25 August 2008

Hey, CT Told Us the Megashift Was Coming

New-model Christianity, or old-model heresy?
The following post, and some of the material that will follow in subsequent posts, has been adapted from one of my messages at the 2005 School of Theology at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in 2005.

(First posted Thursday, August 11, 2005)

PyroManiacbout fifteen years ago, Christianity Today (February 19, 1990) published a major article describing several novel theological ideas that were (at the time) barely whispers among a handful of influential academic evangelical writers and theologians. Written by renowned Canadian theologian Robert Brow, the article was titled "Evangelical Megashift."

According to Brow, evangelical theology was quietly being remodeled by some of the movement's most influential thinkers. He used some benign-sounding language to describe how evangelical thinking had already changed radically, even though most evangelicals had not yet noticed the changes. But Brow implied that even more monumental changes were on the horizon. Subsequent history has shown, I believe, that he was exactly right in his predictions.

(Don't take that as an endorsement of Brow's theological perspective. In my assessment, he is himself a theological miscreant of the worst stripe. I've listed him in the "Really Bad" section of my annotated bookmarks and given a brief explanation for that assessment. I don't need to rehash it here.)

Brow's 1990 CT article pretended to be an objective report about what was happening in the theological world, but the truth is that Robert Brow himself was one of the main figures working hard behind the scenes in the academic world to bring about a wholesale remodeling of evangelical theology. He was an ardent advocate of virtually every theological innovation he described. So the article was actually a propaganda piece promoting what Brow referred to as "new-model theology."

Today the new model exists in full form, and it has a name: Open Theism. Every issue Brow discussed in that 1990 article touches on a key point of doctrine where some or all of the leading Open Theists have departed from the historic evangelical position.

But here's something I find even more interesting: Read Brow's article and notice that virtually all the issues he raised are also the pet issues of several leading figures in the Emerging Church movement.

I'm not suggesting everyone associated with the Emerging Church is also tainted with Open Theism. Nor would I necessarily accuse Emerging Church leaders of harboring deliberate sympathies with everything their "openness" cousins stand for. But I do believe the two movements clearly have common roots, and the Emerging Church, in a very real sense, represents the metastasis of the same unhealthy theological tendencies that gave rise to Open Theism. Brow's article is a catalogue of those pathologies.

In the days to come, I'll say more about this and examine some of the key similarities between Brow's "Megashift" and the Emerging Church. But in the meantime, if you want to take an interesting romp down memory lane, review the article referred to above, and notice how the theological agenda being touted by the more outspoken leaders of the Emerging Church (including various champions of innovation ranging from Steve Chalke to Tony Campolo) is a clear, almost point-for-point echo of what Robert Brow was already talking about more than fifteen years ago.

Phil's signature


Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Phil,

I was there in the Tabernacle for that message. That was the year of the London bombs. I missed the last day because of the confusion on the transport system.

Keep her lit!

Rob Hughes said...

I've had a look at the article Phil. This caught my attention...

First, the word hell. In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis rejected the idea that God sends people to hell by a judicial sentence for failing to hear or understand. His picture of a gray city and the freedom to move into the light of heaven suggested that no one could possibly be in hell who would rather be in heaven. I would identify this understanding as new-model, and suggest that it is now a common assumption of many Christians in thoroughly biblical churches.

This is not, of course, to suggest that new-model evangelicals preach universalism. C. S. Lewis had no doubt that some, together with Satan, will choose hell. The point is that the assignment to hell is not by judicial sentence. The model presents heaven and hell as the ultimate outcome of our freedom.

So he is using the words of a man (Lewis) to redefine what the Bible has to say about hell... yes, that does sound emergent!!

greglong said...

Read the CT article. Very interesting. However, something seems to be missing...hmmm, can't quite put a finger on it...

Oh, yes, it's the complete absence of any kind of Scripture to back up the claims for the "new-model" theology.

donsands said...

The Scriptures the Openness teachers refer to are the 30 some times God says He repented, or God changed His mind.

Such as when He was going to destroy the Hebrew children, and begin a new line through Moses. Moses interceeded, and God changed His mind.

This is the battle ground with Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders, and others.

I think Greg Boyd's book was a major influence, and his church has grown.
He is a scholar, and yet he for some reason, that I cannot understand embraces this heresy.

FX Turk said...

Isn't it actually better when Phil is actually blogging on Phil's blog?

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Phil what do you think is more harmful, Emergent theology or Open Theism?

James Scott Bell said...

