Thursday, January 29, 2009


I don't agree much with Stephen (his blog is here), but despite our differences (and they are significant) there is that which we may agree upon ...
  • That there is absolute Truth, and that that Truth is the Lord Jesus Christ. We may disagree as to how that Truth has been revealed: through Scripture as interpreted by the Puritans, or through Tradition as written by the Bride and Body of Christ, the Church. [Fr. Stephen Freeman addresses the concept of the Church as epistle, as Scripture itself.]
  • That we need to be transformed by that Truth - we need to become like Christ. Again a disagreement as to how: my friend believes that that transformation is effected without his will; Orthodox teach that we participate in that transformation.
  • That those people who teach otherwise are false shepherds and ear ticklers; that they are heretics preaching a false gospel ... they are leading people away from Truth (the Person of Christ) into error and damnation. And so I am therefore of like mind with Stephen in his criticizing (here and here) of the Emergent Church.
I must confess that I have not paid much attention to the Emergent Church (hereafter EC), regarding it as a Protestant phenomenon and problem. And it does stem from Protestantism, and it is primarily Protestants who are seduced by it. When I have encountered the EC, I have quietly noted that it was far from Orthodoxy, but inevitably disagreed with Protestant reasons (besides the very elementary ones listed above) for dismissing it. But in a more in-depth reading on this movement, I grew very disturbed to find that it touches upon Orthodoxy.

It needs rebuke from an Orthodox standpoint.

A Brief Sketch of the Emergent Church

The EC self-defines as a post-modern church. It does not believe in separations (exclusivity) but in bringing all into one fold (inclusivity). It does not like to condemn sin, unless it be those [orthopractic] sins of omission: failing to care for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden. It speaks of the Love of Christ. It cares about the environment. It likes to borrow spiritual practices to create a pan-spirituality. And it calls itself a "generous orthodoxy", claiming the heritages of disparate and incompatible beliefs.

It likes the mystics: the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the musings of Thomas Merton; it appropriates Hildegard von Bingen, St. Seraphim Sarovsky, St. Francis of Asissi, Thomas à Kempis, Brother Lawrence, the Desert Fathers. It builds a mosaic image of the Church by bringing together all traditions in a strange amalgam that is everything and yet nothing.

And it is not afraid of image, icon, prayer rope or rosary, the Jesus Prayer, chant, incense, candles, crossing oneself, participating in sacraments ... nor for that matter is it afraid of Buddhist asceticism and prayer, or other pagan innovations.

A Vox Clamanti Response

I know that I am a postmodern. I respond to anecdotes and the experiential ... I am not content with word or text alone. My tastes are wide-ranging and may touch on persons of other beliefs whom I admire (eg. George MacDonald, St. Francis of Asissi, Mother Theresa, C.S. Lewis). And yet there is one frequently-recurring tenet of postmodernism that I reject emphatically: relative truth. My sampling of the world's smorgasbord of thought and experience can only be acceptable insofar as these things pertain to absolute Truth - I may read contemporaries George MacDonald and J.M. Barrie but Barrie's doctrines of childhood, while amusing, have less to do with Truth than MacDonald's expositions of simple godliness.

I am disturbed by the EC's appropriation of things Orthodox. This is not reverence or respect for Orthodoxy, but a fundamental rejection of it. The external trappings of Orthodoxy - the so-called "smells and bells" - are part of a complete package that offers a theological reasoning for all it does. Its traditions do not float independent of its teaching, and very frequently its traditions require discipline, mentoring, and a firm grounding in prayer before they are taught.

The acquisition of these traditions by those who don't believe in or care to learn their undergirding theology is an insult at best and a negation of Orthodoxy at worst. But then, what else can we expect of those who reject Christ (who is Truth) but that they also will reject His Bride?

