Book Review: Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate (2016)

Book Review of Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Christopher T. Haun[1]

[Click here >> Book Review – Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate to open this review as a PDF file.]

Title:

Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate
Publisher: Wipf & Stock
Date: 2016
General Editor: F. David Farnell
Contributors: F. David Farnell, Norman L. Geisler, Joseph P. Holden, William C. Roach, Phil Fernandes, Robert Wilkin, Paige Patterson, Shawn Nelson, Christopher T. Haun
PAGES: 563

PRICE:

$85.00 (Hardcover), $64.00 (Paperback)[2]

Kindle: $15.00 at Amazon.com

 

In Kurosawa’s classic film The Seven Samurai, desperate farmers convince veteran warriors to help defend their village and harvest from raiding bandits. Six ronin and one apprentice accept the challenge. After fortifying the village and giving the farmers a crash course in asymmetric warfare, the seven samurai lead the defense when the marauders return. Some of this story line and imagery came to mind as I read Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate (VIID) because first and foremost it is a defense.

Twenty-eight of its thirty-two chapters are written by six veteran scholars (holding PhDs in various fields). Four of its chapters are written by two MDiv candidates. In every chapter the authors are, as the preface says, “earnestly contending for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s people.” Every one of its meaty pages defends the traditional, conservative evangelical views of inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics from the destructive use of biblical criticism. By extension they are defending all the propositions in and doctrines derived from the Bible.

VIID is an anthology of some of the best and most recent articles on topics of inerrancy, hermeneutic, and the quest for the historical Jesus. While it does weave in some of the history of the main clashes in the battle for the Bible in the twentieth century—such as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy, Fuller, Ladd, Rogers, McKim, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), ETS and Robert Gundry—it doesn’t linger on them. Mainly it offers fresh and intelligent responses to the newest wave of challenges to the Bible offered by evangelicals in books like The Resurrection of Jesus (IVP, 2010), The Lost World of Scripture (IVP, 2013), Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship (Baker, 2013), Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan, 2013), Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Brazos, 2014), Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP, 2015), Peter: False Disciple and Apostate According to Saint Matthew (Eerdmans, 2015), and I (Still) Believe (Zondervan, 2015).

Here is a sampling of the many thought-provoking questions which are discussed: How much emphasis should genre be given when doing interpretation? What is the nature of historical narratives? How do hermeneutics and inerrancy interrelate? Are the ideas of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy still important and relevant? What do the three living framers of the Chicago statements (Sproul, Packer, and Geisler) say about the new hermeneutic and the redefinitions of inerrancy? How do we deal with difficult passages in the Bible? What did the framers of the ICBI statements really mean? Where should one turn to get clarification about the Chicago Statements? Are the academic institutions of the evangelical world failing to learn the lessons of the past? Was the Apostle Matthew an Apostate? Which view has continuity with the early church fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformers, the writers of the 12-volume The Fundamentals, and the old Princetonians? Is inerrancy just for Calvinists? How early were the gospels really written? Is inerrancy just a peripheral doctrine? Is inerrancy derived from inductive and/or deductive logic? Was Matthew really the only one to mention the raising of the saints in Matthew 27? What do the Church fathers say about Matthew 27? Did any ancient Romans detect the influence of Roman historiography in Matthew 27? Should inerrancy be used as a litmus test of orthodoxy? Are the tools of biblical criticism really neutral? Does purpose or intention determine meaning? What does “truth” really mean? Is an intentionalist view of truth an alternative to the correspondence view of truth? Why did Bart Ehrman drift from fundamentalism to liberalism? What was the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention? Is there a resurgence of neo-evangelicalism? How does postmodernism fit into all this? Should the story of Adam and Eve be taken literally? Should organizations enforce their doctrinal statements amongst their own members? Does every scholarly evangelical organization lose its grip on inerrancy by the third generation? Should apologists defend both the Faith and the Bible? Should evangelicals send their budding scholars to earn PhDs at schools that specialize in biblical criticism?

VIID is provocative. The most controversial thing about the book is probably its willingness to name the names of many influential men. I’m not just talking about the old rascals like Bacon, Barth, Bart D. Ehrman, Bultmann, Darwin, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Lessing, Perrin, Reimarus, Schweitzer, Spinoza, Strauss, Tillich, Troeltsch, and von Harnack. VIID does mention them. But if focuses more on the also names the names of present and recent scholars, publishers, and bloggers: Ben Meyer, Birger Gerhadsson, Bruce Waltke, Carlos Bovell, Charles Talbert, Christopher Ansberry, Christopher Hays, Christian Smith, Clark Pinnock, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, D. Brent Sandy, Daniel P. Fuller, Daniel Harlow, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, David Capes, David E. Garland, Donald Hagner, Donald K. McKim, Douglas Moo, Edwin Yamauchi, E. P. Sanders, Ernst Wendland, Gary R. Habermas, George Eldon Ladd, Gerd Theissen, Grant R. Osborne, Gregory A. Boyd, H. C. Kee, Heath Thomas, I. Howard Marshall, J. Merrick, J. P. Holding, Jack B. Rogers, James Barr, James Bruckner, James Charlesworth, James Crossley, James D. G. Dunn, Jeremy Evans, James Hamilton, Joel N. Lohr, Joel Watts, John Byron, John R. Franke, John Schneider, John H. Walton, Justin Taylor, Ken Schenck, Kenton Sparks, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Lee McDonald, Leith Anderson, Leon Morris, Martin Soskice, Matthew Montonini, Michael F. Bird, Michael Green, Michael R. Licona, Moises Silva, Murray Harris, N.T. Wright, Nick Peters, Nijya Gupta, Paul Copan, Paul Jewett, Peter E. Enns, Paul Ricouer, Peter H. Davids, Phillip Long, Richard Burridge, Richard Horsley, Robert H. Gundry, Robert W. Yarborough, Robert Webb, Scot McKnight, Stephen M. Garrett, Thomas Schreiner, Tremper Longman III, W. David Beck, Walter Liefield, William Lane Craig, William Warren, and William Webb. (I probably missed a few!) Many of these men are held in high esteem in by many evangelicals. And yet VIID says that each of these men have in some way and to some degree challenged the parameters delineated by the ICBI in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI, 1978) and The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (CSBH, 1983).

