Evangelicalism

Church, parachurch, or why church at all?

Church, parachurch, or why church at all?
(whole essay at Church, parachurch, or why church at all)

Questions: What means did Christ establish

church10

  • for the proclamation and preservation of the gospel in biblical history?
  • for properly organized and structured worship, reception of the Word of God, and
  • the accountability of discipline and discipleship through offices of authority
    for properly administering to the needs of the fellowship of believers?

Answer: The visible church of those who profess faith in Christ and live in obedience to his commands. This was true for OT Israel living under a theocracy and monarchy, the same as it is for the NT visible church today. In the OT, the visible church was characterized by the Priests’ administration of the sanctuary worship and application of the Word of God, the Elders and Prophets’ ministry of proclaiming and teaching the Word of God revealed and written, and by the kings’ service of administrating justice by upholding the law of God and defending the nation. In the NT, the visible church is characterized by the (priestly) administration of the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table, the exposition of the Word (prophetic), and the upholding of the law and protecting the people of God through the administration of discipline properly applied to preserve, protect, and restore by the elders. Further protection and service is provided by the ministry of the Deacons. It is often said that the church is a “human institution,” but that is not what it is: it is God’s divinely appointed means to accomplish his work of redemption through Christ of his people and his world.

A serious question then is, why do so many people today abandon the visible church, and membership in the fellowship, for alternatives (such as “para-churches”)? Some will answer that they do not need the local church, since they are already members of the universal and invisible church. Perhaps they have been deeply scarred in a local church, or they had some very bad experiences there at some point, or they were in a church that was not orthodox, and they left never to return to a visible and established congregation. In all of these cases, it is easy to understand the rationale and justification for leaving a particularly bad situation.[1] The question is, nevertheless, whether it is wise to exclude oneself altogether from membership in the visible church (or to attach to alternative organizations). The local church is the place where our Lord’s Table is celebrated regularly, and where his death and resurrection are remembered and celebrated every Sunday, and where the Word of Scripture is taught consistently and fully, and where structures for training in righteousness (discipleship) are in place, and where the people of God are held accountable to Christ and to one another by one another, and where elders and deacons are called to serve these ends.

Do people often leave the visible church planning to find a better alternative, one of the many more glamorous alternatives (such as “para-churches”), because they sincerely believe the church failed them, and is failing in its mission, because it has so many problems, because there are so many sinners there not living in obedience? With such claims, the question is do they really believe it will be easier to do the work of the Kingdom outside of Christ’s ordained means and visible institution (to use imperfect sinners living under grace), while working with different sinners in different contexts and structures that do not align fully with a biblical model or precedent?

What does Christ command us to do in the visible church? To remember him. To celebrate his Table of remembrance, to establish proper structure of authority, to obey his commands with accountability, to have his word dwell in us richly, to pray together. How is this possible? The best way, perhaps the only way, to experience the blessings of membership in his universal, “invisible” church is to be a member of his visible church. Indeed, I think it would be difficult to rightly claim membership in the universal church unless we are committed to real people in a real locale in a real and visible church under the real authority of elders and deacons given by Christ to serve the mission of the advancement of the gospel and the Kingdom through the visible body of Christ. In this way, our presence and service in the visible church is evidence (yet, not proof of salvation or a proposal of works-righteousness here) of our membership in the universal church. In this way, our membership in a local body of believers is the acknowledgement that we cannot do this alone, nor would we ever want to. It is also an acknowledgment that we do not create organizations that would supplant or replace the mission given to the church.

Nevertheless, there are some who say that membership in a local visible church is unnecessary. Actually, I would suggest that the term “invisible” (or universal) church is meaningless without a visible representation on the earth. Otherwise, it is nothing but some abstraction, a concept. So, this is sometimes people’s logic, “Oh, I belong to the invisible church that is universal, and which is by the way unseen (since invisible), and so it is unnecessary that I join a local congregation.” If this be the case, then it must be presumed your church is inactive and non-existent to anyone’s observation from the outside. And, for those who do not abandon the local visible church with such reasoning, it can lead to the rationalization to create something “new,” an alternative to Christ’s institution, to make the Kingdom hope more appealing and exciting, or just more glamorous than our boring edifices and structures and services, or to provide a more biblical alternative to what was seen as mostly dead church traditions or outright unbelief within the majority of denominations.

