The Emergent Church

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

Introduction

The Emergent Church is a phrase recently added to our modern christian cultural vernacular.  And while there are many who would claim to fall under the umbrella of such a label, far fewer would know how to properly define it so as to clearly express the differences evident between the Emergent Church and “traditional” churches.  Indeed the range of theological ascent represented by the Emergent Church would be so wide that any one person attempting to define its distinctives would likely fail in doing so.  Nonetheless, the purpose of this paper is to show that, in successfully presenting a new genre of Christian ecclesiology and evangelism, the Emergent Church has failed to provide a positive definition of itself and so suffers the same fate at nearly all points in its theology.

Emergent: Self-definition or Lack Thereof

This is a decidedly difficult task given the diversity of the Emergent Church movement, which encompasses everything from traditionally orthodox, to ultra-liberal Christian adherents.  Even as this writer would assert that there is no such thing as “liberal Christians” in a theological context, still, this paper will not exhaustively address what it means to be a Christian

, so much as it will be an assessment of those who call themselves Christians and also Emergent, investigating to see if their theological assertions are internally consistent with what is revealed in scripture.

The need for this writing is self-evident in the consideration that the Emergent Church seems to question such firm bedrock as the sufficiency of the scriptures as the sole rule of faith and practice for the church.  This study is needed to reveal the firm theological moorings, if any, the Emergent Church possesses in comparison to traditional churches, whose theological moorings are long established but regarded by Emergents as needing modernization to remain effective in the post-modern, even post-christian context in which the church finds itself.

It is necessary to allow any position to define itself, so the question of definition will be posed to the Emergents themselves; what does it mean to be Emergent, and what does that mean in the context of the church? Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church says this of the Emergent movement, “…I began using the words ‘emerging church’ to describe churches that are exploring what it means to be the church as we enter emerging cultures.”

  He also says, “the dictionary defines the word ‘emerging’ as ‘what is coming to the surface.’”

  In his discussion of what it means to be Emergent, Dan indicates that the Emergent Church is somehow defined by those things coming to the surface in society and therefore the church is reacting to what is experienced in therein.  One would thank Dan for his willingness to clearly define terms where all others seem to avoid such a definition.  In fact, so elusive is a positive definition of what is meant by Emergent that it becomes somewhat itself definitional of the Emergent movement.

Since Dan Kimball is nearly the only person amongst Emergent pastors to offer a positive definition for what is meant by “emerging,” one would hardly be able to apply such a definition to the greater majority, as it is evident that such a definition would not be universally acceptable.  In fact, the idea of a anything presented as universally acceptable flies in the face of the Emergents’ desire not to be “pigeon holed.”  Therefore the definition offered by Dan Kimball is acceptable only for him, and cannot even remotely be considered ecumenical.

Finding oneself back at square one, the first characteristic of the Emergent mindset manifests itself: being defined by an unwillingness to be defined.  The Emergent movement is less than impressed with labels.  Paul Enns finds the same to be true and states, “the emerging church advocates do not normally embrace theological positions or doctrinal statements with dogmatism.”

  Emergents would say that an attempt to define things in such a way lends itself to caricature and therefore is not a reliable way of accurately relating to one’s position.  This tendency not to want to be labeled even for clarity’s sake by way of a definition is self-evident in the continual reference throughout Listening to the Beliefs of Emergent Churches; the desire to meet face to face due to the perceived “inadequacy” of text in communicating such profound and involved concepts as one’s beliefs is repeated exponentially.  And to a large extent, this underlies the problem.

Assessment of Emergent Theology

It is as if Emergents believe that everyone must physically meet with every other one in a one on one discussion if anyone’s beliefs are to be understood accurately by another.  Dan kimball says, “writing our opinions in this format is difficult, because it is only words without facial expressions; no cup of coffee or a pint of Guiness is on the table as we chat theology.”

  To be sure, a person to person discussion is ideal and has the highest communication value by virtue of the many routes communication is able to use when two people meet in person, but how many of the most pivotal, and longest lasting discussions of doctrine and theology have been written down and preserved for the benefit of generations?  Countless.  So the desire to meet face to face, while effective for those involved, betrays the purpose of writing a book, that purpose being to include in the discussion as many as possible, even if as only observers.  And in the context of writing a book, saving deeper discussion for a face to face meeting only raises more questions, and answers them for only a select few who attend such a meeting.

Assessment of Emergent Theology

A pivotal theological concern comes into play at this point.  The efficacy of text on a page and its ability to communicate great theological truth, authoritative for all eras, is here said to be inadequate at best.  What is it the Emergents think Christians possess in the Bible?  What is the doctrine they affirm regarding the scriptures?  All the contributors to Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches except Mark Driscoll describe a view in contradiction to traditional and historical views of the Bible in a similar way as Dan Kimball expresses, 

“When I used to hold the Bible in my hands, I viewed it as the ultimate ‘answer-everything’ book and ultimate ‘how-to’ manual. I was basically taught to dissect the Bible, to take it apart piece by piece like dissecting a laboratory animal.  I experienced the Bible being used like a textbook or an auto manual, where you looked up certain problems and how to solve them.”

