Saturday, April 22, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (5) - Confusion Over Homosexuality and Post-Modernism

In January of this year, a controversy surrounding the sinfulness of homosexuality erupted between Driscoll and McLaren. The first part of the issue is summarized in this posting by Driscoll on the Leadership Journal’s “Out of Ur” blog:

Well, it seems that Brian McLaren and the Emergent crowd are emerging into homo-evangelicals...

For me, the concern started when McLaren in the February 7, 2005 issue of Time Magazine said, “Asked at a conference last spring what he thought about gay marriage, Brian McLaren replied, ‘You know what, the thing that breaks my heart is that there's no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.’” Sadly, by failing to answer, McLaren was unwilling to say what the Bible says and in so doing really hurt God’s feelings and broke his heart.

Then, Brian’s Tonto Doug Pagitt, an old acquaintance of mine, wrote the following in a book he and I both contributed to called Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches edited by Robert Webber and due out this spring:

“The question of humanity is inexorably link [sic] to sexuality and gender. Issues of sexuality can be among the most complex and convoluted we need to deal with. It seems to me that the theology of our history does not deal sufficiently with these issues for our day. I do not mean this [sic] a critique, but as an acknowledgement that our times are different. I do not mean that we are a more or less sexual culture, but one that knows more about the genetic, social and cultural issues surrounding sexuality and gender than any previous culture. Christianity will be impotent to lead a conversation on sexuality and gender if we do not boldly integrate our current understandings of humanity with our theology. This will require us to not only draw new conclusions about sexuality but will force to consider new ways of being sexual.”

And on January 23rd McLaren wrote an article for Leadership that is posted on this blog. In it he argues that because the religious right is mean to gays we should not make any decision on the gay issue for 5-10 years.[1]

Driscoll later repented of the manner and wording of his rather sarcastic rant.[2] But to my knowledge, other than one posting on the Out of Ur blog, McLaren has done little to clarify his position. In that post, he repeatedly made statements similar to this:

Please be assured that as a pastor and as someone who loves and seeks to follow the Bible, I am aware of Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and related texts. Believe me, I have read them and prayerfully pondered them, and have read extensively on all the many sides of the issue. I understand that for many people, these verses end all dialogue and people like me must seem horribly stupid not to see what’s there so clearly to them. I wish they could understand that some of us encounter additional levels of complexity when we try honestly and faithfully to face these texts. We have become aware of as-yet unanswered scholarly questions, such as questions about the precise meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai in Paul’s writings, and we wonder why these words were used in place of paiderasste, the meaning of which would be much clearer if Paul’s intent were to address behavior more like what we would call homosexuality.[3]

In other words, he continues to refuse to make clear whether or not he understands the Bible to teach that homosexuality is a sin.[4]

Emergent’s Analysis of Post-Modernism[5]

Perhaps the most contentious area between EC folks and those who study them is determining what exactly is post-modernism. Judging by the blog comments, Carson’s treatment of this aspect of the EC seems to have received the greatest amount of flack from his opponents. I will not go into much detail on this aspect of the debate, since this work has already been done. The interested reader should examine chapter 5 of Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church and follow that with a Google search on “Carson and emergent.” You will have “links-a-plenty” to choose from. For a brief synopsis of his assessment, consider this description from Carson:

The majority view, however, is that the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology—i.e., how we know things, or think we know things. Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective—which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recog­nizes how much of what we “know” is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and in fact can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without over­bearing claims to being true or right.

Modernism tries to find unques­tioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is “antifoundational”) and insists that we come to “know” things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor. Mod­ernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth ver­sus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses on relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion. In my view, it is this epistemological contrast between the modern and the postmodern that is most usefully explored, as it touches so many other things...[6]

[2] “I have come to see that my comments were sinful and in poor taste. Therefore, I am publicly asking for forgiveness from both Brian and Doug because I was wrong for attacking them personally and I was wrong for the way in which I confronted positions with which I still disagree. I also ask forgiveness from those who were justifiably offended at the way I chose to address the disagreement. I pray that you will accept this posting as a genuine act of repentance for my sin.” first published March 27, 2006 and accessed on April 1, 2006.

[4] This was verified at the Richview Baptist Church event when McLaren suggested that each local church would have to determine their view on the matter and that much of this would be based on the culture they were ministering to and that this was really for the best.

[5] Chuck Colson, in an open letter to Brian McLaren had this to say about the nature of post-modernism: “Let me clarify also what I believe can be said about postmodernity and postmodernism which you seem to think people have difficulty understanding. In one way, of course, they do, because vacuums are never easily described. But the fact is that postmodernity is not something to argue about or engage in passionate debate for. Postmodernity simply means that we have emerged, for better or worse, from the modern era and we are in whatever comes after it (which I would submit is largely an intellectual vacuum which leads to nihilism.)” accessed March 31, 2006.

