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Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Response to "John Wesley and The Emerging Church"

This is the full text of a letter I sent to Preacher's Magazine concerning an article they printed by Hal Knight, entitled "John Wesley and The Emerging Church". The letter sent to the editor was an abridged version of this what is printed below. (End Notes will be added soon) To the Editor, My utter anguish was ever so slightly assuaged when I discovered that Hal Knight was not a Nazarene but rather a United Methodist. This fact renewed my hope, however feeble it may be, that our Denominational leaders have not “gone off the deep end”. Still, another fact remained; this article was published in a Nazarene publication. And so my anguish continues. Mr. Knight begins by claiming that the emerging churches’ vision of discipleship, church and mission is congruent with those of the Wesleyan tradition. He then attempts to prove that statement true to abysmal results. I first would ask Mr. Knight what is the emergent definition of discipleship, church and most importantly, mission? Definitions are of utmost importance when dealing with emergents as they have left no common word untwisted, unmodified or uncreated (as we shall see later). Coming up with answers to these questions is nearly impossible because of the decentralized nature of this movement but we certainly can arrive at what the definitions are not, if not what they are. Mr. Knight describes emergents as “deeply committed persons”. Committed to what, I wonder? Committed to Scripture? Committed to seeing lost souls saved? Committed to personal holiness? I would propose, none of the above. They are committed indeed, but to their own individual interpretations of Christianity. Mr. Knight also tries to equate this emergent movement with earlier “awakenings” such as the Wesleys were involved. Only, he forgets to point out a major difference. That being, in the past, reformations and awakenings drew the church back to Biblical truth, unlike this movement away from it. As Mr. Knight continues to characterize emergents, he states that “Pervasive rationalism…compromised mission” and “Individualism impoverished community.” In a Denomination such as the Church of the Nazarene, we find ourselves driven toward missions on every level and “impoverished community” would seem to be reserved for larger churches. However, I have been in large churches that had wonderful community. I think this statement is broad and over-reaching; therefore, it is unreliable as a foundation to reject an entire mindset and culture. Mr. Knight does manage to raise one concern about the movement, however oversimplified and generic it is, and then spends three paragraphs attempting to refute it though never actually addressing the issue at hand, the fact that the emerging church abandons truth and embrace relativism. Which is not surprising really, since it is a difficult endeavor to refute the truth. It is much easier to distract and confuse until everyone forgets what the refutation was about in the first place, which is precisely what Mr. Knight does. His first of four responses to this concern about emerging churches is remarkable. Mr. Knight asserts that “a commitment to truth does not necessitate a commitment to modernity or a rejection of post-modernism.” Yet, the opposite is true. A commitment to truth absolutely necessitates a rejection of post-modernism since post-moderns (emergents) whole heartedly reject truth or at least our ability to know it, which effectively eliminates truth, regardless of its existence. Mr. Knight’s second response is that “unorthodox” (i.e. heresy) may be needed for the “health of the church”. Since when has heresy been acceptable or healthy for the church to where it should be welcomed? How did the early church deal with heresy? They rejected it. Mr. Knight wants us to believe that the heresies found in the emerging church are somehow on the “fringe” but that the center of the movement is orthodox. This could not be further from the truth. The heretical “fringe” (or “unorthodox fringe” as Mr. Knight coins them) are not the fringe element at all. They are the leaders, the foundation, the inspiration and the driving force behind the emergent movement. And the few adherents to the emerging movement who still hold to some aspect of orthodoxy are far more inclined to dispense with sound Biblical doctrine than to address a heresy within their ranks. Continuing to his third point, Mr. Knight claims that “enlightenment rationalism is itself no guarantee of orthodoxy…” So what? This point does absolutely nothing to address the issue. Pointing out that heresy has existed at other times in church history is a non-point. Let’s address how the church dealt with heresy then compared to how the emerging church does so today. Let’s talk about the fact that heresy was never at the center of those prior movements while it is at the very core of the emerging church movement. Luther, Arminius, Calvin, Wesley all rejected heresy when it reared its ugly head. Emergents embrace it. Mr. Knight’s final response (or non-response) is an outright lie. He claims the emerging church has a “highly faithful appropriation of Christian tradition…” based on not much more than a couple emergent book subtitles. He lauds their “exult(ation) in traditional spiritual practices and imagery” and “respect for tradition”. But he fails to mention that their exultation of “imagery” is just that, an image. Images and traditions gutted of their very substance. What the emerging church practices is nothing more than ritual, ironically, the very thing they claim to detest in orthodox churches. From here, his last vain attempt to make us believe that emergents love truth as we do, Mr. Knight moves on to comparing supposed similarities between emergents and Wesley. The misrepresentations are vast and many. 1. Emerging churches “understand discipleship as ‘following closely and emulating the person and ministry of Jesus.’” Emerging churches have a complete disregard for doctrine and the prerequisite to discipleship, which is salvation. Does the above definition of discipleship reflect our Denominations’ definition or the Bible’s for that matter? Scripture and sound doctrine are the very foundation of discipleship. Neither of which are held with regard in emerging circles. 