04 April 2007

Let me put it this way:

Summarizing my criticism of the Emerging Church Movement
by Phil Johnson

noted on Monday that I've had a lot of negative things to say over the past two years about the so-called "Emerging conversation."

As someone quipped, less might be more. One person asked me to simplify all of those prior posts into one, more manageable, statement. My friend asked, "If you could boil your criticism of the Emerging Church movement down to one major complaint, what would that be?"

Short answer: Virtually every distinctive strategy I have seen advocated in the Emerging Conversation so far strikes me as utterly wrong-headed; rooted in a lack of confidence in the power and authority of Scripture; borrowed from the modernist play-book; already discredited by experience; and contrary to what Scripture teaches.

I realize that sounds too negative, so let me put it another way:

I think the Emerging movement has shown an uncanny knack for embracing the very aspects of postmodern thought and style that most need to be confronted with the truth of the gospel.

On the positive side, let me say that I appreciate the fact that many Christians these days are grappling with the question of how the church should respond to postmodernism. I do think that's a serious and vitally important question that we all need to face. It's a question many old-style evangelicals are completely unprepared to answer—but every person I have ever met who is involved in the Emerging Church movement is eager and ready to discuss. Let's give them credit for that.

Indeed, this is the key distinctive of the emerging church: it is fundamentally a self-conscious attempt to adapt the church and frame the gospel message in a way that meets the unique challenges postmodernism presents.

Understand: I'm not suggesting that is an unworthy goal. I have many criticisms of the Emerging Church movement, but the fact that they want to reach postmodern people for Christ is not one of my criticisms. It's vital that the church should wake up and understand how our world is changing, and at the very least, the Emerging Church movement is sounding a wake-up call.

Furthermore, as I have said many times, if we listen to the Emerging Church Movement's critique of mainstream evangelicalism, we must acknowledge that they are right on target in many ways. I agree wholeheartedly with much of what the literature of the Emerging Church movement says about the failure of mainstream evangelicalism. Many who are joining the Emerging movement have bailed out of the evangelical movement because they are rightly fed up with American-style late-20th-century evangelicalism.

I'm thinking here especially of the so-called "neo-evangelicalism" that rode the wave of Billy Graham's popularity and reached its peak in a handful of massive, worldly megachurches where serious teaching was deliberately ousted and replaced by entertainment. That kind of "evangelicalism" has utterly failed as a movement and will probably die out completely in a generation or so if serious and significant changes are not made.

And on one thing in particular, the Emergents are right: that movement needs to die. Good riddance to it.

But I could hardly disagree more strongly with the kind of remedies that have been proposed by the chief engineers of the Emerging Church movement. In fact, I think the big-picture strategy they have adopted actually works against the idea of reaching postmodern people for Christ.

More important, I think the strategy most Emerging-style churches have embraced simply recycles all the errors of modernism that ultimately got us into this mess in the first place.

Emerging Post-evangelicals are bankrupt and sitting on Mediterranean Avenue without having passed go and without collecting $200. They act as if they are making a fresh start. Actually, they are about to embark on one final, unhappy trip around the board with no chance of making it even halfway. I predict they won't even get past Oriental Avenue.

Phil's signature


Austin Bob said...

Another homerun. Thanks for a very insightful and incisive post.

Andy B. said...

Thank you Phil for the sum up and the reminders.

Pastor Rod said...


This is much better than your previous post in which you conflated the Emerging Church and the Missional Movement.

I still have a hard time throwing everyone who uses the "Emerging" modifier into one big group and treating them as if they have a single strategy or methodology.

It may just be that the only thing these people have in common is their desire to reach a post-Christian culture with the message of the gospel.

I'm not even sure that one could say that the focus is on post-modern culture. I think that the post-Christian context is bigger than just post-modernism.


Seth McBee said...

that makes sense...I think that the emerging pastors that are sound (Driscoll, Keller and Chandler) and some great conservative leaders (Piper, Dever, MacArthur, Mohler, Mahaney, Sproul) need to start getting together more and share ideas and lead the country under the Lord Jesus Christ to reach all people. We actually are already starting to see this happen with Driscoll, Piper and Mahaney, but it would be nice for the others to start serving alongside one another...

this is why I believe Together for the Gospel and also the Shepherd's and Ligonier conferences have been so good for Christendom...different "denominations" and theologies getting together to fight the good fight and run the race...we need more of this with our brothers who are theologically strong and "missional"

Phil Johnson said...

Pastor Rod: "This is much better than your previous post in which you conflated the Emerging Church and the Missional Movement."

Well, thanks for the backhanded compliment, but as usual, I'm having a hard time kmaking any sense of what you're saying. Could you quote the part of my "previous post" in which I even said anything whatsoever about "the Missional Movement"? Because I can't find it.

Or are you suggesting that "the Emerging Church and the Missional Movement" are two such disparate entities that one can't even properly use the word "missional" to describe Emerging trends without being guitly of "conflating" two things that are wholly unrelated? Because if that's what you are claiming, you ought to take it up with all the Emerging dudes who want to make "missional" one of their essential distinctives. They might not realize how totally out of bounds they are. I'm sure you'll be able to straighten them out.

James Scott Bell said...


"...but the fact that they want to reach postmodern people for Christ is not one of my criticisms."

I'm not sure I'd even concede this much to the wider "movement." If you read "The Secret Message of Jesus" for example, you'll find a very different definition of what it means to "reach people for Christ." To the extent people like McLaren even use that phraseology, it's to criticize what it represents (e.g., the focus on atonement for sin, etc.)

McLaren contends the "secret" message is what the church has forgotten or even suppressed in favor of a "reaching people for Christ." See, the real reason for Jesus and the incarnation was so he could teach us to "make beautiful life-music in his secret, revolutionary kingdom-of-God way." [Pg. 77]


Martin Downes said...

"Missional" is a vague term that needs filling out and defining by theology. It tells us nothing useful or informative. Is it what people used to call evangelism? Or is it evangelism plus social action?

Two things strike me about the Emergent approach. The same laudable attempt to reach a changing culture was made by modernists a century or so ago. They knew that the culture was moving on and wanted to reach it. But in the process they lost the gospel because it became conformed to the thought forms of the time. How will postmodernising the faith be any different?

The other thing is that I can't figure out why the emerging postmodern approach rehabilitates and repackages aspects of liberal (modernist) theology ("the gospel of Jesus, not about Jesus," and the repudiation of penal substitution come to mind). Why are they trying to reach an emerging culture with cutting edge 19th century unbelief?

FX Turk said...


re: "make beautiful life-music in his secret, revolutionary kingdom-of-God way." [Pg. 77]

That's so fruity I think it's drawing flies. In a bad way. And we just had the blog fumigated.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Pastor Rod: I think most of us who have dealt with those who describe themselves as "Missional", understand that (these days) it is a code-word for the Social Gospel, that is, the elevating of people's physical or emotional needs and wants above the need for saving of their souls from eternal destruction. Fool me once, but not twice...

Turretinfan said...

I tend to think that we must choose between:

The Bible (and especially the Law and the Gospel) transforms cultures;


Cultures transform Christianity and/or our understanding of God's Word.

With the Reformers and the early missionaries, I choose the fomer. It's the Sola Scriptura (and, one would think, the Sola Ecclesia) path with a fixed light that we follow.

It appears that the EmChurch movement is picking the latter. That's very sad.

Nevertheless, to the extent that they continue to provide people with copies of the Bible (and some may even preach the gospel), perhaps it will play a role in the salvation of the elect.


Pastor Rod said...


I didn't intend my comment to be either a compliment or backhanded.

I'll try to improve my communication skills. I'm referring to your statement:

"I'm starting to hate the word missional. Apart from the fact that it's useless jargon, I suspect it is often used to disguise a strategy that is actually anti-evangelistic, where the gospel never even enters the picture at all, much less becomes a focus of ministry.”

But you seem to have cut through the Gordian knot of my convoluted logic and understood that was what I was referring to.

My point is that while there is considerable overlap between the emerging church and the missional movement, they are not the same thing.

And how other people use words is not the issue. If you really think the word missional is "useless jargon," then you really should do a little better research. Here's a reading list, if you're interested.

You say that you have respect for Keller. He seems to think that being "missional" is more than trendy talk.

There are many things to criticize in the emerging church, but the desire to be missional is not one of them.


Here's a little longer reaction to your previous post: Missional-Shmissional.

David A. Carlson said...


McLaren is the convienent straw man to use when attacking the emergent church.

If you want to attack BM - go ahead, I certainly wont defend him. But he is not representative of the emergent church as a whole, anymore than an IFB KJVonly bus ministry preacher is representative of the fundamentalist movement as a whole.

Both can be used as straw men arguements that are inaccurate representations of the entire groups.

Phil Johnson said...

Pastor Rod:

I appreciate your encouragement about heeding what other people mean by the words they use. I hope you'll return the favor and make at least a half-hearted effort to grasp my meaning as well, because I did explain what I meant, and in that, I have already answered your objection.

Pastor Rod said...


If you really would like to have the term "missional" defined, here is a good place to start: Friend of Missional. There has been considerable effort to do just that.


I don't know who you've encountered who gave you that impression. But I don't consider these statements an expression of the Social Gospel:

"The church should stop mimicking the surrounding culture and become an alternative community, with a different set of beliefs, values and behaviors."

"A missional church understands the power of the gospel and does not lose confidence in it."

"A missional church will be totally reliant on God in all it does."

These are all quotations from the link above.


philness said...

How about a flow chart Phil of some sorts that educates us of this topic. A definition of terms used. Their key phrases and code words used. Who are they targeting? They cant have a church if people dont come. Its the people, the sheep that need to understand-right? Doctor so and so with his long list of credentials could care less what the critics are saying until his sheep began to understand.

Deconstruct for us what they are constructing. Define the problem for all to understand. I want to see what it is you see. Help us all to help the church. Show the sheep.

Some of us sheep are busy keeping the world turning and are starving to help but need to be educated.

FX Turk said...

That turrentinFan guy really grows on you after a while ...

Phil Johnson said...

David: "But he is not representative of the emergent church as a whole, anymore than an IFB KJVonly bus ministry preacher is representative of the fundamentalist movement as a whole. Both can be used as straw men arguements that are inaccurate representations of the entire groups."

You know what? Pointing out that most of the fundamentalist movement tolerated the sins of Jack Hyles too long is not a "straw man." It's quite true, and it's one of the major factors that led to the nearly-total meltdown of every segment of fundamentalism that ever tried to portray Hyles as a hero.

Ditto with the Emerging people and McLaren, and it's an apt comparison.

BTW, have you actually listened to Rob Bell and watched the Nooma videos, or do you listen to Tony Jones and read what he writes? How, precisely, would you suggest that they are out of harmony with Brian McLaren?

It's easy to complain that critics of Emergent are unfair to tar the whole organization and all its supporters by associating them with McLaren's outrageous views. But I'd like to see a little evidence to substantiate your insinuation that McLaren's opinions aren't really much of a factor in the movement as a whole.

philness said...


You said, "That's so fruity I think it's drawing flies. In a bad way. And we just had the blog fumigated"

That has got to be the funniest thing I have ever read. I cant stop laughing. That is greatness.

Pastor Rod said...


If nothing else, you remind me that I am an optimist at heart.

I keep thinking that it is possible to engage in real dialogue with you.

There is something serious, real and important going on under the banner of "missional." In your eagerness to condemn the "Emerging dudes" you seem to have missed that.

That's all.


Nash Equilibrium said...

Pastor Rod

It doesn't really matter too much to me how some obscure website defines the word "missional". The point of the matter is that 90% of those who identify themselves with the term are Jim Wallis, social-gospel people, or, as Phil said: "where the gospel never even enters the picture at all, much less becomes a focus of ministry.” (Thanks for reminding me of Phil's succinctly accurate definition of the term).

Maybe you and I just run in drastically different circles, Pastor Ron, but the people I know who use the term 'missional' are (without even a single exception) people who are so busy supporting the world's leftist agenda that they have little interest in anything else, no matter what their religious rhetoric may say to the contrary.

FX Turk said...


I think you have a problem of tunnel vision. Let me explain why.

In a very conventional sense, I would consider myself an evangelical Christian. But in that, I also know that ultimately there are many people -- in far, far more people than are like me -- who are evangelicals who put the Gospel in jeopardy culturally every day. So in that, I can't imagine that being "evangelical" is a term which separates the wheat from the chaff.

But someone like you -- and there are a lot of guys like you -- thinks that "missional" is some kind of theological harbor in which only good ships in service to His majesty dock, and can't see the kinds of problem with "missional" that I can see with "evangelical". Why? Because you think you have found the Rosetta Stone of the Gospel -- when, in fact, you have simply discovered that the Gospel has a "do" component that is a consequence of the "believe" component. And you think everyone who is after the "do" component is a person who comprehends the "believe" component as you do.

Listen: you need to be a little less, um, generous in your orthodoxy. You need to have a little more jade in your buddha. There is plenty good in the missional ideal, but there are plenty of people -- and I will take the position that they outnumber the "good guys" 2:1 at least -- who adopt the superficial means of "missional" and never even smell let alone touch the better qualities of guys like Driscoll and Chandler and Patrick.

Contemporary youth ministry is the example I hold up as the prime example of "relevant but not meaningful; outreaching with an empty hand". Many missional guy pooh-pooh that, but factually those "ministries" are substituting social clubs and community for church -- which is all the window-dressing of missional.

I know, I know: you're not like that. You're all about substance. If that's true, can you name someone who is trying to be "like you" in ministry but isn't getting it right? Is anyone who calls himself "missional" getting it wrong? Show me you can be objective about that and I'll reconsider your viewpoint. Otherwise, I have a hard time taking you seriously.

FX Turk said...

I'd also add, Rod, in light of your last comment to Phil, that you can accept no criticism in the terms it is privided. What part of "if we listen to the Emerging Church Movement's critique of mainstream evangelicalism, we must acknowledge that they are right on target in many ways" is considered in your last statement to Phil?

the postmortem said...