Academic malfeasance. To relate the evangelical view of judgment, atonement etc. to the "Roman law court" system and not, as is the fact, the God revealed from Genesis onward, is strikingly inapt. But it does create for Brow the lever he seeks to uproot theology.

And uprooting is what the EC is known for as well.

Solameanie said...

"Theological miscreant." I love it!! In addition, Mr. Brow's last name leads to all sorts of potential for fun. But that would be meanie, wouldn't it?

As to the question of which is more harmful -- Emergent theology or Open Theism -- I would say that both are poison. Emergent theology might have enough sugar in it to disguise it's lethal properties, but in the end, both will kill you just as dead. Emergent theology revels in its denial of objective truth, while Open Theism strikes at the heart of the nature and character of God.

Pick your poison.

FX Turk said...

What is "Emergent Theology", O'chuk?


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Christianity Today (February 19, 1990) published a major article..."

Q's: What responsibility, if any, does CT bear for publishing this "theological miscreant's" article? Would the "megashift" have occurred anyways without CT having published it? When CT publishes such an article, are they reporting the news, or are they part of the news? Would it be fair and accurate to say that CT played an "enabling" role for the theological aberrations that are plaquing the broader evangelical movement?

BJ Irvin said...

Seems to me that "new model" theology isn't anything new but just wants to strip out of the old model what it doesn't like or feel comfortable with. "Let us re-make God in our image."

I never realized you can just re-define words to make them what you want. This has interesting implications...hmm.

NothingNew said...

Between Robert Brow’s ‘Megashift” and Brian Mclaren’s “Deep Shift” tour, at least the heretics are consistant with labling themselves as being ‘shifty’.

adj. shift·i·er, shift·i·est
1. Having, displaying, or suggestive of deceitful character; evasive or untrustworthy

Phil Johnson said...

O'chuk: "Phil what do you think is more harmful, Emergent theology or Open Theism?"

I'll assume your reference to "Emergent theology" includes the major pragmatic, theoretical, and contextualizing trends that are generally associated with Pomo-Emergence in quasi-evangelical circles, because there's not really a coherent "theology" in there, as far as I can see.

But with that assumption, I'd say the two trends both represent a kind of corrosive apostasy. They just operate in different (but overlapping) circles. Open theism is to the academic side of the evangelical movement what Emerging trends are to the popular side. I expect that after they've swallowed up as much from the evangelical fringe as they can, they'll eventually merge, like two blobs of mercury coming together.

Michael said...

If God is truly omnipotent and omnipresent, then He not only knows all things, but is present in every location in time and space at the same time (although He himself exists outside of time).

Therefore from a non-Reformed (and non-Open theistic) viewpoint, God knows who will freely reject Him as their personal savior, yet He creates that person (or "allows that person to be created / born") anyway. We as humans are free to choose or reject Him, yet He knows how we will choose and always has.

But how does this truly differs from the Reformed point of view in the end? On the one hand, God predetermines who will live and who will die (eternally) [Reformed viewpoint], and on the other hand He knows how it will turn out, allows us to freely choose under no forceful compulsion from Him, and creates those who will die (eternally) anyway [non-Reformed viewpoint].

It seems to me that if one truly believes in libertarian free will, that one would be logically bound to be a proponent of Open Theism, since that would be the only way the free will would truly be free. By necessity, God would have to be "in the dark" concerning one's decision, or else He would be creating some vessels for destruction, and some for mercy.

What am I overlooking here...?

Rick Frueh said...

"What am I overlooking here...?"

A bottomless mystery.

DJP said...

Phil...like two blobs of mercury coming together.

What an apt analogy.

Shiny, silvery, fast-moving; shapeless, poisonous, and impossible to grasp.

You can swallow it and die from it, but you can't outline it or get your hands on it.

Ten-ring, Phil.

Solameanie said...

Imagine what would happen if you combined mercury and napalm.

Now that would be a conflagration indeed. Draw whatever spiritual analogies you prefer.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Megashift is a word that is also inherently too benign to describe what's happened to evangelicalism. I prefer to think of it as a MegaScrewUp, MegaBarf, MegaDeception, or something along those lines.

NothingNew said...

Charles Spurgeon wrote:
“Are we not all in danger of trusting to religious machinery, and leaving the work of the Lord to be done by secretaries, committees, missionaries, and so forth, whom we half regard as substitutes for ourselves?”

