Reforming or Conforming?
- Thursday, November 06, 2008
The late Robert Webber, one of the individuals who openly celebrated the developments identified with the “evangelical megashift” (that formally introduced us in the pages of Christianity Today to Open-view Theism12), sees the rise of the post-modern evangelicals as the next step in this megashift, calling it “a new evangelical awakening.”13 Another highly influential figure (also with direct links to the evangelical megashift) was the late Stanley Grenz. Grenz was, in many ways, the most prominent figure in the group, and his writings continue to provide the theological and philosophical identity for the movement. Grenz argued that the break between the modern and postmodern worlds may rival in historical significance the shift from the Middle Ages to modernity. “Fundamentally,” he argues, “post-modernism is an intellectual orientation that is critical and seeks to move beyond the philosophical tenets of the Enlightenment, which lie at the foundation of the now dying modern mindset.” As such, the new intellectual era calls for “nothing less than a rebirth of theological reflection among evangelicals.”14 Embedded in this quest for a rebirth of theological reflection is a disturbing tendency to discard core evangelical beliefs. The plot thickens as the pace picks up.
Amongst the leading advocates of this new breed of professing evangelicals is the group associated with the emergent church—a group that proudly identifies itself as postmodern.15 “For almost everyone within the movement,” observes Carson, “this works out in an emphasis on feelings and affections over against linear thought and rationality; on experience over against truth; on inclusion over against exclusion; on participation over against individualism and the heroic loner. For some, this means a move from the absolute to the authentic. It means taking into account contemporary emphasis on tolerance; it means not telling others they are wrong.”16 Although the emergent church folk like to consider themselves culturally sophisticated and theologically on the cutting edge of all things new and up-to-date, they are just as culturally conditioned as they claim their evangelical forebears were! In the case of the emergent evangelicals they want desperately to be perceived as “relevant” to our postmodern society. I cannot help but notice that whenever evangelicals become consumed with being culturally relevant they almost always end up adopting a very pragmatic approach in the process, with historic evangelical theology being the first thing that gets compromised. Os Guinness, a very perceptive observer of evangelicalism writes, “Christians are always more culturally short-sighted than they realize. They are often unable to tell, for instance, where their Christian principles leave off and their cultural perspectives begin. What many of them fail to ask themselves is ‘where are we coming from and what is our own context?’”17
Regrettably, in the hands of these emergent evangelicals it is not postmodernism that is poured through the sifter of historic orthodox Christianity—but just the opposite. As a result, what comes out bears hardly any resemblance to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. As I alluded to earlier, Robert Webber celebrated the evangelical megashift and its association with Open-view Theism. Following Olson in his disdain for the Old Princeton hegemony, Brian McLaren, who is considered the leading voice in emergent circles, throws disdain on the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and penal substitutionary atonement. McLaren, in Fuller seminary’s Theology, Notes, and News, penned a piece entitled, “A Radical Rethinking of Our Evangelistic Strategy” where, in reference to Mark Baker, Joel Green,18 and N. T. Wright, he declared,
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