The Emerging Delusion

Thinking is so hard. There is such a temptation to just stop doing it. How easy, how relaxing it would be to just ride the waves of group-think that I am surrounded with daily. Put my feet up. Give a big group hug. Smile and wave, smile and wave!
But reality gnaws at my heartstrings. The repulsive smell of the devil's handiwork fills my nostrils and slaps me awake. The words in my Bible simply won't disappear either — each time I look they are still there (and unfortunately, it feels, become more and more clear with each reading).
The most current stewing in my mind? The Emerging Church.
I just read a fabulous article by Bob DeWaay called The Emergent Delusion. Though the article is long and not the easiest to think through, I feel as though I have just run a few miles, done 50 crunchies, and enjoyed a nice tall glass of fresh cold water. Ahhhh. There now! Some good thoughts for the old brain to chew on!
DeWaay's article is mostly a review of Brian McLaren's book, The Generous Orthodoxy (This book is actually subtitled Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN).
A reviewer from, under the title "Nobody Can Tell You You're Not Jewish," aptly describes what seems to be the main idea of McLaren's book:
"The idea here (which McLaren blithely appropriates) is that words, even concepts, can mean anything I want them to mean, and no one can tell me any differently. Or, you can challenge me if you want, but I don't care; that's just your position and anyone can think anything they want and why can't we all just be brothers?"
Its enough that this book denies that the Bible reveals to us many absolute truths about God, but the truly disturbing thing is that this way of thinking represents mainstream Christianity. This book is published by Youth Specialties, a popular group I have always loved and trusted. McLaren is welcomed to speak at mainstream Christian gatherings all around our country. You can even McLaren to "coach" your church into organizational success (somehow I am reminded of the 40 Days of Purpose craze).To the untrained eye, McLaren is just another brother, promoting love and unity amongst the brethren.
Be afraid! Be very afraid!
McLaren is suggesting we move further from the truth rather than back to it. We need to move BACK to the Word of God! Back to the truths and triumphs brought forth by the Reformation. Back to the idea of sola scriptura. We do not need to "emerge" into a group of touchy-feeling New Agers who think God is whatever we'd like Him to be, saying along with McLaren,
"If I seem to show too little respect for your opinions or thought, be assured I have equal doubts about my own, and I don't mind if you think I am wrong. I'm sure I am wrong about many things, although I'm not sure exactly which things I'm wrong about. I'm even sure I'm wrong about what I think I'm right about in at least some cases. So wherever you think I'm wrong, you could be right."
Read McLaren's book. Read DeWaay's article. Search the scriptures.
Just go find your thinking cap, dust it off, and tie it tightly to your head.
We cannot afford to be lazy thinkers. The Church is headed into a direction of danger, and we all need to be awake enough to notice.

24 thoughts on “The Emerging Delusion

  1. I share your despair concerning the emergent movement. I have been in conversation with many about this and am working to refute some who have embraced it.
    Check “White Horse Inn” or “Issues etc” for more good articles and conversation. They are linked at my blog.

  2. “The Bible, for McLaren, is about doing good works, as God’s people, for the benefit of all people; it is not about propositional, objective truth.”

    Sounds like any other religion to me. Might as well be Hindu.

  3. Have you read the book?

    “We cannot afford to be lazy thinkers. The Church is headed into a direction of danger, and we all need to be awake enough to notice.”

    This is exactly what I am concerned about. But if you would read the book you would understand that McLaren is the opposite of a lazy thinker. Postmodernism isn’t the mother of all evils, even though I used to think that this was true.

    What I am concerned about is what kind of lives we live as Christians. And I believe it’s about time for Christians, myself included, to wake up from our slumber of thinking that belief is the only thing that matters.

    My main problem with the modern world is that we can be way too black-and-white and reductionistic about the world. We even do this to God by reducing him to a bunch of systematized truths.

    I say all of this in the first person, because as an evangelical, I know a heck of a lot about God, but for years my love for knowledge about God surpassed my love of God (as a person).

    If the expression of your faith matches the belief of your faith, then please don’t bother reading the book, “A Generous Orthodoxy”. But for the rest of us, try reading it with an open mind to discover if he has anything helpful to say to us.

    Honestly, I think the book would more aptly have been entitled “A Generous Orthopraxy”, but then people wouldn’t have been mad at McLaren for treading on the sacred reformation stone and tarnishing it.

