The Squareoff: John MacArthur vs. Emergent

Orginally published on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 5:02 AM
by Todd Rhoades

John MacArthur has a new book coming out soon on the “Emergent” Church.  In it, he really takes the emergent church to task over many things.  But Dan Kimball, one of the outfront leaders in the EC movement takes issue with much of MacArthur’s leadership.  I think you’ll be hearing alot of this debate in the near future… take a read at Dan’s post here (it’s rather long); and be sure to check out his blog for other details on this subject.  You may not agree with everything (on either side of the issue) but it’s important to keep on top of things… Dan writes…

I rarely, rarely ever try to specifically talk about someone in a negative light, and I hope this isn’t negative against a person, but about their opinions. I received from a friend a mass letter going out to supporters of national radio preaching ministry. He sent it to me to read since the whole letter was about “the emerging church”.

I was really dismayed and saddened to read this letter he sent out. It was a fund raising letter for his radio ministry which I went on his radio ministry blog and found that my name was actually listed in his list of who he sees as emerging church leaders. So this became personal, since he mentions me on his radio blog and also raised my interest more in what he was saying in the letter.

Unfortunately, what I read in the letter was, in my opinion, hyper-exaggerations with nothing listed or a specific emerging church cited to back up his claims (at least in this letter). If I was a radio listener and didn’t know what the emerging church was about, after reading the letter I certainly would have my fear raised to find out how to avoid them as the letter says they are a “threat” and “the danger is real”. Many of the descriptions in the letter of “the emerging church” were ones that I commonly hear over and over again and most of them are much like a stereotyped cartoon caricature. Sadly, for the grandparents and parents and all those reading this letter, this stereotype is all they end up hearing which then forms their opinions. Let me show some examples of what he wrote in this letter:

“People who are drawn to the emerging church generally place high value on ambiguity and mystery. They reject the notion that God’s Word is clear, and anyone can understand its meaning. That means every doctrine you and I find precious is subject to new interpretation, doubt and even wholesale rejection. Everything is being questioned and deconstructed. Unlike the noble Bereans who used Scripture to test what they were taught and refine their understanding of the truth, people associated with the Emerging Church regard God’s Word as too full of mystery to warrant handling any truth in a definitive way.”

As I read this I am asking “What emerging church is he possibly talking about?” In our church, we actually use the Acts passage about the Bereans as one of our staple verses about what we try to do.  He says that the Bereans are commended as they used to Scripture to “test what they were taught”, so why is it wrong when emerging leaders continue to do what the Bereans did? I learned from this very radio preacher in my early years in ministry that I should not just accept anyone’s teaching but to constantly be looking into the Scriptures and testing everything as the Bereans did. That is what I see many emerging leaders doing, so I am not sure what is wrong with that. I will comment on his words about doctrine and mystery in the next section.

He continued:
“The result is a movement that thrives on disorganization, lends itself to mysticism, distrusts authority and dislikes preaching, feeds intellectual pride and recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries. You can see why the movement is so appealing to college-age people young people - it is fleshly rebellion dressed in ecclesiastical robes.”

Again, as I read this, I am thinking “Who in the world is he talking about? “ That is so unlike any emerging church I have ever been to. It is describing something that really doesn’t exist. When he says that emerging churches “dislike preaching”, I have been to a dozen or more emerging churches and in every single one, they had preaching for at least 30 minutes long, and usually more like 40 minutes, sometime 45 minutes. In every one of them, they may not all have been teaching through entire books of he Bible (but several do), but they were teaching long sections of Scripture, not just isolated verses pulled out of context. People at the emerging churches I have been to had Bibles themselves with them or provided for them. Several of them had teaching handouts or notes. I don’t know what he is saying that they don’t like “preaching”. They may not like angry forms of preaching, or pastors whose preaching is more about being moral police to the world than about being a follower of Jesus type of preaching, or preaching that is not based out of the Scriptures but out of the pastors opinion - but to say that emerging churches don’t like preaching? I can only assume he has never actually been to an emerging church. I only see a renewed hunger for the Scriptures and teaching in emerging churches. Many have participation in preaching where questions are asked (like Jesus did in His teaching) so the learning and retention goes higher than just a one-way presentation. Many emerging churches I know offer theology classes and I don’t know what he is talking about when he says “they don’t like preaching”.

