28 August 2007

What are "conservatives" doing in the Emerging Church?

by Phil Johnson

From time to time we pull classic comments up out of an old thread's combox. This is one of those.

ere a commenter tries to argue that outsiders' criticism of the Emerging Church Movement is inherently unfair and unwise, because the movement is so broad that no criticism can possibly apply to the whole mess. Furthermore, this person suggests, an ultra-broad movement like this would be self-correcting if we would just allow that process to happen. The conservatives in the movement are trying to straighten out their wayward brethren, and that's why non-emergent critics should simply leave them alone:

B__________: "Let's recognize that ECM has BOTH liberal and conservative elements, and the conservative element is striving to correct the liberal one."

Really? Where? Take Driscoll's contribution to Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches out of the equation, and I don't see a whole lot of evidence that what you suggest "the conservative element" is trying to do is really happening on any significant scale.

As a matter of fact, when I recently complained that a certain other ostensibly conservative contributor to that volume had made such a weak and reductionist case for "orthodoxy" that he was really adding to the problem rather than helping solve it, angry hordes of Emerging "conservatives" came over here to try to set me straight.

Where, precisely, are they investing that kind of energy in order to straighten out Jones, Burke, Bell, et al.? Can you give me some URLs?

And, by the way, if they are trying to "correct" the wing-nuts secretly and behind the scenes while continuing to extend the pretense of Christian fellowship to them publicly, that strategy isn't working. The wacked-out left end of Emergent is getting larger and crazier.

Meanwhile, among the churches within the movement that profess adherence to a solid doctrinal position, some of the most prominent ones seem to be working hard to make their actual position seem as broad and fuzzy as possible. Furthermore, I don't see any evidence that conservatives are having any significant positive impact on the overall direction of the larger movement. What they are doing is (precisely what you are doing here:) managing to convince naive non-emergents that postmodern perspectives on truth and certainty really don't pose a serious threat to the Christian worldview after all.

That is a huge mistake, and it might actually pose a greater danger than the rather extreme and obvious heresies of someone like Spencer Burke.

Selah.

Phil's signature


69 comments:

bob hyatt said...

Here

here

here

and maybe here for starters...

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Much better than posters. Strong, cojent, confrontational, and logical.

OK, everyone is allowed one "wing-nut" reference that does not count against your grade.

bob hyatt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bob hyatt said...

And of course we should mention Andrew...

And while these aren't exactly what you're looking for... they are kind of funny.

bob hyatt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

Bob:

A gentle reminder: You already got yourself banned from here for serial misbehavior.

I'll leave those two comments, however, because they actually provide what I asked for.

And I'll encourage our readers to look at the examples you have cited and ask yourselves: Are these really vigorous and profitable critiques, or are they precisely what I expressed concern about in that they extend the pretense of Christian fellowship to people who have already blatantly denied Christian essentials?

"I guess what I'm saying is that I want us to talk more about the Gospel. . ." hardly rings a clarion warning against the dangers of apostasy.

Helen said...

When the more conservative Christians in the EC express concerns about the less conservative ones, does it make any difference? Do the less conservative ones listen and change their beliefs?

I met Spencer Burke in July and my impression was that none of the criticism of his theology has caused him to change any of it.

But I could be wrong - I'm not very well informed about such things.

bob hyatt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

Bob:

There was no offense in the comment. I meant to leave your first two comments and accidentally deleted the wrong one. Since I said I was leaving two comments intact, that's what I did. Regard my deletions as random.

But you are banned from commenting at all (remember?) because you deliberately violated the commenting guidelines and then persisted to do so after being warned. Therefore you don't get to comment anymore. How hard is that to grasp?

You don't need to answer that.

centuri0n said...

Bob:

You're on the ban list for comments. You got banned for rules violations.

Phil has received your reference links and left them up. My suggestion is that you should have taken this tact sooner rather than much, much later.

centuri0n said...

For those who read the link to Tall Skinny Kiwi, (and even those who haven't) I have to ask: does "missional" = "emerging"?

That's one of those things which makes my skin crawl.

Daryl said...

After reading the links Bob left it seems to me that they only strengthen Phil's point. They certainly didn't reassure me that the EC has a strong conservative voice. Quite the opposite.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

I cannot understand how a coservative in the accepted definition would desire to come under the "emergent" umbrella. If it is expanding methodology that you are pursuing, why be aligned with some who are obviously expanding truth? Of course many SBC pastors in the 70's and 80's stuck with the alliance even when liberals had infiltrated the schools, and it would be fair to ask why.

The entire issue continues to evolve and is still very mircurial. It is also very difficult for me to find the plumbline that balances rebuke and patient exhortation, compassion and rejection, judgment and discernment, and generally reflecting WWJD in a way that I can always presume confidence.

I do not believe I have ever perfectly reflected Him without ministering some mixture of my own conduit. I guess it is a journey rather than a destination this side of the Destination.

opn said...

The lack of unity and the division amongst the traditional churches was one of the criteria for forming the movement. Now the movement is having the same problems.

Some suggestions:

Emerging
Southern Emerging
First Emerging
Reformed Emerging
Independent Emerging

SolaMeanie said...

I think this is one of the most frustrating things about the EC. It shouldn't really surprise me, because it's a very old tactic designed to throw off criticism.

The best thing is just to ignore such sniping for the most part and carry on with the critique whether they like it or not.

BTW, for sb...I deleted my comment on the last poster thread about 30 seconds after I posted it. I was very annoyed and thought it would give fodder to the critics of us "meanies." How you could read it and respond to it in the VERY brief time it was there before deletion is amazing, and I take my hat off to your speed reading skills. Anyway, that's what happened to my comment.

SolaMeanie said...

"Missional." That's another term beginning to wear very, very thin with me. I would tell you what the term reminds me of, but that might be considered uncouth.

Phil Johnson said...

