I just finished listening to a sermon by John McArthur on the Emerging Church. In a manner reminiscent of his book “Charismatic Chaos” he labels and condemns the Emerging Church. As with so many other critics Brian McLaren is held up as the poster boy for the movement.
MacArthur condemned the charismatics because he believed that they were diminishing the word of God when they claimed God revealed things to them. Charismatics believe that God speaks to them in various ways and somehow this creates a problem. How can you have two authoritative versions of the word of God? Aren’t they attempting to add to the word of God?
Most Charismatics dismiss this as nonsense and very simply claim that any revelation received now is to illuminate scripture or provide very specific direction or encouragement. Scripture is still held as the only authoritative guide for doctrine. Nevertheless MacArthur believed that the charismatic movement was an attack on scripture.
The Emerging Church, he says, is attacking the authority of scripture through ambiguity. The EC considers scripture authoritative but it is unclear so in the absence of clarity it can make up any doctrine it likes. I don’t know of anyone who things scripture is that unclear, just that it is just less clear than we were led to believe.
I don’t understand people who claim they understand the scriptures with absolute certainty on all but the least important issues. If scripture is so clear why is the church so divided over doctrine? Is the problem that we all refuse to acknowledge how right the fundamentalists are and how wrong everyone else is? How well have settled issues like the mode of baptism, the sovereignty of God, spiritual warfare, authority of tradition, the nature of eternal punishment, eternal security, models of the atonement, the structure of church, the nature of the sacraments? When you have dozens of different understandings on all these issues how can one claim, with any healthy self perspective, to know with absolute certainty that they are right and option b, c, d, e, f, and g are all wrong?
Was Peter wrong when he wrote: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.”
If the scriptures are so abundantly clear then why do we need professionals to expound upon it? Why must people spend tens of thousands of dollars to become qualified to rightly divide the word of the truth?
I can only speak for myself but I think there is something between the polar opposites of absolute certainty and complete ambiguity. I can believe with great certainty in the saving grace provided by Christ’s death for humanity and be unsure about penal substitutionary atonement. I take the bread and cup in remembrance of Christ without knowing exactly what is happening.
Take careful note of what Peter said. SOME THINGS, not all things but some things that Paul wrote were hard to understand even for the people who lived in the very same time and culture!
I really wonder if the quest for theological precision is as pure a passion as it is held up to be. Given the lengths we go to assert our superior knowledge are we really motivated by a desire to reach a deeper understanding? How much of our motivation is just the desire to compete in some elevated form of intellectual gladitorialism. Men, well, mostly men trying vanquish each other in the name of God. We wage conflict not with swords and spears but with books and articles. I can speak of this honestly because I have felt the temptation to engage in this conflict not for God, but for the sake of vanity.
The truth is there are a great many people who are seeking radical change for the church and have not indulged themselves in the philosophical and theological bunny trails of the “Emergent” poster children. There are a great many that look at the state of the church in the English speaking western nations and are gravely concerned. According to common thinking in the church the problem is the government or society or the media and somehow the forces of these things in the world have overcome the power of God and the gospel. I disagree. I think we have strayed from pure gospel message and replaced it with something far less adequate. I think we have no power because have faith in principles and formulas but not Christ. I think we stand in ignorance of what is really happening because we refuse to look at what really matters and are far too concerned with our personal success and the survival of our institutions.