Standing in the watchman tradition of books like The Battle for the Bible (Lindsell, 1976), The Bible in the Balance (Lindsell, 1979), The Jesus Crisis (Thomas and Farnell, 1998), The Jesus Quest (Geisler and Farnell, 2014), and Defending Inerrancy (Geisler and Roach, 2011), an exposé of this scope runs the risk of being accused of fratricide, libel, divisiveness, disunity, faction creating, quarrelsomeness, malice, and nastiness. But really all of its authors do a remarkable job of contending without being contentious. None of the pages were stuck together with drops of venom. With a passionate concern they succeeded in “not be[ing] quarrelsome but . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Ti. 2:4) and in “not regard[ing] him as an enemy but warn[ing] him as a brother” (2 Th. 3:15).

There is merit in the maxim “attack the idea, not the man who holds it.” Perhaps the Apostle Paul anticipated this question when he wrote, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Co. 10:5). Ultimately the good fight of faith is not against people but against opinions and thoughts. But then must the defense always preclude the naming of names? As much as we might all prefer to avoid pointing fingers, it seems unavoidable at times. When specific professors are saying specific things to specific audiences, the defense cannot be sufficiently meaningful (certainly not in any actionable sense) unless specific names are named and their actual words are exposed and evaluated.

Also, in the act of naming names of men spreading ideas they deem corrosive to the orthodox faith, these watchmen are following apostolic precedents. The Apostle John named Cain as the old rascal who should not be imitated (1 Jn. 3:2) and named Diotrephes as the noteworthy contemporary antagonist inside the network of first-century churches. He described Diotrephes as one who does not properly recognize apostolic authority, who spoke “wicked nonsense” against them, and who should not be followed (3 Jn. 9-12). Similarly the Apostle Paul named Jannes and Jambres as the old rascals who will serve as patterns for many in these last days (2 Ti. 3:1-9). He also generalized that “all who are in Asia have turned away from me” and singled out Phygelus and Hermogenes as noteworthy examples (2 Ti. 1:15). Similarly he warned about Demas—a man who had been one of Paul’s coworkers and companions—because he preferred the world (2 Ti. 4:10). Paul also wanted church leaders to be wary of “Alexander the coppersmith” who “did me great harm” and “strongly opposed our message” (2 Ti. 4:14-15). He urged Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths . . . which promote speculations rather than . . . a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These “certain persons” had “wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers. . . without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Ti. 13-7). He named three of them by name (“among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” and “among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus”). These were men who also were operating inside the first-century network of apostolic churches. They were insiders who had “made shipwreck of their faith” and “swerved from the truth.” They were “upsetting the faith of some” with “irreverent babble” that will “lead people into more and more ungodliness” and “spread like gangrene” (1 Ti. 1:19-20; 2 Ti. 2:16-18). Similarly the authors of VIID are attempting to warn the Bible-believing world that many of the professors at evangelical schools (who generally earned their PhDs from prestigious post-protestant, anti-evangelical schools) are leading evangelicals away from evangelical orthodoxy through the use of unorthodox methodology.

VIID also runs the risk of being accused of trying to stymie the progress of biblical scholarship, of trying to keep us stuck in the past, of interfering with the grand quest to “follow the truth wherever it leads,” and of thus being overall anti-intellectual and anti-scholarly. But VIID is an intellectual and scholarly attempt to discourage the use of corrosive literary criticism while encouraging healthy biblical scholarship. The authors urge considering of lessons of the past which show how the higher critical path leads not to pinnacles of illumination, enlightenment, and progress but to precipices of doubt. The application of feminist criticism, form criticism, genre criticism, historical criticism, Marxist criticism, midrash criticism, mythological criticism, New Criticism, new historical criticism, post-colonial criticism, post-structuralist criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, redaction criticism, rhetorical criticism, sociological criticism, source criticism, and whatever the next flavor of literary criticism that becomes vogue among secular scholars in the next decade all have one thing in common: They are critical and revolutionary by nature. Progress is made by challenging traditions and creating new knowledge with new wisdom. VIID insists that when evangelical scholars use secular literary criticism in their biblical criticism, it will ultimately lead to the same doctrinal graveyard that the neo-orthodox and liberal/modernist scholars filled in former decades with their use of higher criticism. The speculations produced during the exercise of critical methodologies is invariably given precedence over the plain meanings in the text of the Bible, once again the word of God is nullified for the sake of human traditions.

The neo-evangelical revolution is also changing the field of historical-evidential Christian apologetics. More than once VIID touches upon the rising tendency among evangelical biblical scholars to meet the historical critics on their own turf. They often create scholarly defenses for the big things—such as the general historical reliability of the gospels and the historical likelihood of the resurrection of Jesus—while being overly willing to amputate some of the seemingly less defensible and more dispensable propositions in the Bible. This innovative (non-classical) approach seems to be creating a division between those satisfied with defending a historical, creedal, and “mere” Christianity and those who would also defend the Bible in whole and part.

Some of VIID’s chapters are derived from articles originally posted at DefendingInerrancy.com, a website that has had more than 200,000 visits, 55,000 Facebook likes, and 48,000 signatures on its petition in support of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. These statistics suggest that the latest battle for the Bible has not been lost yet. In The Magnificent Seven, a western adaptation of The Seven Samurai, the plot is further complicated by the ongoing question of whether the villagers will allow the bandits to continue to fleece them or whether they will really rise up and join the veterans in the fight. What will the villagers in the evangelical village do about neo-evangelical and neo-orthodox scholarship that is robbing them of their doctrinal heritage? To borrow a phrase from the oaths sworn by those seeking either citizenship or high office in the United States, will we defend our constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic?” Will we fight the good fight of faith not just against the siegeworks erected outside the city walls but also against those that have been smuggled inside the walls? Or will we watch the undermined walls collapse mysteriously around us and wonder how our harvest was plundered again? For those fighting the good fight of faith, Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate deserves consideration.

 

Chapter by Chapter

The book begins with a one-page tribute to Dr. Norman Geisler by the other contributors for his decades of defending and commending the faith. Indeed he is “worthy of a double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). The two-page foreword by Dr. Paige Patterson sets the tone well with a call to continued vigilance. Patterson also provides excellent insights into the history of the inerrancy debate. He was part of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and remembers it well. The two-page preface acknowledges the debt to the ICBI and adds another dimension to the history of the debate. The first 115 pages are devoted to defining inerrancy. The remaining pages are devoted to defending it.