2. Emerging churches “seek to follow Jesus as Lord as well as trust Him as Savior.” Emerging churches disregard the need for a personal savior and view Jesus (even) if He is actually God) as nothing more than a model – certainly not a being to subject oneself to, certainly not Lord. 3. Emerging churches “announce…a promise of a world to come.” Now, I am assuming by the phrase “a world to come” he means Heaven, though I admit this might be a huge leap of faith on my part. He might be referring to the promise of a world to come without the oppression of Christianity and Capitalism, in which case, he would be right for once. But I am going with the first interpretation, in which case, he is wrong, again. Emergents not only ignore the promise of Heaven but ridicule those of us who mention it. In fact, the Christians’ focus on Heaven is one of the emergents biggest complaints, which Mr. Knight actually points out later on. He can’t have it both ways. 4. Emerging churches “understand the Gospel to encompass social transformation as well as personal salvation.” Where is this definition of the Gospel found in Scripture? The Biblical Gospel is very clear and simple, repentance and forgiveness of sins. Everything else, Entire Sanctification, Holiness, Love, comes from that starting point. Mr. Knight wants us to believe that Wesley held this same, unscriptural view of the Gospel. He states “John Wesley emphasized that salvation is ‘a present thing’ and entails not only forgiveness of sins but also the living of a new life.” Despite the fact that he mentions Wesley’s view of salvation not the Gospel which is what the discussion is about, it is an inaccurate representation of what Wesley taught concerning salvation. Wesley, in his comments referring to salvation being “a present thing” was delineating between a Scriptural view of salvation and one that stated salvation only truly occurred when one was glorified in Heaven. In other words – the forgiveness of and freedom from sin is not something merely to look forward to upon death but could be grasped immediately by the one repentant, thereby empowering the new Christian to a life of Holiness, Love and Service. This is right in line with Scripture, which tells us we are “saved to good works”. TO good works, not BY them, which is what emerging churches teach. The dirty little secret is that emerging churches preach a completely different gospel than that of Scripture – even Jesus Christ, whom they claim to so closely emulate. 5. Mr. Knight also claims that emerging churches are “rooted in Wesley’s vision of Holiness of heart and life.” Again, a falsehood of the highest degree. Emergents have an open disdain for personal Holiness (or “personal piety” as they call it). It is one point on which they dissolve often to verbal violence, hatred and vulgarity. Yet, this “personal piety” is exactly what Wesley is referring to when he speaks of Holiness of heart and life. Wesley’s point is that it must come from salvation by faith not be a means to salvation which was the contemporary mindset to which he was so opposed. Mr. Knight’s misrepresentation is unfortunate. He then comments that this “vision of Holiness of heart and life” has “never disappeared”. Which begs the question; why the need for an emerging movement? Why not just join with the people who have continued to hold true to this vision? Namely, the Nazarenes. I can answer the question. It is because the emerging church has changed the definition of Holiness and it is not what Wesley taught. It isn’t that the Nazarene Denomination has somehow wandered away from Wesleyan Holiness; rather it is that emerging churches do not teach Wesleyan Holiness – but some gutted, perverted shell of it, which hold resemblance in the spelling of the word only. Next, Mr. Knight references Dieter Zander who claims that “most church people have an understanding of the gospel something like this: Give a little, do a little, pay membership dues, get a “going to Heaven” ticket (through accepting the gospel)”. This statement doesn’t even make sense in and of itself. He said that people think the gospel is do X, do Y, do Z, and then accept the gospel. But he just finished saying the gospel was X, Y, Z yet on top of that one must accept the gospel which is do X, Y, Z. Nonsense. And it is nonsense that this is what most Christians believe. Just speaking from the perspective of the Nazarene Church (since that is my main concern here) we do not, nor have we ever taught a works based salvation. If anyone in our churches believed what is stated above then our leadership have gone terribly wrong somewhere. But I am more inclined to think that Mr. Knight ad Mr. Zander would be hard pressed to find even one person in our churches who believe what was stated, much less a majority. Ironically, though this quote is attempting to disparage nearly all current Christians for believing in a works based salvation, it is the emerging church itself which whole heartedly promotes a works based salvation. Strange. But I digress. Mr. Knight tries to connect Wesley’s view of contemporary churchmen with Zander’s fabricated view of current churchmen. However, amazingly, Wesley’s quote describes emergent churchmen far more accurately than it does Nazarenes! He describes a “religious man” who tries to live “honestly” and “fairly”, who is regularly at church involved in rituals, gives much and does good, in order to gain salvation. That’s an emergent if I have ever met one! Granted, there are people in our churches with the same mentality but it is not preached from our pulpits nor supported in our writings. Yet, it is exactly what is taught in the emerging churches. In fact, Mr. Knight inadvertently makes this case when he points out that the “only thing missing from Wesley’s account and Zander’s is the point about accepting the Gospel!” This inclusion by Zander is very telling about the emerging church. Acceptance of the Gospel (in this case meaning repentance and forgiveness of sins) is as abhorrent to them as is not giving enough, or not doing enough. Wesley’s point was that the contemporary religious man had no acceptance of the Gospel behind his good works. Zander includes acceptance of the Gospel as something of which to be ashamed. The