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Monday, March 21, 2005 

Open Theism and the Emergent Church

First of all it is good to be back writing. I have missed the opportunity to put into print my thoughts. My wife has graciously agreed to let us subscribe to broadband internet service and I couldn't be happier. She is such a wonderful woman for that. Ok, now let's get down to topic.

I have been greatly distressed in recent days concerning a movement that was once very appealing to me, but now seems to have gone terribly wrong. The movement is known in most circles to be that of the "Emergent Church." At one time, Dan Kimball's book, The Emerging Church was to me a breath of fresh air in the stench of new church ideologies gone wrong. He advocated contemplation and reverence instead of blaring music and high-tech smoke and show in order to attrach young, postmodern Americans to the Church. His idea of authenticity over glitz and glamour seemed to me to sound a new trumpet for a coming revival for college students and young adults. But, as the saying goes, "something went wrong on the way to heaven." Terribly wrong.

I first heard of this wayward move a couple of years ago when I picked up Greg Boyd's book, Is God to Blame: Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering. I did so with one intention, to see how ludicrous it really was. You see Greg Boyd holds to a position called Open Theism. You can read a critique of this by John Piper by clicking here. But basically it is the view that God does not know what will happen in the future and He never has. Jesus Christ's incarnation and atoning work was "Plan B." God is still out of loop as to how this whole "Project Earth" thing is going to turn out. Like I said -- ludicrous. But back to the Emergent Church connection. It seems that on the back of the book there is an endorsement by Erwin Raphael McManus, who is not a Ninja Turtle, but rather one of the major players in the EC movement. As I have recently seen, he and Dr. Boyd are good friends and seem to share a common kinship in their view of theology -- not a good thing for our young adults.

But as if that was not enough of a problem for the EC, just a few weeks ago the Kentucky Baptist Convention revoked a speaking invitation given to Brian McLaren to its State Evangelism Conference. It seems that Rev. McLaren noted in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy that those who have never accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ could still indeed enter into eternal life with the Father. Additionally, McLaren when asked in a national interview about his position on homosexual marriage, stated he would not comment because either way it would hurt someone's feelings. I don't ever remember Jesus making such a comment when it came to how he viewed a position. This is no way to teach a generation how to have Biblical courage.

Knowing all of these recent events, I now declare myself not to be an Emergent Church advocate. In the past I told people that this sounded both appealing and encouraging. Now I am completely unsure what will happen if this theological shift in the Emergent Church movement is not directly addressed and rebuked. I do believe that the movement can recover if those who stand for Biblical truth will rise up and for the sake of the Gospel call these men on the carpet for their unBiblical views and be ready to show them that they are preaching a different Gospel. May the true Gospel continue to be preached and may God move in the hearts of His people to display courage in dealing with these unScriptural beliefs.

Until Christ is formed in us all,

DR- you know that I love, but i would plead with you to give the emerging church a break. First off, it is still emerging. You can't throw everyone in the "movement" or what we emerging folks like to call "conversation, into one theological category. No, there aren't many of us who are calvinists, but there are still a whole lot of folks in the SBC who aren't that way either. That doesn't mean that everyone is a open theist either. Yes, theology is at the heart of this thing, but it is a theology that when lived out in a practical way actually shows the love of Christ to all people. It calls for unity among belivers which is exactly what Jesus prayed for. I don't think we can rebuke something like that. There's all too little of it in Christianity today.

Secondly, as for Brian McLaren, there are still some issues in his writing that I'm struggling through, but even if there are issues that we disagree on, I think there are so many more issues that we agree on. I would urge you to continue to read his work before you completely write him off. I admire him for the mature manner in which he states his beliefs. And what I like even more, is his willingness to admit that he hasn't got everything figured out. Even if you disagree with him, there's still a lot you can learn from him.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see how whats-his-face's openness to Openness makes his views on how to structure a worship event necessarily suspect. OK, he's an Openness advocate. At least that's the connection you've drawn from his and Boyd's buddy-buddy status. And he's wishy-washy on same-sex marriage. OK. How does that make his plan for attracting postmoderns to church bad? This would seem to be a textbook case of the genetic fallacy. "(X) just has to be wrong...I mean,look who's endorsing it!!"