The so-called “para-church” organizations that proliferated during the later sixties and seventies, and continue today, often were seen as ways to address the perceived failures, lacks, and omissions of the visible church. Indeed, in many cases they were a response to the failed project of the Liberal and mainline churches that for a generation had largely abandoned the gospel. Succumbing to the unbelief of a purely socially oriented gospel, rejecting much of historic Christian doctrine, they bore the fruits of such theology in catastrophic spiritual (and physical) death around the world. In this context it not surprising that “para” organizations developed to seek to redress this state of affairs, but they typically went outside the organized and visible church and became “alongside,” an alternative. Offering what appeared to be exciting new opportunities to serve the Kingdom and the gospel of Jesus, they created focused ministries to the many and various needs of the world, such as evangelism, discipleship, worship, and serving the poor and oppressed. These para-church organizations have done a tremendous amount of good in the world, but too often the cost to our ecclesiology, and the strength of the believing visible church, has not been acknowledged. Since these organizations are not churches, having no official establishment of biblical structures and patterns and protections of the church, they have been subject to the many cultural and social forces prevailing in the broader culture. They have also been subject to all the same trials every organization of humans struggles with, yet doing so without biblical restraints (and training) on doctrine, authority, and morality. They so often supplant the Christ-given visible church’s responsibilities, and forsake proper structures for those of the business model or non-profit models, and in many cases a very-much-for-profit model.  Because they usually lack proper biblical officers, authorial checks and balances, such organizations are governed by strong personalities who can generate tremendous capital and interest around the causes of the organization, sometimes, and much too often, creating a sub-culture prone to the cult-of-the-personality, or sectarian style structures and strategies, and in some cases cultic, or cult-styled, local and national leadership teams. I claim no expertise on these organizations, but my observation over the years is that the most of them focus on the youth and young adults, and often at the local level they are led by the theologically untrained and immature. This being the case, the larger they become, the more insidiously authoritarian they become in order to control the inevitable chaos. To varying degrees they must compete with one another, in strictly business fashion, vying to appeal to the diverse interests of the young in the hopes of gaining new members by offering a product more satisfying than the other alternatives to the youthful yearnings and aspirations of those they recruit. In sum, I hope that this brief reflection on church and para-church organizations stimulates some reflection on the question of what is the church and how we understand those organizations that are not churches and yet which often supplant the church, Christ’s established and authorial means to fulfill his work. The visible church is Christ’s institution called to the Great Commission, to convey the gospel of the Scripture to the world, to train in righteousness, to disciple the nations, to properly celebrate the Lord’s Table, to baptize, and to guard all these things through biblical discipline.

Now, we must also consider that it is possible for the visible building (belonging to a “visible” church) on the street corner can be just as invisible to the neighbors as the so-called invisible church without a building, but that is another matter regarding the (oxymoronic) “dead church.” In this latter case, it is oxymoronic to think that a true church living in obedience to Christ could possibly be dead since they are energized by the Living Christ and his word of the Gospel and the hope of the gospel. If they are truly alive in Christ, and living in love and grace together, the neighbors will know. A visible church that is invisible to all around it has a spiritual problem, even if it is still present as a visible church. We would not say it is not part of the visible church,  only that it is seriously failing in its calling and mission.

In this sense, the visible church and each member is Christ’s “letter to the world” (2 Cor 3:2). As Francis Schaeffer was known to say, in regards to Jesus’ words on love, that the world will know that the Father has sent the Son on the basis of the love they have for one another. This we know will never be perfect, but that is no excuse for our sin, nor our attempts to replace Christ’s institution with something else; it is a recognition that we must live under grace and discipline together as apprentices of the Servant of servants who is teaching us to love God with a perfect love, as we learn to forgive one another with our presently imperfect love. As his disciples we seek to do his will, but we are still in training with much to learn. As someone else put it, we are learning the impossible task (impossible to us on our own) of loving as God loves and to love what God loves. I conclude that the best place, and most difficult, to do this is in the place Christ Jesus himself instituted, and that is his visible church. In this way, the church is to be as a light set on a hill, the salt of the earth.

“We cannot hope to restore the world if we are constantly reinventing the church.” J.K.A.Smith, You Are What You Love¸p. 178

“There is one body and one Spirit . . .” Ephesians 4:6

The visible church of Christ, is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things of necessity are requisite the same.

Article XIX, The Thirty Nine Articles

The church “hath always three notes or marks whereby it is known:  pure and sound doctrine, the sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of ecclesiastical discipline.”  E.S.C. Gibson, The Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, p. 495.

“The congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel.” Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, pp. 222-223.

[1] There are some difficult cases, nevertheless, as in the underground church in Communist China, and Muslim countries, where open church membership with your name on an official roster, can be a dangerous and unwise practice. This is not what I am addressing, since typically these believers associate closely with a local body of believers, though in secret.

