The Emerging Heresy

I wish I could answer each person’s comment to the last post, but I can’t keep up. Be assured that I am reading the comments. I understand more now about the positions of emerging thinkers than when this dialogue started.

As a second option I’ve decided to post my response to the threads running through these comments. I understand that not all emerging thinkers agree with one another, so not everything I say is directed at everyone who would identify with that movement.

I’m actually trying to take the issues in order of importance, as I see them. I may need a second day to cover everything. At any rate, here goes.

Emerging thinkers say they believe the Bible, but Mike Morrell, author of the article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” states that his belief comes from a “panentheistic reading of Holy Writ.”

In other words, he does not mean the same thing as I do when he says he believes the Bible. He would not declare Scripture to be inerrant and infallible, authoritative and complete.

This allows him then to view God from a panentheistic (non-dualist) position as well without violating the Bible (or rather, his understanding of it). Consequently, God’s omnipresence, as clearly shown in a number of verses Mike quoted (see comment #60), is reconstituted to mean God is in everything and everything in God:

But to me (and my reading of the many passages above), God is even closer than with everything and present to everything (important and comforting as this is), God is within everything, and everything is within God. (Boldfaced emphasis is mine).

Never mind that God didn’t say He is within everything and everything within Him. It’s apparently enough that an emerging thinker can decide to read these verses this way and expand the meaning to fit panentheistic thought.

Of course, this view of God tears up the clear revelation of God in Scripture.

Emerging thinkers apparently have no problem, therefore, re-imaging Jesus as well. It would seem they prefer a kindler, gentler Jesus than the real Jesus who appears in the pages of Scripture. They choose to see Him as love and compassion. According to Dena in comment #95 “the two key components of Jesus’ message was Spirit and compassion.”

Even a cursive reading of the gospels will call this premise into question. Yes, Jesus loved and showed compassion, but He also told the story about the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the man who built upon the rock and he who built upon sand. (Quite dualistic for a non-dualist God, don’t you think?)

Jesus is the one who declared the way narrow leading to life and the way broad leading to destruction.

He called people hypocrites and vipers and blind guides and white-washed sepulchers.

He told parables about wicked servants being cast out into utter darkness, handed over to torturers, sent to a place of weeping and gnashing teeth or into the furnace of fire.

He is the same one who told His followers they’d need to hate their mother and father and brother if they were to be His disciples.

This same Jesus took a whip into the temple and used violence against the crooks cheating the people trying to perform the sacrifices.

He’s also the one that declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

Loving? Yeah, Jesus is loving. But it is not loving to let people continue on their merry way in self-righteousness. Jesus loved the people of His day, and of our day, too much to be silent about the doom they would face if they didn’t come to Him to be reconciled to the Father.

Compassionate? Yeah, because Jesus saw the heart condition of the people. In the period of His ministry when He was going about healing the people who flocked to Him with all kinds of diseases, Scripture records this: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

One day He felt compassion for a leper and touched him. Touched him before cleansing him, thus taking on the man’s unleanliness according to Levitical law. What a picture of Jesus’s compassion! He was willing to take on our sins in the same way, cleansing us of something far worse than leprosy by taking on our guilt and bearing the full wrath of God.

Of course, you have to believe that God is wrathful, and the emerging thinkers don’t, in part because they don’t believe what Jesus said about eternity:

“The Son of Man [Jesus!] will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42-43)

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46).

You also have to believe that Mankind has sin that needs to be cleansed, that we in fact stand under God’s righteous judgment. But the emerging thinkers believe nothing we do deserves God’s wrath.

What king would stand by idly when his throne is being assaulted? Or his people maneuvered into a trap? But Mike says in comment #75 that he rejects a God who kills His enemies because “If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here … they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals.”

Presumably Mike thinks God should be treated as we treat war criminals. Would that mean he thinks God should be punished? treated with justice? Why would it be OK for Man to mete out punishment on the guilty, but it’s wrong for God to do so?

Emerging thinkers clearly have elevated Man above God so that now man can judge the Judge.

At the very beginning of this discussion, God brought to my mind Romans 1:21:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

“Speculations” seems to fit much emerging thought. In a quest to break free from dogma, to experience God, they do not honor God as God but re-imagine him as they wish him to be.

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Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 9:59 am  Comments (38)  
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38 Comments

  1. People who don’t happen to believe that the Bible is both authoratative and correct, and who want to mostly follow an Eastern-based philosophy, maybe need to have the guts to admit to themselves that they are not Christians– not in the historic sense of the word.

    When I came to the conclusion that the Bible was not correct, many years ago, I left Christianity and explored other faiths, becoming an Odinist (Norse Pagan.) When I realized that my decision to leave Christianity was flawed, I came back to become a Bible-believing Catholic. I think my path was preferable to joining with these new ‘christianities’.

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  2. GREAT blog! I am going to post your link to my FB. It’s exactly what I have been saying. I’m so sick of people aligning Jesus up to some flower bearing hippie child or making up their own idea of Jesus instead of basing their worship and spiritual idealism on the TRUTH. :o) Plus, I always get a little confused with all of these different names. I wish people would stick to the Bible so when someone says, “I am a Christian,” we don’t have to think, “Is he or she? Or do they believe…”

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  3. Rebecca, thank you so much for following up on this with grace yet truth, and these Godly characteristics in healthful balance should be evident to anyone who reads your posts.

    From what I can tell of “emergent” Christians, they may mean well in their re-imaginings and all that sort of thing. I fear that what they are doing is taking one hammer in hand, namely, that of avoiding What the Church has Done Wrong in the Past — either actual wrongs, or perceptions thereof. Many such people seem to have backgrounds in legalistic churches, and/or megachurches that cared more for programs (ostensibly doctrine) than they did for people, the issues of the world, etc.

    With that hammer in hand, every problem begins to look like a nail. And the result is that too many “re-imagining” folks swerve to opposite extremes. With the chief end of man reset from “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” to “we must fix the problems in the church, and then the world,” legalism roars back into force, more hip and socially aware and creative than before.

    It’s the same problem, mentioned by many commentators in the previous post: “zeal without knowledge,” “having a form of Godliness but denying its power,” and all kinds of other phrases found clearly in Scripture but apparently not in many professing Christians’ favorite parts of the Bible.

    It seems this illustrates more about the previous churches’ failures than even “emergents” think.

    – Deep Biblical doctrine has too long been forsaken in favor of pragmatism — whatever works to bring in more nonbelievers, grow religious groups and make the world/media/zeitgeist like us.

    – The wrath of God has been carefully hushed up and stored in back rooms, rather than admitted and preached, firmly yet with love, out in the open and unapologetically as it should have been, along with truths that there is Hell and God sends people there justly and righteously, because He is holy *and* loving.

    – Jesus has too often been used to prop up conservative social agendas for here-and-now “kingdoms” of good Christian families who want to have a good decent country to live in and stay safe and righteous. Now He’s being hijacked in the exact-opposite direction, with emphasis on some “verses” and ignorance of others, to prop up exact-opposite agendas for here-and-now “kingdoms” of good progressive interest groups who want to feed the hungry, care for the poor and save the world.

    Too many professing Christians rush to prove a case fewer and fewer other Christians actually believe: that Jesus came only to uphold the Law. So such professors throw out the Law entirely and end up denying even that He came to *fulfill* the Law. In effect, they say He came to abolish the Law. But *He* disagreed.

    And yes, folks, that means that Christ died *in place* of sinners. He did not just come to show a better way.

