Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, May 14, 2010

Herb Douglass is against Emergent Church

Herb Douglas appears to be about to conclude his series of articles entitled New Spirituality Movement, Part II: Emerging/Emergent Church and Spiritual Formation, Part 3: Emerging / Emergent Church, What is the Message of the Emerging Church? (Part 4). As you can tell from the title his articles are about the Emerging church or the Emergent Church movement which he considers a new spirituality movement.. Herb is highly critical of the Emerging church while speaking of it in extremely vague ways.

The first article deals mainly with Seeker Sensitive churches. Dr. Douglas states:

“But in 2007, the mesmerizing balloon busted, at least for Hybels. His pastoral staff quietly and deliberately finished a four-year, self-evaluation as to what their highly acclaimed program was really doing for thirty years. In their book, Reveal: Where Are You?, they were honest enough to broadcast what they learned and it was embarrassing. Hybels said that it "rocked my world"—that the findings were "earth-shaking," "ground breaking," and "mind blowing." They now realized that their seeker-friendly programs were "a mistake." The lesson Hybels and his staff learned is that "growing" a congregation goes beyond "attracting" people to church—they needed to restructure their church program to grow their members in their personal relationship with God. His new program is turning out to be another path into New Spirituality. What will the hundreds of Adventist copycats now say to their congregations?”

His only reference to the actual New Spirituality or Emergent church is found in this paragraph:

“If anyone in the past year has been following Christianity Today, the flagship of Evangelicalism, he or she will have noted that it has become the standard-bearer for the Ancient-Future Movement, otherwise known as New Spirituality. It came out of the closet with the February, 2008 issue [see articles here, here and here]. Our friend, David Neff, is the magazine's editor in chief and a leader in advancing churches everywhere into New Spirituality. I read every issue with great interest, with great appreciation for many of its emphases—but the drift is palpable. More on my next blog.”

That kind of prelude certainly should interest most people into finding out what this New Spirituality is. But Dr. Douglas never fulfills our expectations. What Dr. Douglas provides in the next three articles is his opinions without any substantive evidence. As he continues in article two:

“Spiritualism is the open appeal to find Reality, God, Cosmic Consciousness, whatever, through direct contact with the "other" world. It could be through channeling, ouija boards, séances, certain kinds of extra-sensory perception, etc.”

“New Spirituality, at this point in time, doesn't go in that direction although it has much in common with Spiritualism. Both concepts and movements believe in either the immortal soul or the subjective ability to find God or reality within themselves through any number of modalities. Neither believes in the final authority of Scripture or the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.

What does that really mean? The vast majority of Christians believe in the immortal soul but I am sure it loses some persuasive zest if one says New Spirituality and Spiritualism and Christianity hold to the concept of the immortal soul. The final sentence is more in line with Fundamentalism as opposed to modern Christian thought. The authority of Scripture is usually a Fundamentalist technique used to say their particular interpretation of Scriptures is true, what they say is literal is literal and what they say is symbolic is symbolic and what they say is a metaphor is a metaphor, they become the authority of scriptures. The exclusivity of Jesus Christ also carrying the fundamentalist understanding; meaning that if one does not believe in Jesus Christ whether they ever heard of Christ or not they will not be saved. Something that Ellen White did not even believe. But it is still commonly used to imply that if someone believes God can save people who are members of other religions or never have heard of Christ or don’t believe in the type of Christ that some Christians have taught; that if we believe God can still save them we don’t believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Herb Douglas is using some very loaded language.

Herb Douglas concludes his second article with a list of seven reasons non-Adventist churches are leaping into new spirituality. I will paraphrase them as: 1. Churches using new names rather then just saying Baptist or Methodist. 2. Churches not appealing to “absolute truth” and trying to converse with others who are not even Christians. 3. Churches looking for spiritual healing, meaning physical healing, the use of alternative medicine and stories of miracles. 4. Different ways of experiencing the holy. 5. Mystical rituals and Retreat Centers. 6. Saying that traditional Christianity is not reaching the post modern world. 7. Tolerance of other religions.

Now most of these are fairly reasonable. But like most things these can be taken to extreme just as traditionalism can be taken to an extreme. Most all churches have mystical rituals and stories of miracles, those that appeal to themselves as having absolute truth are self deceived and most are concerned that Christianity is in decline in the western world. If the church has any sense they will pay attention and try to reach this now post modern world. So I don’t find Herb’s list any too impressive.

In part 3 Herbert Douglas asks why are Adventists attracted to emergent churches. The answer it appears is that Adventists have lost their winsome messages because of the publication of the divisive book Questions on Doctrines, producing “whirlwind of fifty years of theological muddle”. That led to Dr. Douglas’ favorite topic last generation perfection as he notes in his article:

* Bull and Lockhart, two English historians, in their remarkable book, Seeking a Sanctuary (second edition, 2007) summed up the theological fork in the road that our seminary began to take as a consequence of the 1957 drift of Questions on Doctrine: "The focus on the crucifixion encouraged by Questions on Doctrine was taken further by the Adventist theologian Edward Heppenstall. . . . His solution to the difficulty of explaining how the sinner could reach perfection was to argue that perfection was neither necessary nor possible. . . . (that) sinlessness cannot be realized here and now." (86-87).

Thus the problem with the Emergent church is that it is not working on the pre 1950’s Adventist orthodoxy. So our pastors find that youth pastors seek techniques involving mimes or clowns “pulpit bands (with their accents on the second beat)” dramatic skits etc. When we should be looking at the GYC conventions where dedicated traditionalist Adventist youth listen to powerful talks by traditionalist Adventists. In other words there is a fork in the road and that fork is traditionalism with its fundamentalist view of absolute truth and everything else on the other fork. Emergent church being part of the everything else, it should be avoided. Simple enough.

In part 4 Dr. Douglas perhaps gives us the reason he does not give any examples of what Emergent churches believe, thus he gave no validation to his assertions aside from they are not traditional Adventists, he writes:

“If anyone tries to define what Emergents or Emerging Church or New Spirituality believes, it is like trying to nail Jello against the wall. And that seems to be exactly what the various Emergents want. The lack of a common belief system is intentional; that is precisely why "conversation" is their chosen word for what they do/think. Their ideas are exploring, and experimenting, but not defining in any way. I find that refreshing in a way, but surely frustrating.”

I found it extremely frustrating that someone would condemn something that he can’t define and can’t document aside from saying that is not what I believe. He then spent a good deal of space with extreme statements, he is against this extreme and that extreme, rather a waste of time but his final line indicates he is not done with his series as I had originally thought. He writes:

“Next time we will let the Emergent leaders speak for themselves.”

I really don’t think he will, I think he will choose a few quotes that make some Emergent Church leaders look like they are contrary to Traditional Adventism and Traditional Adventist methods. Which they naturally are, not being SDA’s . Spending no time on areas where they may even agree with his traditionalism. After all one of the Emergent church leaders he mentions is Rob Bell, someone who does a lot of short Videos. So as I close and wait for Herb’s final chapter spend a few minutes watching one of Rob Bell’s videos.

Resurrection: Rob Bell from The Work of Rob Bell on Vimeo.

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