 

As evidenced by a great multitude of creeds and confessions and writings, Christians of all eras and contexts have referred to the scriptures as the sole rule of faith and practice.  Some creeds state this truth in different ways, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith that says, referring to the scriptures, “All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.

  And each creed lists a positive assertion of a standpoint on scripture amongst its first considerations.  Why?  Because anything one could know about a being such as God would need to be disclosed by that being, to His finite creation who are limited in knowledge.  Even John Burke, one of the more conservative Emergents, admits as much, saying, “we cannot know much at all about God unless God reveals himself to us. And here the uniqueness of the Scriptures comes to bear.”

 

And one might say, “wait, here we have an Emergent pastor proclaiming the role and sufficiency of scripture, and you’re asserting they don’t.”  Yes.  John Burke is Emergent and has admitted the role and authority of scripture in an orthodox way.  However, one must consider the larger picture and submit John’s, truly anyone’s proclamation of belief to other things said to see if they are internally consistent with themselves.  In this case the problem arises early when we keep in mind that even John Burke questions the ability of text based communication to sufficiently deliver the substance of one’s beliefs, preferring oral interaction, while at the same time affirming the sufficiency of the scriptures.  Of course the scriptures would represent an inspired text, which is impossible for any of we believers to produce, however the writing we have in the Bible is still text based, and so if the Emergents desired to be consistent with historical Christianity, they would need to delete from their discourse such rejection of text based communication and its ability to communicate sufficiently one’s beliefs.  The end assessment is that text is wholly sufficient to deliver the intended communication, and its ability to preserve that message is unrivaled.  It would more so be attributable to the writer’s abilities to communicate effectively via text then it would be attributable to the characteristic communicative limitations of text.

The irony of that last statement is not lost on this writer as he writes in text an analysis of its ability to communicate concepts and ideas to an audience.

A second difficulty comes when considering how the Emergent Church interacts with facts.  That is to say that the Emergent tendency is to see facts as subjective, or at least ultimately unknowable with certainty, while also seeing subjectivity as more influential on facts than the inescapable nature of those facts in and of themselves.  That is to say that the Emergent epistemology becomes an issue when discussing anything of transcendent substance.  Allowing Emergent Church leaders to state their stance for themselves regarding positive, irresistible, inescapable knowledge the likes of which all people must acknowledge and affirm, Dan Kimball says referring to the sort of Christian he does not want to be, “overly opinionated Christian leaders who talk as if they have access to God’s truth and know all answers, and believe everyone else is wrong but them.”

  The question is begged; is not the Bible God’s truth, and so we exactly, though not in totality, have access to God’s truth?  Karen Ward says, commenting on the idea of positive knowledge and the evangelical tendency of “harboring parochial cultural perspectives, seeing divine truth as totally knowable and ‘locked in’ by human beings, and clinging to forms of unexamined biblicism that often come off as arrogant and patronizing.”

  And again, John Burke says:

 “Christians can agree with the postmodern culture in at least one thesis: ‘no human has a lock on all truth.’ Maybe our modern systems of theology have blinded us to this reality, causing us to think we really have Scripture systematized, and therefore, have God all figured out. But our knowledge really is biased by our cultural upbringing, and nobody knows it all (or has a 100 percent accurate concept of God).”

 

To be accurate, these statements seem to apply to “all knowledge of all truth,” which only God has.  However, the context of each of these statements and many more found in Emergent discourse refutes this idea and more accurately describes anyone who would claim to positively know anything.  Along with society, one who knows something based on irresistible fact, and asserts that such fact is inescapably so for all peoples, places, and times, is therefore one who is arrogant.

Aside from each of the aforementioned statements from Emergent leaders being self refuting, and thus illogical and false, indeed each of these statements are more arrogant than anyone proclaiming indisputable, resistless, objective, transcendent truth would be guilty of.  The illogical nature of these statements comes in realizing that though they denounce a knowledge of transcendent truth as arrogance, in each statement a transcendent truth is being claimed.  And without basis that same truth therefore is asserted merely on the authority of the one making the assertion, which is, in the end, found to be no authority at all.  So an unsound transcendent truth is being presented as proof of the unaccessibility of transcendent truth.  The true arrogance comes when one simply asserts such unsound truth, claiming it to be fact, standing on their own authority or even society’s for that matter, in contradiction to all of observable creation, sound reason, and history.  Of course this does not address the many and sundry fallacies involved with each of the previously cited statements, however one affirming a Christian epistemology will have already thoroughly refuted such statements without even considering the individual truth claims.

Remembering that this is a theology paper, the reason logic and reason and facts are theological is because they exist in and of themselves as necessary, inescapable attributes of creation, and so in their existence they say something about God.  Truth exists, and is inescapable because it is an attribute of God shared in His creation.

  For Example, this fact of self-evident, transcendent truth reveals itself when one is asked to “prove” any one of the basic laws of logic.  Since they simply exist as derivative attributes of God, who is self-existent and wholly independent,

 there is no way to prove them; they simply exist and are irresistible by all created things.  So, they are true by virtue of the impossibility that there could be a contrary state of affairs, or by the impossibility of the contrary.  Since any logical rule cannot be disproved, then it is therefore affirmed by resistless logic to be true, for all things, at all times, in all places.

