Half a millennium ago, the predominant cosmology viewed the earth as the center of the solar system. Geocentrism was the story of the day. An Italian researcher named Galileo told a different story. He argued for heliocentrism; the data proved that the sun, not earth, was the center of the solar system. But that didn’t fit the story line.
So the stewards of the story–at that time, the Catholic Church–condemned Galileo to spend the last years of his life under house arrest. Thank you, Inquisition. Never mind that his view fit the facts. It didn’t fit the story so it was false and he had to be punished.
“… that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”
The Creation Story was the prevailing story (this is not a blog about creationism v. evolutionism, so don’t try to turn it into one–it’s about the story… stick with me). The ACLU wanted to challenge that story. It asked a gym teacher named John Scopes, who filled in as a sub for a science teacher, to teach evolution (I’m not making this up–checkout Wikipedia).
He did. The Scopes-Monkey Trial was the result. Scopes was placed on trial for breaking the law. His story didn’t match the prevailing story, so he had to pay. The jury found him guilty and the judge fined him $100. Scopes never paid because the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the fine on a technicality while upholding the law.
Later, in a different case, the US Supreme Court overturned all laws that banned the teaching of evolution. The Story got changed.
Today, the story is reversed. Evolution is the dominant story and the teaching of creationism, special creation, or Intelligent Design, is banned. A teacher would be fined, fired, or sued for teaching these things. The anti-religious forces are equally virulent about enforcing their story (okay… metanarrative for my postmodern, emergent friends).
Today’s dominant story assumes that all roads lead to God, there are no ethical absolutes, truth is what you make it. The pressure of Political Correctness, while different in its externals, is no different from the Inquisition in its virulence at enforcing the story. Deviate from the story line, and you don’t get to teach in the University, you don’t get to speak in the media, you don’t get promoted in government sinecures. Stick to the story line or else. Why won’t the democratic candidates appear on Fox News? Because Fox News tells a different story. They must be frozen out. It’s a new Inquisition.
Control the story, control the world.
Make no mistake: the cultural and political fight in America today is over who gets to control the story. No wonder our country is so polarized!
But my interest here isn’t political. It’s biblical.
I submit that the Emergent theologians are deliberately attempting to change the historic, biblical, evangelical STORY.
That story told of a Savior, born of the Virgin Mary–the seed of the woman, the seed of David, the Son of God. He alone redeemed us from our sins through his vicarious atonement. He alone shed his blood and died to bring us back to God. Faith alone in Christ alone is the only instrument by which men and women are saved, and we as God’s redeemed people have a privilege and obligation to go to the four corners of earth to proclaim this message. There is no other way to God except through hearing of and believing in Jesus.
That story motivated millions of missionaries to leave the comforts of home and spread around the world. It motivated tens of millions of Christians to pay for and pray for those missionaries. It motivated the worldwide movement of building hospitals and water treatment plants and third world development and social good and orphanages. Not because the SOCIAL needs were an end in themselves, but because they paved the way for the Gospel–the propositional truth, the factual, biblical information about Jesus, the obtainment of which is an indispensable prerequisite for salvation.
Moreover, that old, old story–the one carried by evangelicals for centuries–weaves a social ethic into the fabric of society. It calls for stable marriages and families. It calls for a sexual ethic of male/female monogamy within the bonds marriage. It calls for the sanctity of life. It calls for personal responsibility and freedom.
The Emergent Theology is fighting tooth and nail to change that story. Whether they’re right or wrong, shouldn’t they be required to make an air-tight case before they get to effect such a sea change on the church? Shouldn’t today’s Christians be more discerning?
The whole topic makes me sad, mad, and scared. I’m not here to criticize books or teachers. I’m a positive person. But I’m also a pastor and a follower of Jesus, and when his story gets distorted, I have to speak up.
To me, the biggest change in story is the theme of UNIVERSALISM of teachers like Brian McLaren and Spencer Burke. It is incipient universalism: all roads lead to God. People need not hear of Christ and they can be saved. I quote McLaren’s exposition of John 14:6: [for the whole article, click here, and then click on John 14:6]…
This is the verse that is frequently quoted to defend an idea
called the “exclusivity of Christ,” namely, that all who
do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as
their personal savior will burn forever in hell. That
phrase raises concerns for me, because based on
the Scriptures, I believe Jesus primarily came
not to proclaim a way out of hell for some af-
ter death, but rather a way into a better life for
all before death. His message was not about
going to heaven after history, but about the
kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.
