What Are the Emerging Church and the Emergent Church? What Are Their Strengths and Shortcomings?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD

Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #8 – What Are the Emerging Church and the Emergent Church? What Are Their Strengths and Shortcomings?

 

Popularly, the term Emerging Church has been applied to high-profile, youth-oriented congregations that have gained attention on account of their rapid numerical growth, their ability to attract and retain many in the younger generation, their contemporary worship that draws upon popular music styles with the accompanying pyrotechnics, and that promotes itself to the Christian sub-culture through its web-sites and by word of mouth.

The Emergent Church is part of the Emerging Church Movement but it does not embrace the dominant ideology of the Emerging Church.

Rather, the Emergent Church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity while the new liberalism accommodates postmodernism.

I have three major concerns with the Emergent Church:

(1) With regard to the authority of God’s Word, they generally stress the narrative aspects of Scripture.

Scripture they rightly say is a story of God’s plan to save us. But then I question the way some within the Emergent Church view the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.“If we lose Christ’s work of substitution, expiation AND propitiation, we lose the gospel and we are left with a theory of the atonement that is a complete untruth.”

By focusing on the narrative aspects of Scripture, they tend discuss the big picture or themes without digging into the details.

In a somewhat Barthian fashion they say Scripture contains, rather than is, the word of God; we are to “listen for” the word of God (as if it might be there somewhere within the particular Scripture reading of the day) rather than having us “hear the word of God.”

(2) With regard to the cross of Christ, those in the Emergent Church will often contend that the atonement is bigger than substitutionary atonement.

True, there is more to the atonement than substitution; more happened on the cross than Christ bearing our sins and the wrath of His Father. But less did not happen either!

If we lose Christ’s work of substitution, expiation AND propitiation, we lose the gospel and we are left with a theory of the atonement that is a complete untruth.

Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke who are the most influential leaders of the Emergent Church said that “The doctrine of propitiation, that Christ removed the wrath of God by absorbing it himself, is – ‘child abuse’” and “hence immoral and reprehensible.”

On this statement alone both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel.

The wrath of God is real; sinful humanity deserves God’s just condemnation. Christ went to the cross to absorb and remove the wrath of the Father. Christ was our substitute; He was our sacrificial lamb.

(3) With regard to the concepts of truth and knowledge, those in the Emergent movement hold that truth belongs to God alone, not us.

They say that while truth itself “might” be unchanging, our knowledge of the truth can never be certain; we may have confidence that something is true, but we can never have certainty.“I can know with certainty that God exists, and yet not have exhaustive knowledge about Him.”

Those in the Emergent movement confuse “exhaustive knowledge” with “certain knowledge.” I can have the latter without having the former.

For example, I can know with certainty that when I throw the light switch the light will go off or on without having an exhaustive knowledge of electricity.

And, I can know with certainty that God exists, and yet not have exhaustive knowledge about Him. The emergent perspective, like the worldview of postmodernism generally, uses the lack of comprehensive knowledge to undermine our ability to have confidence or certainty.

Yet, scripture unashamedly describes us humans as capable of knowing the truth. If “no language is capable of capturing absolute truth,” as those in the postmodern Emergent Church assert, then how are we to interpret Jesus’ words in John 17:8… “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me” in verse 14 “I have given them thy word,” and in verse 17 “thy word is truth?”“Jesus used indicative sentences to convey propositions about God, angels, human souls, His own deity and mission, and a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

In John 14:23-24 Jesus said, “The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me,” and in Matthew 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Jesus used indicative sentences to convey propositions about God, angels, human souls, His own deity and mission, and a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

Paul’s letters begin with doctrinal assertions before he moves on to their applications in life. If the postmodern theory of language were true, Jesus and Paul would be guilty of linguistic idolatry.

These are just three issues from the Emergent movement with which I take exception. I cannot think of a single major doctrine, including the Trinity itself that is not being re-envisioned or re-imagined within the emergent movement.

It is interesting that those in the Emergent Church will state that “they don’t deny truth, they don’t deny the deity of Christ, they don’t deny the atonement, they don’t deny the Apostles’ Creed, etc.” but at the same time “they will not AFFIRM truth, they will not AFFIRM the deity of Christ, they will not AFFIRM the atonement, they will not AFFIRM the Apostles’ Creed, etc.”

Do my concerns about the “Emergent Church” apply to every church that is considered an “EmergING Church?”  No, but unfortunately they do apply to a number of their most prominent leaders and popular churches.

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