Monday, July 21, 2008

The Emerging Church Movement

I encourage you to read my article in the July issue of the Gospel Advocate on the emerging church. I wanted to give you just one quote from the article.

Brian McLaren, an emerging church leader said,

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are, to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264).

If McLaren believed that Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews were lost, he would lead them to Christ and not just try to improve their present religion. But you see, he doesn't think that what Jesus said in Scripture (Jn 14:6) is true or should be pressed on anyone. Emergents don't criticize, they connect. And how do they connect? By compromise, by disbelief in the one true way, and by accommodation to the world. There is "one faith" and only one faith. There is one Savior and only one Savior. To leave others in the domain of darkness is neither faithful to Christ nor loving to people.

Luke 9:23-24 says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

Christians who expect to be saved follow Christ and teach others to follow Christ. He is the way the truth and the life. There is no other way to heaven. Making a Buddhist a better Buddhist grants no access to the blood of Jesus. Jesus died for all, but he did not sacrifice himself to leave people in error.

Now, having said that, I must wonder why a Christian University associated with our brethren would invite Bruce McLaren to their campus to lecture to their students?

Amazed at how far some have drifted,


Joseph Pauley said...

Great post!!!! This movement has made (and is making) serious inroads in the church. McClaren is nothing short of a heretic in my opinion. I was shocked to see him as a special guest speaker on a brotherhood lectureship.

Douglas Brackbill said...

Right on target as usual. How can our "wayward brother" so easily forget and dismiss the words of Jesus in:
Matthew 22:36-38 NKJV "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" (37) Jesus said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' (38) This is the first and great commandment.
You cannot love God in one breath and acknowledge the existance of false gods in another. I thank the one true God, Jehovah, for His love and men such as yourself,that honor Him and correct error.

Matthew said...

I have not received the G.A. yet, but I will be looking forward to reading your thoughts on the emergent movement. Phil, while I was at Lipscomb, there was a lot of focus on this trend, but mostly it seems that those in the church are not versed in the movement right now. We need to do some serious thinking on this concept because it will be overtaking a lot of congregations without people realizing the background of the influence. Please keep thinking on this topic. We need to eat again soon, my friend.

The O'Hara Family said...

I'm glad our brotherhood is finally starting to address the Emerging Church movement in a thoughtful manner. The major tenants that McLaren and his disciples spout line up nicely with the Neo-Orthodoxy Movement and every other movement away from genuine Christianity all the way back to the time of Marcion. If you notice they all deny the biblical view of the inspiration of Scripture and they cut and paste their way from there.

I want to address a saying they use a lot that is baffling. Notice this quote: “Now, notice that he's [McLaren] not calling for isolation from the "denominations," but engagement. Rather than pull up our tents, we go out into the wider Christian world and call not for a restoration of the forms of the first century church, but for a restoration of a community of people who are seeking to become disciples of Christ.” (

The area I really want to emphasis is this, “people who are seeking to become disciples of Christ.” Where in Scripture does it ever speak of “seeking to become a disciple?” You either become a disciple of Christ or you don’t. Jesus told His disciples (were they disciples or just seeking to become them?) to go and “make disciples.” Where did he ever go and tell His disciples (were they disciples?) to go and make people to be seekers of becoming disciples of Christ?” Bring into that the Luke 9:23-24 text you mention in your article. If you move on just a little further in Luke Jesus says: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (14:26-27). Did Jesus say to try and carry his own cross? Did Jesus say to seek to come after me? Did Jesus say to seek to become a disciple? Absolutely not! You either are a self-denying, cross carrying, disciple of Jesus Christ or you are not!

Add to that Matthew 13:52, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven.’” Did Jesus say every scribe who is seeking to become a disciple, or every scribe who HAS become a disciple of the kingdom! This rhetoric about seeking to understand the kingdom and seeking to become a disciple just shows the shallow depths of this movement. How much further away from the teaching of Christ can you get? All this movement is is another excuse to be your own Lord and be a disciple of self!

Let me summarize it for you like this. This is the gospel according to McLaren, “Go therefore until all the world and tell the Buddhist, Muslim, and devote Pagan, to seek to become a disciple of Jesus while truly just being devout in whatever else you believe.” McLaren says, “If any Buddhist, Muslim, or Devout Pagan wishes to come after me let me seek to deny himself when we wants, take up the cross he thinks he wants to bear, when he wants to bear it, and come after me if you feel like it and to the degree you want to understand it.”

I have more respect for the Buddhist who flat out denies the deity and Lordship of Christ, than I do for these men who claim Jesus and then say that they are just “seeking to become His disciple.” It’s time to get real about this and address it. It’s time for people to stop being disciples of McLaren while trying to become disciples of Jesus, and just make the commitment and be a disciple of Jesus! I appreciate your efforts Phil.

Sow the Seed,

Gary Washer said...

So often when when I think about the things that are going on whether it be the emerging church or Oprah etc, I can either get angry or fearful. however, something that is a comfort to me is that God is in control, and that what I need to continue doing is sowing seed. The seed is good and will find good soil.

Joel said...

Amen Gary and to all the comments here.

Phil Sanders said...

You are not 19 anymore, Ben. When schools bring a speaker to campus for the purpose of exposing his views to the students and for a lectureship to all, there are always some who do not have the maturity and experience to discern what is true and what is error.

Students often depend on their teachers and leaders to present to them things they need to hear.

Will teachers critically review what McLaren says? Will there be an opportunity for evaluation? One grad student I spoke to made it clear that the trend toward the emergent movement has been growing for some time.

Emergent skepticism and doubt will weaken the faith. I am biased toward the faith, and I want our schools to be so biased. I do not find conviction to be foolish. The Lord teaches us to avoid certain foolish questions.