    He announced His Gospel of the Kingdom before His death, but not because His death was merely an afterthought. His commands included righteous living and care for people, but as a result of gratitude for His sacrifice. God is not a means to saving the world, helping the poor, being more moral or less hypocritical, electing the right people (“right” or “left”) or saving the environment. All of those things can be good, but *please* do not make them into idols. Value them, and God, for *HIMSELF*.

    “Emergent” folks, only God knows your heart. Yet Scripture commands true believers to make sure they are free of similar sins themselves, and then make loving, spiritual judgments (Matthew 7, 1 Corinthians 2:14) of one another based on what we discern in their lives. I see little Biblical *balance* so far.

    If you are truly part of the Church, as you claim to be — let us assume that is true! Now, follow the commitment, as members of the Church, to seek out the Word of truth rightly divided, as Paul encouraged true Christians.

    So far, defenses based on Scripture and its balanced teaching have not been made — only appeals to some kind of internally consistent belief system.

    Too many “emergents” put forth a negative-image, mirror-universe equivalent to fatalistic, anti-evangelism, hyper-Calvinism.

    Though fewer in number than often perceived, hyper-Calvinists get so obsessed with their favorite texts and making the Belief System work with internal consistency. But if they come across verses about how God is sovereign *and* His secret will is made known throughout free human decisions, out they go. System wins.

    Similarly, “emergent” activists want to get their Belief System all internally consistent, with God Who is love and learning more as He goes along. But if they come across verses about how God is love *and* His love is because He is interested in His own glory first and foremost, and giving us *Himself* above all else — including social justice — out they go. System wins.

    Rebecca, there’s a lot to say here, but thank you for reminding readers of the real Jesus, Who is awesome and transcendent and mysterious and beyond our expectations — *yet DOES NOT* somehow rise *above* God’s own inspired words about Himself, in the New Testament’s Gospels and epistles, and the Law and Prophets.

    True Christian “humility” does not reject God’s Word. Claiming to have a portion of God’s truth is not automatically arrogant or equivalent to a claim to have figured it all out. Such Christians do (or should) see that they have been given this truth, not *all* of it, but enough of it, and it does not change and God is to be glorified because of it, not man.

    For “emergent” Christians: you may not have seen this acted out personally — or you may only believe you have not seen this.

    Please, for God’s sake (literally!) reject the black-and-white divisions of the “emergent” legalisms, with their resultant either/or judgments and criticisms. Try looking for the brilliant colors (with humility and care for people, both spiritually dead and wounded) that can even now be found in “traditional” churches today. You may be surprised. I have been.

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  4. Sorry, but even if we go along with the “eye for an eye” type of justice, (which is really better known as “revenge”), to torture people for eternity would be anything but “just.”

    That said, Jesus actually took this point a lot further–he dismissed the entire concept of “justice” altogether! His revolutionary new teaching was that God doesn’t punish at all, but is forgiving, even when we keep messing up!

    In other words, Jesus did not believe in Hell; he couldn’t have!
    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–“Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell,” (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of my book at my website: http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    Bear in mind that the historical Protestant doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures applies only to the original autographs, not the copies. But sadly, the interpolations that made their way into those copies have provided a convenient excuse for a lot of people to get around following Jesus’ real message.

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  5. Wonderful, forceful, clear, Biblical post, Beck. Thanks so much.

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  6. Ummm Rick? How do you determine which passages were added in later and which ones are real? It seems as if you are saying, “what I like, God did, and what I don’t like, someone else added in.” That hardly seems like responsible scholarship.

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  7. Wonderful response, Becky. I have no doubt that on this thread, like the original, the emergents will once again swoop in to rescue us from the truth (ex: “there is no Hell” (maybe because all that fire and torment talk in Revelation is sarcasm?) Emergents have no end to their appetite of sitting on the computer and whittling away at Biblical Christianity. For a religion based on works, they seem to spend a lot of time in discussion! They better knock that off and get to work as they have a whole manmade paradise to usher in (wasn’t that part of Marxist thought, as well? I digress…) Unfortunately, I fear that I myself must bow out of round two. Have fun y’all!

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  8. Rick, you demonstrate the problem with the process. You, as a human being, have decided what is just and unjust. You are created. You cannot decide what has existed for eternity long before you or I or anyone else ever got here.

    The example you described of the disciples implies you’ve missed the construct of Jesus’s concern. He saw their hearts, filled with the lust for power, control, and the very vengeance that belongs to God alone.

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  9. Rick… No hell? Yippee! Now I can finally live it up without the guilt. Who needs salvation if there’s nothing to be saved from? And as far as becoming a Christian, why bother? There’s no consequences! Might as well become a Scientologist, a Nazi, a Raëlian, or a Branch Davidian. The choices are unlimited. Woot! Thank you, Rick! One problem though — If there’s no hell, your book is an absolute waste of my time…

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  10. Well Mike, if hell is all that’s keeping you loving Jesus and in line… 🙂

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  11. Not weighing in on the whole hell issue, but I will say that Mike/Zoe’s point is very good. Frankly, if someone “serves God” only to avoid hell, I’m not convinced that they belong in the heaven they supposedly believe in either… As I understand scripture, God will be spending eternity with souls that long to be with Him, not those scared to be anywhere else… but who knows, I still reserve the right to change my mind!

    JS

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  12. Right – I’m not weighing in on the hell issue either. But I hear a similar objection whenever someone’s advocating a strongly grace-centered Gospel, or, say, for the ‘perseverance of the saints’ (‘once-saved-always-saved) versus you-could-fall-away-at-any-moment. (I know you know what I mean, JS, as that’s very much in our different Pentecostal backgrounds…) The folks on the side of works-based or behavior-based gospels always object with “Well if it was that easy, I could be ‘saved’ and be a serial rapist.’ I’m like whaa-? In developmental psychology terms, it’s children and criminals who need a rules-oriented, punishment-oriented approach to life. Our religious structures, sadly, can tend to keep us stuck in this phase of arrested development…sometimes for our whole lives. And then we see God as the ultimate enforcer, judge, or ‘bad cop.’

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  13. Zoe / JS — My point, rendered sarcastically, is that Hell is the ultimate consequence for rejecting God and deifying ourselves. Fear of Hell is not my motivation for loving Jesus. The fact that He rescued me from Hell is. Which is why Becky’s point that “emerging thinkers believe nothing we do deserves God’s wrath” is so important. If “God’s wrath” is a myth, then obeying God’s commands are ultimately optional. Unless postmodern Christians believe in annihilation, limbo, or reincarnation, there is no logical reason why someone shouldn’t live like Hitler or Hefner. Everyone will ultimately get to Heaven…

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  14. I understand where you’re coming from. I see God’s wrath (or anger) as being real, but I see it real like my anger toward my daughter – in my best moments, I’m angry because she’s putting herself in harm’s way after I’ve warned her not to do something (as 2-year-olds are wont to do). And so I either punish her to correct her behavior so that she’ll ultimately live a better life, or I actually let her do the harmful behavior so she can see the consequences first-hand.

    My point is that punishment itself is never the point – punishment (and anger) are means to an end, and the end is restoration and relationship. Similarly, if Jesus’ statements about God being our ‘Abba’ are to be believed (and I think they are), God’s anger is both a.) real and b.) temporary, as God’s being ‘right’ is not the point – God is about restorative justice rather than punitive ‘justice’ (which is just a temper-tantrum writ large).