Commenting on this same difficulty with Emergent epistemology, Dr. John S. Hammett says this, “leaders in the emerging church, despite their affirmations of their belief in truth, have not yet critiqued the postmodern skepticism toward the possibility or validity of truth claims.”

  He goes on to conclude, based on his hypothesis that Emergent leaders and so churches have not sufficiently critiqued postmodernism, saying that “ironically, the more emerging churches target the postmodern generation, the more they risk becoming what they oppose, a religious reflection of our consumer culture.”

 

Conclusion

Essential and inescapable truths based on God’s character and nature are made manifest when engaging with the Emergent Church.  Where Emergents assert “the truth about God cannot be known,” a thoroughly Christian epistemology replies, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’  I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right”

 or perhaps, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

  Just these two verses, taken rightly are enough to render flaccid the perceived need for an Emergent movement in the church that shares a postmodern worldview with an unbelieving society.  If that same church places any authority whatsoever in the Bible, where such statements as “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

 are uttered by Jesus Himself, then that church and its members will find itself exactly where the Emergent Church movement finds itself: battling to meaningfully define itself while rejecting the very concept of truth, almost en toto.  An Emergent Church leader would seemingly have to do some exegetical acrobatics to deal with what “no one” means as cited above in John 14:6.  Accurate representation of Emergents would demand that one acknowledges that Emergent Church leaders and adherents would not disagree with a sound exegesis of this text, and be compelled to agree with the claim of Jesus that there is but one way to come to the Father.

Interestingly, this brings up another point that has thus far only been vaguely hinted at.  When anything is described as “emergent” it is in the context of development, progression, a coming out of something to another thing.  Keeping that in mind, perhaps the Emergent Church movement has inadvertently provided a definition, or at very least a description of itself.  In many of the materials here dealt with, the Emergent movement is intimated to emerging generations

 who are emerging from school, from their parent’s care, from something lesser to something greater,

 and developing appropriate categories and thoughts along the way.  Innate to this description of those who are emerging is a certain sense of immaturity, not necessarily as a liability or personality flaw, but as a natural characteristic akin to the emerging-one’s age and experience.  In much the same way, the Emergent Church displays the same qualities.  In seeking to reach and therefore be composed of an emerging generation the Emergent Church has fallen victim to the same tendencies that define the immaturity noted within those emerging ones who make up their constituency.  The seriousness of this observation is realized when consideration is given to the fact that while an individual may “emerge” from whatever it is they are coming out of and then be forever changed by the act of emerging, a church whose claim is (whether admitted or not) to know objective truth is not to be defined nor founded upon the activity of emerging.  While a person can afford such immaturity for a time and in varying degrees, a church cannot.

Neither can a church leader afford to be defined by such immaturity.  This is the entire thrust and purpose behind having Elders.  In 2 Timothy 2:24-26 there is given explicit instruction for church leaders: Elders/Pastors.  Amongst these instructions are, “the Lord’s servant” must be able to teach.  This teaching is then described as being gentle, not resentful, not quarrelsome.  The reason the Elder’s must be able to teach, and the reason that teaching must be gentle, is because, as the text reveals, things of eternal importance are at stake.  And of course, one would not be able to teach if that one had not already invested considerable personal time and consideration to the scriptures.  This is not to say that knowing the scriptures is the only requirement of and Elder, but certainly an Elder would could not be one who has not done this.  Therefore, in addition to the call of God to spiritual leadership of a body of believers, the Elder would know the scriptures and those conclusions that may be deduced therefrom.  As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, OR by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”

  So the Elder would not, and could not be one who is emerging, as in the context of one who is still coming out of, or coming to grips with theology flowing from scripture and the repercussions of that theology when interacting with a people and/or information.

This is not to say that an Elder is to be one who has emerged, as such a state is impossible.  However, the definition of an entire entity by a disposition of immaturity, in the context of the Church, is wholly unacceptable and lends itself to a justification of not developing a thoroughly Christian worldview, such God’s creative activity and self revelation are seen as objective in and of themselves, and so have authority derived from God’s attributes to determine how one views society, relationships, things, and ultimately truth.  A church defined by the rejection of this very premise is no church at all, and in the end assessment is in fact actively pursuing rebellion against God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Burke, John, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Karen Ward. Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church: Five Perspectives. Michigan: Zondervan, 2007.
  2. Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology: Revised and Expanded. Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2008.
  3. John S. Hammett, “An Ecclesiological Assessment of the Emerging Church Movement” (paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society)
  4. Poythress, Vern S. Logic: A God Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought Illinois: Crossway, 2013.
  5. Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 1. 1646.