two statements are not only incongruent but they couldn’t be more different! As Mr. Knight continues trying to compare Wesley with emergents, he comes to a central theme in the emerging churches, being missional. He describes emerging churches as “Pre-eminently missional”. I can’t help but wonder if that is what a church should be Biblically but that is a “conversation” for another time. Mr. Knight tries to equate emergents’ idea of God’s mission in the world and Wesley’s God-given mission for the Methodists. My questions are as follows; what is God’s mission in the world according to Scriptures? What do the emergents say their god’s mission is in the world? What was Wesley’s God-given mission for the Methodists? How do they compare? Wesley’s stated mission was to “spread Scriptural Holiness over the land.” “Scriptural Holiness” assumes two things; first, it is based in Scripture. Second, is salvation which is a pre-requisite to Holiness. Emergents’ mission is a little sketchy. I think that it is fair to say that it is to live as close to how their version of Jesus supposedly lived. Since they reject the authority of Scripture and only hold loosely to Jesus’ words, there is no need for this emulation to be based on Scripture. There is no pre-requisite of salvation either. God’s mission in the world, according to Scripture is to reconcile people to Himself by eliminating the thing separating people from Him, sin. This is accomplished through salvation – that is repentance and forgiveness of sin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wesley’s mission for the Methodists matches up well with Scripture and Jesus’ own description of the Gospel and the Great Commission. The emergents come nowhere close on any level. Mr. Knight says that emergents see all of the life as “potentially sacred”. I would say they see all of life as already sacred. He quotes Bolger and Gibbs as saying “for emerging churches, there are no longer any bad places, bad people or bad times…” this, I think, is a true description of emergent churches. If all is sacred and no one is “bad” then what need is there for salvation or the Cross? None. And they are not timid in saying so. Mr. Knight, then, strangely, militates against the concept of the “elect and the dammed (sic).” I say this is strange, as coming from a Wesleyan background, there is no such doctrine in the Methodist church or the Nazarene Church. Still, he feels the need to misrepresent once again, Wesley’s position by claiming that to Wesley, all people are in one category – sinners. Of course, everyone begins life in this state of being a sinner but Scripture and Wesley both make a distinction between regenerate and unregenerate persons. Regardless, Mr. Knight just got done telling us that for emergents there are no “bad people” and then he follows that with Wesley saying that everyone is sinful and wants us to somehow come to the conclusion that emergents and Wesley agree. Amazing. Even if what Mr. Knight says about Wesley were true, which it isn’t, that would effectively make Wesley incongruent with emerging churches – exactly the opposite of Mr. Knight’s point for writing this article in the first place! Mr. Knight continues with a series of statements that, if they were not so serious, would be laughable. He claims that, while leaders like Tony Jones travel the world explaining why the Bible has no authority, emergents “hold(ing) strongly to the authority and primacy of Scripture.” This is a bold face lie. He highlights their sacrilege of the Eucharist as “being very traditional” – though it is gutted of its meaning and purpose and often as far from “traditional” as one could imagine. So, again, an untrue statement. Now Mr. Knight takes on emergents' championed phrase, “generous orthodoxy,” which simply means anything goes, except orthodoxy, of course. He mentions that Wesley distinguished essential doctrines from opinions yet is remiss in leaving out that emergents hold no such list of essentials. He lists Wesley’s essentials as “The Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Authority of Scripture, Original Sin, Grace, Justification and Sanctification.” The only one of these that emergents may hold to is the Deity of Jesus and that I can say with no serious amount of certainty. He goes on to say that Wesley believed that “one could not be a Christian and have that life apart from belief in the essentials.” At this point I am not really sure where Mr. Knight is trying to go because he just proved that Wesley would not consider emergents as Christians at all. Maybe one can have too much education. Finally, we reach the end of this as Mr. Knight introduces some “emergebabble” that they are so known for. He brings up some convoluted argument about orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. Orthopraxy turns out to be a medical term referring to treatment of deformities by use of mechanics and “orthopathy” doesn’t seem to actually be a real word. At least I could find no reference to it outside of emergent circles where it was not clearly defined. But beyond this, he makes this statement which should be clear in its error to any Christian. He states: “our beliefs and hearts are shaped by our experience of serving God and our neighbor…” This is the heart of what is wrong with the emerging church. Beliefs are shaped by the shifting sands of experience not the solid rock of Scripture. A house built on sand will surely fall and this emerging house cannot fall soon enough! The end finally arrives with Mr. Knight saying that “generous orthodoxy must be not only generous, it must also be orthodox.” Finally, with this I can agree and again shake my head, wondering what the point of this whole exercise was. Mr. Knight set out to show the congruence of Wesleyan theology with emerging church ideals and in the end proves just the opposite. I am glad I could assist him in his endeavor. But, seriously, my concern about this article being printed in a Nazarene Publication is heart rending. If this cancer called the emerging church is allowed to infiltrate our denomination – the end of our church as we know it will come within the next decade. It was totally irresponsible for this to be allowed into print. I pray to God for better leadership in the future. In His Majesty’s Service, Nicholas Edinger