[6] Conversant, 27. Ther e has been so much written on this topic already that I will not spend any more time on it here. The reader should examine Carson and those who have critiqued him.


Rob said...


You and I will disagree completely on this issue I'm afraid. If McLaren has gone too far one way, I'm positive Evangelicals are way too far the other.

Ask one of your gay friends what he/she thinks of evangelicals. I wonder if the word loving would be one of the adjectives? What about compassionate? What about understanding? I don't think they'd use any of those adjectives.

You have chosen to use some of Brian's quotes, now I will use some of Pat Robertson's speaking for the evangelical community.

“When lawlessness is abroad in the land, the same thing will happen here that happened in Nazi Germany. Many of those people involved in Adolph Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.” - 700 Club, 1-21-93

"[Homosexuals]want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers." Pat Robertson, 700 Club, 1/18/95

“It’s one thing to say, `We have rights to jobs...we have rights to be left alone in out little corner of the world to do our thing.’ It’s an entirely different thing to say, well, `We’re not only going to go into the schools and we’re going to take your children and your grandchildren
and turn them into homosexuals.’ Now that’s wrong.” - 700 Club, 9-17-92

Jerry Fallwell says,

“Since our nation was founded, we have discriminated against certain things. We discriminate against kidnappers. We discriminate against murderers. We discriminate against thieves...There are laws that prohibit that kind of conduct. And there have been laws since the founding of our country against what are considered unnatural sex acts, sex between members of the same sex.”

Now the Family Research Council,

" of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." - "Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys," FRC publication, July 1999,

"There is a strong undercurrent of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. Homosexual activists want to promote the flouting of traditional sexual prohibitions at the earliest possible age....they want to encourage a promiscuous society - and the best place to start is with a young and credulous captive audience in the public schools." - Robert Knight, Family Research Council,

"homosexuals are included in a list of sinners, who, if unrepentant, will not inherit the kingdom of God." - Family Research Council press release about Matt Shepard's funeral, on the day of the funeral, October 16, 1998,

" 'They create a climate and environment of intolerance and give license to those who seek to vent their rage or frustration on an entire community,' Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch said Wednesday, addressing a Washington rally attended by the likes of actress Ellen DeGeneres and Alan Simpson, a Republican former senator from Wyoming. Ms. Farish vehemently rejects such allegations. 'Don't blame AA because a drunk was beat up,' she said." - Heather Farish of the Family Research Council, quoted in the Dallas Morning News article, "Why now? Other gays have been victims of brutal attacks, but the slaying of a Wyoming student has caused a national outcry," by Brooks Egerton, October 17, 1998.

Paul, I think Jesus says go and sin no more. But I also believes He loves. I'm not gay, I don't understand the gay lifestyle and I never will. I do know that Jesus is not represented in those quotes. I'm pretty sure He'd be disgusted with those quotes.

If Brian has gone too far maybe it's to shake up evangelical's and finally get them to reexamine the way they speak. They way the condemn and judge and hate. The quote that really got to me is the one from the Family Research Council. On the day Matthew Sheppard was murdered for being gay, they release a statement saying that he won't inherit the Kingdom of God. Doesn't your heart break at that? Is that something Jesus would do? Where is the transformational Gospel in those quotes?


bill said...

Rob's response is indicative of the current extremes in Evangelicalism, and offers a better comment than I can make. However, I do want to add another voice.

The message of Jesus is hidden under religion. That message of denying self, loving God and others, going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, etc., calls for a radical repositioning of others above myself. And this selflessness is what Christianity in general, and evengelicalism in particular, continue to gag on.

Leaders, such as those quoted by Rob, should be out front showing us how to love God and others. But, instead, they are constantly telling who must be excluded. They immerse themselves in politics just as did the bishops who took part in what these contemporary leaders would call the Apostasy.

Hypocricy is everywhere. Rob alluded to the opinion that outsiders have of Christians and evenglicals. If outsiders don't see love, then they don't see Jesus. And if they don't see Jesus, then we cannot and must not claim his name. It's that simple

Son of Man said...

I agree with parts of what has been commented and disagree with others. You are right, Rob. Jesus would have never said anything like those quotes you have given. But I think that refusing to make a definite claim on homosexuality is a condemning lie. No person who thinks that sinning is okay can enter heaven (Gal 5:21). Is it really loving to let a person believe that sin doesn't anger God? Christian leaders must (that includes Paul and Fallwell and whoever) love homosexuals and all people just as Christ loved us. We must pursue their salvation by lovingly pointing out God's revealed will NOT by denying that their actions are sinful. Jesus always calls sin sin. Matthew 19:16-22, John 4:16-19. Lets model that behaviour. Jesus always loved but he never allowed anyone live in sin.

kerux said...