Have you ever thought that the Emergent Church movement is basically just Christian Ageism?

From my experience with Emergent and Missional churches, it seems like a lot of these people are ultimately just "emerging" out of demographically diverse congregations (especially churches which may be old-fashioned, with a lot of elderly people)...and gathering together with other people of the same age group.

I know Brian Mclaren is pushing...50 or 60 or something...but he's the oldest guy in the movement! Sometimes I think that the criticisms Emergers make are merely a rejection of the musical and semantic preferences of the elderly.

And what is the by-product of this emergence? A "generous" absence of wisdom, discernment, and godly perspective of "orthodox" Christian doctrine.

Five Smooth Stones

Pastor Rod said...


You asked, "What part of 'if we listen to the Emerging Church Movement's critique of mainstream evangelicalism, we must acknowledge that they are right on target in many ways' is considered in your last statement to Phil?"

That would be covered in the "this is much better than your previous post" part.

I understand what you are saying. But I think there is a little logic problem here.

My position is not that "missional" is never misused. My position is that "there is something serious, real and important going on under the banner of 'missional.' "

When people make blanket statements that "missional" is a meaningless term or a code word for "the Social Gospel" (positions which seem to be mutually exclusive), they are the ones who are taking on the burden.

I don't agree with your figures (2:1). But even accepting them, that still means that 30% are investing their lives in a costly, incarnational ministry of the true Gospel. The last thing they need is to be taking on "friendly fire."

I don't understand why that is so difficult "to take seriously."


Alex S. Leung said...

Wow, short and sweet and to the point! I too, would wish my church's Pastoral staff to be aware and willing to confront postmodernism head on--instead of just pretending like it's not having any affect on our congregation & the lost.

FX Turk said...


It's lines like that which make me a missional blogger.

Doug said...

Pastor Rod said, "Here's a little longer reaction to your previous post: Missional-Shmissional."

I wonder if we could do a whole thread on the importance of Shmissional Schmeradactyls?

Phil Johnson said...

Pastor Rod: "My position is not that 'missional' is never misused. My position is that 'there is something serious, real and important going on under the banner of "missional."'"

Yeah? well, my position is not that "missional" is never used by people who aren't up to a lot of mischief. My position is that there is a lot of sinister stuff going on under the banner of "missional." We can't just close our eyes and chant "Tim Keller! Tim Keller!" every time that reality comes to light.

It was Jesus, not Phil Johnson, who first warned Christians that they ought to be on guard against wolves in sheep's clothing.

David Rudd said...

different David here...

Phil writes:
I could hardly disagree more strongly with the kind of remedies that have been proposed by the chief engineers of the Emerging Church movement. In fact, I think the big-picture strategy they have adopted actually works against the idea of reaching postmodern people for Christ.

i'm a johnny-come-lately to this discussion. Phil, can you specify the "remedies" you are talking about?

it seems to me that one of the strong tenets of those who consider themselves "emerging" is that there are no "set remedies" or "big picture strategy"

i've noticed a tendency in the comments to link all "emergent-types" together. someone mentioned McLaren, Bell, and Jones...

this is hardly a representative group. i could point to many who would not be in any of those guys camps but would consider themselves "emerging".

i think a big problem in these discussions is the way people use terminology to box their opponents.

at this site, labels like "misional" and "emerging" are placed on people to villainize them. this is thought to be reasonable because there are guys out there spouting off theologically questionable things and using those words (mclaren, jones, bell)

it might be of value to consider what those words really mean, and whether there are people out there using them in ways different than those who are on the fringes and yelling the loudest (mclaren, jones, bell).

i'm just suggesting a little more precision might be in order...

HeavyDluxe said...

cent said: You need to have a little more jade in your buddha. and It's lines like that which make me a missional blogger.

Classic. Simply classic.

David Rudd said...

one more thing...

on the missional question...

yeah, some of those using "missional" are reverting to the old social gospel. shame on them.

but, is it possible that evangelicalism over-reacted to the social gospel and needs some correction of direction?

is there a sense in which we have ignored people's physical/emotional needs in an effort to JUST meet their spiritual needs?

there seems to be a lot in the Bible about how we treat the oppressed, the poor, the needy.

maybe i'm wrong about this. i'm just throwing it out there.

Phil Johnson said...

david rudd:

Here's two places to start:

"A Critical Look at the Emerging Church Movement.

Various articles about the Emerging Movement that have appeared on this blog before.

I'd rehash it all one more time, but that's the problem with critiquing anything in these troubling postmodern times: summarize too much and you're vilified for painting with a broad brush. Get specific and you've made the issues too complex, plus you are expected to add so many disclaimers that when you're done you haven't said anything useful anyway. And if you leave a disclaimer out even one time, you'll be smeared with a Wagner Power-Roller® by the very same dude who accused you of painting with the "broad brush." Go figure.

So anyway, I'm going to leave it to you to wade through everything that's already been said here.

But please do note that even though a couple of our long-time critics seem to want to forget everything we have said in the past, this conversation didn't start here just this morning. Thanks for recognizing that.

Anonymous said...


I think you have summed things up well here. When people start defending certain aspects of the Emergent movement, they always seem to say the same thing, "They're all not like McLaren, you know." But if you ask most Emergent types if books from McLaren are helpful, most will not say a negative thing about what he has written. They may acknowledge that he is off base on some things, but they leave the door open by saying he is "helpful." The same goes for other writers of the same strem of thought.

This week I have re-posted on my blog a review/reflection I wrote a while back on D.A. Carson's book on the Emerging Church while giving an account of the beginning of the influence of the emergent church movement in our Baptist state convention and beyond.

I think you are generous in at least acknowledging that there is some validity to the protest against mainstream evangelicalism. Carson did the same thing in his book.


Hayden said...


This is from a fellow Michigan resident. You have to be kidding me when you think that Rob Bell is not a major voice in the "emergent conversation"? We get coverage of him in the Flint local paper!! Look at those who speak at the Emergent Conferences to see who is leading the pack. Look at those who are the leading authors. Now I am not saying that everyone who is under the "emergent" banner embraces these guys, but it would be fair to characterize them as the leaders in this movement (as Phil and others have spoken about).

As far as helping the needy and poor, you are right, the Bible has much to say about it. You are also right to identify the social Gospel as ineffective. (I live in Flint, where there is a lot of social gospel work, seems to be working, we are the 3rd most dangerous city in the country {sarcasm}) James 2 is a great corrective for any Christian about faith and works.

Rather than invent a new term and call it "missional" why don't we call it what it really should be? Being a Bible believeing Christian. If any movement is needed it is one back to teaching and obeying teh Word of God.


Anonymous said...

Phil, Cent, or anyone else:

I have an honest, but silly question. I may have missed something in this "conversation" but what I notice is that in every conversation about the "emerging" church( anywhere, not just limited to this blog) someone always says "but you cant label all the emergents that way"- and I understand that. I dont like blanket statements either. However;

Here is my misunderstanding, and my question. Why are whole segments of people identifying themselves with some movement, or some clique? Isnt that part of the problem? Now, I understand the term Evangelical- though I think it too has lost its meaning. If people like Brian Mclaren are synonomous with the term "emerging", I wouldn't want to be identified as such.

Whatever happened to being Christian, or orthodox?

So, am I missing something here? It just seems sectarian in nature...and wierd. I have met some great guys who identify with the term "emergent". Why the need to identify with this term? The term "christian" need not be out-moded.

I dunno. You tell me.

FX Turk said...


oh brother. Now you've gone and done it. Ask people to identify with the Gospel and its work rather than with some trendy strategy?

Dude, that's crazy. Don't talk crazy like that. They'll think you're crazy. A fundie or a calvinist or something.

"Whatever happened to being Christian, or orthodox?"

You're weird man. That's old school.

MTR said...

A lot of criticism here, but not much bulk. Okay, you don't like it. We're too eager to embrace postmodernism. We don't trust scripture. I'm not sure that I understand where this comes from, and I certainly don't know of examples of it.

Criticism without bulk is just complaint.

Kay said...

those who are on the fringes and yelling the loudest (mclaren, jones, bell).

I really need to say this - Rob Bell is not on the fringes. Nooma videos are used in my local Anglican church alongside Alpha, and also in a large evangelical church that my brother-in-law attends. That's not 'fringe'.

The most difficult thing I find when trying to engage with this issue, is that those who self-identify as 'emerging' play this shell-game with words and seem to just side-step any critique by saying 'Ah, yes, but that's not everyone. In fact, I don't know anyone who is like that.'

Anonymous said...

I am speaking as one who has intimate knowledge of what an "emerging church" looks like, as I was a part of one for about 3 years and only left very recently. The leadership in the church is very involved in the larger "Emergent" conversation, frequently speaking at conferences alongside the likes of Kimball, McLaren, Jones, et al. I would also fit the "profile" of the "postmodern type" that EC's are trying to reach - namely I am an early 30's Gen-Xer. After spending a good deal of time in this environment, I have to say that I agree with what Phil is saying here. And this is why:

The ambiguity of terms is problematic. Yes, EC and even "missional" churches define their mission, but with very squishy terms like "the way of Jesus", or "identifying with the life of Jesus" and "participating as producers". EC does not like to give doctrinal statements - they generally do not want to nail down any conviction in written form because our understanding of any conviction is subject to change based on new information. The resistance to laying down any doctrinal formulation is troublesome to me. To that I say "DUH!" If we waited to have all the information before formulating our doctrine, we would NEVER DO IT!!! We will never know exhaustively all there is to know of God. But we can have confidence in what He HAS revealed of Himself, and so much of what occurs in these conversations often undermines that very confidence.

Everything is "organic" - the life of the church, the way the church functions has to work itself out "organically". And for the life of me, I have yet to have someone - ANYONE - explain what these terms mean in a way that is meaningful, and in a way that I can then respond to them.

The problem that I see is that Emerging in a general sense has embraced the ambiguity of the times in a dangerous way.

How can we walk in "the way of Jesus" if we have not clearly established who Jesus is? How He lived? What is the signficance of His life, His death, etc. If there is no clear boundary set that cannot be crossed, how can we then have any foundation upon which to stand, to live, to work, to labor for the kingdom, etc...it is not necessarily that certain people with the movement do not hold convictions on these things, but the resistance to lay down such convictions and commit to them AS a movement is troublesome to me.

Because the vision is cloudy at best, the solution is nearly impossible to reach. I would dare say that much of what is done is simply a reproduction of what we lament about megachurch, seeker-sensitive, church growth programs of the past - creating the church in the image of the times and for the benefit of a particular generation. It's just packaged differently. As a member of said generation, I can shake my head and say "no, this is NOT what every postmodern person is looking for!" And no, I do not believe that what the EC is offering will provide the solution it is seeking. I don't have time to hash out all that I am thinking in this short comment thread, but as a refugee from the EC camp, I have to say that I walked away with a shakier foundation and understanding of the faith than when I walked in. I did not learn how to walk in "the way of Jesus", and my confidence in His truth suffered. This is a personal testimony from one who has been there, done that...

Kay said...

OK, that's what happens when you try and compose a reply while feeding a baby - everyone goes and says everything you were going to say while you are still faffing about with the word verification. meh.

InChains620 said...

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David Rudd said...

phil. thanks for your response. i'll check those pages. i imagine i'll find much i can agree with.

let me say this about myself:
- i use a macarthur small group study every week. (that's got to give me some street cred around here)
- i do not consider myself to be part of the "emerging movement"
- i know Rob Bell (he is a friend of my brother) and have been to his church.
- i take issue with nearly 75% of brian mclaren's writings.
- i pastor in a conservative, evangelical, baptistic church.

in other words, i've got one foot firmly planted in the pyro camp...

that said, i sense that some of the commenters here would do well to put a little more effort into understanding the breadth of what is called the "emerging movement". otherwise they run the danger of looking like this guy.

it is in reality a spectrum, very fluid, with no real boundaries... which is okay, because it isn't a denomination and there are no shared, creedal statements. (that fits very nicely with one of the "baptist distinctives" doesn't it)

i think some of the early critiques of all things emerging were not well-researched, nor did they fairly portray the actual nature of this group. particularly, i'm speaking of Carson. his work did great harm by poisoning the well unnecessarily... here is a worthy response to Carson.

Hayden, Rob does not represent emerging types. He runs from that label every chance he gets. Just because he receives a lot of press doesn't mean he represents anyone other than Mars Hill. He'd be the first to tell you that.

along those lines. many who consider themselves fully immersed in emerging-esque church do not hesitate to call out those they see who do not speak for them. here and here are two parts of a book review by one of the most-read bloggers associated with emerging things...

here is a good statement of how many understand "missional". is not reasonable to think that being missional is simply carrying out the MISSION given us by Christ?

finally, if you are dead-set on criticizing those who are emerging, please read this response from the "grandfather" of the emerging movement, andrew jones.

i post these links, not because i agree with them all; but because i think it is valuable if you desire to argue, to do so knowledgeably. i've read many comments here by people who clearly do not understand what "emerging church" is...

of course, i'm no expert either. i'm still working on it.

Nash Equilibrium said...


"Missional": We're repackaging the liberal political agenda for the church, in religious-sounding terms. Read "God's Politics" and get outta the way!

Engaging postmodernism: We want to "reach" postmoderns. We will do this by right off declaring Biblical truths to be indefensible or intolerant, and joining the philosophy of relativism.

Community: See "engaging postmodernism." Now that there is no truth and therefore no sin, there is nothing to separate us!

Orthodox: We're getting back to the heart of worship, and it's all about Rome...

Phil Johnson said...

MTR: "Criticism without bulk is just complaint."

Sometimes the irony is so thick, all you can do is gasp for air.

Phil Johnson said...

Michelle: "As a member of said generation, I can shake my head and say 'no, this is NOT what every postmodern person is looking for!' And no, I do not believe that what the EC is offering will provide the solution it is seeking."

You've summed up eloquently and succinctly in two sentences everything I have been trying to say. Thanks.

