Emerging Concerns Part 5 – Society / Kingdom

Post Modern Cycle - Society / Kingdom

We have laid the foundations and have come to the last stage in the cycle of post-modern or emergent thought. The culmination of the efforts of community and role models, leaders, activists.  When we bring together our culture and the communities living in the culture along with the role models and leaders we establish a Society. This section will follow a similar format to previous articles.  It will present the views of secular leaders of post-modern thought followed by views of emergent church leaders evaluating how post-modern thought has been integrated into the church as well as the concerns and problems this entails.

To recap where we have come from and where we are at now; The Renaissance ushered in the age of reason. People always believed that communication and understanding were possible but the idea that more of the world followed a natural order that could be understood combined with the invention of the printing press blew the doors open for Rationalism. The next step was Naturalism further expanding the idea of natural order into a closed system where only natural law could explain the world. Some people of “faith” embraced Deism, the idea that God got the ball rolling with an innate discernible ethic and cause, and then left it to run on its own. Others rejected faith altogether and embraced Evolution and a world without God. But without God what were people to believe in; we are to believe in ourselves said Secular Humanism. With a failure to reach a consensus even among like minded individuals and discontentment with hard theoretical thinking Secular Humanists became somewhat disillusioned with rationalism leading to the rise of post-modernism.  Post-modernism rejected the narratives of the past and rather than hoping in the future the focus became on the hear and now. This world view can be seen in the works of post-modern philosophers, artists, and spiritualists.

Do you think that I count the days? There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. – Jean-Paul Sartre

“All you really need to do is accept this moment fully. You are then at ease in the here and now and at ease with yourself.” – Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now

Here and Now

If we can take something away from post-modern thought it is an awareness of culture; both present and past culture.  This is not to say that culture redefines reality.  Culture can color our understanding and practices as we see priorities and inferences through the lens of our experiences.  It can be difficult to step back and ask; are the ideals I apply, the priorities I have and the perspectives I live and profess really in line with what God’s word teaches?  We can find examples of this from biblical history itself as the early Jews and Christians were not immune to having a wrong idea about things.

In the first century some time between 30 and 33AD a rag tag group of men and some women followed around what at first they thought to be a great teacher.  After traveling with Jesus for a bit we can see in Mark 8:27-33 the disciples had come to realize that He was more than just a teacher.  Peter at the very least had recognized the He was the Christ or the Messiah and in John 11:27 Martha said “you are the Christ, the Son of God”.  But even so when Jesus spoke of his death and Resurrection they were stunned and Peter even tried to rebuke Jesus.  This is why He told them to be quiet about what the Spirit had revealed to them because they only had half the picture and would have gotten the rest of it wrong as they strove to create a kingdom on earth.  Even after Jesus had done exactly what He said, dying on the cross and rising again, they still asked him in Acts 1:6 if he was going to re-establish an earthly kingdom.

During the lifetime of Jesus, he was walking a very fine line between making himself known as the Son of God and the actual presence of the king himself, on the one hand, and concealing himself from being taken and made to be an earthly king on the other hand (like they wanted to do in John 6). – John Piper, What is the Kingdom of God.

Ultimately they were looking for something tangible in their here and now and we often do the same in our here and now.  We look for something to lighten the load of our present struggles.  One contemporary example would be the rise of Liberation Theology in impoverished Latin American countries in the early 20th century.  This movement refocused the doctrine of liberation from sin to liberation from social oppression resulting in revolutions.  Other examples would be legalism; with the moral decline of the roaring 20s many churches banned dancing and going to movies and after a time this came to hold the weight of orthodoxy. Just as the disciples struggled with seeking something here and now which blinded them to what the Word was saying and we are not immune.  This is not to in anyway to imply that truth is illusory. 

An End to Eternity

The ‘kingdom of Heaven’ is a condition of the heart – not something that comes ‘upon the earth’ or ‘after death.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

That God became man indicates only this: that man should not seek his salvation in eternity, but rather establish his heaven on earth. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Post-modernists find little to no value in the future or of that which lies beyond it.  A result of such a lack of ultimate consequence what is true is not as important as what can pragmatically empower, reform and create a better here and now.  What can be achieved for ourselves, our communities and our society is paramount.

A recent trend of topics found in Christian books, articles and conferences has been that of “Kingdom”. God’s kingdom is something good to learn about. Not that it is a new topic; Jesus spoke extensively on the Kingdom of Heaven.  The issue is not the topic but its reinterpretation by Christian’s influenced by the post-modern world view. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prayed “let Your kingdom come”.  In the Secret Message of Jesus Brian Mclaren references this passage and interjects that Jesus secret message was the creation of a Kingdom here on earth where the will of God is established.

“Jesus message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven.” – Brian McLaren, The Secret Message

For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here? The question wasn’t, how do I get in there? But how do I get there, here?… – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

As Christian’s we are apart of God’s Kingdom and as such we seek to be apart of His will. We also believe that the world functions best when His principles underpin its moral structure with real categories of right and wrong. We act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. However we do not believe that alleviating the consequences of sin without expectations or requirements will build God’s kingdom nor do we believe that His kingdom is something terrestrial. The emergent church’s embrace of post-modernism has lead to not only questioning the significance of eternity but to even questions God’s right to hold people accountable for sin.