Once you have read the links Bob supplied, go back and notice the actual question I asked: "Where, precisely, are they investing that kind of energy in order to straighten out Jones, Burke, Bell, et al.?"

I'm not asking whether Emerging insiders ever voice disagreement with one another. Of course they do. But I'm asking to be shown where they have employed the same level of energy and force of polemic they have used against the "watchblogs" in their disagreements with fellow Emergers who have gone off the reservation doctrinally?

Scot Mcknight's telling Spencer Burke he needs to go back to church is hardly in the same class with the curses and demands for repentance that have been posted right here in our comment-threads by Emerging Christians and their sympathizers.

As a matter of fact, some of the same commenters who regularly breach our commenting guidelines here have established entire blogs where they mock and attack Ken Silva and Ingrid S. and others who critique Emerging trends from the outside.

Where, precisely, are Emerging insiders dealing that earnestly with the more serious doctrinal meltdown inside their own movement?

LeeC said...

That is my main concern too Phil.

We are aware of the validity of many of the ECs complaints against "Avengelical churches" and those who see it are prayerfully striving to fix those issues.

But where is the outrage when someone actually states things that truly ARE heretical in the name of the EC?

I just don't see it beyond one or two people saying "Uh guys, thats not right." and then on with the talking about how great it will be when all the old fogey Evangelicals gag off.

LeeC said...

Er that was supposed to be "Evangelical" not "Avangelical" ihatemykeyboardatwork...

Daryl said...

Leec,

You could argue that EC is "Avengelical"

Maybe you're (accidentally)( onto something.

donsands said...

"Do the less conservative ones listen and change their beliefs?" -Helen

The Lord calls to simply share the truth in love. The changing of the mind is between the person who is in error, and the Lord.

We certainly do need to be speaking the Word with all it's depth.
The Church has never been so shallow.

And some hear. And we can be praying that God would do a great work in His Church, and give us all a hunger for His Word. A hurting hunger: "As the dear pants for the water".

Jake said...

I keep seeing these discussions going on in the Reformed and Emergent camps and I keep thinking the same thing, originally brought up in a comment at another blog that I've since lost track of (if you're reading this, thank you for sharing your observation because it's been enormously helpful to me).

First off, I think create separate categories of orthodoxy and orthopraxy can get one in trouble, however one can use the categories to frame the discussion in a helpful way, so that's what I'm going to do.

I greatly admire a number of men in both camps. I love the boldness of men like MacArthur and Driscoll, I love the humility of Mahaney, Harris, and Bell. I love the passion of Piper, Chandler, and McManus. All that to say, I really love a lot of people in both camps.

But there's a significant difference between the two: I think Reformed Christians generally put a greater weight on doctrine and are willing to tolerate practical failings in the area of practice. The emergent camp is just the opposite. They place a huge emphasis on orthopraxy and, unfortunately, a much smaller emphasis on orthodoxy.

So here's what happens- An emergent pastor says something that seems to be deviating from historic orthodox Christianity. Reformed guys freak out and call for all the other emergent pastors to call him on what they would say is clearly sin. The emergents are like, "Why should I publicly condemn a man who is a good friend? And besides, I don't have a monopoly on truth, they may well be right!" Consequently, the Reformed guys say the emergents don't care about theology. From their perspective, the failure of Dan Kimball to publicly condemn Spencer Burke is simply proof that emergents don't care about theology.

On the other side, we'll get a Reformed guy who makes some kind of extremely arrogant or judgmental statement. Or perhaps is failing to be a good steward with their finances. And do any Reformed guys call them on this? No. For example, there have been many Reformed amillenalists who have responded to the theological arguments advanced by Dr. MacArthur in his talk at the last Shepherd's Conference. But I've yet to read any who have said a word about how pugnacious the title of the talk was. So the emergents throw their hands in the air and say, "You reformed Christians just care about doctrine and don't care about practice at all!" Is that fair? Certainly not. Is it true? Again, certainly not.

But how do you, as Reformed Christians accusing emergents of not caring about theology respond to that above point? I think there's truth in both camps, and I wish we could reach a compromise position.

I grew up in a church where bad doctrine would get you on church discipline overnight. Yet the pastor is one of the most arrogant men I know and one member of the board of elders has said, "Foreign missions is a waste of money," and neither of these men are in any danger of church discipline. In fact, they're in positions of authority. Yet surely the first is showing no regard for what scripture says about pride and the other seems to have no regard whatsoever for the great commission!

Thoughts? I haven't seen a response from the Reformed camp that makes much sense to me, but I'd love to hear what you all think.

david rudd said...

jake,

well said.

Helen said...

Jake, I think that's an excellent summary of the situation.

One comment - I think [in some cases] the EC could go further in caring about character. I haven't found a branch of the church which cares about that as much as I would like.

I tried my hand at being a doctrine cop for a little while. It feels great when other conservative Christians applaud but it made me mean on the inside. When I realized what it was doing to me I quit and apologized to 'my enemy'. Now I was aligned with 'the enemy' - no more applause. But my conscience was clear. The thank you note from 'my enemy' means more to me than all the applause and attention I got for being mean.

DJP said...

Really? What church do you attend, Helen, or what kind of church?

Jake said...

Pyro admins- I just realized my previous post may have violated your fourth comment rule, I'm sorry about that, I hadn't read that rule until I saw it cited on another post, I would edit my own post and remove the offending sentence, but I don't see an edit option, if one of the admins wants to edit my post (or remove it entirely... it's your blog after all), please go ahead and do it.

Sorry for breaking that rule, I hadn't read it yet, I'll be more careful in the future.

~jake

donsands said...

" Yet the pastor is one of the most arrogant men I know and one member of the board of elders has said, "Foreign missions is a waste of money," and neither of these men are in any danger of church discipline. In fact, they're in positions of authority. Yet surely the first is showing no regard for what scripture says about pride and the other seems to have no regard whatsoever for the great commission!"