On Jesus Calling by Sarah Young [The New Mystic]

On Jesus Calling by the Sarah Young [The New Mystic][1]

Since the very popular author Sarah Young has now published her own Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, I think it is even more pressing that we address her hugely successful devotional book published some years previously, called Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. In this earlier devotional publication she claims that its content came to her by direct dictation from Jesus. My concerns with this devotional are not with its content per se; it is her claims of direct communication from Jesus (which seems comparable to the increasingly common New Age channeling practitioners who also claim to receive messages, even sometimes from Jesus). If Young had not put this in the form of direct revelation from Christ to her (and presumably to all believers), but rather as Christian reflections to encourage and teach others, it would not be so problematic. In fact, I would find it a bit more acceptable if she had only claimed that this was a literary and imaginative work for devotional encouragement, but that is not the case. Most seriously, as with all claims of direct messages from God, in Jesus Calling Young’s claim of direct (dictation)[2] revelation would logically necessitate some kind of divine inspiration, and thus infallibility, and thus inerrancy (as the logic goes). Although Young denies inerrancy for these “messages from God,” I do not see how anyone can accept her claims without attributing to her works unwarranted authority.

Young’s mystical orientation puts her in company with many other, similar Christian mystics, “listeners” who have “visualizations” and experiences of losing “all sense of time.” Young’s theology may be otherwise orthodox, as far as I know.  As several reviewers have noted, however, the theology of Young’s devotional is thin. Indeed, the most common theme seems to be simply “Don’t worry, trust me,” in the traditional, pietistic motif of “let go and let God,” or, “cease striving.” Further to that thin theme, there is the central mystical thought of “empty yourself and your mind” that I find very unsatisfying as a model for the Christian life in a fallen world. Indeed, the biblical model is to be filled with the Word, so that his word dwells in us for fullness of life.

The message Young conveys in this devotional of dictations is that scripture was not sufficient for her, and need not be for us. As she writes, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).  And, since God has given her a deeper peace from “personal messages” directly from Jesus, we too are encouraged to get solace and peace with this fresh new word from Christ himself to her. She offers to her readers that “more” she yearned for, but it is a further word, not the scripture. The fundamental doctrines of the Protestant faith include the sufficiency of scripture and the cessation of divine revelation with the closing of the canon.  Any claims of something “more” beyond that have historically been rejected as usurpations, and thus unauthoritative. Also, by adding biblical scriptures to the bottom of her revelations, Young gives further unjustified authority to the words she claims come directly from Christ.

Works such as this one undoubtedly indicate a spiritual hunger for more teaching that “speaks to the heart and soul” in our times, and perhaps particularly in Reformed circles that tend sometimes to especially emphasize the mind and thoroughgoing theology. Yet, in response to that suggestion, I propose that any downplaying of the “heart and soul,” and the human need to be ministered to there, is entirely out of accord with our history of Protestant, Reformation piety. Just consider, for example, Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections.” I do think there is a widespread hunger for something more in this area. Indeed, there may be something of a famine in our times, but I think it is the meat of the Word through the Spirit that alone produces a true “experience” of God and his presence (this is not to say we do not read other books to learn, grow, and get encouragement, etc., but that we do not consider them in any way as further revelation).

In sum, since our experiences are such unreliable guides for piety, we must depend on the scripture alone as our authoritative rule and guide for life and faith. Sola scriptura was about both the authority of the Scripture and its sufficiency. Indeed, I believe that we do not need to “yearn” for anything more than sola scriptura. Jesus is calling, but he never calls us to go beyond scripture.

Stephen Hague

[1] Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.

[2] On dictation notions of inspiration, ironically, no Evangelical theory that I know of seriously entertains inspiration of biblical revelation in the terms she describes that her messages are received by dictation.

Is the PostModern (PoMo) Emerging and Missional Emergent Movement now passé?

untitledAt the grassroots level, this Postmodern movement was fueled by much dislike of uncool fundamentalism and its “culture” (or lack thereof). This reactionary component, and their seeming lack of positive direction and definition, has been particularly defining of the movement itself. The question still remains, nevertheless, where were we supposed to be emerging from and where to? But now the question is, is the emerging movement itself  actually in retreat today? As a reactionary movement against what was “before,” once it too becomes post, or “before,” does it too then not become passé?