If the doctrine of hell is true then we would have to question God’s goodness.  How could an infinite God condemn finite man to eternal punishment for a finite amount of sin and still be called good. – Brian McLaren, The Last Word Interview

McLaren went so far as to say that the word for hell, Gehenna, in the bible referred to a refuse dump outside of Jerusalem and therefore means a place here on earth and experiences which might be characterized as living in hell on earth.  Almighty Creator God is infinitely worthy or worship and obedience. The emergent church’s focus on the here and now has resulted in an under-realized view of the majesty, holiness and worthiness of God as well as man’s lostness and depravity.

The apostles and the early church spoke often of eternity with longing. They would often say “Maranatha!” which means return quickly Lord Jesus. The promise of eternal life spurred the church on but emergent leaders somehow find this debilitating. If the focus on eternity has somehow caused complacency it is not due to its overstatement but to its understatement in our lives. If we truly value it then the things of this world will not hold us with the stuff of this world. Imagining the final judgement where peoples of all races gather in worship and throw down their crowns we will find ourselves perplexed. How many is enough? He deserves myriad upon myriads praising Him. Is this crown enough to cast down for Him? Paul said “you are my treasure”; we will want a crown to throw down and therefore will preach the gospel and try to remove all stumbling blocks, but we cannot remove those which are necessary forfeiting whatever jewels may be placed in that crown.

John 18:36 – Jesus answered, ” My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

The kingdom was inaugurated through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus but it wont be fully consummated until we see the king. I’ll be a little honest I’m getting a little sick of talking about the kingdom when we are not saying much about the king. You know where the kingdom is? It’s where the reign of the king is. You know what’s more important? Having the right king, that’s Jesus high and seated on a throne and exalted. His reign breaks in through the preaching of the gospel and there is an already not yet tension that those who hold an under or over realized eschatology miss. – Mark Driscoll, Supremecy of Christ in a Post-modern World.

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. – Westminster Confession of Faith

Rather than find hope in the gospel the emergent church has redefined the gospel to mean living in the way Jesus lived.  It then places faith in Christian’s to enact social solutions that will establish a kingdom here on earth..  Also rather than make pronouncements about God’s created (historic) purposes and correctness it attempts to find common ground with virtues people of all faiths can agree on.

Common Ground – A Virtuous Immorality (Value)

Science has always been in conflict with narratives. Judged by the yardstick of science, the majority of them prove to be fables. … Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives. – Jean-François Lyotard

“We need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them.” ― Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

These statement from post-modern thinkers show an incredulity to the idea that history follows a linear progression that taken together form a larger story.   In post-modern thought there are many stories.  The significance of a story is not whether it is true but whether it offers something compelling.  The truth is not as important as the outcome. 

Our modern assumptions of the Bible have often been wrong, so to move forward we need to reclaim the Bible as narrative rather than didactive in nature. – McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (didactive = instructional)

Is the greatest truth about Adam and Eve that it happened or that it happens? This story … is true for us because it is our story. We have all taken the fruit. We have all crossed boundaries…. This is why the Bible loses its power for so many communities. They fall into the trap of thinking that the Bible is just about things that happened a long time ago. – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 058-059

“We live in metaphors……The tomb is empty because we have met the risen Christ – we have experienced Jesus in a way that transcends space and time. And this gives us hope. – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

This concept of narrative has been approached by the church in a couple of ways.  The first way is the emergent church has refocused views of the accounts in scripture from that of being history to the message and experience being the most important whether or not it is historically accurate.  This can be seen in the quotes from Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.  Another way is to push them to the back stage.  In Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible he calls for the church to  “unhitch itself from the Old Testament” and to begin and end with Jesus.  I attended a church where during a sermon based on this book the pastor held up Matthew through Acts and said we need to focus on these books as they are less decisive than the Old Testament and the epistles.  The sermon also stated that many young adults have walked away from the church because they were taught stories from the Old Testament and then went to college and were challenged that these histories were untrue therefore the church needs to focus on the gospels and acts.

If we think that we are escaping some of the pressures of the modern debate by playing down propositional Scripture and simply putting the word ‘Jesus’ or ‘experience’ upstairs, we must face this question: What difference is there between doing this and doing what the secular world has done in its semantic mysticism…? . . . If what is placed upstairs is separated from rationality, if the Scriptures are not discussed as open to verification where they touch the cosmos and history, why should one then accept the evangelical upstairs any more than the upstairs of modern radical theology? . . . Why should it not just be an encounter under the name Vishnu? – Francis Schaeffer,

Schaeffer points out so eloquently is that if we place the history of the bible below the experience then that experience might as well be the eastern mysticism of Vishnu or Buddha.  What we are sacrificing is they very authority of the Bible itself.  

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? … Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.” – Fredrick Nietzche

All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The strong individual loves the earth so much he lusts for recurrence. He can smile in the face of the most terrible thought: meaningless, aimless existence recurring eternally. The second characteristic of such a man is that he has the strength to recognize – and to live with the recognition – that the world is valueless in itself and that all values are human ones. He creates himself by fashioning his own values; he has the pride to live by the values he wills. – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

Without an underlying narrative there is no underlying purpose and without purpose there is no principle.  Having written God’s obituary Nietzsche recognized that something was needed to fill the void.  He called for the strong man and the philosopher to create the values that society might go forward.  For postmodernism values are essentially the pragmatic causes and virtues which provide value to life and society as well as personal satisfaction. In 2007-2009 conferences held at the United Nations met to further understanding between cultures and religions and to identify common values shared between them.  Behind these meetings was the Interfaith movement.  Many public schools have identified a set of values and published these on signs posted through out school buildings such as compassion, empathy, respect, and these are good things for children to learn.

