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The Emerging Church, Part 8: Final Thoughts

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  We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last seven parts of our discussion. We explored the attitude of the Emerging Church toward Scripture, finding that some have substituted the doctrines derived from the inerrant and inspired Word of God with a doctrine based on an uninspired melding of Scripture, experience, mysticism, and imagination. That lack of Scriptural fidelity has at times led to a redefined Gospel, a message that is predominantly Law rather than Gospel, and pastors who have failed to present the whole counsel of God.

  The Church cannot surrender to postmodernism the God-ordained fact that truth is knowable. While we as Christians, this side of heaven, will never know all truth, we can know all truth that God has revealed in Scripture. Jesus said "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). Truth is knowable. It is known by abiding in the Word of God. This truth is not open to interpretation or derivation by cultural means, because it is not derived from the world. This truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). This truth does not change. It was once delivered for all the saints (Jude 1:3). The Emerging Church claims that Christianity needs to be reimagined or reinvented. The Gospel was not invented, it was given to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not ours to “reinvent.”

  For those in the Emerging Church who have come to a different Gospel, the root cause of their divergence is an ignorance of, or diminution or abandonment of the single most important Christian doctrine - justification by grace through faith. It was so important to St. Paul that he proclaimed “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). If justification by faith is not the doctrine from which all others are derived, both Law and Gospel become unimportant and fade away, which is exactly what is happening in the Emerging Church. There is no focus on sinners in need of a Savior. Original sin and hell are rarely mentioned. Where there is no recognized sin, there is no need for a Savior. The means of grace, Word and Sacrament, in which God comes to us, have been abandoned in favor of a mystical experience in which man vainly searches for God. The Gospel has been turned into Law - “living in the way of Jesus.” Once the Gospel becomes Law, there is no real difference between Christianity and other religions. Other religions now have “much to offer.”

  Many in the Emerging Church, in their zeal to care for the poor and the oppressed miss the forest for the trees. They don’t seem to realize that when Jesus said in Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

He wasn’t just talking about beggars and prisoners. Jesus came to proclaim the Gospel to those who were poor in spirit, to those who were in bondage to sin, to those who were spiritually blind. Jesus’ message was one of Law and Gospel: “...repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), “...repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations...” (Luke 24:47).

  It’s never pleasant to point out the doctrinal error of a fellow sister or brother in Christ, but at times is necessary in the spirit of true irenics, as discussed in Part 7. It’s unlikely that the more heterodox leaders in the Emerging church are purposely trying to mislead people, but they are deviating from the didache of Jesus Christ.1 Any doctrine that is not based solely on the plain Word of Scripture, and is not based on justification by grace through faith, is destined to become a “different Gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; Galatians 1:6-12). As we’ve seen over and over again in quotes throughout the different parts of this article, the Emerging Church’s overall position is often not Sola Scriptura or Sola Gratia and Sola Fide, in spite of what they claim.

  Let me state again that there is an orthodox side to the Emerging conversation which I don’t want to misrepresent and to which this article isn’t particularly addressed, other than as a warning flag. This discussion is not in any way an attack on particular individuals:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

  While it hasn’t been discussed in detail, there are good things that the Emerging Church emphasizes, such as the revival of the liturgy, and a more thoughtful approach to song lyrics that is less anthropocentric compared with other contemporary lyrics. However, the impression I’m left with after reading a lot of Emerging Church material is that heterodox doctrine is the face of the Emerging Church. Head on down to your local bookstore and check out the selection of Emerging Church books - they’re mostly heterodox. It’s not that there aren’t more moderate voices in the conversation, it’s just that they aren’t on center stage. In order for that face to change, it will be necessary for orthodox Christians to step up and speak out against the false doctrine that is caked on like bad mascara, or the face of the Emerging Church will forever have a “black eye.” Several Emerging Church leaders have complained that the Emerging Church has been misrepresented by characterizing the whole movement based on the writings of a few members, but those same leaders haven’t spoken up and pointed out the error of their peers. That tactic is the theological equivalent of spitting into the wind.

