The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?


The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?

by Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach

Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler.  All rights reserved.

[Click HERE to open this as a PDF file]

FOREWORD

THIS E-BOOKLET IS BASED on one of the most highly demanded reviews I have ever done. There are many reasons for this. First of all, it is about a wildly popular book, being a New York Times best seller with millions of copies in print. Second, untold thousands of people have been blessed from reading The Shack (THE SHACK) by William P. Young (2007). Third, it is on a topic which untold numbers of people have experienced—why God permits tragedy.

The problem is that so many people allow the emotional impact of the book strike them without really analyzing the theological message it contains. While many books have been written in response to THE SHACK, few have penetrated its aberrant theology. Even fewer have summarized the deviant doctrines it contains succinctly and to the point which we have done in this article. The Bible exhorts us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) so that we can know “the spirit of truth” (v. 6). Paul warned against “deceitful spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1), and Jesus exhorted us to beware of “false prophets” (Mat. 24:11) who are really “wolves” that come “in sheep’s clothing” (Mat. 7:15).

Unfortunately, the truth is that one cannot discern what is false unless he is trained in what is true. Government agents who deal in counterfeits spend much of their time in studying genuine currency. The reason is simple:  we cannot recognize a counterfeit unless we know the genuine. Since Barna surveys show that less than ten-percent of evangelical Christians even have a Christian world view, it is no surprise that even the masses of Christians can be fooled by a good counterfeit theology—especially when it is package in a gripping story well told. This is precisely what has occurred in the Shack phenomenon.

INTRODUCTION

LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS SAY they have been blessed by its message, but its message is precisely what calls for scrutiny. Responses to The Shack range from eulogy to heresy. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message predicted that The Shack “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” Emmy Award Winning Producer of ABC Patrick M. Roddy declares that “it is a one of a kind invitation to journey to the very heart of God. Through my tears and cheers, I have been indeed transformed by the tender mercy with which William Paul Young opened the veil that too often separated me from God and from myself.” People from all walks of life are raving about this book by unknown author “Willie” Young, son of a pastor/missionary, and born in Canada. He is a graduate of Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon.

THE BACKGROUND OF THE BOOK

The shack is Christian fiction, a fast-growing genre in the contemporary Christian culture. It communicates a message in a casual, easy-to-read, non-abrasive manner. From his personal experience, Young attempts to answer some of life’s biggest questions: Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the Trinity? What is salvation? Is Jesus the only way to Heaven? If God, then why evil? What happens after I die?

In the final section of the book titled “The Story behind THE SHACK,” he reveals that the motivation for this story comes from his own struggle to answer many of the difficult questions of life. He claims that his seminary training just did not provide answers to many of his pressing questions. Then one day in 2005, he felt God whisper in his ear that this year was going to be his year of Jubilee and restoration. Out of that experience he felt lead to write The Shack. According to Young, much of the book was formed around personal conversations he had with God, family, and friends (pp. 258—259). He tells the readers that the main character “Mack” is not a real person, but a fictional character used to communicate the message in the book. However, he admits that his children would “recognize that Mack is mostly me, that Nan is a lot like Kim, that Missy and Kate and the other characters often resemble our family members and friends” (p. 259).

THE BASIC STORY OF the BOOK

The story centers on a note that Mack, the husband and father in the story, received from “Papa,” who is supposed to represent God the Father. It reads, “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together” (p. 19). From this, the story moves through the personal struggles Mack has with such questions as: Why would someone send me this letter? Does God really speak through letters? How would my seminary training respond to this interaction between God and man? The story takes a turn when Mack’s son almost drowns while canoeing. During the chaos his daughter is abducted and eventually killed. This is what caused Mack to fall into what the book calls “The Great Sadness.” This time period is supposed to reflect his spiritual condition after the death of his daughter and the questions he has been asking for many years.

Grieved with the death of his daughter and the possibility that the note might be from God, Mack packs his bags and heads for the shack. The point of this journey is to suggest that his traditional teaching, Sunday prayers, hymns, and approach to Christianity were all wrong. He comes to the conclusion that “cloistered spirituality seemed to change nothing in the lives of people he knew, except maybe Nan [his wife]” (p. 63). In spite of being an unlikely encounter with God, Young uses this fictional encounter as a vehicle for Mack’s spiritual journey and encounter at the shack.

While at the shack, Mack discovers that God is not what we expect Him to be. In fact, God the Father appears as a “large beaming African-American woman,” Jesus is presented as a “Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves,” and the Holy Spirit is named Sarayu, “a small, distinctively Asian woman.” The book identifies these three people as the Trinity (pp. 80—82). After trying to reconcile his seminary training with this new encounter with God, he concludes that what he had learned in seminary was of no help.

AN EVALUATION OF THE BOOK

YOUNG’S POINT IS CLEAR: forget your preconceived notions about God, forget your seminary training, and realize that God chooses to appear to us in whatever form we personally need; He is like a mixed metaphor. We cannot fall back into our religious conditioning (p. 91). THE SHACK attempts to present a Christian worldview through the genre of religious fiction, but just how Christian it is remains to be seen.

PROBLEM ONE: A REJECTION OF TRADITIONAL CHRISTIANITY

Beneath the surface of THE SHACK is a rejection of traditional Christianity (p. 179). He claims that traditional Christianity did not solve his problem. Even Seminary training didn’t help (p. 63). He insists that Christianity has to be revised in order to be understood, reminiscent of McClaren’s Emergent Church book titled, EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE. However, one might question whether it is Christianity that needs revision or Christians that need to be revitalized. One thing is certain; Christianity should not be rejected because it has some hypocritical representatives. To be sure, some seminary training is bad, and even good seminary training doesn’t help, if you don’t heed it. But the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. Christ established the Church and said the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mat. 16:16-18). THE SHACK, as gripping as its story is, trades a church occupied with people who hear the Word of God preached for an empty shack where there is neither.

PROBLEM TWO: EXPERIENCE TRUMPS REVELATION

An underlying problem with the message of THE SHACK is that it uses personal experience to trump divine revelation. The solutions to life’s basic problems come from extra-biblical experience, not from Scripture (pp. 80—100). Non-biblical voices are given precedent over the voice of God in Scripture. These alleged “revelations” from the “Trinity” in the shack are the basis of the whole story. While biblical truth is alluded to, it is not the authoritative basis of the message. In the final analysis, it is experience that is used to interpret the Bible; it is not the Bible that is used to interpret experience. This leads to a denial of a fundamental teaching of Evangelicalism.

PROBLEM THREE: THE REJECTION OF SOLA SCRIPTURA

THE SHACK rejects the sole authority of the Bible to determine matters of faith AND PRACTICE. Rather than finding a Bible by the altar in a little old country church and getting comfort and counsel from the Word of God, he is instructed to go to an empty shack in the wilderness with no Bible and get all he needs to cope with the tragedies of life from extra-biblical voices. THE SHACK’S author rejects what “In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture. . . . God’s voice had been reduced to paper. . . . It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients. . . . Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book” (p. 63).