Let’s just say for a moment that Christians have trusted the machinery of the church for too long and become lazy in the process. Now that the mechanical elements of the church are somewhat broken (or at least dysfunctional in someway) it ironically gets labeled as being “post-modern” as if it’s something to celebrate. So in other words, ‘postmodern’ is nothing more than ‘modernism’ in a broken form. This ‘brokenness’ becomes self-evident in the ‘postmodern’ architecture used in ‘new’ churches, it’s also seen in the art that ‘s scattered haphazardly along it’s walls, and in the terminology spoken by it’s preachers. It is also by no accident that the comfy couches and large TV’s that occupy many postmodern churches have more in common with a person’s home entertainment center, since our entertainment-centric culture has also assisted in accelerating the ‘brokenness’ of the church.

In the end, it’s the result of Christian’s relying too much on the mechanical nature of man’s 'shifty' sinfulness.

SkiBumLife said...

Well, I guess it's safe to say Mr. Brow knows the truth now. He passed away 2 months ago.

Stefan Ewing said...

What's scary is that Brow's article is couched in such benign, "loving" language, that I can see how your average, non-discerning Joe Churchgoer could read it and think, "Hey, that makes sense."

What's also scary is that I'
ve read forums where very informed commenters espouse views very similar to Brow's. It's hard to pinpoint anything they write that flat-out contradicts Scripture, and yet they engage in a subtle, wholesale redefinition of terms until you get something that's just a distorted reflection of the Word of God, like the image in a funhouse mirror.

Strong Tower said...

But how does this truly differs from the Reformed point of view in the end? On the one hand, God predetermines who will live and who will die (eternally) [Reformed viewpoint], and on the other hand He knows how it will turn out, allows us to freely choose under no forceful compulsion from Him, and creates those who will die (eternally) anyway [non-Reformed viewpoint].

What am I overlooking here...?

The right dicotomy.

It is how God knows: God knows the outcome because he predestines it. He does not know it external to him as mere knowledge, (the non-Reformed predestinarian view) and therefore reflexively reacts to it. At some point according to the second, God must progress in knowledge. That is precisely the heresy of Open Theology. Middle knowledge another form of the same similar to what you have discribed is a Jesuit invention created as an apologetic against the Reformed position. Both presuppose that God has bound himself both logically and morally to not know as a reality at least some of all things until they happen. Both fit with the Arminian/non-Reformed/Anti-Calvinist theologies in necessarily making a god who is a mere observer and reactionarily predestining according to what he sees as possible/or as actual in a future sense. In either case it deprives God of omnicience at some point in his eternality, and by that presents a god that is not the God of the Bible. It is the misunderstanding of the nature of God and of his creation that necessitates such rationalistic approaches.

In part, what you presented is a false dichotomy. The second is included in the Refomed view. I don't know if you meant the caricature that God disallows free willingness without force or compulsion in the Reformed position. It is in reality the opposite from what you stated in the other view. The non-Reformed view disallows willingness in that it compels by force of law those who would be saved to choose one or the other, heaven or hell, which as we know is impossible for by the works of the law shall no man be saved, but the justified shall live by faith, Galatians 2:16. The Reformed views freed creatures who willingly choose out of the love spead abroad in their hearts for the God who has saved them, Isaiah 44:22; Ezekiel 36, esp 22-27.

exists outside of time

From what you said it is unclear what position you take, however, it is really incorrect to say that God is outside of time. As you said: ...but is present in every location in time and space at the same time...

Perhaps what you meant was that God is not time bound, time being the effect of spacial relationships within and a result of creation and by definition God is the uncreated and therefore is not, and cannot be an effect, that is, affected by that which he creates. It would be more proper then to say that God is transcendant in relationship to time. In any sense, God is not outside of time because that is a spatial relationship, something that cannot be applied to God because he is not a body, a thing, with limitation or expanse. In the final view time must be seen as that which has always been known by him as the effect of his creation and his creation is not without forethought, for the plan or decree precedes any action logically, though not necessarily temporally. In his eternatlity God knew before the creation what would be the outcome (whether time or the choices of his creatures). The mystery of God's self-existence should not be confused with the creatures observations of creation. Transcendance is not merely, outside, beyond or in any creation sense spatial. It is a spiritual reality. One which God can say of himself that he lives in unapproachable light, and at the same time can be the light which can be seen, Revelation 21:23. He can at once give us finite perfected knowledge of him and at once be perfectly, infinitely exaustive in his knowing of all that is finally known. The finite is swallowed up by the infinte and so transcendance is altogether different than human logic or rationality can define. To say then that God is outside of time is to create a dichotomy that does not exist. He is not time bound which is precisely one of the reasons that observational knowledge cannot be assigned to Him. The unfortunate result of that theology is to caricature God as sitting above the time-line and that is how he knows. But what a diminution of God, for man does not think of himself as only the observer of the art that he makes, but has that art in mind as he works out in reality that which preexisted in him before the time of the art's beginning to take form.