I also don’t know what he is talking about when he says they “thrive on disorganization”. Most emerging churches I know have leadership structures, teams, multiple home communities or house churches in addition to the weekend gatherings - which cause a need for a great deal of organization, leadership, accountability and structure. There might be some very small organic type of emerging churches out there that can be disorganized, so maybe he is thinking of some of them? But the ones I know are highly organized, even more so than many other churches because they involve more people in decision making than just the senior pastor, so it causes the need for a more organized structure than just a top-down type of structure. So, again - in my experience I have not seen a single emerging church which “thrives on disorganization”, quite the opposite.

When he says they all “lends itself to mysticism” - again, in every emerging church I have ever been to I have never seen any “mysticism” in how I imagine he is thinking of it. There is no mantras or mindless chanting or rubbing crystals or whatever he may be thinking. There is a lot of prayer in emerging churches, so maybe he is equating praying in worship gatherings with “mysticism”? I don’t know.

He says that emerging churches “recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries”. Again, I am surprised he didn’t take the time to go on some of the web sites of emerging churches - as he would have discovered that within a few mouse clicks he could have found that on almost every emerging church there are very clear “This is what we believe” doctrinal statements listing specific theological beliefs held to by the church. So where he is getting the information that most emerging churches don’t hold to doctrines? All the emerging churches I know believe in the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the atonement, the bodily resurrection, and salvation in Jesus alone. You go on their web sites and you quite often see the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed listed. So to say emerging churches don’t have doctrines is very incorrect. There may be an isolated few that don’t, but the majority do. Put this to the test and go look on some emerging church web sites, and you will easily see why he is wrong with this.

He says that emerging churches recognize “few if any..moral boundaries” and that is why “it is so appealing to college-age people - it is fleshly rebellion..”. Again, who the heck is he talking about here? The emerging churches I have been to call people out on sin and un-Jesus-like behavior regularly. They confront those who are not taking care of each other, or being greedy and hoarding to themselves, or when they are not involved in the social justice the Bible so clearly speaks of that we should be involved with, or about repentance from all types of sin issues. I was just at an emerging church who called people to repent and allowed them to get on their knees in repentance. In our church a few months ago we taught a whole message on repentance. I listened on-line to a series in an emerging church that was on sexual purity and sex being designed within the covenant of marriage and sharing how sex outside of marriage would be sin. We did a whole series on this in our church and just 2 weeks ago in the sermon taught our position on homosexual practice. I don’t see emerging churches ignoring sin or repentance. So, I am wondering who where are these stories coming from? He doesn’t list a single emerging church who does these things, he simply paints a picture of mystical, anti-preaching, anti-doctrinal, anti-organization churches in a broad stereotypical way.
There was more to the letter, with similar things. But I better stop here, as this is already a very lengthy post. I seriously am not trying to be defensive, but it is hard not to when I see my name on the list on his web site, and the assumption is then all leaders listed are in churches like he described in the letter.
I would have hoped that the pastor would have done his research, visited emerging churches or called and asked leaders to describe what they do, or what doctrines they hold to. I think he would have learned from D.A. Carson’s over-generalization in his book on the emerging church of how he narrowly portrayed the whole emerging church according to one or two leaders instead of the whole of everyone - as so wonderfully pointed out in a recent lecture by theologian Scot McKnght.  Scot actually has been to emerging churches and knows many of the leaders, so his critical analysis was really insightful of the book D.A. Carson wrote.
As Scot McKnight pointed out, “the emerging church” is not about one, two or three people. I travel a lot and I talk to a lot of people in what I would consider as missional emerging churches all across the country. There may be a very small percentage that possibly are ones this pastor would be concerned about, but the majority, not the minority, of “emerging churches” are absolutely nothing like he described. To his defense, perhaps this information was done by ill-informed students or others giving these descriptions of churches that don’t really exist, or if they do they are the rare ones, not the norm.
For those with concerns or for those who hear all these descriptions of “emerging churches” like the one in this letter, I would lovingly like to challenge you to to please actually check the sources of who is telling you about them. When someone starts saying with authority “This is what the emerging church is like..”, ask them if they have ever been to one. When I read all these very weird things said about emerging churches, ironically it is never based on anyone actually visiting one. When I ask someone where they heard these descriptions of emerging churches, it all comes from other sources, who have never been to an emerging church either.