  I am not alone in my assessment. Emerging Church leader Mark Driscoll, the pastor at Mars Hill in Ballard, Washington, has a similar view:

If both doctrine and practice are constantly changing, the result is living heresy, which is where I fear the Revisionist Emergent tribe [his equivalent of my “squeaking wheel”] of the Emerging church is heading.2

But, what I find frightening is the trend among some to drift from what I consider to be faithful conservative evangelical theological convictions in favor of a less distinctively Christian spirituality. The result is a trip around the same cul-de-sac of false doctrine that a previous generation spent their life driving around while touting their progress.3

If the gospel is lost, as I fear it already has been among some Revisionists, then tomorrow will be a dark day for the truth about Jesus.4

While I share Pastor Driscoll’s concern for “the truth about Jesus,” tomorrow will not be a dark day for the truth of the Gospel.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:8-12

The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will always remain - the gates of hell and Satan’s wiles cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

  The Emerging Church embraces experience and mystery as means to find God. God is mysterious, but He cannot be found in ways that the human imagination might invoke. He cannot be found through mysticism. He cannot be found in labyrinths or incense. He cannot be found in icons or breath prayers. He cannot be found through self-discovery or imagination. He is hidden in places most people fail to look, because those places are too obvious and ordinary. He is hidden in unremarkable bread and wine, and water, along with the spoken or printed Word. But ordinary speech, which we constantly hear and sometimes ignore, when it speaks the Gospel, is the power of God.

  The same Word through whom the heavens were made and all their host, was incarnated in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Word made flesh.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

  Jesus came to do what we could not - live a sinless life. He fulfilled the requirements of the Law perfectly. Yet he was unjustly crucified in spite of His innocence. Why? Because He carried your sin and my sin in His body to the cross on that dreadful afternoon. He bore the full wrath and fury of a righteous God for the sins of all people for all time.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed
Isaiah 53:5

  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death for us. By believing the promises of the Gospel, Christians receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit, who lives in us and daily creates new life in us. But God doesn’t stop there. Not only does God give His promise of forgiveness of sins to us in the Scriptures, that promise of forgiveness also comes to us physically, hidden in earthly elements.

  If you want mystery, we’ve got it!
5 God became man. He died on a cross and shed his blood that we might live sin-free. That very same body and blood comes to us to offer us forgiveness in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. "Take, eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26). "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27b-28). Through the Lord’s Supper we have the same opportunity as did doubting Thomas:

Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe."
John 20:27

Jesus Christ comes to us bodily and offers us forgiveness of sins. We are here offered a full sensory experience in the divine. This is no work that we perform, climbing a ladder to heaven where we by faith receive Christ’s body and blood. The work that needs to be done was done for us by Jesus on the cross. This is Christ, coming to us! His body, in, with, and under ordinary bread. His blood, in, with, and under ordinary wine. We can touch it, smell it, taste it. Through the mysterious operation of the Sacrament of Baptism, our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). Through ordinary water and the power of the Word, as we daily remember our Baptism we recognize that

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:4

  We can rejoice in this forgiveness that comes to us tangibly through such ordinary means. God, who is Spirit, coming to us in a way that we can fully experience, through the power of the Word. And yet who can explain it? Even the word is mysterious – the Latin word for sacrament, sacramentum, means “mystery.”

  Through Word and Sacrament, we are brought to faith and renewed in faith. These means are external to us. When I look inward to experience God, I discover a Christian at war with his sinful nature. Often though, it seems as if a truce has been declared. I don’t do the things I know I should be doing. And when the truce is broken, I still can’t meet the demands of the Law. That’s not much of an assurance. When I look outward to experience God, what I see is a Savior offering me His body and blood, shed for me and for all people, for the forgiveness of sins. Even when my faith is weak, the Lord is strong. I can look to my Baptism and know that I am a saved child of God. The promises of God are always there, waiting to be grasped in faith.

  The goal of the Emerging Church, to “live in the way of Jesus,” a demand of the Law, cannot be met until one is first forgiven through the blood of Jesus, a gift of the Gospel. As the Emerging Church reaches out to a postmodern world, it is that Gospel, a Gospel of forgiveness through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ that it must preach and teach if it is to be a faithful member of the body of Christ.

  And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Written by Scott Diekmann

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1.      If you’re not familiar with didache, see Part 6.

2.   Mark Driscoll, "A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church," Criswell Theological Review, 3.2, Spring 2006, 90-91, 10 March 2007 <,2%20APastoralPerspectiveontheEmergentChurch%5BDriscoll%5D.PDF >.

3.     Driscoll, 92.

4.     Driscoll, 93.

5.     I say “we” because I am presenting Lutheran theology. Welcome!

Sola Scriptura     •     Sola Gratia     •     Sola Fide