Update 3: Apparently I misunderstood Doug’s post on fear. I am sorry for suggesting those who critique him are driven by fear. Instead, Doug means a certain kind of attitude and vitriolic reaction is “driven from fear.” Sorry for mischaracterizing you, Doug.
Update 2: An important follow-up that explains my journey in, through, and beyond Emergent.
Update: Another one who doesn’t care about the emerging church anymore.
Once upon a time I was enamored by the “I-am-not-a-movement-but-a-conversation” known as the emerging church (In fact, at my seminary I’ve been known as Emergent Jeremy!) Five years ago, I stumbled upon an “emerging” author known as Brian McLaren (even attending his church for a stint). I gobbled-up his “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy because it’s question-asking permissive narrative gave flesh to the phantom that was haunting me at the time: What the hell is this whole Christian thing about?!
Pastor Dan was my doppleganger; Neo my mentor.
Five years ago I entered a period of faith deconstruction (one particular post I wrote that I was fond of at the time was, “10 Ways to Deconstruct Your Faith“) and reconstruction the likes of which I had never experienced in my life. For the first time I was taking my faith in Jesus Christ seriously and asking a whole lot of questions.
These questions were healthy and freeing and opened up a whole new world to explore and enjoy. For this I am grateful to the emerging church conversation of which I’ve been apart for several years. As my relationship with Emergent progressed, though, I began to wonder why it was cool and trendy to disregard Paul, pity the fool who believed in real judgment, ignore the cross, and downplay individual participation in rebellion/sin.
In short: I became uncomfortable and have grown downright tired of the theology that has bubbled-up out of the emerging church.
I’m not exactly sure when my saucy love affair with emergent and liberal Christianity ended. My “I don’t” isn’t as crystalized as my “I do.”
Maybe it was when I read Pelagius’ writings and realized much of Emergent theology really does mirror his 5th century theology.
Maybe it was after the former head of Emergent Village, Tony Jones, rejected original sin, a historic part of the Rule of Faith, claiming that it is “neither biblically, philosophically, nor scientifically tenable. “.
Maybe it was when I read Fredrick Schleiermacher and realized his and modern liberalism’s vapid, gospel-less faith are being repackaged and popularized to an unsuspecting, ignorant Christian community as a wholesome alternative to what has been.
Maybe it was after I read Karl Barth and realized the natural theology pushed by popular emergent theologians is not revitalizing Christian faith, but killing it; it is the same kind of faith Barth so vociferously fought against in order to preserve the historic Rule of Faith.
Maybe it was after reading a leading emerging church voice suggest that God and grace and the Kingdom of God are not tied directly and exclusively to Jesus Christ; ultimately its not really about Jesus, but about a vanilla, generalized World-Spirit god (lower-case “g”).
Regardless, what I’ve come to realize is that while Emergent may believe it is believing differently—and consequently believe it is offering the world a different Christianity that is more believable than the current form—in reality the emerging church simply believes otherly; the form of Christianity that this version of Christianity pushes is neither innovative nor different: it is a form of Christianity other-than the versions that currently exist but mirror those that have already existed.
The Christian faith that the authors, leaders, and followers within Emergent believe “feels alive, sustainable, and meaningful in our day” (ACWB, 2) is really forms of faith from other days. They combine other forms of faith that both the Communion of Saints and Spirit of God have deemed foreign to the Holy Scriptures, Rule of Faith, and gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the history of Christ’s Bride, the Church.
I hope my friends from Emergent West Michigan won’t claim this is a “heresy hunt” and suggest I am no better than the hyper-fundamentalists who exalt themselves as Truth Defenders and tirelessly work to expose false teachers in the church. I think this suggestion would be grossly unfair for 2 reasons:
1) I am bidding “au revoir” as one who has been on the inside of and involved with this conversation for half a decade. I attended Brian McLaren’s church; I helped host the Church Basement Roadshow at my church for Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Mark Scandrette; I’ve had several interactions with Doug Pagitt, someone I like as a person and who even introduced me to my wife and attended our wedding; and I am personal friends with the coordinator of the Emergent West Michigan cohort who is also a member of the new Coordinating Council for Emergent Village. In short, I am an insider who is simply leaving the inside.