These stereotyped descriptions about “the emerging church” going around like the ones written in the letter are like an urban legend. They are stories and caricatures that developed on the internet and repeated so many times over and over in various circles that it eventually becomes thought of as a fact. The Scriptures say in Matthew 12:36 that one day we will have to give an account to all the words we say, and I think we should be choosing our words very carefully when we accuse people of almost being heretical, like the letter pretty much was doing.

I just get so weary of these types of things. At the conference I blogged about in the last post, the same questions arose. I am all for always, always wanting to hear from people if something is going astray somewhere with me or our church, so I can be in constant check. So I never want to discount someone coming with an outside perspective and I always be open to listening. But these are the consistent caricatures that aren’t too helpful, since they are so over-exaggerated.

If you know me, you might be surprised I wrote this, as I normally don’t get defensive and I apologize if any of this is not coming out as loving. I am trying to write in love as best I can - but maybe by posting this, some may hear that they shouldn’t believe all the hear about the emerging church until they check one or two out themselves or talk to a leader themselves to see if letters like this one have truth or not or are about isolated churches or leaders and not the majority which aren’t like what is normally depicted.

This past summer we had two students from the seminary the pastor teaches at show up at our church for a visit. Afterward, one of them said “This is nothing like we thought it was going to be.” And they said how at the college the stereotype written about in the letter is what they hear on campus.
So, if there any critics or people who have these impressions of emerging churches, talk to one of us. Ask us questions. Visit our churches. You might be surprised when you actually find out what our beliefs and practices actually are. You’ll probably go after visiting one “Where is the mysticism? Where are the new-age mantras? How come people here are reading Bibles? I didn’t know you had sermons? You seem very organized, not disorganized and filled with chaos and rebellious like I heard. Your core theological beliefs are like the core beliefs at our church, I didn’t know that?” etc.  You might be shocked that all the stories you hear about what most emerging churches do, are not real for the overwhelming majority, but more of an fictitious overblown stereotype that has developed.

I am being redundant, but next time you read on the internet or hear someone speaking on “the emerging church” and what it is like, ask them: “How many emerging churches have you actually been to? Where have you actually seen them doing these things you are describing? Have you actually seen in an emerging church people chanting and practicing Buddhist meditation?  Have you been to an emerging church that didn’t have preaching? Or are these simply things you heard somewhere? If you did see them, what specific churches have you seen these things in? Is it one church or only one or two church leaders you are then making a conclusion it is the same for everyone else? Have you asked the leaders of emerging churches for doctrinal statements to see what they actually believe, or do you lump everything in together as assume the majority of emerging churches believes the same thing?” Be a Berean and test those who are teaching things about “the emerging church” to see if what they are saying is actually true.

Please don’t make a conclusion or talk about “the emerging church” based on reading or hearing about only one or two people and think the whole “emerging church” is all the same. Even the leaders you probably are critical of always are saying they don’t represent everyone. None of represents everyone. But, please ask us questions, please visit our churches. Don’t fall into believing urban legends or over-generalizations without checking them out. Please don’t stereotype the emerging church anymore.

Oh Lord Jesus. Come quickly. What a mess we sin-tainted human beings create. Please forgive us all.

SOURCE:  http://www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/2006/12/saddened_by_joh.html

FOR DISCUSSION:  So… where do you weigh in on this subject?

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  There are 85 Comments:

  • Posted by


    I think when you truly believe someone is wrong, and wrong in a way that affects important stuff, not just differences in tradition or minor doctrinal differences, then you have a responsibility to talk to them.  But it should be a conversation, not a rebuke or condemnation.

    I’ve been approached both ways and the conversation has always been better received than the rebuke or the immediate condemnation. 

    John MacArthur seems to go right for the broad condemnation.

  • Posted by Daniel

    Hey Todd, have you ever noticed that the comment header reads: “There are xx comentss”?

  • Posted by


    I agree with Derek, face to face discussion is with the people of concern is not only more loving and biblical, it’s likely to be more effective.  JM’s history however, of defamation and slander (IMO) has probably lost him any chance of a good discussion with those he has chosen to attack.  Unless of course he went to them with his hat in his hand, sorry for his tactics and asking for forgiveness . . . which I don’t think is likely to happen.

