Today on TektonTV, we've added a vid laying the law down on a species of professed Christian which is set to bury the Western church as it lays on its deathbed. We've had many occasions to answer the denizens of the emergent church (Brian McLaren, Carl Medearis, and others) but this is the first time (apart from a few comments on Amazon to Medearis) I've addressed any directly. This one objected to my use of "pwnage" against fundy atheists and those who destroy the truth. Nothing unusual there. (I'd better add here for qualification, since otherwise it will be assumed: I don't mean here reasonable atheists. I mean open, bold, deceivers and profaners.)
Since there's nothing particularly unusual about any emergent -- seen one, seen them all -- we won't bother to name them, but will present here their (typical) responses for commentary.
"We have to made God and Jesus attractive!"
We do? That's funny. God did all he could to make Jesus UNattractive in the first century: A crucified man (the highest form of shame known, in a society where honor was highly valued and shame desperately avoided), who came from Nazareth in Galilee (from the wrong side of the tracks, and a land known for being the Afghanistan of the day), and was resurrected (when pagans thought the idea of resurrection repugnant, and Jews thought no one would be resurrected until the end of the age)...need I go on? I compiled a huge list of reasons precisely why God and Jesus were NOT attractive in the first century; and a minor league arrogant, or any emergent, is going to say we need to make Jesus "attractive"? What do they want us to do, add lipstick to the crucified Christ?
The fact is, the Gospel is not "attractive". It is not personal therapy. It is not for the purpose of making you feel good, or so you can have "experiences" in church (most of which are self-induced euphorias anyway). It is not an "I Can Only Imagine" song where we get to dance and sing. It is erasure of sin for sinners; it is eternal service and work on behalf of the Kingdom. The faithful servant didn't get ten cities so that he could go on vacation in them.
"We need to listen to the grievances of these fundy atheists!"
No we don't. For one thing, they're all old news. For another, they've all already been answered. Fundy atheists -- not "regular" atheists necessarily -- aren't raising these objections because they want an answer. They are raising these objections to annoy, frustrate, and anger Christians. They are raising them as a way of undermining Christians' faith and in turn undermining their support for causes they (the fundy atheists) support -- whether it be abortion, same-sex marriage, or keeping the Ten Commandments out of their offended vision.
The fact is that these “grievances” have been postulated since Ingersoll, since Paine, in some cases since Celsus. The answers have been around just as long. It does not take a great deal of effort (with most of them) to discover that they are bogus. However, fundy atheists as a whole have an aversion to reading. I have offered to buy three of them a free book – only one has taken the offer, and that was one who I’d consider right on the cusp of rational (as opposed to fundy) atheism. So we don’t need to listen to their grievances – because they’re not looking for solutions.
"These fundy atheists are people who have been hurt by the church!"
Oh really? If we allow in trivial or manufactured offense, including that willfully exacerbated by a refusal to look for answers (as above), then that might work out. As for REAL offense, well -- when I did an article on witnessing to apostates, I found a survey on a leading fundy atheist website (a forum, though the thread is now defunct), and the largest portion (28.5 percent) of atheists cited “theological/doctrinal problems” as their reason for questioning their faith. Another 27 percent claimed that their faith “no longer made sense” or that they “grew out of it.” Ten percent cited “Bible contradictions” as their reason to initially question Christianity.
Where did "hurt by the church" come in? Fourth. Way fourth. About 6 percent. Not that this is an excuse to spread crap like "Jesus didn't exist" or "the Inquisition killed 24 million people."
"We need to show the love of Jesus!"
Ah yes. Love. Now that’s an error not unique to the emergents; like most of the church today, they define love in terms of sappy sentimentality and universal politeness to even the most despicable despot. It’s not that; and that is nothing at all like the agape understood by first century peoples, in which the greatest good was always at the fore – even if that meant having to crack a few noggins for the sake of the whole. Emergent love would send Saddam flowers and gently (so as not to offend) ask him to repent. Agape love would depose Saddam, put him on trial, and justly execute him – for the greater good of his people, and the world at large. That’s the difference between modern individualism and collectivism.
