‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Saturday, 22 February 2014

More on Steve Chalke and the Emergent Crew

Reading some of the material on Steve Chalke’s latest campaign to challenge biblical inerrancy leads to further comments. Steve seems to have jumped into bed with the leading lights of the Emergent Church; Brian McLaren and Rob Bell offer support, and even Tony Campolo has weighed in to defend Steve. Campolo suggests those who refuse to enter into conversation are somehow cowards. Well it certainly takes bravery to swim against the tide of popular culture, and less to swim with the tide, so I think I’ll ignore Campolo’s hyperbole.

Having said that I have always admired Campolo’s commitment to campaign for social issues – and Steve’s commitment to social issues is commendable as well. However, an interest in social action need not lead to liberalism; it is possible to be a social conservative for instance. In fact many conservative Christians have worked quietly to alleviate suffering or given sacrificially, and have not gained the high profile of the likes of Campolo and Chalke. These people are equally commendable, but retain a commitment to the integrity of the biblical text in its original manuscript.

And in some ways Steve has worked to undermine Christian social involvement when it comes from conservative Christians. His public comments against creationism for instance have hindered the ability of conservative Christians to set up UK-based Free schools, even as Steve’s Oasis Trust is moving forward in this regard. His public distancing from fellow believers may suit him, but it doesn’t help build evangelical unity, nor does it engage in a respectful conversation that he desires, nor does it facilitate social involvement from conservative Christians. So he can bask in the glory of social action, but others are cast aside, and furthermore are cast as narrow-minded fundamentalists not interested in social involvement.

Steve seems to be campaigning against perceived fundamentalism, but it is as if the Charismatic movement has escaped him. Why does he not draw a distinction between fundamentalists and charismatic Christians for instance? With the Charismatic movement many fundamentalists were filled with the Holy Spirit and discovered God's grace, and began to look upon the Law through the lens of divine love. They found new ways of worshipping God through new songs even as they retained a commitment to biblical inerrancy. And this is before Philip Yancey started bottling and marketing grace to evangelicals. However, other Christians remained suspicious of the Charismatic movement, but wanted to modernise the church by singing the same new songs, perhaps overlooking the rather overt charismatic lyrics. Others wanted to build the church through social action, and this is indeed part of the Churches mission; even the conservative Victorian evangelicals were keen on social action as well as preaching the Word of God around the world. 

However, there is a danger that we become Pelagian in our thinking as Christians. The Pelagian heresy is to deny grace and seek to work out salvation through self-effort with less desire to rely upon the divine helper. And this is where I think many in the Emergent movement in effect are. Whether they are aware of this is another matter. There is a desire to modernise the Church and get involved in social action and trendy liberal issues, but fail to understand where God is leading the Church and build holiness through the outworking of grace. It is failure to fully understand the gospel message of justification and sanctification. 

There are then two movements at work in the Evangelical Church. One is the Emergent movement that seeks social involvement and accepts notions of inevitable human-centred progress. There is less desire to understand grace and remain committed to church tradition and biblical authority, but there is a desire to envelope social trends and popular culture even if that means reinterpreting Scripture. Personal sanctification, the-bit-the-Holy-Spirit-does-in-the-converted-believer, is overlooked, and replaced by suggesting that sin-isn’t-really-sin-after-all-and-you-can-do-what-you-like. 

The other movement is the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement that seeks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and society; it is revivalist and has a transcendent aspect to it, and very much presents a challenge to popular culture. It is of course far from perfect because of its excesses (through for instance the prosperity gospel) and it has perhaps lost its way in recent years, but at heart it seeks God’s grace to transform lives and society through the experience of divine love. This movement seeks to get to the heart of the Scriptures by interpreting it in the proper context without questioning inerrancy.  

So there are two movements, but one may wonder why Steve and his Emergent friends ignore the Charismatic movement? Why do they only identify fundamentalism as the alternative to their movement? Steve seems to think that the Emergent church is necessary to appeal to the young, but its inherent liberalism is not idealistic enough for many young Christians. Young Christians want to strongly believe in God’s action in the world, to be at the cutting-edge of a rich and vibrant community of faith, but the Emergent church does not really offer much in this regard.

What is needed is not the weak liberal Emergent church, but a return to the heart of the Charismatic movement, to be filled with God’s Spirit and rekindle the flames of passion for God’s love and truth that have helped and sustained the evangelical Christians in past decades and centuries.



Anthea said...

Thank you for this article, and your comments about the Pentecostal churches' contribution to the life of the Church. I think Steve Chalke isn't really interested in accuracy or even-handedness, really.

Anthea said...

Thank you for this article, and your comments about the Pentecostal churches' contribution to the life of the Church. I think Steve Chalke isn't really interested in accuracy or even-handedness, really.

Watcher said...

So, if we 'liberalise' our approach to the Bible, will evangelism be more effective? I think not. For the average non-believer the Bible is out of mind; and doesn't the government 'do' social justice...or at least should. The article is right, the dynamic of faith is that we live out the life of the kingdom of God by seeking to 'out' the new life within us. That's tough. Social action, is by comparison, a doddle.