The church itself has seen a large percent of children raised in the church turn away from faith after college.  Many churches have looked for alternative methods and curriculum for their ministries to address this.  Some great observations and fanatic ideas have been put into practice such as the need to encourage parents to be more involved with their child’s spiritual development. 

If we recall the first article in this series the post-modern view on morality can be restated as “Values are part of a societies social standards and model. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values”.  Statements addressing virtues and values can be seen from various “Christian” sources:

“For us, peacemaking and the pursuit of justice are very high virtues.  We view the ethical teachings of scripture as primary.” – Gary Burge, The Atlantic, You Can be an Evangelical and Reject Trumps Decision on Jerusalem.

“I didn’t have an epiphany. What I really did was to take a set of values or ideals that were first instilled in me from my mother, who was, as I called her in my book, the last of the secular humanists – you know, belief in kindness and empathy and discipline, responsibility – those kinds of values. And I found in the Church a vessel or a repository for those values and a way to connect those values to a larger community” – Barack Obama

“This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be belief that ‘Scripture alone’ is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true. ” – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p 67-68

“I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners” – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p139

Some churches have expressed concern with traditional teaching methods such as bible stories, bible memorization, catechism, creeds, etc as being difficult to understand and not providing a concrete set of applications and examples.  Consequently many churches have also plugged into these trends in teaching virtues and values many of which the interfaith movements had identified. While one can see virtues and values exhibited in scripture and they are a good thing to learn I fear that the church may be aligning itself with the course of secular humanism and post-modernism.  There are several potential problems with these methods.

  • Virtues and values phrase ethical actions in positive terms while pointing out benefits.  For example; be honest in stead of do not lie or be generous instead of do not covet.  This sounds great but why does the bible tend to use negative phrasing in the recording of the moral law?  It is fine to say be honest or be generous but is this not placing a great amount of faith in man’s ability?  Are we not looking to man as the solution to achieve a virtuous way of living resulting in the benefit of our community, where as saying “thou shalt not” or  “do not” calls to mind our failures and makes us aware of our sinful nature?  Secondly motivations based upon benefits may become self-centered asking “what do I get out of this”.  I’m not proposing that we shouldn’t teach virtues and values but we must also present the moral law in a scriptural manner.  The degree to which we realize our sinfulness both in nature and our practices affect how the loving kindness of God, meant to lead us to Him, confronts and compels us.  In response through repentance, faith, confession our relationship with our creator is restored and transformation begins.
  • It is a genuine concern; are the children and young adults and adults even understanding the bible are they getting anything from scripture?  However we can give them a fish and feed them a bit or we can teach them how to fish and feed them for life.  It must be realized that not all understanding requires comprehension.  Rote retention of the bible becomes the foundation for putting into context future experiences whether or not you understand it at the time.  These scripture passages; Ps 119:11, Deut 6:6-9, 1 Tim 3:14-17, talk about the importance of committing scripture to memory.  We must also have faith in the activity of the Holy Spirit to make scripture active and alive, sharper than any sword.  We can look for virtues and values in scripture and they can be seen in the practices of many stories of faith found in the bible and there is benefit in doing this.  But we must also take the time out to approach the bible to commit it to memory and to learn how to approach the bible in an interrogating manner asking questions, observing and interpreting while avoiding the trap of coercing scripture; looking for what we hope to find.  We must teach children and adults how to navigate the bible and teach them about biblical history and doctrine as well as present its stories of faith in the promises and teachings given to us in scripture.

And did they tell you stories ’bout the saints of old
Stories about their faith
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight

Rich Mullins, Boy Like Me, Man Like You

We must speak God’s law to the whole world; it is a part of the gospel; it is just as much a part of the gospel as the cross.  It is ok to spend some time on virtues and values especially if they are apparent in scripture. But our action should flow more from implication than application. Having a growing understanding of who God is and who we are not only from accounts in the Bible and considering God’s response but also from the clear instructional teachings in scripture. In younger years learning who God is, his commands, covenants and continuous fulfillment, and the gospel (sin, death, resurrection, repentance, faith and grace) as well as Bible navigation. In teen years (12+) learning how to interrogate scripture and apologetics. Also learning Core such as the inerrancy of scripture, original sin and the sin nature, Penal Substitutionary Atonement,  Jesus Exclusivity as the only way, God’s designed complimentary male and female gender distinctions, the conscious eternal torment of hell, and the Pre-eminence of God’s Kingdom over human culture to name a few.