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Jared Henry said...

I think I share your distaste for the "emerging church."

However I have confidence that God's church can withstand yet another fad proclaimed under the banner of "the church" and "christianity."

You said: "If this cancer called the emerging church is allowed to infiltrate our denomination – the end of our church as we know it will come within the next decade."

Cancer? Probably.

But revival is usually preceded by a straying away from God's Word as "the source" and accompanied by a return to God's Word as God's... Word!

Enjoyed your blog. Will continue to read some of your older posts.

Nicholas said...

Thanks Jared!!

I, as you, do not fear the end of the Church or the end of God's Word...what I fear is the end of my Denomination's involvement in it and I in her. I am a Nazarene for reasons more than simply birth and I have no taste for leaving it or it leaving me. Thank you for the encouragement.


One-T said...

wow you post long blogs..ha...but i agree with this. and i too am a nazarene for other reasons than just birth....

Elizabeth B said...

Hi Nyk!
Came across your blog on Scot Kraemer's blog. Wanted to let you know that I fully agree with your position on the emergent church...Scary to see all of these movements infiltrating the church. But, I am heartened by the fact that God will always have a remnant of the faithful in every generation...
Elizabeth (Leno) Buck

Greg Arthur said...


I am a fellow Nazarene pastor, ordained as an elder and the senior pastor of a Nazarene church in Indiana.

I have to say that I disagree strongly with the characterization you have written of the emerging church. I have been part of the emerging church conversation for about 6 years and can tell you that I have found almost no one within this movement that is not committed to scripture, to salvation within Jesus alone, and to incarnationally living out the gospel.

You actually criticize the author of the article for being far too broad in the brush he uses to describe some churches and then do the same thing yourself in describing a richly diverse and faithful group of Christians within the emerging church.