Michael said...

strong tower,

Thanks for the in depth response...and yes it would be more appropriate to state that God is transcendent in relation to time...I just didn't have the vocabulary to express my thoughts.

I didn't state my personal view in the post, although I was sort of "fishing" for a non-Reformed viewpoint. I don't really believe that most who would hold to a non-Reformed view of human free will as it relates to salvation would align their beliefs with the tenets of Open Theism, but if one maintains that God is both omniscient and omnipresent, then it seems that one would almost be forced into the belief that God does in fact create some humans for destruction. As such, it doesn't seem as if one could really believe that God desired for all men to be saved (All as in every human being).

I had never heard someone express their views along this line of thinking, and since I'm fairly sure that I'm not the first person to have ever thought along these lines, I was just looking for some feedback and discussion.

Thanks again !!!

donsands said...

"If God is truly omnipotent and omnipresent, then He not only knows all things, but is present in every location in time and space at the same time" -michael

"God has bound himself both logically and morally to not know as a reality at least some of all things until they happen" -Tower

The Open theist says, "God is all powerful, but does limit His power, and so He is all knowing, however He limits His knowledge."

So when He told Jonah He was going to judge Nineveh in 40 days, but they repented, and so He changed His mind. So apparently God didn't know that they would repent.
God could have known, but He limits Himself.
I think this is the subtleness of the heresy.

Strong Tower said...


I didn't think you did but couldn't tell. Most who are non-Reformed most likely don't carry it out to the logical conclusion so would not think that they do, or formulate arguments like those of Molina or of JP Moreland, to explain it away.

donsands- It really is substanceless. I was thinking when I finished this that JP Moreland's "future contingencies" theory is another attempt, but fails at the same point. If God being both ominicient and omnipresent, though it is theoretically possible for him to know all possible contingencies, it is not possible for him to know himself present in all possible contingencies. He knows himself present only in the actual factual future world and not in the others. Moreland does the same thing with God's simplicity making the orthodox view fatalistic by collapsing categories as if there were no possibility that simplicity could include compatible coexigencies and complimentary attributes with distinction yet inseparable.

donsands said...

" ..making the orthodox view fatalistic by collapsing categories as if there were no possibility that simplicity could include compatible coexigencies and complimentary attributes with distinction yet inseparable."

Um, yeah. I'm lost. But, God does know the future, and ordains it. Amen.

Stefan Ewing said...

Strong Tower:

The first half of your 12:04 p.m. comment may be the best explanation I've read of why, if God is omniscient—and He is—He must also be sovereign over the events He foreknows (which by implication includes our salvation). Otherwise, as you pointed out, His decisions would be contingent upon events beyond His control, which would make Him captive to events beyond His control—and to jump ahead to the logical conclusion—the atonement of Jesus Christ would not be the foreordained means of reconciliation to God that it is, but an ad hoc rescue mission because man had a mind of his own.

Like donsands, however, you lost me with your last comment. Your last sentence sounds like something Sir Humphrey Appleby would have said.

DavidWesterfield.net said...

And this just one example of the result of that shift ... http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=2363

Rick Frueh said...

To teach that God doesn't know everything, even if it's His own choice not to know, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and His eternally "present" existence. No "time captured" human can ever comprehend how God lives outside and above time and in fact created time.

One of the greatest expressions of reality and humility is when God's children openly admit to "knowing in part". What we know about our Redeeming Creator we have been shown by Him, the rest, which is infinite, will be known at a future date in a continuing revelation process gloriously taking place in God's breathtaking presence.

I am registered for that class through the tuition of grace.

PS - there is nothing wrong with discussing these issues as long as they lead us to a deeper awe and worship of our Mighty God!

Andrew Jones said...

interesting parallel.

also - jim rutz (a global house church guy) wrote "MegaShift" a few years ago and i reviewed the book. Interestingly . . [the plot thickens, dum dum DUM dum!] .. jim wrote a book called "The Open Church" a number of years earlier.

Strong Tower said...

That's funny Stefan-

It's the politician coming out in me. To quote Obama, "It's just words..."