Bill and Rob -
Well, I agree with what Son of Man stated, so I won't r-iterate that.
I would only add that I think what you guys are doing is a little like McLaren's tendency to lump together all evangelicals into one pot of stew. If you listened to my sermon from yesterday morning (that is a little strange to write) you would find a message from Romans 12:3 calling on all believers to exercise true humility. Radical, other-centered humility. That is not new or emergent - this is the Bible.
And that is one of my main points in this whole paper. No one (sorry Darryl and David!) has shown me anything good that emergent has to offer that is not just Bible. But on top of this, there are all these other extremes and variations that emergent mixes into the pot. That is why I think it is justifiable to review the written works of men like McLaren.
I keep getting all these comments here like, "Well, Mclaren is not our spokesman, we don't agree with everything he says.." etc. I can say the exact same thing - but you need to show me, somebody(!), where it is you disagree.
I am trying to be as openminded as I can be here - but I remain unconvinced so far.
1. What unique things does emergent offer (that aren't just good Bible truths that many of us are practicing or seeking to practice anyway)?
2. Where do guys like you, Bob, disagree with McLaren?
I think getting clear answers to those two simple questions would go a long way in aiding our dialogue...

Darryl said...

"No one (sorry Darryl and David!) has shown me anything good that emergent has to offer that is not just Bible."

Of course not! What else could they offer? But the point is that some of these Biblical teachings and practices have been lost in many churches lately. It's helpful to be reminded of them once again.

ScottB said...

"No one (sorry Darryl and David!) has shown me anything good that emergent has to offer that is not just Bible."

I'm not sure that I get this. At all. On the one hand, the concern is that the emerging church wanders from orthodoxy, but when folks like Darryl produce a fantastic list of emphases that the emerging church brings to the table, they're dismissed because they're "just Bible"? So the emerging church is, what, simultaneously both not Bible-centric enough and too Bible-centric to offer anything of value? I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but this one I really don't get. If the ec is engaging in good scriptural practices, why not affirm that, instead of dismissing it as "just Bible"?

Rob said...

I would agree with Darryl. I think evangelical's need reminding.

I don't disagree with McLaren on much. But also understand that I'm very much on the extreme of the EC. Other's like Don Miller present a much more balanced view then myself and I would argue then Brian.

Here's the answers to your questions.

1. I don't disagree with much of what Brian says. But I don't have trouble with talking about absolute truths. I think there are abolutes no matter what the culture. The trick is to indentify what is really aboslute truth and what needs to be absolutely true for my culture not to be disrupted.

2. The EC is reminding Evangelical's of truth's they've forgotten. See Pat Robertson's quotes and many other really hateful quotes I've heard in churches over the years.

I also think Darryl's post and the comments there sum it up quite nicely.

Politically is where I'm most concerned about evangelicalism. We have sold out to supply-side economics, we have sold out to a pull up your boot straps mentality, and we've sold out to a suburbian white middle-class culture that's all about us.

The EC seeks to rebalance our political ambitions from a one party based system to an issues based system. Should we defend the unborn? Absolutely. But we also must tackle global poverty, aids, debt relief etc. We have tended to be the morals police while forgetting about the sermon on the mount and the morality contained in Jesus' words. We've stopped asking the question who are the least of these in our culture.

Again, it's nothing that's not in the Bible, but it's stuff that has been ignored by evangelicals for a long time.


kerux said...

Rob, Darryl, Scott,

I don't think I am expressing myself very well. Thanks for hanging in there with me while I try to "birth this thought" more accurately.

1. Having mulled over Darryl's list for a few days, I am happy for most of things it contains.
2. If ec helps the broader evangelical church recover neglected Biblical mandates - I am all for it.
3. But, I have two reservations:
a) The foundation of the proposed changes. I am still unconvinced that emergent (especially Revisionist types) are making their suggestions because of what they read in the Bible. I think I have provided many examples of this and there are more to come.
b) Even if ec does offer good direction through example or teaching, what about the rest of the "baggage?" (By baggage I refer to aberrant theology.) The reason I am concerned about this is the many conversations I have had with ec-influenced people who embrace many of the errors I have been pointing out in this paper, as well as the proposed good. I am not trying to be some "gatekeeper" here. I am trying to shepherd the sheep God has put in my care. If ec leads sheep astray by the aberrant theology associated with it, then I suggest it ought to be avoided all together.
There is more I would like to say, but let me get your feedback to this first...

Rob said...