That's akin to saying Luther was wrong on "faith alone" because he was wrong on consubstantiation. Or, that Calvin was wrong on sovereignty because he advocated and participated in a theocracy. Or, that everything written by C. S. Lewis is bunk because he had annihilationist tendencies. Or, indeed, that what D.R. thinks about abortion (or child abuse or Calvinism or guppies or Star Wars: Episode II--please tell me you hated it!) can be roundly ignored, because, after all, everyone knows that D.R. is a Fightin' Fundie.

Maybe the Emergent Church thing is bunk (I haven't read about it; is it similar to Webber's Ancient-Future Faith idea?) . . . but surely whats-his-face's ideas about the church should be evaluated and critiqued on their own merits (or lack thereof), rather than dismissed a

priori simply because he's one of Boyd's bedfellows.

Ah, heck, you know I love you...


I've read Dan Kimball and Raphael McManus that you have sited. I agree that dumping the emerging church into the same categories is a pretty broad brush. I don't keep up with all the happenings but there are some things in the emergent church that are really needed. If the theology of the emergent church is going the way of these 2 guys it is in trouble. But I think it is still emerging or actually evolving. The hope of the emerging church is to get back in contact with people where they are. Not standing on their chests thumping a Bible in their faces. This is not how Jesus worked. He did tell the complete truth but He approached people and still does approach people with compassion. Not with a righteous look of I'm better than you are because I'm saved. I think you forgot you are just the dame as they are only your sins are covered in the blood of Jesus Christ and because they have not accepted Jesus in their lives their's is not. Back to the emerging church. Youth Specialties has dropped their conference on the emerging church. The official word was that they wanted to concentrate on their youth conferences so they dropped the emerging church conference and the pastor's conference. There may be more to the story than has actually been published. They too may have caught some theological issues that they do not agree with. This would be unusual for them but it is possible.

Back to the emergent church. I also think the emergent church is about authenic worship which is different from most Baptist's idea of worship. I have been in a couple of confernces that featured a more intiment worship with God in a small group setting. Preaching was missing, music was not. I don't think I have ever felt the prescence of God more strongly than I did during those worship experiences. Well, there have been a couple of beach experiences at camps that felt the same way. I think the emergent church movement is on to something and to dismiss it totally and not give it the space it needs to emerge/evolve would be a shame. No it is not perfect but there are a lot of churches doing church that are way less than perfect.

I say give them a chance. Be aware of the theology not necesarily of the leadership but of the local church that is experimenting with the emergent church. I think you will find that the church reaching out to this philosophy has a pretty solid theological base. Meeting people where they are and letting God change them is what we all need to be about. I don't know of a lot of theological aguments that have brought lost people into the kingdom. Remember if not for the Grace of God I would be right where the lost are. I think we should be humbled by that thought and our actions should reflect the great and compassionate God we serve.

Yes Kelly. Robert Webber The whole "Ancient/Future" series is something that many folks involved in the emerging church are reading. Webber is also a speaker at the Emergent Convention.We are actually reading "Ancient Future Faith" in my Emerging Worship Class right now. I go to Truett Seminary on the campus of Baylor Univeristy, and my professor for this class is a guy named Terry York, the author of "Worty of Worship" and the editor of the last Baptist Hymnal. He is just one example of a great leader who is noticing that there truly is something important within this Emerging stuff.

Ok, I am going to post a response to all of you in one big swoop. First of all, the Emergent Church that I was referring to is the movement that is now associated with those men mentioned. One other that I left out intentionally because he just died is Stan Grenz. Together the movement, from what I have been reading on the websites (as I examined how they related back to one another), is very closely related to the Open Theism movement (evidenced by who the leaders are being influenced by). You can see this when you examine McManus and Boyd's relationship. McLaren's theology is not necessarily tied to these two men, but seems to be representative of the movement's tendency to put practice before theology.