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  15. And Rebecca, replying to your post – I’m not sure if you’re willfully misrepresenting what I’ve said, or if it was simply too difficult to skim the 150+ comments (I wouldn’t blame you there!), or if I’ve simply done a poor job ‘splaining myself. I’ll assume the latter for now, and make one final attempt. After this, I probably need to get back to my usual rhythm of life – as I’m sure you do too. I’m not sure that I ever think of myself as coming from ‘a panentheistic reading’ of Scripture. I know you’re quoting from a single post I’ve written, but that was just my way of saying “This is what I see in Scripture about what God is like.” We all have lenses. It’d be like me saying you come from “An evangelical reading of Holy Writ.” Except that I don’t actually wake up in the morning and say “Hmm, lemme see how this reads panentheistically.” 🙂

    I read the Bible from multiple angles, and I try to make sure they match the genre and authorial intent most of the time. (I say ‘most of the time’ because I do read the bible devotionally too) Some stuff is poetry, others Law, others stories, etc… y’know, basic Hermeneutics 101 stuff.

    As far as what I do and do not declare Scripture to be, I find it interesting that you have to go beyond what the Bible says about itself in order to adequately express your strong views about the bible. “Inerrant” and “infallible” are not claims that Scripture makes about itself – in fact, I’d say such statements are idolatrous when applied to anything but God! I know that puts me at odds with fundamentalism from Charles Hodge and BB Warfield on.

    For me, I am content (and happy) to affirm what Scripture says about itself in 1 Timothy 3:

    “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    And I really believe this – sincerely, and with no fingers crossed. Yet I also realize that this doesn’t let us off the hook – individually and corporately – to interpret what Scripture means. We all have lenses; awareness doesn’t eradicate our lenses, but it makes us more aware, and thus more compassionate toward viewpoints that differ from our own.

    You said “Never mind that God didn’t say He is within everything and everything within Him.” Really? Then how do you explain away the following passages of Scripture (boldfaced for emphasis):

    In Christ were created all things in heaven and on earth everything visible and everything invisible…. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.
    —Col. 1-15-17

    Do I not fill heaven and earth? It is Yahweh who speaks. —Jer. 23.24

    Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower. —Jn. 1.2-5

    In him we live, and move, and have our being…. “We are his offspring.” —Acts 17.28 NIV

    For from him, and through him and to him are all things. —Rm. 8.36 NIV

    There is one God who is father of all, over all, through all and within all. —Eph. 4.6

    God is love, and anyone who lives in love, lives in God, and God in him. —1 Jn. 4.16

    Those are just a few passages of the many I could cite. And I know there are limitations to just citing random passages of Scripture, but the stuff about all things being created by, through, and within God, and how God is within us – this is a central tenet of Scripture! Don’t believe me? Just use your favorite Bible search website or software and look for “Christ in you” or “in Christ” – it’s all over the place! As humorist Dave Barry says, “I’m not making this up.”

    I choose to live from this glorious truth – we’re all made in the image of God, and God is just waiting to be revealed in each and every person, because of God’s precious Son. This makes the process of evangelism so much more beautiful to me – making people aware of who they really are. Because before this, they’re ‘children of their father the devil’ in their experience; ’till their eyes are opened to the Gospel truth. I’m curious as to why you see the truth of God’s all-in-all-ness as “tearing up the clear revelation of God in Scripture.” Is a separate God so key to your cosmology that you need to ignore the thrust of New Covenant revelation – that each person can know God for themselves, from the heart? (See Jeremiah and Hebrews)

    I do indeed think that Jesus needs a thorough re-imagining. Our imaginations concerning him have become quite impoverished and domesticated. As you point out, we’ve lost sight of his declaration of some as “broods of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs.” Like the Pharisees, we’ve sought to apply these invectives to “the other,” the “sinner,” the outsider – instead of recognizing that Jesus’ words were aimed squarely at us – the religionists who think we have God figured out. In my extensive historical Jesus studies (reading both ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ Jesus scholars mind you – from NT Wright and Luke Timothy Johnson on one hand to Marcus Borg and Bruce Chilton on the other), a clear picture emerges: Jesus is God in earthy attire, challanging our sacred cows and status quo. You’re quite right, he confronts and offends – no ’emerger’ I know wishes to mute the offense. (By the way, it’s important to note that among the comment-ers, I’m the only true-blue emergent guy. My friends Dena, Ira, and JS all come from other backgrounds and points of view – which I respect – but which are different from mine. I know we all seemed to be presenting a united front, but there’s a lot with which we personally disagree among ourselves. The only difference is, I think we model a bit kinder mode of disagreement and mutual respect. 🙂 ) Rather, we want to place the offense squarely where it belongs in its first century context: Squarely upon the religious establishment. Jesus wasn’t snarky, and did not invoke hell, to the partiers and prostitutes and government stooges like the Pharisees did in the first century and like we do in our ‘evangelism’ strategies today. Yes, he told them to repent (metanoia – renew their beings in a Godward orientation), but he reserved his ire and sacrasm for the religious – the ones who thought they had God figured out.

    When I hear the levels of fear, sarcasm, and condemnation in critics of emergent – no, make that any mode or movement of free inquiry into spiritual things – I hear people obsessed with purity codes (the “Law” if you will) and terrified of getting it wrong. Jesus, on the other hand, reserves his stern warnings for those who propagate just that kind of discourse – “the same measure with which you judge will be meted back to you. So stop judging! That’s for my Father alone.” It’s an anxiety trip from beginning to end. Jesus comforts the afflicted (the outcast, the heterodox Samaritan, the free-thinker) and afflicts the comfortable (the Empire, and Religion). If you want me to name my lens, that’s my Emergent Jesus tm and that’s how I see the Gospel unfolding – God’s Kingdom has drawn near, and God is reconciling us to himself through Christ. What’s your lens?

    Moving along, do emergents believe ‘nothing we do deserve God’s wrath’? Please see my comment to Mike Duran. I think that sin is real, its consequences are deadly (in this life, nevermind what may or may not come hereafter), and I think that God acts, proactively and graciously in Christ, to overcome the affects of sin to reconcile us to God. I believe that. I even believe that Jesus died for our sins. What I don’t buy is that God is to blame for this, or that God set it up this way. I see sin as a sickness and Jesus as inhabiting and becoming the cure – I don’t see God the Father as hell-bent (if you’ll pardon the pun) to torment somebody, and so he says to his Son – “I’ve gotta take out my righteous indignation on someone, Son, so choose: You, or them?” It just doesn’t jibe! Where do we even find this grotesque notion in Scripture?

    Rather, I see Jesus on the cross, cosmically speaking, as God refusing to return evil for evil. Petty, sin-sick humanity rigged a trial to put Jesus there, through our petty grasping at power. And Jesus, rather than calling his angels down from heaven to stir the severest apocalyptic retribution the world has ever seen, chooses instead to absorb the violence and hatred into himself – and in so doing, representatively absorbs the “sin of the world” into himself, which kills him – body and soul. But sin and death don’t have the last word. God the Father vindicates his Son, and affirms his love for humanity, by resurrecting the Son and proving that sin and death are powerless compared to the potent power of love for those who trust in Jesus.

    This perspective on the meaning of atonement – technically called ‘Christus Victor’ was one of the prevailing interpretations of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the first thousand years of the Church. The focus was Resurrection, not execution, and how we follow the same path of apprenticeship to Jesus by joining in his death and resurrection – living in the newness of life. It wasn’t until around AD 1000, with Anselm, that the more punitive, legal view of ‘penal (for the penal code) substitutionary (for Jesus getting whipped in our place) atonement’ became codified.

    Ira had a good point in the other comments thread, which might’ve gotten buried: How Christians apprehend the truth of Jesus varies widly in place to place, era to era, and culture to culture. It just does. If Peter, Paul, James and John were walking around in the 21st century, they likely wouldn’t find a single group of Christians today who believe the same things that they believed. And you know what? Who says that’s inherently a bad thing? No doubt, lots of mediocrity and meaning-reversals have occurred in the intervening 2,000 years – like a game of telephone gone horribly awry. But the God revealed in Jesus thrives in the mess of life, and even messy misunderstandings. God is neither surprised nor scandalized by our messes. The Holy Spirit joins us, right in the midst of the mess, and creates something beautiful.

