Monday, May 02, 2005

A critique of a recent White Horse Inn radio show...

I've engaged in a conversation regarding emergent recently, and several people asked that I give specifics of what I didn't appreciate about a particula radio show... so, here it is. Feel free to leave thoughtful comments as well. A few of my specific critiques of the interviews with Horton & Rosenthal from the White Horse Inn: part 1: “To Grow the church apart from God’s Word.” This isn’t a fair assesment of ec. This kind of phrase is a generalization that is inaccurate, and it also cuts off healthy dialogue. This statement leads listeners to unequivically believe that ec is not faithful to scripture even before the radio conversation began. “They just don’t have leadership.” If you want leadership, you can turn to many people. The leadership of emergent village would be one form of leadership. Places such as Mars Hill graduate school would be one of many places to get good scholarly leadership. Zondervans is publishing some of the books (among other publishers). Conferences such as the recent Worship, Arts, Liturgy, and Preaching thing by emergent village could also be understood as leadership. So who is qualified to lead? I have a masters degree and 21 years of Christian education along with several years of public university as well as a life that has been a meager attempt to be faithful to the kingdom of God. What else do “I” need to be qualified as a leader? (Besides being affirmed by God’s people as somebody who is called and gifted as a leader and pastor person.) “They are having debates about such things as the Trinity…” There may be a few bloggers having this debate, but that’s about it. For whatever reason, those pushing back want to deny that we (ec) are orthodox in nature. We may be questioning some things, but we haven’t unequivcally begun to deny orthodox Christianity. We may be seriously questioning American Christianity though… i.e. the flag is not the gospel. Critique of McLaren regarding his favored traditions: “He is very kind to liberals.” Let’s be honest. They are kinder. On a related note, if you read and listened to enough McLaren you would realize that he embraces more Calvinism than most who are critiquing him. I am a Calvinist and I can easily critique Calvinism. I’ve lived it for 39 years of my life; I recognize its shortcomings since I’ve lived within this particular bubble. “Are we really talking about Christianity at all?” in suggesting that McLaren isn’t about following Jesus and living within the kingdom… This kind of rhetoric has no food value. It has no theolgoical value, and it certainly is far distant from the life that Brian leads. “What do you do where everything is in process…” And so is the coming of the reality of the kingdom. Even the most conservatives believe that the world will come to an end. So, yes, this world and God’s work within it are in process. So, then why shouldn’t’ our approach to theolgoy be the same? Yes, I am a Calvinistm, and many Calvinists believe in progressive revelation. To deny that we all, in some form, believe in progressive revelation is dishonest. It lacks a willingness to engage the difficult mysteries that we don’t fully understand. “When you walk into an ec churh, what are you likely to see?” I am not aware of anyone who is labeling their church as an ‘ec’ church. We’re friends, and we’re having conversations. People who are followers of Jesus should be friends. We are brothers and sisters. So, it seems that talking with one another would be healthy. But, leaders aren’t labeling their churches as ec churches. “In a lot of these emergent churches, basically, it’s make it up as you go.” Um. No. I’ll say this since I’ve lived my life within a highly educated Calvinist denomination. The thoughtfulness of ec people, is at least as scholarly and has at least as much theolgoical depth as the wider body of Christ within North America. In fact, I’ll suggest much more. There is a reference to ‘the internet as being the key reason that young people are being drawn to this conversation.’ Perhaps it could be that something like the Spirit of God is also in our midst. Could it be that the evangelcial church has aligned itself so closely to the Republican party that the gospel message has lost some of its salt? Perhaps not, but why is the evangelical and mainline church in North America largely faltering? Church nunbers are not increasing. We need to go to places such as India, Africa, and China to see the church growing. But, somehow we want to deny that we’re in some kind of trouble in terms of our gospel message. The statement at the beginning of this paragraph is almost as ridiculous as Al Gore claiming to have invented the internet. There is a criticism of Rob Bell and Mars Hill Bible church toward the end of the program. Rob is quoted as saying that he no longer understands the Bible like he once did. Um… Rob is a better biblical scholar than either of these guys on the show. Some of the best biblcal preacing in America is happening at Mars Hill. Unless you’ve listened to a dozen of Rob’s messages, you have no right to criticize or catagorize Rob’s preaching. Sound bites and newspaper articles don’t count. And that certainly doesn’t’ qualify as justice. Ultimatley, my criticism of a show such as this is that… this dialogue seeks to know the truth, and to protect the church against false teachings. I can commend Yet, they haven’t fully done their homework on ec. And that my friends, seems to be injustice.