Roger Oakland, one part of whose 6-part discourse Stephen offers on his blog, makes a serious error in his critique of the EC. It is not a return to Roman Catholicism that he should fear, no matter how much the Emergent Church may use her (or Orthodoxy's) externals. No matter what one may claim about her errors, Rome still believes in an absolute Truth and as such points to Christ. The central problem with the EC is a nihilistic denial of Truth which is a denial of Christ. The Enemy unmasked.

There is another word for this denial of an absolute Truth. It is called syncretism and it is a major heresy. Unlike the syncretism of the WCC-type ecumenists which avoids theology and positive assertions of Truth as the (admitted) source of division, this EC is a new syncretism with a newly-manufactured theology to defend its old - abyss-old - nihilism.


Pilate asked rhetorically, "What is truth?" His was the wrong question. He should have asked, "Who is Truth?"

Christ is Truth. The only Truth and the only reality. And He is the Way, the only Way to salvation, and the Church is His body. And He is the Life ... the Life of the baptised Christian, the Life that conquered death and the grave, the Life that creates and recreates the Church every minute of every day, the Life of the eighth day.


Analogy 1 It is one thing for men to argue over the shape of the sun. There is, of course, a right answer. Someone will be right, and someone will be wrong. But it is something else entirely for a man to claim that there is no sun (or square and round and ringlike, which amount to the same thing).

Analogy 2 Or, alternatively, this could be compared to a classroom where the question is asked, "What is 2 + 2?" There is one answer, and many wrong ones. But everyone who answers with a number believes that there is a correct answer, and therefore has the opportunity and the reasoning capability, no matter how wrong he might initially be, to correct himself. For the person who answers "blue" or "butterfly", on the other hand, before he can engage the question he must first repent of his decision to treat mathematics like poetry.


I had a friend in whom I see the fruition of the EC. In her room she would quietly play Gregorian or Tibetan chant while burning incense or smudging sweetgrass at an altar that combined an icon of the Pantocrator of Sinai, an icon of the Horned God, a statue of Buddha, and an earth goddess idol. She was happy with it, because it reflected her spirituality, but I could never decide whether she was worshipping herself or the Great Deceiver.

- V.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a good article on the emerging church movement by a guy (Scot McKnight) who considers himself a part of it. I'm only guessing, but in trying to put the best face on the movement, I suspect he is glossing over some of the most controversial aspects of the movement. Even so, what he does say is conclusive enough.

Here's what I would say is the money quote;

"The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don't read systematics, but because the diversity of theologies alarms us, no genuine consensus has been achieved, God didn't reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative, and no language is capable of capturing the Absolute Truth who alone is God. Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology. It just doesn't have an airtight system or statement of faith. We believe the Great Tradition offers various ways for telling the truth about God's redemption in Christ, but we don't believe any one theology gets it absolutely right."

In a Sola Scriptura world, this was inevitable I think. Frankly, this was a new one for me but these people remind me of the recent scourge of the Catholic Church. We call them the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd because that was a common theme. Essentially they were and are a group of disaffected Catholics who wanted the Second Vatican Council to say certain things, presumed that it did, without ever reading the documents (16) and then proceeded to try and remake the Church in their own image. They caused much damage and among a poorly catechized laity they fooled and confused a lot of Catholics. But what characterized them most visibly was their determination to remake the liturgy with some of the themes that the above article identifies under the heading "Worship".
John Paul II spent 25 years contending with them on the theological level and Benedict XVI has now directed his energies in the direction of liturgical renewal.

Suffice to say, the Emergent Church has precious little in common with Catholicism, except perhaps in emphasizing the care of the poor, sick and needy. This is something that the Catholic Church has done throughout the centuries with more or less success and more or less enthusiasm by times.

If I am not mistaken, v, St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea in the mid-fourth century, whom you often quote here was renowned for setting up a house for homeless strangers, care for the sick poor, and otherwise helping the poor. At the same time he was a tireless foe of the Arians and other heretics. A model of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, not sacrificing one for the other.