I came of age during the late 1970’s which was a time of widespread speculation about the imminent fulfilment of the end-times events as recorded in the Book of Revelation. The best-selling book The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay and the movie A Thief in the Night were telling us, in frightening detail, that the 1980’s were going to be the final decade of human history. It seemed plausible to many people that this really was the beginning of the end. The events unfolding in the Middle East included “wars and rumours of wars” and the turmoil caused by the Arab Oil Embargo, with its global economic impact, was still fresh in our minds.
As a young man I studied, quite extensively, what the Bible has to say about the last days. I was deeply concerned about what my future may hold, so I read everything on the topic of Eschatology that I could get my hands on. I soon came to the conclusion that none of these self-proclaimed end-times experts really knew what they were talking about.
The primary problem that I had with their perceptive of how the Apocalypse would soon play out was that I couldn’t imagine how the Anti-Christ would be able to seize control of the world and bring a One-World religion to the masses. To me this just seemed too improbable an occurrence to take place in the near future based on what I saw happening in the world.
One of the things that bothered me at that time was the ongoing hostility between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland. The clash between these two groups of Christians was continually in the headlines. Because of this I reasoned that if there was no way to get these Christians to agree to live in peace then the idea of introducing a broad based world encompassing religious movement was incomprehensible.
I effectively ignored Eschatology for the next quarter century with only the occasional passing reflection about the significance of some newly unfolding world event and how it might lead us closer to the fulfilment of God’s ultimate destiny for mankind. But that changed when I began to investigate the Emergent Church.
“My sense is that “what is trying to be born” in the pregnant Christian faith will involve a convergence of Roman Catholic, Evangelical/Charismatic, and Mainline Protestant Christians (along with, I hope, some Eastern Orthodox as well).” ~ Brian McLaren 1
At first I was simply curious about this movement of postmodern Christians who taught that in order to reach the new generation we have to think and talk like they do. As I dug deeper into what the leaders of this “conversation” were saying I became increasingly troubled. Here was a generation of young people who didn’t want to be told what to believe, but instead insisted on deciding for themselves, based on their own personal experiences, what is right and what is wrong. Were they trying to create a Church that doesn’t have any objective truth claims to reach out to people who don’t believe in truth?
The person who was primarily responsible for bringing together the individuals who would soon form the core of what is now the Emergent Village is Doug Pagitt. He was selected by Leadership Network to gather the best and the brightest young emerging leaders that could be found and tackle the problem of reaching the up and coming postmodern generation for Christ. Doug got his start as a Youth Pastor at Wooddale Church under Leith Anderson who is currently the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Doug is presently the pastor of Solomon’s Porch a Holistic, Missional, Christian Community in Minneapolis and the author of numerous books including A Christianity Worth Believing, 3 a Hope-Filled, Open-Armed, Alive-And-Well Faith for the left out, left behind, and let down in us all .
Despite Doug’s Evangelical pedigree he doesn’t believe that a future place of punishment called Hell exists and cannot comprehend the idea that Heaven could be a literal place. 4 His friend and business partner Tony Jones who was the National Coordinator for Emergent Village and author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, declares that Original Sin is a depraved idea. 5
Another friend is Brian McLaren a much sought after speaker and author, with 17 books to his credit, who is one of the most visible and vocal of the Emergent Village people. In 2004 he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree (honoris causa) from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, B.C. and in 2005 Brian was listed among Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. 6 But he equates Penal Substitutionary Atonement with “Divine Child-Abuse” and his latest tome A New Kind of Christianity is exactly what the title says; a new (and he believes improved) version of Christianity that hasn’t been seen until now.
Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence, 7 has likened McLaren to this generation’s Martin Luther, and describes what is currently sweeping through Christendom as a type of “giant rummage sale.” These are but a few of the many merchants of this “Great Emergence” who are offering their products and services to the ever ravenous Christian marketplace.