In critiquing Stewart G. Cole’s article The Relevance of Jesus the task will be to engage with his position internally and see if it is not only consistent with itself, but also consistent with the reality upon which it attempts to comment.  To accomplish this, it will be necessary to analyze the sources from which Mr. Cole makes his assertions; assertions such as, in reference to the Hebrew people, “The most profound truths in their sacred writings abound in the forms of nature religion and the imagery of agricultural lore,” will prove to be inadequately supported by source materials from which to propose that which Mr. Cole attempts to argue.  Mr. Cole presents Jesus Christ simply as a figure who was “free to follow truth” based on his assertion that Jesus was simply the man from Galilee, and seemingly nothing more, without blatantly stating as much.

The author’s thesis seems to be that Jesus was a peasant man from Galilee who came to fully realize his role and power in the culture of his time, and from such realization greatness and historical consequence as well as societal relevance was achieved.  This is most expressly stated in his statement, “Our hope for human salvation lies in the orderly control of the forces of nature and man by an increasingly spiritual upbuilding of society.”  In order to make his conclusions seem plausible, Mr. Cole constructs a “prescience” framework where the influences and close interaction  with nature as part of an agrarian lifestyle brings itself to bare as the controlling factor from which Jesus is seen to have powers in “identification with the forces of the environment.”  Interestingly, in the same sentence just cited the author classifies the perspective of the Psalmists, as well as perspectives expressed in Isaiah and Jeremiah, as naïve.

Without a biography or any personal data on the author it is difficult to say what was the occasion of this writing, however it is evident rather quickly what theological principles are at stake.  In somewhat vague terms, the author directly bases his discourse on the rejection of Jesus Christ’s divinity while at the same time rejecting the centrality and authority of scripture to the Hebrew and the New Testament Christian.  Mr. Cole affirms along with Albert Schweitzer that to think that Jesus presents and claims via the gospels transcendent moral standards is simply mystical and said to be “in compliance with the claims of Greek metaphysics” if one then holds to an idea of Jesus’ omniscience and inerrancy.  Elsewhere Mr. Cole, again in agreement with Schweitzer, shows ascent to Schweitzer’s statement, “Just as He pointed out to the young man who addressed Him as ‘Good Master’ that God alone was good, so He would also have set His face against those who would have liked to attribute to Him divine infallibility…” One is left wondering why Schweitzer would capitalize He, Him, and His if the idea in this statement is that Jesus did not attribute to Himself the very attributes of God (John 14:9) and present Himself as having a unique and eternal relationship with the Father (John 17:5; “Before Abraham was, I AM”).  There seems to be no consideration that the term “Father” used by Jesus simply shows that Jesus was subordinate to God in His personhood, as any true Hebrew would be.  Does the author truly expect Jesus to be atheistic in how He expresses relation to the Father?

In considering why a rejection of Jesus’ divinity would be central to the argumentation presented by Mr. Cole, it is necessary also to note that there is throughout the article questionable reference to the sufficiency and completeness of scripture in the form it comes to us today.  In several places we are asked to “suppose…we did discover the pristine words of the Galilean…” and to “suppose we assume that Jesus’ teaching of God as ‘Father,’ of the ethics of the ‘Kingdom of God,’ and of the principle of ‘love’ are authentically reproduced in the gospels.”  In subversive terms as these the author’s commitment to scripture’s authority is questionable at best.  And aside from a passing mention as “The law of Moses and the prophets,” scripture is not seen as that one major factor to which all other factors are subordinate in the life of the Hebrew.  Instead, there is one mention of scripture in passing, and then the list of cultural influences that would shape a biblical era worldview are listed as membership of the Hebrew race as indicative of “mystical” concepts like animistically grounded religion as a product of an agrarian lifestyle, a “dominating” patriarchal societal system as the source of antiquated and oppressive influences such as slavery and spousal/child abuse, and classification as an “oriental” people who were “highly imaginative, they thought emotionally and spoke poetically,” a list from which the author draws the conclusion, “In such a prescientific orientation fears easily haunt and social abuses often thrive.”

From these assertions it is evident that Mr. Cole downgrades the authority of the scriptures, as well as Jesus’ divinity.  There is not enough information to determine what Mr. Cole believes he gains from such a position.  Perhaps he has been influenced by modern secular scholarship that finds an acceptable practice in chopping up biblical texts even within the same book and presenting them as differing authors, a la Bart Ehrman.  Contrary to Mr. Cole’s claim that orthodox views of the inspiration, consistency, inerrancy, and preservation of scripture, and the ascription of deity to Jesus, are instead upheld by christian liberals, he would no doubt likely find acceptable the idea of the existence of a “Q” source, or perhaps the divisions made in the Old Testament such as Deutero-Isaiah, the likes of which have no firm basis in reality, acceptable and the only defensible position.