These men shouldn't be in leadership. No way.

I just went through dealing with arrogant church leaders, and it ain't pretty.

There are good shpeherds out there: And they are Reformed.
I have one.
He is solid in the deep things of God, and he preaches the Word with authority and love. He's a humble man of God, who fears God first.
He also cares for the sheep. And the sheep care for him.

I'm personally a doctrinal kind of guy. Too doctrinal at times. And the Lord knows how to put the right fellow believers in my path to sharpen me. And I end up sharpening them as well.
That's how it works methinks.

Jake said...

Don- Exactly! And there are so many wonderful reformed guys who do exactly what you're talking about. I can't think of a more humble leader (at least leading in the public realm, I can't speak to how it looks in the local church since I've never visited there) than C.J. Mahaney. Piper is one of the most tender, compassionate pastors I know of. And Tim Keller is one of the best missiologists you'll come across. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a better man to train future pastors than Jerram Barrs at Covenant Seminary.

So yeah, there are many wonderful, doctrinally-geared Reformed guys, and that's certainly something to rejoice over :).

centuri0n said...

I guess I don't understand why it was right for Peter to strike down Ananias and Sapphira; why Paul could tell the Judaizers he wished they were themselves castrated; why Paul would call the Corinthians a bunch of babies who can't handle the truth.

I must be that they put doctrine over practice, and that their approach wasn't actually very loving.

I guess -- I mean, there's no other explanation when Mahaney and Piper and Keller are all such gentle grandfatherly types.

Helen said...

djp, I went to independent Bible-believing churches for 21 years. They were quite conservative. In years 3-21 I was under Calvinist-leaning pastors (one 5 pt, one about 3 1/2)

I stopped going to church about 2 years ago.

Helen said...

Centurion wrote: I guess I don't understand why it was right for Peter to strike down Ananias and Sapphira; why Paul could tell the Judaizers he wished they were themselves castrated; why Paul would call the Corinthians a bunch of babies who can't handle the truth.

I don't understand why either.

(yes, I know you were being sarcastic - I'm serious though)

Jake said...

Centuri0n- I'm trying to remember, are you Frank Turk or is that someone else? (Sorry, I'm just curious)

Sure, there are examples of people publicly calling out others in Scripture on doctrinal matters. But what is the main thing that Jesus will condemn publicly? Most of the time, it seems to be more related to issues of practice than theology.

In other words, I think you can biblically defend both kinds of rebuke; my point is more related to how neither side seems to have a balanced approach to the issue.

Further, Paul was condemning people who were out and out wrong about the gospel- they had completely lost sight of grace. But I think the main criticism of emerging Christians is not that they're wrong about the gospel per se, but rather that they present an incomplete gospel- so what they present is true, but there's so much that is also true which they fail to present. IE They present Christus Victor, which is a true aspect of the gospel. However, they fail to present penal substitution, which is also a true aspect of the gospel (and according to the reformed camp, the more important part of the gospel).

Is that being fair to the point you're making?

Daryl said...

Helen,

Why the stoppage in church attendance? (If I may)

opn said...

I think the differences are a little deeper than the ones described.

donsands shared with us a church that follows all the traits that a young emerging member is looking for. Correct? Why is there an emerging church in his town? If there is not one in his town, why is there one in my town? I attend a baptist church that shares the same traits. There are thousands of churches all across the world that share these traits. Why are there emerging churches next door to them?

If I walked into my church and they were lacking in practice, why wouldn't I get involved with the practices of that church? Why set up a new camp?

I realize that there are testimonies of...my church did this, and...I grew up with that! This is a copout and I don't but it. No one is saying that there are not churches that fail to minister correctly. However, there are plenty that do and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. By doing so would be an admission that God has failed to build His church over the last 2000 years.

Someone said that one camp focuses on doctrine more and the other on practice. This is very telling. Like I said, if my church is lacking practice, come and make a difference. God Bless you! However, if you don't, I can only assume it's a problem with the doctrine. God's word can be offensive, and I believe that is a sting that some do not want to feel.

Helen said...

daryl, yes you may:

Why I don't go to church anymore

Daryl said...

Great point OPN.

If the only complaint were "not enough right practice" the criticism would be valid. But there seems to be an awful lot of "too much certainty" and "too much Paul, not enough Jesus". Those things make me believe that practice is not really the issue. I think doctrine IS the issue, on both sides. Otherwise, as you say, no split.

Everyone likes a nice guy, no one likes a guy who's right when that guy's "rightness" calls me out.

Daryl said...

Helen,

Wow. That's quite an article. I can't tell you how it grieves me, even as a complete stranger.

The long and short of it seems to be that you've decided that your judgement of things is superior to God's. I don't say that meanly, just a sad observation.

A follow up question or two does seem in order though. What are you looking for on this blog? and How will you know when you've found it if you've left the only sure means of evaluation behind.

Consider, Helen, consider what it means to leave God behind.

I read on one of your blogs (which is why I asked the first question) "If I've found joy, happiness and freedom, why would I add faith to that?" (or something very close to that.) The Bible is clear that finding those things apart from God, as revealed in the Bible, is finding a lie.

Helen, I know you've considered all this, probably many times over. But please consider it again. Remember who you are not and judge things by God's standard again.

Jake said...

OPN- That's a good point, I'd not thought of it before. It's important though to be patient with people as they process past hurts from the church. The church I alluded to before is an independent bible-church, and honestly, as a result, I'm extremely reluctant to attend independent bible churches or to associate with them. (The irony is that I currently attend one, but it is part of a loose network that is kind of an Acts29 or Sovereign Grace Lite)

I'm sure those who were burned by Presbyterians or Baptists growing up feel the same way. It's very difficult for us to distinguish between our sucky experience in one specific local church and the larger evangelical church. So often we think it's easier to leave and look for something new than to hang around and find a good baptist/independent/presbyterian church. And I don't know think I'd consider that a poor decision. I think people are different and some people need to leave their denominational background (or lack of one, in my case) and look for something new. Others, need to stay within that background and seek to serve God there. I don't know that there is an easy response to the situation.