One of “emergings” key spokesmen once suggested that the theologizing of prior centuries was only for prior centuries and was not as deep and profound as what is happening today in the emerging movement (see “some quotes” below). The uninspiring, ho-hum, aspect of this is that the mainline church and its neo-orthodoxy previously had lived long in the universe of the “journey” not the “destination,” seeking “questions,” not “answers,” living in “tension” not “resolution.” They spoke eloquently in paradoxical terms of “concealment as an aspect of revelation,” and in the “affirmation of doubt” and “silence,” of “engaging” not dogmatizing or “getting it all down” (whatever that means). Propositionalism became a pejorative term applied to those who have too much certitude in what they believe. Objectivism was rejected as the idol of those who believe Truth is absolute and absolutely true. Within this, there was a call for hermeneutical agnosticism in regards to the biblical text. While this has the virtue of claiming humility, it just might lead to pride in doubts about what can be known of the text. While emergers rightly emphasized contextual mission as the mission of the church of God, they fail to remind us that mission has always been the mission of the church, despite its many failings, and I can think of no theologian who ever denied that mission. In regards to all of these characteristics, this now aging movement may well be seeing a glimmer of a new emerging from this hermeneutical agnosticism. In what I have observed (my entirely unscientific impression), there seems to be a greater longing for certitude and a theological house built on solid rock, not sand. Being “post” everything may have been found wanting.

Indeed, the “post” nature of the emerging movement was one of its most puzzling features. Emergers have been said to be “post-modern,” “post-liberal,” “post-evangelical,” “post-doctrinal,” “post-Bible-study-piety,” “post-systematic theology,” and “post-conservative.” I think “post-rational,” “post-linear,” and “post-historical” could be added to this list (see Scott Mcknight’s article, “The Future or Fad: A Look at the Emerging Church Movement.”) In fact, even though Mcknight says this “post” is not “better” but “after,” this reactionary characteristic describes at least a drift away from what preceded, regardless of internal assessments of what they are now post. Even if this shift was not intentional or always conscious, it is professedly a drift away from traditional evangelicalism, conservatism, doctrinalism, sytematics, traditional Bible-Study, and personal piety, etc. I would agree that it may also have represented a drift away from the old liberalism (“post liberal”), but only in so far as it is aligned with Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy, though a reaction against the old liberalism, simply refashioned the Modernists’ (Historical-Critical) rejection of scripture itself as the only revealed Word of God, divinely inspired, inerrant, as propositional revelation, and translated this view into a Neo-orthodox version riddled with dialectical tensions. In this regard, I propose that it was always in danger of becoming post-orthodox. Indeed, as with most fads, thankfully, it seems to be coming into a “post-emerging” phase, as already noted, and as a fad that relished being “post” (as in “better than what preceded”), it is now surpassed by a hunger for reality of a truly biblical theology and living.

In reference to the emerger’s (and PoMo’s) original rejection of “Modernism,” I suggest that the traditional use of this term “modern” has been abused in the discussion, since in theology and hermeneutics it referred to the classic formulations of the early Historical-Critical scholars (now often called “liberal”), and in reference to history it would take us back nearly to the Renaissance and not to twentieth century Evangelicalism (the well-bred whipping-boy of Neo-Modern PoMos). Indeed, the early modern period begins in the Middle Ages. Perhaps on this point, the Neo-modernists could do better at informing us illiterate modern masses precisely what part of this vast history they reject and accept, rather than characterizing certain isolated aspects of modern Evangelicalism and pejoratively calling them “Modernist” in order to tar and feather them for future reference in the history books of the post-post-post-modernist era. Which raises another question, do we ever finally arrive at what is “post post”? Are we yet, and forever then, truly prepost? Also, I suggest that it would be vain to suggested that this search for something “post” everything is a continuation of the principle of ecclesia reformata est semper reformando (a reformed church is always reforming), since this principle is about remaining faithful to the orthodox “traditions of the apostles” handed down to us.

Another prevalent aspect of emerging was their proposed dichotomies for framing a new perspective on orthodoxy. I culled the following examples from the emerging-church literature. I have not listed any dichotomy that I have not observed at some point in the literature on “emerging.” These are not my “stereotypes” of this movement, but the explicit assertions made by those either seeking to explain or advocate emerging (my comments are in parenthesis):