Moreland employs weighted language, to deny compatiblism he creates future contingencies, to deny simplicity he erects absolutist distinction. In the second, we often hear this in the "God is love" argument which denies that other attributes of God are affected by or can affect what God's love means. His view is reductionistic but he employs it against what he claims is a reductionistic view. His argument is simply that if you remove the distinctiveness the attribute disappears into an indiscernible mass.

But your point is well made, high falootin words can have an amazing diversity of effect and sound erudite but not say anything.

Nancy said...

Love your "tricked out" signature graphic...*: )

James Scott Bell said...

Would that more theology were as simply put as Tozer:

God's sovereignty means absolute freedom, doesn't it? God is
absolutely free to do anything He wants or wills to do—anywhere,
anytime, forever. And man's free will means that man can make any
choice he wants to make, even if he makes a choice against the will of
God. There is where the theologians lock horns like two deer out in
the woods and wallow around until they die. I refuse to get caught on
either horn of that dilemma! Here is what I see: God Almighty is
sovereign, free to do as He pleases. Among the things He is pleased to
do is give me freedom to do what I please. And when I do what I
please, I am fulfilling the will of God, not controverting it, for God
in His sovereignty has sovereignly given me freedom to make a free

Even if the choice I make is not the one God would have made for me,
His sovereignty is fulfilled in my making the choice. And I can make
the choice because the great sovereign God, who is completely free,
said to me, "In my sovereign freedom I bestow a little bit of freedom
on you. Now 'choose you this day whom ye will serve' (Joshua 24:15).
Be good or be bad at your own pleasure. Follow Me or don't follow Me,
come on or go back. Go to heaven or go to hell."
The sovereign God has put the decision in your lap and said, "This is
yours; you must make that choice." And when I make a choice, I'm
fulfilling His sovereignty, in that He sovereignly wills that I should
be free to make a choice. If I choose to go to hell, it's not what His
love would have chosen, but it does not controvert nor cancel out His
sovereignty. Therefore I can take John Calvin in one hand and Jacob
Arminius in the other and walk down the street. (Tozer, The Attributes of God, vol. 2)

Sister Judith Hannah said...

Dear Brethren at Pyromaniacs: It was good to see the Megashift article. I read Mr. Brow's linked article, also.

It seems a subtle "shifting" of word MEANINGS are going on amongst theological higher-ups, which is really quite serious.

They are shifting what WORDS have standardly meant, theologically, which brings about a great amount of confusion and then, subtle, subtle acceptance of the changes.

I have recently completed a study on such a shift in meaning which I'd like to bring to your attention.

This time, the word is HEAD, in 1Corinthians 11:3. It is the same Greek word for "head" found every where in the New Testament: KEPHALE.

What at least 2 leading theologians are teaching is that HEAD no longer means governing head or governing authority... but rather SOURCE of Life, in vs. 3 of 1 Corinthians.

Yes, GOD IS the source of our life, but THAT VERSE is talking about HIM being our governing authority.

The result of this shift is to make GOD an abstract concept instead of The Divine ONE+ we love.

Another result is to remove the governing authority line in the church and Christian home.

So, be aware that HEAD does NOT equal SOURCE in 1 Cor. 11:3.

I have worked on a 60 page paper --complete with Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and English language information-- with endnotes and references and appendices dealing with this "new" model theology, old model heresy.

If you would like more detailed information, contact me at www.srjudhan.yahoo.com.

Keep up the good work; the flock needs protected from the wolves.

Sister Judith Hannah

donsands said...

"Therefore I can take John Calvin in one hand and Jacob
Arminius in the other and walk down the street."

AW Tozer is a a great example to us all. But I see him holding on to Jacob just a bit firmer than John.

Good quote though.

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

I know I'm getting to the party way late here, but two things came to mind when I finally read the CT article:

(1) CS Lewis comments about old books where he says he often finds in reading old books to people who disagreed with each other were united on the rejection of the same contemporary issue that is commonly held. So Brow mentions how Calvinists, Wesleyans, et al read with different paradigms but I could see large sections of them rising up to condemn this article.

(2) Brow, totally botches the signifance of the incarnation by saying "His identity as Lamb was eternal in the sense that he was already absorbing our sin and its consequences from the time the first creatures were made in the image of God" --what?! this destroys the incarnation and its necessity (not to mention the fall). Athansius even said what is not assumed cannot be redeemed--the church Father's would reject this vehemently. Brow is messing with historic orthodoxy itself.

The ignorance of history and the assumption that the doctrines held by confessional evangelicals (and 'the fundamentalists' in the historic sense of the word)are new is appalling. At what point does this break the 9th commandment?