John Piper has an article where he talks about this too... He has two friends, both in the same denomination. One felt he needed to leave, the other felt called to stay. And Piper's take was that they were both right. I think the same would apply to this scenario. Some of us will be called to leave and join something new, others will be called to stay. (In fact, I once read that Tim Keller had planned on joining the PC(USA) except they would not ordain him due to his beliefs about women in ministry)

It's a really difficult issue though, and for those of us who have left the church we grew up in, it's much more than just a theological or ecclesiological issue, it's also a profoundly personal issue that involves just as much emotional strain as it does mental.

Jake said...

Helen- I share Don's feelings after reading your post. First off, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about the experiences you've had in the church and I can assure you that I understand what you're feeling, having gone through a similar experience myself. But at the same time, I'm very sad that you've responded by just giving up on church and the generally-held Christian view of God. I'm not sure if you've ever tried listening to guys like Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball, or Rob Bell, but I think you'd find them refreshing. That said, I feel badly hijacking this thread, but I'd love to continue talking. Perhaps over e-mail (jakemeador@gmail.com) or at my blog? (www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees)

Daryl said...

Jake,

As a blog non-adminstrator (just some guy who occasionally comments in fact) I think your advice is particularly unhelpful.

Consider the wisdom of directing someone who is trying to understand life towards a movement which seems to revel in not understanding life (Bell in particular). The blind are not qualified to lead the blind. (Neither are the seeing who chose to close their eyes).

I can see this thread suddenly being hijacked and dragged away.
I don't expect I'll go there. Helen probably doesn't need another argument, although she does need the truth.

Jake said...

Daryl- Sorry, I'm not trying to be unhelpful, I just know that when I was having the struggles that she was, the one God used in my life to help me a lot was Brian McLaren and after him it was Rob Bell. And after him it was John Piper, Tim Keller, and C.J. Mahaney.

Sorry if it's unhelpful, if the blog admins feel that way, it's certainly they're right to delete the post, I'm just trying to share with Helen what was helpful for me.

I'll let this be the last off-topic post, no more hijacking posts after this one, and if any admins find them unhelpful, then they can delete them and I'll not offer such advice in this space in the future.

Helen said...

Phil, sorry about the thread hijack.

Jake and Daryl thanks for caring. Jake I have issues with God as understood by the EC - so those authors don't work for me (Daryl might be relieved to hear).

Daryl I wish I could explain that this is not an arrogant position - although perhaps the article appears that way (just like the posters do to some people). It is not about me asserting my knowledge over God's. I am no more arrogant than I ever was in those 21 years of Bible-believing church and in the 17 years before I had doubts.

But no matter what I say, it sounds arrogant to some - again, just like the posters do, to some people. People who know me know I am not arrogant.

centuri0n said...

| Centuri0n- I'm trying to remember,
| are you Frank Turk or is that someone
| else? (Sorry, I'm just curious)

That's Frank Turk's face in my avatar, so I hope that's who I am.

| Sure, there are examples of people
| publicly calling out others in Scripture
| on doctrinal matters. But what is the
| main thing that Jesus will condemn
| publicly? Most of the time, it seems to
| be more related to issues of practice
| than theology.

That's interesting – because the thing Jesus condemns the Pharisees for over and over again is ... failing to recognize Him as God. That would be a theology issue, not a practice issue.

| In other words, I think you can
| biblically defend both kinds of
| rebuke; my point is more related to
| how neither side seems to have a
| balanced approach to the issue.

The difference between your position and my position is that I think both are biblical, not just that both are "defensible". The question is if we are called on by the Bible to be perpetual hand-wringers, or if there are times – especially when we are dealing with people who are inside the church – when we have to, as Paul says to the Corinthians, come with the rod rather than with love.

| Further, Paul was condemning people
| who were out and out wrong about the
| gospel- they had completely lost sight
| of grace.

Stop right there, Jake. Paul says that he will come with the rod to the Corinthians if they don't practice church discipline toward a man who is (homeschool families avert your eyes) "having" his father's wife.

That's not "completely wrong about the Gospel": that's "unable to identify and rightly rebuke sin". It's a sound consequence of the Gospel, to be sure, but it's not about whether they have properly nuanced the atonement.

| But I think the main
| criticism of emerging Christians is not
| that they're wrong about the gospel
| per se, ...

I would disagree, but we'll come back to that.

| ... but rather that they present an
| incomplete gospel- so what they
| present is true, but there's so much
| that is also true which they fail to
| present. IE They present Christus
| Victor, which is a true aspect of the
| gospel. However, they fail to present
| penal substitution, which is also a true
| aspect of the gospel (and according to
| the reformed camp, the more
| important part of the gospel).

Let me appreciate first the willingness to seek first to understand. Whether we can come to an agreement here or not, this is the right kind of engagement.

The most-simple formula of the Gospel in the NT is 1 Cor 15:3-4 – Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture; he was buried and raised from the dead in accordance with Scripture. Notice something: the penal substitutionary atonement (that'll be $9 please) of Christ-for-sin is essential for the Gospel; the "unbreakableness" of Scripture (that is, that history is formed by Scripture and not merely reported by Scripture; the authority and power of God's word) is essential to the Gospel; the resurrection is essential for the Gospel; the person of Christ – not merely a human Jesus, but the one worthy to be called "Messiah" in all its OT substance – is essential for the Gospel.

So when somebody drops the ball on one of these, they drop orthodoxy. They are done. They need more than a fatherly hug.

| Is that being fair to the point you're
| making?