  • emerging is about ecclesiology not about epistemology (I suggest that this is patently false, since discussions and assertions about epistemology litter the emerging terrain)
  • emerging is missional in contrast to pre-emerging Christendom (this is historically inaccurate, since the church, when it has been acting biblically, has always been truly missional)
  • emerging is missional not theologically defined (this is a contradiction in terms, since all truly biblical, missional activity must be theologically rooted and motivated)
  • emerging is formational not informational (this is doubly a contradiction in terms, since formation cannot emerge without information, and indeed spiritual formation has always depended upon sound theological “information”)
  • emerging is about God as “being right” not about people being right or wrong (this is naïve, since such disjunctive affirmations remove human, theological responsibility before God)
  • emerging is pro-Jesus not creedal, systematic, or logical (this is semantic mysticism, and the old “no creeds but Jesus” idea is essentially creedal)
  • emerging is relational not rational (ditto)
  • emerging is pro-church not doctrinally unified (this rejects the principle of the purity of the visible church, and to be pro-church necessitates being pro-doctrine, though imperfectly)
  • emerging is a community not denominational or ecclesiastical (this collapses the visible and the invisible church, and diminishes the communities created by denominations and churches)
  • emerging is about micro-narratives not about meta-narratives (this makes true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible, since our “micro-narratives” have true significance only in so far as they correspond to the meta-narrative of the gospel of redemption)
  • emerging is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy (this false disjunction suggests that living is prior to believing. Yet, since our living is motivated by our Lord, how do we practice what we do not doctrinally affirm?)
  • emerging is about being post-everything but it is really post-little. I suggest that the Emergent-Emerging-Village did not equal a revolution or reformation but a fun playing-field in which “traditional” cultural, theological, and philosophical borderlines were understood as in motion. Indeed, some in the emerging movement even tried to push out traditional Christian moral boundaries. Since blogs have been one of the primary mediums for the emerging discussions, it is difficult to identify all of its diverse shifts with confidence(oops!). Ironically, the driving engine of much of the emerging moment seemed to be Neo-Modernism which is strangely akin to Neo-orthodoxy, one of the many versions of twentieth century heterodoxy (even though not all emergers share PoMo denials of “absolute truth”). Neo-modernism presents the other straw-man of the Transcendental Great Other who is a god mostly unknowable. Indeed, this god lives in the great cloud of unknowing, and is the dialectical tension inhering in all of modern life. This transcendent god, or Transcendence as God, is mostly silent. Nevertheless, we sometimes get a glimpse in the Bible, in a sunset, or in human culture and traditions, all of which are somehow, inexplicably, relative to collective interpretation by the PoMo community. This deistic formulation strangles prayer and basic Bible study, in my view, as it did in the Mainline of my lost youth. And, as it has in the West as a whole. And this is why it contained within it the seeds of its own undoing.

In its rejection of pietism, Neo-orthodoxy loathed piety, since its impersonal god makes no distinctions between the warmth and zeal that true knowledge of God in Christ engenders and the excesses of nineteenth century revivalism. Similarly, many in the emerging movement seemed to dislike pietism. Most strangely, the emerging and PoMo movements both seem to simultaneously disdain pietism and also what is pejoratively called “old Princeton” (Scottish Common Sense Realism), or rationalism. Nevertheless, the frequent PoMo denigration of the Princeton theologians for their rationalism has not considered the history of their piety.[1] These Princeton theologians, condemned in PoMo judgment, had heart-religion on fire for God. Their heart-religion was not unbridled, subjective emotionalism. Nor was their academic work intellectual, rationalistic gamesmanship. Rather, their academic labors fueled their passion for the gospel of Christ. Indeed, I think it is unsustainable that the Princeton theologians advanced rationalism, but rather they believed in rationality as a God-given gift. They also understood the significance of the battle for Truth, and they believed that theological formulation, expression, and creeds mattered as a matter of life and death. I do not mean to romanticize these Old-Bygone-Theologizers, but mention them as an example that highlights the many false dichotomies and straw-men the PoMos’ love to burn, leaving nothing but ashes in their historical stead.

The ennui of many people today is the ethos of apathy, and worse. Many are adrift in a world that offers them gods fashioned according to their likes and dislikes, their styles and manner of being cool, their personal preferences and i-pod gods for nameless blog-religion. In this context, I have been concerned that this new emerging “reformation” would not lead to a new orthodoxy and orthopraxy of building community, but to a new religion of Neo-modernist transcendentalism and isolationalism. It is therefore my hope that in the seminary/church world the gospel of Christ is not subsumed by the popular “Totally Other” transcendental god of Barthian Neo-orthodoxy and Neo-modernist mysticism. God revealed himself in the sanctuary of Israel as absolutely immanent and absolutely transcendent (without any contradiction or paradox), and this is his consistent revelation through to the end of the Revelation of John. Indeed, in Christ, these complimentary attributes of God become most evident in the incarnation: God Almighty is personally, knowably, present with us. Thus, we can confidently(oops!) proclaim to this adrift generation, desperate for an answer to their ennui, that God is not Totally Other, but has clearly spoken in His Son. His Son is the incarnate Word of God whose word is the seed of the Kingdom of God now here in our midst. The revealed word of God is scripture now here in our hands, and it is the only final, and absolute authority for the people of the Son of God.