Roger Overton said...

I disagree with most of your analysis, but there's ony point in particular I'd like you to explain.
"On a related note, if you read and listened to enough McLaren you would realize that he embraces more Calvinism than most who are critiquing him."
I just read A Generous Orthodoxy and to claim McLaren is a Calvinist (especially more Calvinist than Horton and the other guys) is ridiculous. Is there somewhere else that McLaren embraces Calvinism?

Randy said...
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Randy said...

I suspect Brian is less of a calvinist than Horton. Then again, there are few people who are. In terms of my understanding of Brian and Calvinism, it was a conversation that I had with him several years ago. That conversation was meant to be between us; so I won't go into it too much.

There is one thing that I can share though. If we take Calvin seriously, we find that Calvin believed his thoughts to be new and fresh for his particular time and place. Theology is meant to be vibrant & answering the questions of the day. Yet, we seem to think that we need to refer back to the issues of 1500 and take these as the best that our theolgoy has to offer.

So, in the spirit of the reformers, perhaps Calvin would be doing good theology if alive today. Or would his Institutes be his forever last word?

And for my understanding, what are my particular points with which you disagree?

Roger Overton said...

RE: Calvinism- I think this is an inappropriate reduction of Calvinism. Calvin taught, or at least he believed he was teaching, the same thing the Bible teaches, only that he expressed it in new ways. It's not as though Calvinism answered the questions of the 1500s and some other theology, like Arminianism, answers today's. The theology may change its expression but it is the same theology of the Bible, of the 1500s, of today.
Calvinism refers to a certain of theological truths expressed in certain traditions (TULIP, the Institutes,etc.). But it's not as though 500 years later those truths are no longer relevant. Further, to identify oneself as a Calvinist (as McLaren does) then to deny the Calvinist expressions (as McLaren also does) is inconsistent. If A Generous Orthodoxy is an accurate description of McLaren's beliefs, he's in no way a Calvinist.

Other points- "To grow the church apart from God's Word." It isn't a fair characterization at face value, but when we take into account what Horton and the other believe the role of the Bible in the church to be, it is accurate.

The trouble for Horton, especially, is communication. I think he's right in most of his assessment, but the way he talks doesn't make any sense to those who aren't educated as he has been (in a intellectual reformed tradition). Comparing Horton's writing in "The Church in Emerging Culture" with McLaren is like reading two different languages.

While I haven't seen a single ec person debating the trinity, I've seen a few debating salvation. So the specific about the trinity is too generalized, but represents a valid concern for orthodox theology.

"He is very kind to liberals." Liberals are kinder? I'm not sure where you're going with this. What they meant is that McLaren criticizes liberals far less than conservatives. This is especially true in AGO.

"Are we talking about Christianity at all?" Is a valid question when McLaren talks about Jesus saving other religions and his disdain for certain views of salvation that have been understood to be orthodox (like exclusivism and substitionary atonement).

That's enough for now, I'll be here all night if I keep going. I think over all, the White Horse guys have been trying to understand EC and have in some respects, but there's an inability to communicate with some people, specifically in EC. Most of EC has distanced itself from theological discussion (of the White Horse sort) that it's like two different languages. It's very hard for the sides to have a conversation that really makes sense to each side.

Randy said...


At the end of your previous post, you wrote, "Most of EC has distanced itself from theological discussion (of the White Horse sort) that it's like two different languages. It's very hard for the sides to have a conversation that really makes sense to each side."