However, the Bible clearly declares that “Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added). Indeed, our comfort is not found in extra-biblical revelations but is realized in that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In short, the Bible is sufficient for faith and practice. No new truth beyond the Bible is needed for doctrine or living the Christian life. Of course, this does not mean that God cannot bring biblical principles to our minds when needed through various experiences, even tragic ones. He can and He does. Nor does it mean that God cannot guide in circumstances that help us in the application of biblical principles to our lives. He can and He does. But these experiences bring no new revelation. They are merely the occasion for God focusing our attention on the only infallible written source of His revelation, the Bible and the Bible alone. To forsake this fundamental principle is to leave Protestantism for Mysticism.

PROBLEM FOUR: AN UNBIBLICAL VIEW OF THE NATURE AND TRIUNITY OF GOD

In addition to an errant view of Scripture, THE SHACK has an unorthodox view of the Trinity. God appears as three separate persons (in three separate bodies) which seems to support Tri-theism in spite of the fact that the author denies Tri-theism (“We are not three gods”) and Modalism (“We are not talking about One God with three attitudes”—p. 100). Nonetheless, Young departs from the essential nature of God for a social relationship among the members of the Trinity. He wrongly stresses the plurality of God as three separate persons: God the Father appears as an “African American woman” (p. 80); Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern worker (p. 82). The Holy Spirit is represented as “a small, distinctively Asian woman” (p. 82). And according to Young, the unity of God is not in one essence (nature), as the orthodox view holds. Rather, it is a social union of three separate persons. Besides the false teaching that God the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies (since “God is spirit”—John. 4:24), the members of the Trinity are not separate persons (as THE SHACK portrays them); they are only distinct persons in one divine nature. Just as a triangle has three distinct corners, yet is one triangle. It is not three separate corners (for then it would not be a triangle if the corners were separated from it). Even so, God is one in essence but has three distinct (but inseparable) Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

PROBLEM FIVE: AN UNBIBLICAL VIEW OF PUNISHING SIN

Another claim is that God does not need to punish sin. He states, “At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. ‘I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it’” (p. 119). As welcoming as this message may be, it at best reveals a dangerously imbalanced understanding of God. For in addition to being loving and kind, God is also holy and just. Indeed, because He is just He must punish sin. The Bible explicitly says that” the soul that sins shall die” (Eze. 18:2). “I am holy, says the Lord” (Lev. 11:44). He is so holy that Habakkuk says of God, “You . . . are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” (Hab. 1:13). Romans 6:23 declares: “The wages of sin is death . . .” And Paul added, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

In short, THE SHACK presents lop-sided view of God as love but not justice. This view of a God who will not punish sin undermines the central message of Christianity—that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1f.) and rose from the dead. Indeed, some emergent Church leaders have given a more frontal and near blasphemous attack on the sacrificial atonement of Christ, calling it a “form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for offences he has not even committed” (Steve Chalke, THE LOST MESSAGE OF JESUS, p. 184). Such is the end of the logic that denies an awesomely holy God who cannot tolerate sin was satisfied (propitiated) on behalf of our sin (1 John 2:1). For Christ paid the penalty for us, “being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Cor. 5:21), “suffering the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

PROBLEM SIX: A FALSE VIEW OF THE INCARNATION

Another area of concern is a false view of the person and work of Christ. The book states, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this universe, we now became flesh and blood” (p. 98). However, this is a serious misunderstanding of the Incarnation of Christ. The whole Trinity was not incarnated. Only the Son was (John 1:14), and in His case deity did not become humanity. Rather, it was the Second Person of the Godhead who assumed a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit (who are pure spirit—John 4:24) became human, only the Son did.

 PROBLEM SEVEN: A WRONG VIEW OF THE WAY OF SALVATION

Another problem emerges in the message of THE SHACK. According to Young, Christ is just the “best” way to relate to the Father, not the only way (p. 109). The “best” does not necessarily imply the only way, which then means that there may be other ways to relate to God. Such an assertion is contrary to Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes unto the Father except through me” (John14:6, emphasis mine). He added, “He who believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John. 3:18). He declared, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 9:24). Jesus is not merely the best way, but He is the only way to God. Paul declared: “There is one God and one mediator between God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

PROBLEM EIGHT: A HERETICAL VIEW OF THE FATHER SUFFERING

The book also contains a classic heresy called Patripassionism (Literally: Father Suffering). Young claims that God the Father suffered along with the Son, saying, “Haven’t you seen the wounds on Papa [God the Father] too?’ I didn’t understand them. ‘How could he . . .?’ ‘For love. He chose the way of the cross . . . because of love’” (p. 165). But both the APOSTLES’ CREED and the NICENE CREED (A.D. 325) made it very clear that it was Jesus alone who “suffered” for us on the Cross. And that He did this only through His human nature. To say otherwise is to engage in “confusing the two natures” of Christ which was explicitly condemned in the CHALCEDONIAN CREED (A.D. 451). Suffering is a form of change, and the Bible makes it very clear that God cannot change. “I the Lord change not” (Mal. 3:6). “There is no shadow of change with Him” (Jas. 1:17). When all else changes, God “remains the same” (Heb. 1:10-12).

 PROBLEM NINE: A DENIAL OF HIERARCHY IN THE GODHEAD

THE SHACK also claims that there is no hierarchy in God or in human communities modeled after Him. He believes that hierarchy exists only as a result of the human struggle for power. Young writes of God: “‘Well I know that there are three of you. But you respond with such graciousness to each other. Isn’t one of you more the boss than the other two…. I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know being obedient. . . .’ ‘Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us; only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command. . . . What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. . . . Hierarchy would make no sense among us’” (p. 121).

However, Young cites no Scripture to support this egalitarian view of God and human relations—and for good reasons since the Bible clearly affirms that there is an order of authority in the Godhead, the home, and the church. Submission and obedience are biblical terms. Jesus submitted to the Father: “O My Father, . . . not my will be done but yours” (Mat. 26:39). “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. . . .” (Phil. 2:8). In heaven “then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Children are to submit to their parents: Paul urged, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. . . .” (Eph. 6:1). Likewise, women are urged: “Wives submit to your own husband, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Members are to “obey your leaders” (Heb. 13:17). Indeed, citizens are commanded “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient. . . .” (Titus 3:1).

The hierarchical order in the Godhead is the basis for all human relationships. And pure love does not eliminate this; it demands it. The Bible declares; “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). Portraying God as a Mother, rather than a Father, reveals an underlying anti-masculinity in Young’s thought. He wrote, “Males seem to be the cause of so much of the pain in the world. They account for most of the crime and many of those are perpetrated against women. . . . The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled. There would have been far fewer children sacrificed to the gods of greed and power” (p. 148). He does not explain how this would not be a hierarchy of women ruling the world.

PROBLEM TEN: IGNORING THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN EDIFYING BELIEVERS

The Shack is totally silent about the important role the community of believers plays in the life of individuals needing encouragement. In fact there is a kind of anti-church current born of a reaction to a hypocritical, legalistic, and abusive father who was a church leader (pp. 1—3). However, this is clearly contrary to the command of Scripture. A bad church should not be replaced with no church but with a better church. God gave the church “pastors and teachers, to equip the saints . . . for building up the body of Christ . . .” (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul said, “To each [one in the body] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Young replaces a Bible-based church in the wildwood with a Bible-less shack in the wilderness. Comfort in bereavement is sought in a lonely, Bible-less, empty shack in the wilderness where one is to find comfort by heeding deceptive presentations of God. At this point several scriptural exhortations about being aware of deceiving spirits come to mind (1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:14). As for the need for a church, the Scriptures exhort us “not to forget the assembling together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as we see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Without the regular meeting with a body of edifying believers, proper Christian growth is inevitably stunted.