The frequent immodesty of “evangelical” PoMo theology, that often rejects previous theologizing, denies that their emperor wears no clothes. That is, their accusations that Modernists are guilty of “cognitive idolatry” may come home to roost, since their new found pride in “humble theology” invokes a self-loathing of their own Evangelicalism. This self-loathing is pervasive, along with its distaste for “fundamentalism” and its cultural separatism. Ironically, justified fears of cultural accommodation run deep in the Neo-modernist movement, but with a brilliant naiveté that if we just admit our presuppositions then we become neutral and objective. If asserting with certitude that we have received what has been passed on to us from the apostles of Christ is idolatry, then surely confident ranting against confidence in the scripture would qualify as cognitive idolatry. It is time that those who are refashioning orthodoxy admit that their own presuppositions are not just about contextualizing the gospel of Jesus, but rather about neutralizing the power of the gospel unto salvation to all who believe.

If asserting that we must be faithful to the scripture is cognitive idolatry, then it is time the Neo-modernists come clean and confess to their own lack of faith and need for prayer. It is time they own up to their own “cultural conditioning” by modernist, naturalist unbelief, and foreswear calling it recontextualization. As one of the philosophical leaders of the PoMo evangelicals likes to say, “Objectivity has been greatly overrated,” I would like to say that this is an overly objective, modernist assertion within his own framework. There is absolutely nothing new in calls to formulate the gospel clearly to each new generation, but the underlying assertion that our formulations are only social constructs “imbedded in particular cultures” is something new. And, this new thing is a departure from the perspective of the apostles on their gospel, in my view.

These are just some of the reasons why I believe that the Post-Modern Emerging movement has come to its end, and has become passé, since the people of God hunger for much more substance in their relationship with Christ the King, our ever-present Savior, than such philosophies could provide. He has called us out of darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9), and his people need to be encouraged in that absolute truth to live before the nations in true faith and loving obedience.

[1]For example, in Andrew Hoffecker’s Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981).

Some quotes about “rejecting” prior theologizing below from Scott Mcknight’s blogsite:

http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=821 “Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson,Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it.” “What you won’t find in these new discussions is the return to dog-eared discussions like whether or not human nature is tripartite or something else. The issues are bigger, the questions are deeper, and the scope of the discussion wider. When they ask about eschatology, they don’t ask about the rapture, they inquire into what history is, how God relates to history, what the goal of history is. When they ask about Scripture, they don’t begin with inerrancy and inspiration but (like Vanhoozer) how the drama of doctrine is meant to be played out using the script of God as its text.” “Which also means the answers will be bigger and deeper and wider. Perhaps I’ve misstated: this kind of theology might not be pursuing the “answer” but probing the question — theologizing, exploring, pondering, and wondering.”

In contrast to this, read 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB95): For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . .

More thoughts and quotes on Neo-Modernism (a.k.a PoMo)

“The only cure for postmodernism is the incurable illness of romanticism.” (Postmodernism for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt)

Post modernism sends the contradictory message that though we are all one community, our individual cultures (“readings” of reality) make true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible. That is, if meaning is relative to the individual within his or her community, or that meaning is relative to the community itself, then truly cross-cultural communication is not possible.

LeoPurdue’s comments on postmodernism are worth further reflection (from Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, pp. 278-279):

“The losses to human thinking and understanding, should the post modern agenda be fully implemented, would be enormous. Perhaps the most debilitating one is dispensing with any affirmation as true in any sense of the word. Postmodernists in religion are quick to deny this and reject the claim that they advocate nihilism. But one is hard pressed to see their arguments as anything but nihilistic, similar to the anti-Kantian view expressed by Schopenhauer in his understanding of blind will: there is no meaning whatsoever that may be claimed and attested as objectively and representationally true. For Schopenhauer, the human will seeks to represent the world experienced through the senses in orderly forms through which knowledge may be obtained that is objectively true.(1) Yet we simply construct our world through self-interest with intent to realize immediate goals that inevitably become conflicting and contradictory. Try as they must, humans cannot escape or abolish this will in the attempt to know what is objectively true. Ideas are nothing more than the epiphenomena of a blind and irrational will that expresses itself through self-constructed ideas and actions based on self-interest.”