Ben Wiles said...


You're right. I'm not 19 anymore. And in the fifteen years since I was, I've heard much of this debate on both sides.

And you're right. If we can't trust the students to thoughtfully engage ideas rather than simply parrot back what they've been told, we should be very selective about which ideas are presented.

And if we can't trust professors to encourage this kind of "fish and bones" dialogue with dissenting voices rather than rendering "all-or-nothing" judgments one way or the other, we should be very selective about which schools we call "our own."

That said, in my experience I have found that you can tell a lot about how trustworthy a perosn or institution is by how much trust they are willing to extend.

Phil, I think we find ourselves on the same side of the Locke vs. Hobbes, tolerance vs. authority debate. I, too, want our schools to be biased in favor of real Christianity over the mere "Jesus-ism" advocated by McLaren and his ilk.

But I also want them to produce church leaders who can have an honest dialogue with someone with whom they disagree without being cowed by the other side's status or celebrity.

If they are failing on that front, then our schools are in worse shape than we think.


Phil Sanders said...

I never considered us anything but on the same side and friends for many years.

FHU, when they wish to consider an idea, has a discussion where both sides are presented.

I am not seeing that. I am seeing this individual coming to speak with no thought to a response.

I guess this is the problem. Our postmodern schools (their self-described words now) are actually promoting the concepts Brian McLaren endorsing rather than refuting them.


Dale Sadler said...

Instead of thwarting the false teachings of Hindus, Muslims, etc, this movement is asking people to accept Jesus as just another teacher or prophet. Well, He was much more than that and the Bible is more than just a self-help book. Jesus wants our whole life, not just a portion of our existence on this earth to be shared with something or someone else.

Matthew said...

Phil, I did a quick review on my blog of your article. Check it out, you did a great job.

Anonymous said...

You mean Brian McLaren? He is very influential but does not represent the whole of the Emerging Church movement. Categorizing this movement and developing a rigid definition of their beliefs is extremely difficult. They pride themselves on being "organic" and emphasize that one size won't fit all when it comes to ministry and even doctrine. Because of that it is really hard to paint broad brush strokes and use generalizations about "what emergents believe." This is a conversation that needs to happen and I am glad more people are talking about it.

Phil Sanders said...

Matt, if you read my article closely, you will words like "some" and "many." I did not broad brush everyone with the same coat of paint. I am well aware of their independent spirit. But it's thank independence that seems to allow them to launch into libertine notions and behaviors.


Matt said...


Just wanted to mention that I didn't say you had done that. I had not read your article yet and had no idea whether or not you had done that in your GA article. I mentioned it because that is something important to remember when entering these conversations regarding Emerging Church. God bless,


Anonymous said...

When I was in undergraduate college (Harding University), I was encouraged always to read my Bible first and read/listen to others secondly, doing so like eating a fish (eating meat and leaving the bones). I enjoyed many of my professors at HU and learned a lot from them. But fortunately I took their advise and was able to discard some of those bones that tried perpetuatingg a legalistic and sectarian view of Christianity (If they wanted to produce clones they should have told us to leave our Bibles, minds, and hearts at home).

What I have learned is that like any movement within Christianity (piety, charismatic, restoration, etc...), the emmergent movement is in part a reactionary movement. As it reacts to some perceived deficiencies, it over reacts and goes too far. There are some ideas comming from some of the emmergent leaders that are a needed correction to Christianity (including the CoC and RM) but there are also some ideas that are very questionable. Should we question the emergent movement? Absolutely? But before we write them comepletely off, let's remember that even our beloved Restoration Movement is not without faults (i.e., look at the many divisions that have taken place all because no one can completely agree with what the exact and precise pattern for church is).


Phil Sanders said...

Thanks for posting. I don't remember seeing you here before, but welcome.

I don't think anyone among us would dispute that there are needed corrections, since none of us is perfect.

I'm not sure that the emerging church movement is giving correction. I think it is embracing the culture of the time rather than looking back to the New Testament. The restoration I'm seeing among the emergents has more to do with going back to a third or fourth century church than back to the first century inspired text for instruction.

As a Harding grad (Memphis 1983)I can appreciate putting the Bible first--so we must.

Just because there are disputes among us does not mean the truth is not discernible. We can know what the truth is.

When I hear how divided we are, I recall that division is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) not a doctrinal weakness.

Thanks so much for posting, and I'm glad you survived the tornado.


Scott said...

Phil you are right on about this movement... it is nothing but a denial of Christ, simply put. It is unloving in that it shuts up the kingdom of heaven to those who would go in, if they are taught correctly how to do that and then live the way we're supposed to.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested to know if you have actually read Mclaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy?

In it he says on p. 283:
"There are two things this incarnational ministry is not. It is not a kind of dishonest spy work, where one pretends to be something one is not, like an internet pedophile who pretends to be a teenager so he can enter their trust, or like a network marketer who pretends to be your friend so he can add you to his down-line. And again, neither is it a kind of "everybody-is-okay/all-religions-are-equally-true", relativist/pluralist tolerance, where I smoke weed with the Rasafarians, chant with the Hare Krishnas, bow toward Mecca with the Muslims, and dance with the Pentecostals because "it's all good, it's all fun, it's all mellow, and doesn't matter which religion (if any?) you believe as long as you're sincere man." If you take what I'm saying and turn into either of these approaches, you're smoking some kind of weed yourself, I think."

It seems like you have turned what he's saying into the latter.

Phil Sanders said...

Many people don't like to admit the truth about themselves. If you read the article again at the beginning of the discussion, which is a quote of the book, you will see also what he said.

It is not so much what McLaren believes as it is what he will not speak against--he is indeed a true postmodernist.