Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chuck Smith Speaks Out on the “Emerging Church”

I saw this on Slice of Laodicea. Chuck Smith, who started Calvary Chapel churches, has issued a statement on the emerging “church”. I may have some disagreements here and there on certain points of theology, but one thing that I do appreciate is the general stand on preaching the Word of God. Calvary Chapel had a huge impact on me as a new believer. When I was saved, I used to listen to Raul Reis, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Golden Springs, CA. I ran across Raul Reis’s radio program “Manna for Today” (that is what it was called back then) before I was saved. Raul was raised Catholic and he would often speak on some of the false beliefs of Roman Catholicism that helped me begin questioning the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Once I was saved, I listened to Raul’s program regularly until his program went off the air in our area. I am not sure what Raul is like today since I have not heard him preach in quite while, but I do remember what he was like back then. What I appreciated was the fact that they were willing to lovingly reach out to the lost, yet without watering down the proclamation of God’s Word. It seems to have been a hallmark of the Calvary Chapel churches. I have never attended a Calvary Chapel church, so the only thing I have to go by is what I have heard on the radio.

But it seems that some of the churches may be going the “emerging” route, which is probably the reason Chuck issued this statement. Tragically, it seems that his son, Chuck Smith, Jr. has taken the postmodern “emerging” bait. From what I understand, apparently his church is no longer linked to in the list of Calvary Churches. That is sad and my heart goes out to Chuck Smith Sr.

I hope that Chuck continues to speak out openly against the emerging movement, and makes an attempt to do so more publicly.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pat Robertson Speaks...Again

Yes, once again Pat Robertson speaks. ("Preacher: God told him about storms, tsunami", MSNBC News) Every time I see the headlines claiming that he heard from God, I cringe. It is just further embarrassment for evangelicals. While many are trying to intelligibly refute the claims of the "Da Vinci Code", Robertson makes claims that defy any notion that Christians can have anything intelligent to say or to use sound judgement.

Pat claims that “God told him storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year.” Now meteorologists have been saying that this is going to be another active year for hurricanes, so any “prophecy” of bad storms would not be anything that we would not already suspect. The chances that a bad storm would hit the coastal area are quite high. Scientists are also saying that these bad seasons tend to run in cycles spanning several years and that we are apparently in one of those cycles. According to Pat, there is a “possibility” of a tsunami hitting the coastline. The key word there is "possibility". There is always a possibility of something like that happening. There is also the possibility of the earth being hit by a meteor as well. (Oh great, that statement could probably be used as fodder now by some wannabe prophet!)

Of course, Pat’s pronouncement is contingent on whether or not he heard God correctly!

Compare this pronouncement (as well as others Robertson has made) with the real prophets in Scripture. Could you imagine any of the prophets proclaiming, “Now, if I understand the Lord correctly”. There are also no vague generalizations made by the true prophets. They made a pronouncement with assurance that it did come from God, without a doubt. Just like all the other true prophetic utterances, everything was assured that it did indeed come from God and it all came to pass without fail. This was the only sign of a true prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22) In fact, in the Old Testament, if anyone made a claim that did not come to pass, they were considered a false prophet and were to be put to death. (Deuteronomy 18:20)

Pat would do well to open his Bible and engage in some sound biblical exegesis for a change.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Not Surprising.

I saw this over at the Sharper Iron. (Brian McLaren on The Da Vinci Code)
Apparently the “Da Vinci Code” seems to resonate well with Brian McLaren. This isn’t surprising.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rob Bell’s Rendition of “Faith”

Recently, I was told by a pastor that Rob Bell was not part of the “emerging” church and not aligned with the teaching of Brian McLaren. This individual likes to utilize Bell’s series of Nooma videos in an attempt to better illustrate spiritual truth. However, I recalled that Bell was somehow affiliated with the postmodern “emerging” church philosophy, even if he was not officially a part of the newly formed “Emergent” organization. After expressing caution concerning the emerging church and the influence of Brian McLaren, he insisted that Rob Bell was not a part of that. I knew better, however I did not have all the facts together at the moment. I was familiar with the work of some of the other well known men such as McLaren, Doug Paggit and Leonard Sweet, but I wanted to have the facts straight. So I did some quick research on Bell to refresh my memory on what he embraced. Sure enough, he is very much in line with the philosophy of McLaren. In fact, McLaren’s book, “A New Kind of Christian” had a profound influence on Rob and his wife Kristen. So I sent an e-mail to this pastor explaining Rob’s connection with the emerging “church”, which I am posting most of the content here. Pay close attention to how Bell treats fundamental truth as not really that necessary for our faith!