His goal – made clear in word and deed, day
after day during his three years of public minis-
try – was not to constrict but rather to expand the
dimensions of who could be welcomed into the king-
dom of God, of who could be accepted in the people of
God. So my understanding of Jesus’ essential message tells me
that “exclusivity of” should generally precede “the Pharisees” or “the judgmental” or “the hypocrites,” and never “Christ.”
In typical fashion, his point is not succinctly stated anywhere. In fact, this entire article was a chapter extirpated from a recent book. I suspect it’s because the publisher didn’t want to go down the universalistic highway.
- Disdain for the historic Christian storyline: “all who do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as their personal savior will burn forever in hell.” There’s something about the way he put that that misrepresents the HEART of the Christian truth.
- His denial of any certainty about an afterlife: “His message was not about
going to heaven after history, but about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.” Again, whether he’s right or wrong, is he not trying to change the story? Haven’t Christians for two thousand years taught that Jesus’ message was precisely about going to heaven after history? If historic Christianity seems far away, who moved?
- His denial that the claim of Christ is an exclusive claim, the word exclusive can never be applied to Christ. This is flat out unbiblical.
Ditto for “The Ooze” and author, former pastor, Spencer Burke, whose book, A Heretic’s Guide to Heaven, has been ably reviewed by theologian Scot McKnight.
Here are McKnight’s closing comments after a devastating but loving critique:
Is Spencer a “heretic”? He says he is, and I see no reason to think he believes in the Trinity from reading this book. That’s what heresy means to me. Denial of God’s personhood flies in the face of everything orthodox. To say that you believe in the creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit and deny “person” is to deny the Trinitarian concept of God.
Is Spencer a “Christian”? He says he is. What is a Christian? Is it not one who finds redemption through faith in Christ, the one who died and who was raised? If so, I see nothing in this book that makes me think that God’s grace comes to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Grace seems to be what each person is “born into” in Spencer’s theses in this book. That means that I see no reason in this book to think Spencer believes in the gospel as the NT defines gospel (grace as the gift of God through Christ by faith).
I don’t know McLaren or Burke personally. I’m sure they’re likeable. I’m not trying to be bellicose or pick a fight. It aches my heart to write this stuff. God tells me to “earnestly contend for the faith” and that’s what I’m doing. I respectfully disagree with where the Emergent Theology is leading the church. I lovingly take issue. Their message is not true to the clear teachings of God’s Word.
As I read Brian and other emergent theologians, what I hear is what we used to call “the social gospel” tinged with “theological liberalism.” It’s nothing new. It’s an old story that flourished in the 1930-1970’s… and then faded away. It faded away because its churches shrank and died. Why?
Because when they undercut the gospel’s urgency, they undercut their reason for being. Why bend every effort and give your life to a cause less than life and death? If all roads lead to God, why build a hospital in the jungles of Africa or a church in Chicago?
I distinguish the emerging church from the Emergent Theology. The former is helpful–ensuring that we package the timeless truths of the faith for a new generation. The latter might turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
We preach a stable metanarrative.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3, NKJV.
“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,” Ephesians 4:14, NKJV.
I have no argument with Brian McLaren’s right to preach and teach as he wills. I just wish he’d come out and say: “I’m changing traditional theology. I’m disagreeing with traditional evangelical theology. I’m arguing against historic orthodoxy. I’m changing the story.” Maybe Brian is right and the church has been wrong all along. Maybe we’ve gotten the story wrong, and Brian is bringing a needed corrective. I just wish he’d say it straight up. Admit it. Tell us: 2000 years (or the last 200 years) of orthodoxy have been mostly WRONG and I’m here to CORRECT IT.
I’d have a lot more respect for him if he’d do that.
The evangelical, orthodox faith has 2,000 years of linguistics, research, debate and refinement under its belt. It has followed proper hermeneutics to reach its conclusions. It makes its case from Scripture. It humbly submits to the authority of the Word of God, rightly interpreted. It has stood the test of time and weathered the storms of history. Emergent theology has no such foundations. It is a novelty, an innovation. In theological circles, those words are not compliments.
To try to change the story is an act of subversion. Tweak it at the edges; draw a few illustrative stick figures. Debate the less important plotlines. But don’t alter the story; don’t change its contours.
The church has never been called to enforce the story in the world. We “enforce” it within the church, through simple instruction and yes, debate. We draw boundaries. We contend earnestly for the once-for-all faith.
But we don’t enforce the story in the world. We simply tell it to the world and live as part of its narrative even when the world thinks we’re crazy.
It’s God’s story. Through it, He exercises dominion. It’s His story. We don’t get to change it. We are called to preserve it and to hand it to the next generation unmolested.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16, NKJV.