David Rudd said...


i read your "Critical Look at the ECM". although i don't agree with all your conclusions, i appreciate your repeated acknowledgments that it is very hard to paint a clear picture of this "thing" called emerging.

i thought the tone was kind and fair, while not watered down.

it seems that you have "done your homework" on the issue enough to recognize the huge variety of positions held by those who think of themselves as "emerging".

thank you for your thoroughness.

it is unfortunate that it takes much longer to communicate someone if you make an effort to not "paint with a broad brush", but i wonder if that extra effort is worth it?

would it be better to not discuss an issue at all if we are not willing to do so with as much precision as we are capable of?

that way we could avoid cryptic statements about "lack of bulk". (i think it is inappropriate for us to bring our weight into this discussion)

one thought. just because one falls into a demographic group because of their birth year does not mean they will adapt the philosophy of their contemporaries...

if you are rejecting postmodernism, great. it probably means you are not postmodern... and that's okay!

FX Turk said...

I once saw a missional guy staple himself to a chicken because he wanted to be relevant to the punk rocker on the other side of the road.

The punk rocker was also vegan, so he thought the missional guy was both cruel and stupid.


I never really did see that. I'm just bored.

Phil Johnson said...

I love it when Frank gets bored.

Anonymous said...

David Rudd,
I am not rejecting postmodernism - I am rejecting the EC's answer to postmodernism.

We cannot escape the influence of our times...but the way in which the EC tends to respond to it troubles me greatly. That's all I was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

Phil, thanks for the encouragement. I have been reading for a while, and finally got the courage to say what's on my mind. These are issues close to my heart and this forum has helped me greatly im thinking through them. Many blessings.

Rick Frueh said...

In order for deception to have effective longevity and have enough time to establish an acceptable beachhead it must cling to some orthodoxy as long as possible. Down the road any remaining vestiges of doctrinal purity can be jettisoned with little or no notice.

I agree with your overall assessment and I appreciate the humble tone of your post which is the only Christ approved method of communication.

farmboy said...

David Rudd referenced D. A. Carson’s appraisal of the emerging church as follows: “i'm speaking of Carson. his work did great harm by poisoning the well unnecessarily...” Following was a link to an article by David Mills, a professor at Cedarville University, where Mr. Mills critiques the content of a lecture series delivered by Mr. Carson at Cedarville University.

While I have no first hand knowledge of the lectures delivered at Cedarville University, I am familiar with Mr. Carson’s “The Gagging of God” and “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” My observation is that Mr. Carson is a careful, precise scholar. If anything, Mr. Carson could be charged with providing too much documentation and interacting with too many sources. In contrast, Mr. Mills takes Mr. Carson to task for too little interaction with the subject at hand: “Carson’s description of postmodernism ignores developments within globalized Capitalist economics and its Marxist and Marxian critiques, global politics, the arts, architecture, literature, population growth and urbanization, image reproduction and proliferation, anthropology, science and the philosophy of science, information technology and biotechnology, religion, and theory of all types within the last century.” That is certainly a lot to pack in one sentence. The essence of Mr. Mills critique is that one cannot interact with postmodernism unless one is familiar with the extensive list of content areas noted in this sentence. Essentially this criteria shields postmodernism from the risk of critique. Who can claim a working knowledge in this array of content areas?

As a business professor I am familiar with “globalized Capitalist economics and its Marxist and Marxian critiques.” The orthodox understanding of international economics has been stable, tracing its roots back to the classical economists of the 1700s. Due to it being discredited by the evidentiary record, the Marxian understanding of economics is a minority position well outside the boundaries of orthodoxy. In summary, there is no reason why one would need knowledge of international economics to critique or describe postmodernism. For the time being, then, I’m going with Mr. Carson over Mr. Mills.

FX Turk said...


what kinda farm is that, anyway, where they are reading David Mills?

That's not a commie collective, is it?

Are you now, or have you ever been a member of ... oh nevermind. I'm going to play at my bookstore. I am also live using gmail chat, so if anyone wants to chat live you can pull it up and find me. email frank ]at[ iturk ]dot[ com and I'll tell you my gmail address.

Savage Baptist said...

McLaren...is not representative of the emergent church as a whole

Is there anyone that will admit to being representative of the Emerging Conversation as a whole?

Dang. Here's this great, big, honkin' movement, the latest wave in Christendom, an' they can't find themselves a representative.

Must be rough.

Unknown said...

If you really look into any movement that is false and has failed, if you really get down to the root of it, you can be sure that at one time the person that started it had the thought, "Hey, I can make a living (money) doing this..." instead of having the motivation for glorifing God's only begotten Son whether it be called emerging, fundamental, Roman Catholic, or whatever. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever and apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Anonymous said...

stratagem, thanks for your observations about the EC, "missional" and the social gospel. I thought I was the only one who was making that connection.

Scratch the paint off of an Emerging Church and you'll see the liberal politics underneath. Guys like Jim Wallis have exposed that even more plainly than before.

Touchstone said...


1) I can't decide whether you just can't grasp this distinction, or don't want to. I'm leaning toward "don't want to" based on the conversation in the meta here in the previous couple weeks.

It's a fallacy to suggest that something less than Pryo-like certitude on subtle/complex/ambiguous parts of Scripture in *any* way reflects a diminished view of the authority of Scripture. I've come to view frameworks such as you advance as being, if anything, the diminished view of God and Scripture compared to many Emergents' views.

In short, you claim the Bible is authoritative based on your reductionist certitude. It's powerful because it makes *you* powerful in the pulpit, free from equivocation and complexities and contrasts that others identify.

But it's disingenuous to suggest that a reading that avoids the pitfalls of your modernist/reductionist exegetical framework is a de facto reduction in the authority of scripture. Scripture can (and does!) remain as perfect and authoritative no matter how much a man may struggle with parts of it. The clarity/certitude==reverence schtick just doesn't wash. I keep waiting, waiting, waiting for you to engage Emerging arguments in earnest, but all I can discern when you look that direction is a form of *ad hominem* --- (snort), well, those yahoos over on the emergent side don't even take the Bible seriously. 'Nuff said!

I suggest this is precisely the attitude -- not that of Billy Graham (which is a bit of a surreal transferral on your part!) -- that is driving both the interest in the Emerging Church Movement, and the bleed out of conservative/fundamentalist protestantism. I can't think but that you are in severe denial if you are suggesting it's *Billy Graham* and not *John MacArthur* which are the oxygen that fuels the fires of the ECM. That doesn't mean it's right or wrong on their part, but please, you're big on the "man up" meme -- this is an area where Truly Reformed types should squarely face the fact that the ECM is primarily a reformation of the modernist Calvinism of contemporary America (and yes, I'm aware that the ECM is largely an international phenomenon).

As for reaching post-modern people for Christ, I'm again at a loss. You're critical of the entire paradigm, and from what I can tell, *your* strategy is to "get back into the modernist/foundationalist mindset!". You're welcome to bring that appeal, but I'd like to know how you think that's working with the young post-modern souls out there?

While I agree that the ECM *does* hold out a goal of 1) finding effective ways to spread the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in this post-modern age, there's also strong support for the goal of s) reform with respect to the "modern church", which, in the view of of many ECM types, has become "missionally inert", and thus highly problematic with respect to 1).

I think I can understand why you are trying to position yourself as *outside* modern mainstream evangelicalism, but Phil, it doesn't even begin to fly. You're a poster boy, of sorts!


James Scott Bell said...

Waiting, waiting, waiting to engage emergent arguments in earnest?


The emergent “conversation” avoids rational discourse and direct, logical dialogue, seemingly at all costs. Indeed, that is the only constant I seem to pick up.

If you deal directly with the content of published works by those who are, by self-definition or consensus, leaders of the "emergent conversation," you are told this is improper or imprecise, because they do not represent the "whole."

Then, if you try to find and refine a definition of the "whole," you are told that you are being too general. More, you are told that definitions themselves are a modern construct, so don’t bother, you can’t possibly understand.

If you focus in on a part, you are told you do not see the "whole."


This is all smoke and mirrors and deception.

Please, offer an argument right here, right now or stop playing games. Give us some substance and show us what an emergent ARGUMENT looks like.

In fact, pick your BEST ONE, right here, right now and let’s see what it's made of.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Touchstone said...


OK, here's a place to start:

The "Truly Reformed" worldview conflates its own "certitudes" with the essential, trancendant truths of the Gospel. "Five points" have in many cases become a distraction from the missional, primary message of the Gospel.

Or, systematic theology has led a large swath of American protestantism (particularly in reformed circles) to worship *systematic theology*, at the expense of the ethical and missional demands of the Gospel.

This means that the modern church in America (Reformed and othewise) has become a pathetic reflection of Christ, and therefore a feeble witness to the Gospel.

And, in anticipation of inevitable responses: Yes, I'm aware the church is made up of fallen, sinful humans, even if saved. But my experience with ECM churches has left me with plenty of criticisms, but a clear sense of a key difference. I find people who "walk the walk" of Jesus in much greater depth and concentrations in the ECM circles I've traveled in. Perfect? Hardly. Decidedly improved upon the "mainstream product" of "mainstream Christianity" in terms of living and following the path of Jesus and the Apostles?

Yes, tragically.

The modern American church is deeply, fundamentally broken, and hastening America quickly into the "post-Christian" era. Phil and Mr. MacArthur can point at Ken Hagin or Billy Graham and claim they're not part of the problem, but really, that's just playing fiddle on the deck of the Titanic, so to speak.

(And no, the church isn't doomed like the Titanic! Far from it. It's just time for structural reforms. Semper reformanda, and all that.)


Anonymous said...

There is much that I would agree with in what you are speaking. But I have one question: why must we throw the baby out with the bath water? The problem is not in systematics or biblical theology per se...I would argue that the problem is in how we have used such pursuits to shield ourselves from the harder questions that such studies will pose, i.e. now that we know what to do, what is necessary to actually do it. In my view the purpose of systematics is to frame our understanding of what we believe so we can go out and actually live it out. The tragedy indeed is that we have failed on many fronts to translate our knowledge into actions, but muddying the waters by rejecting such an approach to understanding the faith does nothing to assist in living it out. How do we live out what we do not know?

This is the most frustrating aspect of all for me. It almost seems that it is an either/or situation. Either you care about doctrine at the expense of issues of justice and compassion, or you abandon doctrine in the pursuit of justice and compassion. I assert that said justice and compassion cannot be correctly directed unless we have a meaningful understanding of why we are to seek these things.

This is not to say that there are difficult things to grasp theologically. But we can have confidence that there are many things that are clear in the Word that can make us wise unto salvation. And it is that instruction that we can hold fast to, even in the midst of those areas that are not so clear.

And as a side note, I wonder what "large swath" of the American church actually worships systematic theology. I would say it is the exact opposite - most "street level" Christians know next to nothing about basic theological themes and are severely lacking in any kind of biblical training. I don't think the problem is the worship of systematics; rather it is the love affair we have with our creature comforts that would have to be forsaken if we took the Lord's words seriously.

Mike Bonebright said...


That's not an argument. You really haven't written anything substantive... Basically you just said to JSB that Phil's wrong, and you've only supported that assertion with generalities.

1) What, exactly, is "the missional, primary message of the Gospel" that we deny by accepting the 5 points?

2) What are the "ethical and missional demands of the Gospel" that we miss by our "worship" of *systematic theology*?

Touchstone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Touchstone said...


1) My observation is that the more ardent the Calvinist, the more oriented around TULIP, rather than the great commandment. That's a broad generalization, and no doubt replete with exceptions, but that's my assertion, nonetheless. Systematic theology, practiced thus, becomes an exercise in missing the point. The "Lordship" doctrine may in fact be the right interpretation, but there's a stream of tragic irony in reading such contentions in one tab of my Firefox, then switching to the daily news on the next.

2) The "ethical and missional demands" are to get radical in implementing the Kingdom God in there here and now, to the best of one's abilities. Too abstract? Sell all you have and give it to the poor -- Jesus made that dare himself I believe at one point. Protest injustice wherever you find it. Help the sick. Feed the hungry. Preach the Gospel to all who will hear! Do what you can to leave a wake behind you that looks like one an Apostle might have left.

And, one a more personal, tactical level, follow the Golden Rule! That's an excruciatingly hard standard to live up to, and we are commanded to do so. "Getting it right" theologically (or so we are certain) very often puffs us up, and makes us proud and superior, and virtually disables us from really living up to the Great Commandment.

Loosen your grip on your all-consuming obsession with your eternal fate. The American church has largely, hugely abdicated its duties under the Gospel in this regard. We are rich, fat and happy. And as long as we can know -- with rock-solid certainty -- that we are indeed saved for all eternity, well, that's plenty enough good theology for a lot of us.

And I include myself in that indictment.


Mike Bonebright said...


We’re starting to get to your position, but I don’t think we’ve arrived at any real argument here…

I think that all you’ve done thus far is to attempt to put your best foot forward. I think you’ve stated things in a way that I (and others here) would *mostly* agree with, but which don't at all seem to be distinctive of the emerging and/or missional movement. I mean, who here has ever argued against loving the Lord with all your heart, giving to the poor, working for justice, helping the sick, feeding the hungry, or preaching the Gospel?

So, what's the real point? You’ve tried to lay out your common ground with people here, but that common ground is hardly emergent turf. What is it that lies at the heart of your disagreement here? What's the argument that Phil won’t engage?


Phil Johnson said...


For the last time, you don't get to use swear words here. one more incident and you'll be permanently banned from commenting.

... and where did all the people go who hate broad brush strokes so much? How come none of you complained when Touchstone here connected me with Kenneth Hagin and labeled me "TR"?

Phil Johnson said...

Mike: What is it that lies at the heart of your disagreement here? What's the argument that Phil won’t engage

Quite simply, Touchstone doesn't believe Scripture is inerrant, authoritative, and true.

And he's right about one thing: that's not something that's up for debate on my blog—at least not with someone who professes to be a Christian.

Touchstone said...


From everything I've read, Phil is committed to the idea that failure to reach "certainty" on all aspects -- or just Phil's favorite ones -- of the Bible is tantamount to a diminished view of the Bible's transcendant value and authority. This is, paradoxically, a view that *itself* diminishes Scripture!