I think you have been as fair as you can be, given your premises. I think your premises need work, which is not a crime but a place where we can engage further.

KM said...

Helen,
In reference to this: "Centurion wrote: I guess I don't understand why it was right for Peter to strike down Ananias and Sapphira; why Paul could tell the Judaizers he wished they were themselves castrated; why Paul would call the Corinthians a bunch of babies who can't handle the truth.
I don't understand why either."

The Apostles' hearts were for the church as a whole. When Peter rebuked Ananias and Sapphira publicly he did it for the benifit of the observers. He wanted everyone watching to understand that deception of any sort was unacceptable.

I find that these examples make sense to me when I think of them in light of how I might deal with my 3 year old child on an issue. He's recently earned the privilage of having a glass of juice (with no lid) rather than a sippy cup. But, when he deliberately dumped his juice on the floor, just for laughs, I was quick to revert back to his sippy cup and explain that he was obviously not ready to do a "big boy" thing like drink out of a grown-up glass. The next time he got a glass of juice he did not dump it out on the floor because he wanted to prove he was a "big boy" and was ready to do big boy things.

I don't know if this was helpful but I can see Paul rebuking the Corinthians for similar reasons.

donsands said...

"my point is more related to how neither side seems to have a balanced approach to the issue.'

That was my whole point. I have a local church which is fairly balanced, and it can be where the Word of God is paramount. Expositional preaching is essential. Elders lead and rule. The people of God submit to God's called leaders. And discipline takes place when necessary.

The Gospel is the heart beat of all we do.
And we worship the Ftaher in Spirit and truth.

The needs of others is met as needs come.

I hope that makes sense.

Phil Johnson said...

Jake:

If we deleted all the "unhelpful" comments, every thread would be hopelessly swiss-cheesed. My policy is generally to delete only profanity and banned commenters' posts. But see below for my thoughts about why your comment was particularly "unhelpful."

First, for future reference, rule 4 wasn't written to prohibit every possible mention of John MacArthur or our various family members. We do mention our own loved ones sometimes, though we try not to make them the focus of arguments here, for obvious reasons.

Gratuitous personal and critical references to John MacArthur have been a particular issue with me since the first week I started blogging. The first four or five posts I made all got hijacked by a handful of angry, churlish and otherwise "spirit-filled" people who figured they could use my blog to vent against my pastor in every comment-thread, even though their pet issues were pretty much all off-topic.

So I drew the line quickly. I rehearsed all that here, if you want to read about it.

I've never (as far as I can recall) deleted anyone's post who has violated that rule accidentally. Hey, I don't think I've ever even threatened to ban a newcomer who just stumbled in fresh and laid down the smack with a hasty critical reference to my pastor before seeing the rule.

Instead, the rule has been used against 1) people who have hung about our blog for awhile complaining, but then dropped a Mac-bomb because they ran out of arguments, or 2) people who like to take regular potshots at MacArthur or "MacArthurites" from the safety of their own blogs—but then when they don't get a lot of response, they figure if they bring it here, they might elevate their hit counts. (People like that I'll ban for a first offense.)

In your case, I would have ignored it until the second or third offense. But I'm glad you found the rules on your own.

However (to get back to your "unhelpful" advice to Helen) now you've inspired me to consider adding one more rule: Don't do personal counseling in our comment-threads if you know you're giving our visitors counsel we ourselves would frown upon.

You have our word for this: We wouldn't do that at your blog. We clearly are going to disagree on a LOT of stuff. But let's show one another at least that much respect, OK?

I'm not going to add that rule unless it becomes a real problem. If we're not careful, we'll have a sidebar as long as the list-o-rules at the infamous Tavern acoss the tracks.

Jake said...

Phil- Sounds fair, sorry about that, I wasn't honestly even thinking about the blog I was posting on, I was just thinking in terms of how I was relating to what she said and what had helped me, but I have to be mindful of the context in which I'm speaking, so thank you for reminding me of that. Thanks for the response too :).

Helen said...

jake, it was kind of you to try to help me.

I post comments in various places and I do try to be respectful of the rules at each one. I messed up here one time because I hadn't read the rules carefully. When I read them I realized what I did and I won't make that mistake again.

Jake said...

"That's interesting – because the thing Jesus condemns the Pharisees for over and over again is ... failing to recognize Him as God. That would be a theology issue, not a practice issue."

But what about referring to them as white washed tombs? On the outside they look good, but on the inside they're full of dead men's bones? I'll certainly agree that he does at times rebuke them for their view of who he is, but I feel like you're ignoring a lot of other instances where he rebukes them if you say that he only rebukes them over theological issues.

"The difference between your position and my position is that I think both are biblical, not just that both are "defensible". The question is if we are called on by the Bible to be perpetual hand-wringers, or if there are times – especially when we are dealing with people who are inside the church – when we have to, as Paul says to the Corinthians, come with the rod rather than with love."

Fair enough, that makes sense.

"Stop right there, Jake. Paul says that he will come with the rod to the Corinthians if they don't practice church discipline toward a man who is (homeschool families avert your eyes) "having" his father's wife.

That's not "completely wrong about the Gospel": that's "unable to identify and rightly rebuke sin". It's a sound consequence of the Gospel, to be sure, but it's not about whether they have properly nuanced the atonement.


I was actually thinking of the Galatians when I made that comment, IE "You foolish Galatians, having been saved by faith are you now being perfected by the flesh?" And as you said, I'd argue that even in Corinth the issue is still related to an incomplete understanding of the gospel. It was essentially that the practice of the Corinthians would suggest that they didn't understand that the gospel is a call to repentance and a turning from all forms of sin. (I'm not sure that we disagree on this point actually, I think we're just expressing the same point in different language, I think I'm just drawing a more direct link between the gospel and church discipline.)

"Let me appreciate first the willingness to seek first to understand. Whether we can come to an agreement here or not, this is the right kind of engagement.