    In any case, feel free to refute me if you would like.

    One point of view to another,

  4. Benjamin,
    I have only read McLaren’s writings from his websites, and lots of reviews of his works.
    I have requested 3 of his books from the public library so I should get my hands on those soon.
    When I get Generous Orthodoxy read, I’ll get back to ya.
    Thanks for posting — I am highly interested in figuring this stuff out.
    P.S. As someone coming from your point of view, would you put Donald Miller into the same category as McLaren?

  5. Ben,

    To what extent does what one believes about God influence what one does for God?

    I too will be reading McClaren’s book soon, but I am not confident that it will NOT change my views of his “Generous Orthodoxy”. I have heard segments of his speeches and interviews of various participants of emergent conferences, and I am not challenged or changed by any of it. I have spoken with a few “emergents”, read articles from their websites, etc. Most of it sounds like what I sat under in college for four years. Why did they call themselves “Professors”? Maybe the title should be changed to “Questioner”?

    I do agree however with their criticism of the various problems in the church; I agree that it has become too materialistic, too showy, etc. It has become so because it shunned liturgy and simplicity AND theology!

    Frankly I think it is time for non-emergent’s to retreat and regroup . . . let the unknowing have their day in the sun. I used to criticize the seminary as a useless fortress, but now I wish I could run into one before the gate is closed.

  6. George,

    It would probably be good for me to clarify that I am not a personal representative of McLaren, I have just found him helpful to navigate through the evangelical waters, so to speak.

    In answer to your question, “To what extent does what one believes about God influence what one does for God?” I believe there is a definite correlation between the two. Right beliefs about God influence a right life. But I might go further and include a few other aspects of life that are vitally important too, such as right relationships, a pure and humble heart, right actions, to mention a few. And I believe that these are all inter-related in some kind of network. Who is to say what is the cause and what is the effect?

    I think it was when I began to see the imbalance in my spiritual life, despite being a missionary with the largest missions agency in the world, I began to realize that I needed help.

    The Evangelical World, at least what I have experienced, has done an amazing job at centering life around the Word and right actions as a result. But over time, I became a professional evangelical who know all of the right answers, but didn’t have a life to back it up. I didn’t really have good news to share. And I think that is the tragedy of it all. I was so focused on getting the right belief system that I ignored cultivating the rest of my spiritual (and even physical life).

    I know not everyone is like me in this way, but for myself and way too many others around me, evangelicalism isn’t answering questions about the heart and about relational living in a satisfying way. I don’t say this as an absolute, just my experience.

    Thankfully for me, a number of spiritual surrogates have unknowingly pointed me in a good direction. My top five books in the past year or so is:
    Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster
    Satisfy your Soul by Bruce Demarest
    McLaren’s book in question
    Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
    The Younger Evangelicals by Robert Weber

    I don’t write this as much to change your views as much as to share my own journey in the trenches of evangelicalism.

  7. Benjamin,

    I too have read Streams of Living Water, and Simplicity (Which I would wholeheartedly endorse) by Richard Foster. I have also read two books by John Michael Talbot, Lessons from St. Francis and another who’s title eludes me. I have read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, and his pamphlet on Spiritual Direction. I have attended Taize services at a local Catholic church and have even seriously considered becoming a Protestant-Franciscan (they do exist). I have read the rule of St. Benedict. I have meditated before crucifixes and even tried eucharistic adoration. I used to chant my prayers, and listen to Gregorian chant, etc, etc. I did all of this because I was discontent with “mainstream evangelicalism” and was hoping for a serious encounter with God. Little did I know I was ahead of the Emergent curve.

    I think that mysticism is the inevitable result of two things: 1. Discontent with a showy, commercialistic, entertainment based church.
    2. Forgetting the church’s roots in creeds and confessions and theology.

    I need to run, and could say much more about this; I’ll finish with . . . let’s keep talking and let’s recognize that we are indeed attempting to influence one another’s views.


  8. Wow! Maybe I was too busy trying to survive my life to find Christianity such a maze as George and Ben have found. Granted I know there is too much of alot of stuff and not enough of God, but when I get right down to it, falling on my face before God and Calling out to Him has been met again and again by a Powerful, awesome God who is so personal it makes me speechless,(well, at least for a little while) Forget about all the missteps that we see the church taking and begin to live real, personal lives before our Creator and I believe that we will change the World in which we live in. God is real, we are selfish individuals, and we need to stop whining and become people of courage and hope and love in a world that is HURTING!

