My favorite anti-Emergent book

As someone from the Wesleyan stream of Christianity, I find many things that strike me as very good in the Emergent movement. (I drew this conclusion after reading 50 of the primary books by Emergent authors and visiting some of their churches during a Sabbatical a few years ago). I find that most of the books written against them are ridiculously inaccurate and poorly researched, and thus – according the criteria attributed to Martin Luther – unChristian in their lack of accuracy.

A bright exception to the vitriol, gruff talk, and bizarre conspiracy theories pointed at the Emergent/Emerging Christians, is Dan Kluck and Kevin DeYoung’s book Why We’re Not Emergent (2008). Kluck and DeYoung have written a kind, humorous, and good-natured argument regarding Emergent things they are concerned about. They have not vilified the Emergent church, and they have written in a Christlike voice, pointing out that the Emergent Christians are not the enemy. I hold them in the highest esteem for this. Since they come from a committed Reformed perspective, and I live in the Arminian stream, many of their concerns don’t’ fit for me. However, despite disagreeing with some of their conclusions, I deeply appreciate, and celebrate, the spirit in which they write. I wish more people wrote in the spirit and tone of voice that these good men have. Their book also points out and celebrates well the faithful ways the modern church has lived out the gospel.

I have a good memory associated with that book. I read the book a few years ago cover to cover while following a group of junior high girls around Hershey Park for my daughter’s birthday. They rode roller coasters, I stood and read. They giggled and laughed and had junior high girl fun while I bought prodigious amounts of lemonade and followed along 10 yards behind reading while I walked. Amazingly, I never ran into a single person in the park during that crowded day. That daughter turned 18 the other day and she is, of course, precious to me.

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More from George MacDonald on Jesus over the Bible

Here’s some more from English mystic/poet George MacDonald’s sermon “The Higher Faith.” Here he says “It’s Jesus, not the Bible. Don’t get them mixed up.” I have put in bold some of what really jumped out to me.

  • Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time—that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?—the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity? For it is his heart which Contains of good, wise, just, the perfect shape.
  • …. “But is not this dangerous doctrine? Will not a man be taught thus to believe the things he likes best, even to pray for that which he likes best? And will he not grow arrogant in his confidence?”
  • If it be true that the Spirit strives with our spirit; if it be true that God teaches men, we may safely leave those dreaded results to him. If the man is of the Lord’s company, he is safer with him than with those who would secure their safety by hanging on the outskirts and daring nothing. If he is not taught of God in that which he hopes for, God will let him know it. He will receive something else than he prays for. If he can pray to God for anything not good, the answer will come in the flames of that consuming fire. These will soon bring him to some of his spiritual senses. But it will be far better for him to be thus sharply tutored, than to go on a snail’s pace in the journey of the spiritual life. And for arrogance, I have seen nothing breed it faster or in more offensive forms than the worship of the letter.

Book Excerpt: N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture. Do We Need a Historical Adam?

Today I downloaded, via Kindle, N.T. Wright’s new book, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. In it he gives his take on a wide variety of issues today swirling in religion, science, politics, and the coming of Jesus. Below is the beginning of the chapter in which he wrings out whether or not a Biblically faithful Christian needs to believe Adam was a historical person.

“THE ROOT PROBLEM we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, antiscience, obscurantist, and so forth. This constitutes a wake-up call to us in this form: though the Western tradition and particularly the Protestant and evangelical traditions have claimed to be based on the Bible and rooted in scripture, they have by and large developed long-lasting and subtle strategies for not listening to what the Bible is in fact saying. We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions. Our concern is for the truth and beyond that for our love of the God of truth and our strong, biblically rooted sense that this God calls us to celebrate the wonder of his creation and to work for his glory within it. There are two theological drivers for people to believe in a young-earth creationism and a historical Adam. The first supposes that if people let go of this position, they are letting go of the authority of scripture . I suspect , myself, that sociocultural factors are among the main influences. In dispensationalism in particular, a flat, literal reading of Genesis is part of a package that includes the rapture, Armageddon, saving souls for a timeless eternity, and so on, together with the usual package of ultraconservative (as it seems to a Brit) policies in society, government, and foreign policy. So I suspect we need to think through the question of how the authority of scripture actually works and what it might mean in this case. But there is a second theological driver of the problem. This has to do with the deep-rooted Western soteriology that has characterized Catholic as well as Protestant, liberal as well as conservative: a sense that we know, ahead of time, that the Bible, particularly its central New Testament texts like the Gospels and Romans , must really be about the question of how we get saved. For some, particularly in the Reformed tradition, the question of Adam as the federal head of his descendants is one part of the soteriology that sees Jesus the Messiah as the federal head of all those who are “in him.” So let me say something brief about scriptural authority, and then something slightly fuller about Adam and related issues.”

Wright, N. T. (2014-06-03). Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (Kindle Locations 437-445). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

George MacDonald on the Bible, the world of nature, and discovering more than the Bible expressly says

Here’s the famous English poet/author/Christian mystic George MacDonald on the world of nature, questions, and God inviting humanity to learn things beyond which the Bible has expressly said. This is the first part of his sermon “The Higher Faith.” There are some real jewels in here.

“The aspiring child is often checked by the dull disciple who has learned his lessons so imperfectly that he has never got beyond his school-books. Full of fragmentary rules, he has perceived the principle of none of them. The child draws near to him with some outburst of unusual feeling, some scintillation of a lively hope, some wide-reaching imagination that draws into the circle of religious theory the world of nature, and the yet wider world of humanity, for to the child the doings of the Father fill the spaces; he has not yet learned to divide between God and nature, between Providence and grace, between love and benevolence;—the child comes, I say, with his heart full, and the answer he receives from the dull disciple is—“God has said nothing about that in his word, therefore we have no right to believe anything about it. It is better not to speculate on such matters. However desirable it may seem to us, we have nothing to do with it. It is not revealed.” For such a man is incapable of suspecting, that what has remained hidden from him may have been revealed to the babe. With the authority, therefore, of years and ignorance, he forbids the child, for he believes in no revelation but the Bible, and in the word of that alone. For him all revelation has ceased with and been buried in the Bible, to be with difficulty exhumed, and, with much questioning of the decayed form, re-united into a rigid skeleton of metaphysical and legal contrivance for letting the love of God have its way unchecked by the other perfections of his being.

But to the man who would live throughout the whole divine form of his being, not confining himself to one broken corner of his kingdom, and leaving the rest to the demons that haunt such deserts, a thousand questions will arise to which the Bible does not even allude. Has he indeed nothing to do with such? Do they lie beyond the sphere of his responsibility? “Leave them,” says the dull disciple. “I cannot,” returns the man. “Not only does that degree of peace of mind without which action is impossible, depend upon the answers to these questions, but my conduct itself must correspond to these answers.” “Leave them at least till God chooses to explain, if he ever will.” “No. Questions imply answers. He has put the questions in my heart; he holds the answers in his. I will seek them from him. I will wait, but not till I have knocked. I will be patient, but not till I have asked. I will seek until I find. He has something for me. My prayer shall go up unto the God of my life.”

Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time—that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?—the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity? For it is his heart which Contains of good, wise, just, the perfect shape.”   (George MacDonald, “The Higher Faith”, Unspoken Sermons, Vol. 1; 1867).