PROBLEM ELEVEN: AN INCLUSIVISTIC VIEW OF WHO WILL BE SAVED

While THE SHACK falls short of the universalism (“All will be saved”) found in other emergent writings, it does have a wide-sweeping inclusivism whereby virtually anyone through virtually any religion can be saved apart from Christ. According to Young, “Jesus [said] . . . ‘Those who love me come from every system that exists. They are Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist, or Muslims, . . . and many who are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institution. . . . Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa. . . .’ ‘Does that mean…that all roads will lead to you?’ ‘Not at all…. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you’” (p. 184).

Again, there is no biblical support for these claims. On the contrary, the Scriptures affirm that there is no salvation apart from knowing Christ. Acts 4:12 pronounces that “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” 1 Tim. 2:5 insists that “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” And Jesus said, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John. 8:24). For “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). And “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

PROBLEM TWELVE: A WRONG VIEW OF FAITH AND REASON

The Shack embraces a non-rational view of faith. It declares: “There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it is surely not rational” (p. 64). Even common sense informs us that this is no way to live the Christian life. The Bible says, “‘Come now let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 1:18); “Give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15); “Paul…reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2); “These were more fair-minded [because] they searched the Scriptures daily…whether these things be so” (Acts 17:11); “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1, emphasis added in above quotes). Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and reasonable Christians would add, “The unexamined faith is not worth having.”

 PROBLEM THIRTEEN: IT ELIMINATES KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

According to Young, God is wholly other; we can’t really know Him. Young: “I am God. I am who I am. And unlike you . . .” (p. 96). “I am what some would say ‘holy and wholly other than you’” (p. 97). “I am not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think” (p. 97). One basic problem with this view is that it is self-defeating. How could we know God is “wholly other”? Wholly other than what? And how can we know what God is not unless we know what He is?  One cannot know not-that unless he knows what “that” means. Totally negative knowledge of God is impossible. Further, according to the Bible, we can know what God is really like from both general and special revelation. For “Since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen…even his eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom.1:20). As for special revelation, Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John. 14:7) and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:6). God does speak of Himself in His written Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and when He does it tells us something about the way He really is. His words are not deceptive but descriptive.

PROBLEM FOURTEEN: IT ENTAILS DIVINE DECEPTION

According to THE SHACK, God is revealed in ways contrary to His nature. The Father is revealed as a black woman and having a body when He is neither. The reason given for this is that in love God revealed Himself in ways that would be acceptable to the recipient (who had a bad father image) but were not so. But this is case of divine deception. God is a spirit (John 4:24) and He has no body (Luke 24:39). God is never called a “Mother” in the Bible. It is deceptive to portray God’s Nature in any way that He is not, even though ones motive is loving (pp. 91—92). A lie told with a loving motive is still a lie. Of course, when God speaks to finite creatures He engages in adaptation to human limits but never in accommodation to human error. Portraying God as having a black female body is like saying storks bring babies. Young calls it a “mask” that falls away (p. 111). But God does not have masks, and He does not masquerade. “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Paul speaks of the “God who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). It is only the Devil, the Father of lies, who engages in appearing in forms he is not. “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). To be sure, there are figures of speech in Scripture, speaking of God as a rock or a hen, but they are known to be metaphorical and not literal, since there are no immaterial rocks and God does not have feathers.

CONCLUSION

THE SHACK may do well for many in engaging the current culture, but not without compromising Christian truth. The book may be psychologically helpful to many who read it, but it is doctrinally harmful to all who are exposed to it. It has a false understanding of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the nature of man, the institution of the family and marriage, and the nature of the Gospel. For those not trained in orthodox Christian doctrine, this book is very dangerous. It promises good news for the suffering but undermines the only Good News (the Gospel) about Christ suffering for us. In the final analysis it is only truth that is truly liberating. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). A lie may make one feel better, but only until he discovers the truth. This book falls short on many important Christian doctrines. It promises to transform people’s lives, but it lacks the transforming power of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12) and the community of believers (Heb. 10:25). In the final analysis, this book is not a PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, but doctrinally speaking THE SHACK is more of a PILGRIM’S REGRESS.

 


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This same PDF is available at. . .

The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?

 

 

 

The Emergent Church: Emergence or Emergency? (2008)


The Emergent Church: Emergence or Emergency?
by Norman L. Geisler

2008

The Background of Emergence Stated

There is one key influence on the Emergent Church movement—postmodernism.  While not all Emegents accept all premises of post-modernism, nonetheless, they all breathe the same air.  Post modernism embraces the following characteristics: 1) The “Death of God”—Atheism;  2) The death of objective truth—Relativism;  3) The death of exclusive truth—Pluralism;  4) Death of objective meaning—Conventionalism; 5) The death of thinking (logic)—Anti-Foundationalism;  6) The death of objective interpretation—Deconstructionism, and 7) the death of objective values—Subjectivism.

From post-modernism Emergents devise the following key ideas: They consider themselves: 1)Post-Protestant; 2)Post-Orthodox; 3)Post-Denominational; 4)Post-Doctrinal; 5) Post-Individual; 6) Post-Foundational; 7) Post-Creedal; 8)
Post-Rational, and 8)Post-Absolute.  It is noteworthy that “post” is a euphemism for “anti.”  So, in reality they are against all these things and more.

Brian McClaren, one of the leaders of the emergent church stressed the importance of the postmodernism influence upon the movement when he wrote, “But for me…opposing it [Postmodernism] is as futile as opposing the English language.  It’s here. It’s reality. It’s the future…. It’s the way my generation processes every other fact on the event horizon” (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, 70).
“Postmodernism is the intellectual boundary between the old world and the other side.  Why is it so important? Because when your view of truth is changed, when your confidence in the human ability to know truth in any objective way is revolutionized, then everything changes. That includes theology…” (McLaren, COS, 69).

 

Basic Works by Emergents Listed
There is an ever increasing flow of emergent literature.  To date, it includes the following:

Brian McLaren, The Church on the Other Side
                            A Generous Orthodoxy
                            A New Kind of Christian
                            Everything Must Change
Stanley Grenz,  A Primer on Post-Modernism
                           Beyond Foundationalism
                          Revising Evangelical Theology
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope
Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from  the Emergent Frontier
Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
Steve Chalke and Allan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus
Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical.
Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor, A Heretics Guide to Eternity
 See also: www.emergentvillage.com

Basic Beliefs of Emergents Examined
Of course, not all Emergents believe all the doctrines listed below, but some do, and most hold to many of them.  And since they associate with others in the movement that do, it is proper to list all of them.
Anti-Absolutism
McClaren insists that “Arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people” (McClaren, “The Broadened Gospel,” in “Emergent Evangelism,” Christianity Today 48 [Nov., 2004], 43).  This is a form of relativism.  Lets reduce the premise to its essence and analyze it by showing that it is self-refuting.
Relativism Stated: “We cannot know absolute truth.”
Relativism Refuted: We know that we cannot know absolute truth.

 

Anti-Exclusivism (Pluralism)
Pluralism is another characteristic of the emergent movement.  McClaren claims that “Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned.  Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion” (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 109).  In brief, —
1.         The Claim of Pluralism: “No view is  exclusively true.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: It claims that its view (that no view is exclusively true)   is exclusively true.