They are always willing to mix and mingle with those who hold sway within the Evangelical sphere of influence and are welcomed with open arms by most. But when I compare what my Evangelical denomination’s Statement of Faith 8 says with the ideas coming from these “evangelicals” of the Emergent conversation I don’t see how there can be any authentic connection with them. They either minimize the importance of, or outright deny, anything that historically has been considered to be an Evangelical distinctive.
Propositional truth claims do not fit well into the Emergent postmodern worldview. Thus you will often hear the refrain “doctrines divide” offered up as a defence for their love of ambiguity, uncertainty and mystery when confronted about their beliefs. I have to ask the question: “Just how you can still be considered an Evangelical and yet challenge so many of these doctrines that have defined what it means to be an Evangelical?” That is a mystery to me.
I really do not want to be pigeonholed as some kind of uptight, overbearing Bible thumping “Fundy” literalist, but I sincerely believe that what we read in the Bible is what God wants everyone to know about, and how everyone should live, and what we as Christians need to proclaim to the world. That is what being an Evangelical Christian is about. At least that is how I have always understood it. We are the people entrusted to share the Good News with the world.
Somehow the agents of Emergence have gained extensive influence over most of the Evangelical church, and yet they do not feel compelled to join in solidarity with us around the beliefs that set Evangelicals apart from other Christians. So how do you blend the beliefs and practices of the various Christian traditions together and not get tripped up by the obvious incompatibilities? Answer: Simply reject the idea that it is possible to know with any real degree of certainty what the Bible says on any given topic.
This then allows the individual to pick and choose what they want to believe, even if their position doesn’t match what is recorded in the Bible. No one has the right to tell them they are wrong. Each person is at liberty to piece together their own version of Christianity and is the master of determining how to apply it to their own life. It should then come as no surprise that they actively seek out novel spiritual ideas and enthusiastically embrace them regardless of the source. An important part of their search for an “authentic” Christian experience is experimenting with other expressions of Christianity. An example of this can be found in their fascination for the rituals and practices of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church.
The Ancient-Future Church movement believes that the future of Christianity depends on looking back to the ancient practices of the Church and adopting these traditions as our own. This view has gained such widespread appeal that Christianity Today ran a feature article about this phenomenon, The Future Lies in the Past 9 in its February 2008 issue. This sounds like an excellent idea except that the Ancient-Futurists didn’t go far enough back in time and stopped in the Dark Ages rather than looking to the examples found in the New Testament Church to guide them. They got stuck a few centuries short of what their goal should have been and, consequently, they offer “smells and bells” 10 as a means of experiencing a sense of the sacred rather than relying on the power of the Word of God. Instead of looking to the Bible for the answers to solve the challenges we are currently facing they have turned to the same methods based on sensual experience that would eventually contribute to leading the Roman Catholic Church to apostasy.
As disturbing as these things are to me I discovered something else about this movement that was even more troubling. Many of the most influential celebrities within the Emergent community have an intense desire to reach out to spiritual leaders of other religions and include these ideas in their own theological speculations.
Once again, the views of these post-moderns are right in line with the opinions of the people who they seek to reach. According to a survey done by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, most Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life. 11 These Gurus of Emergence see interfaith dialogue as an important means to pursue spiritual truth and develop a deeper relationship with God. By pooling the varied perspectives of experiencing the Divine from other faith traditions they believe that they can move closer to experiencing the deepest relationship with God that a person can hope to have.
What the leaders of the Emergent movement are driving us toward, as they seek to link with other religions, is something commonly referred to as Deep Ecumenism, the term which Matthew Fox used in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. 12 It describes the notion that all religions draw from the same source of Divinity and therefore are identical at the deepest level.
This is leading many Evangelical Christians to accept or at least consider the idea that other religions are equally valid spiritual paths. This is the Emergence convergence in its fullest sense, and this is what made me once again think about how a One-World religious movement might start taking shape. Here are some examples of how these shepherds of the Emergent flock are working to blur the distinctions between the religions and lead their followers to join them in blending the world’s faiths together into a harmonious holistic oneness.