Or put it this way: what would "over-certainty" look like in a Christian? Torquemada? Calvin? Creflo Dollar?

At some point, the issue must be faced honestly, and not just with a flourish of "spiritual testosterone" (or not being "fruity" as Mssr. Turk might put it). There's a tremendously seductive impulse to find certainty, clarity and exhaustive confidence in Scripture, simply because it makes things neat and clean, just the way we like them in the pre-packaged consumer America.

To a man, the emergentish friends I have running dialogs with who've read this blog don't so much disagree with Phil, so much as they all agree that Phil is "shadow-boxing" -- erecting dramatic strawmen he can burn down to good effect with the "emergent" label, having no resemblence to what my emergent friends believe, practice, or aspire to.

As an example, they would contend that they take the authority of Scripture as of the utmost importance and weight; for nearly all of them, it is precisely because of their reverence and respect for the authority of the Bible that they follow the (emergent) path they do. When Phil gets on the tired old horse of "they don't affirm the authority of Scripture", they understand, as I do, that Phil is using that simply as proxy for his real complaint: these guys have a different heuristic in reading, assimilating and putting Scripture and faith into practice.

All of which nets out to a fundamental aspect of generous, edifying discussion, as opposed to pure polemic and religious demagoguery; in edifying debates and discussions, opposing sides will disagree, but each side will generally affirm that the other side has a basic grasp of the other's position. Or, if it was necessary, side A could, for the sake of argument, faithfully articulate the arguments of side B, leaving side B saying, "yes, you pretty much have it", even as A maintains ardent disagreement with the arguments of B.

Phil is spectacularly unable to convince Emergence that he understands what they are saying, and what their motivations and priorities are. Both here and at SFpulpit, there is a strong display of either honest or willful misunderstand -- or perhaps just the charge that Emergents can't be given credit for believing what they say they believe.

That makes it largely an exercise in talking past each other, and a kind of exercise in religious "muscle flexing" rather than a discussion aimed at understanding, wisdom and convergence on God's will for the lot of us.

Litmus test: If Phil is telling you Emergents don't vest the same kind of authority in Scripture he does, I suggest he is grossly misrepresenting the ECM position, even with all the proper allowances for its chaotic and often self-contradictory nature. From my experience, as I said above, the approach is *different* in terms of the axioms they begin with (e.g. "we know from the outset that we must end up fully certain and clear, for God is not the author of confusion!), but the bedrock submission to God's authority, and by extension, His message to us through the Bible is the same.

Phil's not willing to start on level ground there, and I understand that. That's his choice, but the result is an immediate and fundamental disconnect when trying to sort through these issues. Phil has the ECM "down by law", and that's precisely how the discussion proceeds.

Every. Single. Time.



Touchstone said...


I firmly believe the Bible to be authoritative, inerrant, and wholly, divinely, perfectly and transcendantly true.

You're simply stuck in a groove that has you thinking that a differing understanding of what it says and how it is being said is *necessarily* a disavowal of the authority, inerrancy, and perfect turth of Scripture.

That's certainty, Phil, but it's certainty and authority being invested in *Phil*, not Scripture.

Not sure how else to make that distinction, other than to just blurt it out like that.

Also, apologies for the, um, "swearing". I don't consider that to be swearing, but I understand you do, and apologize to you and anyone else who was offended.

I'll avoid such usage in the future -- there's plenty of heat and not enough signal in the channel as it is.


FX Turk said...


I'd be willing to pen up DebateBlog to you and expand the number of questions to 10 in order to find out what, exactly, you think about this statement:

Does the book of 1 Corinthians have any specifc meaning for the church today which Paul intended for the church at Corinth?

It sounds like a no-brainer for an inerrantist like yourself. This should be the least-contentious discussion in the history of the blog.

email me at frank ]at[ iturk ]dot[ com if you are willing to show us exactly how your theory here about certainty plays out with an actual book of the Bible.

FX Turk said...

For the record (and Tounstone):

I'm looking for an EC person who disagrees with that thesis statement on the grounds of his hermeneutical choices. If Touchstone is not one of those, but is merely a person who thinks there is more than one legitimate reading method of reading Scripture -- and the differnece in methods causes interpretive problems leading to doctrinal disagreement -- then I'm actually looking for one of his alluded-to friends.

If Touchstone's position is the one I described above, I'd be willing to go with the following thesis instead:

Based on 1Cor 5-6, are there any sins which the church today should turn a believer out of fellowship in discipline?

Again, I'd expand the format to 10 qustions for this topic.

FX Turk said...

Dan Paden:

It's because they respect the Bible so much. They're Biblicists.

SB said...

You know there is a verse that I preach to myself when I am drawn up short by a task. It is James 1:5-"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

This series is drawing me up short.

More and more with this discussion I am realizing that I am not equal to the task. I need God and I need to grow. Also I am realizing that I am thankful for Team Pyro. Though I am frustrated at times they have been a catalyst for me to know what I believe and why I believe it. Their love for the Lord, the Word, the Church and the lost is evident.
I typically only comment when I disagree(which means most of the time I agree) but this post that Phil wrote was pretty balanced and this dialog in the meta has been instructive.

I desire(and I see a pattern in this group of commenters) to be faithful to the scriptures and faithful ultimately to our Lord. But desire can only take you so far ...but grace will lead us home.

The specific thing that I think I need and that I think we need is wisdom from God in knowing how to answer each man. How to balance my rebuking of a nonbeliever/and knowing when to call them to repentance/exhorting him to faith/encouraging him to the arms of a good Father God.

I rely on my own understanding too much.I need to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom in dealing with my city of Gilbert and Tempe, AZ. Evangelism and being a missionary to my city is hard(as it is with Sun Valley/SCV/Somwhere in AR/Sacto etc.) but Matt 19 speaks to me-- the rich young ruleris analogous to the context of who God has got me in front of trying to reach--in fact I think the Rich Young Ruler is analgous to many of us(you wanna talk contextualization-here it is)we are a rich nation-most of the people we witness to are rich by the rest of the worlds standards--Jesus said it is with difficulty that these people are saved--the culture thought the rich were favord by God and the conditions for salvation were beneficial for the rich-- in fact many of our churches today subtley live like this true--but again Jesus said it is hard for rich people(this is not a diatribe against riches or a commercial for the social gospel) to be saved-riches can breed confusion over what your true treasure is and they can also bring distraction from what your only hope can be.

Thank God our King said with men it is impossible that men be saved but with God all things are possible.
(Matt 19:16-26)

I believe that God has many in my city. Buying a Hummer or getting a tattoo won't regenerate them-building a friendship of truth in love & preaching a--justification by faith alone/in Christ alone/as recorded in the scriptures alone to the Golory of God alone message will save. I think we should stop shooting off at the mouth and pray for each other more that God would give all of us witnessing opportunities this week and the boldness to speak as we ought.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.(Col 4:2-6)

thanks Phil/Dan/Frank(and Pec for fighting crime) for taking the time

FX Turk said...

Pec is our token Romans 13 missionary, He's the minister of the sword.

Anonymous said...


So, in a genuine spirit of humility, I have to ask. Have you given all belongings to the poor?

You seem to be critiquing everyone outside your group "emergent" for not following Jesus commands to feed and love the poor.

Thats not nice. Many are faithful to this command, yet they don't tell others, nor do they even tell their left hand what their right hand is doing, lest they lose thier reward.

All regenerate christians, regardless of thier nation, or club, or denomination, will of course have compassion on the poor.

Yet: it is not a test of Regeneration. You simply cannot fool yourself that anyone who feeds the poor and calls themselves "emergent" are regenerate.

I understand you may not have meant that, but thats how it sounds.

As someone else mentioned, the "emergent" church doesnt have a hold on these activities.

No one is worthy or deserving of God's grace no matter how often he gives to the poor. Of course, I beleive you really know that, but I thought we might simply remind ourselves.

Have you forsaken all yet? What was wrong with the Biblical Gospel that we needed a new name for Christians? ( Thats a serious question.)

David A. Carlson said...

Re BM:

I am only saying he does not represent all of the EM movement. To suggest he does is to use him as a straw man arguement when you critique the entire movement by saying BM is wrong therefore everyone who is EM is just the same.

To critique him,or others who are like him is fair (and just and necessary)

But to critique him and then say, thus the entire movement is just like him is to use him as a straw man argurement. It is simply inaccruate to paint the entire EM movement with the brush of BM. Unless you feel every EM is just like BM. Then paint away.

I also NEVER said that "McLaren's opinions aren't really much of a factor in the movement as a whole"

never, Never, NEVER.

I only said that they did not represent the entire movement. There is a difference between the two statements.

I also think David Rudd post (s) does a good job in summarizing things on why BM is not the entirety of the EM movement.

Touchstone said...


I don't see anything controversial in your question. I think 1 Cor 5-6 is manifestly applicable to the here and now, and that there are any number of sins Paul is speaking to that are perfectly warranted as the basis for discipline and expulsion from the church today.

Or, maybe you posted your comment on the wrong post?

Kidding, of course, and I'm happy to bat any issue you'd like around on your blog. I'm just at a loss to see where this attaches to the above. I'm tempted to ask if you're thinking that the ECM somehow has countenanced sexual immorality, in your view.

I'll let you expand, if you'd like.


David Rudd said...

apparently, things really heat up here once it's primetime on the left coast... i have to go way back up the comments to point out something that might be instructive.

dan said:
Is there anyone that will admit to being representative of the Emerging Conversation as a whole?

Dang. Here's this great, big, honkin' movement, the latest wave in Christendom, an' they can't find themselves a representative.

Must be rough.

yes, dan. that's kind of the point. the label "movement" has been placed upon these believers. for the most part, there is (intentionally singular) a great many people in many denominations all around the world who are "emerging" from the traditions of their past. those emerging from the mainline denominations are rejecting the liberal theology which downplayed the importance of Christ. those from evangelicalism are rejecting the legalism which downplayed the importance of love. these people are "emerging" (that is a good word for it) and discovering a fuller, more Christlike expression of their faith. (not everyone mind you, but many)

unfortunately, some have hijacked this phenomenon and attempted to harness it's power. i will not accuse them doing so for personal gain, but i think they do need to answer that question. these people (mclaren, jones, emergENT) should absolutely be engaged in debate according to the things they have written. they should be corrected where they are in error. their "dangerous teachings" should be pointed out, and their worthy points should be heard (thank you for doing that regularly, phil).

but these men don't speak to everyone. and what i fear is that we who are not "emerging" will create a scarlet "E" which will become the new criteria for third, fourth, and fifth degree "separation"... i see it happening already with the term "missional".

many (not all) have rejected the term without taking the time to even give it a cursory evaluation simply because it is a term used by people who also use the term emerging, and emerging sounds like emergent, and emergent is the organization that brian mclaren is a part of, and brian mclaren is a heretic...

so... no, there is no representative of "emerging people", because there is no organized movement. many here will read this as a dodge to not engage a debate. it is not that.

i would willingly engage a conversation regarding specific doctrines (i see the early stages of one regarding Scripture, i think that is helpful)... but we need to be careful of the straw man.

debate Brian M's eschatology, not the EC's eschatology.

debate Tony Jones' soteriology, not the EC's soteriology.

debate Mark Driscoll's misogyny, not the EC's misogyny (chuckles to self at ironic twist).

debate Rob Bell's hermeneutics, not the EC's hermeneutics...

you get the point...

Touchstone said...


Well, the obvious examples you seek are the guys here at TeamPyro. Not the only ones, of course, just ones readily at hand. When you here the old saw:

Oh, that guy, don't listen to him (snicker), he doesn't even believe in the authority of the Bible!

That should be a clue that you might be dealing with such a case. If the person Phil is talking about agrees, and denies the authority of Scripture outright, well, I think that's not a problem. But, just here in this thread, you've seen me flatly contradict Phil's portrayal of my position (I emphatically affirm the authority, inerrancy and truth of God's word).

So Phil can contend that I'm simply a liar, I suppose. If not, then a profound question arises: how do we establish one's "authority" in deciding just what is the Bible says and means, given different views of Scripture, both of which claim fealty to the broadest authority of scripture.

That's where one's stripes inevitably begin to show here. If one contends that one's own understanding is *by definition* the one -- exclusively -- that represents reverence for scripture, then I suggest you are dealing some degree of Bibliolatry.

In Phil's case, he simply doesn't discuss these matters with people like me, because, as above, no true professing Christian can simultaneous broadly disagree with *Phil's* understanding and maintain good faith in the Bible. That's because Phil has, to some degree, confused faith in his own understanding of scripture, with the underlying message itself.

And no, I'm not suggesting that "systematictheologatry" (did you just coin that term?" involves worshipping the Bible as a book, a physical object. Rather, it's the exaltation of one's *own* interpretation as normative. Questioning a "systematictheologater's" hermeneutic evinces a response that doesn't address the matter in question, but instead one that goes ad hominem, and wonders loudly whether the questioner really is a faithful Christian, etc. Witness Phil's response above.


wordsmith said...

Wow. "Touchstona Locuta Est, Causa Finita Est."

Is the goal of the EC to have each individual be his own authority? Sounds like it to me.

Rick Frueh said...

Touchstone happens to be a theistic evolutionist, which was given by divine revelation to that great apostle of the faith Darwin (satire).

David Rudd said...


that is exactly the kind of thing that kills dialogue...

your implication is that no one who believes in theistic evolution can possibly make a reasonable argument.

this is sad and uninformed.

(by the way, you can go ahead and read this. i'm a six dayer...)

James Scott Bell said...

Touchstone: "You're simply stuck in a groove that has you thinking that a differing understanding of what it says and how it is being said is *necessarily* a disavowal of the authority, inerrancy, and perfect turth of Scripture."

Obviously, Touchstone, you do not represent the entire movement.


Here's what I mean. Tony Jones was quoted in the L.A. Times a couple of years back as calling the inerrancy question a "waste of time." His famous words were that inerrancy "is not where we're going to land the [post-evangelical] plane."