  9. Woman of Faith,
    I think the emergent-folks would agree with you, stop bickering about terminology and just love God and others. I don’t fully understand the emergent movement yet, and I do suppose there are lots of variations to it but I have come across several websites that suggest a movement of folks who do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture and are pretty darn relative about God and life in general.
    The problem is, what you believe really does affect who you are and what you do. Being very relative in beliefs also will affect who you are and what you do. I understand Ben’s comments that many people have head knowledge without heart knowledge. I also understand that heart knowledge without head knowledge is a dangerous place to be. I think there is a third option, one that has caught my eye recently — actually believing the Bible and acting upon what it says. I have seen transformed, successful lives — friends who live and shape their lives by the doctrine of “sola scriptura.” I have so much more to say about this, but I have to think it through to make sure to say it coherently 🙂
    For now, here’s a neat article I found called, “Why We Are Reform, Charsmatic, and Evangelical”

  10. I really like The A-Teams Interactions here, there is a whole category on The Emergent Church if you look for it

    This is the one article I found from Emergent folks which sounds more reasonable. This response sounds like they do believe in the inerrancy of scripture. That said, you’ll still find plenty of places on the net where emergent folks poo-poo the whole “Word of God thing.”

  11. The problem with dismissing doctrinal differences and adhering to a “Let’s just love Jesus” mentality is that it fails to define very serious issues. For example, if I just start preaching the Gospel . . . well what Gospel? If we look at churches today we see that the Gospel looks very different (“God has a plan for your life”, “Jesus is Savior from death”, “Jesus is Lord”, “Try Jesus”, etc.) What I find missing often is any presentation of God’s wrath and anger ( which diminishes passages stating that we now are at peace with God). That seems to be out of vogue for fear of scaring people away. But Paul does not shy away from arguing that God’s wrath, in a general way, is upon us. Moderns and Postmoderns do.

    Postmodernism and Emergentism constantly question,and find mystery, assent, etc. in the questioning. Postmodernism in its extreme acknowledges no absolutes whatsoever. What “new” answers will they come up with?

    But trying to define, or in this case re-un-define the faith, is not new. “Lets just love Jesus” ignores history. The Westminster Confession was an example of trying to solidify what essentials Christians should believe, as were all the other catechisms. If we don’t define to the best of our ability what we mean by the faith, we are left with a hodgepodge
    (Think New Hope). That is the biggest problem with the Emergent; you end up with a buffet approach to the faith.

    In short, we all don’t need to become Prof’s of Theology, but we certainly can’t ignore the impending conflict. We can’t simply “love God” and let the rest of the stuff sort itself out.

  12. I think complaining that emergents ignore history is ludicrous. If anything that is resemblent of years of modernism. The heart of modernism is to remove any kind of history and create a disembodied factual system. The ideal is the machine.

    I’m not saying I like everything about postmodernism either, but modernism is no friend of Christianity, contrary to popular belief!!!

    I along with others welcome an ancient-future faith that reclaims the heritage of Christianity and brings back history to the forefront.

    And who are you talking about that says, “Let’s just love Jesus.” I think a smart and humble person in our world would say, “there is a heck of a lot of diversity in this world” and “even if I don’t agree 100% with everything you say, doesn’t discount the good things you have to say.”

    This is my major point of disagreement with you, George. You think the heart is to have a buffet line, but I would say let’s just not be arrogant that we’ve got all our ducks in a row. We could all stand to be reformed (in a continual sense).

    And to George, of course that response on typepad sounds like McLaren. He co-authored the response. 🙂

    Sorry if that sounded harsh.

  13. I don’t understand how McClaren or Foster can write books about adapting the “best” parts of different Christian expressions and not call that “piecemeal”?

    I think I misread “Mama” and “Woman of Faith”, when I said “Let’s just love Jesus”. However, I have met far too many people who live by that simple creed and want to ignore the complexities of theology.

    There is a difference between arrogance and confidence, and I just don’t believe that comments like, “Wow, we are amazed that you are interested in what we have to say . . .” are genuine. How could you postulate a position so different from the mainstream and historical positions and not know that you are “rocking the boat”?