Recently an invitation was extended to Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical and other Christians to attend an Emerging Christianity 13 conference hosted by The Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and the founder of this contemplation center, along with Cynthia Bourgeault, Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren joined together to continue the conversation of emergence and convergence. This event was promoted as an opportunity to be inspired and challenged with non-dual thinking and a new theology rooted in the “third way.” To give you a taste of what that means participants at this event were invited to direct their prayers toward god as our Mother or Father, were inspired by the poetry of the Muslim mystics Rumi and Hafiz, and had some time to do a little Yoga, join in some Contemplative Chant and go for a Labyrinth walk.
One of the presenters at this conference, the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault is founding Director of the Contemplative Society 14 in Victoria, B.C. “an inclusive non-profit association that encourages a deepening of contemplative prayer based in the Christian Wisdom tradition while also welcoming and being supportive of other meditation traditions.” They offer an Interspiritual Wisdom e-Course at their site which includes spiritual perspectives from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam/Sufism and Judaism as presented by the “pioneers” of Interspirituality. The pledge that “Participants will expand their knowledge of the shared wisdom of these traditions and deepen their personal practice” is a clear indication of her passion to lead these students to merge ideas from other religions with their own faith.
Father Rohr and The Center for Action and Contemplation have hosted other noteworthy conferences on the subject of Interspirituality in the past. One held in 2008 was Jesus and Buddha, Paths to Awakening 15 which proclaimed “The teachings of both Jesus and Buddha call us to transformational honesty. They are both teaching us how to see, and how to see all the way through! They both knew that if you see God for yourself, you will see the Divine in all things.”
Earlier this year The Center for Action and Contemplation presented Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gates 16 and invited anyone willing to come with them and “follow the mystics through the mysterious process in which we realize God is the very reality of ourselves, others and all things. Seeing God in all things and all things in God, we experience the peace that surpasses understanding.” Later this year the focus will be turned to Creation as the Body of God,17 “As human beings we are called to participate in the liberation of the whole Body of Creation.” This sounds, to me, a lot like the central plot theme of the movie Avatar. 18
“What the Christ means is the confluence of divinity and physicality, spirit and matter. When the material and spiritual worlds coexist, we have Christ.” ~ Richard Rohr 19
Richard Rohr appeared in the 2006 documentary, ONE: The Movie 20 alongside such infamous spiritual luminaries as Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Keating, Barbara Marx Hubbard and the late Wayne Robert Teasdale who coined the term Interspirituality. 21 He has also adopted “The Cosmic Christ” terminology of Matthew Fox and shares his “profound insight into the nature of the historical Jesus and what the resurrected Christ really means” via DVD. 22 He is also featured on the Spirituality & Practice website as a member of the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, 23 a veritable Rogue’s Gallery of Blind Guides drawn from a wide variety of Religions with an assortment of New Age, or as they prefer to be referred to today, New Spirituality celebrities tossed in for good measure.
What happened at this Emerging Christianity conference, hosted in conjunction with Father Rohr, is not an isolated incident. Brian McLaren and the others who identify with the Emergent Village have made this theme of convergence one of the key elements of their platform from the beginning. Brian is well-respected in these circles and is always in demand so shortly after his New Mexico trip he was at another conference. This time it was with The TransFORM Network for an East Coast Gathering on Missional Community Formation. 24
Once again, featured speakers at this Emergent get-together included advocates for finding common ground between Christians and the religions of the world. Among them was Samir Selmanovic, Founder of Faith House Manhattan, 25 “an experiential inter-religious community that comes together to deepen our personal and communal journeys, share ritual life and devotional space, and foster a commitment to social justice and healing the world.” He is the author of It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian, 26 and serves as the Emergent Village representative on the National Council of Churches, where he is a member of the NCC Interfaith Relations Commission.