If you haven't ever spent time really talking through the issues of the emerging church and why so many of us have been drawn to this conversation then I would love to be a link into the conversation for you. I would welcome a chance to connect via email or the phone and talk about what is really going in within emergent circle, especially in connection to the church of the nazarene. I love Christ, love scripture, and serve my church faithfully. I would love to talk with you about it anytime you wish.

Greg Arthur

Nicholas said...

Pastor Greg,

Thank you for your comments! I am not sure why you directed them to Jared as he simply agreed with what I had written while not adding a specific, personal characterization of the emerging church. I have been in this "conversation" for much longer than 6 years. More than a decade ago I was raising the red flag in regards to Anthony Campolo's teachings who, while not officially associated with the emerging church, was the fore runner to this post modern theology. Before that I was in much dialogue with many athiests and satanists who have been using the same old, tired arguments for decades that the emerging church so readily assumes as their own. So I am not a newcomer to this arena. There are three types of people involved in the emergent "conversation"; those that consider themselves emergent and understand what that means in regards to the authority of Scripture, the Atonement on the Cross and the redefinition of the Gospel, those who consider themselves emergents but have been duped into thinking that their own orthodox views on the authority of Scripture, the Atonement on the Cross and the definition of the Gospel somehow are congruent with emergent theology, and those who are defenders of the Faith, delivered once and for all to the Saints and understand the heresy of the emergent theology. I think it is clear which camp you fall into and which one I am in. What would be great is if you would enter MY conversation by way of showing where I have mischaracterized emergent theology in relation to this article and Wesleyan/Nazarene doctrines and teachings. Be specific. Show me where Tony Jones affirms the plenary inspiration of Scripture. Show me where McLaren proclaims Christ's substitutionary death on the Cross for the Atonement of our sins. And the list of names and Essentials of Christianity are endless. I invite YOU to MY conversation. Let me know where I have erred.

Nyk Edinger

Greg Arthur said...


Sorry I addressed my comments to Jared but not paying attention closely, I meant to address them to you.

You made a lot of statements in your letter and your recent comment and I don't want to leave a ridiculously comment in response. So let me begin with what I feel are unfair characterizations of the movement and its leaders.

One of the big problems I have is the demonization of emergents and the leadership that your language purveys. It is hard indeed to be involved in any sort of conversation that will be beneficial for the church when there is a full frontal assault on the faith, integrity, and intentions of those you are talking about.

Your immediate association of anything that comes from emergents as similar to or the same as what you have been battling with atheists and satanists is especially problematic and unfounded. I am not sure where we can begin a conversation if that is your baseline of assumption, but I will offer a quick thought or two and see where it goes.

As someone who is involved in emergent I do not spend any of my time defending Tony Jones or Brian McLaren, both of whom spend plenty of time defending themselves. I will say however that I have spent time with both men and while I disagree with things they believe I have actually been to sit down with them and hear their hearts and worship them and see their love of scripture and Jesus. So these characterizations are significantly off base. It is hard when people make such far reaching statements about people they haven't met.

As far as my questions about what your wrote, you make a massive statement that emergents are not committed to scripture, souls, or holiness. How can you possibly make that claim? Do you think that the people involved in the emerging church have set out to destroy the church? Do you think this is a great conspiracy to destroy God's word?

I doubt that you do, you probably just think they are misguided, deceived or wrong. Or maybe you believe them to be committed to something else? If that is so it is not that they are not committed to these things, but their committment to them has lead them very different conclusions or ways of expressing their faith. That is a different place to be able to start a conversation.

Those I have spent time with in the emerging church are deeply committed to scripture, the lost, and holiness and are trying to find the best ways to express those things. So if we want to engage in a conversation about how my commitment to scripture has led me to some different ideas than you may I (I don't know you so I have no idea what you believe or consider orthodox) or how my desire for holiness has reshaped my perspective on the church's mission, then that is a place I would love to start.

If it is going to be a conversation assailing the intentions and character of those who would choose to be part of the emergent church then I don't know how it could be beneficial for either of us.

Thanks for taking the time to respond.


Nicholas said...