    The foundational idea of Postmodernism is that human’s really can’t know anything for sure. Another idea deals with how people come to know something.

    From the Ooze:
    1.we don’t know all there is to know about God/Scripture/theology

    2. we think the process of learning more will continue indefinitely- the church will continue to grow in it’s knowledge of God.

    Great. OK. But the question is how do we come to know more about God? If we reject “modern” methods, do we dispose of knowledge scholars have already penned? Do we lose Calvin, because he is too systematic?

    How does that fit in with faith? For example, affirming the Bible as God’s word to us? I went to University, and all I ever heard was we will never find the Truth, but the dialogue is worth it. Is that the faith; a never ending series of conversations?

    I’ve grown convinced that God has made himself knowable, not unknowable. I’ve also grown convinced that Jesus can’t be made any more attractive than he already is.

    By the way, I am being as serious and thoughtful as I can be. The typepad deal was a lame oversight.

    Here is some interesting reading:

    Have you gone to my blog? Looking forward to your response.

  14. A decade before I came to believe, a college roomate said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t what you do; it’s what you believe. There was this old guy in the Bible who cursed out a bunch of kids, and they got eaten by bears, and he’s one of the heroes of the faith.”

    Benjamin Wagaman said…
    >Right beliefs about God influence a right life.So far as the straight and narrow is concerned, the notion that religious belief is a social good does not actually bear up very well under examination. India is much more religious than Japan, but much worse behaved. (Homicide rates 0.034 per 1,000 vs. 0.005; adult HIV/AIDS infection 0.9 percent vs. 0.1; etc., etc.) Similarly within these United States. George Barna’s surveys show that African Americans are the most religious group in U.S. society, Asian Americans the least religious, white Americans intermediate. The statement “My religious faith is important to me” draws an affirmative response from 52 percent of Asian Americans, 68 percent of whites, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 89 percent of African Americans. However, statistics on various kinds of social dysfunction and misbehavior — crime, illegitimacy, drug addiction, AIDS infection — vary in precisely the opposite way, Asian Americans having, and causing, the fewest problems, African Americans the most. (Barna’s surveys turn up a lot of counterintuitive results: For example, that born-again Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians.)

  15. Just read this little article on how to witness to Postermoderns:
    Written by Bob Hostetler, apparently a man who co-authored a book with Josh McDowell titled The New Tolerance.
    I have yet to read this book, either, but at first glance it seems to talk about meeting the same needs that the Emerging Church desires to meet, but without compromise. Maybe not all of this new movement is in compromise, but I keep coming across many Emergents (on the net)who in one way or another sidestep the inerrancy of scripture — this BOGGLES my mind.

    I wonder, is the Emerging Church sort of a “if we can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” type thing? Maybe Postmodernism crept in and took hold of our young ones (maybe sending them away to 7 hours a day of humanistic religious school did the trick)?

    Still investigating…mountains of ideas to sift through.

  16. I think we all need to remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is a friend of Christianity. It is a cultural/societal condition in which we must operate in order to communicate/live effectively. Whether we like it or not, our world is a huge mix of modern and postmodern and will be for a while.
    The machine is not going away and neither is the diversity and complexity in life. We need to learn how to live both in simplicity and complexity. Falling to one extreme or the other isn’t a good option.
    By the way, I wouldn’t purely consider myself modern or postmodern. I think there are good points on both sides. I think it is helpful sometimes to reduce complexity in order to find homogenity (modernism). I think it is helpful as well to recognize complexity and leave it at that in mystery (postmodern).
    Lastly I would say, the great extent of modern Christian talk on the emergent movement is done in resentment of “look what they are doing, they are destroying our absolute truth and replacing it with relativism.”

    1. Christianity was not born is modernism. The Enlightenment didn’t occur until hundreds of years later. What did these “poor Christians” do during all of those years of “ignorance”? How did they live if they didn’t read their Bible every day, because they didn’t have one? Are we better than they, because we have volumes of theology textbooks?

    2. Think about who you are talking about when you complain about the evils of “post-modernism”. Are you worried about people taking the extreme views of Focault or Rorty? The average postmodern has no idea who these philosophers even are. In fact cultural postmodernism is way different from the extreme views. A parallel would be to think about all moderns as men in the likes of David Hume. I don’t think too many Christians would like to be labeled secular humanists.