    You asked when YOU (Leonard) should be standing up for truth and doctrinal orthodoxy.  How about this?  You MUST do so with the people God has given you to shepherd.  With those people you teach truth and you help them navigate the doctrinal waters of today’s writers and teachers and thinkers.  As DanielR said, that is the house you must keep in order.  In some cases, as the shepherd of the flock, you may have to provide a biblical rebuke, but even here you do so within the context of relationship.

    And perhaps, if you are asked to comment on a particular subject in a broader context, you would prayerfully do so in a way that communicates grace to those asking for the comment and those listening in (I find it ironic that JM’s ministry is called “Grace to You”).  What you would resist doing is barging, uninvited, into someone’s living room to clean their house.  You might talk at length with members of your congregation about the issues in the news regarding the Episcopal church, and you should . . . you must!! But you wouldn’t try to infiltrate their organization so you can bring about a change in their theology (at least I don’t think you would).  When someone in your congregation comes to you having just read “A Generous Orthodoxy” and they have questions, you would welcome the conversation and would probably point out some of your concerns with McLaren’s theology.  But would you tell him Christianity Today is now an I think JM has used his writing and radio platform to try and infiltrate our churches in this way (really . . . I think it’s that covert).  He’s crossed way over a line that I doubt most of us here would cross.

    And Daniel,

    What does it say about your personality that you are so observant about such things (which is a good thing I think, since it bugged you so much that people were spelling my name wrong)? 

    What’s your Myers/Briggs type?  I think you are an ISTP.  I think JM is an INTJ.


  • Posted by

    Great points Wendi. I am thankful to be in a church now that if I do make a mistake that they would speak to me in love and in private. If the mistake is in public then appropriate discussions would be done.
    I agree that the argument is more for manipulation and selling books to a specific audience that will accept the assertions as true and build greater divide among God’s family. I grew up in a fundamental upbringing and have friends who still abide to the teachings. They do not understand why I spend time with the down and out and “pagans” of the culture.
    As to the biblical rebuke, I can only do so in the confines of the relationships that I have built. If there are unorthodox views that are being taught then one should do as Jesus said,” You have heard it said, but now I tell you.” Do not attack character, motives, or name names. Instead speak with grace and truth. And live in peace with all our brothers and sisters. I think Paul said something about that in a letter.

    Some people have different views of a word such as “grace”

  • Posted by

    Oopsie –

    This sentence in my previous post should read:

    [But would you tell him Christianity Today is now an APOSTATE JOURNAL FOR USING MCLAREN AS AN EDITORITAL COMMENTATOR AND AWARDING HIS BOOK “A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN” (WHICH IS WAS TAUGHT AT HIS SHEPHERD’S CONFERENCE IN 2004).  I think JM has used his writing and radio platform . . . ]

    My phone rang in mid-sentence and I didn’t proof my comment before I posted.


  • Posted by Leonard

    To all,

    Thanks for the dialog on this.  I agree that I am responsible to my house, but don’t my responsibilities go beyond my house as a Christian Leader?  Is it barging in when for the past few years the language from the Emergent has also been very negative toward BigMAC and other Modern church leaders?  I planted and pastored an emergent church for 8 years so I am actually somewhat familiar with the Emergent conversation.  BigMAC’s descriptions did not fit what we were doing, even remotely.  Conversely, I sat in several conferences that ridiculed, castigated and misrepresented the modern church, JM,RW and others by name. 

    I guess I would not agree BigMAC has barged in as much as chimed in.  He is chiming in as a public preacher, with a public audience with the belief that he has a responsibility to the Body of Christ.  I would certainly not intervene in the churches down the streets business unless invited but that is not what BigMAC did.  He is dealing with a movement within the body of Christ.  It is a movement in which many leaders have openly stated that the Modern church has it all or mostly wrong, that the bible is subject to individual interpretation and to the interpretation of the “community.” His response, while not necessarily the most thought through one I have read, it is not completely unsolicited.  Much of what is happening in the Emergent conversation is what caused Driscoll to pull away. 

    I would say that we should be careful not to miss the warning just because we do not like the package.  BigMAC offend my sensitivities but I do not think he is completely wrong in his opinions.

  • Posted by


    You’ve had the opposite experience as I’ve had.  I’m wise enough to realize that those on the emergent side can be mean, ridiculing and condescending of the modern church.  I just haven’t experienced it.  I’ve been around MacArthurites since the 80’s.  I’ve heard them parrot his bashing of Christian psychologists, of any kind of charismatic, of every pastor who even smells like he (or heaven forbid she) is “seeker sensitive.” And now he’s after the emergent folks.  From my experience, JM has done more than chime in.  Because of my dislike for him, I am admonished by your good point about having caution that I not refuse to hear a valid message because I dislike the messenger.