    This, to me, is Gospel living.

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  16. Zoe. Dude! Read Isaiah 53.

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  17. Here’s something I said on Sally’s blog that bears repeating:

    Hi Sally – I’m no Marcionite. (If you don’t know who they were go here.) I don’t assume that God revealed in the Old Testament is the ‘bad cop’ and that Jesus/ the God in the NT is the ‘good cop.’ You’re right, God’s God and I’m not – who would I be to stand in judgement of God?

    Rather, I have what’s for me a healthy agnosticism about some of the stories and depictions of God in the OT. I could tell my conscience to “Shut up” and just swallow these tales whole, but why should I when Scripture itself has Abraham questioning God, Moses questioning God, Jacob wrestling with God, Job and David questioning God? This puts me in pretty good biblical company I think.

    Rather than have one thing I think about God in the OT, I have this as my ‘rock’ or ‘anchor’ – the God revealed in Jesus is Good, Loving, Trustworthy, and Just. That’s all I know. This doesn’t mean that God is Safe, Tame, or an ego-projection of me – it doesn’t mean I’ve got God figured out.

    I don’t feel bitter toward God in my own life, or in Scripture. I do wonder about ‘the problem of evil’ as much as any thoughtful and sensitive person I suppose, but I don’t necessarily implicate God in that evil.

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  18. Just read it (afresh, of course – I’ve read it before.) I’m struck by something (boldfaced emphases mine):

    “Surely he took up our infirmities
    and carried our sorrows,
    yet we considered him stricken by God,
    smitten by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.”

    Note that the text doesn’t say he was actually stricken by God – there’s a “we thought this, and yet” dealie going on here. VERY interesting.

    Even so, I’m willing to give you this: There’s a lot about ancient Jewish understandings of guilt and propitiation that I don’t understand. My hunch is that not many of us understand ’em – we’ve all come up with our own distortions, and only Hebrew antiquities scholars know for sure. (My friend Andrew Perriman probably understands more about this than either of us – I need to re-read his piece advocating an ancient understanding of substitutionary atonement) But the great news, to me, is that we don’t have to understand these mechanics. Hebrews calls Jesus ‘the last sacrifice’ and so I think our understandings of the mechanics of sacrifice have faded for a reason! God is telling humanity “No longer to you have to live in scapegoat mode, thinking that something or someone’s gotta die for your wrong-doings! I’ve taken care of that, and ended that ghastly system!”

    Thus is the Gospel according to mimetics. Thanks be to God.

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  19. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

    Ah, life is good when everything is so clear and you are so smart that you are able to pick out the verses you enjoy and explain away the one you don’t like.

    As Becky said before, it is ironic that you, the emergent, are not willing to let the hard things go and just seek, willing to wait for an answer. You demand that God fit into your understanding so you squash him down, throw out the bits you don’t like, and end up with a small and manageable God that can be understood by your finite brain.

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  20. Zoe, don’t you see that you are mixing metaphors? Your anger toward your daughter is based on loving, restorative correction because she is your child. Does God really love all people the same? Is His love for me, or you, really exactly the same as His love for a white-supremacist leader, or a cult founder, or a church full of unrepentant hypocrites and legalists?

    *** Similarly, if Jesus’ statements about God being our ‘Abba’ are to be believed (and I think they are), God’s anger is both a.) real and b.) temporary, as God’s being ‘right’ is not the point – God is about restorative justice rather than punitive ‘justice’ (which is just a temper-tantrum writ large). ***

    Which statements are those? Can you find the references and make sure they say what you think they say? Is God the Father really “Abba,” the endearing “Daddy” (in terms of His relationship with His people; He is also infinite and all-powerful), to *everyone* in the world? Unrepentant sinners included? Racists? Greedy businessmen? Crooked politicians? Adulterous pastors? Legalistic law-and-works-driven Churchians? Political conservatives or liberals who try to abduct Christ and use Him as a means to their favorite agendas?

    *** When I hear the levels of fear, sarcasm, and condemnation in critics of emergent – no, make that any mode or movement of free inquiry into spiritual things – I hear people obsessed with purity codes (the “Law” if you will) and terrified of getting it wrong. ***

    Man, you’re doing it again — the straw man. I’ve seen none of that here. This may be in your background (more on this below), but I see no obsession with “purity codes” or terror of falling outside God’s “system.” I’m sorry you haven’t seen more Grace-and-truth-based Christianity in your life, but I have to wonder based on your lack of seeing it here if you don’t always see past it, or because of your cultural biases merely re-interpret it to fit your preferring paradigm.

    *** It wasn’t until around AD 1000, with Anselm, that the more punitive, legal view of ‘penal (for the penal code) substitutionary (for Jesus getting whipped in our place) atonement’ became codified. ***

    The book of Romans, and particularly chapter 3, fly in the face of such a view that “penal substitution” is brand-new. The book of Hebrews draws exact parallels between Jesus’ death and the old system of animal sacrifices for the sins of God’s people, that He fulfilled (the sins of God’s people, by the way — those who believe, not the entire world including those who don’t give a rip about the true God). There’s no Biblical way around the truth that He died in place of sinners, not just to show a better way or prove that God has a nonviolence ethic.

    *** God is telling humanity “No longer to you have to live in scapegoat mode, thinking that something or someone’s gotta die for your wrong-doings! I’ve taken care of that, and ended that ghastly system!” ***

    Who here is doing that, Zoe? Again, you’re trying to prove a case against Christian Legalists, rather arrogantly assuming (I must say it) that everyone here is behaving exactly like a caricature of non-“emergent” Christians you’ve set up for yourself.

    As a Christian, I rejoice that Christ has defeated sin in my life (I am legally justified) and is even now defeating its lingering influences (actually sanctified). But I am not so naïve to act as though I earned this, or that it is conferred in some way on everyone else in the world who doesn’t give a rip about the true God. The Law is still in effect against those who reject God. Read Romans through, with the proper hermeneutics you claim to believe, and perhaps with the aid of a God-honoring, Law-and-Grace-recognizing, well-trained pastor who exegetes the passages.

    As for the “problem of evil,” may I highly suggest Randy Alcorn’s recent book “If God is Good,” which sensitively, thoughtfully, deeply and with Biblical basis discusses the issues.

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  21. (Sally, may I suggest a little less worry about Zoe? I don’t know if this is true with him, but many “emergents” just shut right down and conflate your caring and desperate pleas to see the truth with just more of that “purity code” obsession.

    Yet I know it’s annoying, especially when you see someone who seems otherwise cool and thoughtful redefining and undervaluing God’s holiness and the Savior’s sacrifice. Perhaps you’ve seen His grace in your life, and His lovingkindness first to save you from Hell, and then to change you to be more like Him and love Him more and more than anything else. To see this cheapened is alarming. May I encourage you to take heart, and remember 1) Your comments have been encouraging at least to me! 2) The sovereign God decreed even that their be “emergents,” for whatever reason, because He is good and works all for good.)

    Zoe, again we’re running into entirely different presuppositions. I don’t ask *whether* that is true, but rather *why* the difference is. Your motivations may be good, but so are the motivations of those who (for example) want to send food and medical supplies to Haiti, but don’t much know (or care?) whether the supplies actually gets to the people who need it most. What matters here is not your motivations or mine as much as what the Truth is — and what people truly need.