Hey Paul,

No problem, I know I have a filter through which I'm reading this too. It's difficult to read critics especially when they may not be completely wrong :).

I would say what you have just written is completely legitimate criticism and legitimate questions.

Let me first address the foundation of the changes. The foundation of the changes really do go back to the Bible. We all read the Sermon on the Mount and wondered how we missed it? We looked at the 1000's of verses relating to money and the poor and wondered how we got to be Republicans exclusively? We looked at the Kingdom of God and it seemed to be an inclusivist Kingdom and we wondered how we got so exclusive? Frankly, we watched all the youth leave our churches and wondered how the gospel had become so irrelevant?

(I probably shouldn't say 'we' as I wouldn't want to speak for everyone).

Please read books like Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Know's what. I think you'd be hard pressed to argue with that theology. Also read books like More Ready then you Realize, even Adventures in Missing the Point. For more scholarly work, Beyond Foundationalism is really quite good as a base. I think you'll see the Biblical foundation of the EC. We seem really concerned with understanding the Kingdom of God.

The theolgoy of the EC is really difficult to nail down. You have guy's like me on an extreme, but you also have guy's like Driscoll, Don Miller, Dan Kimball etc. This is where I think criticism would help us. Having people like you on our flank is helpful because you force us to ask questions like have we gone too far?

If I could suggest pushing back on extremes in the theology would be a helpful critique. Coming from you would help too, because you do it in a very gentle and loving way. I'd be interested in a critique of emergent theology.


kerux said...

Being a Canadian who lived in America for 8 years, I can understand some of your angst over the politicizing of faith... at least the evangelical faith. That being said, I think more is made of this than is warranted.
The paper is an attempt to deal with emergent theology... only, as you said in the sentence before, "The theolgoy of the EC is really difficult to nail down."
The tripartite distinction didn't appear until a few days before this paper was presented. I think that if that distinction gains prominence we will all be further ahead. That way, guys like me can interact with Revisionists, like McLaren on one level and RElevants, like Driscoll on another.
Whether you like it or not though, I think the whole movement is still painted with one wide brush, and partly by design (open to the conversation, etc) so that until there is more clarity over who goes with who and why... you are bound to have a lumping together.
I know that part of the movement is to avoid all labels and bring openess... but the fact is that the Gospel divides. Sheep and goats. Wheat and tares. Rich men and Lazarus's. So perhaps the real issue is getting settled what the gospel really is?
I am having a private email exchange regarding this with someone right now. I think it is something that really needs to be more carefully thought through...
Sorry - rushing to get this out, then that is all for today!

ScottB said...

You know, it's funny though - your illustrations about division are all eschatological. The point of each of those is that God is the one who divides, and that at the end of the age. So my question then might be, in response, why are we taking the role of God in doing the dividing for Him? ;)

Here's one of the critical distinctions between more traditional evangelicals and those who lean more towards the emerging side of the tent: evangelicals, generally speaking, are interested in the boundaries, while emerging folks are more interested in the essentials. I noticed this strongly with Carson's book. He takes McLaren to task repeatedly for not drawing strong boundaries. I distinctly remember his criticisms about McLaren failing to offer a critique of Catholic theology, for example. The problem with that approach is that the book is precisely not about drawing those lines, but rather about finding what is good in various Christian traditions. Does that mean that we shouldn't ever draw boundaries? Not at all. But emerging church folks seem to want to do a bit more listening before excluding, and I think there's value in that. It strikes me as very much the sort of thing that Jesus was about.

Personally, I have a lot of issues with the three categories that you're using - I think they're both artificial and naive. But that's a topic for another day. The point is that I'm not really clear on why there needs to be a "lumping together". If you have issues with a particular author, can't you critique the author on his or her own merits? I mean, I have issues with particular Reformed folks, but I don't assume that everyone from the Reformed tradition is judgmental and angry as a result. I guess I'm just a bit confused as to why that same consideration is rarely extended towards those of us who identify with the emerging church, and why there's a need to have such a finely tuned taxonomy, so to speak.

If you've ever read Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall, it's my favorite parable of this difference between the emerging church and more traditional evangelicals. Worth a read.

ScottB said...

Clarification - I know the three categories aren't yours, and my comment about them isn't directed towards you. But I do think they assume a number of things that are problematic, so I'd really question their usefulness.

Rob said...


I like your analogy of not defining boundaries, but essentials. I think there is a lot of truth to that.


ScottB said...

Rob - I've been thinking about it ever since I read Frost & Hirsch's Shaping of Things to Come, and in particular their discussion of bounded vs centered sets.

Paul, by the way, if you want a fantastic book that gets to the heart of what the emerging church is about, that's the one to get.

Rob said...


I loved that book as well.