    Hmmm.  I’m not sure when I’d label expressions of dissent or disagreement as barging in somewhere that I’m uninvited.  I’m thinking that Pastor Rose’s advice to Mark Driscoll (from an MMI thread a few weeks back) might apply here.  She suggested that because of his growing audience, he now pastors two types of congregations; the local congregation he knows, loves and shepherds, and the cyber and print audience he isn’t connected to relationally but who look to him for counsel and advice.  His responsibility to each is different.  I agree with you that I have some kind of a responsibility beyond those with whom I have direct ministry.  But with these I’d better be very cautious about what I say, because I’ll never have an opportunity to clarify, explain or possibly recant. 

    Does that make sense?


  • Posted by Leonard


    I think BigMac is way off on so many things.  I went to Masters College before it was Masters College.  I grew up hearing, reading and absorbing all the Mac I could handle.  I honestly cannot listen to him for more than a few minutes, but because of my history and because of my ministry I can see clearly on both sides of the fence.  I would say that Mac is actually thinking he is being a good steward of his influence by calling out the various factions of faith who disagree with him.  I do not defend his pattern but I understand it.  I believe he sees his role and responsibility to call people back to something he sees as essential to faith.  While I cringe when he speaks I applaud his conviction and umph to speak his beliefs.

    I would also say that his constant challenge to the church to be as he sees it should be is the byproduct of his doctrine.  I am challenged to live my doctrine as confidently as he does only with more gentleness.  Thanks Wendi for your heart for Jesus and Justice.  It comes though clearly and I admire it. 

    Good night.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades


    I grew up on that side of the fence as well; and I agree.  JM thinks he’s doing a service to Christianity by exposing the flaws of others.  And it’s deeply buried in the fact that he is right; that he has a handle on all things; and that others, quite simply… don’t.  The emergents, on the other hand, have an opposite view.  They say (to some extent)… we don’t have all the answers; and maybe the things aren’t as cut and dry as we thought growing up.  Of course there will be conflict.

    It’s a tough balance to maintain.  The “Slice of Laodecia” folks are just one step farther down the road than JM.  They feel fully justified to point out the sin of others (whether it be worship ‘hip thrusts’ or ‘pierced belly buttons’ or rap music or comedy in the church.  JM is one of the slice people’s heros (him and most dead Christian leaders). 

    Personally, I think it is a slippery slope… I think the harm done within Christianity (making other Christians take sides on many times unimportant issues) and outside Christianity (make us look like a bunch of dweebs) has much more of an effect than their purpose:  doctrinal purity.  After all, our doctrine can be as pure as the driven snow and yet everyone around us could be going to hell.

    I’m looking at a google ad (that I don’t choose) at the bottom of this page.  It reads in big bold letters, “Why Tithing is Not For the Church”.  My question is… what motivates things like this? Is it a core issue?  Does our salvation depend on it?  Then why take the time to research and write a whole book on the subject unless for no other reason than showing that you are right and others are stupidly wrong.  This tithing thing is a big one right now.  Truth is… I really don’t care; and I get tired out of people making this a big issue.  People are devoting their life to righting this wrong.  It diverts the attention of well-meaning Christians; and makes us look like silly in-fighters to the non-saved.

    As I said, it’s a balancing act.  One that I feel JM doesn’t do very well.  And some emergents as well.  Kimball’s response (to me) seems more balanced and approachable at this point in time anyway.

    My 2 cents…


  • Posted by Daniel

    Wendi, I’ve actually been an ENTJ most of my life.  I recently retook the typology test and was an ESTJ/P.  On the last three counts (S/N, T/F, J/P) I’m pretty close to the middle, though I’m 90% extroverted.  I’m a software programmer who also majored in philosophy and who loves to read (can anybody say ‘nerd’?), so spelling mistakes jump out at me (is it bad that I noticed Todd mispelled “Laodicea” above?).  I try to not be too much of a stickler (it’s hard), but I’ve found that most webmasters appreciate input (lest their site look unprofessional).  I realize this has the potential to be very annoying.
    Anyway, this has nothing to do with John MacArthur or with the Emerging Church, so I’ll stop here.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Oh great… now I’m going to be written up at Slise of Layomycdia for being an emergent, pagan, bottled water drinking misspeller.