I believe that we can agree on this issue. We have very different perspectives.

So, how do we go forward?

I think it is unfortunate that the personal attacks have taken place. It seems unfair to question ones faith (i.e. McLarens) when I don't know their heart and life. While the theology may be suspect in my mind, this doesnt' mean that we can question his/her salvation. We simply are not given the position of judge as followers of Jesus.

At the end of the day, I don't question if you are saved or if you know the grace of God. McLaren, Bell, and others have taken these shots from some brothers and sisters. I would guess they simply find it easier, healthier, and probably more Christ-like to turn the other cheek.

Howard said...

Thanks for your notes of the MP3 files. Another sloppy shot at EC from people who give the distinct impression that they are afraid for some reason.

Roger Overton said...

In Galatians Paul accused Peter and Barnabas of hypocrisy. He didn't question their salvation, their spiritual gifts, but he pointed out that their actions did not line up with the "truth of the gospel."

Horton and the bunch haven't questioned McLaren's salvation, they've questioned if what he's teaching lines up with the "truth of the gospel." We can't judge whether or not someone's saved, but we can judge their teaching in light of scripture. Not only can we, but we have a responsibility to hold our bretheren accountable.

Some have questioned McLaren's salvation, but not the White Horse guys or anyone I know personally. I think you've mischaracterized what they said.

We both agree that the dialogue could be better. Here's something I wrote awhile back on that issue-

Howard, I've heard this notion that people who critique EC are somehow afraid of it. This sounds like a way to dismiss what they're saying because you don't like it. Please see the guidlines I list in the link above for dialogue. If our discussion about EC, or anything for that matter, is going to be productive we should give those we disagree with the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to follow scripture as best they can, unless of course we have clear evidence to the contrary. Even if their comments are motivated by fear (which they aren't), that has nothing to do with whether or not what they said is accurate.

janean said...

"Are we talking about Christianity at all?" In Roger's response with this question he forgot to add about McLaren's views on heaven and hell which are totally out of line with Scripture. As far as asking this question to the whole of ec (not just McLaren) that is questionable. I think there are probably several pastors out there like mine right now who don't embrace all of what is in the ec. But from what I've researched and seen I can't figure out the attraction to any of it. I really can't. After all the reading and researching I've done (see below) I can't help but through the baby out with the bathwater with the ec.

I agree with the commentaries on White Horse Inn. I've read 4 McLaren books, also Dan Kimball's "emergent church" and gone to several ec sites, etc. I've tried to have an "open" mind but it was so clear of the error of McLaren to me. I do NOT have a reformed or calvinist background but I side with them and clearly see that McLaren is in NO way Calvinist. I consider him a wolf in sheep's clothing. This stuff was introduced into my church over a year ago and I'm still battling it out there. This is why I've read so many of his books.
I've been a Christian for over 20 years and I am just amazed at the acceptance of some of the authors and books out there today = McLaren, Eldredge, Yaconelli, Brennan Manning, etc. These were all promoted at my church last year and I have (unfortunately) read all of these authors and there is error (in various degrees) from all of them and I question where they are really coming from.

(in case your wondering why I haven't simply left my church - it's because my husband is an elder and he doesn't want to leave)

Randy brought up the issue of questioning McLaren's salvation. I don't know about that, nor does anyone, but what I do know and question is WHY would anyone who is of the Lord write and say what he is saying??? I believe it is error and doesn't belong in the Church. There is much better biblical stuff out there. I'll stick with the Calvinist and conservatives like James Boice, John MacArthur, Piper, Sproule, and Packer, etc.

Randy said...

~ I realize why my ec friends simply don't engage in dialogue. It's useless. It's hopeless. And it does no good for telling the story of salvation to anybody.

So, I think that I'm soon to be done with this phase of life as well... it's not worth it.

I could spend 22 hours a day in prayer and Bible study, but if I suggested that I was a friend of some ec people, I would likely be told that I wasn't biblical or scriptural.