While Rob Bell apparently is not directly affiliated with the newly formed organization, “Emergent”, his philosophy is certainly in line with men like Brian McLaren. In fact, Rob and his wife Kristen seem to have come to sort of an epiphany through reading Brian McLaren’s book, “A New Kind of Christian”, and are very enthusiastic supporters of the ideas that McLaren promotes. His teaching has certainly helped shape their philosophy of ministry.

As I said on Tuesday, I will quickly affirm that evangelicalism certainly needs to be “tweeked”. However, what men such as Bell, McLaren and Leonard Sweet propose is not the solution.

article in Christianity Today about the “emergent mystique” [Christianity Today, "The Emergent Mystique" by Andy Crouch, 10/22/2004], featuring Rob Bell and his wife, evidently struck a cord with McLaren as a good overview of the “emerging” philosophy. McLaren posted his positive comments on the article on his website, “”.

According to the article, the Bells “found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church.”
"Life in the church had become so small," Kristen says. "It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working." The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—"discovering the Bible as a human product," as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. "The Bible is still in the center for us," Rob says, "but it's a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it."

"I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible," Kristen says, "that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it's in color."

Whatever occurred that caused their apparent disenchantment, does not legitimize the departure from solid doctrine. The Bible is not merely a human product, but is divinely inspired by God, and is fully authoritative, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) While there are certainly areas of Scripture that are somewhat obscure, the notion that most of the Bible is some mysterious document that most of its truth cannot be discerned is simply not true. This obsession with “mystery” is causing the followers of the “emerging” church movement to look back to the medieval church and embrace the false mysticism of that time period.

In “color” evidently means living in a world of ambiguity without set standards so we can believe whatever we want to believe, reinterpreting Scripture according to our own devices. One of the major issues with the “emerging” crowd is that they enjoy playing things fast and loose not only with truth, but on issues of morality as well.

So what “rescued” the Bells from the dissatisfaction of the Christian life? "Our lifeboat," Kristen says, "was A New Kind of Christian." That is the title of the book written by Brian McLaren that is a fictional account of a conversational dialog between a discouraged conservative pastor and his daughter’s science teacher who encourages him to embrace postmodernism and apply its principles to the Christian faith. The book introduces doubt on the inerrancy and authority of Scripture discrediting objective and rational truth. The book introduces questionable speculative teaching, contrary to Scripture and does so in a seductively enchanting story line.

This is par for the course in the “emergent mystique” as the CT article puts it. Anything “Black-and-white” is taboo and simply too constricting. They thrive in a sea of ambiguity where they can define their own standards according to the passions of their own heart. Scripture warns us that there would come a time when people would no longer tolerate sound teaching in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

“1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
(2 Timothy 4:1-4; ESV)

The emerging church attempts to paint a picture that they are different from typical postmodern thought. This is misleading, since the “emerging” church seems to make extensive use of the postmodern practice of “deconstruction” in order to reinterpret Scripture. The primary philosophy behind deconstruction is that a given text really has no one particular meaning, that it can mean many different things. They may deny this, but in practice this is what actually takes place. In fact, the late Stanley Grentz who was one of their favorite “theologians”, drawing much of his thinking from George Lindbeck, believed like Lindbeck that doctrine was not meant to say anything true, but merely provide “rules of discourse" for the believing community, much like rules of grammar. In his mindset, each believing “community” decides what their “rules of discourse” are going to be.

While I recognize the importance of community in the church, it must be community based upon the sound doctrines of Scripture. Scripture defines doctrine as understood in its normal grammatical-historical context, not the whims of the believing community. In the world of the emerging "church", Scripture must be deconstructed, which essentially strips the text of any inherent authority making the interpreter the final arbiter of truth.

