mē genoito

May it never be! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Ro 3:4)

Emerging Churches : Postmodernism’s Trojan Horse


There is a new cultic movement in Christian churches and it is called the Emerging Church (EC). For those who have been in a cult and now set free, will revulse at the idea of being put under the yoke of bondage again. The devil rarely comes in pitchfork and pointed-ears. He comes with the guise of good intentions laced with a touch of poison1. We know this all too well. We stepped into cultic and occult practices one small step at a time. Like marijuana is said to be the gateway drug, unsound doctrines are the gateway to cultism.

Please bear with me; a little bit of background might be instructive in setting the discussion for EC. I am sure all of you have heard of the term postmodernism. It is a term used to describe the transition from a modernistic worldview of rationalism and enlightenment that began in the 14th and 15th century, to a culture and worldview of individual existentialism. The individual becomes the chief determinant of all truth. Truth then becomes subjective and relativistic and objectivity is cast aside. That in a nutshell is where we are at today. We are in the postmodern age. You would expect this of the secular culture but not behind the doors of the Lord’s churches. Ironically, this shift in culture is precisely the reason these EC use to justify their change.

One last item before we get into the emerging churches, I want to give a list of names of people who are prominent in the EC movement. Included in the list are people that EC will reference as a source of authority. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, it is just some of the more prominent people that came up during my research. You should put on your spiritual armor if you see anything from these people or churches that promote them.
Brian McLaren
Richard Foster
Dallas Willard
Brennan Manning
Doug Pagitt
Scot McKnight
Roy Terry
Tony Jones
John Dear
Henri Nouwen
Tony Campolo
Thomas Merton
The Desert Fathers

What is an Emerging Church?

Where to begin is always difficult, when you are dealing with a multifaceted movement. It is like trying to put your arms around the new age movement. Essentially EC is the new age movement cast in Christian terminologies. One way to start looking at EC is from the perspective of missions. When did the movement actually began is uncertain, but by the 1990’s it has set its roots in the Christian churches. Some pastors began to grow tired of the traditional way of doing church. They were also concerned with how they can make Christianity more relevant and attract Gen Xers.

The problem is that a postmodern culture has very little interests in hearing about dogma, sin, repentance and sanctification. In an age of post Darwin and Einstein, with the new reality of Stephen Hawking, the antiquated ideas of heaven and hell is no longer intellectually fashionable. The way to present God to a postmodern world is to make Him more tangible. We can’t make Him more tangible in a physical sense, but we can in a spiritual sense.

While Billy Graham’s message was repent and be saved, because God has a plan for you. The EC’s message is God loves you and you can commune and experience God. Just as modernity tried to deconstruct the historical Jesus of Scripture, so the EC is deconstructing doctrines from the God of the Bible. Reading, learning and understanding of Scripture takes a backseat to spiritual experiences of God.

How does this actually work in an EC?

The best way to do that is to look at a couple of examples of an emerging church.

On this Sunday at Mars Hill Bible Church outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, pastor Rob Bell preaches a sermon rebuking Peter for using the sword at Gethsemane. His message, “Swords appear strong,” Bell says, “but they’re actually quite weak. Jesus appears weak, but he’s actually quite strong.” Inviting his congregation to embrace weakness, referring to Paul’s words about his own infirmity in 2 Corinthians, Bell takes up a refrain: “Weak is the new strong.”g2

Pastor Bell and his wife Kristen grew up in the church, educated at Wheaton College and Fuller Seminary. The worship team keeps up-to-date with the current hip and cool music. Nothing out of the ordinary or heretical it seems. It was the interview with Christianity Today after the service that was more revealing.

“This is not just the same old message with new methods,” Rob says. “We’re rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don’t deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don’t speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God.”

Christianity as an Eastern religion? What did he mean by that?

“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.”

Wow, the Bible is a human product? According to the Bells, to embrace Christianity as an Eastern religion is to embrace the mystery through willful ignorance of what the Bible teaches. Through willful ignorance life becomes big. This kind of teaching is the exactly opposite to what the Bible teaches. The Bible place a huge premium on knowledge3 and to worship God is to know God. The Bells are also engaged in nonsensical double-talk. How can the Bible be the center if they are ignorant of it. Is this heretical? Maybe not, but there is more.