Pastor Greg,

(NOTE: my response was too long for the comments section so this will be in three comments)

Thanks for your response. There might be something here we can discuss. So thank you for some specifics. There are also some fundamental differences though that might make things difficult. To begin, the reason I use quotations when using the term "conversation" in regards to emergents is because in order to be in a "conversation" with one a person must divest themselves of any absolute statement or judgment on what the other person in the "conversation" says. Of course this only applies to the non-emergent in the "conversation". So really it amounts to not much of a "conversation" when all is said and done. I feel that a proper conversation includes explicit statements of belief and the support of those statements. So if we can agree on that then we have a conversation.
I am going to respond to just a few of your comments but my hope is that most of these will not become our conversation because they are not nearly specific enough nor specific to my post to spend alot of time discussing.

I do not, have not, and will not deem "everything" (anything) that comes from emergents as similar to atheistic or satanic thought. There is alot of good focus in some of the emergent thought. Care and concern for people as people on a personal involvement level is huge, Biblical and fits very well into the Nazarene mindset. I have argued this time and time again. I have pleaded with others like you to separate yourself from the heresies that accompany the emergent church and hold onto the missional aspects that they have brought to the forefront. But I have yet to have even one person involved in the emergent movement be willing to do that. Regardless, I will not demonize all thoughts because of the source. Now, the things I did associate with atheists and satanists are certainly NOT unfounded. How much time have you spent with witches, Wiccans, satanists, Odinists, etc.? I have spent a large portion of my life with these people and have several close friends who came out of that mindset. And the hundreds of hours of reading, listening and debating I have had with these people included many of the very same statements that come from those in the emergent movement. At times, word for word. Here is the difference; the satanists at least had the integrity to make clear statements of what they believed and why I was wrong without redefining terms. (to be fair to satanists, I must say that they are a richly diverse and faithful group, so not all agree with each other) If that stings, so be it. It is the truth. One small example, they don’t believe in the authority of Scripture or the ability to know absolute truth if such a thing exists and use the exact same arguments that Tony Jones does to defend the same ideas. As for Tony Jones, I have met him. I have heard him speak. I have attended a class with him as the teacher. I have read some of his writings. I have listened to some of his interviews and read others. I heard him with his own mouth and his own words present ideas and support for those ideas that I had heard satanists and atheists use years prior. Mainly in regards to the authority of Scripture and absolute truth.

Lastly, you keep using the phrases "love (of) Scripture", "love Jesus (Christ)" and "faithful" while admitting you disagree with what they believe. At what point does what they believe reflect on their love of Scripture or Jesus? I don't care if they or you "love Scripture". I love Poe poems but I don't believe their plenary inspiration and use them for the foundation of all I believe. Making statements like that mean nothing. I am interested in what they are teaching about Scripture and Christ. That will tell me if they truly love them or not.

Nicholas said...

(Section Two of Three)
On to your questions about what I wrote...what I was hoping for was something like this..."in your post you said "xyz". That is not correct and here is why:” Instead you simply threw out more non-specific statements. I am going to define some things for you so that we can at least agree on the meaning of the words we are using and maybe that can help you find the places where you disagree with me if you do at all.
When I say they are not committed to Scripture I mean that they do not teach the plenary inspiration of the whole of Scripture. Therefore, things such as the Creation story, the Flood, Sodom and the list goes on are all thrown into question as is any doctrine or essential of the Christian Faith that they are not comfortable with.
When I say they are not committed to souls, or the lost, what I mean is that they have been teaching that people are essentially good. That because of God's Grace there is no need for atonement or forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ. So there is no real commitment to the lost or to souls when the solution to their lostness is denied.
When I say they are not committed to holiness I mean that they have denied the authority of Scripture which mean they have no basis for holiness to begin with and they continually rail against personal holiness as defined in the Bible. In fact, I have been assaulted the most harshly on this matter that they like to refer to as "personal piety" to the point of being cursed at. At least this point on holiness I explained pretty clearly in my original post. So I do not understand how you couldn't understand it.
What is your stand on the plenary inspiration of Scripture? What is your definition of "the lost" and how are they to be reconciled to God? (I went into detail on this point in my post as well) And what is your definition of Holiness? What do the leaders of the emergent movement (and there are leaders...we are way past the time when you can use that argument to deflect the issues) preach about the plenary inspiration of Scripture? Who are "the lost" according to them and how can they be saved? What is their definition of Holiness? Do your definitions and their definitions line up? If not, what are you going to do about it?

And Orthodox Christian beliefs are pretty standard across the globe so there is no reason you shouldn't be aware of them.

Nicholas said...

(Section Three of Three)
You said you are not going to defend your leaders which almost renders this "conversation" pointless but I'm game.

