:

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and ‘capture’ it for Christ.  Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible.

Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences.

Thomas Merton, quoted in the book, ‘Merton and Sufism,’ by Baker and Henry, says:

Asia, Zen, Islam, etc, all these things come together in my life . . . I believe that by openness to Buddhism and to Hinduism and to the great Asian mystical traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of understanding the potentiality of our own Christian traditions . . . I am deeply impregnated with Sufism.

Of the Islamic Sufist Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi, Merton says:

One of the greatest religious figures of this century . . . He was so perfectly right in his spirituality . . . Certainly a great saint and a man full of the Holy Spirit . . . With Shaikh Ahmad I speak the same language.

He came to believe that the realm reached during meditation is the same no matter what religion you follow.  Brian C Taylor, in his book ‘Setting the Gospel Free,’ says:

The God he (Thomas Merton) knew in prayer was the same experience that Buddhists describe in their enlightenment.

Richard Foster believes that Merton’s contribution to modern day spirituality may surpass anyone else’s and that even Zen masters from Asia saw him as an authority on meditative prayer.

Ritualistic drumming is gaining in popularity in some parts of the liberal Emerging Church and in the postmodern religious scene generally.  Shamanistic drumming is a way to enter a mystical altered state of consciousness and drumming, according to its proponents, is a doorway for ecumenical harmony.

In a blog on 'Lighthouse Trails Research & Publishing' Yungen says:

It is essential to see that although Merton and his proponents have an apparent devotion to God and a strong commitment to moral integrity, they have attempted to marry biblical principals to a mysticism that is, through some of the Desert Fathers, derived from Eastern religions.

It is clear that the liberal Emerging Church is slowly but surely moving toward paganism (pre-Judeao-Christian religion; usually polytheistic in nature).  It no longer holds to orthodox, biblical Christianity.  It reinvents Christianity so that it appeals to their personal tastes and to postmodernists generally.  Yoga is practiced by some.  Others, in exploring Roman Catholic mysticism, flirt with Mary and goddess worship (worship of the Queen of Heaven).  New Age philosophy and practices have also been embraced.

M Scott Peck, in his book ‘Further Along The Road Less Travelled,’ says:

Zen Buddhism should be taught in every fifth grade class in America . . . Christianity’s greatest sin is to think that other religions are not saved.

Doug Pagitt in a CNN Primetime News interview, said:

Yoga can be a positive thing in our lives.

The mystical element (so-called ancient wisdom) embraced by almost all the leaders in the liberal Emerging Church seems to tap into inter-spirituality, panentheism and pantheism.  Martin Buber had panentheistic affinities since he embraced the teachings of Hasidism (Jewish mysticism).  He greatly influenced the Emerging Church.  In his book 'The Way of Man,' he said:

A divine spark lives in every being and thing.

He also said:

All men have access to God, but each man has a different access.

His inter-spiritual beliefs are clarified by his statement:

God does not say: ‘This way leads to me and that does not,’ but he says: ‘Whatever you do may be a way to me.’

In a blog on Lighthouse Trails Research & Publishing Yungen says:

The problem is that many well-intentioned people embrace the teachings of panentheism because it sounds so good.  It appears less bigoted on God’s part.  No one is left out - all are connected to God.  There is a great appeal in this message.  Nevertheless, the Bible does not teach a universal salvation for man.

By contrast, Jesus said:

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Yungen goes on to say:

Christ’s message is the polar opposite of these universalist teachings.  Many people (even Christians) today think only a few really bad people will be sent to hell.  But in Matthew, the words of Jesus make it clear that this just is not so.

viii The new spiritual way will mean that we will have to downplay the whole notion of the need for personal salvation (fallen man in need of a saviour) and focus instead on a humanistic agenda of social justice, works of compassion, reaching our full human potential and saving the planet, including a desire for global governance and religion

Jesus, the liberal Emerging Church argues, didn't come to deliver us from sin, but to help us reach our full potential as human beings.  They tell us that the death of Jesus on the cross was simply Jesus identifying with the suffering of the marginalised and oppressed.  Salvation is seen as having less to do with atoning for guilt and more to do with bringing the whole of creation back into harmony (shalom) with its creator.

This represents a major departure from orthodox Christian doctrine.  Scripture tells us that God’s righteous rule was vindicated and an inspirational example of love and self-sacrifice was provided when Jesus, as an expression of the incomparable love of God for sinners (Romans 5:8), voluntarily suffered the penal consequences of the law of God.  He died in our place, the just for the unjust, bearing our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).  Anything less than this, we would contend, is not biblical.

Liberal emergents see man as basically good.  McLaren, in his book ‘The Secret Message of Jesus,’ says:

What if Jesus’ secret message reveals a secret plan? . . . What if he didn't come to start a new religion – but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?

He also says:

During his lifetime, Abraham - like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad - had an encounter with God that distinguished him from his contemporaries and propelled him into a mission, introducing a new way of life that changed the world . . . how appropriate that the three Abrahamic religions begin with a journey into the unknown.