Romans 7:7 – What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Romans 3:19 – Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

Are virtues and values, peace and ethical teachings the greatest most important things the bible teaches us?  Well what does the bible teach? Does it not say the greatest teaching is to love the Lord with, well with everything that we are.  To love the Lord is to love who He is and to love His purposes.  Unfortunately some virtues and values such as peace, acceptance and inclusion have been used to diminish or even dismiss God’s purposes.  While we strive to be non-judgemental, inclusive and non-confrontational we may find that we have become very unkind to someone’s eternity.  Does this mean that we should confront everyone with a hellfire and brimstone messages?  Not really, but we should be able to say that we believe the bible says this or that is immoral and if someone disagrees we should be able to ask questions to get to the root of why someone believes so and if their justification could justify something else they may find untenable than they might start to question their stand.

Societies of Blame (Enablement)

My mind is part of God’s, I am very holy, my holiness is my salvation and my salvation comes from me. There is no sin. Do not make the pathetic error of “clinging to the old rugged cross.” The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross.  – Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now

morality is a hindrance to the development of new and better customs: it makes stupid. – Fredrick Nietzsche, Daybreak

In the here and now right and wrong aren’t real categories and the only reason there is disorder is due to a lack of acceptance and inclusion and their enablement. Post-modernism must then focus on building a society here and now. But such a society has found itself with a bunch of undesirable consequences. I mean who hasn’t looked at the world and thought, a lot just doesn’t seem right or fair.  With globalization we are interacting in an ever expanding multi-cultural world and we are more aware of the differences between cultures but also more aware of the tensions which exist between them.  Not only does the news media make us aware of the conflicts in the world caused by these tensions but we are also seeing increasing violence within our own country. Post-modern conclusion is that the cause must be those that are trying to impose their own ideals or order instead of social solutions.

As stated previously there is a lot that seems unfair and unjust in the world. Many are asking why violence and crime have increased while others point to various statistics reporting decreases in crime rates while politicizing some program or other as bringing about improvement.  The rest of us watch the news and its hard to miss the fact that there is a lot wrong in the world and merely a cursory look at the headlines one can tell that things just seem to be getting worse. 

The world and naturalism would tell us that we are neither good nor evil but a product of our genes and environment.  Therefore if we resolve all the inequalities in the world behaviors that are destructive should disappear.  Many emergent leaders have focused on this apparent solution to our current mess and called for the church and society to focus on social justice and restorative justice.  Within Christian circles some have questioned the effectiveness of the church to bring about transformation while pointing out decreases in church attendance.

More and more Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who have recently dropped out of church, Christianity is a failed religion. Why?  Because it has specialized in dealing with spiritual needs to the exclusion of physical and social needs. It has focused on me and my eternal destiny, but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, poverty, and dysfunction.

Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change

I have engaged with those outside the church on issues of morality and they have even made the statement that my beliefs in God and a moral law are what is actually sowing discord in the world.  In other words; as long as we just accept popular ideas and what society accepts then discord and disagreement will fade away.  If the church were to focus more on easing social issues and providing a private space for spiritual feelings, as long as we don’t bring those feeling into the world, then we might see real transformation. So in many ways the church has stepped back from issues and society starting in the 1960s with the removal of morality and God from education and public life. The results have been less than stellar as the chart of increases in violent crime below demonstrate.

“I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners” – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p139
Notice how many places in the accounts of Jesus life he gets frustrated with his disciples. Because they are incapable? No, because of how capable they are… It isn’t their failure that’s the problem, it’s their greatness…. God has an amazingly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things. – Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

The Emergent Church has flipped faith in God on its head so that now God has faith in Man.  Social Justice and Restorative Justice are terms frequently used by emergent Christianity.   Therefore they often accuse the church of not providing real options. One tweet I read said that if Christians want to decrease abortion rates the church needs to de-stigmatize unwed mothers, support scientific based sex-ed (not abstinence because that is a moral imposition), birth control, adoption, etc. But they forget that Christians have lead the charge in starting hospitals, orphanages and schools. Really what they are saying is if you do away with all the consequences of bad behavior, oh and don’t call it bad anymore, then people won’t do that a .. behavior…

It would seem that the term Social Justice has come to mean that society and individuals are bettered when living in an environment where peace and active acceptance of behaviors deemed desirable to the point of defining a person are recognized as a part of the culture and any negative consequences resulting from these actions are mitigated by social programs and our assistance and participation in a community. When the church embraces this they are aligning themselves with the following two tenants of Secular Humanism and post-modernism.

  • Humanity is seen as a product of its environment and is neither good nor evil; the idea of an inherent sinful nature is rejected.
  • Negative consequences are seen as a cause rather than a deterrent to bad behavior.  Punitive authority is seen as socially divisive and requiring obedience to such authority is identified as an oppressive inequality.  Hence those traditionally in positions of authority are gradually having avenues to enforce that authority eroded.

By giving into this the church has nothing more to offer than the world. Its no wonder that people would start walking away from the church.  Christians will have varying affects on the world around them but this will not be achieved by focusing on altering the world around us.  Where the world is trying to redefine what is right and wrong that is where the church needs to speak up. This includes speaking up against injustice. However we do not do so believing that we can build God’s kingdom here on earth. God’s Kingdom is not built through social services, bailouts, education. God’s Kingdom is built in the life of believers through a gospel life; one of daily repentance and gratitude for God’s lovingkindness and reconciliation to God. This is the only place where true lasting regeneration can take place. We must also live with the understanding that hell is real, scripture is clear on this.