Finally, this argument about not being able to make blanket statements about the emergent movement because of the diversity of the people involved is bogus. If I say the Democrats are pro-abortion, I am making a true statement. It is true because the leaders take that stand despite the fact that there are some Democrats who are not pro-abortion. That doesn't matter. The leadership, the ones making arguments and presenting idea in the public arena are forwarding that ideal making that statement true. Likewise, if I say that the Republicans are Pro-Life, I am making a true statement despite the fact that there are pro-abortion Republicans. We are far enough along in this process to see who it is in the emergent movement that are teaching at conferences, pastoring churches writing books and articles, and presenting themselves on television and radio to be able to see who the leaders are. They are the ones who define the emergent movement and will do so until those within the movement who disagree with their beliefs stand up and raise a louder voice than they have. I have not met even one person in the emergent movement willing to do that. Therefore we must continue to define the emergent movement by the heresies put forth by their leaders.

Now, I will give you one more chance to point out a specific argument from my original post that you consider to be wrong and why.


Greg Arthur said...


Thanks for taking the time to post such a thorough response. I will attempt to point out one specific criticism I have of your argument and see if we can start there.

You said, "Mr. Knight describes emergents as “deeply committed persons”. Committed to what, I wonder? Committed to Scripture? Committed to seeing lost souls saved? Committed to personal holiness? I would propose, none of the above. They are committed indeed, but to their own individual interpretations of Christianity."

The idea of being committed to their own individual interpretations of scripture. The interpretation of scripture is obviously at the root of the conflict many experience with emergents. I would argue that the emerging church is trying to move us away from individual interpretations of scripture and trying to recapture more of a communal model of scriptural interpretation. One of the defining aspects of evangelicalism and really all of Protestantism is a belief in the power of the individual to interpret scripture.
This has lead to more division within the church than Luther ever could have imagined.

I believe a desire of the emerging church to be a lessening of the emphasis of individual interpretations of scripture and a strengthening of the role of community in the interpretation of scripture. This is rooted in a hermeneutic that recognizes our inability to simply read scripture without adding our own interpretive lenses to it. Through the community of Christ we have a much better opportunity to truly understand the fullness of the gospel.

To reference this back to emergents you see this emphais with McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy, in trying to engage with the different streams of our faith and their take on the gospel. You also see it in chapter 5 ( to offer some specific places to dialog) of Tony Jones' The New Christians.

For my part, I would say that it is rooted back in intention. You see a result that you do not agree with and go back to the intention of what is taking place with a negative assumption. Having read your blog and had a brief encounter through your blog I am struck by your zealous intention to serve God, understand scripture and protect the church. I greatly respect this even though you and I may draw different conclusions about how to do so.

Nicholas said...

Pastor Greg,

I must say that this is one of the most concise and understandable responses I have ever received in all my "conversations" with emergents. Thank you! Since you have directed me to some specific chapters of some books touching on the objection you had, I am going to go read them and then respond to you at that point. But I wanted to comment right away to you as well.


Nicholas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas said...

Pastor Greg,
(This comment is split between two comments due to size restrictions)

I read through Chapter Five of The New Christians by Tony Jones but I did not look at the other book since you referenced the entire book which I suspect is significantly broader than the topic of discussion here since even the chapter you referenced in Tony Jones’ book only alluded to the point you are making.

After reading through the chapter I can see where you get this notion that the true purpose of the emergent movement is to get away from individual interpretations to a more communal interpretation. Tony mentions Council of Chalcedon in 451 where many church leaders gathered and through much discussion “came out with a statement about the nature of Jesus.” He also likened that meeting to a meeting he was involved in with a group of Rabbis regardless of how unlike those two meetings actually were.

If, as you propose, the purpose of the emergent movement to move away from individual interpretation toward communal interpretation then the emergent movement is truly one of the most ironic movements in the history of mankind. Why? Because the realized results of this movement has not been a consensus on anything except the consensus that there can be no consensus. (Although I will say that The New Christians seems to be a statement of beliefs of the emergent movement which is exceedingly strange as Tony and others have militated against the existence of such statements and even the possibility of such statements ever being able to exist in the first place) Rather, it has resulted in hundreds of thousands of individual interpretations with a wider range of possibilities than any movement in history. Do you not see the irony in the fact that if the negation of individual interpretations is the goal, the movement is still commonly self-described as “richly diverse” and historically has resisted claiming any leaders (though this has been disingenuous at best) or any statement as to truth accept the agreement that truth cannot be known or accessed for certain by any human being? You are celebrating and boasting of the very thing you are claiming to be trying to eradicate. You are excited and driven by the very thing you charge the rest of Christianity (especially “American Christianity”, as if there is such a thing) damned for committing. Ah, one of the few purest examples of irony I have ever come across.