We’re encouraged by McLaren not to ask people if they’re ready to meet God, but rather, what kind of person do they want to become in the next fifty years and what kind of world do they want to create.  Postmodernists believe that the Modern age brought the world to the brink of disaster.

A or Post-Millennial

The liberal Emerging Church is not waiting for the return of Jesus to establish his kingdom on the earth, but essentially seeking to turn our world into a 'Christian world' prior to his return.  Many emergents hold to an A-Millennial or Post-Millennial view of eschatology (the End-Times) and so their goal is to make the world a better place - where we reach our untapped potential, the oppressed are set free, the poor are no longer impoverished, the marginalised are brought in from the cold and the environment is cleaned up.

They believe that God is working out his plan for humanity in the here and now – his plan for peace, justice, reconciliation and compassion.  McLaren in his book 'Everything Must Change,' says:

The phrase ‘the Second Coming of Christ’ never actually appears in the Bible.  Whether or not the doctrine to which the phrase refers deserves rethinking, a popular abuse of it certainly needs to be named and rejected.

While political and economic leaders from around the world discuss social programmes to save the planet, the liberal Emerging Church believes an all-inclusive spiritual movement is the answer.  Peter Drucker (see Part 5 of this series for more on Druker's involvement with the Emerging Church), spoke of the political, economic and spiritual legs of society working synergistically so the world can be transformed into a peaceful and orderly society.

Rick Warren was mentored by Drucker and he believes that his 'Reformation Dream' (God's dream) will usher in a worldwide spiritual awakening and bring in the Utopian Kingdom of God through global co-operation for a common cause.  Warren's PEACE initiative, as it is known, seeks to raise one billion foot soldiers to implement it.  PEACE stands for: P = promoting reconciliation (changed in 2007 from planting churches); E = equip leaders; A = assist the poor; C = care for the sick and E = educate the next generation.  In essence it is a social justice plan to save the world.

From an interview with Charlie Rose, acclaimed interviewer and broadcast journalist, it’s clear that his army will be multi-faith.  Warren said:

There’s a man of peace in every village, in every government, in every business, in every church . . . When you find the man of peace, if he’s open and he’s willing to work with you, you bless him and you start your work there . . . The man of peace is open and influential . . . The man of peace does not have to be a Christian believer.  Could be a Muslim.  Could be Jewish.

In a blog on Lighthouse Trails Research & Publishing Oakland says:

When Jesus returns, he will not find a Utopian world filled with peace but one in shambles, unrest, violence and war for having forsaken the Word of God, the true Gospel and the one true God.  Rather than being a time when he will praise the world for discovering its Christ-consciousness, he will come as a judge and powerful king.

We agree!

Satan is not seen as a person by many within the liberal Emerging Church.  In the book 'The Story We Find Ourselves In,' McLaren sees Satan only as a:

. . . personification of evil, a horribly real metaphor for a terribly real force in the universe.

The liberal Emerging Church reinterpret conversion as 'joining a movement or conversation.'  It rejects notions of being ‘in’ or ‘out.'  In his book  ‘A Generous Orthodoxy,’ McLaren says:

Doesn't (emphasising) the very importance of my personal salvation pose a kind of temptation – to want heaven more than I want good; to want to escape hell more than I want reconciliation with my neighbours?

Steve Chalke in an Oasis Church information paper says:

The truth is that when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus . . . he was not using the term ‘born-again’ in the same sense we have come to do.  Jesus was simply saying that entering into God’s Kingdom or Shalom is about seeing the world differently and adopting his new agenda.

He also says:

For the vast majority of people outside the Church, the term (born again) has come to symbolise everything about Christianity they most despise and fear . . . a type of Christianity that is not only judgemental, bigoted, arrogant and narrow-minded but is also about a ‘them’ and ‘us’; ‘in’ or ‘out’, pharisaic approach to life.

In an ‘Out of Ur’ interview, McLaren says:

We obsess on ‘who’s in’ and ‘who’s out.’  Jesus, however, seems to be asking the question, ‘How can the kingdom of God more fully come on earth as it is in heaven.'

Eight reasons why we should not align ourselves with the 'new spiritual way.'  This concludes Part 1 of this series. 

Here at Christian Spectrum we believe we've reached a significant moment in history - what the Greeks refer to as a ‘kairos’ moment - the 'right or opportune moment for something to occur.'  And from our perspective it appears that the religion of tolerance spoken about in the Bible is taking shape.  Sadly, it appears the liberal Emerging Church is a key player in this deception.  So let us remain vigilant and prayerful.

Go to Part 2 in this series to read about the Emerging Church's motivation and to read Mark Driscoll's definition of the Emerging Church . . .

The Emerging Church Movement or ‘Conversation’, as its members prefer to call it, at one level could be said to be a protest movement against some unhelpful aspects of Evangelical fundamentalism ('holier than thou' attitude and aspects of legalism for example) and the Modern worldview

website designed and maintained by adept