The first chapter is titled “The Historic Documents of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.” It is 17 pages long and is largely a condensed adaptation of the book Explaining Biblical Inerrancy (Bastion Books, 2012). Geisler begins by pointing out that he is currently one of the last three living framers of the three statements produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He writes to “dispel some contemporary misinterpretations of what the ICBI framers meant by inerrancy” and to set the record straight. He enumerates the four fundamental documents of the ICBI (all four of which are collected in Explaining Biblical Inerrancy) and the other important books produced by the ICBI. He explains why the ICBI view of inerrancy is important. He explains the four main areas where scholars on the more liberal end of the evangelical spectrum (and usually holding membership in the Evangelical Theological Society and signing agreement with CSBI) have ignored, misunderstood, or otherwise challenged the CSBI: (1) the meaning of “truth,” (2) the function of genre, (3) the nature of historical narratives, (4) the relationship between hermeneutics and inerrancy. He very ably bolsters these four areas. He also gives a subtle challenge to the Evangelical Theological Society to enforce their doctrinal statement among its members. This chapter also includes all the articles of affirmation and denial from the CSBI and CSBH. This may then be the first time these two statements have ever been put together in their entirely and placed into a printed book. This was an unbeatable choice for a first chapter. This is something everyone in the ETS and EPS should come to grips with. Those who appreciate this chapter will enjoy its expansion in Explaining Biblical Inerrancy.

Chapter two is titled “What Is Inerrancy and Why Should We Care?” It is only four pages long and is written by Geisler and Shawn Nelson. It begins with a brief explanation of the three “in’s”: Inspiration, Infallibility, and Inerrancy. It gives four reasons why inerrancy is important and ultimately an essential—not peripheral—doctrine. Pointing to CSBI as the standard for describing what inerrancy is and is not, it proceeds to explain that the historical view of inerrancy is under attack right now. It gives a focus on the new wave of challenges to CSBI that arguably began in 2010 with various published and spoken statements by apologist Michael Licona.

Chapter three is also by Nelson and is titled “A Voice from a New Generation: What’s at Stake?” Nelson makes it clear the attack upon inerrancy by Michael Licona in 2010 exposed a much bigger problem. Several highly esteemed scholars from the ETS (Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Daniel Wallace, J.P. Moreland, W. David Beck, Jeremy Evans, Craig Keener, Douglas Moo, Heath Thomas, William Warren, and Edwin Yamauchi) publically voiced their support for Licona’s right to trump both CSBI and CSBH with form criticism and historical criticism. And this despite very clear statements in both ICBI statements on inerrancy (CSBI and CSBH) that guard against the exact type of maneuver Licona was using. Nelson gives a helpful tour of the historical views of biblical inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. He cites Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Pseudo-Barnabas, Papias, Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine. He also gives a helpful and concise tour of how the thought of Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, and Darwin led to a growing popularity of biblical errancy. He distinguishes between Evangelical, Liberal, and Neo-Evangelical views. He projects that the erosion of inerrancy will lead to further doubt and uses the regress of Bart Erhman as an example we should learn from. He makes additional arguments for the importance of an uncompromising view of inerrancy and ends with recommendations for staunching the decay.

Chapter four is written by F. David Farnell and titled, “Evangelical Mentoring: The Danger from Within.” With a shepherd’s heart and a scholar’s eye, Farnell starts by contrasting faithful mentoring with radical mentoring. A considerable amount of Jesus’ earthly ministry was in opposition with those who had interpretations of the Bible that made null the Word of God null. These men were disciples in a tradition and they were making disciples in that tradition. Jesus chose disciples like Peter and Paul to carry on his traditions and make disciples. Paul was a mentor to reliable men like Timothy and Titus. These men were to be mentors to other faithful men who could teach others. Farnell reminds us that some traditions attempt to stay faithful to the apostolic tradition and to the scriptures while other traditions do not represent them faithfully. In a way, it all comes down to mentoring. Against this backdrop he explains his concerns over some of the eighteen professors showcased in the 2015 book titled I Still Believe. He focuses upon the testimonies of Donald Hagner, Bruce Waltke, James Dunn, and Scot McKnight. He’s left questioning whether many of the professors—the teachers of the future teachers—in many evangelical institutions are passing on doubts rather than faith to the students who have been entrusted to them.

Chapter five is a review by Geisler of the 2013 book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (FVBI). He begins by pointing out three serious problems with the approach of this book. Having five views in dialogue for inerrancy suggests that inerrancy is “up for grabs” when it really is not. There are not five views. There are ultimately two views. Either the Bible contains errors and contradictions or it does not. Also, of the five authors, only one is an actual inerrantist; the other four are varying degrees of errantists. The deck seems stacked. And since the book was to discuss the CSBI, why were none of the three living framers of the CSBI (Sproul, Packer, or Geisler) asked to participate in a dialogue? His review is 39 meaty pages in length. It’s daunting to try to summarize it. He points out that the Evangelical Theological Society officially adopted the CSBI as its definition of inerrancy. He provides five reasons for the importance and fundamental position of inerrancy. He notes that some of the authors of FVBI misunderstand “truth” and some of them wrongly assume purpose determines meaning. Propositional revelation, accommodation, lack of precision, the role of extra-biblica data, the role of hermeneutics, and the role of extra-biblical genre, pluralism, conventionalism, and foundationalism are all discussed. Geisler nails the coffin lid shut on the question of whether Licona’s views can be harmonized with CSBI and CSBH by pointing out that all three of the remaining framers of the Chicago statements (Sproul, Packer, and Geisler) have confirmed that they cannot. The story of ETS and Robert Gundry is retold. Examples of dealing with bible difficulties (what some of the authors of FBVI would call contradictions) in the OT and NT are given. Geisler also answers the errantists charges against inerrantists of being unbiblical, unhistorical, using the slippery slope argument, being parochial, unethical, divisive, and unloving. Reading this chapter reminded me that Geisler deserves the tribute that the book begins with.

Chapter six is by Dr. William Roach and is titled “The 2015 Shepherds’ Conference on Inerrancy.” John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary hosted a conference on inerrancy in March 2015. They reaffirmed the importance of holding to total inerrancy and to defining it as the CSBI did. This seven page article reports positively on that conference.

Chapter seven is a fascinating interview William Roach conducted with Paige Patterson. They discuss the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention and how their seminaries were rescued from errantism. It discusses what interplay there was between it and the ICBI.