If that be the case, and given the fact that the author calls into question the relevance of the scriptures in the life of the Hebrew and New Testament Christian, while also demoting Jesus to mere mortal status, then the sacrifices that have been made are cause to ask Mr. Cole, “how can one positively know anything about the Hebrew people, New Testament Christians, or Jesus for that matter, if the primary sources are thus called into question, such that one cannot be sure that what was written is what we have in our hands today?”  The end result is that “this writer does not find in the Galilean’s teachings ethical norms for every age in history.”  This is because, to Mr. Cole, Jesus is not God and so has no transcendent historical worth outside of his assessment that “it is the pioneering spirit who creatively brings to pass the desires of good men’s hearts who is the savior in every historic situation.”  The classification of Jesus as simply a man, coupled with an affirmation that it is not Jesus Himself who is savior, but the pioneering spirit He embodied, calls into question the seriousness with which this last statement is believed.  One cannot truly believe this and be called a Christian, for the requirement of such a title, first and foremost is to believe the gospel, which is a far more radical message than is described by Mr. Cole.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not the power of the charismatic, motivated individual unto upward social mobility and historical notoriety.

Bibliography

1.  Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

2.  Cole, Stewart G. “The Relevancy of Jesus.” The Journal of Religion 15, no.3 (1935): 281-293.

3.  Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

4.  Lasor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.

So, I couldn’t find where I ever posted this, and since it is relevant to a conversation I am having now I here post it (perhaps for the second time, I’m not sure) for your review.  As always, I have not altered it from its original for as written by me in the summer of 2010.

Development of the Canon of Scripture

It is a cultural reality that many consider the Bible to be a flawed collection of man-written books whose meaning and contents has been changed to suit the will and whim of man.  It is because of this issue, combined with personal experience that most would not set foot into a church much less engage in meaningful dialogue with a dreaded Christian.  Instead of the bearers, keepers, and announcers of truth, Christians have, by design, become the whipping boys of our modern pluralistic culture.  The design of our culture is such that it turns propositional truth in to a fantasy, history into a fairytale.

Since we boldly claim to have direct access to ultimate truth in the pages of the Bible we must know for certain where it has come from if we are to preserve that truth with any effectiveness.  In an attempt to do exactly that, this will be a brief description of the process by which the Bible we hold in our hands today came to be.  While some would tell a story about the many books written as gospels that are not included in the modern day Bible, or the story about how the council of Nicea (A.D. 325) was convened to “write” the Bible (actually convened to address Arianism)

, these stories are by no means supported by any evidence that would stand up to serious inquiry.

So as not to perpetuate more stereotypes, let us start with the apostolic period.  This period spans the entire first century on into the second, though not completing the second.   During this time all the books of the New Testament (NT) were already in existence.

This is evidenced by the fact that there are references to other books of the NT within the pages of NT books that are verifiably dated to the first century.  If these books make reference of the other NT books, it is safe therefore to assume that the authors couldn’t have quoted those books had they not existed.  Also, it is important to point out that the apostles themselves, in their writing, used the heading “scripture” when talking about Deuteronomy as well as Luke,  Psalms as well as Ephesians, etc.  The apostles own testimony substantiates the ascription of the title of scripture to at least the gospels, but perhaps more likely the entire NT writings as we know them today.  This is significant because it shows that the apostles themselves held certain NT writings to be as authoritative as the Old Testament (OT) scriptures.  This was the beginning of the Canon of NT scripture.

Even earlier than this (A.D. 95)

was a letter from Clement of Rome to the Christians in Corinth on behalf of the Roman Christians.  There is evidence that suggests Clement was familiar with, and sometimes quoted, Mark, Luke, Hebrews, Romans, Corinthians, 1 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, and Ephesians.  The application of this finds its worth in modern apologetics to counter the claim that the Bible was written too long after the events it describes to be at all accurate.  We have sufficient evidence to reasonably prove that these scriptures were penned perhaps even when Jesus was alive, if not then certainly by eye witnesses and/or within one generation.  There is no other ancient document that can even remotely claim such a thing.

From the apostolic period we see the upholding of the Gospels as authoritative scripture, and perhaps the epistles as well.  The next period rounds out the second century and moves almost half way into the third.  We enter this period with the Canon of the Gospels firmly settled amongst the churches as well as the epistles and Acts; here referent to Irenaeus who considered all these just as much scripture as the OT.  Testimony of Clement and Irenaeus represents the wide spread acceptance of these books as scripture, encompassing eastern and western kingdoms.  It is not because of these men that the Canon was determined, but they were simply the most vocal ones talking about what was already happening.  More and more people were accepting these books as authoritative.  Irenaeus and Clement simply said out loud what everyone else was demonstrating.  The most empirical evidence available testifying to what was considered Canon in this period is represented in the Muratorian Fragment.  In this document we have a list encompassing the Gospels, Acts, all the Pauline epistles, Apocalypse (Revelation), 1 and 2 John, and Jude.  This is important because it gives us a snap-shot of sorts of the Canon at the close of the second century.

As we progress through the centuries there is slower movement and less to tell about by means of major developments because the bulk of scripture had already been affirmed as Canonical.  I would be remiss in my exposition here if I did not mention Origen.  Although he was the most prolific figure of the third century in the context of the third century church, he did not further the development of the Canon, suffice to say that he did affirm, almost exactly, what was already considered authoritative.  Through such notable figures as Dionysius, Cyprian, and Eusebius, what was considered scripture had not changed very much at all and was essentially the same books as Origen listed.  It was not until Athanasius (A.D. 367)

that we see the affirmation of all 27 books of our modern day NT, though there was much debate over the apocalypse.  How could there not be debate over a book of such a nature as Revelation.