Rob Bell said, “People don’t get it. They think it’s about style. But the real question is: What is the gospel?” I don’t think it is about style either, but you have to ask what is the gospel? The gospel is the essential of Christianity, if you have to ask then I have to wonder what makes you a Christian?

Let’s look at the context from which Bell is asking that question. Bell could probably be described as the protege to Brian McLaren, the de facto spiritual leader of the EC. McLaren. I would be skeptical if McLaren is a true Christian (much more on him later). I think it is safe to say that McLaren is the godfather of Christian postmodernism, which is an oxymoron by the way. McLaren is attempting to deconstruct the doctrines (objective truths) from the Bible. By this deconstruction he is opening up a new world of possibilities. The former ideas of church, God, salvation and of course the gospel are now open for reinterpretation. McLaren is a visionary but he doesn’t just sit in an ivory tower. He wants to see how these ideas are lived out in a local church like Mars Hill. McLaren and Bell are described as passionate about their Good News. They are not completely sure what this new gospel is yet but they are pretty sure it is not the one they left behind.

When this Christianity Today article was written in 2004, Mars Hill Bible church has 10,000 in weekly attendance. Mars Hill Bible Church might be a minority compared with the combined Christian churches, but it just might shock you when I show you the estimated figures for the EC in 2006. Before I do that, let’s look at another EC.

Another Emerging Church example

When we look at this next EC let’s remind ourselves what the Bible said.
16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, Php

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I remember there was a time when someone says he is a Christian then immediately we could connect with a kindred spirit. Then it was not too long ago when someone says he is a Christian, we would have a common bond on the essentials, but more probing is needed to find out their views on critical secondary issues. Today when someone tells me he is a Christian. I have no idea what he means anymore. Just as the Bells in the previous example, in which they question what is the gospel. I have to ask what do you mean by Christian?

When I want to know more about a church the first thing I do is go to their website and look through their statements of faith. What is their confession? So when I look at the doctrinal statement 4 of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA. It looks very sound and Biblically based, other than one sentence at the end of that statement which gives me pause. I expected to see Vintage’s statements align more with the Bells and McLaren.

Although I don’t see anything wrong with their doctrinal statement but I know there has to be a problem with this church because I found them through their affiliation with McLaren and EC. So I kept digging. Vintage doesn’t believe in pastoral leadership, but they do have a staff and a core leadership team. Dan Kimball is one of the staff members and in his blog he explains what he means by an emerging church. Essentially he differentiates between emerging and emergent. Vintage, he explains is an emerging church.

For me, the term “the emerging church” simply meant churches who were focusing on the mission of Jesus and thinking about the Kingdom in our emerging culture. It meant churches who were rethinking what it means to be the church in our emerging culture.

Again, nothing heretical about what he said, in fact it even sounds noble. How can you fault someone for wanting to “focus” on the mission of Jesus by reaching out to an emerging culture? If I have learned anything from the study of cults is to look beyond the face value of the words and understand what they really mean by “focusing” and “missional”.

Before I get into that, let me get back to what he means by emergent.

For the term “emergent” as we use it today about church was first used formally on June 21, 2001 when Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt met and had a conference call with some others to come up with a name for a new network they were starting.

This is interesting, because he associates emergent with Jones, McLaren and Pagitt. Kimball gave some interesting background information on the reason for the confusion between these two words. The distinction is that emergent is part of the emerging church discussions. Discussion? What does that mean? This is the postmodern euphemism for theology.

Dan continues in his blog:
Meanwhile, the term “emerging church” was continuing to be being used for churches rethinking what it means to be the church in our emerging culture and about the mission of Jesus etc. And now “Emergent” the organization was birthed which was primarily a theological discussion in the beginning. Yet everything we do should be thought through in terms of theology, so even if the initial emerging church discussion was more on methodology, there still needs to be discussion on what is the theology behind our methodology.

Through time people started even saying “Emergent Church” instead of “Emerging Church” or use both terms as describing the same thing – instead of having Emergents focus more on theology and Emerging Church more on methodology as it started initially.