In chapter eight Geisler answers the question of whether one has to be a Calvinist to believe in inerrancy. Many of the leaders of the later ICBI inerrancy movement were

strong Calvinists but most of the signers of the ICBI statements on inerrancy identified as moderate Calvinists, Cal-minians, Arminians, Wesleyans, “or some other label.” Geisler establishes continuity with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Warfield, Hodge, Wesley, and other Wesleyans. He shows how they upheld inerrancy. He concludes, “Inerrancy is neither a late nor a denominational doctrine. It is not provincial but universal. It is the foundation for every group that names the name of Christ. . .”

Chapter nine is where Geisler reexamines the relationship between inerrancy and hermeneutics. He is tackling the claim that is made by those who defend the attacks against CSBI and CSBH by saying, “Leave him alone. It’s just a matter of interpretation, not of inerrancy.” This could be the most important chapter of the book as it tackles what may be the thing that evangelicals have had the hardest time understanding. Today many evangelicals can try to claim to be inerrantists and to agree with CSBI while promoting hermeneutical gymnastics to trump inerrancy. Yet it was clear to the wise leaders of the ICBI that after producing the CSBI still had to proceed to create the CSBH. What good is it to reinforce the front door while leaving the backdoor unlocked? Geisler discusses how this played out with the controversies surrounding Jack Rodgers, Robert Gundry, Paul Jewett, and Michael Licona. He challenges various assumptions: inspiration and interpretation are separate matters, allegorical interpretation, truth is not correspondence to facts, biblical narratives are not necessarily historical, hermeneutic is neutral, and more.

In chapter ten Geisler responds to William Lane Craig’s advocacy of limited inerrancy based on inductive logic and his argument against unlimited inerrancy as based on deductive logic. Naturally Geisler begins with the question of whether inerrancy has an inductive or deductive basis. Explaining the “false disjunction,” the chapter quickly becomes a delight for those of us who appreciate logic. He then proceeds to tackle Craig’s claims that only the author’s intentions (and not all affirmations) are inerrant, that only essential matters are inerrant but not peripheral matters, and that extra-biblical genre determines the meaning of biblical texts. He discusses the question of genre and explains how inerrancy is an essential doctrine. He discusses Licona’s errors. He contrasts the evangelical and neo-evangelical views of inerrancy and reminds that the ETS adopted CSBI in 2006 as its definition of inerrancy. Geisler also makes the important correction that Kenneth Kantzer, the professor Craig claims to have learned the doctrine of inerrancy from, was actually a committed follower of the Warfield-Hodge view of total inerrancy. Kantzer would have been “clearly opposed to the Craig-Licona view of limited inerrancy.” He also reminds Craig that Packer, Sproul, and Geisler have all confirmed that Licona’s view of Mt 27 (which Craig also essentially holds) is not compatible at all with CSBI or CSBH. He concludes saying, “Thus evangelicalism is the rightful owner of unlimited inerrancy, and those professed evangelicals who modify it or limit it to redemptive matters are, at best, the rightful owners of the term Neo-Evangelical.”

Chapter eleven is by Farnell and is titled “Early Twentieth Century Challenges to Inerrancy.” Encouraging us to learn from history in order to not repeat its mistakes, Farnell compares what was happening in the early twentieth century (with the fundamentalist-modernist controversy) and what is happening here in the early twenty-first century (with the evangelical-neoevangelical controversy). The parallels seem uncanny. He explains how and why the The Fundamentals was produced and “left as a testimony by the faithful to the early twentieth-century church’s experience of the attack on orthodox Protestant beliefs, conducted aggressively by higher criticism, liberal theology, Catholicism. . . , socialism, Modernism, atheism, Christian Science, Mormonism, Millennial Dawn, Spiritualism, and evolutionism that had infiltrated its ranks and subsequently caused great damage within the church with regard to its vitality and theology. Above all, they left it as a warning to future generations in hopes of preventing a similar occurrence among God’s people in the future.” Farnell points out that after the divinity schools fell to modernism new schools like Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Fuller Seminary were planted to serve as bastions of conservative, biblical doctrine, inerrancy, and the fundamentals of the faith.

In chapter twelve, Farnell picks up where he left off in chapter 11. He discusses the challenges (or crisis) in the twenty-first century caused largely by fundamentalist or evangelical scholars seeking the respect of mainline academia. Many of the young scholars were sent to Ivy League, British, or Continental European schools to earn their PhDs. Many schools began to hire professors who were from these schools that were dominated by theological liberalism. With them came the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth. He explains how Fuller Seminary drifted away from evangelical views about the Bible and became rather neo-evangelical. He discusses Ladd, Lindsell, Rogers, McKim, Woodbridge, Gundry, Barr, ICBI, ETS, Blomberg, Silva, Geisler, The Jesus Crisis, Bock, Webb, Osborne, The Jesus Quest, the third quest for the historical Jesus, Perrin, Ladd, Roach, Defending Inerrancy, Sparks, McCall, Thompson, Yarbrough, Linnemann, Gundry, more Blomberg, Dan Wallace, Bill Craig, Hagner, Ehrman, and more. This provides an excellent history which filled in many gaps for me. It shows that critical scholarship is still going today where it went in the past.

Chapter thirteen is titled “The Resurgence of Neo-Evangelicalism: Craig Blomberg’s Latest Book and the Future of Evangelical Theology.” Here William Roach provides a concise but helpful historical backdrop of the controversies over inerrancy. He is primarily critiquing Craig Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe the Bible? But he also weaves in some other recent works by neo-evangelicals who advocate errantism. He corrects some inaccuracies and confirms that Blomberg is yet another scholar who is “now willing to move beyond the vision and legacy of classic evangelicalism and the ICBI.” In his critique of Blomberg’s ideas he also weaves in many other related bits with mastery of the subject matter.

