The ‘Emerging Church’ and accountability
It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming.When Roger Moran, a leader of the conservative resurgence in Missouri and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Board, expressed concern about the so-called Emerging Church Movement’s impact on the SBC at the Executive Committee‘s Feb. 20 meeting in Nashville, it drew applause from his fellow Executive Committee members and sent some of the movement’s proponents into a tizzy. Because ideas evolve over the expanse of time, it is as if we are watching two freight trains collide in slow motion: the SBC with its staunch belief in absolute truth based on God’s Word and the Emerging Church Movement with its all-to-often affinity for postmodernity’s denial of absolute truth.
SBC scholars have been writing and lecturing on the Emerging Church Movement (some feel the term “emerging” is already outdated) that seems to have caught the imagination of some of the SBC’s younger generation. Some of these scholars have praised the movement for calling the church back to an authentic Christianity that leads us to live like Christ, while warning us that all of what the movement advocates is not biblical. Particularly problematic is the movement’s non-belief in absolute truth.
In recent years SBC scholars have told us about this movement: the good, the bad and the ugly. Yet it seems some in the convention, known for incessantly calling on conservatives “to just move on,” have turned off their theological radars, seemingly oblivious to “the bad and the ugly.” These same people, who keep pushing for the SBC “to just move on,” talk about vigilance in the same breath, but do not always practice it. Moran’s views are just the latest example exposing such. He dares to question the theological soundness of what he is seeing, indeed he makes some absolute statements — and what does he get? Sarcastic grins, people placing their strained-looking faces in their hands and personal attacks on the Internet among the worse ever seen in the SBC life.
Moran has called for no discipline. He has called for no one to be disfellowshipped. He has, however, called for accountability. Discipline may or may not be in order. The lack of accountability is a constant danger that Southern Baptists must never treat flippantly, especially if the promise of the conservative resurgence is to mature into a denomination filled with believers adhering to personal holiness and dedicated to the glorification of God. The SBC will always be a target because of its size and its dogged determination to stand on the Word of God. Postmodernism hates that. It detests absolute statements or any claim to absolute truth. Moran has made some absolute judgments about some things and that is his crime in the eyes of his detractors. Too many in the Emerging Church Movement — and apparently some in the SBC who agree — do not like such judgments and act as if they do not like Moran personally (more on this later).
We should have seen this coming. We have been warned, but apparently, were not paying attention. Theologian D.A. Carson, in a March 23, 2005, Baptist Press article, praised the Emerging Church Movement for taking note of cultural trends and emphasizing authenticity among believers. But he criticized the movement for dismissing confessional Christianity. He also said many thinkers in the movement shy away from asserting that Christianity is true and authoritative and that they frequently fail to use Scripture as the normative standard of truth.
In the same article Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., said that leaders in the Emergent Church represent “a significant challenge to biblical Christianity.”
“Unwilling to affirm that the Bible contains propositional truths that form the framework for Christian belief, this movement argues that we can have Christian symbolism and substance without those thorny questions of truthfulness that have so vexed the modern mind,” Mohler said.
“The worldview of postmodernism – complete with an epistemology that denies the possibility of or need for propositional truth – affords the movement an opportunity to hop, skip and jump throughout the Bible and the history of Christian thought in order to take whatever pieces they want from one theology and attach them, like doctrinal post-it notes, to whatever picture they would want to draw.”
Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern, offered an excellent analysis of the movement in a Feb. 22, 2006, article published by Baptist Press. He praised some aspects of the movement, but warned that it “tends at times wrongly to deemphasize the necessity of a personal relationship with Christ.” He also pointed out how some leaders in the movement do not stand on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.
Warning after warning has been sounded, yet it seems some in the SBC are reluctant to face this issue. Brian McLaren, who many in the Emerging Church Movement are now disavowing as a leader, was asked to speak at the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Evangelism Conference in 2005. When his unscriptural views were discovered, the invitation was withdrawn. I do not fault some respected SBC academics for wanting to encourage our churches to take the best from the Emerging Church Movement if it is biblical and will help Southern Baptists reach the world for Christ, but there seems to be a lack of accountability. Moran’s research, which I have examined, is compelling. There is no need to get defensive. No one is calling for anyone to be burned at the stake, but a “check-up from the neck-up” seems in order.
The statement by Moran may be too broad for some, but that should not detract us from the Scripturally based concerns he raises. Moran has proven himself to be someone who backs up his claims — that is why his colleagues applauded his remarks and Morris Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president, said Moran’s remarks are to be attached to the approved motion (made not by Moran, but by another messenger at the SBC’s annual meeting in Greesnboro) that is being sent to LifeWay, which will look into the matter and bring a report.
Since Moran’s remarks appeared on the Internet, some in the movement – along with bitter former Southern Baptist moderates who hate Moran – have peppered him with unrelenting criticism since his remarks became known. They are taking on a new moniker: “drive-by bloggers” because they do not attack Moran’s views, they attack him personally. They do not do themselves or their movement any good with such un-Christ-like behavior. Because Moran dared to sound a trumpet from the watchtower, they treat him like a modern-day Jeremiah, referring to him on the Internet as Roger “Moron,” “a viper,” a recovering “alcoholic” (which is a lie) and a “resident hot-head.” The fact that he was divorced before he was saved is being dragged out of the dust bin again and his faith in Jesus Christ has been publicly questioned. It is the most shocking public display of personal attacks that I have ever witnessed in SBC life ( though I have read how some leaders in the conservative resurgence have been subjected to similar treatment by moderates since 1979).
I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with Moran’s views, but I have a serious problem with men, who claim to have been called a minister of the Gospel, resorting to such disgusting public behavior. Moran is a decent man, husband and father to nine children, including one adopted from Russia. The personal attacks leveled against him are unjustified and should stop.
The assault against Moran raises another, serious concern for me. Is this the way Southern Baptists and the greater body of Christ are going to act every time someone raises a theological concern? Is this a form of intimidation, one that says, “If you even raise a question, we’ll demonize you in public?” How can we have accountability under such circumstances?
Moran did not make the motion calling for LifeWay to examine the movement, he simply spoke to it, offering some evidence that LifeWay indeed has its work cut out. Let LifeWay do its job and in the meantime, dispense with the juvenile, personal attacks and let us turn our hearts and minds to Jesus.