    What people need is *not* just God as Means to Good Behavior. What people need is the true God *Himself*. He is not so small as to be used as a means to an end; why do you keep limiting Him by insisting He is smaller than, or different from, His very revealed words? He exists, His creation exists, and He works for His own glory. Do you want me to elephant-hurl verses at you for proof? Yet you seem to have some familiarity with the Bible; I’m sure you’re aware of where they are.

    Why must you (and many others) insist on revising God to be more like man? The whole “the idea of His wrath being a punishing force on people is a temper tantrum” thing seems so black-and-white, narrow-minded, and dare I say “modernist,” imposing your particular cultural constraints on the Almighty. That’s not respecting God’s revealed point of view on the topic of His wrath and Hell, is it? He did not give us all truth (who’d want it and thus take the glory away from Him as the eternally omniscient One?) but we do have *some* He did give.

    And yes, I will argue I am supporting His point of view on the subject of Hell, and this is not meant to imply I am claiming to know all truth, being arrogant like the Traditional Legalist Straw Man™, etc. … Don’t try that, “emergents,” eh wot? Let’s have some coffee and “conversation.” 🙂

    Blimey, the straw men do get a bit wearisome. In all these experiences and been-there-done-that-with-churches cited by folks who like the label “emergent,” can it really be true that you have *only ever* met *any* Christians outside of your particular stripe who only believe what they do because they want to stay out of Hell? Tsk, tsk — perhaps you folks need to get out more!

    Yet I hastily amend that to recognize that many people do believe this way, and the church has not replaced that myth with the Biblical truth. Getting out of Hell is a *means* to an end — God Himself. God will not be a means to anything else. That includes getting out of Hell. That includes Social Justice or Moral Improvement or Not Being a Hypocrite. God is a means to *Himself*. All that He does is for that goal. Giving people anything less would be cruel, for He is the greatest good in the universe.

    *** The folks on the side of works-based or behavior-based gospels always object with “Well if it was that easy, I could be ’saved’ and be a serial rapist.’ I’m like whaa-? ***

    I agree, but probably for other reasons. The response to this is not to throw out a “rules-oriented, punishment-oriented approach to life” out entirely — because Zoe, non-Christians are under the law and are justly condemned not just for being Bad, but because they *do not care for God Himself and His glory all the time*. Rather, we credit God for changing any true believers to forsake that lifestyle.

    Some “emergents” are right to say salvation is not just a contract you make with God and then go do what you want. But their correcting emphasis should instead be on true Grace, credited to God for the sake of glorifying Himself and giving Himself to His people, not just a life of works.

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  22. *** Our religious structures, sadly, can tend to keep us stuck in this phase of arrested development…sometimes for our whole lives. And then we see God as the ultimate enforcer, judge, or ‘bad cop.’ ***

    For some Christians, this is sadly true. But legalism is not the only problem out there. What have “emergents” to say about the Christianity’s often-occurring problems with “cheap grace”?

    But it doesn’t much matter — I don’t see real grace being talked about here, that is, the kind that doesn’t leave a person’s real problem, inner rebellion against God and spiritually dead hearts (Ephesians 1-2) replaced with hearts that love the Lord and want to serve Him out of love.

    Actually w some of what you’re saying sounds no different from a cultural-fundie preacher who is yelling at his parishioners to get off their butts and work, work, work, revival, revival, don’t do the same old thing, do something new, because new is always better! Such a revivalist pulpit-pounder doesn’t grasp the real issue: people may not be “doing enough” because at heart *they do not care about loving God for Who He is and has revealed Himself to be*. Only yelling at them to do more just makes them sink worse into their self-righteousness and confidence in their own good deeds and moral superiority. How are “emergents” different?

    More and more I’m beginning to see: a lot of stuff from the “emergent” strain is like this. Evangelical megachurches and all their programs reacted to conservative legalism and tried to mass-market a “gospel” (or their watered-down version of it). Now it seems a lot of “emergents” have confused that for legalism (which a lot of it was), but such “emergents” are trying to base their beliefs on Avoiding Legalism, rather than Biblical Balance for God’s Grace and Glory.

    As I said before, it’s just legalism with a liberal bent, or Legalism Lite®, more hip, creative, avant-garde and appealing to a world that wants to save itself than ever before.

    Now, I have been trying to argue this mostly from logic. However, I do not rest my case on only “common-sense” logic and internal, philosophical consistency (the kind offered by both God-is-only-ever-my-idea-of-Love-ism and fatalistic hyper-Calvinism). Rather, I believe this because I believe the inspired, inerrant Word of God is balance and true. Yet I fear citing Bible verses here will be a stumbling block for you. Perhaps Hell-defenders have come across as self-righteous by doing this before. If so, I am sorry that has happened (though I hope not to be self-righteous myself by “apologizing” for someone else’s sins and playing the Good Cop Christian).

    But such behavior and can be shown as anti-Biblical. You cannot “fix” this problem by being or believing in anti-Biblical ways *in the opposite direction*. Does that make sense?

    None of you folks preferring the label “emergent Christian” know me. And I sincerely doubt some “revival” will occur in an internet website. Yet I have known people for whom materials on a message board actually sparked their return to delight in God, for Who He has revealed Himself to be, not their own perceptions of Him based on feelings or just a desire to avoid Hell. So, perhaps something said here, even by the “mean” Christians such as myself who plead with you to understand the reality of God’s just punishment of sinners, may help later in life.

    *** As I understand scripture, God will be spending eternity with souls that long to be with Him, not those scared to be anywhere else… but who knows, I still reserve the right to change my mind! ***

    Please don’t change your mind, JSpiers. I believe such a view is Biblical. I also contend more Christians than you know believe similarly. True Christianity is about delighting in God for Who He is — I keep saying this because it is the truth of the Word. Again, getting out of Hell and avoiding His wrath, growing in character, helping the poor and witnessing to the spiritually dead, hanging on for a better world in the Kingdom to come, all of those are *means* to Himself.

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  23. I like you, Dr. Ransom. 🙂 (You too Sally) And hopefully I’ll get to reply more later today. I don’t mean this as a cop-out, but I have to mail off 50 copies of Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, to bloggers, and do some Systems Thinking schoolwork for my M.A. degree in Futures Studies, and then I’m being Skyped into a seminary class in California today to talk about how social networking impacts faith. Whew! (And probably this discussion will make it into my presentation – give yourselves gold stars!)

    In the meantime, I’d love to hear from the originator of this post, Rebecca, on what she thinks about my replies – particularly relating to the ubiquity of God in all things as revealed in Scripture.

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  24. (Groans about the distribution of more of McLaren’s books, yet recognizes Zoe’s job and clearly enjoyment for this task)

    Ah yes, time and real-life work is the great inhibitor to hashing out faith differences on the internet. The main reason I make time is because I have been aided so much in pursuit of delighting in God (yet how often I, like all true Christians, am nevertheless tempted to “use” Him as means to something else) by Biblically based resources I have found online.

    I am so glad you find me likable, Zoe-man. I shall sleep better to-night. 😀

    Hey though, if you want Rebecca to say more, I’m guessing she *might* still be waiting for rebuttals to the fact that Jesus spoke frequently about the people who had rejected him being punished someday. He was *not* compassionate to those who detested Him — Pharisees, the rich, the poor, whomever (and who by divine foresight He knew never would repent and believe Him). That’s just my guess about her absence from the “conversation.”

    *** (And probably this discussion will make it into my presentation – give yourselves gold stars!) ***

    Hmm, here’s another intentional joke-ruining: I thought “emergents” didn’t have specific leaders teaching classes because that would be spiritually arrogant, as if they were claiming to know all truth. I now see that I was wrong. 😛

    A little more on the personal side, and an earlier quote:

    *** I was raised in a rather conservative evangelical (some would say fundamentalist) home, running the whole gamut from Baptist to Assemblies of God to PCA Presbyterian, with some Bill Gothard homeschooled-ness thrown in for fun! ***

    While the discussion shouldn’t be about you or me or either of our experiences held up as ways of interpreting truth, I had to address this. Take out the Assemblies of God part and I could have written this sentence, especially the Gothard part.