In chapter fourteen Phil Fernandez describes how the battle for the Bible has begun again. He begins by saying, “This chapter is not meant to divide brothers in Christ. Rather, it is a call to honesty. Those who call themselves evangelicals must truly be evangelicals. . . . If we sign a doctrinal statement, we must actually believe what we affirmed in that statement. We should not have the liberty to redefine the doctrines addressed in that statement. . . . this chapter should not be understood as an attack on Christian brothers. Rather, it is an indictment on the present state of evangelical scholarship itself.” He explains how the battle for the Bible raged in the 1970s and how it led to the ICBI. He discusses the reason for Robert Gundry being asked to leave the ETS and how the ETS did not vote Clark Pinnock out. He also sees a revival of the battle for the Bible starting with Mike Licona in 2010. He discusses the problems of genre and historiography in a way that harmonizes well with the other chapters but which also remains distinct. One thing that stood out to me was the way Phil tied in the minimal facts case for the resurrection. He says, it “is a great way to defend the resurrection. But, we must never allow the minimal facts case to evolve into a minimal facts evangelicalism or a minimal facts New Testament scholarship.” He challenges the ETS to enforce and even enlarge their doctrinal statement.

Chapter fifteen considers the question of whether or not biblical inerrancy as a “litmus test” of evangelical orthodoxy. This was written by Christopher Haun in response to a blog post written by Daniel Wallace. Wallace had pointed out that Carl F. H. Henry remained averse to setting biblical inerrancy as the litmus test of orthodoxy. Haun attempts to show how Wallace is partially right and partially wrong. He clarifies Henry’s position using several quotes by Henry himself and some by Ronald Nash.

Farnell is asking “Can We Still Believe Critical Evangelical Scholars?” in chapter sixteen. He reminds us of how vibrant Christianity had been in the 18th and 19th centuries and then asks how so many churches and cathedrals are boarded up now. How did British and Scottish universities become spiritually dead? And why do American evangelicals still go there to get their PhDs?  He explains that the change was internal. He explains a few forces of change and talks about why things were different in the United States. One of the differences is that two wealthy laymen paid for a project that would produce the twelve volume set of The Fundamentals between 1910 and 1917. Three million of those volumes were distributed. As schools like Princeton succumbed to the forces of apostasy, schools like Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary were started. He compares the similarities between the 20th and 21st century scenes and encourages us to learn the lessons of the past. He discusses some of the harmful ideas of Ladd, Blomberg, Hagner, and more.

In chapter seventeen Farnell discusses “The ‘Magic’ of Historical Criticism.” This is a 59 page essay.

In chapters 18 and 19, Farnell gives a “Critical Evaluation of Robert H. Gundry’s Westmont College Lecture, ‘Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew’”

In chapter 20 Geisler and Farnell provide “A Critical Review of Donald Hagner’s ‘Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship’”

Chapter 21. Geisler sets the record straight on “On Licona Muddying the Waters of the Chicago Statements of Biblical Inerrancy and Hermeneutics.”

 

Chapter 22. Geisler sets the record straight on “The Early Church Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27:51–54.”

Chapter 23. Geisler reviews Craig Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe in the Bible? He shows how Blomberg’s views contradict, misunderstand, and attack the ICBI view on inerrancy. He responds to Blomberg’s Defense of Robert Gundry, Murray Harris, Mike Licona

Chapter 24 | ICBI Inerrancy Is Not for the Birds | Joseph Holden responds to the “current trend among evangelical New Testament scholars to utilize or approve of genre criticism (e.g., Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Carlos Bovell, Kevin Vanhoozer, et al.) to dehistoricize the biblical text appears to stem from an aversion to the correspondence view of truth.”

Chapter 25. Contemporary Evangelical NT Genre Criticism Opening Pandora’s Box? Joseph M. Holden

Chapter 26 | Book Review: Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? |Joseph M. Holden

Chapter 27 | Book Review: The Lost World of Adam and Eve | Norman L. Geisler

Chapter 28 | An Exposition and Refutation of the Key Presuppositions of Contemporary Jesus Research | Phil Fernandes

Chapter 29 | Redating the Gospels | Phil Fernandes

Chapter 30 | Misinterpreting J. I. Packer on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics | William C. Roach and Norman L. Geisler

Chapter 31 | Can We Still Trust New Testament Professors? | Bob Wilkin

Chapter 32 | Christopher T. Haun explores the question of whether ancient Romans detected the influence of Roman historiography in Matthew 27:45–54 or not. He puts the theory that Roman historians influenced Matthew’s way of reporting history to the test by examining thirty case studies where ancient Romans referred to one or more of the events in Matthew 27:45–54. Did any of the ancients interpret these events less than literally? He also revisits the three case studies that Licona cited in The Resurrection of Jesus.

Epilogue | Historical Criticism vs. Grammatico-Historical: Quo Vadis Evangelicals? | F. David Farnell

Appendix: Statements on the Importance of Inerrancy from Prominent Christian Leaders

[1] Christopher T. Haun is a Master’s Degree candidate at Veritas Evangelical Seminary and an editorial associate at Bastion Books. This book review was written for the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics.

[2] To purchase at a 40% discount, use “inerrant” as a coupon code upon checkout at http://wipfandstock.com/vital-issues-in-the-inerrancy-debate.html. Also available at http://www.amazon.com/Vital-Issues-Inerrancy-Debate-Farnell/dp/149823724X

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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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

A Response to Philosophical Postmodernism

A Response to Philosophical Postmodernism

by Norman L. Geisler

 

A Brief Background of Postmodernism

Premodernism is often thought of as the time before 1650 A.D.  The dominant theme was metaphysics or the study of being (reality). Modernism then began with Rene Descartes around 1650 and turned attention to epistemology or how we know.  The precise date of Post-modernism is in dispute.  Although its roots go to Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900), it did not begin to take shape until around 1950 with Martin Heidegger and began to occupy a front seat in the discussion a decade or two later with Derrida.  The primary focus of Post-modernism is hermeneutics or how to interpret.  The object of interpretation can be history, art, or literature, but deconstructing it is the center of focus.

Someone has illustrated the difference between the three periods of thought by the image of a referee.  The Pre-modern referee says: “I call them like they are.”  The Modern referee claims, “I call them like I see them.”  But the Post-modern referee declares: “They are nothing until I call them.”

Forerunners of Postmodernism

Modern western thought begins with two main streams: empiricism and rationalism.  David Hume represented the former and Rene Descartes the latter.  The empiricists stressed the senses and the rationalist the mind.  The empiricists began a posteriori in sense experience, but the rationalist began a priori with innate ideas in the mind.  Immanuel Kant synthesized the two streams, arguing that the senses provide the content of our knowledge but the mind gives form to it. He claimed that the mind without the senses is empty, but the senses without the mind are blind.  The unfortunate result of his brilliant but tragic synthesis was agnosticism. We cannot know reality as it is in itself but only as it is after it is mediated to us through the senses and formed by the categories in our mind.  Hence, metaphysics—knowing reality in itself—is impossible.

