A glance at the work of Emergent Evangelists is an eye-opener.1 The real phenomena is the attraction and following they find in Evangelical communities. It exposes a unique problem among Evangelicals, because secularists are not drawn to the “stories” and “conversations” that comprise the new vocab of Emergent-Speak. Secular minds are too savvy, and Emergent-Speak is just too sappy. Jesus also remarked on savvy non-Christians:
Luke 16:8 “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.
How do secular minds perceive the Emergent message? Evangelicals can benefit from watching their reactions. At Berkley, McLaren was invited to speak , and was trounced for his idealistic (or naive) revolution where “Everything Must Change!” An audience request for practical examples stunned McLaren. After a moment of thought, he launched into a rambling narrative, and five minutes later finally ended in a revolutionary whimper (watch the snapshot). For an intelligent Berkley audience, where revolution is a staple of life, McLaren’s revolution was a dud.
Emergent Evangelists are handled delicately by Evangelicals, unlike secular audiences, so they can expect—or demand—reception as quasi-Evangelical teachers, despite their low view of scriptures. They do this through Emergent-Speak, the language of camouflage.Non-Christians are certainly welcome guests or speakers, and it’s because they they disagree, openly and proudly! They need no camouflage. I love talking to secularists.
But Emergent Evangelists camouflage their faith. Everyone should know they advertise Universalism to the home crowd. They hold views of The Christ more compatible with Mormonism, the JWs, and Judaism.2 But on tour they sound different. Rather than stating any faith-position, Emergent-Speak appeals for “open conversations” and “more questions”, much like the bureaucratic dodges common in Washington. In politics, camouflage is vital for characters like Brutus, the close friend and assassin of Julius Caesar.
Are these men really asking questions and holding open conversations as claimed? More precisely, are they as clueless as they claim? Not really. Watch how Emergent Village founder Tony Jones goes from benign, questioning mind to vociferous attacker:
Interviewer: Is there a particular system of beliefs that every Emergent Christian would espouse?
Tony Jones: It would be less a system of beliefs or some kind of doctrinal scheme. It would be more a vibe, or an ethos… 3
So much controversy over a “vibe” or “ethos”? Jones is concealing the controversial stuff, or his critics are petty, or stupidly-mistaken. There are no beliefs or “doctrinal schemes” to react against, Jones says. A few minutes later Tony delivers a dogmatic “system of beliefs” he camouflaged, and what a renunciation it is!
Interviewer: Some people say, “That sounds like moral relativism.”
Tony: It does sound really mooshy, doesn’t it? And it sounds scary to people who want their lives to be black-and-white things. They want to say, “Tell me what to believe about gays and the church. Tell me what to think about welfare, or…whatever the hot issue is today…”4
Whatever else “Emergent” means, it certainly includes strong beliefs and convictions, as Jones demonstrated. Think about it–Jones is a PhD candidate, McLaren is over-50 from lifelong ministry experience, all are brilliant, highly-educated, prodigious authors and communicators. How is it possible they have no “system of beliefs or some kind of doctrinal scheme,” as Jones said?
Whether admitted or not, they certainly behave like men with strong convictions. Jones unleashes a torrent of Postmodern condemnation against anyone who claims “some kind of transcendent truth out there that’s hyper-spiritualized, and we can try and get to it.”5 His agnosticism was feigned all along. He camouflaged piercing diatribes that were hovering like Brutus’ back-stabbing knife. That’s OK in politics, I guess. (But WWJD?)
It’s a wake-up call. Emergent-Speak permeates their language, so camouflage permeates their message. It means the Brutus-knife (the “piercing diatribe”) delivers a real wallop. One question: where is that knife?
Something is wrong when bastions of Evangelical faith like Christianity Today, Southern Baptist seminaries, Willow Creek, and even the Meeting House give these guys platforms rife with pretense, and everyone knows it!
But something is really messed-up when Christians lack the savvy to ask the Berkley question: “Why do you matter?”
It’s a wake-up call. Evangelical strongholds are losing sight of the obvious, and who is immune?
Visiting Solomon’s Porch
Imagine listening to Emergent Village founder Tony Jones lecture at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, where Jones vilifies John’s Gospel as a 2nd-Century forgery, written as anti-Jewish propaganda. How does Jones prove it? Largely by ridicule. But first he modifies the Gospel account to accommodate ridicule, and then gets rolling on a caricature of Jesus as Benny Hinn, the famous con-artist. Jones delivers the chuckles:
When Jesus says “I AM,” a bunch of guys fall over, in a Benny Hinn-esque moment unlike any other in the Gospels… –T. Jones ((From Anti-Jewish Rhetoric in the Gospel of John.))
The “Hinn-esque moment” where “a bunch of guys fall over” is an assassination attempt, John says (see Jn. 8:58). Jones contrived the farce. But why make a farce out of an assassination attempt? After all, the event is significant because Jesus directly claims to be Yahweh, the Creator God, so triggered outrage. Jones thinks Jesus and Benny Hinn are peas-in-pod, both with exaggerated claims of supernatural powers…
A savvy Christian would ask, “Is there a point here?” Yes, although the “Hinn-esque moment” was superfluous disdain without a point. Jones finally gets to the real cause, which is exposing the “anti-Jewish polemics in John, the Synoptics, and Paul.” His expose is a monumental task, since he indicted most of the New Testament (I count 18 books), but the evidence is shabby and thin! Jones junks the Pauline writings by pointing to the anti-Semite Communion story:
…the words penned by Paul, “on the night that Jesus was betrayed…” something that reminds us of Jesus’ betrayal by Jew-das?”
Then Jones finds the same racist “Jew-das” language in John’s Gospel:
Jew-das, you might say, is repeatedly referred to by John as the one who betrayed Jesus.
A savvy Christian would ask, “How could Paul and John and other NT authors be anti-Jewish if they were Jews? And why worship a Jew? And is ‘Jew-das’ really spelled that way?”
Now imagine your conversation on the drive home: “I’m sure glad we didn’t miss that meeting! I wish Joe was there…I need to tell the guys at work…I’ll invite the boss next time.”
Or, a savvy mind would ask, “What’s the point?” To be fair, it isn’t all giggles-and-bashes for Jones. He finds better Christian literature in the mysterious Didache (next up).
- The term “Emergent” used here refers to the leading Postmodernists who formed Emergent Village, and not the broader “Emerging Church” movement. [↩]
- Emergent Evangelists discredit the atonement, or “Penal Substitution” as they prefer, the Last Judgment, and claim the Gospel accounts are late forgeries, which certainly deprecates the Messianic history. [↩]
- See Think 209 at Google video, an online program promoting thoughtful discussions. [↩]
- See Think 209, Google video, time code 4.00. [↩]
- Think 209, time code 00:11.45. [↩]