The most-simple formula of the Gospel in the NT is 1 Cor 15:3-4 – Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture; he was buried and raised from the dead in accordance with Scripture. Notice something: the penal substitutionary atonement (that'll be $9 please) of Christ-for-sin is essential for the Gospel; the "unbreakableness" of Scripture (that is, that history is formed by Scripture and not merely reported by Scripture; the authority and power of God's word) is essential to the Gospel; the resurrection is essential for the Gospel; the person of Christ – not merely a human Jesus, but the one worthy to be called "Messiah" in all its OT substance – is essential for the Gospel.

So when somebody drops the ball on one of these, they drop orthodoxy. They are done. They need more than a fatherly hug."


If 1 Cor. 15 is the definite explanation of the gospel, I can go with you on all this. But what is the basis for saying a few verses at the end of one of Paul's epistles are the defining section in the Scriptures about the gospel? What about all the examples in the gospels where Christ sums up the gospel as, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."? I don't see the biblical basis for placing such weight on 1 Cor. 15 to the exclusion of other passages discussing the nature of the gospel. If all Scripture is God-breathed, surely it is all equally vital and authoritative? Why the special emphasis on these verses?

"I think you have been as fair as you can be, given your premises. I think your premises need work, which is not a crime but a place where we can engage further."

Don't write me off too soon mate ;). Honestly, I'm more Reformed than Emergent in my theology. It's just that my eschatology (post mill on good days, amill on bad ones ;) ) and belief about covenant theology allows me to relate really well to parts of emergent theology. But I did post on my blog recently, arguing for the importance of penal substitution in order to have a full understanding of the gospel and additionally expressing concern over the abandonment or neglecting of penal substitution amongst some of our emergent brothers and sisters. I just don't feel the need to draw as many hard lines as you might. And that's fine, we're a good balance for each other, every church needs a John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll personality to keep it's doctrine pure and every church also needs a John Newton type personality to keep it tender :).

Essentially, I'd agree with Keller's opinion he shared at the 2006 DG conference when he said that a highly Kingdom-based gospel with a strong emphasis on the over-arching narrative of scripture is not a bad thing in itself, his only concern was that it would be more difficult to create a soul-stirring passionate satisfaction in Christ or a humility that acknowledges our own limitedness. However he wouldn't go so far as to say "Not mentioning penal substitution = not preaching the gospel." That's essentially where I am. I'd say not mentioning penal substitution gives an incomplete view of the gospel, but it's still the gospel, because I'd argue that the essence of the gospel is what Jesus said in the gospels, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."

Thanks for the response, I appreciate the dialogue, it's very helpful for me and hopefully is for you as well :).

Phil Johnson said...

Helen:

I finally had some time to look up your Web pages and try to make better sense of where you are coming from. I have to confess I am mystified by your role with OTM. You seem to be their token agnostic (or would "almost-atheist" more appropriate?). If I understand your various testimonies correctly, you don't even profess to be a believer any longer, and you say you're not "Emerging," yet you work for an organization that is clearly very plugged into Emergent. Your earlier denials of any connection with McLaren notwithstanding, there are pictures of you online leading a workshop at a conference where McLaren was the headline speaker. (Spencer Burke was another speaker at that same conference.) So I don't quite understand your efforts to position yourself as a disinterested party in these discussions.

Anyway, the fact that an ostensibly Christian organization would employ a skeptic to lead their online discussion board, engage you to lecture about your doubts at their national conferences, and generally use you to make other skeptics feel comfortable with their skepticism—well, that pretty much proves what I have been saying about the unbridled exaltation of doubt in the Emerging community.

If I had made up a story about someone doing what you do, I would have expected the various Friends of Emergent to accuse me of concocting a caricature so exaggerated as to warrant utter contempt. I have to say in all honesty that your testimony made me profoundly sad. I think you are being used by people with an agenda in a way that is frankly unconscionable.

Question: How would you describe the dominant response you have received from Emerging Christians to your workshops and online forums? Do most of those who identify with the Emerging/Emergent conversation seem to want to try to help you regain your faith, or would you say they spend more energy encouraging you to feel comfortable with your doubts?

That's a serious question. I'm not trying to start an argument. I'm interested in a candid answer.

SolaMeanie said...

Jake,

Emergents are interested in orthopraxis?

Hmmm. We must have hugely different ideas about what constitutes orthopraxis.

centuri0n said...

Jake:

Paul is the one who says that this definition of the Gospel is "of first importance". And it's the only definition of the Gospel which makes the -command- to repent sensible in the context of Jesus' total ministry.

I'll get to the rest of your note later today.

Helen said...

Phil wrote: Do most of those who identify with the Emerging/Emergent conversation seem to want to try to help you regain your faith, or would you say they spend more energy encouraging you to feel comfortable with your doubts?

That's a serious question. I'm not trying to start an argument. I'm interested in a candid answer.


Phil, I’m happy to give you a serious answer. Especially since this is one of the more interesting questions any Christian has asked me lately (no offense intended towards anyone else who asked me a great question which isn’t presently springing to mind)

I still don’t know what to call you so I’ll go with VCC – Very Conservative Christian – to avoid picking fights with people in the EC who self-identify as Conservative Christians.

On the whole, VCCs and ECCs (Emerging/Emergent Church Christians) are equally uncomfortable with me being almost an atheist. Most ECCs I run into value their relationship with God highly and can’t imagine how not actively engaging in a relationship with God can be better than doing so.

Whether ECCs engage me with the purpose of trying to help me regain my faith, varies – just as, whether people who feel uncomfortable about your posters engage you about them, varies. I’m sure there are people who don’t like the posters but feel it would be a waste of time engaging you about them because you are convinced making them is worthwhile. Maybe they are praying for you, hoping God will bring you to your senses. Other people engage you in the hope that something they say might change your mind.