Remember from the CT article above, what did McLaren want to do? He wants to create a synthesis of cultural/secular postmodern philosophy with Christianity. Kimball is making a distinction without a difference and I think he know it, as indicated by this statement.

Emerging Church is also not just a style of ministry – it is about rethinking what it means to be the church in our emerging culture. But that is also what Emergent is doing

This also explains the rapid pace for EC’s growth. It is like having an enthusiastic group of test subjects ready to test any drug that comes out of a pharmaceutical research lab. Despite Kimball’s liberal use of Christian terminology, his close association with McLaren and other EC leaders is distressing.

There was growing interest at that time for Youth Specialties to be developing events and books for the post-youth ministry years. So Mark and I flew up to Minneapolis to meet with Brian, Tony and Doug. This was on June 22-23, 2001. It turned out that Brian, Tony and Doug and others on a conference call the day before had formally named the new theological group “Emergent”. So with that having been established, the conversation in the meeting then turned to Youth Specialties partnering with “Emergent” (the organization) to publish books and events. Thus the “emergentYS” line developed and the “Emergent Convention” that was attached to the National Pastors Convention that Youth Specialties was already putting on.

Does Kimball and the people at Vintage know the conflict between their doctrinal statement and other EC believers? Statements such as, the Bible is a human product and what is the gospel? The other possibility is that Kimball knows and agrees with McLaren and Bell, but when Kimball says the gospel of Jesus, he is already referring to another gospel.

The problem for Kimball is that Vintage is not merely about methodology. He claims that EC is not a style but a methodology. Rob Bell also said they are not a style, meaning it is not just a fad. Kimball and Bell reject the term style because it makes them sound shallow. Rethinking about what is the church and what is the gospel makes them sound deep and substantive. This is what many of their believers are looking for, something deeper and more fulfilling. Which is the reason why they place so much emphasis on experiential worship and not just lectionary. Getting back to my point if this is only about methodology, it would not make them heretical. They are heretical when they redefine the gospel and accept contrary truth claim against the gospel. The problem here is that if Kimball, Bell and McLaren is right then Christianity has been wrong about the gospel for the last 2000 years. It is a mutually exclusive proposition.

11 He is
“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

It is possible that since the early Church Fathers and through all the centuries up until now, men and women have dedicated their life, time, heart, mind and spirit to spreading a false gospel. McLaren, Bell and Kimball are now beginning to spread the true gospel of Jesus. It is possible but I don’t realistically think so. Not because history and number are on our side. That is irrelevant. It is because I have faith in God to preserve His gospel from the time that it was once and for all delivered unto the Saint and until His glorious coming.

Kimball might protest I am putting up a straw man argument. He might argue, “There is no right or wrong or better between the two. They are simply different values for different mindsets.” This is a classic new age relativistic argument. This type of relativistic argument fails in logic because our value statements are mutually exclusive and the law of non-contradiction prevents us from being both right at the same time.

Did Kimball proclaim another gospel? Not directly. What I found was that he allowed a contradictory claim to be on an equal footing with the gospel. That is grounds for heresy5. In Kimball’s Vintage Youth Worker course notes6 he cites numerous Bible verses. Despite his pious claims, he is what Paul refers to in ?5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people”. The gospel is that Christ is the only way to salvation any other addition to this single exclusive claim is another gospel. On page 12 of Kimball’s notes, he has a section that reads.

Truth is personalized in a pluralistic culture
Born (Buddhist-Christian-Wiccan-Moslem-Straight-Gay) in the USA

Truth itself is not rejected, but there is great hesitation in trusting those who say they have the exclusive claim to it.

The personalization of truth and the high value of tolerance drastically effects our traditional starting points for conversation and communication as we now live in a pluralistic culture.

“I go to synagogue, I study Hinduism. All paths lead to God.”
– Madonna in a ’60 Minutes’ interview

Even if these statements do not represent Kimball’s own personal belief. He does not have the liberty to not proclaim what is clearly the truth in Scripture. We are called to be salt and light7, if we lose our saltiness we are of no use. Is Kimball unable to differentiate between a “postmodern person’s” claim of personal truth and “the source of Truth”, the Bible? The Bible proclaims that Jesus Christ IS the Truth. This tolerance for conflation of authority does not serve God. Finally if you are being salt and light and do not present the exclusive Truth claim of the gospel you might convince some to accept Jesus but it won’t be the Jesus of the Bible.

