Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Helping the Conversation

One of the people who belong to the church I pastor asked me about an article she had read. In the article, Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Fellowship in Riverside, CA, joins the chorus of voices speaking out against the Emergent Church.

You need to know that I have attended Harvest Fellowship, and while mega-churches with their own bookstores and coffee shops and parking attendants aren't my cup of tea, I could tell that God was at work there. I have listened to Greg Laurie on the radio, I once attended a Harvest Crusade in Anaheim where I saw him in person. I have always enjoyed his powerful delivery of the gospel, his passion for evangelism, and his cultural sensitivity. And I've been a fan of the Calvary Chapel non-denomination, to which Harvest belongs.

Which is why I was all the more saddened, disheartened, and angered by the above-mentioned article. I'm not sure what Laurie's intentions were (I suspect he is hoping to "protect" his flock from those heretical emergents), but the result is disastrous. He misrepresents the Emergent movement, he fails to grasp the real issues, he chases after red herrings, and he ends up being divisive and disparaging toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm shocked that he would publish something so shoddy.

Let this be a teachable moment to us all.

1. From the article:

One of these leaders made this statement: "I must add, though, that I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherence 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."

This sounds very inclusive and loving, but it is flat-out wrong and unscriptural! We want people to become followers of Jesus in a biblical context!

Part of the problem with this article is that it doesn't leave room for nuance or further explanation. Laurie uses quick soundbites to create positions that he then dismantles. The above quote could be construed as unbiblical, but not necessarily so. In fact, this isn't even an Emergent discussion, per se. This is a discussion being held among the leading missiologists around the world. And it's not the "younger, emergent" types leading the charge. None other than Ralph Winter, godfather of U.S. Missions, has been leading the discussion on "Insider Movements." The question is this - is it better to see a Muslim converted, only to have them "come out" and be ostracized, cast out of their family and network, and probably killed? Or could they remain within their life, yet pray to Jesus during the prayer times, and worship Jesus when they go to the mosque? Would it be possible to create underground networks of Christians within those systems, who could then start to witness for Christ from within?

Please note: I'm not attempting to begin a discussion on Insider Movements. I'm only pointing out that whereas Laurie would call out Emergents as being unbiblical, this issue is not even an Emergent issue. It is just entering into the emergent discussion because it's the very discussion that our missionary leaders are having.

2. From the article

Jesus plainly said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the life. …" (John 14:6, NKJV) Yet despite this clear biblical teaching, another "emergent" leader says, "I see the world through the images of Christianity, which teaches me that I encounter God in everyone I meet, regardless of what they believe."

This is New Age mysticism, not New Testament Christianity. The truth is, you will only find Christ living in those who have put their faith in Him.

Again, the problem here is that Laurie has picked up on a couple "red flags" and, without attempting to understand what is really being said, he has chosen to shoot down the entire movement. However, with just the tiniest theological work, the above quote could, in fact, be entirely biblical. Simply begin with "Let us make humans in our image," and you're there already. Or go with the words of Jesus: "Whenever you do this to the least of these, you've done it unto me." I don't think the person being quoted meant to say that we're all one big happy God-filled family (although Laurie's failure to identify sources makes any backtracking impossible - another weakness of the article); from what I understand of Emergent thinking, the premise is simply that God can be seen in and through anyone. It's not a question of salvation, it's a question of the imago Dei. Wasn't it Mother Teresa who said something like "If you want to see Jesus, then go love a leper"? Whenever I took our youth group to feed the people at the Modesto Gospel Mission, I always told them "look in their eyes - those are Jesus' eyes looking back at you." Unfortunately, Laurie is coming in with suspicious eyes and finding heresies that aren't really there.

3. From the article

At the same time, I see other churches becoming distracted from the proclamation of the Gospel and instead focusing their primary energies on issues like "global warming." I'll tell you about global warming; it's when people spend eternity separated from Jesus Christ in hell! Jesus said of hell, "The fire never goes out" (Mark 9:48, NLT).

Here Laurie makes the logical mistake of assuming this is an either/or. You can either care for creation or you can witness to sinners. You can't seem to do both in Laurie's world. However, he misses at least three important points. First, the creation-care mandate was the first given to humans, (read Genesis 2), and it has never been rescinded. We are commanded to care for the earth, so we can't cop out by saying "we need to focus on other things." Second, he misses that creation care can actually be a powerful witness to Christ by children of the Creator. Proclamation of the Gospel is not solely accomplished by door-to-door evangelism, nor crusades. When the Church joins in with those who are working to better treat the creation, we witness to our love for our Creator, which is another way of proclaiming the gospel. Third, we won't have the opportunity to witness for the gospel if millions of people are dying because of the way we mismanage this planet.

One more point to be made - Note the employ of flashy rhetoric, equating global warming with people burning in hell. I hope your non sequitor alarms were going off when you read that one. Laurie is attempting to circumvent logical discussion with fiery (pardon the pun) language, pulling you in emotionally while short-changing you logically.

4. From the article:

We in the Church of Jesus Christ had better get back to basics, or we will lose what little influence we have left in our culture.

The ironic thing is, this is exactly what the Emergent Church is attempting to do - leave behind the packaging of modernity and returning to biblical basics, such as being the community of God, being salt and light IN our communities, living our faith as much as we verbally proclaim it, allowing the scriptures to speak rather than forcing on them arguments of human theological systems.

So, to conclude, Greg Laurie has attempted to speak out on an issue on which he has proven he has no understanding; I fear he has listened to other voices speaking out against the Emergents and allowed their rhetoric to cloud his judgment. He has called his brothers and sisters in Christ a "dangerous counterfeit"; he has clouded the discussion with empty, hollow rhetoric, he is causing division in the Body of Christ, and all by way of proclaiming an expertise in an area where he has yet to prove that he understands the issues.

For this, I am troubled and saddened, for his ministry has been blessed, and has been successful in winning many to the Lord. I just hope he's not becoming more exclusivist as he moves on. The Church does not need more Christians throwing stones at one another. We should set the example of those who listen, sift, discern, do the hard theological work, then listen, sift, and discern once again. And above all, we should be known by our love for one another, not our suspicion of one another.


Kim said...

I fear he has listened to other voices speaking out against the Emergents and allowed their rhetoric to cloud his judgment.

Isn't this so common? I don't know much about Greg Laurie (being from the East Coast & all) but just the comments you quoted here give me pause. I'll go read the entire article now...

Anonymous said...

I am the one who sent you the article. I haven't heard enough about the emergent church from either you or Laurie to make and informed opinion. Can you in some way tell us in a nutshell who the emergent church is and what their philosphy and theology is? Or can you refer us to a book or website where we can learn more, preferably from someone who is actually in the movement or a leader of it? Thanks for sharing Dan.

Steven said...

Great post.

Nancy Ludlow said...

Wow do I love to hear my pastors heart, that would be Pastor Dan Whitmarsh.

Nancy Ludlow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.