By way of analogy, I’m in a similar situation: of those who are uncomfortable; some engage me and some don’t. That’s true of both VCCs and ECCs.

If I move from the conservative end of the EC spectrum towards the Spencer Burke end, it becomes increasingly likely that people will decide I am in a spiritual place they are comfortable with. This is because towards that end, their definition of spiritual, Jesus follower, Christian, becomes more and more general so I am more likely to still fall within its boundaries. If I go all the way to the Spencer Burke end of the EC spectrum, which very few ECCs seem to be at, then I don’t think those ECCs care what I believe. That end is probably way outside what you consider Christian (I expect you consider some people towards the other end, Christian but tragically misled).

At that end or towards that end, people still don’t put energy into making me feel comfortable where I’m at regarding faith in God/lack thereof. The only people I run into who high-five me for that or put energy into validating it are some atheists or agnostic-atheists.

Some Christians do validate other things about me “It’s good that you’re kind; you care about others” etc. It’s more common that ECCs do this than VCCs, although some of my friends who are VCCs have done it. I think VCCs are very reluctant to say anything validating to me in case I might misconstrue them as not being seriously concerned about my current lack of faith.

Off The Map does not have a theological agenda per se; its mission is to promote the spiritual practice of serving others [since Jesus came to serve, not to be served]. Off The Map invited me to their event last year to share my story because they see value in listening to atheists and near-atheists 1) in order to better understand them 2) because sometimes their outsider perspective helps them notice things it’s harder for Christians to notice, but which are helpful for Christians to know. I would say that intelligent evangelism should begin with 1): secular people recognize the value of market research and so should Christians, in my opinion. Also [the author of] James wrote: “be quick to listen and slow to speak”; I’m sure there was a reason for that.

As an almost-atheist I value serving others; in fact I like a lot of what Jesus said and did according to the gospels; I think a lot of it is worth emulating. From my point of view this aligns me with Off The Map’s mission enough that I’m happy to be an Off The Map volunteer (I manage their blogs). Evidently they feel the same way. My main role on their blogs is encouraging respectful atheist-Christian dialog. I also oversee all aspects of them. I’m respectful of their mission for each one, just as I am respectful of what you are trying to achieve with your blog. I was serious about inviting you to . As far as I’m concerned I would happy to have you there; in fact I’d be quite interested to meet you in person as long as you did not tie me to a chair and try to make me say one of the historic creeds and mean it. I found out after last year’s event that at least one elder from Mark Driscoll’s church was there. Had I known that I would have been interested to meet him.

I’m wary of being with VCCs (or any Cs) who want to engage me and try to persuade me back to faith, because I’ve yet to encounter any who have something to say I didn’t come across in my 17 years as a Christian. I read apologetics then; I studied the defense of the faith. If those arguments were going to work they would have worked already – someone else telling me them is no more effective than me reading them myself. It’s tiresome to try to convince these people that, yes, I’ve been there, done that; yes, I really was a VCC; no, I’m not angry with God; no, I’m not angry with other Christians (although I have been, at times); yes, I know you think I am being foolishly arrogant – or whatever. Apart from that I like VCCs as much as I like anyone else. In many ways I find I am still a VCC at heart – sometimes I even have the same reactions as VCCs to ECCs. Many of my core values are based on Bible passages; I adopted them in the 17 years when I was a VCC and actively studying the Bible and I still want to live by them to this day (although you may feel I have distorted them beyond what God ever intended).

FYI I posted this on the blog I host which is sponsored by Off The Map,
here

Helen said...

p.s. sorry about the link problem - can you fix it for me?

Daryl said...

Helen,

This may sound like a silly thing to mention, but...I'll mention it anyways.

You said "Many of my core values are based on Bible passages; I adopted them in the 17 years when I was a VCC and actively studying the Bible and I still want to live by them to this day."

You do realize, based on your previous life as a "Christian" that Christianity is not in any way a set of values to be emulated, don't you. I trust that you understand that Biblically your rejection of Christ as a Saviour for sinners who can't help themselves is in no way mitigated by any "core values" you may be trying to live by.

Luke & Rachael said...

Just to throw it out there RE: the 1 Cor. 15.3-4 debate: I tend to agree w/ Jake that making this passage *the* definitive statement of the gospel is somewhat arbitrary. But I'm sure Frank has all sorts of nifty arguments up his sleeve for why I'm dead wrong about that.

So suppose Frank's right. It still seems to me that there's just not enough in this passage to make penal substitutionary atonement the hallmark of orthodoxy, to the detriment of other models. I take it Frank's reason for thinking so is Paul's statement that Jesus died for (huper) our sins.

No doubt the huper makes some connection between the cross and our sins; our sins had something major to do with the cross. But suppose a fan of Christus Victor says: "Christ is on the cross because our sins are a big part of the reason why Satan and the forces of evil, the powers and principalities and the like, hold sway over the world. Our sin is part of the enemy that Christ defeats via the cross and resurrection. So I agree that Christ died for my sins, but deny that this has all the Anselmian penal substitutionary overtones you think it does."

I'm not saying this is what I'd say, but it does seem like a feasible move. Moreover, I don't see how we'd be able to decide an argument about this just on the basis of 1 Cor 15.3-4. Other passages will need to start flying. The issue, unsurprisingly, will turn on whose position makes best sense of all the relevant texts, not just one or two.

No doubt Frank knows this. As he says, he has hermeneutical reasons for why 1 Cor 15.3-4 should be read as the best definition of the gospel. And no doubt he has hermeneutical and exegetical reasons for why Paul has penal substitution in mind here. Of course, others are likely to have their own hermeneutical reasons for why Frank's dead wrong. Frank might be right, but it's gotta take more than one verse to decide. So let's hear the rest of it Frank!