Not surprisingly, with that sort of view of love, emergents have no idea what to do with Biblical passages where God says he'll smear dung on people's faces, or where God orders the Canaanites destroyed. They wring their hands and profess to be disturbed by them and to be trying to figure it all out, but the traditional hell will freeze over before they arrive at a real solution. The only solution they have, as Medearis says, is to keep pointing at Jesus and hope no one notices. (McLaren tried some sort of incoherent approach that claimed some sort of misunderstanding, but it is awful hard to misunderstand, "these people must be evicted from the land, or die.")
"If you don't know a person, you have no right to tell them they are wrong."
Ah yes. There's another of those made up emergent rules. Last I checked, right and wrong was determined by accordance with facts and truth, not whether you "knew" a person. The emergent church is obsessively relational, insisting you need to become close to and familiar with a person and earn their “respect” to be able to have the "right" to correct them.
The problem is that the sort of personal familiarity they describe has been unknown until the modern era; in agonistic, collectivist societies like the world of the NT, people did not "get to know" each other save in rare circumstances, and “respect” as we know it was unknown; honor was the closest analogue, and by that reckoning, an inferior could not correct a superior, but a superior was free to correct an inferior, and equals could correct each other only with caution. Which means, by the emergent view, almost no one had the right to correct anyone else until around 1867.
“You can’t judge someone’s heart. Jesus could, and that is why he was allowed to insult the Pharisees! You’re not Jesus, pal!”
By this reckoning, as Douglas Wilson has noted, we also can’t do anything else Jesus did – because who knows what’s actually going on? We can’t help people either – how do we know they’re not evil, and going to abuse us or others if we help them now?
Beyond that, if we want to appeal to Jesus, let us remember that he also said that we could know people by their fruit, and Jesus himself didn’t call on any divine knowledge to judge the Pharisees – he said that by the overflow of their hearts, their mouths spoke (Matt. 12:34). He didn’t have to dip into the divine knowledge well to get that – so why would we need to?
I’ll add a side note. It seems emergents are especially enamored of Bible “translations” like “The Message” which are actually pretty poor paraphrases, because they find in them the sort of relational or sympathetic twist they’re looking for. That’s typical of their mistakes. As John Kohlenberger sums it up, in a Christian Research Journal article on The Message:
So how are we to view The Message? It is an expansive paraphrase that is not so labeled, as is The Living Bible. Beset with inconsistencies, its idiom is not always “street language”; its terminology is often idiosyncratic to its author. Compared by noted literary figures to the groundbreaking translation of J.B.Phillips, I believe The Message often lacks Phillips’s creativity and conciseness.
In the introduction, Eugene Peterson compares his pastoral ministry to his work as a translator: “I stood at the border between two languages, biblical Greek and everyday English, acting as a translator, providing the right phrases, getting the right words so that the men and women to whom I was pastor could find their way around and get along in this world” (p.7). Much of The Message reads like a sermon: text plus interpretation and application. Unlike a sermon, however, the reader does not know where the text ends and the sermon begins.
Because of its interpretive and idiosyncratic nature, The Message should not be used for study. If read for enlightenment or entertainment, the reader should follow the advice of Saint Augustine, as quoted in the original preface to the KJV, “Variety of translations is profitable for finding out the sense of the Scriptures.” Acts17:11 commends the Bereans for evaluating Paul’s teaching with the Old Testament Scriptures. In the same spirit, The Message needs to be evaluated against more consistent and traditional translations, especially when its renderings evoke a response such as, “I didn’t know the Bible said that!” or, “Now I understand what it means.”
In sum: while the phrase “the Message” is Eugene Peterson’s translation of “the Gospel,” not everything in The Message should be treated as gospel.
I’ll say this in close. Emergents, with regard to fundy atheists, have a parallel in the secular world. Our school systems are enduring what some have called an epidemic of bullying, as the weak are preyed on by the strong, and the strong receive nothing but slaps on the wrist, counseling, and “understanding”. To enable a bully is far more despicable, however, than the bullying itself.
Emergents who insist on being nice to fundy atheists and other destroyers or deceivers are enablers, and their act in so being is therefore more wicked than the first.
Appeasement doesn't work. The emergents need to learn a lesson from Neville Chamberlain.