 

Anti-Foundationalism
Foundationalism in the philosophical sense may be defined as the position that here are self-evident principles at the basis of all thought such as:
1. The Law of Identity (A is A).
2. The Law of Non-Contradiction (A is not non-A).
3. The Law of Excluded Middle (Either A or non-A).
4. The Laws of rational inference.

 

Inferences take several forms:

  1. The categorical form includes the following necessary inference:  a) All A is included in B; b) All B is included in C.  Hence, c) All A is included in C.
  2. Hypothetical inferences include the following: a) If all human beings are sinners, then John is a sinner; b) All human beings are sinners. c) Therefore, John is a sinner.
  3. Disjunctive inferences are like this: a) Either John is saved or he is lost. b) John is not saved. c) Therefore, John is lost.

One of the fore-fathers of the Emergent movement was Stanley Grenz who wrote a whole book against Foundationalism entitled: Beyond Foundationalism.  McClaren contents that:  “For modern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial…. Hardly anyone knows …Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume, and Foundationalism—which provides the context in which these words are so important.  Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority” (McLaren, GO, 164).

So, the claim and refutation of anti-foundationalism can be states like this:

1.         The Claim: “Opposites (e.g., A is non-A) can both be true.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: They hold that the opposite of this statement (that opposites can both be true) cannot be true.

 

 

Anti-Objectivism
Another characteristic is the denial that our statements about God are objectively true.  Grenz declared: “We ought to commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, 166).
1.      The Claim of Anti-Objectivism: “There are no objectively true statements.”
2.      The Self-Refutation: It is an objectively true statement that there are no    objectively true statements.

 

Anti-Rationalism (Fideism)
Most emergents have a strong doze of fideism.  Grenz chided “Twentieth-century evangelicals [who] have devoted much energy to the task of demonstrating the credibility of the Christian faith…” (Grenz, Primer on Post-modernism, 160).
“Following the intellect can sometimes lead us away from the truth” (Grenz, PPM, 166).  One might add, that not following basic rational thought will lead you there a lot faster!
McClaren adds, “Because knowledge is a luxury beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for.  What an opportunity! Faith hasn’t encountered openness like this in several hundred years” (McLaren, TheChurch on the Other Side, 173).
“Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument—and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search” (McLaren,Adventures in Missing the Point, 78).
Donald Miller confessed that  “My belief in Jesus did not seem rational or scientific, and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief” (54).  He said, “My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect…. I don’t believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons. Who knows anything anyway?  If I walk away… I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons…” (103).
“There are many ideas within Christian spirituality that contradict the facts of reality as I understand them.  A statement like this offends some Christians because they believe if aspects of their faith do not obey the facts of reality, they are not true” (201).So the basic claim of anti-rationalism goes as follows:
1.         The Claim of Fideism: “There are no reasons for what we believe.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: There are good reasons for believing there are no good reasons for what we believe.

1.         The Claim of Fideism: “Knowledge is a luxury beyond our means.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: We have the luxury of knowing that we can’t have the luxury of knowing.

 

Anti-Objectivism (of Meaning)
Anti-Objectivism deals not only with truth (above) but with meaning (called conventionalism).  Emergent embrace both.  All meaning is culturally relative. There is no fixed meaning. Meaning is not objective.
1.         The Claim of Conventionalism: “There is no objective meaning.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: It is objectively meaningful to assert that there is no objective meaning.

 

Anti-Realism
Strangely, some emergents claim there is no objective world that can be known.  Rather, “the only ultimately valid ‘objectivity of the world’ is that of a future, eschatological world, and the ‘actual’ universe is the universe as it one day will be” (Grenz, Renewing the Center, 246).
1.         The Claim of Anti-Realism “There is no real world now that can be known.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: We know it is really true now (i.e., true in the real world now) that there is no real world now that can be known.

 

Anti-Infallibilism
Not only can we not know absolute truth, but there is no certain knowledge of what we do claim to know, even of biblical truth.  McClaren insists:  “Well, I’m wondering, if you have an infallible text, but all your interpretations of it are admittedly fallible, then you at least have to always be open to being corrected about your interpretation, right?… So the authoritative text is never what I say about the text or even what I understand the text to say but rather what God means the text to say, right?” (McLaren, NKC, 50).
1.         The Claim of Anti-Infallibilism: “My understanding of the text is never the correct one.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: My understanding of the text is correct in saying that my understanding of the text is never correct.

 

Anti-Propositionalism
Emergents, along with post-modern, opposed propositional truth, that is that true can be stated in propositions (declarative sentences) that are either true or false.  Grenz wrote: “Our understanding of the Christian faith must not remain fixated on the propositional approach that views Christian truth as nothing more than correct doctrine or doctrinal truth” (Grenz, PPM, 170).“Transformed in this manner into a book of doctrine, the Bible is easily robbed of its dynamic character” (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 114-115).
1.         The Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: “Our view of the Christian faith must not be fixed on propositional truth (doctrine).”
2.         The Self-Refutation: We must be fixed on the propositional truth that we should not be fixed on propositional truth.

1.         Another Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: “Doctrinal truth is not dynamic.”
2.         The Self-Refutation: It is a dynamic doctrinal truth (of the Emergent Church) that doctrinal truth is not dynamic.

They fail to recognize that doctrine is dynamic! Ideas Have Consequences!For example, Einstein’s idea that “energy equals mass times the speed of light squared”had consequences—the atomic bomb!  Likewise, Hitler’s idea (Nazism) led to the holocaust and the loss of multimillions of lives.

 

Anti-Orthodoxy
The emergent movement is post-orthodox.  Dwight J. Friesen suggests it should be called “orthoparadoxy.” He claims that “‘A thing is alive only when it contains contradictions in itself ….’ Just as he [Moltmann] highlights the necessity of contradictions for life, so I declare that embracing the complexities of contradictions, antinomies, and paradoxes of the human life is walking the way of Jesus” (in Pagitt ed., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 203).
“Jesus did not announce ideas or call people to certain beliefs as much as he invited people to follow him into a way of being in the world…. The theological method of orthoparadoxy surrenders the right to be right for the sake of movement toward being reconciled one with another, while simultaneously seeking to bring the fullness of conviction and belief to the other…. Current theological methods that often stress… orthodoxy/heresy, and the like set people up for constant battles to convince and convert the other to their way of believing and being in the world” (Friesen, in EMH, 205).
To summarize, —
1.         The Claim of Post-Orthodoxy: “We should not insist on being right about doctrine.”
2.         The Self-refutation: We insist on being  right in our doctrine that we should not insist on being right in our doctrine.

 

Anti-Condemnationism (Universalism)
Many emergents are not merely pluralist, but they are universalsts.  McClaren affirmed that:  “More important to me than the hell question, then, is the mission [in this world] question.” (McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 114).  Bell believes that Jesus reconciled “all things, everywhere” and that “Hell is full of forgiven people.” So, “Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making” (Bell, Velvet Elvis, 146).  “So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals.  It is the reconciliation of all things” (Bell in “Find the Big Jesus: An Interview with Rob Bell” in Beliefnet.com).Let’s analyze the claim of universalism:
1.         The claim: “All persons (free agents) will be saved.”
2.         The Self-refutation: But this is self-defeating for it is claiming that: All persons (free agents) will be saved, even those who do not freely choose to be saved.