On page 13 of Kimball’s notes he refers to a Christian subculture. (I dispute his use and definition of the term subculture, but I will save that for another time.)

?I have a difficult time locating any similarities between what Jesus says and does, and what the people – in particularly the organizers, said and did…Jesus is a beacon of righteousness who leads the way through a dark world to eternal peace, love and eternal salvation; the Jesus of (the festival) is a blue-light special, pointing you to a quick fix of righteous bargain in the shopping mall of endless consumption.”
– a non-Christian reporter who attended a recent Christian musical festival

?Be careful, however, that the exercise of freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Kimball quotes a reporter’s criticism of Christian hypocrisy is not new nor is it postmodern related. Therefore there is no reason to respond in a postmodern methodology as Kimball is proposing. Furthermore isn’t Kimball using this non-Christian as an excuse to criticize other Christians to justify his shift to postmodernism? I am not suggesting this musical festival was appropriate for presenting the gospel, but Kimball’s methodology might draw similar criticism from non-Christians too. Lastly, Kimball cites 1 Corinthian to justify his criticism of Christians, but in that passage the ?weak” are other Christians. The unconverted can’t stumble because they were never standing or walking in the first place. They are dead in their trespasses. This is just bad hermeneutics on Kimball’s part.

On page 14 Kimball said.

We are not speaking to a generic-suburban-culturally-naive-protected-from-the-outside-world-generation. Emerging generations are very culturally sensitive and globally aware.

?Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” –

What is Kimball trying to say, the Biblical doctrines of repentance, sin, heaven, hell, creation, God and salvation is too naive and culturally protected? Again Kimball misapplies Scripture with his reference to Daniel. In context Daniel was to seal up this prophesy so while people search, they will not understand. Kimball has also overlooked the first century Greek and Roman culture was very sophisticated for their time. They were polytheistic and well versed in different schools of philosophy, not unlike our postmodern culture today. Many books have pointed out this salient comparison. It was against this type of backdrop that Paul presented the gospel to those on Mars Hill. Did Paul have to compromise the gospel message and make it relativistic for the culture? The problem with our conceited postmodern culture is not that we are too sophisticated for the gospel; rather we are too narcissistic to notice the sagacious simplicity. ?always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.

I could go on and make a point-by-point rebuttal to Kimball’s entire 64 pages PowerPoint course note, but I think you get the point. Kimball is setting up straw man arguments, obfuscation, and misconceptions to justify the shift to emerging churches. Another defining characteristic of the emerging churches is their adaptation of secular arguments against Christianity. Kimball et al has adapted the criticism from modernism and liberalism to attack Christianity from within.

Another distinctive of the emerging churches is they place preeminence on aesthetics and techniques to bring about worship and mystical experiences. The question is, how do they know that people cannot worship or experience God in a profound way without these aesthetics and gimmicks? Do they have faith in the transforming power of the knowledge of God and the power of the Holy Spirit? Is it possible that the emerging churches misunderstand God’s word and rendering it lifeless to those who hear it? In Christian churches, under the tutelage of faithful expositors a deep expression of worship can be experience through the knowledge of God. In emerging churches, the mystical experiences are experiences of aesthetics and not worship of God. You cannot worship what you do not know. At most, an emerging church worships a god of their own imagination and not the God of revelation.

I have two reasons for spending so many bytes on just this one church. First Vintage, unlike Mars Hill Bible Church is much more subtle in their heresy. Vintage Church comes from a sound Biblical background. Kimball knows all the right buttons to push to sound like orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately he puts himself in the same lot as Bian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones, who are more vocal about their heretic teachings. Kimball is in the Leadership Counsel at Vintage and he oversees the vision and mission of the church. Emerging churches tout about a more egalitarian approach to church ecclesiology, but the formation of Vintage and its future will no doubt be in the hands of Kimball 8. The birth of Vintage Faith Church is no doubt the brainchild of Kimball who met with McLaren, Jones, and Pagitt of the theological group call ?Emergent” back in June 22-23, 2001, two years before Vintage was born. According to Kimball he flew up to Minneapolis to meet with Emergent, resulting in a partnership of publishing books and events. Now how is it possible that Kimball can have such a close partnership with people like McLaren if they do not share the same vision and core beliefs?

