Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The First Step Toward a Solution

This paper is already very long and I am fearful that rushing to a solution will not do justice to a topic that needs much more consideration. Just coming to an understanding of what EC is and where it is going is difficult enough without heaping on a bunch of proposed solutions. Perhaps time and circumstance will avail themselves for more to be written on this in the future. For now, I would like to propose one simple solution.

Carla Rolfe recently posted a simple question on the emergentNo blog:

Is the written word of God, for you, in your life as a believer, the final authority in all matters of your faith, and practice? This is a straightforward question that simply requires a yes or no answer. You may feel free however to expound on your answer, if you like.

One sample answer she received read like this:

I'll take a shot at that Carla. God is the final authority in my life. I can't confine to the bible because he clearly is so much bigger than the bible itself and of course he is God and can really do as he pleases. The bible is not the beginning and end of God.

To which Carla responded:

So then your answer to this question: “Is the written word of God, for you, in your life as a believer, the final authority in all matters of your faith, and practice?” would be NO, correct? Just trying to establish some basics here.

The reply:

I suppose it would. The bible is not the final authority in my life God is. Do you believe that God can only do what is mentioned in the bible?[1]

I am neither qualified nor do I particularly desire to get into a debate of epistemology, but this little exchange seems to typify what is the essential flaw I observe in EC. After reading all the blogs and talking with relatives and friends embracing EC at various levels, I am often left with the impression that the Bible, although given a respectful nod, just doesn’t really matter that much anymore (at least in practice). The EC Christian wants his Bible – but tradition, listening to others, expressing himself in art, feeding the poor, and having conversations about what he thinks about God, are just as important to him, if not more so. In fact, this freedom from an authoritative text is really the best thing that has ever happened to him![2]

Thus, Sola Scriptura, the way it is portrayed in EC circles, is a hated enemy; the kind of club that power hungry despots use to stay in command.[3] Much like their Open Theist cousins, their view of God is too flexible to allow for Him to be “bound” by His own revelation. Of course I do not believe this is an accurate portrayal of the doctrine of Scripture Alone – just as inaccurate as most EC portrayals of reformed theology, conservative church life, true preaching, social conservatism and a bundle of other things! But with this pre-supposition firmly in place, along with all the “outs” used to avoid real conversation, I wonder if we will ever convince an EC Christian otherwise?

To be blunt, I think that I am pastoring a church that is, in many respects, what EC wants: relevant. I do not see taking place in my fellowship the kind of critiques and generalizations that are most often levelled by EC at conservative, reformed evangelicals. We began with a Bible study of 6 Christians and now find well over 100 in attendance. We started meeting in homes and now meet (quite contentedly and purposefully!) in a gymnasium. I preach for over 50 minutes twice a Sunday and people keep asking for more. We have seen people saved by God! We have baptized them. Some have moved on from us – most under good circumstances. Some have been disciplined and restored to full fellowship.

Our men meet together and talk openly concerning their battles with sin and who they want to be in the Lord. The ladies do the same. Our kids love to come to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. The stinking teenagers sit in the front row and are usually the last to leave – so many good questions! Some of our strongest leaders are “college and career” aged young men. We sing old hymns, and new songs with a 5 piece band. We recite ancient creeds and study church history. We write new songs. We pray every week, joyfully, together for nearly an hour (of prayer, not Bible study!). Members show up early and pray on Sundays for the Lord’s blessing on our services.

We evangelize our families and friends and strangers and some of the millions of people from all over the world that the Lord has brought to our city. We actually tell them they are lost and must repent and believe on Jesus. We have three men in seminary training to be pastors. We are trying to plant another church downtown Toronto by 2009. The Lord has given us more money than we need. We are growing slowly and steadily, month by month, in a cultural context that is antagonistic, at best, to the Gospel. And we have all kinds of problems and shortcomings and faults and sins that need to be fixed and Lord willing, one day, will be. And I am telling you all of this to say that not once, for one second, would we in any fashion consider ourselves to be emerging out of anything! If you pinned us down we would say we are trying to be submergent – into the Truth of the Bible.