    (In the voice of the Tenth Doctor) “Ohhh, I’m sorry. So sorry.” This could be why you’ve reacted to graceless teachings that failed to recognize the purpose of the law to make us realize our hopeless estate and turn to Christ, am I right?

    Perhaps you’ve gone looking for grace, and perhaps a “wider mercy”/non-“God’s cosmic child abuse” view of Christ’s act on the cross (whatever that was in your view). Now you feel you’ve found it. I can empathize. And it doesn’t hurt getting paid to promote emergent books and resources (which you enjoy) on the internet (which most people enjoy), am I right?

    But in the process you’ve skipped past too much of Scripture. Perhaps that’s because (as I’ve said before) the motivation is “avoid legalism” rather than “delight in God as He has revealed Himself to be.”

    *** There’s a lot about ancient Jewish understandings of guilt and propitiation that I don’t understand. ***

    I think you should have checked into more of the whole “penal substitution” thing, Zoe, and not just from preferred Jewish rabbinical sources (who, as I believe Rebecca said before, reject the Messiah) before hitching your star to the emergent wagon. It’s a crucial aspect of Scripture’s story: the Old-Covenant idea of God needing to punish *something* for sin and thus convey to His people the seriousness of rebellion against Him — thus showing His great righteousness.

    Sally pointed you to Isaiah 53 and you said you re-read that, but you missed the whole part in verse 10 about “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” Did your eyes perhaps glance over it because of a bias, as if ignoring a typo? Instead you this:

    *** Note that the text doesn’t say he was actually stricken by God – there’s a “we thought this, and yet” dealie going on here. VERY interesting. ***

    A quick comparison with the fulfillment of this prophecy shows us the true contrast. It’s not what you said, that people *think* Jesus is suffering in place of sinners *but* it’s actually something else (?). Rather, it’s people *think* Jesus is under God’s curse because He Himself sinned, *but* He is actually being “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.”

    Again, this is in the place of His people, a substitute. Here is where the heart of the debate lies: for whom and why did Jesus die? Was it to set an example, help us connect with some basic goodness we already have? Or was it to provide *the* way of resolving God’s love for sinful men and women, with His righteous and just wrath against wretched human rebels?

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  25. Zoe, I was going to say I agree with some of the things you said, but then you mentioned mailing out the McLaren books.

    *sigh*

    Wow, actually, I’m speechless at the moment. I don’t disagree with you or Dr. Ransom. Could it be possible you are saying some of the same things but in different language. Hmmmm…

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  26. Jessica, I’m curious – was the sigh about Brian because you’ve read his books & found them wanting, or because of his general (albeit second-hand) reputation?

    Brian’s a friend of mine – I’ve edited his work, and helped him out with stuff for years. And he’s helped me, personally and professionally, in innumerable ways. He and I might not agree 100% on things, but the man has some amazing Christ-like character that I’ve seen tested under fire.

    If you agree with some things that Dr. R said, you’re not alone! There’s actually a ton he’s written above about a gracious, via media Christian faith that I totally resonate. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more about what I’ve appreciated re: this conversation tomorrow. For now, I’m watching some 30 Rock with the missus!

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  27. Sorry I didn’t reply to your Isiah question earlier, Sally – it’s been a busy day. Hopefully I’ll get to interact more with that in the morning – for now I’ll just say that there are different senses of ‘will’ in the bible when it comes to God’s will. That’s an un-controversial point, right? I mean, it’s within Calvinism that I learned about the different senses of God’s will – his active will, passive will, etc… And so, yes, in the sense that the Suffering Servant in the Isaiah narrative was ‘willed’ to suffer on behalf of the people, I have no qualms with that – it’s an intricate part of Jewish self-identity at the time that I’m still studying and coming to grips with. But to say that God the Father actively put his Son in harm’s way to satisfy some rules that He Himself set up, well, I’ll call that what it is: barbaric. People shouldn’t be allowed to raise children who can image a Father-God who would be so sadistic. This image of God is completely at odds with the Prodigal God taught by Jesus in the Gospels, whose promiscuous love rains down on the just and the unjust alike. It’s also at odds with Paul’s depiction of God in Calvinists’ favorite book in the Bible, Romans, which Reformed folk read as a legal code but is actually an extended parable about life and death, marriage and divorce. In this parable, Paul reaches a crescendo in Romans 8:39, saying that absolutely NOTHING could separate us from the love (not wrath) of God! I believe somewhere in the OT God says “See, my wrath lasts but a moment, but my mercy endures forever.” And isn’t it James that says “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

    My Gospel is not without teeth – my God is not without wrath. But his white-hot anger burns against sin-sickness, not people. Never people. The same love that destroys sin in wrath (and requires no human sacrifice to do so), manifests as love to the soul that was damaged by the sin. THIS is the God I read about in Scripture, that inspires the saints, prophets and mystics of the ages. This is the God that I know.

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  28. Great post Becky,
    My general impression of the emergent church is they read the Bible through an emotional lens and fail to take God at his word. Having read some of the discussions in the last post and this post, it only serves to confirm this.

    They remind me of many Mormon Missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses I’ve encountered. They’ll focus on a few passages to prove their point, but fail to take in the full council of scripture.

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  29. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by E. Stephen Burnett, YeHaveHeard. YeHaveHeard said: Are "emergents" true Christians? Did Jesus die in place of sinners, or for more-vague reasons? One blog "conversation": http://bit.ly/c4IDeZ […]

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  30. Zoe, I’ve researched him on the internet and read some of his writing and commentary there. From what I’ve seen, I’m leery of the direction he’s going. It seems to me he’s writing too much in a vacuum of his own…not sure how to put it…understanding? Don’t take it as a character judgment. As a Christian, I have to thoughtfully consider who I allow to teach me. By my observation, he is moving too far left, and I don’t want to go there. A couple people have said it…for me it’s about balance. I don’t think we need a “new” interpretation of scripture so much as a new approach to spreading the message.

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  31. me again, Zoe. I blogged about the emergent church a year ago. If you are interested to see my conclusions, here you go (It’s a five part series. The last two are the most relevant to this discussion.):

    http://jdog-ink.blogspot.com/2008/12/i-want-to-be-sheep-part-4-of-5.html

    http://jdog-ink.blogspot.com/2008/12/i-want-to-be-sheep-part-5-of-5.html

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  32. Some early-morning rebuttals to Zoe-guy (hope your presentation went well yesterday!) from the above post.

    Jessica, by now it seems the differences between Zoe-guy’s beliefs and mine are more clear. We may both say we oppose Christians acting as though something must still die for our sins, and that we must follow some System of salvation based more on rules than relationship. But we are much more different than similar, as you apparently see.

    The three issues at the heart of this debate: God’s nature, the seriousness of man’s sin, and Christ’s Atonement for sins.

    I hope to write these rebuttals with grace yet imbued with Biblical truth (same as the precedent Rebecca has set with this series). Also, I’m basing this as much as I can only on whatever Zoe-guy has said here, not McLaren or anyone else. McLaren’s not here, so I won’t pick on him. Zoe-guy is. Yet apparently Zoe-guy knows him, and for that, ehh, I’ll give him a “gold star.” 😉

    However, it is worth pointing out that McLaren and others have referred to the idea of God’s plan to crucify His Son to satisfy His wrath as “divine child abuse.” For all that exploration and conversation and open-mindedness, they make an exclusive claim about what Christ’s death was *not* about. Scriptures clearly saying the contrary are thrown aside for the sake of the System. The System takes this as axiomatic: God needing to punish His Son on behalf of those who would believe is a “barbaric” concept.