C. S. Lewis pinpointed the problem with universalism when he wrote: “When one says, ‘All will be saved,’ my reason retorts, ‘Without their will, or with it?’  If I say, ‘Without their will,’ I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say, ‘With their will,’ my reason replies, ‘How, if they will not give in?’” (The Problem of Pain, 106-107).

 

Anti-Inerrantism
Most emergent leaders are not inerrantist.  They believe that “Incompleteness and error are part of the reality of human beings” (McLaren,COS, 173).
“Our listening to God’s voice [in Scripture] does not need to be threatened by scientific research into Holy Scripture” (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 116).  “The Bible is revelation because it is the [errant] witness to and the [errant] record of the historical revelation of God” (Grenz, ibid., 133).
McClaren rejects the traditional view that: “The Bible is the ultimate authority…. There are no contradictions in it, and it is absolutely true and without errors in all it says.  Give up these assertions, and you’re on a slippery slope to losing your whole faith” (McLaren, GO, 133-134).  He adds, “Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority” (GO, 164).  In brief, the problem with the errantists view is this:
1.         The Claim of Errantists: “No extra-biblical words or ideas should be used to support the Bible.”
2.         The Self-refutation: It is a truth (of Post-Modernism) that no extra-biblical words or ideas (like Post-Modernism) should be used to support the Bible.
Yet this is self-defeating for If “No human writing is without error,” then emergent human writing is not without error when it claims that no human writing is without error.
Inerrancy is built on a solid foundation: 1) God cannot err.  2) The Bible is the Word of God.  3) Therefore, the Bible cannot error.  To deny this, one must deny either: a) “God cannot error,” or- b) “The Bible is the Word of God,” or-
c)  both a and b.
However, God cannot err: Jesus declared: “Your Word is truth.” (Jn. 17:17)
Paul said, “Let God be and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).  Indeed, “It is impossible for God to lie: (Heb. 6:18).  And he Bible is the Word of God “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.” (Jn.10:34-35)  “Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men…, making the word of God of no effect through your traditions.” (Mk. 7:8, 13)  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God….”(2 Tim. 3:16) “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect.”  (Rom. 9:6)  “’It is written’…by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:4)
St. Augustine’s dictum is to the point: “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood.”  (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5)
Emerging Problems with the Emergent Church

 

Other Errors of the Emergent Movement
In addition to all the above self-defeating claims of emergence, there are some other crucial doctrinal and practical errors.  Here are some of them:

 

Anti-Substitutionism
Steve Chalke speaks of the Cross as “a form of cosmic child abuse” which contradicts the Bible’s claim that “God is love” and ‘makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies” (Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 182-183).

 

Anti-Trinitarianism
“I asked him if he believed that the Trinity represented three separate persons who are also one” (Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
202).

 

Anti-depravity (Pelagianism)
Some (like Chalke and Tomlinson) reject depravity.  The former said, “Jesus believed in original goodness.” (The Lost Message of Jesus, 67).  The latter said it is “biblically questionable, extreme, and profoundly unhelpful” (The Post-Evangelical, 126).

 

Anti-Futurism (Amillennialism)

It has an overemphasis on the present spiritual kingdom to the neglect of Jesus’ future literal kingdom—an overrealized eschatology.

 

Anti-Capitalism (Socialism)

It has a social Gospel, not a spiritual Gospel with social implications.  It adopts the agenda of the political left.  Tony Jones said on David Chadwicks show that he and most of the Emergents he knew were voting for Barack Obama (6/22/08).

 

Ecumenism

 

The Emergent movement is a broad tent which includes numerous heresies (see above), embracing Catholicism, and even pantheism (by some).  Spencer Burke said, “I am not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either…. I now incorporate a pantheistic view, which basically means that God is ‘in all,’ alongside my creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit.” (A Heretics Guide to Eternity, 195).

 

 

Difficulties with the Emergent Movement
There are many difficulties with the Emergent movement.  Here are some of the main ones:
1. Its central claims are all self-defeating.
2. It stands on the pinnacle of its own absolute and relativizes everything else.
3. It is an unorthodox creedal attack on orthodox creeds.
4. It attacks modernism in the culture but is an example of postmodernism in the church.
5. In an attempt to reach the culture it capitulates to the culture.
6. In trying to be geared to the times, it is no longer anchored to the Rock.
7. It is not an emerging church; it is really a submerging church.

 

Answering an Anticipated Objection
Some emergents may wish to claim that:  No self-defeating truth claims are being made.  These are straw men set up by critics.  In response we would reply that: Either they are making such truth claims or they are not.   If they are, then they are self-defeating.  If they are not, then why are they writing books and attempting to convince people of the truth of these views, if not always by affirmation, at least by implication?  While directed to another view, C. S. Lewis made a insightful comment that applies here as well:
You can argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome’: but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome, but I’m not saying this is true.’  I feel that this surrender of the claim to truth has all the air of an expedient adopted at the last moment.  If [they]…do not claim to know any truths, ought they not to have warned us rather earlier of the fact? For really from all the books they have written…one would have got the idea that they were claiming to give a true account of things.  The fact surely is that they nearly always are claiming to do so.  The claim is surrendered only when the question discussed…is pressed; and when the crisis is over the claim is tacitly resumed” (Lewis, Miracles, 24).

 

To re-cast the Emergent Movement, using titles from its own books, it is not-“The Emergent Church” but “The Submergent Church.”  It is not “A Manifesto of Hope” but is “A Declaration of Disaster.” It is not “Refocusing the Faith” but “Distorting the Faith.”  It is not “Renewing the Center” but “Rejecting the Core.”  It is not “Repainting the Faith” but “Repudiating the Faith.” The Emergent movement is not “A Generous Orthodoxy” but “A Dangerous Unorthodoxy.”  It is not the “Church on the Other Side,” but it is on the “Other Side of the Church.”  It is not “A Primer on Post-Modernism”but “A Primer on the New Modernism.” It is not going to “Produce a New Kind of Christian” but a “New Kind of Non-Christian.”
In short, the Emergent Church is the New Liberalism  As Mark Driscol wrote: “The emergent church is the latest version of liberalism.  The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity” (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformation REV, 21).  To put it to poetry:

The Emergent Church is built on sand
and will not stand.
Christ’s Church is build on Stone,
And it can not be overthrown.
(Matt. 16:16-18)

 

Works Evaluating The Emergents Movement
Several works are emerging on the Emergent Church.  The following is a select list containing valuable criticisms of the movment.
Adler, Mortimer. Truth in Religion.
Carson, D. A.  Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.
Carlson, Jason. “My Journey Into and Out Of the Emergent Church” (www.Christianministriesintl.org)
*DeYoung, Kevin and Ted Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent.
Driscoll, Mark. Confessions of a Reformation REV.
Howe, Thomas ed., Christian Apologetics Journal of Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2008, www.ses.edu)
Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church.
Rofle, Kevin, Here We Stand.
Smith, R. Scott Truth and The New Kind of Christian.
Geisler, Norman.  “The Emergent Church” DVD (http://ngim.org).