The Council of Carthage convened at the end of the fourth century and presented a list of, now declared to be, Canonical books of the NT.  Thereafter was some divergence between east and west as to what was accepted as scripture but the influence of Constantine in the east, and Jerome/Augustine in the west, using different methods, largely settled the matter for both regions.

So what we see here is a gradual recognition, even from the beginning, of the entirety of scripture being touted as such, at least by Christians, if not by religious figure heads as well.  The authoring of these books, therefore, seems to be the criteria of consideration, and the application the judge.  As these books and letters were written they were added, one by one to the Canon of scripture.  “Let it suffice to say that, from the evidence of the fragments which alone have been preserved to us of the Christian writings of that very early time, it appears that from the beginning of the second century a collection of “New Books”, called the “Gospel and Apostles”, was already a part of the “Oracles” of God, or “Scriptures”, or the “Holy Books” or “Bible”.”

It seems, therefore, that the trouble with the development of the Canon was that of persecution and time.  To explain that, let us think of the context surrounding all this empirical history.

Christianity, no matter how beloved or condemned, has always been, more or less, persecuted.  Within that context we see untrained yet faithful believers laboriously working to painstakingly copy the volumes of text any one church may possess so as to bring other letters of verifiable apostolic origin to another church, perhaps their home church.  I have stated above, essentially that the books of the Bible as we have them today were all in existence by the end of the first century, however they existed in different areas.  As believers traveled amongst churches, such as we see with Paul’s missionary journeys, they also copied whichever letters and/or books they did not yet possess.  In this way, the rapid, uncontrolled dispersal of God’s message of salvation was guaranteed in such a way as to ensure its sincerity and adherence to the originals.  As a side note, the mistakes we observe in these copies are therefore understandable given the context.  So if we approach this from a multifaceted view, we can see how the entire testimony of NT scripture, as we have in our modern day Bibles, was present in the first century and all books were considered, at different locations, to be authoritative.  Therefore, the development and agreement upon what is scripture becomes merely a function of time and location.  As the documents spread, along with corresponding verification of authenticity, the scriptures as we know them took shape.

Just as it is observed in the issue of transmission of the text of scripture, there is one story the world tells, and then there is the plain empirical truth.  There is the story of how the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325)

convened to settle the Canon and some would say “write” the scriptures.  There is also the story of how all these other gospels were left out simply because they did not represent convenience to the Council that defined the Canon (most will say Nicea), while the rest that spoke to the Council members’ pet motivations were kept.  We can see how this is a creation of modern speculation and a withholding of truth.  Just as some will say, in regards to transmission of the text, that the Bible has been changed far too much and those changes have been far too drastic for it ever to be seriously considered reliable.  This is a more complex lie but a lie none-the-less.  The fact that there was never any one person in control of even a fraction of the existent Bible refutes that claim at the outset.  Likewise, the claim that any one Council, or fallible, man-made institution or system somehow determined what was God’s word and what was not, is utterly untrue.  The truth is evident.  The documents we know to be modern scripture existed at the same time, though in different locals, and were credited with the same authority: God’s.

It is evident to me that in all things authoritative, God does not use people to decide on anything.  God did not let people determine who would get the scriptures, nor did he let people determine what was going to be considered scripture.  In a very real sense, through circumstance, God worked his creation in such a way that his word was made inescapably sacred.

Part of believing is obedience.  If we can trace the Canon of God’s word back to any human authority to choose, then there is essentially no enduring call to obedience, and certainly no conviction of perseverance of such obedience.  In God’s wisdom He has beautifully orchestrated our role in his design, aptly as audience members.  We can, by observing history, view God’s character.  We are merely objects of His work and recipients of His grace if we believe.

Bibliography

http://www.bible-researcher.com/warfield2.html accessed on 3 June 2010

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/a/canon.html accessed on 4 June 2010

http://bible.org/question/how-did-we-get-our-bible-who-wrote-it-and-who-decided-what-order-put-it accessed on 3 June 2010

Jonathan Hill, Handbook to the History of Christianity (Lion Publishing Plc., England 2006) 80

Living in a Mormon dominated area as I do, I had been planning to put the lower bumper sticker you see here on my car for a while now.  In an effort to be more intentional and proactive in seeking out God honoring conversations I decided to jump in and do it for the new year.  So, I post this picture here to start what has potential to be a catalog of vandalism done to my poor old Elantra.  For some time now I have also wanted the upper bumper sticker that says “Contradict” in response to all the “Coexist” bumper stickers one sees out and about.  Supposedly people think mutually contradictory world-views can “coexist.”  Contrary to what most would like to present, this simply shows ignorance (as in: ignoring facts).  Stay tuned for pics and stories should I have any run-ins with vandalism as well as the interesting conversations I am sure to have.IMG_0466

“Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Papyri Fragment

As I sit here today away from my church body on a Sunday morning, I am even still devoted at heart to thinking God’s thoughts after him, and am finally compelled to address the announcement of Dr. King of Harvard regarding the so called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyri fragment coming from unknown provenance.