They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7

We find ourselves in the midst of this prophecy from second Peter.  In the first part of this verse we see “all things are continuing” and Naturalism echos this sentiment as it is based on a uniformity of cause in a closed system.  The verse then says that they, “Deliberately forget” and we find in education today what is taught is an open system where an intelligent designer isn’t even considered an option.  Some have more faith in secular academia than the bible and try to reinterpret Genesis 1-3 or avoid it altogether.  And finally we have come to the last part of this prophecy, “Where is His coming” Postmodernism and the Emergent Church focus  on the here and now. In between this we find elevation of faith in humanity and Jesus redefined as a way of living; the savior of the world reduced to a really good role model.  This is not the gospel we have for the world; we have so much more to offer the world as the church. 

Isa 52:7 – How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

1. The Universe Next, James W. Sire
2. Ultimate Reality, The Constraints of a World View, Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
3. Education for Values in Schools – A Framework, National Council of Educational Research and Training , Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi
4. Foundational Documents of the Interfaith Movement, Rev. Dr. Jesse F. Tannerx
5. Interfaith Action In A Tumultuous World, Huffington Post, Feb 27, 2017, Katherine Marshall
6. Peace Through Dialogue 2007, Dr. Hema Pokharna
7. UN General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on interfaith and intercultural understanding, October 2007


Emerging Concerns Part 4 – Role Model

Post-Modern Cycle Role Model As we have looked at postmodern thoughts and how it has influence the church we have laid the foundations of culture and community. We see that in this view culture has given us language and even the very meaning it wishes to ascribe to sounds and words as well as the practices or ways we approach life. Community gives postmodernism way to interpret language and practice a way to re-adapt. How life should work should not be unchangeable in this view. But as these communities arise there must be something that brings continuity and conviction. There must be someone who can bring things together and drive them forward. If not then things will just stay the same.

Why do all anarchists groups have to have a leader? – Ravi Zacharias

Looking for a Hero

You will find these ideas in various forms, however the goal is the same. Something or someone is needed who can make the ideas or enact the ideas from culture and community practically. These new ideas need a leader, a role model, someone pragmatic to drive change. But it must be understood that the concept of a leader, role model or hero in post-modern thought is not the same thing as what we traditionally think of. In post-modern thought what is achieved is more important than how it was achieve.

The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles. (Alinsky 1972: 24)

He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to ‘be corrupted’ for them. (Alinsky 1972: 25)

Spread Anarchy - don't tell me what to doThese quotes from Saul Alinsky are a somewhat radical example of post-modern thought and we can see these ideas in the church in “Liberation Theology”.

As the church progressed in the 20th century it looked for ways to appeal to the “unchurched” public. In this “Church Growth Movement” churches adopted methods from the business world which were used in marketing. Some examples would be branding and talk-show style services. These tend to be more stylistic choices, however care must still be taken as styles can come from underlying attitudes and values or lack there of. For example the use of coarse joking or potty humor may entertain the children but can step beyond the bounds of style to a disregard for acceptable decorum and becomes inconsiderate of others senses. The bible says that we should avoid coarse joking (Ephesians 5:4). Some good ideas did proceed from this as the church made its appeal it tried to be more practical with biblical teaching focusing on application and useful systems and methods taken from scripture. The inclusion of methods from behavioral, social and psychological studies furthered this practical focus. The problem is that often it seems that the bible started taking more of a back seat.

The idea is taken further when the church brings in secular business leaders, motivational speakers and other public figures to speak and teach. Some churches will even go so far as to limit the amount of scripture used in services and even remove crosses and other christian symbols from their church even to the extent of limiting the use of Jesus name during services. As churches progress down this path one has to ask, “Do we believe that the Bible, the cross and Jesus are sufficient and compelling?” Jesus chastised the pharisees for “teaching as doctrine the principles of men” and in many ways the church has been doing the same. Sure we can learn things from others outside the church but how much should we be asking the congregation to sift through worldly ideas to find what is useful and biblically acceptable? Apart from the fully devoted child of God living under Jesus Lordship this is often done to appeal to those outside the church. Emergent thought takes it a step further focusing on what can be accomplished through these methods whether or not anything spiritual or moral is sacrificed. It should be clear from scripture that the end doesn’t justify the means. Also the warning from A W Tozer below highlights the problem with this thinking.

How eagerly do we seek the approval of this or that man of worldly reputation. How shamefully do we exploit the converted celebrity. Anyone will do to take away the reproach of obscurity from our publicity-hungry leaders: famous athletes, congressmen, world travelers, rich industrialists; before such we bow with obsequious smiles and honor them in our public meetings and in the religious press. Thus we glorify men to enhance the standing of the Church of God, and the glory of the Prince of Life is made to hang upon the transient fame of a man who shall die. – A W Tozer

Reinventing Christ

The church then moves from looking for heroes to redefining Jesus and His role in the world. You might see John 14:16 “I am the way, the truth and the life” taught as Jesus teaching not that He Himself is the way but that how He lived his life is the way. The picture then that is painted of Jesus focuses on his interactions with people and particularly those that are deemed more compassionate and less confrontational unless of course the confrontation was with leadership. We like to focus on what Jesus accomplished helping others and its impact. There is value in this but the post-modern or emergent view takes this further to the point that it paints Jesus as a hero just like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord (A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren, 260, 262, 264).