 

Conclusion
Of course, not all emergent beliefs are bad.  De Young and Kluck summarize the situation well.  They “have many good deeds.  They want to be relevant.  They want to reach out.  They want to be authentic.  They want to include the marginalized.  They want to be kingdom disciples.  They want community and life transformation….”  However, “Emergent Christians need to catch Jesus’ broader vision for the church—His vision for a church that is intolerant of error, maintains moral boundaries, promotes doctrinal integrity, stands strong in times of trial, remains vibrant in times of prosperity, believes in certain judgment and certain reward, even as it engages the culture, reaches out, loves, and serves.  We need a church that reflects the Master’s vision—one that is deeply   theological, deeply ethical, deeply compassionate, and deeply doxological” (Why We’re Not Emergent, 247-248).

 


Copyright © 2008 NormanGeisler.net – All Rights Reserved

The Emergent Church: Theological Postmodernism


The Emergent Church: Theological Postmodernism

by Norman L. Geisler

March 2012

The Key Influence on Postmodernism

The post-modern movement finds its roots in Friedrich Nietzsche and the death of God movement he spawned.  The whole post-modern movement can be cast in this context.  Nietzsche wrote: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.  How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” (“The Madman” in Gay Science, 125).  But once they pronounced that God is dead, then the rest of post-modernism follows logically.  For if there is no absolute Moral Law Giver, there can be no absolute moral law (subjectivism).  Likewise, if there is no absolute Mind, then there can be no absolute meaning (conventionalism) or absolute truth (relativism).  Further, if there is no objective meaning, then there cannot be an objective interpretation of a text.  Hence, deconstructionism follows.   So, the death of God leads to the death of every other area of  thought and life as follows:

  1. “Death of God”–Atheism
  2. Death of objective truth–Relativism
  3. Death of exclusive truth—Pluralism
  4. Death of objective meaning–Conventionalism
  5. Death of thinking (logic)—Anti-Foundationalism
  6. Death of objective interpretation–Deconstructionism 
  7. Death of objective values–Subjectivism

Key Influence of Postmodernism on Theology

Post-modernism in theology has been called Post-Protestant, Post-Orthodox, Post-Denominational, Post-Doctrinal, Post-Individual, Post-Foundational, Post-Creedal, Post-Rational, Post-Absolute.  Actually, “Post” = “Anti” since post-modernism is opposed to everything listed above which they see as part of the modern world.

The North American father of post-modernism in evangelical theology, wrote: “But for me…opposing it [Postmodernism] is as futile as opposing the English language.  It’s here. It’s reality. It’s the future…. It’s the way my generation processes every other fact on the event horizon” (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side (COS), 70).   He added, “Postmodernism is the intellectual boundary between the old world and the other side.  Why is it so important? Because when your view of truth is changed, when your confidence in the human ability to know truth in any objective way is revolutionized, then everything changes. That includes theology…” (McLaren, COS, 69).

Key Books by Post-Modern Theologians

Brian McLaren wrote The Church on the Other Side, A Generous Orthodoxy, and  A New Kind of Christian.  Stanley Grenz, the grand-father of the movement wrote:  A Primer on Post-Modernism, Beyond Foundationalism, Revisioning Evangelical Theology. Rob Bell hit the front page of Timemagazine recently with his denial of Hell in his book, Love Wins.  He also wrote Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith.  Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones penned, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope and Tony Jones wrote, The New Christians: Dispatches  from the Emergent Frontier.

Basic Beliefs of Post-Modernism

            There are many beliefs of post-modernist.  We will list the key views and show how they are making self-defeating claims.  This is what the apostle Paul urges us to do when he said “We destroy arguments and bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Anti-Absolutism

McLaren wrote: “Arguments that pit absolutism verses relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivisim, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people” (McClaren, “The Broadened Gospel,” (in “Emergent Evangelism,” Christianity Today [Nov., 2004], 43).

As we shall see, the root problem with post-modern thought is that it is self-defeating.  It cannot even state its view without contradicting itself.  For example,–

  1. Relativism Stated: “We cannot know absolute truth.”

2. Relativism Self-Refuted: We know that we cannot know absolute truth.

 

Anti-Exclusivism

Another aspect of post-modern thought is its pluralism or anti-exclusivism. McClaren wrote: “Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned.  Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 109).

“But Christianity’s idea that other religions cannot be God’s carriers of [redemptive] grace and truth casts a large shadow over our Christian experiences (Samir Selmanovic, in Pagitt, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 191). “Christianity is a non-god, and every non-god can be and idol” (192). “God cannot be hijacked by Christianity” (194). “If a relationship with a specific person, namely Christ, is the whole substance of a relationship with the God of the Bible, then the vast majority of people in world history are excluded from the possibility of a relationship with the God of the Bible…” (194). “To put it in different terms, there is no salvation outside of Christ, but there is salvation outside of Christianity” (19).  “Would a God who gives enough revelation for people to be judged but not enough revelation to be saved be a God worthy of worshiping? Never!” (195).

 
  1. The Anti-exclusivism claim: “It is wrong to make a claim that one view is exclusive truth as opposed to opposing views.”
  2. The Self-refutation: The anti-exclusivist claim is exclusively true as opposed to exclusivism.

Anti-exlusivism is just another term for pluralism. The problem is clear.  The claim that no view is exclusively true is an exclusivistic truth claim itself.

  1. The Claim of Pluralism: “No view is exclusively true.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: It claims that its view (that no view is exclusively true) is exclusively true.

Anti-Foundationalism

As Stanely Grenz noted in the title of his book Beyond Foundationalism, the post-modern movement is opposed to epistemological foundationalism.  That is, they are opposed to the view that there are self-evident principles at the basis of all thought.  “The theory that at the bottom of all human knowledge is a set of self-inferential or internally justified beliefs; in other words, the foundation is indubitable and requires no external justification. For the conservative, the sacred text of Christianity is indubitable, established by an internal and circular reasoning: ‘‘The Bible claims to be God’s truth, so therefore it’s true.’’ (Jones, The New Christian, 19).

The basic principles of foundationalism include the laws of logic, such as the following:

  1. The Law of Identity (A is A).
  2. The Law of Non-Contradiction (A is not non-A).
  3. The Law of Excluded Middle (Either a or non-A).
  4. The Laws of rational inference.

For example, it is a rational inference to conclude that:

  1. All A is included in B.
    2. All B is included in C.
    3. Hence, All A is included in C.

There are different kinds of rational inferences.  There is categorical inference (above).  And there is hypothetical inference (below):

  1.  If all human beings are sinners, then John is a sinner.
  2. All human beings are sinners.
  3. Therefore, John is a sinner.

There are also disjunctive inferences: Either a person is saved or else he is lost (but he cannot be both at the same time and in the same sense).  So, if he is not saved, then he must be lost.  Given these kinds of principles being the bedrock of foundationalism, it is difficult to see what one could have against these venerable laws of thought.

Nonetheless, Stanley Grenz wrote a whole book against Foundationalism titled: Beyond Foundationalism.  McLaren wrote: “For modern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial…. Hardly anyone knows …Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume, and Foundationalism—which provides the context in which these words are so important.  Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority” (McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy 164).

To reduce their view to a simple proposition, they claim the following:

 
  • Claim of Anti-Foundationalism: “Opposites (e.g., A is non-A) can both be true”
  • The Self-Refutation: They hold that the opposite of this statement (that opposites can both be true) cannot be true.