Bell comments further. "I don't think we've got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be 'saved'? When I read the Bible, I don't see it meaning, 'I'm going to heaven after I die.' Before modern evangelicalism nobody accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or walked down an aisle, or said the sinner's prayer."

Here once again is another confusing statement. I wholeheartedly agree that salvation is not about walking an isle or mouthing the words to a “sinner’s prayer”. Evangelicalism became wrapped up in what I would call rampant “decisionism”, where the tactic became using whatever means to jerk at one’s emotions until they made some decision for Christ. I consider this a major contributing factor to many false conversions. I also agree that salvation is more that merely accepting Jesus as savior now so that one goes to heaven when they die. Jesus saves us to live for Him now in order to carry out the mission of preaching the gospel and making disciples in this life, leading an exemplary lifestyle that attracts people to the gospel. But let’s not put the cart before the horse; before you can participate in the “kingdom of God”, you MUST first be born into the kingdom. This needs to take place on a personal level. This is not a group activity. It begins with an individual first putting their faith and trust in Christ as a result of the finished work of the cross, putting themselves under His lordship. Salvation has both present and future ramifications, i.e. our eternal destiny. Ephesians 1 tells us that we were both predestined for salvation AND we were also predestined to participate in good works. If one is genuinely saved, then their life should reflect that fact in their general conduct. It should be the general outflow.

One particular disturbing thought that Rob expresses in his book, “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith”, is what he views as a basis for faith.

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologist find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word “virgin” you discover that the word “virgin” in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word “virgin” could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?”

“If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring then it wasn’t that strong in the first place was it?”
[Velvet Elvis, pg.26]

This is an incredulous statement. To categorize the virgin birth as a potential myth and unnecessary for faith, is to undermine a chief foundational truth concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. To even think that the writers of the biblical text tailored Scripture to appeal to cultural belief defies any notion of a divinely inspired, inerrant Bible, a belief that Bell wants us to think he clings to! Furthermore, this would mean that Jesus is not who He said He was and we are left in this world, hopelessly dead in our sins. In this scenario, the Bible just becomes nothing more than a book with good principles, but has no binding authority over us and obedience to its teaching is therefore not mandatory, but optional.

It is not about what one chooses to believe, but what MUST be believed about Jesus. The virgin birth is a NECESSARY doctrine. Once again, Bell like others in the “emerging church” are taking the road followed by liberalism that challenged and denied fundamental truths of the Christian faith. Faith in Jesus is not just about a great way to live. When we embrace a “Jesus” whose characteristics are outside of the divinely inspired text of Scripture, we embrace another Jesus that is created after our own devices. Paul warned the Corinthians that due to their lack of maturity in the faith, they were in danger of being deceived into accepting another Jesus.

“1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!”
(2 Corinthians 11:1-4; NASB)

1 John 4:1-3 tells us how to determine the spirit behind a certain message that is proclaimed, whether it is of the Holy Spirit or a demon spirit. If the full deity and full humanity of Christ is affirmed, then the message is of God. This would necessitate embracing the full person and work of Christ including the virgin birth and His substitutionary atonement. If a teaching attacks any part of the person and work of Christ, the message is of demonic origin. This is not just simply acknowledging that Jesus existed. It is affirming the very facts of who He was and what He accomplished.

“1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
(1 John 4:1-6; NASB)

I am not saying that Rob is not sincere and has good intentions in his compassion for people to break out of the deadness of traditional religion and a desire to reach out to the culture. I can sympathize with the frustrations over the spiritual “deadness” that seems to pervade much of evangelicalism. But his approach is often off base and out of step with Scripture, embracing a philosophy that will essentially erode true biblical faith. The tenets of what the emerging church embraces are in reality nothing more than repackaged liberalism, a liberalism that was fought against over a century ago. Like the onslaught of liberalism over 100 years ago, this movement will, if it festers long enough in the church, leave a trail of spiritual destruction in its path. Liberalism ravaged many churches and denominations and will certainly do the same for the evangelical community.

In fact, many of the same issues that are akin to the emerging movement have been battled through the centuries by the church. Much of the aberrant teaching being promoted by the “emerging” church leaders already appeared long ago in the church under such error as Palagianism and Socinianism.