    You decide whether one can be a Christian and still believe Christ’s death was for another reason (perhaps God demonstrating He had learned since the cruel Old-Testament days?) than to suffer His wrath for the sake of the world’s sins. (I use “world” here to mean the created universe — Greek *kosmos* — and *not* in the sense of everyone in the world, including people who die having rejected God as He revealed Himself.)

    So anyway, let’s get to work, before I return to “real life.”

    *** Sorry I didn’t reply to your Isiah question earlier, Sally – it’s been a busy day. Hopefully I’ll get to interact more with that in the morning – for now I’ll just say that there are different senses of ‘will’ in the bible when it comes to God’s will. That’s an un-controversial point, right? ***

    For some Christians the confusion remains (though apparently more so in the “emergent” circles). Just recently on my site (YeHaveHeard.com) a friend and I have been writing back and forth about those issues, including God’s “two wills.”

    *** I mean, it’s within Calvinism that I learned about the different senses of God’s will – his active will, passive will, etc… ***

    Yet I believe it’s not just a “Calvinist” who can adhere to the “two wills” concept, though perhaps Reformed-oriented authors, teachers, “laypersons,” etc., are more familiar with it. …

    *** And so, yes, in the sense that the Suffering Servant in the Isaiah narrative was ‘willed’ to suffer on behalf of the people, I have no qualms with that – it’s an intricate part of Jewish self-identity at the time that I’m still studying and coming to grips with. ***

    Sheesh, man, “Jewish self-identity”? This is just a *bit* pandering and reductionistic! I realize this will come across (because of conditioning?) as arrogant and limiting and all that rot, but the question about the Suffering Servant being necessary actually should be: *is it true*? If it’s true, then it’s True. It’s not just some Jewish cultural perception.

    And ultimately I might add that the whole thing is True regardless of your “qualms,” or my “qualms” or Richard Dawkins’ qualms or anyone’s qualms.

    *** But to say that God the Father actively put his Son in harm’s way to satisfy some rules that He Himself set up, well, I’ll call that what it is: barbaric. ***

    That is not what that is. Ipso-facto fallacy; your saying it doesn’t make it true. Please show how this concept is “barbaric” not from some philosophical system (no matter how internally consistent it seems), not from your experiences, not from straw-man presentations of how this concept has (supposedly) afflicted people in the past, but from the Bible.

    Again I cite: a plain reading of Romans, a plain reading of Hebrews, plain reading of the entire Old Testament, plain reading of the whole Bible — respecting the (divinely inspired) authors’ intent from the beginning, ignoring (as much as possible) our own 21st-century, philosophical, “enlightened,” chronologically-snobbish cultural constraints.

    Cheez, it hurts to see my Savior’s sacrifice so denigrated. By believing this, one says three things about the God one claims to value more highly than such a “barbaric” God.

    1. “My sin isn’t so bad.”

    God could not be so offended by humanity’s rebellion, or my own personal desire to use Him and his gifts as a means to my own idols, as to require a punishment. I’m either a basically-good person, or I’m a victim of sin, and instead of being only angry at me, God should only feel sorry for me. (What a narrow and false dilemma! Yet Scripture dares to show that God is both/and, quite above reductionistic divisions of His character.)

    2. “God isn’t so good.”

    Along with elevating man’s nature far above the level permitted by clear Scriptures about his natural and willful wickedness, such a claim is an insult to God’s holiness. He’ll overlook sin; regardless of how He punished it in the Old Testament, He’s learned better now, and pretty much everyone is okay by Him because He’s figured out how to rise above it all.

    Justice is cheap. Grace is no longer valuable and undeserved — it’s expected! God just indulges the little hellions. Universalism is constantly hinted at, and now (as many expected) directly taught by many “emergent” leaders. Reacting to the wrong “get a contract with God and you’re saved forever” notions, they have overreacted and said *no* conscious new birth (repentance and conversion) is necessary to be in God’s favor.

    3. God is about me, not about Himself.

    Contrasted with the clear truths that God wants to give of Himself to the world, to those who repent and believe in Him, because He is the most glorious “thing” He could offer — is the idea that His all-defining, all-central characteristic is “love.”

    In this view, God’s “love,” undiscerning, always tolerant, never condemning a person for his free-will choices to reject Him as the ultimate good, is now His defining virtue. He does everything for the sake of just love, love, love — as certain people wish to define it, that is. Even the “Harry Potter” series, with all its “love, love” basis, was deeper than that.

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  33. *** People shouldn’t be allowed to raise children who can image a Father-God who would be so sadistic. ***

    “Shouldn’t”? Hmm, is this a rule that must always be followed? How much of this is just your opinion? How much of this — I hesitate to ask, for deeper pursuit would not be appropriate here — is your own hurtful background coming to the fore?

    Alas, I must go back to being a mere blog-commentator, being unable, due to time and space constraints, to be more personal.

    Guess what. I was raised with the truth that God is loving *and* righteous (both/and) and I’m not sadistic. If you think all Christians who believe this are — I’ll say it again — you need to get out more, and stop limiting your beliefs about others to your own cultural experience.

    *** This image of God is completely at odds with the Prodigal God taught by Jesus in the Gospels, whose promiscuous love rains down on the just and the unjust alike. ***

    Oh dear Lord, it’s the “prodigal God” now? It’s not sinners who need to repent to God, but vice-versa? (Low whistle) Even you don’t love everyone the same, Zoe-guy. I hope you don’t; your wife wouldn’t be too happy, would she? If so, you’re expecting to have a power God doesn’t have. Another crucial issue here.

    The differences are made all the more clear. Please deny you are talking about Universalism (everybody gets saved from sin’s consequences and eventually comes to find God) and I will gladly get off your back on this one. But it is this belief, along with rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for one’s personal sins, that sets a person outside of not just “traditional” Christianity, but true Christianity. It’s just the liberal theology of last century come back in a different form, bursting up out of the ground like a bad movie sequel monster.

    *** It’s also at odds with Paul’s depiction of God in Calvinists’ favorite book in the Bible, Romans, which Reformed folk read as a legal code but is actually an extended parable about life and death, marriage and divorce. ***

    False dichotomy again. “Legal code”? Bunk, man. Where have you been getting that? Romans is Paul’s systematic theology, beautifully written and argued, with (I am sure) parable-like elements because the truths tie into God’s big story of redemption throughout Jewish history. Who reads it as a legal code? Do you have a list of names, senator? 😛

    You’ve made another reductionist, culturally imposed revision of the intent behind Romans. Its original readers would not have read it *only* as some parable/metaphor/story. They would have read it as truth, both true, and with story elements. Both/and.

    *** In this parable, Paul reaches a crescendo in Romans 8:39, saying that absolutely NOTHING could separate us from the love (not wrath) of God! I believe somewhere in the OT God says “See, my wrath lasts but a moment, but my mercy endures forever.” And isn’t it James that says “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” ***

    Who is the “us” Paul addresses? Context, friend, context. You wouldn’t want me reading your posts the same way you have been misreading Paul’s exploration of the doctrines of Grace.

    *** My Gospel is not without teeth – my God is not without wrath. ***

    Your gospel, I fear, is no gospel at all (Galatians 1). I hope that is the firmest statement I can make, and should illustrate not just that I’m another cruel Christian like the straw-men say, but that I care about you as a person. This is not just empty talk (conversation) about abstracts. This is life and death. Truth matters. The God of Truth matters, for His own sake.