Kimball is smart enough not to introduce some of McLaren’s more radical/heretical view of Christianity all at once. A little leaven works itself through the whole loaf. He doesn’t need to change the gospel message as McLaren is attempting to do. All Kimball needs to pervert the gospel is to allow other beliefs to be on equal footing (postmodernist view). This insidious poison comes to our next generation as an angel of light.

The second is that I truly sympathize with the followers at VFC. I’ve been there, done that, and got a T-shirt. Many of the followers at VFC are Gen Xers. Like many young people they have a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and a passion to serve God. From their perspective, mainstream Christianity has become complacent. They got their ticket to heaven, go to church sit in the pew for an hour and listen to some dry predictable sermon, exchange some pleasantries with each other and go home. Then it is back to the mundane task of worldly corporate and suburbia life, only to come back next Sunday and start the cycle again.

To the Gen Xers this can’t be what Christianity is all about. I agree with them. I commend them for their sober and honest criticism of Christianity. However, this has nothing to do with secular modernist or postmodernist culture. Complacency is a part of human nature. Sometimes we wonder why the Church thrives better in adversity. It is not just because Christians need a crutch and hope to keep them going. It is because our faith is being tested everyday and every moment. Our confession of Christ is no longer a mere affiliation to some denomination but it may be a life and death situation. It is no longer about philosophical discussion on how we can build a bridge and relationship with Gen X, while sipping our double nonfat mocha in the new coffeehouse. It is not about walking some prayer path in a labyrinth until we come to a consensus on how we can be relevant to a narcissistic culture.

Consider this hypothetical, you’ve lost your job or tragedy has struck and friends are a lost on how they can help. In the mist of adversity, which one of the following solution do you think is better? The emerging church solution is to go into a state of mind blanking meditation in search of a mystical experience with God? Or, reading from the Bible that the Lord has told us, our father in heaven has counted every hair on your head. Don’t be afraid your father who cares for the noticed sparrows is watching over you and He tells you that you are worth much more than sparrows. Would you rather go to pray and meditation with the knowledge of God and an empty mind? The knowledge of God will cut and pierce your heart like a dagger for those who are open to God. The simple reading of the Scripture by that same dry predictable pastor now comes alive by the power of God. You don’t need candles, projected stained glass images or dimly lit prayer rooms. When the power of God comes. It will demolish every argument and pretension, and take captive of every thought.

If Vintage church wants to experience the mystical nature of Christianity, don’t use these clever human contrived gimmicks. This does not honor God, for those who profess to be wise are made to look foolish. Go back to the Scriptures and recognize the mystery of the Holy Spirit to convict and move emotions and minds through some simple printed words on a piece of paper. Experience God through the knowledge of Him who called light to shine out of darkness, who made His light to shine in your hearts, to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Experience the love of God by knowing that He didn’t give you this treasure of the knowledge of His glory because you deserved it. He gave it to you because you are a jar of clay. To my friends at emerging churches, that is the mystery and the power of God. To Know Him is to Love Him. After all, did He not give us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness? Through this knowledge of God will we not have brotherly kindness and love? If we have knowledge of God, brotherly kindness and love, will we not be effective and productive in experiencing our Lord Jesus Christ? 9

1 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

2 Christianity Today, November 2004, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/011/12.36.html

3 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
6 For God, who said, ?Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

4 http://www.vintagechurch.org/VFCDoctrinal%20Statement.pdf

5 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

6 http://www.vintagefaith.com/longer.pdf

7 13 ?You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 ?You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 15 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

8 We’ve been there before with a charismatic leader singing praises about his followers, building their egos, and pretending to give them a seat at the decision table. In the end, it is still his influence through manipulation that gets established in the group. Manipulation techniques such as peer pressure, guilt trips such as how can you say that about Kimball he is so loving and kind to all of us, Kimball might even relinquish his power for a season and allow those loyal to him to make the decision just to demonstrate how humble he is.

9 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

Leave a Reply