Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Open-Minded Emergent Church

Time Magazine issued its list of the 25 most influential evangelicals recently, and as a result, Larry King hosted a discussion between the LaHayes, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, and Brian McLaren. The interview transcript is interesting on the whole for all kinds of reasons (not the least of which is King’s utter inability to think his way out of a wet paper sack). But one of the things which struck me most was McLaren’s seemingly unshakeable urge to be an open-minded evangelical. I have read this kind of thing over and over in his articles and books, but those are planned and edited, so I think they can sometimes be given a good deal of charity in their interpretation. But when he was faced with a national audience and direct questions which touched on doctrinal issues, he responded in the same, open-minded and noncommittal way.

I continue to worry about the lack of doctrinal boundaries in the Emergent Church movement. When the primary goal is open-minded compassion, then too many foundational issues get thrown out the window. In the words of the greatest Christian rock artist in the last three decades, “are you so open-minded/that your brain leaked out?”

Here is one important exchange and then the result in the perception of the viewers a little later in the interview:

CALLER: I was raised in the Christian faith, and I also happen to be a gay man. And I just heard one of your panel members say that there's no hatred towards the gay community, but that's not how I see it. All I see is hate. And didn't Jesus preach love? Aren't we to love one another?

KING: Brian.

MCLAREN: Yeah, I am very sympathetic with your call. I see, even though we might say that people don't individually hate, the language of culture wars -- war is a hate word. So I think we've got to get away from that kind of language. And I think one of the greatest things that Christians can do, especially Christians with the name evangelical, would be to start making some friends and invite their neighbors over, and get to know someone who's gay, get to know someone who's very different. And not to just fix them or argue with them, but really to understand them as a neighbor.


And then a little later, this call came in:

CALLER: Good evening, Larry. Good evening to your panel. I would like to preface my comment to Mrs. LaHaye by saying that I highly respect Reverend Jakes and Mr. McLaren because they seem to be the most compassionate, understanding and open-minded of the evangelicals. Mrs. LaHaye, with regard to abortion, I'd like to tell you that you cannot legislate morality….

Notice how the LaHayes (King’s whipping boy and girl) were immediately identified with a doctrinal stance and how McLaren was unequivocally identified with the non-doctrinal stance.

McLaren emphasized over and over the need to understand each other and love people, and all of that is right and good, but he couldn’t make a stand on orthodox doctrine when he was give a chance to at least twice. (Earlier in the interview McLaren was asked about sin, and he didn’t say anything about sin in his response.) The most loving and understanding thing we can do is love the sinner and hate the sin-but that involves hating the sinful actions that people engage in.

Being open-minded to the point where your listeners and readers feel fine about their lifestyle is a kind of profound neglect. Granted the line where we actually love people and hate sin is a hard one to find most of the time, but it is necessary that we find it.

9 comments:

Rev. Mike said...

Phil, a consistent theme I see you write about here relates to postmodern epistemology and its impact in the "emergent church." I would caution you to be careful not to build a strawman around this single facet of the movement. It is the movement's Achilles' heel and rightly so.

But it is distinctly difficult to define the emerging church (as I have discovered in trying to describe it to my wife!), and there is far more involved here than epistemology. I have an interest in its agenda as it pertains to deconstruction of denominational institutional structures and worship styles and reconstruction in modes that remain biblically faithful to the Great Commission, but I am not at all enamored with the epistemic shift in theology and biblical studies, which, when you look at its influences, is really nothing new under the sun.

Phil Steiger said...

Mike-

Thanks for the comment and the thoughts. I am certainly trying to avoid setting up a straw-man, but the more I watch the Emergent Movement the more I see some of the same foundational issues rising to the top. As a result, I see them as crucial to the future of the movement-for which I really do wish the best.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a serious and lasting reform movement in the church that came to the table with no defined doctrinal suggestions or well articulated ecclesiastical agenda. I might be wrong about my history, but the fact that the EC cannot be defined docrinally at this point is, I think, exactly because of its fundamental epistemological and broader philosophical problems.

If the EC movement is to be a lasting and valuable refrom to the church, it needs to disassociate itself from its pomo leanings and the philosophy that comes with them. I am also interested (and hopeful) in what may come of the EC's construction efforts, but I remain skeptical that construction can actually take place while the EC remains rooted in a view that is essentially deconstructive.