    Bring it on, I guess.

    Im outer her.


  • Posted by

    As I read the pull quotes in the article I began to wonder if the real issue might not be about a conflict in world views between the enlightenment and post-modernism.  I think it’s safe to say that JM’s ministry is certainly grounded in the enlightenment: rationalization of the gospel message, proving with logical arguments that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. While the statements he makes about emerging churches: “High value on ambiguity and mystery.”, “Reject the notion that God’s word is clear...”.  Just thought this might be a valuable lens through which to view JM’s letter, position and responses from emerging churches.


  • Posted by

    We have a huge emergent church in my city and 3 weeks ago I visited, to fellowship with a good friend who is a member of the church. The Pastor read 2 verses of scripture and never returned to the Word of God. I have heard this guy speak at least 5 times and as far as I am concerned, he takes scripture way out of context, if he ever gets back to it. On this past experience he shared all kinds of statistics about how rich America is compared to the rest of the world, how much money has been spent on the Iraq war, and how much bottled water is sold when many people in the world dont have any. Jesus was a peace maker and we should be to. He spoke about the myth of redemptive violence, as if America would just be nice to people in the world we would not be hated as much. He failed to mention how many billions America and Americans give to causes around the world every year. I was not sure what the pastors intention was, to make us feel guilty for the blessings in America and give more, or just what? I trust John MacArthur. I do beleive maybe John should have contacted Dan Kimball before using his name, or at least showed some of his resources. And in the same manner Dan Kimball should contact John MacArthur and talk to him before sharing what he stated in his letter. Is that not the biblical way!

  • Posted by

    I’d like to weigh in on the matter of the accusation of the emergent church becoming mystical.  Not all mysticism involves crystals and chants.  A simple description of mystical is that God is mystery.  Our experience of him is mystical, our relationship with him mystical, because there is so much about him that we do not know or understand.  Who can explain immaculate conception?  Such a mystery!  In that sense, mysticism is an apt word.  As for me, I’ve recently completed three years of formative training to become a spiritual director.  Throughout the course I took (which happened to be at a Catholic retreat center and was heavily Catholic focused in its teachings), I was testing what I heard.  Testing what I was being shown.  Testing the reference papers I had to read.  I was continually sorting through literature that included mystery from many faiths.  Was this in the Bible?  Is this Christ-centered?  Actually, it became a fascinating and faith-stretching three years.  I took the mystical part of what I heard and tested it through many years of walking in faith in Jesus Christ and who Jesus Christ has been for me over 34 years of becoming.  I came out of that course deeply enriched by the spiritual growth that emerged by staying true to the Word and inviting the mystery of the Spirit to teach and lead me, to form me for this calling.  Thankfully, one of the benefits for me was a lessening of legalism and an increase in allowing God to be God in my daily life, in my daily experience of walking with Christ.  Because I chose to embrace mysticism on the level of God being mystery, my faith has deepened and my love for others greatly increased.  When I consider your letter containing an attack on the emergent church being mystical, I realize the sweeping generalization is overkill.  I’m also saddened some that we are so afraid of mystery.

  • Posted by Daniel

    In traditional Catholicism, the “immaculate conception” refers to Mary’s conception rather than Jesus’ (where we tend to talk about the ‘virgin birth’)… I don’t think anyone here believes Mary’s conception was mysterious… but that’s presumably not the point you were making.  If you were talking about the Incarnation, then certainly, yes, there is much mystery there.

  • Posted by

    “What is that to thee, follow thou Me”. (Jesus) John 21:22b

    Legalism, in the context of church growth and defined in its purest form is: “We do church the right way and you don’t. If you don’t do it the way we do it then you do it the wrong way. Also, we have decided that we are God’s chosen ones to point this out to you and everyone else. We are right and you are wong”.

    How sad. When will we ever understand that we (evangelical churches) are on the same team and we have one Captain, whose name is Jesus. With this attitude, we can accept one another’s methodology of “doing church” even though we may not approve of how one “does church”.

    Last I heard, God was very capable of handling His business and part of His business and His responsibility is each individual church. We don’t have to be on the “Church Cop Swat Team”, trying to expose every church that we don’t think does it the right way. God can deal with that.