So which is it? If we confront this argument, as Phil and TeamPyro has done in the past, how is that taking on a "strawman"? Are we to give credence to what Jones says, and say this represents a large strain of the "conversation"? Or ignore it?

If the latter, then where do we get the idea of any coherence at all on this subject? Do the boundaries change the moment a definition shows up?

You say you are an inerrantist, just an uncertain one. You seem to blanch at the idea that inerrant Scripture can actually lead to certainty, and that people can actually hold beliefs that they actually believe to correspond to actual truth. If they happen to communicate that they do, and use an example, this is arrogance of some type.

In which case I wonder, what earthly good is this Book? I can say I believe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, but if I never crack an egg no one gets fed.

And you're being manifestly unfair to Phil. He has never run from a substantive argument, as far as I can see. You may disagree with some of his positions (ya think?) but don't call this a failure to confront.

When I asked you for an argument, as should have been clear from post, it was not for something critical of evangelicalism (which Phil made clear he agrees with). It was for something positive, a positional statement of some kind.

But then we get back to this ploy that there is no "position," that everyone is out there conversing in his or her own way.

Then I ask: in what sense does your statement that you believe in the "authority" of Scripture make ANY sense? What kind of "authority" is it that has everyone doing his own theological thing?

That's not a "conversation" or "movement." It's a flock of mockingbirds all over the neighborhood squawking at once.

John Haller said...

Touchstone, in the legal biz, we call that kind of reasoning chasing your own tail. You may claim that you believe in inerrancy and that scripture is authoritative and inspired, but you then proceed to deconstruct that to the point where each man is his own authority.

This is a very important point as to why Phil and others want to look behind the curtain of claims that you hold to inerrancy, authoritative, etc., because your application of it leads a lot of us to conclude that it means something much different.

It's just painful to watch these discussions, because inevitably the "you can't generalize" charge is leveled pretty early on by the emerging side as they then proceed to generalize about people like Phil. There is nothing wrong with generalization.

People talk about McLaren, Pagitt, Jones, etc, because the emergent/ing people are reading them. If Touchstone's "private, individual" interpretation is applied to McLaren, et al. then suddenly they are above criticism because who are you to say...

Sigh. It just proves Phil's point, doesn't it.

Mike Bonebright said...


So really, your complaint is about Phil's "certainty." That means the discussion you want to have is about epistemology.

Let me ask you this: is there such a thing as a Biblical epistemology? Is it possible to derive the basis of your ability to hold knowledge from the Bible? Or is epistemology something that must be arrived at independently of the Bible, and then superimposed onto the Bible?


Touchstone said...


Regarding regeneration and the poor/sick/widowed/etc.:

I certainly agree that a commitment and demonstrable compassion in these areas are not themselves proof of regeneration. There are many unregenerate people who are deeply committed and engaged in these aspects of our culture/community.

But, I was thinking about it, the other way around, as apparently you are; regeneration will engender a compassion spirit and commitment to the poor/sick/hungry. That means something important, though. By that measure, where one does *not* find such an orientation one does not find regeneration. When you apply *that* test in a rigorous way across the American church landscape, the implications are not encouraging.

And I don't suppose those I'm criticizing here (including myself, in good part!) don't *conceptually* understand the plight of the poor and downtrodden. I think they (and I) do. But I am stressing the profound importance of *conceptualizing* it as an abstract belief that makes us nod and give our orderly tithe percentages -- a "conscience tax", as it were -- and the suffusion of that idea in the daily thoughts and actions of our lives.

There is a tremendous difference between these two configurations, and is something akin to what James is getting at in the "faith without works is dead" assertion. Compassion with action -- real, dedicated commitment -- is really not compassion at all.

So, that doesn't suggest to me that ECMs have lock on compassion or social justice. But my experience is that they are generally more keenly aware of the "compassion without works is dead" dynamic than those I've come to know and fellowship with in more traditional evangelical protestant circles.

Those are generalizations, of course, and so are false to some degree, as a are all generalizations. But I'm convinced that that many ECM types "get it" in their reading of the Gospel in a way that many of the most impeccably doctrinally sound leaders of the mainstream evangelical community just don't.

As for me, I've not sold everything I have and given it to the poor. FWIW, I don't suppose that Jesus' recommendation across the board is that all His followers do that immediately (although worse things could happen). Rather, that when we are called to give -- all or in part -- that we do so happily and fully.

We *are* called to do what we can to reify the Kingdom of God all around us. That means preaching the Gospel and spreading the message of God's redemption and salvation, but also the active work of aiding the poor/sick/hungry, seeking justice, and otherwise overthrowing the worldly power structures around us that subvert and defy and suppress the Kingdom of God.


Touchstone said...


You said:

Is the goal of the EC to have each individual be his own authority? Sounds like it to me.

My understanding to the ECM is quite the opposite. They stress the "community factor" in a big way, and if there is a strong recurrent theme to be had in the ECM, it is one that seeks to de-emphasize the role of the individual as spiritual pleno-potentiary. In the ECM circles I've encountered, the "community spirituality" is a prominent dynamic.


FX Turk said...


I'm looking for the alleged hermeneutical differences between you and Phil (or me, for that matter). You think Phil's problem is that he demands a certain set of outcomes from a given party's hermeneutic. My view is that there are a couple of valid hermeneutical lenses we can view Scripture through, but they are valid because they all agree rather than causing controversy.

BTW, the key matter in 1Cor 5-6 is not sexual immorality (although that's an necessary part): it's what the church ought to be doing about it.

So send me an e-mail, and we can make some real hay here.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Oy! One more EMERGENT CODE WORD! How could I have possibly forgotten the word "INTENTIONAL" !!!???

Intentional living: Eat veggie burgers, no meat, ride bicycles instead of SUVs, and so on. Otherwise you are a great big western-civilizing, poor-oppressing, creation-destroying, GOP-voting monster!

donsands said...

Great post. And so many good comments. And some good discussion.

“Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” by Carson.
That's an excellent book. Helped me very much.

Where exactly is Mediterranean Ave? I know where Boardwalk & Park Ave are, but I don't recall that one. And Oriental Ave?

donsands said...

Great post. And so many good comments. And some good discussion.

“Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.” by Carson.
That's an excellent book. Helped me very much.

Where exactly is Mediterranean Ave? I know where Boardwalk & Park Ave are, but I don't recall that one. And Oriental Ave?

Tom Chantry said...

(This is "TJ" again, back at my own computer, and (ever-so-slowly) getting the hang of the new blogger.)

So, the Pyromaniacs are guilty of "worshiping" their systematic theology? That's quite an accusation. It actually unchurches them. Idolaters are condemned to the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). I understand that you think they make too much of theology, but are you really saying that they worship it? That they have set it up as an object of worship, putting it in the place of God?

By the way, did you read Dan Philip's post this morning?

David Rudd said...

for those interested in hearing what the other side is saying... carson's book was not well received. many felt the title was misleading because carson was not interested in "conversing"

below are some links to reviews of his book... (those who have ears to hear...nah)

review of original speech

attender of a carson seminar

former TEDS prof (scroll down to April 19 for this one...sorry.

Touchstone said...


You are completely correct; I don't represent the entire ECM, or any part of it. I don't claim to fall even within the *loose* boundaries of the movement.

But I do claim to have many good friends who *are* firmly embedded in the movement. And furthermore, I claim that after exhaustive, years-running dialogs with these guys, I *am* capable of understanding and even perhaps recapitulating their positions and arguments.

I speak up here, because every time Phil takes up the question of the Emerging Church, he constructs an self-serving caricature of the movement, a very large man made of straw.

Why is it more ECM types don't speak up here? I don't know, except for to observe that many know when they are "down by law" as they are with Phil, and that engagement is unlikely to at all fruitful (they don't affirm they authority of the Bible, ya see!).

I don't suppose I'll move Phil, or many here, an *inch*. My words are here simply to be on the record as saying on this subject, Phil and fellow travelers are really disingenuous with regard to the ECM.

I don't blanch at all at the idea that inerrant scripture can actually lead to certainty. In many cases -- the most important ones -- it does! Jesus rose, bodily, from the grave on the third day. I'm fully certain that the Bible asserts this unambiguously, to the point that you can have my head on a platter before I'd equivocate on it. Hopefully that's certain enough.

But affirming that scripture can be and often is thoroughly clear and unabiguous is *not* at all a basis for supposing that all of it must be. Or that if it's not abundantly clear, it's not authoritative somehow. That's just a fundamental logical error.

You apparently want a doctrinal treatise from me with respect to ECM positions. I'm not shy about venturing my views on the ECM -- even as a spectator rather than participant -- but really, my focus is on getting mainstream evangelical Christianity back on track. As Phil even concedes, there's a lot of good criticisms to be absorbed from the ECM by mainstream evangelicalism (althought I'd be quite interested to know precisely what Phil thinks those are -- they're conspicuously absent in his post here, and elsewhere).

As for Phil engaging arguments, I believe Phil sees anything based on axioms that are not *his* axioms as "unsubstantial" by definition. If it's not playing by his hermeneutic, he won't engage. That's his right, but that leaves him thoroughly disengaged on a wide array of (what I believe are) important, profound issues for the future of the Christian church and its gospel message to the world.

You can call that unfair, my asking Phil to play ball occasionally outside of his 'home field', but I think it's quite the other way around. More importantly, I think that position as seen as self-serving (or just "unfair", if you prefer) by the world at large. Right or wrong, it's a problem.

As for Jones and authority, I'm not familiar with that quote, but I certainly have heard things like this before, and at length from some of my close friends who identify themselves as "emergent". I won't try to put responses in Tony's mouth, but I will say for the ECM types I've talked with, the "inerrancy" issue is a matter of pragmatics, not dogma.

For example, there's a wide, and I think well founded skepticism towards the Gospel being advanced as a matter of propositional calculus -- a matter of formal deduction that fairly obligates a man to concede to the demands of the Gospel, based on carefully crafted theological syllogisms, many of which are predicated on the premise of "inerrancy".

Those syllogisms may be entirely coherent and correct in all the important ways, but as a matter of praxis in being a witness for Christ and the Gospel, it's the wrong tool for the job. My guess is that Jones isn't pushing toward the idea that the Bible is incorrect, but rather stressing that being "correct" is not the best way to frame the conversation, especially in light of the powerful effects of other approaches we can bring to bear on those around us: charity, kindness, humility, love, self-sacrifice, etc.

For my ECM friends, the Bible being "inerrant" doesn't mean much if they aren't really living out the example of Jesus. And that's a profound point. When Jones uses the phrase "land the post-evangelical plane", I read him as not denying inerrancy, but emphasizing that that bit of doctrine isn't what is going to win souls, transform lives, and establish the Kingdom of God. Or at least, it's not defining principle of the strategy.

Lastly, as for everyone doing his own theological thing, I could agree more, but with respect to Protestantism, not the ECM. That's a question Protestants need to ask the mirror before anyone else, even as they decide they like the eschatology of that *other* church down the street just a little more than the one they currently attend...

As I said to wordsmith, I think the ECM is in significant ways an allergic reaction to Protestant hyper-individualism and individual-as-ultimate-authority grooves.


Touchstone said...

Tom Chantry,

It's a serious, considered allegation, and one I don't make lightly. But at the same time, such indulgences are manifestly common, and I'm as guilty of my own idolatries as any I would criticize here. We are inclined by our sinful nature towards idols and false gods. Doesn't mean that we've forsaken God completely, but that our own desires and wishes get emphasized much more than they should.

As for unchurched, I think that's speaking of "capital idolatry" -- worshipping a false God *as* God. What's at work here is serious, but much more along "misdemeanor idolatry" lines -- distraction and displacement of God as first and foremost, above our own wills and desires.

Just so none think I exempt myself here, I have a long history of "Bible worship", and part of the passion you see here is fueled by looking back at my days of "uber-certainty", days which had me thinking I was rock-solid for God, but really was heavily invested in *myself*, and willing to confuse the two.

And I, like so many of my Christian American peers, have an ongoing struggle with the love of money, another form of idolatry, and a serious matter, indeed.


Touchstone said...


FWIW, I think Carson's book has been highly counterproductive in engendering either understanding or conversation with the emergent church. It foments misunderstanding, in my view.

I know this is a widely held view in ECM circles.


Touchstone said...

John Haller,

Let's be clear: I've engaged in a number of sweeping, broad generalizations on this thread, so clearly, I don't have a problem with generalizations per se. For my part, the objection isn't that generalizations are being offered, but that some of them aren't well founded, or just plain incorrect in the general sense.

The old saw: emergents, being post-modern types, don't believe in truth. I don't reject this as a generalization, but as an untrue generalization.

I'm not afraid to use popular leading lights of the ECM as the focus of the conversation. I'm *happy* to have specific McLaren quotes or passages from "Blue Like Jazz" be presented, as it gives a real-world context for the debate. The more pressing problem are the, um, sweeping generalizations of ECM that are being offered as is, that don't bear any resemblence to what I've seen and observed in ECM communities.

You lost me the "private interpretation" comment. I think there are just two road to follow, and only two: either:

a) each man is ultimately authoritative as to what the Bible says, or

b) a man assigns authority to some other man, or group of men to determine and decide what is does or does not say.

Even then, b) is really just delegation of a). Ultimately, each man decides for himself (insert obligatory caveats for Calvinistic rejections of free-will as just an illusion here).

That said, it's a simple chain to follow. You believe it? On what basis? Because that's how you read it? Then *you* are the authority, sir! Because that's what your pastor teaches, or your bishop? Then you are the authority still, having merely delegated exegesis to someone else that is trusted. *You* are still the ultimate authority as to what the Bible says. Assignign interpretive authority to Pope Benedict or Phil Johnson is just the volitional delegation of authority each individual begins with.

I realize there's often offered a c):

The Bible is self-interpreting!

I hope that's not where you were headed...


Touchstone said...