    *** But his white-hot anger burns against sin-sickness, not people. Never people. ***

    Scriptural support, please?

    Does God’s wrath only course through human veins, burning the sin out of them despite their free-will decisions to reject Him and use Him and His gifts as a means to other goals?

    “Universalism” is just another kind of fatalism, Zoe-guy. (Again, you are espousing universalism tenets here without care to disclaim if you actually believe differently.) No matter what we do, we all experience God in the end because He is so “merciful” to everyone in the world. He overlooks rapists, greedy profiteers, murders, cult leaders, sycophants, hypocrites, mean “Christians” and false teachers. He is “all loving” but also all-stupid, and cruel, for letting people suffer because of His tolerance of all sins.

    Not cool. Worse, not Biblical.

    *** The same love that destroys sin in wrath (and requires no human sacrifice to do so), manifests as love to the soul that was damaged by the sin. THIS is the God I read about in Scripture, that inspires the saints, prophets and mystics of the ages. This is the God that I know. ***

    Please recognize how Scripture shows that “sin” is not some kind of malicious other-entity, like a black ooze that could be purged out of the human psyche. Sin is rebellion. Sin is rejection, selfishness, desire to control and to be a “god” in place of God. The Devil started the trend, but humans picked it up and ran quite well with it. Again, your “God” ultimately refuses to punish anyone — universalism — and the differences, by now, are quite clear between our belief systems.

    Am I saying you are not a true Christian? I don’t know you; I just haven’t seen anything that proves your true Christian belief so far. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for swapping out the true Law (which pointed to Him anyway) for their own man-made principles. I think it’s much too tempting to decide that just because we don’t replace God’s Word with the same legalistic principles as the Pharisees, we’re not guilty of the same kinds of swap-outs. God help us all value His Word for what it actually says, and moreover because He wants His people to know *Him* personally, and love Him for saving us from death.

    Simple Biblical truth: God rules, man drools. Anything that lessens our “drool,” or His rule, is no Gospel at all.

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  34. Just a little more — I found this excellent article on the “cosmic child abuse” concept, by Greg Koukl, available here: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7059 . Koukl demonstrates how Christian belief has not just Jesus suffering God’s wrath for human rebels as if Jesus is a distinct third party, but as God Himself — the Trinity is vital here! — He Himself is *also* the Judge, undergoing the righteous sentence.

    ——————————

    Is it an act of love that Jesus died on the cross for man’s sin? The correct answer is yes—John 3:16. So this is an act of God, the Father’s love, that Jesus would paid for sins of mankind.

    Here’s the second question: Why is it an act of love for God the Father to punish His Son? How is it the Father’s love? I could see it being an act of love for Jesus if he chose to do it, but how is it an act of love by the Father that Jesus would lay down His life? How is it loving that the Father would punish a third party?

    If you did something bad to me, and I grabbed Joe Blow over there and said to you that I was going to forgive you because I’m going to punch this guy out, you would wonder how it’s an act of love for me to forgive you by punching him out? It might be his love if he said to punch him out on your behalf, but hardly an act of my love. Unless – in the case of God the Father, and the Son, Jesus, that the Son is also God. That is, it is not just another man that the Father is punishing for our sins, but God who became a man Himself and took upon Himself His own just punishment.

    This is why it’s so important to approach this challenge with an understanding of the Trinity, and understanding of the nature of God Jesus is God; He isn’t just an innocent third party. He is the Judge Himself suffering, the One who determines the punishment takes it, the One who passes judgment receives it. It is Jesus, the incarnate God. That is how it’s an example of the love of God.

    It is precisely because God is love that He has made a way for sinful men to be forgiven and His holy quality of justice to be upheld at the same time so that, as Paul writes, He can be both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    The idea that the cross is an example of cosmic child abuse just mistaken. This objection gets the cross wrong, Christology wrong, and theology proper wrong. Mr. Chalke and Mr. McLaren are deeply confused on this point, to the harm of the Christians that follow them.

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  35. Well, I just lost a long comment, mostly to Rick. I did want to say, Stephen, you’ve done a great job answering Mike (zoe)—better than I could have. Oh, also, I had not thought before how important it was that John established the fact that Jesus was God incarnate in chapter 1 before going on in chapter 3 to say “God so loved …”

    Rick you said

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    I think this indicates how differently we see God. I have no trouble believing that an omnipotent God is capable of keeping adulterations out of Scripture.

    Becky

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  36. Mike (zoe—just keeping you separate from Mike Duran), you said:

    I’m not sure that I ever think of myself as coming from ‘a panentheistic reading’ of Scripture. I know you’re quoting from a single post I’ve written, but that was just my way of saying “This is what I see in Scripture about what God is like.” We all have lenses. It’d be like me saying you come from “An evangelical reading of Holy Writ.” Except that I don’t actually wake up in the morning and say “Hmm, lemme see how this reads panentheistically.”

    Well, I’m actually taking into account what you said throughout the previous thread, Mike. Here are a few quotes:

    the synthesis (particularly between looking at the development of our idea of God and panentheism) is mine alone.

    my purpose in diving into this conversation again won’t be to try and ‘convert’ any of you to thinking about a growing, changing God or to having a panentheist perspective of God as All-in-all; I know that change doesn’t occur this quickly or because of a blog debate!

    [A lot of comment #60, but these in particular:] Becky, thank you for the Michaelson quote. I’ll be honest with you – I don’t have a problem with much of what he said. And yet, I’d want to to say that my Christocentric panentheist perspective is so much more than what he’s said …

    In a moment I’ll share why I think it is in the Bible, implicitly and explicitly, from beginning ’til end …

    I don’t write this to change your mind about postmodernity, God’s changeability, or God’s panentheistic presence in all things. But I hope you can see how sincere and faithful Christians can embrace – with varying degrees of qualification, of course – all three, and how people who do and people who don’t might be able to worship together in unity, a la Jesus’ great mystical and panentheistic prayer in John 17 (sorry – couldn’t resist)

    Hard to think I misunderstood you, Mike, or that you didn’t ” ‘splain” yourself well. I think you were quite clear.

    Let me say, I don’t think it’s a small thing to convert the clear teaching of Scripture about God’s omnipresence into a false teaching that he is part of the universe he created. That idea is in opposition to His transcendence.

    In addition, it confuses, if not refutes, the truth that we are made in His image. How can we be if he is one with what he has made?

    You gave another spate of verses but missed my point. Why didn’t Jesus, whose stated purpose was to show us the Father, tell us about His all-in-all quality?

    The verses you use, of course, are out of context, so it’s next to impossible to give an explanation of each one. Yes, God through Christ created the world. Yes, He holds all things together. I won’t pretend to understand how. But that’s a far cry from saying the universe is one with him.

    I have no problem with the fact that the word panentheism isn’t used in the Bible (what a silly thing to say, Mike—the word is relatively new to explain an old belief). My problem is that the concept isn’t there.

    As to the inerrancy of Scripture … did you really want to get into that?

    Let’s just say, Jesus instructed the Sadducees about life after death by quoting from the Old Testament and making His point based on a verb tense. Clearly Jesus understood the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before, to be without error even in that one word. And apparently His audience saw it that way too.

    Becky

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  37. […] has been writing a lot about these “emergent-cy” doctrines. Her Jan. 25 installment, The Emerging Heresy, caused much “conversation” and I found myself writing a lot of comments and rebuttals […]

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  38. […] ensuing pages of comments) “Attacks on God from Within” (followed by two related posts “The Emerging Heresy” and “Attacks against God from Within, Part 2″)—also posted on his own experience of […]

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