25 September, 2006

Emerging Right Along

This is a comment from Chuch Weise from Dutton United Reformed Church. Mr.Weise was commenting on the Emergent Church movement in response to a question concerning the Reformed response to this movement. His comments are quite helpful so I am (without permission) giving it to all of you.

In my opinion the best resource available is a book by D.A. Carson called "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church." He does a good job providing an honest critique of the movement and particularly McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy." I would also recommend reading McLaren's book as well as Rob Bell's book "Velvet Elvis" to get an understanding of where they are coming from. Both end up saying things you would expect to hear from Robert Schuller. Neither seem to have much theological training.McLaren seems to want to define Christianity in the beginning of his book with the Nicene Creed but then critiques Calvin later on for executing Christians who disagreed with him. The only person I know of that Calvin had some part in the execution of was Servetus who was anti-Trinitarian.

It is interesting that McLaren's harshest criticisms in the book seem to be directed at Calvinism. He seems to be very positive towards the other groups he refers to. McLaren even spends some time apologizing for those horrible masculine pronouns in the Bible.

Bell's book is heavily influenced by the teachings of Ray Vanderlaan and I think the Reformed community in general needs to be very careful in how it uses Vanderlaan's material. Bell claims that when Peter is rebuked by Jesus for his lack of faith it is not for lack of faith in Jesus but lack of faith in himself. This is one of the things lifted from Vanderlaan. I don't think Bell has any real training in Hebrew but he almost leaves the impression that you can't have any understanding of the Bible without it. He seems to think that the Talmud should always be read back into the Bible.Bell does bring up some important issues, such as the need to study the Bible in community but he does not provide any real guidelines in how to do that.

Keith Mathison's book "The Shape of Sola Scriptura" addresses the same problem but deals with the issue in a more in depth and Biblical way.Both McLaren and Bell seem to be mostly writing about themselves which is common in evangelicalism. Everything is related to some experience they had or how they feel. McLaren claims to be writing in the spirit of Chesterton but Chesterton was very harsh towards such self-centered people who couldn't tell you about anything except in relationship to themselves. When I read McLaren and Bell it reminds me of reading Plato. They are good at showing real problems in evangelicalism but when it comes to providing solutions they don't really have any reasonable ones.

I hope that the movement causes Reformed Christians to look back to the 16th Century Reformers and embrace the ancient traditions that the Reformers did. The more Reformed Churches start looking like evangelicalism, the more their members will be easy prey for the emerging church movement. The Reformed Churches should also recognize the need for a strong community of believers. Church can't just be a place you go to twice on Sunday.It's important to realize who these people are reacting against. They are both critiquing evangelicalism but both still working within and evangelical mindset. They are not the root problem, the evangelical paradigm is. Their methodology is no less Biblical than the common evangelical one. They are starting to question things in evangelicalism and that is good and hopefully will lead to dialog with the Reformed community.

Chuck Wiese
Dutton URC
Grand Rapids, MI

5 comments:

ann said...

I am currently reading Bell's book right now and plan on reading "Generous Orthodoxy". This movement scares me. I have a feeling a lot of the followers of the Emegent Movement are either newer Christians or those not well grounded in the faith. They are being sorely misguided. Not only Reformed Christians should be upset by this, but also Evangelicals who seek to follow Bibical Christianity. You can't marry the relativism of post modernism and the absolute athority of God's word. Okay maybe we need to change the approach to reach postmoderns but we can still keep the same message.

Gavin said...

Having been at Calvin, I have to say Bell and McLaren and Miller's influence is terrifying. They're fine self-help authors, but Christianity is not a self-help religion, it's a God-help religion (that's a fine piece of church signage...) I bought Bell's book at Baker because it was on sale, and it's almost funny to turn to each random page and find at least one incident of serious heresy on it.

Furthermore, my experience with the URC aside (as I described in my blog), I think the guy has a point. However, I'd go farther than him. We shouldn't just look back to Calvin and Luther, but to the 1500 years preceeding them, to Anselm and Augustine and especially the apostles and Christ, but above all scripture. If I were to say what's lacking in the Emergent movement, I'd say it's scripture plain and simple. When evangelicals look back towards history and stay rooted in the Bible rather than following the "hot next thing", then we'll start doing alright again.

Anonymous said...

I hate to see these guys claiming Chesterton, because he could've written volumes about their follies. He wrote a particularly good bit about men who were "too humble to know anything", it would apply to the postmodernists quite nicely.

Though Doug Wilson has made a good case that they're not actually postmodern at all - they still accept the central tenant of modernism, liberal democracy. Of course, in typical Wilson style, he claimed the word "postmodern", which just confuses people to no end. He gets in more trouble over his semantics...

Anyhow, thanks for putting this up. Mr. Weise evidently has a goodish amount of wisdom.

Droll Flood said...

Gavin:
"However, I'd go farther than him. We shouldn't just look back to Calvin and Luther, but to the 1500 years preceeding them, to Anselm and Augustine and especially the apostles and Christ, but above all scripture. If I were to say what's lacking in the Emergent movement, I'd say it's scripture plain and simple."

-Right on. I think Chuck is agreeing with you on that one (he's a friend of mine, we attend the same church). Thus he said in the above cited comment:
"I hope that the movement causes Reformed Christians to look back to the 16th Century Reformers and embrace the ancient traditions that the Reformers did."

Who do the reformers quote (up and down, mind you)? Those who went before them.

Take Francis Turretin as an example. His bibliography is a book in itself. Pagans, philosophers, church fathers, etc. He knew all about all.

Now, we can read authors outside of Scripture and to the extent that they agree with Scripture saying what Scripture says (not just quoting it, but showing and understanding the sense of it) they are morally binding (i.e., it would be a sin against God to do otherwise). It's the same with confessions. They state the truth, the truth is morally binding, thus we are morally obligated to obey them.

Never are we to admit that which does not agree with Scripture as morally binding.

Anonymous said...

one thing, pretty good stuff