I confess, I'm still at aloss to attach the "church doing about it" thing here. I see emergent churches disciplining and removing people from the congregation -- if you're thinking that the ECM is somehow incapable of policing its own congregations according to its principles, I think that's something that should be dispensed with quickly.

If, on the other hand, you're wondering whether 1 Cor is telling you expel ECM types along with the sexually immoral from the church, I'd say: smell the irony there, o son of Luther? Who's anathema now?

In any case, I'm either being quite dense or your being obtuse, or both. What is the basic, practical question you're pursuing here, Frank?


Phil Johnson said...

Touchstone illustrates precisely what I've said about why a postmodern attitude toward "truth" undermines the authority and perspicuity of Scripture.

If you grant a radical redefinition of terms like true and authoritative (in effect making those concepts infinitely relative), there's ultimately no level of unbelief you couldn't label "faith"; and there's no heresy you couldn't teach while simultaneously professing to hold an orthodox opinion on whatever doctrine you're actually denying. If you can also get people to swallow the claim that your radically redefined view of Scripture and the Christian faith is nothing more than a difference in "interpretation," you can put anything on the table for discussion.

That's precisely what's happening as Emerging/Postmoderns gain influence among evangelicals.

And that's also why I wouldn't necessarily take any postmodernist's profession of confidence in the "truth" and "authority" of the Bible at face value.

Touchstone: "So Phil can contend that I'm simply a liar, I suppose."

Let's be clear: That's exactly what I contend. Whether it's deliberate on Touchstone's part or he's self-deceived, I don't pretend to know. But we are obliged to "let God be true, but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4)—and Touchstone usually sounds more cynical than serious. Do the math.

If the charge is that I have a very high view of Scripture, I plead guilty. Christ likewise had a high view of Scripture. To suggest that a high view of Scripture constitutes a kind of "idolatry" is a lie that strongly echoes the father of lies himself.

On the other hand, someone who thinks the Bible is a human work, full of errors, and subject to an infinite number of possible interpretations, doesn't really believe in the truthfulness, authority, and perspicuity of Scripture in any meaningful sense.

Redefining terms like truth and authority and then claiming you affirm those things doesn't really make your unbelief any more "orthodox"; it just makes your error more subtle.

Incidentally, anyone tempted to be sympathetic to Touchstone's complaints about my refusal to "engage" him in "dialogue" should note that there's a history to my discussions with him. Read some of our earliest interaction; note how he asks for documentation; ignores it when given; then shifts the whole ground of his complaint. That, in microcosm, is how "dialogue" with him invariably goes. You can judge for yourself whether he sincerely seems to desire a good-faith conversation or merely aspires to be an annoying gadfly. After numerous verbose and cynical comments from him, always negative and usually grounded in a position on Scripture that is contrary to the Protestant confessions, I can't resist the conclusion that it's the latter. I'm not going to waste time or dignify his skepticism by treating it as genuine faith colored by nothing more than a different hermeneutic.

And I'm not going to pretend to take him more seriously than he himself takes the Word of God.

David Rudd said...

regarding biblical authority...

what do we do with esther 4:14?

"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish..."

this seems to really emphasize the "will" of man over the sovereignty of God.

if one of my friends suggest he sees this passage as evidence of free will, do i have grounds to suggest his view of Scripture is lower than mine because it doesn't lead him to the same view of God's sovereignty as mine?

is it possible that two people could both have "absolute certainty" that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God... and still disagree about what it means?

if that is possible (a big if...), then should we be careful about what we are proclaiming to be "authoritative"? what i mean is that it may be that we slip into thinking our interpretation of the authoritative Word is actually authoritative...

i know i regularly do this, and am grateful for my brothers and sisters who lovingly point it out and bring me back to a position of submission to THE Word rather than my word.

this is not well written, i apologize for that.

SB said...

The Riddle of Semantics by Walter Martin is specifically geared towards the cultist but in this case can apply to the post-modern:

The Riddle of Semantics

Touchstone said...


I think this is really all that remains here, given the above. How would you say I've *redefined* "authority", and "truth"? I believe I operate off of classic, time-honored (think centuries and millenia) understandings of both terms.

That seems to be the fulcrum your response rests on. If I say that 'what the Bible says, goes' in a binding and transcendant fashion, how is that a *radical* redefinition of 'authority', even granting your premise here that you are ultimately authoritative on such matters?

To me that looks like just so much hand-waving in attempts to avoid and discredit based on emotional appeals. That's your prerogative, but if that's not what's happening, it should be quite easy to demonstrate that I understand "authority" and "truth" in some significant way that Paul or Origen or Tertullian or Aquinas or Luther or Calvin or Billy Graham did/does.

Can you explain my definitions in a way these men would reject?

There's plenty to respond to in what you wrote, but failing some substance on this, it's simply just so much ad hom.


Phil Johnson said...

david rudd: "is it possible that two people could both have "absolute certainty" that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God... and still disagree about what it means?"

Of course it is. It's a logical fallacy to suppose that because some things in the Bible are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), nothing is clear or authoritative.

Incidentally: Second Peter 3:16 is not a new discovery. It's really irritating when postmodern evangelicals act as if it only recently came to light that certain things in Scripture are unclear—and then imply that this ought to provoke us to dump our conviction that the Bible is God's Word and generally does speak with perspicuous authority.

The standard Protestant confessions all deal with this issue very well. Here's what the Westminster Confession says about it: "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them."

David Rudd said...

wow! i'm beginning to think that phil is an auto-response robot.

phil, it's like you read my response, decide you'd rather argue against something else, and then tear down the conclusion i didn't reach.

for memory sake, here was my conclusion:
if that is possible (a big if...), then should we be careful about what we are proclaiming to be "authoritative"? what i mean is that it may be that we slip into thinking our interpretation of the authoritative Word is actually authoritative...

point:nowhere do i suggest that because some things in the Bible are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), nothing is clear or authoritative.

this is the typical "straw man" you keep get accused of building, phil. you've implied that i'm making an argument, then used extreme language to marginalize the argument, then destroyed the argument... but ignored what i said.

i think i'm pretty clearly saying the WORD itself is authoritative.

the point is that WE and OUR interpretation of the WORD is not the WORD. thus, maybe there is room to be gracious toward those who don't share our interpretation but still affirm the authority of the WORD.

if i was really trying to convince anyone, i would be very frustrated right now... (and i suppose i wouldn't be doing it here :)

Martin Downes said...


I presume that you would want to exempt certain theological positions from the position you outline in your penultimate paragraph. Like unitarians, tritheists, modalists, (or Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, to specify groups not just theological positions) etc. Where do you draw the line on those who hold to the authority of the Word but who deny what it teaches?

Touchstone said...


You said:

Of course it is. It's a logical fallacy to suppose that because some things in the Bible are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16), nothing is clear or authoritative.

That is indeed a logical fallacy, but it's not relevant to our discussion here. It's just another strawman you're constructing to knock down for the delight of the peanut gallery.

Seriously: who are you citing that claims *nothing* is clear? I just read through the post and comments again, and I can't find anything like that argument presented. Is this something manufactured for effect here Phil, or what do cite in support of this "fallacy" that your burning down?

I heartily affirm the language you quoted from the Westminster Confession. Even a child can understand, clearly, that which is necessary to be known and believed to be saved.


David Rudd said...


i think we can be gracious even toward those in the camps you mentioned. i chose those words carefully so that i could stand by them.

where do i draw the line?

"I" don't draw the line. that's kind of the point. the lines are already drawn, i'm just trying to see the them as they really are.

i'm very comfortable being on the same side of the lines as those who affirm historic, orthodox, creedal, apostolic Christianity.

and i'm not willing to slide into a debate over those terms right here right now...there is no other place i'd want to beheeeee... (probably not a lot of scorpion appreciators here, eh?)

Carla Rolfe said...

David Rudd writes:

"for those interested in hearing what the other side is saying... carson's book was not well received."

With all due respect, I've heard what the other side has been saying for the last 2+ years.

My question to you David (or anyone else) is this:

Please direct us all to the various sites/articles/posts where ECM criticism was considered fair, accurate, balanced and well received, and what good fruit came as a result, and that criticism came from someone not involved from within this movement/conversation.

I look forward to the resources you might be able to provide.

Martin Downes said...


If you mean gracious in our manner toward them (not quarrelsome along the lines that Paul specifies at the end of 2 Tim. 2) then yes of course.

Do you agree that our doctrine of the authority of the Word is as much part of our interpretation of the Word as other doctrines? It is after all based on the testimony of Scripture about its own identity.

Touchstone said...


Here's a (hopefully) helpful post, now several years old, from TallSkinnyKiwi, that is quite long, but a good resource along the lines of what you seek.


I encourage you to drill down on the links on Kevin Miller and the "Nomo pomo" exchange. It's an example of a critic that doesn't pull punches, but is also dealing with the conversation in good faith. I wouldn't say Miller is a fan of Ermegentish ideology, but I do think that a solid level of understanding has been developed around the disagreement.

From what I can tell, this is repsected, constructive criticism that has led not just to personal friendship, but a renewed commitment to working together toward the important goal.


David Rudd said...


the links to andrew jones' response and scot mcknight's blog represent people who acknowledged some elements of valid criticism.

scot is not a part of the EC, but is greatly respected by those who consider themselves emerging because of his willingness to listen and converse in a gracious manner.

here is a gracious analysis from someone not within the "movement".

at risk of being self-promoting, feel free to check my blog. you'll note i don't hesitate to take certain people to task here and here and yet i try to do so graciously according to Jesus' desire for unity (John 17).

feel free to read all my posts about things "emerging". if nothing else, i hope this demonstrates that one can take issue with ideas and words of people without writing off a group of people who have done nothing but use a "naughty" word to describe themselves.

and carla, for what it's worth, with "all due respect" (i'm sorry i can't say this in a nicer manner, but it is just a harsh truth) i'm familiar with your work. i don't think you've "heard" the emerging voice for 2+ words. i think you've been divisive and hurtful to the kingdom by often publish recklessly and falsely.

and that's all i have to say about that.


yes. i'm okay with that.

Mike Bonebright said...

David and Touchstone,

I'm honestly trying to follow your argument here, but I can't see how Phil's comment was irrelevant to the conversation. If it truly is not relevant, then all I can make of your side of the conversation is that Phil is being more confident of certain issues than is Biblically justified. But if that's the case, then which issues are they? And then why doesn't Phil deserve at the very least the sort of "graciousness" you're willing to show mormons and modalists and tri-theists?

I have to say, it really does seem that your disagreement is about the actual nature of truth more than about truth in any specific topic. And if that's the case, Phil's posts on the topic do seem to apply.

What am I missing here?


Jeremiah Johnson said...

"Misdemeanor Idolatry"

I think I need oxygen.

Tom Chantry said...

Thank you, Mensa. I was wondering if I was the only one to blow a few synapses over that particular oxymoron.

Unknown said...

What DR said

Phil Johnson said...

I'm sorry that there are at least ten retorts for every comment I post, and I simply can't deal with them all. You guys have caught me on a day when I have other vital things to do in my real-world job, and I can't spend the time necessary to answer so many long blog-comments word for word. I'm forced by other duties to abridge my comments here somewhat. Please don't take that as a lack of interest or assume that I am being evasive.

Touchstone: "Seriously: who are you citing that claims *nothing* is clear? I just read through the post and comments again, and I can't find anything like that argument presented. Is this something manufactured for effect here Phil, or what do cite in support of this 'fallacy' that your burning down?"

That's called hyperbole, which shouldn't be a problem for someone whose argument for practically everything usually comes back to the vast flexibility of language. It's an exaggerated way of making my point, which is this: The result of a postmodern approach to truth is an ever-diminishing list of biblical truths that Christians are willing to affirm unequivocally as things that are certain, clear, and authoritative.

When you read, say, McLaren, who frequently writes general rants against certainty; who says in one breath that he affirms the Apostles' Creed but then immediately spends several pages qualifying all the sense and conviction out of even that minimalist statement of faith; and who recoils from using the word "authoritative" in connection with Scripture—then it's reasonable to wonder if there really is anything in the Bible he (and those who follow him) would deem crystal-clear enough to affirm unequivocally and with a no-fingers-crossed kind of certainty. He raises that question himself in A Generous Orthodoxy and then fails to give a plain answer. So my hyperbole (though it admittedly is hyperbole) isn't really as far-fetched or unfair as you and david rudd have suggested here.

...but it's curious to me that you insist on interpreting what seems a rather obvious case of hyperbole in MY words with wooden literalness, and yet I wonder if there's anything at all in the biblical creation account you would be willing to take at face value. You've indicated elsewhere that you doubt whether Adam was a historic individual, created directly from the dust of the ground rather than evolved from lower creatures. (That's one of the main reasons I don't believe you when you say you regard Scripture as true and authoritative.) Language is flexible enough for you (and evolutionary theory authoritative enough for you) that you are forced to interpret most of the first 4 chapters of Genesis as figurative. Why do you stumble so much at my use of hyperbole?

Touchstone said...


You seriously want to take up *Genesis* 1-4 here, on this post??? On comment 121? I'm incredulous.

But game nonetheless. Just confirm that's an earnest offer.

I don't think it was (or is) at all obvious that this was a case of hyperbole on your part. Your response here reads thus:

Guys, I was just indulging in a little exaggeration (at a key point in my argument, hee hee!)....

... but then again I wasn't really exaggerating that much if at all-- look at these guys like McLaren: nothing is clear!!!

If it's exaggeration, Phil, just let it stand as identified exaggeration, for cryin' out loud. If it *isn't* and you really do suppose that "nothing is clear" is a kind of tantric response from McLaren et al, then just say so.

My reading of McLaren is quite different than yours, obviously. I understand the hesitation on his part at the brandishing of words like "authoritative" and "inerrant" precisely because of the way many evangelicals, and you in particular use them: as offensive weapons in realpolitik.

I believe it's perfectly true to say that the Bible is wholly perfectly authoritative, and that that aspect of scripture is widely used mace in a culture/pr war than as an organic part of God's relationship with man.

Or, put it this way: McLaren's ambivalent about the term, not becuase it's untrue, but because the term has been corrupted by it's use in the evangelical culture.