More value is placed on how Jesus changed the world practically than on how he changes our relationship to the Father and gave us hope for eternity.  The early church placed a priority on holding eternity in high esteem and rather than stepping back from impacting the world this propelled them forward and brought about irresistible change.

You might also see someone question the virgin birth and whether it should have been translated virgin in biblical prophecy. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin then he was just a man and the objective is the same; to see Jesus as just a man. It is much easier to deal with a hero or activist than it is to deal with the fact that our rebellion was so heinous that the Author of Life Himself had to become a man to make up for our debt.

Jesus was not a moralist who came to make bad people good; Jesus is a savior who came to make dead people alive – Ravi Zacharias

Not only is Christ reinvented as a social hero but the gospel may be redefined. True the bible talks about how God deals with those that never have the opportunity to hear the gospel but the outcome seems somewhat ambiguous. It is probably ambiguous because we are commissioned to go into the world and spread the gospel. But even this idea of spreading the gospel is being questioned. You may hear questions or comments such as, “People can find the way Jesus lived in other religions and remain in that religion”. This is called inclusivism which essentiall states that though we are saved through Jesus Christ as the only way to the father one doesn’t have to have knowledge that it is Jesus they are believing. You can follow the path you are on and believe you are worshiping God XYZ and then find out you were really trusting Jesus in the end, at the final judgement. They are not saved apart from Christ but saved without knowledge of Christ. Another view takes it further and just asks them to see the way Jesus lived and just pull from that as they continue on in their native religion. Again this puts the focus on the way Christ lived and takes it away from the work which He did on the cross. I have heard renowned Christian leaders whom I respect greatly make similar statements. Paul’s talk in Acts 17 at Mars hill should make it clear that the early church taught that other gods where not gods at all and that faith in Jesus was the only way.

In the next article I will bring it all together into the final stage of the post-modern or emergent perspective and take a look at the end of it all. The final article will take a look at post-modern focus on society and society building or in emergent christian movements on uses of the term “kingdom”.

Emerging Concerns Part 3 – Community

Culture - Community - Motivation/Role Model - Society/Kingdom

In the previous article I addressed the role of Culture in post-modern thinking and how one might encounter it in the church. From the idea of meaning proceeding from or coming from culture, we are left to question meaning and even, what can we really understand . This next stage in post-modern, emergent thinking builds further off this foundation of culture. The cultural setting or backdrop can be seen in the Bible; so what are the implications? Each culture records its history and ideas. We have all read books from other times and places; Don Quixote, or the Iliad to name a few. Often we learn something new; a different way to look at things. The question is, did God meet people where they were at and accommodate their flawed views of the world and how life should be ordered?

Again you will see this in many ways in the church, some more subtle and others more radical. One teacher points to how the bible has been misunderstood and used to justify tragic action and wonders whether the Bible is the best God could do. Another professor compares passages in the Bible to other ancient writings. For example; in Psalms 103:12 we see “as far as the east is from the west”. In an Egyptian hymn, a deity is praised for his judgment, the guilty are assigned to the east and the righteous to the west. When we find thoughts and stories that resemble those in scripture does this mean scripture proceeded from them? Could it be that ancient people having heard oral traditions and through seeking stumbled upon bits and pieces of truth…? Isaiah 9:2 tells us that “the people in darkness have seen a great light”. Did not the Word (the great light) proceed from God informing those stumbling in darkness of the real picture of reality and intentions and created order of God?

While the Bible certainly has an ancient backdrop this becomes gradually overstated making the Bible more and more the product of man and less a work of God. We are then left to wonder what the Bible may mean for us.

The idea that Scripture may mean something different for us is gaining traction. Quite a few modern evangelical teachers and others have built off these questions and propose a progressive approach to understanding the Bible and how it should be applied or even if it should be applied anymore in some cases. They leaned back on these ideas of culture and meaning shedding doubt on the understandability of the Bible.

A college friend of mine commented on how information is now more readily available and searchable so it must be harder for false teaching to gain acceptance and therefore the call in Jude to contend for the faith may not have the same meaning for us. (see my response: In Danger of Being Non-Contenders) It does seem right, so much has changed, can we apply the Bible to ourselves and others as the ancient church did? After all, we have grown up with the ideas of evolution and progress; are we not better now than the cultures that preceded us? After all we have the printing press/copy machine, computers, light bulbs, and nuclear power. We have different social structures than that of biblical times. How then do we decide what to take from the writings of these other times?

Such teachers proposing a progressive approach point to places in the Bible we’re Christians met to make decisions and propose that we need to figure out how to apply the Bible in community. You will run into teachers that talk about the passage where Jesus tells his disciples what they bind here on earth will be bound and what they release will be released in heaven. They may also talk about common practices and views of the time and propose that what the Bible says was being built from traditions outside the Bible. This verse on binding however is misrepresented. A clearer understanding may be seen if we look at the Amplified translation.

Matthew 18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.

Matthew 5:18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away , not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished . 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments , and teaches others to do the same , shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly there is a place for those that study the Bible, scholars, to meet and discuss what the bible is saying. As we read the Bible we need to consider their guidance. We see this in the AMP bible in which scholars expound upon words. Binding and loosing does not mean we seek how we together want to apply it but we seek it’s real meaning and God’s intention apart from our time and our society and the way it wants to structure itself.  Admittedly there are uncomfortable circumstances and teachings in the Bible, but are we seeking the will of a community or the will of God.  God can speak across time; the question is not can we understand but do we want to understand?

