Recently my wife relayed to me some comments of an acquaintance. Gregarious woman that she is, my wife had inquired as to the occasion of the other woman’s family having changed churches. And the other woman explained, “Listen, people change. And you’re going to change your views many times in your life, so don’t ride your theological hobbyhorse too hard.”
That wasn’t the whole of it, but it more or less continued in that same vein.
Despite how it reads in print, though, it was conveyed in a tenderhearted demeanor and came across as a plea for humility and cognizance of man’s noetic imperfection – an admonition not to walk too proudly in our understanding. Though the visceral persuasions of tone and inflection were sore tempting to my wife, and made her want to sympathize and accept the other woman’s words, she knew something was out of order with the sentiment itself, even if she couldn’t immediately put her finger on what it was. She then brought the matter to me. So it is that I share my thoughts with you, as with her.
Among the stew of acids eroding church and community life in our day is that of the transvaluations of language. When speaking of the perspectival division of tongues, most assume it a punctiliar event particular to Babel with no correspondence to contemporary circumstance; or if acknowledging it to continue, it is just as often assumed that the churches are impervious to this dynamic. Both of which are mistaken assumptions. Very much so.
The contemporary conduit for these pretensions of a doctrine aloof from and above all doctrine is Emergent theology. Though starting out a cult of its own, the cancer thereof has permeated all the major denominations now. And under pretense of some irenic solidarity, this over-gospel splinters and mutilates even to the most basic concepts upon which the Christian creed rests. This supra-doctrinal ecumenism even undermines St. Paul’s most ecumenical sentiments:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
~ Philippians 4:8
Granted, the acolyte of Emergence professes to love such passages, as he imagines them to reference his own gut conviction over the Scripture itself. But if this admonition to dwell on things lovely and excellent meant what these enlightened people tell us it means — to ignore ugliness, untruth, and contradiction — they wouldn’t even be able to invoke it against people whom they imagine to violate it. Because to do so is contrary to that ethic itself. That is, in order to use such verses that way, they have to tacitly deny their own thesis. It is wholly self-contradictory.
Unfortunately, a reductio ad absurdum has no currency with those who embrace contradiction as a core virtue. And under the circumstance of that madness, displacing God’s Word as the ground of coherence, the very stars are displaced; all measures of nomology and axiology are scrambled. Be it grace, freedom, law, love, righteousness, holiness, sin – all of it is on the epistemic chopping block. Everything means something wholly different to the liberalized mind. Not only do these Emergent prophets of supra-doctrinal doctrine regard each one of these concepts differently from that of biblical Christians, but regard our acceptance of them as defined in Scripture to be the greatest sin. To define even sin as Scripture does — as the violation of God’s Law — is heresy in their eyes. Sin, to them, always boils down to pathologies and -isms: so called ‘antisocial behaviors’ like homophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, nativism, sexism, racism, and conspiracy theory.
“I worship Jesus, not the Bible!” is their common refrain. And this, they insist, is actually humility before God — holding His revelation in dubio, demanding some mystical union with deity over and apart from His Word, which is to say, on their own terms, dictating to God what His Word is allowed to teach and what His character is allowed to be — which is another way of saying that they imagine themselves, in all piety, to be seated on His throne and expect Him to serve them. Worshiping Jesus apart from His revelation is to worship a different Christ; it is to worship oneself.
Having thus displaced the authoritative measure of things in their thought, these transvaluations cascade downward, overturning every stitch of epistemic furniture to every syllable of every word.
Which is why discussions such as my wife had with this woman can be so convoluted. And sometimes, beguiling. Trying to address them at any one point is like ladeling a cup of water out of Niagara Falls or flying a kite in a tornado. Because the whole of the Emergent mystic’s worldview is at variance, there are scant handholds to be found for meaningful communication: nothing short of a miracle — God’s sovereign election and irresistible grace — can untie that Gordian knot of a mind unmoored from reality predicated upon and defined by the absolute sovereignty of Christ.
So when my wife brought the matter before me asking if a call to humility before God could be wrong, I explained that in spite of tone, it wasn’t really a call for humility at all, but a call to nominalism, to lukewarmness, to moral relativism, and to doubt. One espousing a mandatory skepticism about our ability to know orthodox Christianity, even if in the name of Christian humility, is actually lobbying for faithlessness. In reality, it is anti-Christianity.
At which my wife’s eyes lit up. “Of course! That’s exactly what I sensed was wrong in what she was saying. I just couldn’t put it into words! Why couldn’t I put it into words?”
This relativistic supra-doctrinal doctrine, or over-gospel if you will, out of the Emergent church can be so disarming for the fact of its familiarity. Because we all encounter it daily, albeit in another form: it is of one cloth with the social zeitgeist of Alienism. It is the same rejection of objective valuation by smearing it as “provincial,” “narrow,” “intolerant,” and “bigoted.”
Be it with respect to social ethics or soteriology, those who imagine themselves to offer some enlightened alternative to provincialism and theological partisanship turn only to a more distilled vintage of the same. I say it is the same because it brings no one out of isolation. Just the opposite: the turn away from the communion of epistemic theonomy to autonomy is far more isolating. Really, it is but a recapitulation of the old lie whispered in the ear the first woman, “Hath God truly said?” And this modern woman, thinking herself above all, merely baptizes this same sentiment as the true hermeneutical key. In her vocabulary, doubt and infidelity are the definition of a mature faith.
Alienism’s extolling of this doctrine of doubt in the social realm, denying what is obvious of races and nations in and out of Scripture, is mirrored precisely by the Emergent promotion of doubt with respect to plenary revelation itself. The reason for this synergistic confluence between Alienism and Emergence is apparent in the fact that Alienism was born out of the Frankfurt School of cultural Marxism, and Emergent theology tracks its history back through postmodern philosophy. These two have been working in tandem a long while now in the universities — one from the sociopolitical side, and the other from the metaphysical end. They have long proved mutually reinforcing of one another in academia and now, at length, in the churches too. So much so now, in fact, that a man will not express one without some hint of the other as its justification. The biblicist is denounced as a “racist” and the racist for a “biblicist.”
My wife knows how to reply to the woman now: that her call to humility is really a statement of doubt and an announcement of her own self-deification as remedy. But she won’t be hanging out with her anymore.