So why are the emergents’ efforts to suppress individualism in Biblical interpretation resulting in just the opposite? There are two main reasons that I see.

First, the thing the majority within the emergent movement, including first and foremost its leaders, agree on in practice if not verbally is the unreliability of Scripture as a foundation for truth. At best among your leaders they will accept the Bible as one place we can get a limited glimpse of who God is but not the best place for sure and at worst the Bible is totally unreliable for this task. This is the deciding difference between this movement and ALL other significant movements within Christianity in the past. Without a consistent and reliable outside source on which to base our beliefs we are restricted to the very thing you are claiming the emergents despise, that being individual interpretation. Emergents will then claim that the “outside of self” sources that they are trying to access are all the other belief systems and cultures around the world yet this simply yields thousands of different individual interpretations not a single unified one. Without Scripture as our foundation our interpretations of it fail.

Nicholas said...

(section Two of Two)

On a side note: I find it striking that emergents make this indefensible claim that current Christianity is so divided because of individualism. This is absurd on its face. What is remarkable is the cohesiveness of Christianity that has been achieved through individual interpretation! Christians worldwide, all agree on the essentials of the Christian Faith. One of the few exceptions is the Catholic Church’s statement of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ while their practice promotes a more works based salvation. But in statement even the supposed huge chasm between Catholicism and Protestantism is not that great. This claim of division is a total fabrication. On the essentials there really is no significant division the world over. Additionally, the West vs East argument is bogus. Do the Christians in China, or India or Africa interpret the Scriptures in a manner different than American Christians do? Do they come to different conclusions on the essentials of Christianity? The answer is a resounding NO. An example is the divisions going on in the Episcopal Church where the American Christians have dispensed with the Bible as the authority and the Church in Africa is holding firm to the Biblical standard and the common essentials of Christianity held worldwide. How can it be that the most liberal church in Africa holds to the exact same beliefs as the most conservative American denominations? If what the emergents claim is true then this is impossible and not only impossible but never happened. Though it is really happening. The only true divide in the Christian church today, world-over, is the divide between the emergent movement (with whom I would include the liberal churches in America and England) and the rest of the Christian world. Instead of unity, emergents have brought division. And one more note: If being white American males is practically the only truly evil thing in the world, why is the leadership of the emergent movement almost exclusively white American males? Again, ironic. Emergents are and practice everything they condemn us of being.

The second reason why emergents’ end result is individualism not community is the complete disregard of the work of the Holy Spirit. In ALL my listening to and reading of Tony Jones in discussions about Scripture, he has never included the work of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration, translation or interpretation of the Scriptures. If we remove the work of the Holy Spirit, we essentially remove any hope of knowing anything of God. The Holy Spirit is essential to the inspiration, translation and interpretation of Scripture. Why has there been such great unity concerning the essentials of Christianity since Luther despite the individualism that he brought to Christendom? The Holy Spirit. Individualism under the control of the Holy Spirit has brought voluntary unity in the truth as opposed to mandatory unity in a lie as was the state of the Catholic Church in Luther’s time. But remove the Holy Spirit from the equation and you have the emergent movement. A mess of ideas as vast as the ocean with no hope of unity on anything.

Love of Scripture means nothing. A foundation of Scripture and the active role of the Holy Spirit are essential for any movement of Christianity and both are dramatically absent in the emergent movement.

You claimed that a move toward communal interpretation of Scripture was the purpose of the emergent movement. I have serious reservations as to whether that is true or not. It certainly hasn’t been a stated purpose over these many years. And it certainly hasn't accomplished this in any fashion.


camcorbet said...

i thoroughly enjoy your posts. you should blog more.


charles said...
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Jared Henry said...

I think I am late in returning to this debate and I'll just reference a new post on my blog as my response. I have little sympathy for the dying movement called "emergence" or whatever.


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