"Wyclif Giving 'The Poor Priests' His Tra...

“Wyclif Giving ‘The Poor Priests’ His Translation of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concepts of personal Bible study and private interpretation are key to the reformation.  In the 14th Century John Wycliffe found that many clergy hadn’t even read the Bible and just taught what they were told.  The church had become a political force sanctioning or influencing wars to keep nations and groups in check as well as a tool to control their populace through the sacraments and fear of loosing eternal life if these were with held.  Much of this was put in place by the church under the over-site and direction of a community of church leaders.   Wycliffe started to teach against the church’s political entanglement, accumulation of wealth, indulgences, and trans-substantiation and was removed from Oxford.  He requested and was granted a small Parish.  But the problems in the church burdened him and while in prayer God reminded him that Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, and Latin, the language it was translated into, were both the language of the people.  The Bible wasn’t written in highfalutin language.  Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and was later put on trial as a heritic.  The trial was interrupted by an uncharacteristic earth quake before the judge was to make a verdict.  God gave His Word to us and it is not so tied to culture and it is meant to be personal; “for I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin”.

Yes, the bible does recognize authority and community oversight and even calls for us to submit our selves to the authority of the community we live in.  While the bible itself tells us that such authorities and community oversight has been put in place by God it doesn’t mean that they are infallible and the bible doesn’t justify a blind following.  For example in the case of Saul God allowed authority to be put in place that was corrupt to enlighten his people to where their faith should have been.  When David called for a census which God was opposed to it was the people that were punished for their blind obedience.  We all have a personal responsibility to the truth and in that the Word of God is quite individualistic.  It was Joshua who said “Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”.

So let me summarize where post-modern and emergent thought leads with regard to community.   The first stage builds upon culture and gradually reduces the Bible to something proceeding from man and the culture at the time.  It may acknowledge God’s influence on the Bible but will over-state the influence of culture on the Bible and understanding the Bible.  From this the second stage is to promote a progressive way of understanding the Bible.  Often the uncomfortable situations in the Bible are highlighted as reasons why we need to reinterpret the Bible.  So essentially in post-modern thought which is founded on humanism and evolution we find ourself in a culture and we take the thought of our current culture as well as the thoughts of past cultures and put them together to evolve the next generation and its culture.  This is done by communities that meet together to consider these thoughts and the predominant (natural selection) community prevails.  This is a far cry from our God who as creator made man in His image and who is the one that is to build, guide and direct us.  If these things are true then scripture should read that a great light entered their world and for us it is no longer a great light but is a dim light from which we can glean a few things.  But scripture says a great light has entered THE world; both our and theirs.

These are just some of the things to watch out for in the Church and Christian academia with regard to culture and community.

See:  Authority and Authorship

Emerging Concerns Part 2 – Culture

Culture - Community - Motivation / Role Model - Society / KingdomIn the previous article on Emerging Concerns I addressed the topic of Post-modernism and the Emergent church at a more academic or philosophic level. Here in this article I hope to break the concerns down and describe them more at the level in which they are seen or heard about in everyday life. This article will focus on Culture and subsequent articles will cover the other topics in the progression of post-modern thought. Post-modern thoughts and ideas may have started in Universities, the Arts and political circles but it has made its way down to everyday life. It can be found in both subtle as well as radical forms. So it is time to be more practical in how we look at it.

Views of the previous generations placed value on facts, truth and knowing how things work. Now people are more cynical about the truth, we distrust that the sincerity and value of truth might extend beyond my community and group of friends. How many times have you heard someone say “well that is your opinion”? Which is essentially saying all your opinions must be wrong so I have no problem ignoring it; even if you are just restating something from the bible, it’s your interpretation so its still your opinion. This really is where post-modernism and the Emergent Church starts. After all we have friends, family, a heritage, and a language; don’t the ideas and how we look at the world come from that? Is not all this which we term our “culture” the spring board from which we face life. The individualism of the past few generations was all too self-focused and lonely. But then few ever really took it that far; its hard to move forward without support. We found that “me” just isn’t big enough and are now looking to “us” to fill the void.

Hey meat head, how come all you non-conformists dress a like? – Archie Bunker

Culture as a Foundation for Understanding and Communication

If we continue to look back through history we see other cultures until we progress back to the Jewish – Greek – Roman culture Christianity started in and then back to the Jewish – Egyptian – Persian culture the Old Testament was written in it would seem that one culture gives way to another. You may have run into this while taking a bible class, Christian radio or even a teaching at your church and not realized it. One bible class talks about understanding the circumstances of the time, people, language and then to bridge the gap between their circumstances and ours. Another theologian makes the statement that the bible was written for us but was written to them; the ancient people in their culture. Another teacher goes so far as to say that the ancient world of Mesopotamia had an entirely different world view and unless we know their ancient literature we can’t understand the bible. One of my friends read a recent book from this author that totally undermined the understanding of the first five books of the Bible. He had taught from books written by this author about the Old Testament and upon looking back saw how the author had progressed in this view making culture foundational to understanding. Knowing about the ancient cultures in which the bible was inspired and written is a good thing. However post-modern thought goes too far down this path. Its confidence in the idea of the progressive development of man switches the foundation for communication and understanding from God as creator to humankind and their present state of progress; in other words their culture at the time.