    I thank God that, even though He has stopped creating the universe, He is still creative in how He enables believers in every generation to be creative and adapt to the culture to reach people for Jesus Christ. I may not like a certain “style” of church but that is not my business. My business and my responsibility is my relationship to God. And if i am a pastor, my business and my responsibility is to lead my people to encounter the Living God and assist them in their relationship to Him.

    Seems to me like John MacArthur, and others, ought to have plenty to do to occupy their time without trying to take care of God’s business.

  • Posted by

    Tim – I agree (largely) with your assessment of the real issue.  But just as there were some in the early days of modernism or the enlightenment whose thinking pushed the envelope of orthodoxy too far, so today are some post-modern writers and thinkers.  However, it is (and has always been) just plain wrong (as Kimball points out) to lump every church and pastor who even “smells” emergent (according to JM’s sense of smell) into one generalized heretical group.  Others may have had the opposite experience, but I have personally found JM and SoL and those in this camp much more guilty of generalized and unsubstantiated criticism than the other (emergent) camp.

    David – I disagree that Kimball has a responsibility to contact JM.  He posted a response on his blog to a letter that JM made public.  He did this to counteract the negative kingdom effects of JM’s actions.  Calling JM to say “I disagree with what you said publicly about all emergent churches” would not have provided those who read JM’s letter with food for thought from another side.

    KC – I like your definition of legalism, though of course legalism has many other faces too.  The passage you cite fits well here I think.  Jesus had just restored Peter and asked him three times to “feed my sheep.” Of course we know that Peter didn’t fully understand what Jesus was asking, but instead of trying to better understand Jesus’ request of him, he looks around the room, sees John and says (my paraphrase, amplification, with a bit of speculation), “Hey Jesus, what about John?  Does he have to feed sheep too?  It’s not right if I have to feed sheep and he doesn’t.  Are you asking me because you think I’m a better sheep feeder, because I know how to feed sheep correctly?”

    If I only had a dollar for every time I said “hey Jesus, what about . . . .”


  • Posted by

    Yes, Daniel:) I was referring to the incarnation itself.  Mystical, indeed! 
    Thanks for clarifying my point.

  • Posted by Phil DiLernia

    Should we add MORE mysticism to our understanding of God or less?

    See Romans 11:33-36 and I believe the answer is clear.  Is there truths we can KNOW.  Yes!  Are there truths we can understand to the degree that God has designed us to understand them?  Yes!  Are there any truths that we can know exhaustivly?  Nope. 

    I love some of what the EC is doing.  But I have what I call my Theory of the Pendulum.  When mankind makes a move TOWARDS God - Satan encourages us to go too far the other way.  I can cite example after example of this reality.  Did God want a generation of people to consider what it is they believe and why?  YES. If God was responsible for Modernism then I’ve got to figure He gets the credit for Post-Modernism as well.  But some of this EC questioning does go too far.  On this website we have had people questioning the Virgin Birth.  You’ll see but it wont’ be long before the resurrection is questioned as well.

    Throw out the EC?  NO NO NO!  Hold it accountable and dialog with it in love?  YES YES YES!

  • Posted by


    Unfortunately, with so many in the “traditional-western-american-suit-and-tie” church, all the mystery has been artificially drained out. I don’t think that mystery is being added by people like Dan Kimball or rob Bell or Brian McLaren or Scott McKnight. I think it’s being explored in a way that many “traditional evangelicals” have avoided for a long time. I’m sick to death of hearing radio programs by expository preachers (I’m actually not necessarily thinking about Big Mac here) who have all the answers and explanations for every word of scripture.

    And Rob Bell was not questioning the virgin birth per se. He affirms his belief in it in the very pages of the book the offending quote I think you are referring to comes from. I don’t think it’s too far to go to say that if someone DOES question the virgin birth but still trusts Christ, although I may think they are mistaken, I will not take their “lapse in doctrine” to be a salvation issue… It’s all about trusting Christ, not trusting theology anyway…

    As the title of the Leonard Sweet book says… “Out of the question, into the mystery...”

  • Posted by Phil DiLernia

    Peter ... can you believe there was NOT a resurrection and still be a person who trust’s Christ (in the way that we understand trusting in Christ brings salvation?)