Also guiding discussion at this conference was Reverend Shinko Rick Slone, an ordained Zen Priest and self-proclaimed “Jesus Freak,” who established the Eyes of Compassion Zen Center 27 in Salinas, California. In the past he has worked alongside Mark Scandrette, one of the contributors to An Emergent Manifesto Of Hope, 28 to facilitate “Seeking the Kingdom Within”: A Conversation & Practice in Stillness Meditation 29 which invites “participants to discover the connections between the teachings of Jesus and stillness meditation and cultivate a regular daily practice.”
This invitation to join the convergence, which leaders of this Emerging spiritual commune are extending to us, is not about restoring unity to the Church by bringing the hearts and minds of Christians closer to Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It is obvious that they have a much broader vision in mind than merely unifying the various Christian denominations under their Emergent banner. Convergence goes beyond minimizing, for the sake of civility, the differences between the Christian denominations. It is broader than just being loving to people of other religions and finding a peaceful way to coexist in harmony with them on this planet.
What they are working to bring to life within the Christian community, what this inter-religious conversation is really about, is the creation of a unified Interspiritual society that will grow and expand to include people from all the other faiths. Their inclination is such that they are willing to ignore the obvious differences between the diverse religions of this world in order to bring unification to all people, for the sake of all people, and for the future of life on Earth.
To accomplish this we will be required to abandon our previous ways of thinking about, and interacting with adherents of other religions. We will need to develop an appreciation for the elegance of non-dual thinking and then implement it as a replacement for our present way of viewing religion. Christians will be compelled to adopt a more nebulous approach to having an intimate relationship with God and accept the fact that the only theological statement we need to affirm is “God, as you understand him, her or it. “
“I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. . .
I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” ~ Thomas Merton
What all of these individuals, the Emergent leaders and their Interspiritual friends, have in common, the spiritual glue that binds all of their hearts and minds together, is their pursuit of the contemplative practices. What they all believe, and teach, is that at the deepest level all the religions of the world are essentially the same. The difficulty, as they see it, is that we just use different words to describe similar spiritual ideas, and this is what causes the confusion and disconnect between us.
We are told that by avoiding discussion on divisive topics, such as doctrine and theology, and not relying on words alone to shape our spiritual beliefs we can avoid this problem. We can make this Deep Ecumenism a reality by tearing down the artificial, manmade religious structures. Our attention should be turned to the wide variety of religious wisdom literature available that focuses on the essence of experiencing Spirituality.
What they see, as the plan of salvation for all the people on Earth, is to turn to Mysticism 30 as our primary means of finding union with God. Spiritually speaking, this is the common ground that we all need to stand together on. We can reach out to all the people of the world by embracing the practice of Contemplation. 31 Through the use of the meditative disciplines like Centering Prayer 32 we enter into The Silence 33 and can experience the message of hope that, according to Thomas Merton, the Contemplative 34 offers to everyone.
The secret to finding world-wide religious harmony is to come to realize that deep within us, all of humanity contains Divinity. We all posses the Divine Spark. 35 It is through these contemplative experiences that we will discover a glorious way to encounter “God” and come to know for ourselves this metaphysical mystery which is the Cosmic Christ. 36 For those who call themselves Christians it will mean coming to the realization that there is a difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ. 37
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where neither sin nor desire can reach, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way there would be no reason for war, for hatred, for cruelty… we would fall down and worship each other.” ~Thomas Merton
Some of the seemingly more innocent ideas and practices associated with this mystical movement have been floating around the Evangelical environment for decades now. Richard Foster, who wrote Celebration of Discipline way back in 1978, was the pioneer who introduced the Evangelical community to the Catholic Mystics and pointed us to the same contemplative path that Thomas Merton 38 had blazed in the 1960’s. This made it much easier for those, who are today seeking to build an Interspiritual community, to have an impact within Evangelical churches. Few are aware of the dangers inherent in the modern Emergent spirituality because of the familiarity with the terms, concepts and personalities of the contemplative realm that were put in place by this earlier exposure.