There are many foundational issues to deal with surrounding this fragment, however it is not difficult to see the underlying presuppositions guiding the “scholarship” of Dr. King and/or the media venues touting this as GROUNDBREAKING news.  An area about which one could write lengthy analysis is Dr. King’s continued reference to the Gnostics as simply “a different kind of Christian,” presenting them as equal with the founders of the early church as taught by Jesus.  Of course, her documented position as a liberal theologian raises questions as to where her loyalties lie.  Surely Dr. King is known to promote the existence of “Q” (a document theorized to be the source of the common material between Matthew, Mark, and Luke) though the source of that theory comes from individuals who have a hard, if not impossible time allowing the gospels to be actual eyewitness accounts.  Suffice it to say that “Q” simply does not exist; yet this is the foundational presupposition of the view of scripture from which Dr. King and surely the leading scholars with whom she is sharing this fragment begin.  So, at a foundational level, Dr. King’s prior work and her excitement regarding this fragment is telling to the extent that Dr. King includes the Gnostics within the bounds of Jesus’ disciples and thus within orthodoxy.

Such a position is absurd, yet this is the position of the University now-a-days.  This position also includes the assumption, a la Bart Ehrman, that we can’t know with certainty what Jesus said, nor do we certainly have what Jesus’ disciples wrote, nor can we certainly know anything about how our Bible came to be (the transmission of the text of scripture) without a wholesale rejection of the authority therein.  One would rightly be compelled to ask, “why does a Biblical Scholar share the position of Bart Ehrman?”  And yet one would find no good answer for that question apart from the necessary conclusion that the Bible holds a secondary role to such a scholar.  Surely that scholar, if asserting themselves as orthodox, would insist the Bible’s primary role.  However, the scholarship and study of that one would be done as a secular scholar.  This presents two diametrically opposed world-views within the scholar and, as Dr. James White rightly points out regarding other individuals with the same problem, is the academic equivalent of epistemological schizophrenia.

Quite simply this point of view is a capitulation to the scholarship which started in state-run churches “across the pond” and is now held to be the “gospel” of modern scholarship on the subject.  It is tantamount to academic suicide, especially if you have the letters PhD after your name, to assert that “Q” didn’t and doesn’t exist, or that the Bible is indeed the inerent Word of God and the sole rule of faith.

Now that I have said my piece on that part of this picture, I will turn to the task at hand.  The relevance of this fragment rises and falls with its dating if we as truly orthodox Christians hold to the necessary separation of the early church and the Gnostics.  Why do I say this?  Every gospel account in the Bible was written within 150 years of the actual events, and that is being generous with the time framing.  Most source documents lend credence to the penning of the gospels all within a single generation, or roughly all within 50 years of the actual events.  However long that seems to a modern mind, this is, even at 150 years, the best and most widely attested documents in ALL of antiquity.  In fact, if one were to be consistent with their view that less time should have transpired in order for us to honestly say we know what happened, then one would have to reject all of history, every writing of Aristotle, Homer, and the list goes on.  Certainly anyone with a shred of reasonability could see that the requirements of the sceptic are irrational and ultimately epistemologically damning.

In our given case, the dating of the fragment is said to be between third to seventh century as a rough bookend of when coptic was widely used, and this specific coptic seems to be roughly dated to  the fourth century.  For those of you keeping score, that is another at least 150 years from when the apostles and disciples wrote.  Unless many of them were blessed with extraordinarily long life and great health, to relate any meaningful Gospel with the founders of the early church is quite a stretch, and yet it is left unsaid, unquestioned, and taken as, pardon the pun, gospel.

Since the dating of this fragment is, even roughly, too far advanced to be related to the Gospels in our Bibles today (Matthew, Mark, Luke [Acts], John), the discussion of whether or not this fragment adds meaningful incite towards the historical Jesus is precluded in favor of far better primary sources.  The only thing this text could honestly be said to have primary relevance towards regarding Jesus is to demonstrate not only the many abhorrent strains of belief in all categories amongst the Gnostics, but also the wide-spread fame of Jesus in and around that age and the historical profundity with which Jesus effected all things around him.

Notice that missing from this writing is a discussion of what many media venues and other activities have focused on: authenticity.  As you can see, the relevance of this fragment, strictly by virtue of its dating, is limited.  So, any discussion of its authenticity (which is recently being heavily questioned) is premature as it relates to an understanding of a historical Jesus, as we have seen here that this fragment’s authenticity would lend nothing to an understanding of  Jesus, so much as it would lend itself to an understanding of the Gnostics.

In the end this fragment is, once again pardon the pun, too little too late.

You may find the scholarly write up on all that is known on this fragment here.  And also one of the first analyses, from Cambridge Prof. Gathercole, of the material here.

Buzzfeed published an article sporting the title “Welcome to Liberal America” in the wake of President Obama’s win last night over challenger Governor Mitt Romney; an article citing gay marriage, legalized Marijuana, and a “focus on climate change” as the wave of the future for America, and a wave to which Republicans (and I would add to that all even moderately conservative Americans not calling themselves Republicans, ironically, and contrary to what the media would have us believe,  representing the vast majority of Americans) “has to adapt.”