Andrew said...

Tell it, Steve Taylor!

Phil Steiger said...

Major Kudos to the Taylor fan!

Steve said...

Hey Phil-
Your blog has exploded! Great job! I've been at it for over a year and don't have near the audience you do.

I too share your concerns with the lack of clarity among some in the emerging church. Yet I am also sympathetic to a point.

Pastoring in a postmodern world (and even little ol' Wray doesn't escape it's influence) it is increasingly difficult to be pastoral and dogmatically black and white. Please hear me correctly in that I believe in truth, morality, and correct doctrine. But those who are coming to my church, those who I am really excited about, who have a huge opportunity for growth, don't often share my views.

We have an unmarried, co-habitating couple coming to our church. They have 3 children. They have been warmly received into our church and lovingly accepted. They are not members but they are asking about membership. They know the Bible's teaching concerning premarital sex. I preached Hebrews 13 and took a clear stand on the issue.

They are and have been talking about marriage for quite sometime and I am excited for them and their future. I hope and pray they will marry this summer.

What I have learned through this is that they are not bad people. They are wonderful people that God loves and Jesus died for. Too often I was taught that they were sinners (who isn't?) and that in order for them to be accepted by the church they needed to get their act together.

All that to say, McLaren's comments which you quote aren't troubling to me.

In fact doesn't McLaren take a doctrinal stance in these words?

"KING: Where do you stand on that (homosexuality being sin), Brian?

MCLAREN: Well, Larry, I think there's so many pressing issues facing us. And I think it's tragic for the Christian and evangelical community to be known as a community who are angry about one or two issues, and proportions don't make a lot of sense to me. I think, as Franklin Graham said, we believe Jesus came to forgive our since. We also believe that he came to help us reconcile with one another. And I think one of our great challenges is how we're going to treat one another when we don't agree on this issue. And the Christian community is struggling with how we can treat one another with love and respect even when we disagree. I hope we can make progress in that."

McLaren is identifying his doctrinal stance with Franklin Graham's doctrinal stance, isn't he?

Further Jakes is mentioned along with McLaren by the woman you quote. Why don't you place Jakes in the same category as McLaren, as "unequivocally identified with the non-doctrinal stance"?

Just some contrarian thoughts to ponder.

Phil Steiger said...

Steve-

Thanks for your thoughts-it is good to hear from you.

I absolutely agree with you about the "black and white" issue. You recently posted about conversion (or at least a change of mind) being a process, and I think the postmodern mindset has a lot to do with that. And here is where the EC movement is at its best-a description and "warning" about the shift in culture that I think is largely accurate.

I don't want to come down too hard on McLaren, and maybe he did take a stand alongside Graham on doctrinal issues, but I worry that the leaders in the EC are not clear about those stances. Otherwise, why did the caller not identify him with the doctrinal stance?

Talking with another friend about this post, I realized I may need to clarify some of my sentiments. I have seen enough evangelical leaders interviewed on these kinds of shows that I applaude any one of them who can clearly communicate the position of, "love the sinner, hate the sin." I thought that came across well at points in the King interview, but there were several openings that were not taken advantage of. And given the culture as it is today, if a church leader is too much on the side of "open-mindedness," it gets translated as, "my sinful behavior is fine with God." With all the ins and outs of postmodern culture that we should be sensitive to, I don't want to overlook that one.

As far as Jakes goes, I simply left him out because as far as I can tell, he doesn't have much to do with the EC. Besides, I think he has some of his own theological problems separate from the ones listed in this post.

I really appreciate your thoughts-they help keep me from coming across as too judgmental and myopic.

Theophilus said...

Good comments, Phil. I'm troubled, too, by the relative lack of doctrinal boundaries coming out of the EC. I realize the movement is still relatively in its infancy, and a more defined doctrine may yet emerge. But I think part of what's moving the EC is exactly its lack of doctrinal boundaries and rules and regulations. And I think that in the long run, that could prove deadly. I admire the EC's compassion and concern for those who "fall through the cracks" of "traditional churches," but I just worry the pendulum is going to swing a bit far in the other direction to the point where they'll take on everything and everybody and lose whatever distinctiveness the church should have in the world. But I could be wrong about all that . . .

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