  • Posted by


    I’m not sure anyone’s been successful at that one. But here’s an illustration of my point. Someone with severe Mental Retardation might not understand doctrines like the resurrection and even the virgin birth (or any birth for that matter). They won’t understand the Bible, they won’t understand or appreciate pretty much all the things we discuss here. However, they can trust Christ and have His Spirit living inside them.

    We are not, as I’ve stated before, saved by ANY doctrine or theology. We are saved by the blood of Christ. If we are messed up, even severely messed up, in our understanding of how God and Christ is, then we may be very wrong, but we can still be very saved.

    Do we correct such people from scripture? Absolutely!

  • Posted by Josh R

    Phil, I like your pendulum analogy.. 

    I seems that we fix our eyes on Christ, cast off the attitudes and habits that are entangling us..  When we start to move towards God, we are thrilled, and proud of our discovery. 

    Pride pulls our eyes off of Jesus, and we begin worshiping our method.  We begin to lean on our own understanding, and what was once good, gets used for evil.

    I bet this happens in the most fundamentalist church, and the most theologically liberal church.  They just value different methods of worship, all of which can be ruined by a corrupt prideful motive.

  • Posted by Leonard

    Peter Wrote:
    “We are not, as I’ve stated before, saved by ANY doctrine or theology. We are saved by the blood of Christ.”

    This is true and I get what your are saying Peter, but there are doctrines we have that identify for us whose blood saves us.  That is important. It is not Christ the guy at 7-11 or Christ the guy who lived in 39 BC.  It is the blood of the one the angels said, for unto us is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.  This is the one not born by the seed of man but by the Holy Spirit.  This is the “woman’s seed” as written about in Gen. 3:15, (first prophecy about the virgin birth).  The virgin birth is not about missing sex or some nifty way God decided to put Jesus into the womb, it is about WHO Jesus is.  It is about his deity.  This is the one whom Isaiah said a virgin will give birth, this is the one whom Mary said, how can this be since I am a virgin…

    Our Doctrines about the blood and identity of Christ are what separate us from Mormons, Jehovah witnesses and every other religion that lays a claim on Christ but does not believe he is God etc. 

    I would also add that there are doctrines and theology that I do not fully understand but fully embrace.  The faith of a child embraces what it may not understand as though it is true because of the object of that faith.  When this grows to maturity it becomes “Mountain Moving” faith.  It becomes the kind of faith that it not threatened by mystery nor is it seduced by mystery.  This faith is discerning enough to say with confidence, I believe THIS and still leave room for a friendship with Christ to hold mystery.  One of the mysteries the bible reveals is the person and work of Christ. In fact the bible says that this Mystery was entrusted to Paul who gave it to the church and now through the church we reveal the “manifold wisdom of God” Eph 3

    There are many in the EC who see mystery and to make Christ mysterious for self gratifying reasons.  The danger is that sometimes they deconstruct theology in order to add mystery instead of allowing Christ to be as big as he really is.  Here is the key to mystery as spoken by John.  “He must increase and I must decrease.” Pursuing Mystery for the sake of having it is just as self increasing as pursuing knowledge for the sake of having it.  Mystery is found as we explore the depths and riches of God’s love, not as we explore an ancient mystic who sat on a mountain but loved Jesus.  Not as we question sound doctrine. 

    Finally one more thought as sorry for the length of this response.  McLaren, Jones, Pagitt and some other strong voices in the EC movement seek to bring mystery but do so by questioning orthodoxy.  They do so by owning the questions as their own that the world might be asking verses stating as a fact the Mystery of the Virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary satisfaction of God found in Christ’s blood, eternity, the soul and how God pursued us ferociously because of unconditional and mysterious love and how that love adds the missing value we all seek.  The mystery I experience is not because of the unknowable but because what I know is so huge I cannot explore its depths.

  • Posted by

    Questioning orthodoxy = bad. I agree! I don’t agree that the ones you’ve mentioned have done that, although they’ve made statements that i admit give me cause for concern. I wouldn’t say that they’ve questioned orthodoxy. (I haven’t read Pagitt’s books yet, just some of his public statements, so I can’t say for sure about him, but I do trust his publisher).

    When you discuss these finer points of doctrine with the average believer or person in the pew, you sometimes get some seriously blank stares, btw. I continue to urge us to remember that we are not saved by proper theology, and improper theology itself cannot condemn us if we are alive in Christ.

    Theology is important, but by some placed on an unfair and ridiculous platform, as if the only way to be saved is to understand words like propitiation and such…

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