While Bell’s videos are emotionally touching, I believe that in a certain sense, this emotional tugging at the heart of people can be dangerous when intermingled with heretical teaching. Emotions are powerful and when people are emotionally charged, rational thinking has a tendency to be thrown out the door. Once enamored with the emotions induced by videos, music, etc., people are more receptive to whatever information is thrown their way. That is unless they guard their hearts and examine the teaching under close scrutiny like the first century Bereans. (Acts 17:11) This is not to say that emotions are wrong by any means. But emotion MUST be undergirded with the truth. Scripture likens false teaching to harlotry. This is repeated multiple times throughout the Bible. Revelation 2 describes how the church at Thyatira tolerated false teaching and the Lord gives them strong condemnation with a stern warning if they failed to repent. Focus is turned back into the Old Testament (1 Kings) where a prophetess Jezebel seduced God’s people into immorality and false spiritual practices. The title “Jezebel” is used as a pseudonym or pen name for another woman who was much like the OT Jezebel, and introduced false teaching and spiritual harlotry to Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29. This letter, by the way, is the longest letter to the seven churches. Thyatira was a church dominated by love and good works; in fact, their good works kept increasing. It was probably a place that evoked a strong sense of “community” and “belonging”. However, they committed a grave error in that they tolerated this “Jezebel” to disseminate false teaching right under their noses. Heretical teaching is never tolerated in Scripture regardless of how much it is cloaked in love and good works.

There is a certain “beauty” in false teaching that is at times extremely seductive. This is especially true of many of the points raised by those in the emerging “church” movement. The emotion, compassion and freedom from rules seems to promise liberty, however it is a trap that leads people into spiritual bondage and ultimately away from God. If you want a good picture of the nature of spiritual harlotry, read Proverbs 7 that describes the tactics of a harlot.

What I have observed, as well as many others, is that there are times that what the “emerging” church crowd proclaims is true. But the truth often provides a cover for the egregious error that they introduce. The closer to the truth the error is the more dangerous and deceptive it becomes. Just because they may introduce some helpful insights does not exonerate them of their deep theological error. At times their teaching parallels the teaching of Scripture. The places where they do reflect the teaching of the Bible, it often has the tendency to mask their error and frequently makes the error more palatable. This is especially dangerous in contemporary evangelicalism where biblical illiteracy has run rampant.

We must expose error and guard the truth with the fortitude that we are willing to do whatever it takes to warn people of the dangerous teachings that are entering into evangelicalism. This was the central concern of Paul when he met with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. He warned that there would be “savage wolves” that would ravage the flock. Also, there would be those from among their own ranks who would also speak “perverse things”, drawing some away to follow them.

“28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
(Acts 20:28-31; NASB)

People can be easily drawn in by someone who is a clever communicator, and mistakenly think they are a good teacher. People can be easily influenced by the charisma of a false teacher who is a skilled orator. But what is more important than the delivery of the message is the content of what is being proclaimed. Even Paul did not rely on skilled speech, but rather on knowledge of God so that whatever he said would provide sound substance for the hearer, through the power of God, not through persuasive words filled human wisdom. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6)

“1And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
3I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,
4and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
5so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5; NASB)

“10For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible."”
(2 Corinthians 10:10; NASB)

I have heard the phrase “a sense of belonging” applied to a list of important factors when choosing a church home. This is certainly important, but NOT more important than what a church believes doctrinally. The people who attend Brian McLaren’s church probably have a strong feeling of “connectedness” and “belonging”. But the teaching is founded on rank heresy. Here is prime example where people allow their emotional state to dictate their decisions.

I fear that many people are being unduly influenced by men like Bell because they are seeking to escape the spiritual dearth created by the shallowness of much of contemporary evangelicalism. Years of trying to entertain and woo people into the kingdom of God have created a spiritual void and have failed to deliver on its promise to produce a vibrant church. We can have a vibrant faith without throwing away the fundamental truths of Scripture. In fact, truth is foundational for a truly vibrant faith.

The current focus of stressing the importance of what we experience is more important than what we know, this is certain to set people up for deception. The verse in Scripture where people will be enamored by the signs and wonders of the beast comes to mind. (Revelation 13:3-4; 17:8) People are already being conditioned!