So, you avoid the natural implications (a desire to distance oneself from the attitudes and style of people who make "authoritative" and "inerrant" there primary keywords), and construct a sinister position of bad faith on the part of McLaren, and I suppose to the extent you look that far, to the words I offer here.

Could it be, Phil, that people like McLaren see the Bible as wholly authoritative, but are resigned to the practical "stink" that has come to the term (in their view) by others who've associated it with attitudes and ideas they find objectionable?

Is that even a *possible* scenario for you, Phil? If it is, I suggest you have your resolution, and have removed the "nothing is clear" argument from the debate here.

As for Genesis, I find nothing untrue or unholy or uninspired about figurative language. Do you? Should we go through the Isaiah-and-the-clapping-trees thing to examine whether God's word can be both perfect and true, and figurative? I'm happy to engage on any level you like there, but I'm not holding my breath.


wordsmith said...

When one of the hallmarks of the ECM is that no one can express certainty about what Scripture says and therefore each man is left with his own impressions of whatever it is that Scripture is supposed to communicate to us, then, yes, it sounds very much like every man is ensconced as his own authority.

When you start casting doubt on historical, orthodox understandings of various doctrines which arise from Scripture, then, yes, you are in effect establishing yourself as a final authority for your own private universe.

Contrary to popular opinion, the view of the Reformers, Westminster divines, et al regarding Scripture neither establishes nor advocates doctrinal anarchy. Doctrinal anarchy, rather, is the spawn of the attitude that says we can't be dogmatic about anything, so let's just all get along anyway. If you are trying to navigate using a compass, and you start thinking that your compass is either unreliable (or, that your compass is 100% reliable but reading it is ambiguous at best), you will quickly get lost in the wilderness.

SB said...

hey i just saw Carlas challenge but im too busy/tired to post links-do google searches for all of these:

John piper and Tony Jones
mark driscoll and john piper
da carson and forge western australia
matt boyette and changed by grace(wink)
dan kimball and steve camp
r scott smiths book, Truth and the new kind of Christian was recieved well by both groups
the westminster conf on ec was well received by both
the cedarville conf was well recieved by both
the desiring god conf was recieved fairly well by both
mark driscoll in general
80 plus churches from acts 29
Tim Keller and Tony Jones
TSK(Andrew Jones) and Spurgeon
TSK and even Larry Pettigrew from TMS
TSK in general
Purgatorio-Marc and Tony Jones
Justin Taylor and Scot McKnight
Greg Koukl/STR/ATeam Blog and Emergent Village-US
Me-yall saved me from going Emergent

the Emerging Church has benefitted and received help criticism and admonition charitably in all these examples

truevyne said...

Criticism doesn't entice me to read a blog for the second time. It's all very much like listening to Rush Limbaugh...not good for me.

David Rudd said...

here's the crux of my point...

wordsmithy says:

When one of the hallmarks of the ECM is that no one can express certainty about what Scripture says and therefore each man is left with his own impressions of whatever it is that Scripture is supposed to communicate to us

whatever is said after this is logically inadmissable in any reasonable debate because he has fashioned his own opponent rather than choosing to engage a precisely stated position of anyone.


1. there are no hallmarks of the ECM (it is not a definable organism).

2. i know of no emerging-types who say "no one can express certainty about what Scripture says". this is another one of those marginalizing statements that pushes the opponent to the extreme so one doesn't have to deal with the nuances of their position.

3. the idea that "each man is left with his own impressions" is actually directly opposed to the ideas of most emerging-type peeps.

(perhaps you missed touchstone's response when you posted the same thing earlier? he said:
My understanding to the ECM is quite the opposite. They stress the "community factor" in a big way, and if there is a strong recurrent theme to be had in the ECM, it is one that seeks to de-emphasize the role of the individual as spiritual pleno-potentiary. In the ECM circles I've encountered, the "community spirituality" is a prominent dynamic.)

all that said. if you would like to attribute that belief to someone who has said it, or if you would like to level critique at an organization like "emergent village" which has clearly stated its position on many things, we could likely find many things to agree on.

David Rudd said...


you've stated your point as:

The result of a postmodern approach to truth is an ever-diminishing list of biblical truths that Christians are willing to affirm unequivocally as things that are certain, clear, and authoritative.

i am not terribly opposed to this statement.

what would you say are those things that are "certain, clear, and authoritative"?

maybe a better question is, "how do YOU determine which things are 'certain, clear, and authoritative'?"

donsands said...

"It foments misunderstanding, in my view." -Touch

I found just the opposite for me. Dr. Carson's book was a blessing. It's incredibly difficult to understand teachers like McLaren. And with his book I was able to understand.
The Lord wants us to have minds that are able to nail the truth down, don't you think?

"Doctrinal anarchy, rather, is the spawn of the attitude that says we can't be dogmatic about anything, so let's just all get along anyway."

Phil Johnson said...

Touchstone: "You seriously want to take up *Genesis* 1-4 here, on this post??? On comment 121? I'm incredulous."

I think you've once again missed the point. I didn't bring that up as fodder for further discussion. That was my quick answer to your earlier demand for an explanation of why I refuse to take you seriously when you insist that you believe Scripture is true and authoritative. I'm not pressing for further discussion about it, but just the opposite. You're the one who wants every debate to descend to that level. I keep trying politely to tell you you are out of line.

I think I've gone out of my way to try to make this as clear as possible, but let me say it one more time: We're not going to engage in dialogue or debate about the doctrines of inerrancy and biblical authority with anyone who wants to challenge those doctrines while demanding to be embraced a priori as an evangelical and brother in Christ. I think it's dishonest on your part to insist that you believe in the authority of Scripture in the historic Protestant sense, and I'm not going to let you exploit the audience here to push your postmodern agenda.

I've tried to say that before as politely and subtly as I can, but subtlety seems lost on you. You keep nattering at the edges of the issue and demanding to discuss it further on your terms. I've done everything except ban you from commenting here at all. If you're just seeing how far you can push before I do that, you're getting pretty close.

I wouldn't allow free reign to someone who came here demanding to be recognized as a Christian but wanting to debate the deity of Christ, either.

risen_soul said...

I think it's a pity that nobody comments on this blog. *wink*

James Scott Bell said...


"1. there are no hallmarks of the ECM (it is not a definable organism).


3. the idea that "each man is left with his own impressions" is actually directly opposed to the ideas of most emerging-type peeps."

In what parallel universe can these two statements be logically held simultaneously? Or might this be evdidence supporting the very criticism being leveled at EMCs in this meta?

Anonymous said...

David Rudd: "there are no hallmarks of the ECM (it is not a definable organism)."

This is precisely the problem, David. It is difficult to engage a movement when you cannot define what your engaging?

Additionally, it is quite okay to stress the "community factor", but who/what is the authority for that community? The community itself? The Word of God? I think this is where the argument gets murky and dangerous in my view.

David Rudd said...


no parrallel universe needed. just a willingness to:
a) avoid reducing everything to simplistic generalizations.
b) attempt to understand linguistic precision

statement a: there are no hallmarks of the ECM (it is not a definable organism).

--the subject here is the ECM as organism--

statement b: the idea that "each man is left with his own impressions" is actually directly opposed to the ideas of most emerging-type peeps.

--the subject here is individuals who are given or assume the label "emerging"--

it is the difference between referring to New York City (organism) and citizens of NYC (individuals).

point one is a negative statement about the existance of one organism.

point two is a positive statement about the beliefs of many individuals.

point one contains absolute words "no", "not"...

point two contains a general statement -- "most"

hope that helps...

Sled Dog said...


Are you saying that a person can't be a believer in Christ if they don't believe in the innerrancy of Scripture?

I only ask because I imagine there are a lot of people who have received Christ who don't know a whole lot about the Bible.

David Rudd said...

michelle, you posted while i was typing...

you said, "This is precisely the problem, David. It is difficult to engage a movement when you cannot define what your engaging? "

i couldn't agree more. that's why we should stop engaging the "movement" and start engaging the particular people who are making the specific statements...

regarding the community thing. i agree. this is a great danger. i know many/most the emerging-types i'm acquainted with would say the authority is the WORD. we intepret it as a community. this is probably a more biblical model than the enlightenment/modernistic concept of "every man for himself"...

however, there are certainly communities out there who have replaced the authority of the Word with the authority of the majority... but i don't think that's limited to pomos?

wordsmith said...

Apparently (according to the ECM), we are NOT allowed to give any definite ideas about what God has said in Scripture. (After all, doing so is not true humility, doncha know?) However, we ARE allowed to issue definitive statements about what others (particularly those old curmudgeons who are rank Bibliolaters) say.

The irony is too rich for me. The ECM takes the infallible Word of God and brings it down man's level, divesting it of any real authority (despite protestations to the contrary that they *do* believe Scripture to be authoritative, it's just that they can't figure out what it's really saying), while simultaneously elevating fallible man's word to a position of absolute, knowable truth ("Aha! You said 'X,' and we all know that that means 'Y', so what you're really saying is 'Z'!") The consistency with which people can employ commonsense reasoning to what is written in the combox and yet fail to read Scripture with that same common sense is amazing.

Touchstone said...


I think you're attributing demands to me that I've not made. I don't "demand" to be "embraced" as a Christian or anything else. I state what I believe, and let those words speak for themselves. You'll find no preconditions attached to what I've said in terms of acceptance or agreement, or even believing what I say.

I don't know what "free reign" means here, but I can only assume you mean "not deleting my comments". If so, I appreciate that, and understand it all the same if can't tolerate what I have to ask and say.

It's clear from statements like this:
I'm not pressing for further discussion about it, but just the opposite

I think that's broadly indicative of your position when it comes to the issues regarding ECM; you just won't be bothered.

That's fine, it's just worth noting that that *is* your orientation here, even as you hold forth on explaining the complexities and issues you can't be bothered by. The emergent movement is very much involved in presuppositions and premises that are at odds with yours to one degree on another. It's impossible to address this topic *without* going there, save for waving your hands and satisfying yourself that these guys just aren't manly enough to believe in truth.


Anonymous said...

TouchStone, David, who ever else:

Stupid Question:

Why identify with, defend, or promote a movement?

What was wrong with the Gospel of Christ as revealed in Scripture that warranted a new name or movement beyond "Christian"?

Why the need for the name? If you affirm the Scriptures and its Holy Contents that reveal the Redemption of Christ, why the need for the term "Emergent"?

I not being silly. I seriously just dont understand.

James Scott Bell said...


"it is the difference between referring to New York City (organism) and citizens of NYC (individuals)."

This doesn't help at all. New York is a PLACE, not an ORGANISM.

The ECM is not a PLACE. It is a "thing" we are trying to define. It is a thing that is, if it is anything at all, made up of individuals collectively.

To say, then, there are "no hallmarks" of the ECM, yet there ARE hallmarks for the "people" within ECM is illogical.

Your analogy with NYC fails. More precise is this. You are saying that there are no hallmarks of the navy, but there are sailors who believe in ships.


David Rudd said...

steven, i'll take your question at face value...

first. those who are labelled "emerging" are not the first to have a name attached to them.
(wesleyans, lutherans, calvinists, etc. at least they aren't named after a man :)

second. i'm not defending a movement. i'm defending people. i'm defending the integrity of sound reasoning. (that sounds very self-righteous, but it is what it is)

third. i would turn the question around, if someone "affirm[s] the Scriptures and its Holy Contents that reveal the Redemption of Christ", why attack them?

perhaps the question should be posed to phil and others, "why do you need to attack the (clearly amoebic) "ECM", why not simply open dialogue/debate with the actual people and statements with whom you disagree?

i fear some (not all) choose to attack a "movement" because it is easier. it is easier to lump a group of people together, simplify their beliefs, choose one or two lightening rod terms and have at it... easier, but not necessarily helpful in the end.

thanks for the question.

one last thing. i would defend as agressively the pyros if i came across someone who i felt was misrepresenting them.

David Rudd said...


two thoughts:

1) could there be sailors who sail in ships without a navy?

2) why do you need to define it?

Touchstone said...


I believe there is a resignation in some parts of the ECM that terms like "authority" and "inerrancy" have become counterproductive terms, and perhaps even "Christianity" as well, due to the way they have been, and are being used.

There's a case to be made that a lot of the Christian terminology has gotten bound up in what a bit of a bait-and-switch:

+ Belief in the authority of Scripture has been successfully sold as "belief in a conservative Calvinist systematic theology, with special emphasis on the importance of scripture's generally plain and clear semantics".

+ "Belief in the truth" has been sold as basically the same thing.

Or, as Phil puts it, you buy the conservative Protestant framework, or you don't -- by definition -- ascribe proper authority/truth to the Bible.

For my part, I'd resist conceding those terms as lost causes in the culture. But I do understand that many have to a significant degree capitulated to the captivity of these terms -- my non-Christian friends (scientists many) routinely hear that they can't believe in the Bible -- really, faithfully -- if they don't believe in a six day creation six thousand years ago. Any other belief, founded on evidence or no, is simply an assault on the truth and authority of scripture.

So some just suppose it's easier to move on and deploy other terms that don't have the baggage.


Anonymous said...

The ECM is a movement, whether it wants to be or not. In order to truly do what you are asking here, we would have to speak to every single person who holds to some sort of definition of “emerging” or “emergent” in order to give the concept a fair hearing. This is simply impossible to do, and completely unfair to ask. What you have said shields the movement from any responsibility for the things it produces by pointing to the individual person…

But then to turn around and speak of the “community” interpreting things to me is contradictory. If it is the community that discerns certain things, why can’t the community be addressed as a whole when questions arise about what it has discerned? Why must we go continually in this circle? When a question is raised about a certain “emergent” idea, it is immediately thrown out “well, that is a belief held by this certain leader, group, etc. You can hold the movement responsible for that.” How completely unfair! Clever, but unfair.

Anonymous said...

And as an aside, it seems unfortunate to me that this post has recieved 141 comments, and yet Dan's post on our Lord has only received 14...

What exactly is the priority here?