2) I approach this effort as one who has pursued academic training in biblical studies and systematic/historical theology for nearly three years. I’m NOT trying to play the “education card” here, but rather offer this bit of information to give context for my leaving. I am finishing up the Master of Divinity (M.Div) and have begun the Master of Theology (Th.M) in Historical Theology. Specifically, I’ve spent a number of hours reading many primary theological sources from the Early, Reformation, and Modern Church, giving me a broad picture of the historical “movement” of church dogmatics. While I have been trained in a more conservative institution with Baptist roots, I am a free thinker who is familiar with the theological arguments from both sides of the aisle and historical progression of theology.
In his book, The Story of Christian Theology, Roger Olson says, “The story of Christian theology is the story of Christian reflection on salvation.” The same is true today. Over the next several weeks I am taking the liberty of taking two Emergent “theologians” to task: Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. Like Olson, I believe any theological inquiry is by nature soteriological, by nature reflection on salvation, which means the stakes are high. Both men have taken the opportunity to make public, written commentary on the nature of salvation, on the gospel, whether they know it or not; I doubt they are ignorant of their effort.
I would like to publicly, theologically interact with their own theological interactions.
First, I am posting a series based on a theological examination I undertook for my Early Church Th.M class called, “Pagitt and Pelagius: An Examination of a Neo-Pelagianism.” Many have suggested Doug Pagitt is dishonest about his Pelagianism, an early church teaching that was declared heretical. I thought it would be interesting to read all of Pelagius’ known works (including an interesting, little read commentary on the Book of Romans) along side Pagitt’s. These posts will explore their writings on human nature, sin, salvation, discipleship, and judgment. It will drop Wednesday, February 10.
Second, I will post on the soon-to-be released book by Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity. In it he discusses the top 10 questions facing the Christian faith. In some ways it’s a tell-all that should finally give his critics what they’ve asked and wanted for years: answers. From what I have read so far in an advance copy, this is truly going to be a line in the sand that will determine where people are in their understanding of the nature of salvation and commitment to the historic Rule of Faith, which is why I want to tackle it question by question. Along the way I will provide a theological assessment in order to understand his take on human nature, sin and rebellion, the nature of Jesus Christ, the cross and salvation, resurrection, judgment, and God. Look for this interaction at the start of March. (A friend of mine has already begun such an interaction, here.)
Recently, Doug Pagitt wrote on his blog (my apologies for misunderstanding Doug’s original point. He and others brought correction, so thanks!) and Brian McLaren said in a video that those of us who take them and others to task are held in bondage to fear and thoroughly un-loving; my motivation for analyzing the theology and beliefs of leaders within the emerging church is fear-based and inherently un-love. One word: ridiculous. I am not fearful; this has nothing to do with fear. In fact, the loving thing to do is in fact confront, prod, and question.
Why, then, am I doing this? Two words: Grand Rapids. I am disturbed and deeply saddened by what I see happening within evangelicalism, from both sides of the aisle (I could say as much about Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and James Dobson as I will about Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. That will have to wait, though.) especially within my hometown.
Plenty of people are disaffected—even offended and wounded— by the type of Christianity offered here.
And they have bailed.
But here’s the thing: these disaffected Christians of my generation—and younger and older—still long for an intimate, rooted connection to Christian spirituality that is fresh, new, and vibrant. After leaving what they’ve known, they search after and pursue a “Christianity worth believing” and a “new kind of Christianity” that satisfies their establishment, traditionalism angst.
Yet while these fresh forms appear different and exciting, they are an “other” form from a forgotten age, a re-packaging of what has already been, what has already happened. Because most American Christians—even the ones from the Christian Mecca known as Grand Rapids—are biblically and theologically ignorant, they don’t realize what they are reading and pursuing.
So for Grand Rapids I write; for the Grand Rapids church I analyze in hopes it will better understand this other faith that is, in my estimation, foreign and inconsistent with the Church’s Rule of Faith and Holy Scriptures.