    3. Well, I gotta go get the oil changed in my car, so I’ll write more later….

  17. “Postmodern” is getting tossed around a lot, hereabouts. I had thought it meant the idea that there is no objective meaning, only subjective meaning, the meaning one brings to a thing, irrespective of the intent of the author, or of the Author, or of reality. But maybe I’m thinking of something else.

    Uncertain as what the writers here mean when they use “postmodern,” I tried some online dictionaries.

    a view that social and cultural reality, as well as social science itself, is a human construction.

    That doesn’t help much.

    Whatever you want it to mean. A generation X that thinks outside of the box, or has abandoned many if not all of the norms/precepts of a postwar generation.

    He said, “No, I’m not going to the wedding. Photoshop me in, later.” Well, that’s a bit too postmodern!

    Hmmm. I think “Whatever you want it to mean” fits this page.

  18. if you want a good intro on what postmodernism is, read Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley Grenz. It’s the best treatment on the topic that I’ve seen.

    David, I used to think that postmodernism was just about objectivity versus subjectivity. This is a major issue in the construct, but not the only one.

    Modernism seeks to remove all myth from existence, where as postmodernism wants to reintroduce myth, because it actually has a healthy purpose in society and culture.

    Modernism seeks to modularize to reduce truth to it’s simplest form. PM seeks to juxtaposition differences to raise awareness of complexity.

    There are a lot of other areas, too much for a comment, to talk about. But, as evangelicals, let’s do our homework rather than remain ignorant of what we are concerned.

    Again, let me say that I’m not purely modern or postmodern. My job title is technologist and I’m geared to the modern world. But I don’t think reducing complexity so that we can grasp the world’s knowledge is going to be the way that we will reach the world. Nobody cares how much Christians know. But they do know how much Christians care. Wow, that sounded really cliche. 🙂

  19. Wow! Reading through the comments was almost more interesting than the article! ;o) But I have to say, Go mama!! I love how you THINK, and how you don’t not-think!

    That’s been the most frustrating thing for me in the last few years as I’ve viewed some of the driftiness in the church that has had disastrous results. I often feel so frustrated, and as I tell my sister, “Why can’t people just THINK??” But as you say, thinking is so hard, especially when it’s thinking outside of the box.

    Thanks so much for this article! We need more people like you who are willing to study and think through and stand up for what they believe, and refuse to accept the norm if it doesn’t corrolate with the convictions God has laid on their heart.

    I also want to add that I love the spirit in which you bring things across… Not harsh and know-it-all-like, but in truth tempered with love.

    Keep up the thinking! …God gave all of us brains with the ability to use them!…

  20. Thanks, Ben, for the Primer on Postmodernism book suggestion. From the Amazon reviews, it looks much more “up my alley” than anything by McLaren (off to get his books from the library today).
    My biggest fear is not Modernism nor Postmodernism, but the fear that Christians will replace a Biblical Worldview with either one. Either of these worldviews will be detrimental to Christianity to embrace. On the other hand, Christians need to see how these worldviews work so they know how to relate and witness to non-Christians.
    I realize that we pick up ideas from our culture NO MATTER WHAT and it does help immensely to understand that culture so we can try to separate the wheat from the chaff. I just don’t think the church needs to follow the world. We need to follow Christ and His Word, alone.
    I am just re-reading Francis Schaefer’s HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE? This was a “watershed” book for me — starting me on a paradigm-shift in worldview and understanding history and culture.
    On to more research!

  21. Just got done listening to a two hour conversation between Stanley Grenz, Darrell Johnson, and Charles Ringma about a “Generous Orthodoxy”. The conversation was held at Regent College.

    I appreciated that these thinker had both positive and negative things to say about McClaren’s ideas and the Emergent Conversation. I think the concerns of a popular book lie in the implementation of the book’s ideas and the serious fallout that could result.

    I would also like to add that I heard McClaren recorded, saying that orthodoxy is about power. Sounds similar to what Os Guinness defined.

    Have a copy of Generous Orthodoxy at hand and will read it.

    I will be adding a quote, at my blog, from Gandhi’s autobiography about his experience with modern,imperialistic Christians. Should be enlighting regarding the argument that our orthopraxy is what really convinces people that Jesus saves. That has been implied here right?

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