It must be false.  But if the opposite of true is false, then they are using a

foundational logical principle to deny foundational logical principles. This is self-defeating.

Anti-Objectivism

Another characteristic of post-modern thought is subjectivism.  Grenz wrote: “We ought to commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, 166).  Put in simple form:

  1. The Claim of Anti-Objectivism: “There are no objectively true statements.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: It is an objectively true statement that there are no objectively true statements.

In short, their anti-objectivism makes an objective truth claim.  Hence, it is hanged on its

own epistemological gallows.  It self-destructs.

Anti-Rationalism

Another characteristic of post-modernism in theology is anti-rationalism.  It is a form of fideism that denies that reason has no place in matters of faith. Grenz chided “Twentieth-century evangelicals [who] have devoted much energy to the task of demonstrating the credibility of the Christian faith…” (Grenz,PPM, 160).  He added, “Following the intellect can sometimes lead us away from the truth” (Grenz, PPM, 166).  Of course, he seems blissfully unaware of the fact that not following basic rational thought will lead you there a lot faster!

McLaren, added: “Because knowledge is a luxury beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for.  What an opportunity! Faith hasn’t encountered openness like this in several hundred years” (McLaren, COS, 173).  He urged: “Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument—and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search” (McLaren, Adventures in Missing the Point, 78).  But here again we are faced with a self-defeating claim:

  1. The Claim of Fideism: “There are no reasons for what we believe.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: There are good reasons for believing there are no good reasons for what we believe.

To state it another way, —

  1. The Claim of Fideism: “Knowledge is a luxury beyond our means.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: We have the luxury of knowing that we can’t have the luxury of knowing.

Anti-Objectivism (of Meaning)

The term that describes anti-objectivism in meaning is Conventionalism.  It claims that all meaning is culturally relative. There is no fixed meaning. Meaning is not objective.  But here again we are faced with self-destructive claims:

  1. The Claim of Conventionalism: “There is no objective meaning.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: It is objectively meaningful to assert that there is no objective meaning.

The post-modern dilemma is painful.  It cannot even express its view without borrowing from its opposing view.  It literally has no ground of its own on which to stand.  It is living on borrowed capital.

Anti-Realism

According to post-modern theology, there is no objective world that can be known.  Rather, “the only ultimately valid ‘objectivity of the world’ is that of a future, eschatological world, and the ‘actual’ universe is the universe as it one day will be” (Grenz, Renewing the Center, 246).

  1. The Claim of Anti-Realism “There is no real world now that can be known.”

2. The Self-Refutation: We know it is really true now (i.e., true in the real world now) that there is no real world now that can be known.

One cannot really know now that there is no real world now.  For “really” implies there is a reality to know.  And if there is a real world now, then one cannot deny it without implying it. 

Anti-Certainty

Protestants believe the Bible is infallible (Matt. 5:17-18; John 10:35), but not any interpretation of it—like an alleged infallible Papal pronouncement.  However, lacking infallibility in all matters of Faith does not mean we lack certainty in some matters. The principle of perspicuity (clarity) affirms that the main teachings of Scripture are clear and we can be certain of them.  For in the Bible the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. Of these we can have moral certainty.  Post-modern Christians challenge that one can have any certainty in our knowledge of the Bible.  McLaren put it this way: “Well, I’m wondering, if you have an infallible text, but all your interpretations of it are admittedly fallible, then you at least have to always be open to being corrected about your interpretation, right?… So the authoritative text is never what I say about the text or even what I understand the text to say but rather what God means the text to say, right?” (McLaren,NKC, 50).

  1. The Claim of Anti-Certainty: “My understanding of the text is never the correct one.”

2. The Self-Refutation: My understanding of the text is correct in saying that my understanding of the text is never correct.

In short, the claim that one is certain that he can never be certain about anything the Bible teaches is a self-defeating claim.

Anti-Propositionalism

It is an essential truth of evangelical Christianity that the Bible contains proposition truth claims.  That is, regardless of the literary form (story, parable, poetry, or proverbs), the Bible contains truth that can be stated in propositional form.  In short, the Bible contains doctrinal truths.  But Grenz and other post-modern theologians claim that: “Our understanding of the Christian faith must not remain fixated on the propositional approach that views Christian truth as nothing more than correct doctrine or doctrinal truth” (Grenz, PPM, 170).  So, “Transformed in this manner into a book of doctrine, the Bible is easily robbed of its dynamic character” (Grenz,Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 114-115).

  1. The Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: “Our view of the Christian faith must not be fixed on propositional truth (doctrine).”
  2. The Self-Refutation: We must be fixed on the propositional truth that we should not be fixed on propositional truth.

What the anti-propostionalist fails to see is that denying propositional truth is a propositional truth.  Denying doctrine is a doctrine. Denying creeds is a creedal statement.

Another post-modern claim connected to this is the following:

  1. The Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: “Doctrinal truth is not dynamic.”
  2. The Self-Refutation: It is a dynamic doctrinal truth (of post-modernism) that doctrinal truth is not dynamic.

But doctrine is dynamic!  Ideas have consequences!  E = MC2 is a proposition that had dynamic consequences—it produced an atomic bomb.  Likewise, biblical truth has consequences.  The truth of the Gospel has consequence; it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).  To deny the Gospel or its underpinning doctrines is to destroy the power of the Gospel.

 

Anti-Orthodoxy

Post-modern Christian Dwight J. Friesen speaks out against orthodoxy–the belief in orthodox doctrines of the Bible.  He wrote: “Jesus did not announce ideas or call people to certain beliefs as much as he invited people to follow him into a way of being in the world…. The theological method of orthoparadoxy surrenders the right to be right for the sake of movement toward being reconciled one with another, while simultaneously seeking to bring the fullness of conviction and belief to the other…. Current theological methods that often stress… orthodoxy/heresy, and the like set people up for constant battles to convince and convert the other to their way of believing and being in the world” (Friesen, in EMH, 205). Therefore, “in orthoparadox theology propositions and truth claims are more important than ever but not as litmus tests of correct belief or practice; rather, truth claims become launching pads for differentiated relationship…. Orthoparadox theology is less concerned with creating ‘once for all’ doctrinal statements or dogmatic claims and is more interested in holding competing truth claims in right tension” (Friesen, in EMH, 209)

  1. The Claim of Post-Orthodoxy: “We should not insist on being right about doctrine.”
  2. The Self-refutation: We insist on being right in our doctrine that we should not insist on being right in our doctrine.

The creed on non-creedalism is itself a creed.  One cannot deny orthodox doctrine without believing that his doctrine (teaching) on this matter is orthodox.

Anti-Condemnationism (Universalism)

Much of post-modern theology embraces various forms of universalism—the belief that ultimately no one will be lost.  All will be eventually saved.  In short, there is no hell—at least no one with anyone in it.  McLaren tried to side-step the issue by claiming, “More important to me than the hell question, then, is the mission [in this world] question.” (McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 114).  Jesus reconciled “all things, everywhere.”  And “Hell is full of forgiven people.” Rob Bell wrote: “Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making” (Bell, Velvet Jesus, 146).  He added, “So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals.  It is the reconciliation of all things.” (Bell in “Find the Big Jesus: An Interview with Rob Bell” in www.beliefnet.com).  His recent book Love Wins claims that God will keep on loving everyone in this life and in the next until everyone accepts it.