Having placed such stock in this idea of humanities progress and cultural states these teachers then draw from history and their knowledge or speculations of how people lived and viewed life back when the bible was written. We are convinced then that they must have some greater insight on what the bible is saying. We then step back from the bible because how can we know all that stuff to really understand the bible. We must then accept whatever that teacher says. But are people in the bible really so different from us? Do they not desire to be married and love their children? Do they not get angry when they are taken advantage of? Do they not wish to provide for themselves and their families? Do they not remember together with those dear to them what they have gone through and tell stories? Further, all cultures have a word for sunrise and sunset, the moon and stars, pain, which academically is called phenomenal language. When the Bible addresses life, history and the universe we have to understand that much of what we deal with in life, what we encounter or experience; states, processes, forms, observable behaviors and properties are given terms which are understood to communicate what is encountered through the senses. We must believe that we can identify such language which describes what would have been experienced by the senses together with the feelings and temptations common to man and come to a picture, in a cultural setting, from which we can understand what God is trying to say beyond that setting. What does scripture tell us?

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Sure there are differences, but are they not merely the tools and agreed upon ways in which we will work together to meet these needs and desires? Was God’s Word for us written to them? Was the Bible written in their culture to their culture? Or was the Bible written from God’s Kingdom and His culture in their language to all of us? When I read Knowing God by J I Packer the following quote blew the door open on understanding God’s Word.

We feel that we are, so to speak, on the outside of the Bible world, looking in… The sense of remoteness is an illusion which springs from seeking the link between our situation and that of the various Bible characters in the wrong place… epoch, culture, etc… The link between them and us is not found at that level. The link is God Himself. For the God with whom they had to do is the same God with whom we have to do. – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

This is not to say that culture has no impact on understanding scripture.   Yes, study the traditions, social structures, classes, national structures, trade, tools, etc. Knowing these will bring you further into the experience of the bible world so you can further feel and understand what the bible characters were going through. I believe knowledge of the cultures and original languages will add to your understanding but I do not believe it will ever turn the meaning around 180 degrees or even 90 degrees for that matter. It may skew it slightly but for all intents and purposes what God wants us to learn we can get from a good, honest translation of the bible.  In the original language and the translation a verb is still a verb and a noun is still a noun they do not become something other-worldly. There are some variations in word forms but nothing that still can’t express the ideas God wants to communicate. When God created Adam he was able to name all the animals God brought before him. Scripture shows us that God created language. The Tower of Babel shows us that God confused language and Pentecost shows us that language is not a barrier to God’s communication.

Some christian authorities and academics in the areas of anthropology and linguistics contend for a progressive understanding of language.  In their view language is merely semiotics or the conglomeration of symbols and sounds to which man in his culture has ascribed meaning.   However we know from scripture that language itself was not an invention of man but a creative act of Almighty God bestowed upon man. Further we know that God chose to speak to man and to reveal Himself and His purposes in the world through the bible.

Though many have assumed that the Bible shares the worldview of the ancient orient, the creation accounts we have from that period are all distinct from the Bible. They are distinctly poetic and manifestly mythological. The biblical account, by contrast, is thoroughly narrative in form and decidedly non-mythological. (John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound p89)

… we must be careful to let neither our own view of the structure of the universe nor what we think to have been the view of ancient people to control our understanding of the biblical author’s description (John Sailhamer, The Pentatuch as Narrative)

The bible differs significantly from the other contemporary writings, writings from the same time period and surrounding regions.  The Bible is written for all; it is more significant that it was written from God’s perspective than that it was textualized to ancient Israel.  While we “realize that the inspired author … was allowed to use the only terms available to him in his language to describe natural phenomena, but was not allowed to offer anything more than the vaguest, most minimal descriptions of those phenomena, thereby leaving everything unsaid about their exact nature. … perfectly designed to allow that interpretation which accorded with actual fact…” (Holding, 1999) Therefore the most faithful reading comes from God’s world not their ancient world nor from our modern world.  If we accept that meaning is granted by man then we may be carried about by the whims of culture, but if we believe that meaning was given by God then we can have faith that there exists something upon which we can stand.

In the next article I will address the post-modern and emergent role of community and how you may see it presented. I have kept from naming names and quoting anyone directly. The reason for this is I don’t want to focus on particular Christian leaders that are bringing post-modernism into the church but on the principles so that you might be able to identify the ideas that are a concern and not just look out for certain individuals.

Emerging Concerns Part 1 – Introduction

A segment of a social network

Image via Wikipedia

When some friends of mine started reading some books by leaders in what is now termed the “Emergent Church” several years ago I was curious and started to read some of the books, listened to interviews and read some blogs. Over the past four years I have watched several conferences on the subject and considered what was being said. I have decided that it is time for me to throw my hat into the ring. In a few previous articles I touched on some talking points but I feel that now is the time to address the topic more formally and more thoroughly. The underlying principles of the Emergent movement find their roots in post-modern philosophy. Read more of this post