James Scott Bell said...

OK, I'll try again.

You said:

1. ECM has no hallmarks

2. "Peeps" who identify with ECM have hallmarks (ideas...you said MOST of them have certain IDEAS)

But if you can ID hallmarks in the latter, that is a way you define the former, which you deny can be defined. I can't follow this.

An intellectual or religious "movement" is made up of the central tenets held by its proponents. It therefor doesn't help to say the "movement" is an "organism" that cannot be defined, and at the same time say the people who are part of the organism share certain ideas. Indeed, calling something an "organism" presupposes a commonality of elements.

Phil Johnson said...

Sled Dog: "Phil,Are you saying that a person can't be a believer in Christ if they don't believe in the innerrancy of Scripture?I only ask because I imagine there are a lot of people who have received Christ who don't know a whole lot about the Bible."

Ignorance is one thing; unbelief is another. I'm sure people become Christians without understanding the nuances of the hypostatic union. I don't question whether they are truly saved. But when someone comes along who actually does understand the basic idea and yet rejects the full deity or humanity of Christ, I would not regard that person as an authentic Christian.

That said, I don't think I would necessarily take the view that a strict inerrantist position is an essential aspect of Christian faith in the same sense that the apostle John suggests a sound doctrine of the incarnation is (1 John 2:22-23); or in the same sense Paul suggests both the lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3) and the doctrine of justification by faith are (Galatians 1:8-9). By that, I mean I wouldn't necessarily question the salvation of everyone whose notion of biblical infallibility doesn't quite measure up to the Chicago Statement.

But clearly, there comes a point somewhere when a person's questioning the plain truth of Scripture ceases to reflect the weakness of an immature faith and instead becomes an expression of rank unbelief.

I think that point is reached sooner rather than later. The more someone questions Scripture, the more I question that person's profession of faith.

I deplore the tendency that has existed in every generation of church history to subject Scripture to the shifting trends of rationalistic hypotheses, behavioral theories, moral fads, academic novelties, and whatnot. That represents the worst kind of human arrogance—subjecting the eternal word of God to the ever-changing measuring rod of human wisdom. It is the fruit of unbelief, and the history of the church reveals how deadly it is—even though it invariably infects the church through seemingly-benign people who profess to love Christ while subtly disagreeing with what He taught.

So when someone comes along whose main contribution to virtually every conversation tends to be an expression of distrust or disbelief regarding the historic Christian understanding of something Scripture seems to state plainly enough; and when that kind of skepticism becomes a hobby horse that they blog about constantly—I wouldn't take that person's profession of faith at face value. In fact, I think it's wrong to do so.

That's not to say such a person "can't be a believer in Christ." It's merely to say that it's folly to embrace such a person as a spiritual brother automatically just because he claims to be a Christian.

David Rudd said...

michelle, i would start by wondering why you need to formulate an opinion about the alleged "ECM"? don't you really need to formulate an opinion about the teachings with which you may or may not agree?

what if the original post had addressed specific statements made by people and named those people? phil still could have reached all the same conclusions (because those people are out there!) without throwing everyone associated with the label "emerging" under the bus.

regarding community. there is a significant difference between community and movement.

i share my life with a community of believers. we hold each other accountable to the WORD, and we speak the truth of the WORD into each other's lives.

we don't have to be part of a movement for that to be true, right?

it's not fair to saddle everyone who is an emerging christian with the beliefs of brian mclaren just because his emergent village buddies have co-opted the name.

if you really want to understand the concept of "emerging" there is a great deal of literature regarding "emergence theory" which has nothing to do with church, but is a social/scientific concept from which the "emerging" name originally came.

David Rudd said...


never mind. as long as you need to define this as a movement, you won't understand what i'm saying...

i'm just not sure i understand this intense need to "box" the emerging church.

Anonymous said...

I have read much literature - I was part of the movement for three years.

I suppose we are talking past each other, and I really don't know how I got myself sucked into this debate. I don't know how I can express what I'm trying to say any more clearly than I have. But it seems to me that if I am going move with the tide of a particular group, I want to know what direction they are headed in. Hence, my desire to understand what the ECM is trying to accomplish, what their collective vision is. Regardless of what "movement" I may find myself in, there will always be points of agreement and disagreement on certain points. That is not the point I'm trying to make. But I don't know how else to say what I'm trying to say, so I'll have to break from this...

ECM leaders are making statements about the Church in general, not just individual communities of faith, and therefore should be able to articulate the foundation from which they are making these assertions. Trying to figure that out is so very difficult. That is my lament...

And perhaps I have misunderstood to say that I am throwing everyone in ECM under the bus as you say. I am not. Many of my dearest friends would have to be thrown under there if that were the case. But again, I do not know how else to express this, so I shall simply observe the conversation from now on...

This is my last post on this subject. I cannot expend any more energy or spend any more of my employer's time on it.


Anonymous said...

Touchstone, David, who ever else:

Shouldn't we be careful with the adoption of terms and language not found in the New Testament to describe what is clearly defined in Scripture?

We see the term Christian coined at Antioch in Acts.

Lets use that. You can see the danger of adopting an "emergent" label in the fact that all you seem to be able to do is disavow that all emergents are the same. Since the term brings SO much confusion, and everyone considers Mclaren the reprasentative, isnt it time to drop the term?

Honestly. It might destroy the confusion. Not add. Thats the goal, right? Clarity found in Truth?

Phil Johnson said...

david rudd: "i'm just not sure i understand this intense need to "box" the emerging church."

Of course you don't. Its most prominent figures are mostly people whom you can't afford to have your own constituents see you "boxed" with. Ministering in a historically fundamentalist Baptist context can't be easy when you're trying to soft-sell Emergence and the critics won't shut up about how outrageous the Emerging fringe has become.

But I'll tell you what: when there are no more national gatherings with the words Emerging or Emergent in their titles and all the usual suspects stop coming together to lecture one another on adapting the biblical message for postmodern ears, then I for one will stop dealing with the whole jumble as a "movement."

I do recognize (and have said so many times) that it's a messy, muddy monstrosity, and its participants aren't always "moving" the same direction. But most participants do acknowledge some commonality with one another. That's why they keep giving endorsements to one another's books, and why Zondervan/YS formed a whole special line to publish and publicize those books, and why we all speak of "Emerging" in the first place.

And even though we critics sometimes grope for a better way to describe the muddled commonality that exists; and we occasionally fail to load every criticism with the requisite number of disclaimers; and we recognize that the contours of the movement itself are deliberately ambiguous and constantly in flux—well, if postmoderns and post-evangelicals themselves can keep using "Emerging" as a label to represent something they are convinced is positive, they really shouldn't keep complaining about the label per se every time a critic comes forward to object to this or that thing which some Emerging blogger or author says is the whole key to reaching postmoderns.

donsands said...

"The more someone questions Scripture, the more I question that person's profession of faith"

Me to.

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit, who inspired these 66 books, would lead us to the Holy Scriptures.

"So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper for which I sent it."

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Thank You Lord for giving us Your Holy Scriptures.

farmboy said...

"for those interested in hearing what the other side is saying... carson's book was not well received." And one should expect otherwise? Mr. Carson provides a thoughtful, logical, data driven examination of the emerging church, and based on his examination, Mr. Carson finds the emerging church theologically deficient. Of course, those that are invested in the emerging church, those that should not be at all surprised by Mr. Carson's conclusions, don't receive Mr. Carson's book well. This sure looks like a solid endorsement of Mr. Carson's work.

James Scott Bell said...

There was an expose of JFK published some time ago that was not well received by the Kennedys. What does that prove?

Carson's book is both fair (see p. 45 if you doubt this) and thorough. He has the temerity to read actual books and articles, footnote them, quote them extensively and then respond.

For this he is not "well received."

If an ECM guy writes a book does he not intend it to be read and understood? To pass on a viewpoint? If so, how can he then complain if someone offers a contrary view? Isn't this what the exchange of ideas is supposed to be about?

Or is the "conversation" only one sided?

Touchstone said...

farmboy and jsb,

Look, this isn't a difficult distinction. In large scale disputes like this you have participants that generally fall into two camps:

1. Those who are able to fairly represent the other sides views, in such a way that the other side will nod and say "he pretty much understands what we are saying".

2. Those who are continually regarded by the other side as devoted to marginalization and maintaining convenient and preferred characterizations of the other side, such that the other side frowns and says "your talking about someone else -- that's not us".

Which means there are those who engage, understand and disagree -- on point and directly attached to the substance of the dispute -- and there are those who are interested in "framing" the other side as they want to see them, and understanding be, um, darned.

There are then noble ways to contend and disagree, and ignoble ways to do same. My understanding from many ECM types bringing this up with me for years is that Carson left the ECMs saying "he didn't even put in the effort to understand what we have been saying". Admittedly, getting a handle on ECM syllogisms such that they nod and say "that's it" is not always easy, but no one promised exhaustive perspecuity on these issues. They are hard to pin down, often.

Nevertheless, Carson I think has been identified as being in the latter camp on this issue, rather than one who disagreed, but really listened and understood.


drew@jonah said...

I realize that leaving a comment at #154, chances of this being read are slim. And I fully admit that I haven't waded thru all of the discussion in the thread. This kind of piggy-back's Pastor Rod above, but not really.

I think that there is validity to all of Phil's assessment of the emerging movement. I live about ten blocks from Doug Pagett's church and have attended. But my concern is that people are concentrating on the church movement as a whole and are not realizing that post-modernism is not contained in the emergent church.

My website deals primarily with the modern prophetic movement and it's shocking how many post-modern arguments are used by those folks as well. It's the very air that the culture breaths. If you don't like what the bible says about the cessation of prophecy (that's right Phil, I've converted) you just question the validity of the text.

The problem is that they get away with it. It's taken the emerging church to get the rest of us to deal with post-modern reasoning, but I hope that we realize that the effects of post-modernism run thru-out Christianity.


SB said...

ok this debate is over but maybe we can get some definitions in the future from our protagonists--ala Debate Blog style? and then work from agreed upon definitions

one definition: emerging church

in the denotative version of the definitions I've seen--seems to me to be the new churches that are coming into view--the young leaders that are now getting published-the new organizations that have been started say in the last ten years or the old churches that are being renewed with new methods

-bascially the Baby Busters and Gen X/Y leaders and the organizations they lead--

now connotatively

when the typical Reformed person sees Emerging Church

they think U2/weak on the Word/into new agey prayer/ hard to nail down on most things/excessively hip/sloshy worship/into helping the poor/most likely a democrat/arminian/proficient in philosophical info/deficient in exegetical info

when the EC hears Emerging Church they hear devoted to a person more than a system(Jesus vs. your denomination)
they hear the poor are neglected we will meet this need ala the book of James

they hear we are tired with the status quo american church --we want to get back to the book of Acts

they hear a L'Abri(a shelter) for those with weird questions

they hear good music with lyrics from the bible

they think lets us break down what we believe so we can figure out if its close to the heart of Jesus(the red letter Jesus)

they think well it doesnt matter that this guy has histrocially been hereticl he helps me get close to the heart of Jesus--

they think lets lower the prickliness of our doctrinal statlement and find what the basic beliefs that all christians can agree upon

they think they have found meaning,beauty, truth etc

now keep in mind they may pour a biblical theology into their ecclesiology
or they may pour a contemporary theology into their ecclesiology
this will affect their view of anthropology/hamartiaology/bibliology/soteriology/ Christology/Theology Proper

the terms they use we will be unfamiliar with as are many philospical terms that you will encounter in a baisc Intro to Philosophy course at the community college--so I think we have to redouble our efforts to scale the language barrier

the point is some in the EC are liberal some are fairly orthodox--
we would say the majority are liberal they would say the majority are orthodox

somewhere in the continum is whats really goin

this Gen X would say the EC is generally left of center

and more and more of us who are Center Right will dominate because I predict what we think of as EC--use of tech/rock nroll worship/asthetics of modern design/informal preaching will dominate the land in the next 30 yrs

the EC is here to stay
the liberal churches will empty like those of the last gen and those that are devoting themselves to the apostles teaching breaking of bread, true prayer, and fellowship/communion will thrive

anothers words one day Clayton will pass the baton to a band like Crossroads or Resolved

the point is will the church be sound or aberrant irregardless of the trappings

Phil Johnson said...

Touchstone: "It's impossible to address this topic *without* going there, save for waving your hands and satisfying yourself that these guys just aren't manly enough to believe in truth."

Well, I don't recall questioning anyone's manhood, and I reread the whole thread and can't seem to locate a reference like that from any of the regulars here.

For someone who professes moral outrage at every instance of hyperbole and overstatement aimed your way, you certainly are liberal in your own use of verbal overkill.

Moreover, if I had pointed out every time you have veered off-topic in this thread, we would have 300 comments rather than 150. I decided to cut you some slack and just see how far you off topic you were willing to go in this thread. So it's interesting and highly ironic (and in a way, quite impressive) that you can now sraight-facedly post a remark like the one I've quoted above—and simultaneously manage to imply that I'm merely doing a haka.

David Rudd said...

*shakes head as he exits...*

SB said...

good word jerryb--you gotta love the haka--gets me fired up for some rugby

David A. Carlson said...


While I know that the concept of irenic debate gets little traction in some circles, it is still the method that is best defended by the bible as an everyday proposition for dealing with others, especially other believers.

One can still fight the good fight in faith while arguing from the irenic model.

So instead of trying to shame someone with a comparison to his father, you might want to visit DR's websites, listen to his sermons on his church website or develop an understanding based on something more than 10 or so blog posts around one issue.

just David (not David Rudd, nor any other David)

donsands said...

I love the wisdom God has given to D.A. Carson.
Thanks for sharing that quote.

"So instead of trying to shame someone"

I didn't take it as trying to shame someone.
Though it sure wouldn't hurt for us to feel a little shame from time to time.

Christ was laid bear on the Cross, and He took our shame. And He took our sins in His precious body, and was them away in His precious blood, "as far as the East is from the West".

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Glenn said...

Your reply to Sled Dog is brilliant.