 
  1. The Claim of Universalism: “All persons (free agents) will be saved.”
  2. The Self-refutation: All persons (free agents) will be saved, even those who do not freely chose to be saved.
  1. S. Lewis pinpointed problem with universalism:

When one says, “All will be saved,” my reason retorts, “Without their will, or with it?”  If I say, “Without their will,” I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say, “With their will,” my reason replies, “How, if they will not give in?” (The Problem of Pain, 106-107).

As C.S. Lewis put it elsewhere, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, `Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end. `Thy will be done.’  All that are in Hell, chose it.  Without that self-choice there could be no Hell” (The Great Divorcce, 69). Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37).  Contrary to Rob Bell, it is because God is loving and man is free that there must be a hell.  God can’t force people into heaven anymore than we can force someone to love us.  Love always works persuasively but never coercively.

 

Anti-Individualism

Another dimension to much of emergent thinking is anti-individualism or collectivism.  McLaren wrote: “He said he had been raised, as I had, to believe that the central story of the Bible was about saving individual souls.  The gospel, as he (and I) had understood it, was about getting individual souls to heaven…. First, it smacked of selfishness.  Would God want a heaven full of people who wanted to be ‘saved’ but didn’t want to be good?… Second, in a postmodern context, he said, the individualism of this approach sounded downright evil…” (McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, 62).

Unfortunately, it is self-defeating to claim God is interested in group but not in individuals.  For all groups are made up of individuals.  And while good wants us to belong to a body and to have unity in our community of believers, nonetheless, in the final analysis all salvation is individual.  God does not save people by groups or even families.  He saves them one by one, individual by individual.  This, of course, plays into the hands of ecumenism and the world-church movement which, as we know, is a characteristic of the end-times.  Salvation is only found in the whole, not in each person or part.  Indeed, the bible says, “Each one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

This anti-individualism is manifest in the post-denominationalism of the post-modoren chrch.  As Friesen put it, “Orthoparadox theology may be understood as supporting a form of ecumenism, which broadens the conversation beyond the church to include and engage cultural voices” (Friesen, inEMH, 209).  Of course, this post-denominationalism will lead ultimately to the super-denominationalism of the world church.  Tony Campolo tells how this union of seemingly opposed views may emerge. In his book Speaking My Mind he says: “A theology of mysticism provides some hope for common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both religions have within their histories examples of ecstatic union with God, which seem at odds with their own spiritual traditions but have much in common with each other. I do not know what to make of the Muslim mystics, especially those who have come to be known as the Sufis. What do they experience in their mystical experience? Could they have encountered the same God we do in our Christian mysticism?” (149,150)

 

Anti-Inerrantism

Evangelical Christians affirm that the Bible is the inerrant (without error) Word of God.  Why?  Because the Bible is the Word of God, and God cannot error (Jn. 17:17; Heb. 6:18).  So, the Bible cannot err.

This historic and biblical position is opposed by the anti-inerrantism of postmodernism.  McLaren wrote: “Incompleteness and error are part of the reality of human beings” (McLaren, COS, 173).  Grenz added, “Our listening to God’s voice [in Scripture] does not need to be threatened by scientific research into Holy Scripture” (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 116).  He added, “The Bible is revelation because it is the [errant] witness to and the [errant] record of the historical revelation of God” (Grenz, ibid., 133).

McClaren rejects the view that: “The Bible is the ultimate authority…. There are no contradictions in it, and it is absolutely true and without errors in all it says.  Give up these assertions, and you’re on a slippery slope to losing your whole faith” (McLaren, GO, 133-134). He claims that “Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one’s belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority” (GO, 164).

However, the anti-inerrancy view is also trapped in self-contradiction.  Consider the following:

  1. The Claim of Errantists: “No human writing is without error.”
  2. The Self-refutation: This claim (that no human writing is without error) is without error.

Like all the foregoing self-defeating claims of post-modernism, they set the trap and fall in it themselves.  Jesus declared: “Your Word is truth.” (Jn. 17:17).  He added elsewhere, “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.” (Jn.10:34-35). “Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men…, making the word of God of no effect through your traditions.” (Mk. 7:8, 13).   Paul declared that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God….”(2 Tim. 3:16). The Scripture is the Word of God (Rom. 9:6) and God cannot err (Titus 1:2).  Jesus said, “’It is written’…by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Mt. 4:4).  Since the Bible is the very words of God, then to attribute error to the Bible, is to attribute error to God.

This is not to say that there are no difficulties in the Bible.  There are.  But St. Augustine’s dictum put it well: “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood.”  (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5)

Emerging Problems with the Emergent Church

Post-modern theology is self-defeating. It stands on the pinnacle of its own absolute and relativizes everything else. It is an unorthodox creedal attack on orthodox creeds. It attacks modernism in the culture but is an example of postmodernism in the church.  In an attempt to reach the culture it capitulates to the culture.  In trying to be geared to the times, it is no longer anchored to the Rock. It is not an emerging church; it is really a submerging church.

As Mark Driscoll aptly put it, “The emergent church is the latest version of liberalism.  The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity” (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformation REV, 21).

The Emergent Church is the Submergent Church.  To put it poetically: The Emergent Church is built on sand, and it will not stand.  Christ’s Church is build on Stone, and it can not be overthrown (Matt. 16:16-18)

Answering a Final Objection

Some post-modernism try to avoid the painful logic of their own self-defeating statements by claiming that they are not making any truth claims.  Strange as this may seem, it does not solve their problem.  C. S. Lewis pinpointed the problem well when he wrote “You can argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome’: but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome, but I’m not saying this is true.’  I feel that this surrender of the claim to truth has all the air of an expedient adopted at the last moment.  If [they]…do not claim to know any truths, ought they not to have warned us rather earlier of the fact? For really from all the books they have written…one would have got the idea that they were claiming to give a true account of things.  The fact surely is that they nearly always are claiming to do so.  The claim is surrendered only when the question discussed…is pressed; and when the crisis is over the claim is tacitly resumed” (Lewis,Miracles, 24).  In short, either the post-modern is making truth claims or he is not.  If he is, then his views are self-defeating.  If he is not, then he is not even in the stadium.  He can’t play the “game” unless he is on the field.  By claiming that he is making no truth claim, then he has disqualified himself in the arena of truth.

 

Works Evaluating Post-Modern Theology

There are many works evaluating aspects of post-modernism.  The following works are highly recommended for further consideration.

Adler, Mortimer. Truth in Religion.

Carson, D. A.  Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

Carlson, Jason. “My Journey Into and Out Of the Emergent Church.”

Driscoll, Mark. Confessions of a Reformation REV.

Geisler, Norman.  DVD on Post-modernism (http://ngim.org).

Geisler, Norman.  Systematic Theology in One Volume. (link)

Gibbs, Eddie and Ryan Bolger.  Emerging Churches.

Howe, Thomas ed., Christian Apologetics Journal, volume 7, No. 1 (Spring, 2008, www.ses.edu/journal.htm)

Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church.

Myron Penner ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (pro and con)

Rofle, Kevin, Here We Stand.

Smith, R. Scott, Truth and The New Kind of Christian.

Robert Weber, Listening to the Beliefs of Emergent Churches (pro and con)

 

Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved