Jesus or the Emergents?

I have said elsewhere that if the emergent church with its emphasis on doubt, questioning everything, and suspicion about and hostility toward certainty would have been in charge for the past two millennia, there never would have been any Christian martyrs.

Martyrdom only occurs when people have a vibrant, resolute and strong assurance and conviction of truth. If there is no black and white, but only 99 shades of grey, then no one is going to go to the wall over anything. Only people who believe in absolute truth are the stuff of martyrdom.

Thus you will never see an epistemological relativist become a martyr. Nor are you likely to see anyone from the emergent church camp become one. They too strongly reject the notion of absolute truth, and prefer instead that we all live happily with doubt, tension, mystery, uncertainty and ignorance. This for them is bliss indeed.

And for them, the only heresy is to boldly and confidently make truth claims. This bothers them greatly. To them it smacks of arrogance and pride. Surely, they believe, the Christian is to avoid dogmatic truth claims and seek rather to wallow in uncertainty, ambiguity and doubt.

This all sort of sounds good. It has the appearance of humility and caution – good virtues indeed. But the trouble is, we find nothing of this in Scripture. Sure, attitudes of humility, gentleness and meekness are always enjoined on us, but never at the expense of the bold confidence and proclamation of truth.

Everywhere in Scripture we find those whose faith is rock solid, whose convictions are resolute, and whose understanding of truth is firm and undimmed. The various terms, such as ‘truth’, ‘know’, and so on, are used many hundreds of times in the Bible.

We certainly do not find Jesus wavering, doubting, hesitating or equivocating. He spoke truth, and he spoke it unflinchingly. There are so many examples of his bold and fierce proclamation of truth which can be mentioned here. But let me just focus on one such example.

In Matthew 22:29 we read this: “Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God’.” The context for this is the pericope about the issue of the resurrection, and how the Sadducees sought to trap Jesus.

The strong response Jesus gave to the Sadducees certainly stands in marked contrast to how an emergent believer might deal with them. Indeed, three clear points can be found in his short reply, and all three need to be emphasised, as biblical truth goes missing, and emergent nonsense increases.

The first is this rather startling claim – startling at least to those who live in our relativistic, postmodern times: “You are in error”. What? Error? But that presupposes that there is such a thing as truth, indeed, absolute truth. If there is no truth, there can be no error.

But the postmodernists, and their emergent church followers, keep telling us that truth does not exist, or at least is almost impossible to know. And they insist that those who claim to have truth are intolerant, harsh, unloving and divisive. Indeed, just today I received a comment by someone telling me how harsh, divisive and judgmental I was simply because I dared to challenge Rob Bell’s universalism.

But Jesus was absolutely convinced that real error was possible, because he was absolutely convinced that real truth was possible. Indeed, he spoke about truth and its importance constantly. He spoke with assurance, certainty and boldness about truth, and the need to refute error.

Yet the emergents are trying to tell us that such certainty is a sign of arrogance, harshness and inflexibility. We are to be open to everything basically, and affirm nothing. Doubt, uncertainty and questioning are to be the hallmark of the true Christian. Not dogmatic certainty and resolute conviction.

So who is right here: Jesus or the emergents?

Second, Jesus said “you do not know the Scriptures”. Indeed, he said they were in error exactly for this reason. Because they were ignorant of God’s Word, they were into all sorts of error. That is always the case with the cults and heresy. It is because of a poor understanding of the Word of God.

The Word of God is our sole source of absolute authority in all areas of faith and practice. That is why studying God’s Word is so vitally important. “Thy word is truth” we are told. And we are also told, “The truth will set you free”. Thus the study of Scripture and biblical doctrine is incumbent upon every single believer.

Yet the emergents would have us believe that doctrine, teaching, study, theology and creeds are all rather unimportant. In fact, they see them as a hindrance to our walk with God. They insist that we either be into doctrine and theology, or relationship and love.

But the Bible nowhere presents us with a false dichotomy like that. It tells us over and over again that both are vital and both must be pursued relentlessly. We must live right, and we must believe right.

So who is right here: Jesus or the emergents?

Finally, Jesus said they do not know “the power of God”. The primary way we experience the power of God today is of course through the Holy Spirit. And in stark contrast to what the emergents keep telling us, Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide us into all truth.

But it is as if the emergents have simply taken a scissors and snipped these passages out of their Bibles. Just what have they done with passages such as the following?

John 14:26 “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”
John 16:13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

Now as I have said often, this is of course not exhaustive truth. We are still all finite, fallen and fallible, so what we have is true truth, substantial truth, but not exhaustive truth. Thus we must always stay humble and seek God to keep guiding us into his truth.

But the emergents keep telling us that none of us have the truth, we can’t really know the truth, and it is arrogant to claim you have the truth. They want us to settle for, and delight in, doubt, questions and uncertainty.

So who is right here: Jesus or the emergents?

In all three of these areas, we have a stark contrast between Jesus and the emergents. The question is, whose side are we on? Have we dumped Jesus and his teaching for the latest trendy sop of the emergents, or are we willing to examine the claims of the emergents in the light of the clear teachings of Jesus?

I know who I will align myself with here. Do you?

[1194 words]

9 Replies to “Jesus or the Emergents?”

  1. It is not only the emergents you mention who cause me to feel unsettled about the 21st century church. When an evangelical pastor says ‘I am a conservative evangelical’ I wonder if we have the luxury of being conservative when everything about Jesus and being a Christian martyr was cutting edge and radical. Why is conservatism seen as being more scriptural and charismatic concerts as being more full of the Holy Ghost? Just to change the subject, I wish more of us would challenge the status quo in our churches and ask since when did the music program become the driving force. Talking to some pastors they tremble or lose sleep over upsetting the music leader. At an event last week where a visiting well known preacher was speaking, suddenly 16 music ministry people from the audience descended on his platform at what they perceived to be the end of the service and he turned to them and questioned their position. He was not used to being interrupted this way. He was not happy and it took away from where his whole message was leading us – some quiet time to reflect.
    Often the preaching of the word brings its own anointing and I have been dismayed when the preacher finishes to suddenly have an upbeat tempo song to finish. The work of the Holy Spirit has to compete with the music ministry finale. Its become entertainment and I hate it.
    Ilona Sturla

  2. Ah yes Bill. The question of the philosophers and emergents should not be “what is truth” but “who is truth”.

    An excellent point you raise, i.e; “we have not exhaustive truth”. And the continuing search is humbling, as you say Bill.

    Humbling, as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from our own form of godly self righteous arrogance and pride to Christlike Righteousness.

    Ray Robinson

  3. You’ve nailed the issue very well in this article Bill, especially in the first six paragraphs: no boldness, no martyrdom. And Jesus didn’t back down about error and the truth.
    Terry Darmody

  4. Jesus wins!! He’s already defeated the devil!!! Jesus rebuked the Sadduccees and Pharisees!!! He rebuked His own disciples for their unbelief and called Peter a devil, ‘cos he was not keeping in mind the things of God – the Kingdom work that Jesus was on about!!!
    Those in the Emergent Churches need to start getting properly, biblically discipled and start reading their Bibles, to find out the Truth = Jesus
    They need to know the fear of God and need to know the goodness and severity of God!!!
    Barb Hoc

  5. A good way to respond to the statement “There are no absolutes” is to ask the question “Are you absolutely sure?” 🙂
    Mario Del Giudice

  6. I read the first few paragraphs and it was like oxygen!

    You’ve clarified the core nature of the issue pervading the church today – the reluctance to position oneself upon, or articulate any foundational truth position. I recently read the argument presented by a young man in support of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, and I was struck by how this man had been so obviously captured by the post-modern spirit of the culture – to dismiss absolutes & many of the truth claims of scripture. It smacked of making God in our image. Very troubling and sad as his comments now doubt represent the thoughts of many of his peers.

    Keep up the fight Bill – cheering you on.

    Peter Jackel

  7. “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” (Dean William R. Inge)

    The spirit of Postmodernism remind me of the ancient Greek Sophists who held to relativism and the denial of absolute truth.

    The generations to follow produced the likes of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who convincingly demonstrated that there is such as thing as truth – true knowledge – which can be known.

    I believe that history will repeat itself in our modern times.

    Those who hold to Orthodox Christian doctrine – though today labeled as ‘narrow minded’ and ‘bigoted’ – will one day be vindicated, wile those who abandon historical Christianity to pursue the spirit of Postmodernism will rightly be remembered as fools.

    Steve Bergen

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