 

Kantian agnosticism gave rise to ren Kierkegaard’s fideism on the one hand and Nietzsche’s atheism on the other hand. Acknowledging the Kantian gulf between appearance and reality, Kierkegaard suggest a “leap of faith” to the “wholly other” God who transcends all capacity to know him with our minds.  Nietzsche, on the other hand preferred not to leap to an unknown God but to pronounce God dead and simply go on willing the eternal recurrence of the same state of affairs forever.

 

In the absence of any absolute Mind to express any absolute meaning, Ludwig Wittgenstein built on Frege’s conventionalism and insisted that we are all locked inside a linguistic bubble which allows us to make no cognitively meaningful statements about the mystical (metaphysical) beyond.  That is to say, without saying God is dead, he insisted that all meaningful talk about God is “dead” (i.e., meaningless).

 

Borrowing Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological method, the later Martin Heidegger posited a new hermeneutic which, giving up on any metaphysical knowledge of reality, attempted to retrieve rays of truth to shine through poetry (particularly that of Friedrich Holderlin). It is out of this context that Jacque Derrida conceived his hermeneutical method of deconstructions by which one deconstructs a text and reconstructs it over and over again.  Before we analyze that more carefully, it will be helpful to contrast Modern and Post-Modern thought in general.

Contrast of Modernism and Post-Modernism

 

As can be seen from the following chart, there is an import shift between modern and post-modern thought.  The general shift is from epistemology to hermeneutics; from absolute truth to relative truth; from seeking the author’s meaning finding to the reader’s meanings; from the structure of the text to destructing the text; from the goal of knowing truth to the journey of knowing:

 

Modernism                              Postmodernism

Unity of thought                      Diversity of thought

Rational                                   Social and psychological

Conceptual                              Visual and poetical

Truth is absolute                     Truth is relative

Exclusivism                             Pluralism

Foundationalism                     Anti-foundationalism

Epistemology                          Hermeneutics

Certainty                                 Uncertainty

Author’s meaning                   Reader’s meanings

Structure of the text                Deconstructing the text

The goal of knowing               The journey of knowing

                                  The Nature of Postmodernism

Postmodernism is a condition where [since God is dead] “anything is possible and nothing is certain” (Vaclav Havel).  Nietzsche pronounced “God is dead,” but there are several different meanings that can be given to this phrase “God is Dead.”  It can mean God is dead–

  1. Epistemologically–Kant
  2. Mythologically—Nietzsche
  3. Dialectically—Hegel
  4. Linguistically—Ayer
  5. Phenomenalogically—Husserl
  6. Existentially–Sartre
  7. Cognitively—Wittgenstein
  8. Hermeneutically—Heidegger/Derrida

Of course, many of these thinkers also believe God is dead actually(e.g., Nietzsche, Sartre, and Derrida), but this is beside the point at hand here, namely, the methodology of Post-Modern deconstructionism.

Jacques Derrida: Post-Modernism

Two of the dominant figures in Post-modernism are Jacque Derrida and Paul-Michel Foucault.  Derrida wrote:  Of Grammatology (‘67); Speech and Phenomena (‘67); Writing and Difference (‘67); Limited Inc. (1970); Post Card: From Socrates, Freud and Beyond (1972); Specters of Marx (1994).

        Foucault wrote: Madness and Civilization (1961); Death and Labyrinth (1963); The Order of Things (1966); Discipline and Punish (1975);Archaeology of Knowledge (1976), and History of Sexuality (1976-1984).
The starting point for their post-modern thought was Nietzsche’s death of God.  For if

If there is no Absolute Mind, then there is-

  1. No absolute truth (epistemological relativism)
  2. No absolute meaning (semantical relativism)
  3. No absolute history (reconstructionism)

And if there is no Absolute Author, then there is—

  1. No absolute writing (textual relativism)
  2. No absolute interpretation (hermeneutical relativism)

And if there is no Absolute Thinker, then there is—

  1. No absolute thought (philosophical relativism)
  2. No absolute laws of thought (anti-foundationalism)

And if there is no Absolute Purposer, then there is—

  1. No absolute purpose (teleological relativism)

If there is no Absolute Good, then there is—

  1. No absolute right or wrong (moral relativism)

The Death of All Absolute Values in Post-Modernism

“Without God and the future life?  How will man be after that? It means everything is permitted now” (The Brothers Karamazov, Vintage, 1991, p. 589).  As Jean Paul Sartre put it, “I knew myself alone, utterly alone in the midst of this well-meaning little universe of yours.  I was like a man who’s lost his shadow.  And there was nothing left in heaven, no right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders” (Sartre, The Flies, 121-122 in No Exit and Three Other Plays).  Aldous Huxley acknowledge this same conclusion when he wrote, “The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom” (Ends and Means, 272).

Perhaps no one described it better than Bertrand Russell when he wrote of a world without God:  “Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving…. His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms…. All the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system…. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built” (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship” (in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 67).

In short, the root of Post-modernism is atheism and the fruit of it is relativism—relativism in every area of life and thought.  Of particular interest is the post-modern attack on foundationalism, history, and textual interpretation and how this has affected Christian thought.

The Attack on Foundationalism

Foundationalism is the view that there are fundamental self-evident first principles which form the basis of all knowledge. It is at least as old as Plato and Aristotle in the Western world, though it has been the unwitting foundation of Christian Thought from the beginning of time.

There is an important distinction between two basic kinds of foundationalism often neglected by post-modern thought.  There is deductive foundationalism and reductive foundationalism.

Deductive foundationalism springs from modern rationalist like Benedict Spinoza and Rene Descartes.  It is based on a Euclidian geometric model whereby certain axioms are defined as self-evident and all other truth is deduced from them.  The problem with this is that not all axioms are necessary.  Different axioms are possible, both in mathematics and philosophy. Further, these rational axioms are empty.  They yield no knowledge about reality.  For example, saying “All triangles have three sides” does not tell us there are any triangles.  It merely says that if there are any triangles, then by definition they must have three sides.