So, even though there might be a lot of overlap in appearance between EC and us in how we “do” church, there remains this one great difference: what we do and how we do it is determined by the Word of God, the Bible. The EC leaders I have read cannot say the same thing. It is “the Word and...” That means the final authority in determining what is good and what is bad is intuition, not revelation.[4] The Bible is not what directs, forms and shapes EC. And without this anchor, that ship will float wherever the prevailing winds of the day choose to blow.

But the Bible is enough. The Bible is more than enough!

For the Bible tells us to pray and preach and study and evangelize and talk to children and love teenagers and give our money away and plant churches and teach one another and hold each other accountable and fellowship with each other and love each other and deal with sin. And even though there remains so much more to do, my land, just to do these things reasonably well is something quite commendable![5] And when I look around at sister churches here in Canada I see churches that are different in a thousand ways from us and yet foundationally the same; that one common denominator being a firm commitment to the Word of God as a final authority in all matters of doctrine and practice.

It is not very fancy or novel or cutting edge. It doesn’t require the creation of new words or new forms or new ways. It is all rather humbling... and absolutely relevant. We pray; preach, worship, love and let God decide if it will be blessing or trials. As much as EC may want to set up a relevant, failsafe method of reaching this culture, I am happy to put my trust in a relevant, failsafe God. He will do as He pleases and it will be both right and good.

The truth is that a few, a very few, thoughtful men, whose thinking consists in negation from first to last, and whose minds are tortured with a chronic twist or curve, which turns them into intellectual notes of interrogation, have laid the basis of this system; these few honest doubters have been joined by a larger band who are simply restless; and these again by men who are inimical to the spirit and the truths of Scripture, and together they have formed a coterie, and called themselves the leaders of the thought of the age. They have a following, it is true; but of whom does it consist?

When a prophet comes forward he must speak as from the Lord, and if he cannot do that, let him go back to his bed. It is quite certain, dear friends, that now or never we must be decided, because the age is manifestly drifting. You cannot watch for twelve months without seeing how it is going down the tide; the anchors are pulled up, and the vessel is floating to destruction. It is drifting now, as near as I can tell you, south-east, and is nearing Cape Vatican, and if it drives much further in that direction it will be on the rocks of the Roman reef. We must get aboard her, and connect her with the glorious steam-tug of gospel truth, and drag her back. I should be glad if I could take her round by Cape Calvin, right up into the Bay of Calvary, and anchor her in the fair haven which is close over by the cross. God grant us grace to do it. We must have a strong hand, and have our steam well up, and defy the current; and so by God's grace we shall both save this age and the generations yet to come.[6]

“You may spoil the gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith--Jesus Christ--and to substitute another object in His place… and the mischief is done.

“You may spoil the gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honor, and the mischief is done.

“You may spoil the gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done.

“Lastly, but not least, you may completely spoil the gospel by confused and contradictory directions… Confused and disorderly statements about Christianity are almost as bad as no statement at all. Religion of this sort is not evangelical.”[7]

[1] The whole exchange can be found here Emphasis original.

[2] Note these comments by Rob Bell and his wife from a recent Christianity Today interview: “The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—‘discovering the Bible as a human product,’ as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. ‘The Bible is still in the center for us,’ Rob says, ‘but it's a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.’

‘I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible," Kristen says, "that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it's in color.’ For more of this see Appendix Four or Accessed on April 4, 2006.

[3] “In the recent past we generally began our apologetic by arguing for the Bible’s authority, then used the Bible to prove our other points. In the future we’ll present the Bible less like evidence in a court case and more like works of art in an art gallery. The Bible will become valuable not for what it proves, but for what it reveals.” Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: YS/Zondervan, 2003) 101. This quote is of McLaren.

[4] ...intuition that is often cloaked in spiritual language. Regardless of the vocabulary, it is still intuition – listening to the gut to affirm what is true and what ought to be done.

[5] It also warns us not to do a lot of things!

[6] Excerpts taken from “The Need of Decision for the Truth.” A College Address, by C. H. Spurgeon first published in the March 1874 Sword and Trowel Magazine and available online at Also, see more quotes from this timely sermon in Appendix 3.

[7] J. C. Ryle as quoted by C. J. Mahaney on April 7, 2006 at