“If the postmodernists and their intellectual predecessors, including the philosophers of the New Academy, the Romanticists, and possibly even Schopenhauer, are correct, then the interpreter, located in multidimensional contexts, determines meaning. Thus, there is no objective reality, and all assertions are ideological construals of self-interest. Nothing may be affirmed as true whether theological or ethical. There is no basis on which behavior may be judged as ethical or unethical. Yet if we abandon ethics, do we not allow marginals to continue in the squalor of degrading, humanity-denying subsistence or fail to oppose authoritarian regimes in their pillaging, destroying, and controlling, without so much as uttering even a whispered protest?”

“The most significant concern I have with postmodernism is that it is astendentious as the ideologies of texts and interpreters that it strongly criticizes. While no text or interpreter is capable of transcending self-interest, the biased character of much postmodernism is clear. Thus, the criticisms postmodernists raise about texts and interpreters, especially historical critics, are just as partisan, if not more so, since they operate with the deception that their approach transcends ideology. Historical critics may be suffering from self-delusion in attempting to interpret the text as “objectively” as possible, but at least they make the effort. Postmodernists do not. They choose, rather, to reify their own political, social, sexual, and theological affirmations in every text that is interpreted without any accountability to critical scrutiny. They have attempted to construct an approach to biblical interpretation that is ‘beyond criticism.'”

(1)Schopenhauer, Die Welt ale Wille undVorstellung

The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society

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The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society, Eastern Region, 2014 meeting in Baltimore

ImageThe present-future chasm between Interfaith Ecumenical Evangelicals, Post Conservative Evangelicals,Neo-Evangelicals, and Conservative Evangelicals

As “Ecumenical Evangelical” is an oxymoron, “conservative Evangelical” is a redundancy. By definition, “Evangelical” historically included the idea of “not-ecumenical” (unless it meant to work for unity among the diverse body of Evangelicals). And “Evangelical” by definition meant conservative (not Historical-critical or Neo-orthodox) in regards to hermeneutics and theology. Correspondingly, are not “Post-conservative” and “Neo-Evangelical” also oxymoronic ways of saying “no longer conservative”?
Image The [E]-ETS met for their Eastern regional meeting for 2014 at Saint Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, about a mile from our Protestant and conservative evangelical seminary. It was unquestionably the strangest Evangelical Society meeting that I have ever attended: a love-fest of faiths and a goodly number of quirky “Evangelical” papers (not meaning to disparage all the topics, but very few were on the Bible itself), including an interfaith response panel to Gerald R. McDermott’s first excellent keynote presentation. That panel consisted of a Mormon, an atheistic Jew, an orthodox Jew, and was chaired by the moderate former editor of Christianity Today. (Unfortunately, for such an interfaith extravaganza, I am told the Muslim respondent was not able to attend.) Even though the speaker was given response time, he was rather outnumbered by those respondents who pounced on his call for the freedom to persuade, among other things. After McDermot’s second keynote address, he did not have sufficient response time (ten minutes to rebut seventy minutes of criticism). Also, for the two rebuttals of his second address, there was no equivalent presentation of a counter-perspective, making both sets of counter-arguments to the speaker appear biased by design against the speaker’s presentation. Perhaps an oversight, but such unprofessionalism on such serious matters could (inadvertently) communicate a biased jury of a rigged courtroom, especially if ETS Eastern region is interested in real debate.

 I am all for friendship, dialogue, and debate in their proper contexts (ETS?), in so far as it is possible, but in light of the keynote address on “The Emerging Divide in Evangelical Theology,” I see that it is not just a divide in Evangelicalism, it is a watershed chasm of confusion. It leads me to ask, what is the mission of ETS? I am told that ETS does not have a formal mission statement, but the closest representative viewpoint may be found on the ETS website front-page: “We serve Jesus Christ and his church by fostering conservative, evangelical biblical scholarship.” Dialogue and vigorous debate can be wonderful, and I certainly learned very interesting things through the panel responses, but I still doubt that this event served our mission of advancing evangelical biblical scholarship. I understand that guest speakers for ETS meetings are sometimes not members of ETS, and ETS even allows speakers who could not sign our basic doctrinal statement. In both cases, I question whether this actually advances evangelical biblical scholarship in the conference context.

 For example, the first response to McDermott’s second keynote address from Peter Enns, a self-described Evangelical (or as others have said, a “post-conservative”), and whose argument, in my opinion, was mocking and condescending to the speaker. By inference from what he said, I felt that it would apply to all of us who would identify ourselves as “conservative” Evangelicals. This first response, coming from someone who does not believe in the inerrancy or infallibility of the text of the Bible, led me to wonder how much he still believes of what is in the Bible (historically and theologically). Having grown up with many similar, so-called “liberals,” I was disappointed to see this respondent did not even share in their common “tolerant,” “non-judgmental” social graces. And, his cavalier dismissal of McDermott’s exhortation to hold to the faith was shameful. I fail to see how this advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. Is it lacking in grace for me to say so in this public space? Well, please forgive me, if so, but that was my assessment, and I sincerely do say it in love for someone who professes to be a brother in Christ. If we must endure such tirades at ETS, even if entertaining, then I retain the right to invite us all to repent of his trajectory for the faith “once delivered.”

 The second respondent, John Franke, to McDermott did not add much to the “conversation” (his preferred word for describing the ecumenical, interfaith agenda) beyond his usual reliance on Karl Barth and other (long passé) neo-orthodox ideas. He did make one remarkable attempt to advocate for Barth, saying that Barth never said that the Bible is not the “word of God.” This classic “Evangelical” misreading of Barth may disarm us, but it is an inexcusable misrepresentation, since we should all know by now that Barth’s term “Word of God” has little, if anything, in common with an Evangelical definition (the same being true of most of Barth’s major theological categories). Certainly a view which defines “word of God” as errant, and even possibly that which we preach, and also somehow distinct from “revelation,” is entirely out of accord with our ETS statement: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” From <http://www.etsjets.org/about>

 ETS also affirms, along with our collective affirmation of inerrancy as a membership requirement, “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” I can confidently say that Barth’s viewpoint contradicts the “Chicago Statement”:

  Article III

  • We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
  • We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

   Article XII

  • We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
  • We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood. From <http://www.etsjets.org/>

 The increasingly frequent claims that Barth is essentially an Evangelical may simply be the fruit of poor (or disingenuous?) scholarship, but all the same very misleading and misapplied in critiquing McDermott. I fail to see how this respondent advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. May we also turn away, in genuine repentance, from such revisions of our sacred revelation from God.

 A Bit More Seriously, if these two respondents are truly broad and liberal minded why did they for some years work to subvert the Evangelical schools (that employed them) into their own agenda of PoMo Modernism (Historical Criticism and Barthianism), while at the same time barring entrance there to “conservative” Evangelicals? Since it is common knowledge that they had to leave those respective schools, and that those schools were left to pick up the pieces, I have wondered what was gained. Would it not be the right thing for those of genuinely contrary persuasions to the schools they serve to simply start their own, or go where they can build for their own vision? I am all for Evangelical diversity and unity (properly “ecumenical” as in Eph 2:18-22), but diversion from the Evangelical heritage of the places that employ us is neither honest nor respectful of them. In reality, it seems for those who want the table open to all, even other faiths, themselves would not offer a seat (at our own table) for those who do not want the Evangelical table open to all.

Certainly, there may have been some inclinations in these schools towards this New (PoMo) Modernism, but I believe there was also an understandable reluctance by many older conservative Evangelicals to engage in hot rhetoric and debate, and more interest in a “gentlemanly” approach to disagreements. This was particularly true of those who had become battle-weary of the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies, as well as from the costly internal conservative fights among strong “personalities” who trounced one another in various ways. Add to this their fear of the frequent new Modernists’ responses to conservative critiques (of their “Neo-Evangelical” directives for Evangelicalism) that such critiques were just “unscholarly.” These factors do not exonerate leadership from complicity in institutional compromise, even if they explain some of the drifting accommodations to secularization. They also do not explain the ongoing lack of consensus at such schools regarding those accommodations.

In conclusion, this conference raised the question of whether in the name of inclusivism the leadership of ETS was drifting from the ETS affirmations on scripture, as well as truly biblical scholarship? My “reading” of this conference may be wrong, and I hope it is. But for those who would dismiss mine as just biased, Modernist subtext, I would dissent, since it is possibly and reasonably accurate and truthful. It is, moreover, our cherished Evangelical Society I am speaking about. And, it is worthy of defense in its effort to uphold and advance (through proclamation and persuasion) the Great Tradition (and biblical scholarship) extolled by McDermott. Even though it is also worthy of ongoing reform, I believe, nevertheless, that most of us are not asking for redefinition by those who do not share our core values. Indeed, repentance maynecessarily have to precede reform here, as is often the case, and as I know well from personal experience.

I recommend to all of ETS that we each turn (yes, repent) from these PoMo trajectories that jettison us from biblical Evangelicalism and the great and precious tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we stand with our long held doctrine and mission in advancing truly evangelical biblical scholarship.

  • Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
  • Ephesians 5:6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
  • Philippians 1:9-10 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,
  • Colossians 2:2-4 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
  • 1 Timothy 1:11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
  • 1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,
  • 2 Timothy 1:14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
  • Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.[1]

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.