Reductive foundationalism finds roots in Aristotle and was embraced by the great Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas.  It states that all truths are reducible to (or based on) self-evident first principles. Every statement not evident in itself must be evident in terms of something else. But there cannot be an infinite regress of non-evident statements. For an endless regress of explanations is nothing more than an attempt to explain away the need for an explanation.  Hence, there must be first self-evident statements in terms of which non-evident statements are known to be true.

First principles of knowledge are self-evident.  That is, they are a statement where the predicate term is reducible to the subject term, though not always deducible from it. The basic laws of thought include the following:

Several things are noteworthy about these first principles of thought.

First, they are all first principles of thought and being.  Why?  Because “If there were an infinite regress in demonstration, demonstration would be impossible, because the conclusion of any demonstration is made certain by reducing it to the first principle of demonstration” (Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, 244).  Or, as C. S. Lewis aptly put it, “You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.  You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.  It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque.  How if you saw through the garden too?  It is no use trying to see through first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see” (The Abolition of Man, 91).

Second, they self-evident in the reductive sense. That is, there predicate is reducible to their subject.  So that once one understand the meaning of the subject and predicate he can immediately see that they are self-evident.  For example, once one knows what the words “bachelor” and “unmarried” mean, then he knows immediately that “all bachelors are unmarried men.”  Likewise, once one knows this is a three-sided figure, then he sees immediately that it is a triangle.

Third, they are also undeniable.  That is, every attempt to deny them, affirms them (at least implicitly) in that attempted denial.  Take, for example, the Law of Existence.  I cannot deny that something exist without existing to make the denial.  The claim that I do not exists, implies that I do exist to make the denial.

Fourth, these first principles apply to all of reality.  They are metaphysical first principles.  Unlike deductive foundationalism, they are not empty and vacuous.  They are first principles of being (reality). They begin with something exists.

Fifth, from these principles one can demonstrate the existence and central attributes of God. For if something exists (#1), and if nothing cannot cause something (#5), then something eternal and necessary must exists. And whatever else exists, then it must be similar to God in its being (#7).  But not all being is a necessary being (#6). For example, I am a contingent being, that is, I am, but I might not be.  My non-existence is possible.  But I am a knowing and moral being (which is undeniable).  Hence there must be an eternal and necessary Being who is a knowing and moral Being that exists (i.e., God).  And if God exists, then absolute thought, values, and meaning also exists.  In short, post-modernism is wrong.

 

A Critique of Postmodernism

 

            This critique can be applied to other areas of post-modern thought, for example, to deconstructionism in history and textual interpretation.  Let’s briefly apply it to history.

 

A Critique of Post-Modern View of History

 

According to a post-modern view of history, we must deconstruct all historical accounts of the past since they are relative and not objective.  This, of course, would be destructive of  orthodox Christianity since it is a historic religion.  We believe, as the Apostles’ Creed says, that Jesus “was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried… [and] the third day He arose again from the dead.”  These are all historical claims, and if history is unknowable, then we cannot know these to be true.  But is history really unknowable?  Let’s briefly examine the post-modern arguments for the unknowability of history. One historical relativist said, “The event itself, the facts, do not say anything, do not impose any meaning. It is the historian who speaks, who imposes a meaning” (Carl L. Becker, “What Are Historical Facts?” in The Philosophy of History in Our Time, p. 131).

However, there is a serious self-defeating problem with this claim.  How can one know that something is not objective history unless he has an objective knowledge of history that enables him to say that a particular view of history is not objective.  One cannot know not-that unless he knows that.  And he cannot know not-objective history unless he knows objective history.  Second, it is self-defeating to deny objectivity in history.  Even Charles Beard, the apostle of historical relativity himself, wrote: “Contemporary criticism shows that the apostle of relativity is destined to be destroyed by the child of his own brain.”  For, “If all historical conceptions are merely relative to passing events…then the conceptions of relativity is itself relative.”  In short, “the apostle of relativity will surely be executed by his own logic” (Meyerhoff ed., The Philosophy of History in Our Time, 138, emphasis added).

 A Critique of a Post-modern Views of Hermeneutics

There are several characteristics of a deconstructionists view of interpretation.

First, it is based in conventionalism.  This is  the view that all meaning is culturally relative.  However, this too is self-defeating for if “all meaning is culturally relative” then even this statement would be culturally relative.  Yet it claims to be a statement about cultural relativity not one of cultural relativity.

Second, post-modern hermeneutic claims that there is no objective meaning.  For all statements are made from a subjective perspective.  However, this too is self-destructive for it amount to saying that it is an objective statement about meaning that no statements are objectively meaningful.

Third, it denies that there is a correspondence between our statements and their object. This denies the correspondence view of truth.  But the problem with denying that truth corresponds to reality is that this very denial claims to correspond to reality.  So, one cannot deny statements correspond to reality without making a statement he believes corresponds to reality.

Fourth, post-modern hermeneutics is a form of linguistic solipsism.  Following Wittgenstein, Derrida believes that we are locked inside of language in a kind of linguistic bubble and cannot get out.  However, this is a form of the “nothing-buttery” fallacy.  For all statements that imply we can know nothing but what is inside the linguistic bubble imply that we have knowledge ofmore than what is inside the bubble.  Like the Kantian contradiction, one cannot know about reality that he cannot know anything about reality.  Language is not a wall that bars us from reality; it is a window that expresses the reality we know.

This linguistic solipsism fallacy is based on the failure to recognize that creation is analogous to the Creator.  There must be a similarity between the Cause of finite being and the Infinite Being that caused it.  For one cannot give what he does not have to give.  He cannot produce what he does not produce.  Thus, the Source of all being must be similar to the being that he brings into being.[1]

Fifth, according to post-modernism, logic is language dependent.  The laws of thought are, therefore, culturally dependent.  But this is clearly contrary to fact—the fact that language is based on logic, not the reverse.  For the basic laws of thought (enumerated above) operate in ever language and culture, as do the basic laws of mathematics.  Logic transcends culture and makes cross-cultural communication possible.  The very claim that the Law of Non-contradiction is not applicable to all cultures is itself a non-contradictory statement about all cultures.

Sixth, another post-modern hermeneutical premise is that meaning is determined by the reader, not by the author.  For they claim that every text is understood in a context and every reader brings a new context to the text.  Hence, it is not the meaning of the author that is the true meaning of a text by the meanings of the readers.  However, here again we are faced with a self-stultifying claim.  For no post-modernist desires us to give our meaning(s) to his words. He expects us to take the meaning of his words (i.e., the author’s meaning).  So, the denial that the author’s meaning is the correct meaning implies that the authors’ meaning is the correct meaning.

