Friday, July 30, 2010

The Emergent Church and Their Religion of Uncertainty

Can we truly be confident about our faith? Many people believe that we can’t and have opted instead for a religion of uncertainty. Emergent Church (EC) leader, Tony Jones, goes one step further. Not only are we left with doctrinal uncertainty, but there really isn’t much to be Biblically certain about:

“Jesus did not have a ‘statement of faith.’ He called others into faithful relationship to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals give cognitive assent [faith] to abstract propositions [His teachings] but with callings persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the NT were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions…” (The New Christians, 234)

Nevertheless, Jones is certain about the Bible’s doctrinal uncertainty – a neat demonstration of incoherent thinking. Even worse, his conclusion flies in the face of everything that Jesus taught. Although He didn’t mention a “statement of faith,” He did teach a lot about what we are to believe (John 6:29) and the tragic consequences of not holding to His teachings (John 15:3-10). In fact, being His disciple means that we are to teach others “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), an impossible task if Jesus didn’t teach “a final set of propositions.”

Why are so many young Christians flocking to this type of teaching and the EC? Clearly, Jones and the other EC gurus are not offering a doctrine-free religion. (Jones is merely offering his own set of “abstract propositions” in the place of the Biblical teachings!) Well, for one thing, the Church has been so badly portrayed by the media and university – and sometimes for good reasons. This leaves many younger Christians with an understandable sense of urgency to remake the Church into something that is acceptable, generally through good works. The EC has consequently been very vocal in championing numerous moral causes, about which the traditional church should have been more vocal. Had it been so, our faith would have appeared more credible within this disdainful world.

There are other reasons why the EC is appealing. For one thing, nobody likes to be told what to believe. A good example of this is the anthropologist, Karen Brown, who wrote about her full-body dive into the embrace of Voodoo:

“No Haitian—certainly not Alourdes—has ever asked me if I ‘believe’ in Voodoo or if I have set aside the religious commitments and understandings that come from my childhood and culture. Alourdes’s approach is, instead, pragmatic: ‘You just got to try. See if it works for you.’ The choice of relinquishing my worldview or adopting another in its entirety has therefore never been at issue.” (“Mama Lola; A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn!”)

However, I think that the main reason that Jones’ message is attracting the ear of many young Christians is because they too are very uncertain about their faith. Many even resent expressions of certainty, which have an unpleasant ring of pomposity to them. In, this postmodern, religiously pluralistic setting, Jones’ uncertain-undefined-Christianity provides a place of rest. It affirms that it’s OK to have doubts and uncertainty -- “This is all that’s possible, so don’t torment yourself about not having a certainty and assurance – a mere fantasy! Instead, let’s be good people and enjoy heartfelt conversation.”

Although, in the short run, this is a comforting message, in the long run, it constitutes a rejection of the very things that God has promised us. Paul writes that assurance is a reality:

“For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” (Col. 2:1-4; also see other verses on assurance – John 17:8; Luke 1:3-4; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:14)

According to the New Testament, “the full assurance of understanding” is nothing short of “riches” and “treasures,” of which we are being deprived if we make up our minds that Christianity is not about a “final set of propositions” or the possibility of having confidence in what we believe.

There are a thousand examples of how the certainty of our knowledge of God translates into “treasures.” I used to have such powerful experiences of self-contempt and shame, that the words of Scripture were no more than a straw hut in a typhoon. However, after many years, Christ has given me an unshakeable confidence that if I merely confess my sins, He would utterly forgive and cleanse me of them (1 John 1:9).

Lacking this promise of certainty and assurance of the truths of the Bible, we shrivel inside and live anemic and joyless lives. My joy comes from the fact that I KNOW that Jesus loves and forgives me and that I will be with Him forever. Lacking such certainty, I had been dying inside.

I’m not saying that it comes easily or immediately. However, we need to seek and cry out for it. But, if we don’t think it’s possible, we won’t implore God for it.

Confidence in the truths of the Bible is a treasure that surpasses anything I can possibly imagine, but it is a process, as Jesus revealed:

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)

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