Kelly is right in saying that it would be a genetic fallacy for me to say that the methods used by the Emergent Church are "bunk" because of the theology. That is not what I was trying to say. I am looking at the movement as an entity, the practices, theology, and leadership. And I am sure Kelly would agree with me in just our limited knowledge of Church history that when the theology goes astray, the movement is doomed to fail, despite the effective practices.

I was trying to evaluate the movement as one unit within a larger revival of church planting, church growth, and young adult outreach. For example, I would consider the Passion movement to be a separate revival that uses similar methods, but has leaders such as John Piper, Louie Giglio, and Vodie Bachaum as representatives. Additionally, such similar groupings exist within SBC life as well as the PCA and the Free Evangelical Church. Here in Louisville, there is a church growth boom happening among the Christian (formerly Campbellite churches).

Therefore, what I was addressing was what I (as well as many others) are seeing as an organized, cohesive unit who has strong ties to men who are not holding to Orthodox Christianity, or as Jude called it, "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

So individually, to Janalee: I know you are much more open to allow people to grow than I. However, the growth curve must stop somewhere. That somewhere must come when one stands up and writes books which teach theology that is unBiblical. Paul gave to us a record of how we are to deal with leaders who are outside of the camp. We are to call them out in public. That is what I am trying to do. Secondly, there can be no unity when we cannot agree on what God knows or who is saved. Those are tantamount issues that cannot be compromised. These are not small issues like how loud should our worship be, but rather relate to the nature of God. Despite the need for leeway, there is no excuse for heresy and Open Theism is heresy. Those who embrace it and those who endorse those who do are in danger of hell. Literally. They worship a god not of the Bible -- which is an idol. That may sound harsh, but I am not alone in my assessment.

To Kelly, once again you have shown me an error in argument. But my real error was in wording, not necessarily in thinking. I think you will agree with my views once you have seen that I view this as a comprehensive movement and not as a loose association of individuals. I affirm some of their practices (which are no different from those taught by church planters in SBC seminaries), but I believe the theological problems of the movement outweigh the good. And the voices that are loudest (and seem to be embraced as leading) are now drowning out those who I would stand with. For this same reason, I openly condemn the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, though I feel that I could stand with many churches who are dually aligned, likely including Janalee's church in TX.

To Ray I would say that Jesus did indeed place truth above compassion. Reading through both Luke's and John's Gospels shows that Jesus showed compassion on those who were humble, but not on those who were not. He directly told the Pharisees that because they said they could see, He would indeed leave them blind. However, I admit there is a difference in how we should address truth when it comes to seekers. But those who teach are held to a higher standard and should be called out. Jesus, Paul, James, and John all point this out in their words. Compassion ends when repentence is refused. Even the disciples were called by Jesus to dust their feet off and condemn cities who would not accept their message -- and He sent them to cities which did not believe, not to cities claiming to know the truth. I agree that we should be about bringing people to Christ, and you and I would agree Paul was all about that. Still he condemned Peter for his actions in the presence of the Jews and the Galatians for believing a different Gospel. Open theism and inclusiveness are different Gospels. To those Paul declared anathema. This is an in-the-camp argument to be sure, but one which must be engaged in it for the sake of the Gospel. If there is no true Gospel then we can reach until we are blue in the face, but God will not in the end honor it and we may be allowing people to be led on a path to hell. That is what the Mormons and Jehovah's Witness are doing.

I hope that I have addressed your concerns with my piece. In the end I admit I see things black and white. There is truth and error. Logically this is true. I hope my criticisms of the Emergent Church will at the least keep the eyes of those who read this open to watch for wolves dressed in the clothing of sheep. And ultimatly I hope by sounding the alarm now that solid, Biblical churches who associate themselves with this movement will join with me to call these men to theological repentance and be prepared to address it in their churches if those leaders will not do so. Because in the end we must acknowledge that the cheif end of the church is to glorify God by making much of who He is, whether or not He provides converts. And the church glorifies God most by aiding in the sanctifying of the saints. If we don't teach truth, we stunt the growth of the body to the detriment of the entire Church.

May God use this controversy for His glory.


About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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