The Problems with Post-modernism

In summation, the problems with post-modernism are: (1) It can’t be thought consistently; (2) It can’t be spoken consistently, and (3) It cannot be lived consistency.  Why? Because it is based on atheism, and atheism cannot be thought, spoken, or lived consistently.  Evidence for the inability to live atheism consistently comes from the lives of atheists themselves. 

Evidence for atheists that atheism cannot be lived consistently

Atheist Jean Paul Sartre wrote, “I reached out for religion, I longed for it, it was the remedy. Had it been denied me, I would have invented it myself… I needed a Creator….” (The Words, 102).   Atheist Albert Camus added,   “For anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful” (The Fall, 133).  Even Nietzsche wrote a poem to an “Unknown God,” crying out:  “Unknown one! Speak. What wilt thou, unknown-god?… Do come back With all thy tortures! To the last of all that are lonely, Oh, come back!… And my heart’s final flame –Flares up for thee! Oh, come back, My unknown god! My pain! My last–happiness!” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Four, “The Magician”).

Bertrand Russell expressed a revealing moment when he wrote to a lady friend, “Even when one feels nearest to other people, something in one seems obstinately to belong to God…–at least that is how I should express it if I thought there was a God.  It is odd, isn’t it? I care passionately for this world and many things and people in it, and yet…what is it all?” There must be something more important one feels, though I don’t believe there is” (emphasis is his).

A number of years, before the iron curtain was lifted, while I was returning from Europe, I was given Time magazine.  The cover caught my attention.  It read: “God is Dead; Marx is dead, and I am not feeling too well either” (Timecover, European edition, 1978). Nietzsche wrote, “I hold up before myself the images of Dante and Spinoza, who were better at accepting the lot of solitude. Of course, their way of thinking, compared to mine, was one which made solitude bearable; and in the end, for all those who somehow still had a “God” for company…. My life now consists in the wish that it might be otherwise…and that somebody might make my “truths” appear incredible to me…” (Letter to Overbeck, 7/2/1865).

Even David Hume could not live his skepticism.  He wrote:  “Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds [of doubt], nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of the philosophical melancholy and delirium…” (A Treatise on Human Nature1.4.7).  So, what did he do?  He said, “I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse…; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther” (ibid. 1.4.7).

Famous unbelieving historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote: “I survive morally because I retain the moral code that was taught me along with the religion, while I discarded the religion….  You and I are living on a shadow…. But what will happen to our children…? They are living on the shadow of a shadow” (Chicago Sun-Times 8/24/75 1B).

The British Humanist Magazine charged that Humanism is almost “clinically detached from life.”  It recommends they develop a humanist Bible, a humanist hymnal, Ten Commandments for humanists, and even confessional practices!  In addition, “the use of hypnotic techniques–music and other psychological devices–during humanist services would give the audience that deep spiritual experience and they would emerge refreshed and inspired   with their humanist faith…” (1964). I have composed some hymns for them: “Socrates, Lover of My Soul,” “No One Ever Care for Me like Plato,” and “My hope is built on nothing less than Jean Paul Sartre and nothingness”! A hymn for a Post-modernists might read like this:

                           “Open my eyes that I may see,

                   More of my own subjectivity.

                           Help me, Derrida, ever to be

                  All absorbed in uncertainty.

                           Then I’ll know what it is to be

                        Lost forever in postmodernity.”

In summary, when atheists themselves evaluate atheism they conclude it like living on s a “shadow of a shadow.”  It is not “bearable.”  It is “dreadful,”even “cruel.” It even leads to “delirium.” The main point is that postmodernism is not only unthinkable and unspeakable, but it is unlivable.

Atheist Albert Camus declared that “Nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of man” (Camus, The Rebel, 147).  Blaise Pascal insisted that there is a God-sized vacuum in the human heart which nothing but God can fill.  He wrote: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him… though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pascal, Pensees # 425). Former Atheist Francis Collins who headed up the human genome project asked:  “Why would such a universal and uniquely human hunger [for God] exist, if it were not connected to some opportunity for fulfillment?… Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water” (The Language of God, 38).  So, if there is a God-sized vacuum in the human heart, then nothing smaller than God will be able to fill it.

Atheist Sigmund Freud claimed that “What is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes.”  As for “religious doctrines,” “all of them are illusions and insusceptible of proof” (The Future of an Illusion, 49-50). However, as it turns out it is the atheist who has the illusion.  For Freud never made a study of believers on which he based his view.  On the contrary, recent studies show that belief in God leads to a better and happier life. Former Freudian did a study of great atheist and found that they were fatherless wither actually of functionally and that, rather than believers creating the Father (God), atheists are attempting to kill the Father (Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless). He wrote, “Indeed, there is a coherent psychological origin to intense atheism” (p. 3). “Therefore, in the Freudian framework, atheism is an illusion caused by the Oedipal desire to kill the father (God) and replace him with oneself” (p. 13).

Indeed, in Nietzsche’s famous quote about “God is dead” the next line is “and we have killed him.”  French existential atheist Jean Paul Sartre, illustrates the point in his own autobiography when he wrote: “I had all the more difficulty of getting rid of him in that he had installed himself at the back of my head.… I collared the Holy Ghost in the cellar and threw him out; atheism is a cruel and long-range affair; I think I’ve carried it through. I lost my illusion” (The Words, 252-253).

However, even though Sartre had given up on God, God had not given up on him.  Before Sartre’s death he is recorded as saying, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck  of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured.  In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here” (National Review, 11 June, 1982, p. 677).  Indeed, Sartre was disowned by his own mistress as a “turncoat” and visited by a Christian minister regularly before his death.  I have in my file a letter from missionaries in France who knew Sartre who had expressed to them his regret on how many young people he had led astray with his atheistic thought.

 


 

[1] Of course, there must be a difference between Creator and creature since He is an infinite kind of Being and we are finite beings.  He is a Being with no potentiality for non-being, and we are contingent beings which have the possibility not to be.  God is Pure Actuality (with no potential not to exist), and all creatures are actualities with the potentiality not to exist.

Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved


Further resources:

A History of Western Philosophy Vol. 1

A History of Western Philosophy Vol. 2

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