Helen said...

daryl wrote: You do realize, based on your previous life as a "Christian" that Christianity is not in any way a set of values to be emulated, don't you. I trust that you understand that Biblically your rejection of Christ as a Saviour for sinners who can't help themselves is in no way mitigated by any "core values" you may be trying to live by.

(I don't think it's a silly question btw)

Yes, I'm well aware that that's the VCC belief.

I also know that Jesus' words in Matthew 25:31-46 (sheep and goats) or Mark 10:17-29 (rich young man) taken at face value, imply that some people will get into heaven based on their behavior.

I know the VCC has ways of reconciling those passages to their beliefs but to me those ways compromise the authority of the Word of God by in effect saying "It doesn't matter what the face value meaning of these two passages is". I was disillusioned because I came to the conclusion that people who say they believe the whole Bible actually believe those parts which support their belief system and explain away those parts which don't. Sorry if saying that here crosses a line.

Anyway, I went to churches which taught a person can't lose their salvation. Which would mean I am not in any danger of hell although I certainly could be in danger of losing rewards - "escaping as through flames". Either that or I was never saved, which means that all the Bible-believing Christians I knew were way too easily deceived by me since they all seemed to think I was regenerate - as did I.

Dr Bill said...

Hi Helen. You said, "...which means that all the Bible-believing Christians I knew were way too easily deceived by me since they all seemed to think I was regenerate." Yes, and I'm sure you've read that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. It's true -- we can be easily deceived. We're dealing with a tragic church discipline issue right now where the person, as far as I knew, was a dear brother. But he is now reportedly living godlessly.

Anyway, how do Matthew 25:31-46 and Mark 10:17-29 prove that our conduct determines whether we enter heaven, when the NT is full of teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, not of works? Besides, even the OT shows that all our righteousness (including good works apart from the Lord) are as filthy rags to God.

The face value of a passage must always be considered in light of context (on multiple levels). Otherwise the Bible can be made to say just about anything at all. VCCs aren't inventing ways of reconciling inconsistencies and unfairly rewriting the meaning of passages; we're merely looking at the whole counsel of God with a consistent approach. That's what a good hermeneutic does.

It's biblically clear that the redeemed person in Christ is saved unto good works; thus the judgment of Matthew 25 is between those who evidence redemption because it's the cause or source of their good works, and those who are lost and never could do any. Are these not saved people doing these things during the tribulation? That's what the context will bring to this. "Almost" Christian people will not get into heaven because they won't even register on the map of good works to God.

Helen, what really grieves me is to consider what you have said in light of 1 John 2:19, referring to people who presumably were of the faith, but "They went out from us, but they were not really of us." I pray that you would personally know the Savior and the miracle of salvation from sin as He grants you the gift of faith, to His glory. That is night and day different from the strivings of self-effort.

Dave Crater said...

Phil (or anyone else who is orthodox and knows): I have not heard why John Piper involves Mark Driscoll in his Bethlehem conferences. Anyone know anything about this?

Helen said...

Dave, I think it's because Mark Driscoll has the same theological beliefs as John Piper.

Helen said...

By the way the last line of my long post was supposed to include this link back to where I posted it on Conversation at the Edge, the blog I host, sponsored by Off The Map.

Helen said...

dr bill wrote: The face value of a passage must always be considered in light of context (on multiple levels). Otherwise the Bible can be made to say just about anything at all.

This is the reasoning I'm familiar with which Christians use to dismiss whichever passages conflict with their systematic theology.

Calvinists and Arminians use it to dismiss different passages then tell each other THEY are the ones who are interpreting the Bible right.

VCCs aren't inventing ways of reconciling inconsistencies and unfairly rewriting the meaning of passages; we're merely looking at the whole counsel of God with a consistent approach. That's what a good hermeneutic does.

Since this evidently doesn't produce a unique answer - because Christians continue to disagree over what the 'whole counsel of God is' - this led me to question whether it was true that the Bible never contradicted itself.

At this point in time I am unable, based on the evidence, to accept that the Bible teaches one clear message. If I said otherwise I would be lying. I don't want to do that. Clearly God (if he exists) values honesty very highly.

donsands said...

"At this point in time I am unable, based on the evidence, to accept that the Bible teaches one clear message." -Helen

Do you believe Christ died on a cross, and on the third day rose from the dead?

Helen said...

Don are you asking:

Do I believe there was a historical person named Jesus
and do I believe he died on a cross
and do I believe he was miraculously raised from the dead
and do I believe the Bible accurately describes those events
and do I believe the Bible accurately describes their theological significance
and do I believe conservative Christians have correctly understood what the Bible intends to say about these things?

- if so, then

probably
probably
not sure
not sure
not sure
not sure

opn said...

Helen:

At some point we have to stop blaming others for our own lack of faith and conviction.

Helen said...

opn, I agree.

I don't blame others.

I think it's ironic and unfortunate that Christian behavior was a very significant factor in causing me to doubt whether the Holy Spirit is real.

However I don't *blame* other people for what I do or don't believe. I take full responsibility for it.

Helen said...

daryl, on another post you wrote:
We can't go changing and contextualizing everything in order to convince the unsure

Yet here you wrote this to me: The face value of a passage must always be considered in light of context (on multiple levels).

This is why it seems to me that systematic theology rules, not the Bible - because what I see in practice is that Christians do this: When a passage agrees with my theology, I take it at face value. When it doesn't, I 'contextualize' it until it does.

So, although Bible-believing Christians claim to test their systematic theology with Scripture, it seems to me it's the other way around: they test their understanding of Scripture with their systematic theology.

Hence it is the authority of their particular Systematic Theology that they are actually under.

Helen said...

thanks Phil

Phil Johnson said...

This is turning into the same merry-go-round all over again. I gather the only people still reading are relative newcomers who've never read the reams of discussion we have hosted on all these matters in the past. So I'm going to close this thread and refer everyone to the PostModernism tag, which indexes most of our previous posts on the subject.

Thanks to all who participated.