Now that may be true, but what is that saying to the nation?  What most of us who have opposed the liberal trend on display here are to take from this statement seems to be that in this “new liberal America” a small minority that feels downtrodden and necessarily expresses their feelings of having their sense of autonomy offended is able, and encouraged, with government support and license, to instigate sweeping legislation attempting to change life and liberty for all of America.  And to those of us who are liberal to the core, relativistic in our philosophy, and universal in our outlook (however much I may disagree with this view) towards what we perceive as equality, the focus and implication of this article’s title is tantamount to a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart of the staunch liberal adherent, reviving them to run the race with new energy and vigor.

Be that as it may, as an evangelical, what does this mean for the gospel and faith?  Well, absolutely nothing.  “But how can you say that Justin? surely we will face more rabid opposition and see more blatantly counter-biblical tendencies.”  Yes, that’s true.  But what does this have to do with the gospel?  If one is to put last night’s election into Christian perspective, nothing has changed.  Is there blatant and sometimes violent resistance to the truth of scripture and a Christian worldview, and surely soon to be increasingly more-so given the energizing counter-Christian liberals received last night?  Yes.  Yet again, this should not effect the preaching of the gospel.

If we believe, as we certainly should, that God so ordains all things that come to pass, then we may categorize last night’s events as thoroughly meaningful and eternally valuable.  I don’t claim to know why anything comes to pass or why God ordains so and so or such and such. However, we know from scripture that if something has happened, it is certainly according to the good pleasure of God who has willed it to be so.  This stance is obviously controversial when one considers such atrocities as the Holocaust, and natural disasters such as Haiti and New york City under Hurricane Sandy most recently, and other such horrifying things.  But if one is compelled to discredit these from God in some attempt to guard His goodness and uprightness, then all meaning in these events is lost and the situation is truly hopeless.

A liberal America is certainly not the worst thing that can happen, and in no way is the re-election of Barak Obama here being compared to the Holocaust or a natural disaster.  What is being said is that the words of Romans 1 were never more true.  We are observing first hand the handing-over of a people, a nation, who was blessed with, short of Jesus Christ when he walked the earth, unprecedented amounts of light and guidance from our King and Sovereign God, yet who now see themselves as the beginning and end of all predication.  They have suppressed the truth by their wickedness, their thinking has become futile, claiming to be wise they are fools. God has given them over to a depraved mind because they did not count the knowledge of God as worthwhile to retain.  The people who worship created things instead of the Creator have been given over to their own lusts and inclinations and the condemnation of God seems to be upon them.  This is Romans 1 in action, and thus is a holy and just thing which glorifies God as both a just judge and the justifier.

But why do I say this changes nothing?  Well, what is the remedy for this circumstance?  Do we stir up a grassroots uprising of conservatives across the country?  No, for they are mere men as are we.  Do we write our representatives?  Sure, if you feel compelled to do so.  Do we pray?  Most certainly.  But what will have a lasting and eternally meaningful result over which the gates of hell shall not prevail?  PREACH THE GOSPEL!  God will call those who are his.  Nothing else can or will save this country nor the individual.

Jesus made the task simple and agelessly relevant.  PREACH THE GOSPEL!  The results have never been up to the believer, but instead faith is the gift of God unto salvation. Amen.

Church of the Nazarene Apostate?

Posted: September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

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At the Farmer’s Market today there was a coffee stand operated by the Church of the Nazarene youth group.  Close by was their pastor, so I approached and asked a question.  Because I have spent most of my time addressing other religions, I asked, “what are the theological distinctives of The Church of the Nazarene that separate you from Baptist, Charismatics, etc?”

In response this youth pastor listed a few things I couldn’t help but share with you, and put into proper Biblical perspective.  In no specific order, this youth pastor listed:

1. We do not believe in predestination

Biblical perspective: Romans 8:29-30

2. We believe that God will not call someone to do something they can’t do.

Biblical perspective: Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16

3. We believe that one can certainly walk away from the faith.

Biblical perspective: 1 John 2:19

4. We believe in the holiness movement that says sanctification is the giving over of oneself to the ways of God.

Biblical perspective: Hebrews 10:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 John 1:6

5 We believe that salvation is for everyone.

Biblical perspective: John 3:15-18

It is self evident then that The Church of the Nazarene has gone head-long into full fledged Arminianism, where the power and efficacy of God is not determined by Himself, but by the whim of man.  To say the least, this is not historical, nor Biblical Christianity.  This is a philosophical infection of existentialism into Biblical theology, such that the work of such men as Kant, Descartes, and Aristotle is unwittingly being allowed to flavor ones reading of scripture.  I call this an “infection” because it does violence to the essence of the gospel and changes it into nothing of inherent value while also justifying the agnostic’s/atheist’s position, causing no intellectual compulsion toward the force of the true gospel.  Such a presentation has no hope of producing true conversion in and of itself because it is essentially not the gospel.