Once the door was opened there was no stopping it. Slowly at first, but then with increasing regularity, more and more of the spiritual practices of the contemplative camp have made their way in. What were once solid Bible-based seminaries, Evangelical denominations and Christ-centered churches are now being transformed into hubs for the promotion of a generic spirituality.
It has taken hold so completely, that now it seems unfeasible to most that a contemporary Christian could be in a vital relationship with God without following the examples given by the contemplative heroes of history. Over the past decade it has become virtually impossible to read any book about living the Christian life without finding a Catholic Mystic, either ancient such as St. John of the Cross, or modern like as Henri Nouwen quoted, despite the obvious challenge posed by what they believed and taught.
“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” ~ Henri Nouwen
Earlier I asked if what the Emergent leaders believe could be considered compatible with what Evangelicals hold to be true. They have rejected so many of our key beliefs, in their search for a Christianity that they can call their own, that I can’t imagine how they could have anything valuable to offer us. Not satisfied with what they found in the Bible they ventured out to dialogue with others who shared their own contempt for absolute truth. The ease with which they embrace paradox and relish mystery while scorning the reason and logic of the Western mind calls into question their ability to have anything of real value to share. Now I have to ask, are they even Christians?
Since they have rejected the faith given to them by their parents’ generation, they decided to look beyond the religious heritage of their youth to find new and improved ways of being Christian. They have discarded the command to go and make Disciples among the nations, given by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by seeking the solution to their spiritual quest among the very lost that we are called to save. They have been drawn to experiment, with what seemed to them novel or insightful concepts of religious life, but a casual glance at Church history will reveal that they have only repackaged the same old heresies that had plagued Christendom in the past.
They are quite willing to abandon the core beliefs of Christianity in order to have fellowship with those of other religions. They show no reluctance to take part in pagan practices which, in order to make them more palatable, have had their true origins veiled by a thin veneer of Christian terminology. These actions give evidence to a belief that God was negligent in providing Christians with all of the answers needed for our spiritual well-being, and that the Bible alone is not sufficient to instruct us in living a life of fulfillment. Instead of clinging to God’s word to guide, they have turned to the agnostic, esoteric spirituality of Mysticism and created a counterfeit of Christianity.
Rather than finding a way to lead this postmodern generation to Christ, the leaders of the Emergent Village, and those they have influenced, have turned the Evangelical youth into spiritual Guinea Pigs. By engaging them in the pursuit of the sacred writings and practices of heathens, rather than teaching them to study the Bible and honour the one true God, they reveal to us that they are really just blind guides. With their minds focused on the discovery of manmade wisdom, they have proven themselves to be enemies of the cross of Christ.
It’s as if they have returned from this “rummage sale” which is The Great Emergence, proudly displaying their prize pony for all to see, but on closer inspection we recognize that it’s really a Trojan Horse. On the outside what they have looks very attractive, and seems ideal for fulfilling the desires of our hearts, but hidden deep within is the enemy, patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike down the unsuspecting.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
Their end will correspond to their deeds. ~ 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (ESV)
If these spiritual disciplines and the contemplative practices of the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and whatever other religion the Emergents might be currently infatuated with, were really connecting these people directly with God, wouldn’t there be a different kind of impact on their lives? If they were truly in direct communion with God, wouldn’t God have something to tell them? If someone is really in tune with the God, then the Holy Spirit would be directing them to Jesus Christ. If someone can have an authentically good heart, if a spark of the Divine is hidden deep within, then when presented with the Gospel they should abandon their former ways and turn to Jesus Christ.
What is it about these spiritual practices that we can point to as being evidence of a valid experience with God? I don’t see anything like that happening, in fact they are moving in the opposite direction. They claim to be offering an integrated holistic spirituality to people but it looks like a quasi-Universalist, Panentheistic religion instead. What God is really emerging in their midst?
Leadership Network, not content with the damage that they have already done to Evangelical churches by bank-rolling the early Emergents, has now compounded their culpability in undermining the Faith by unleashing Monvee, 39 with its customized spiritual growth plans based on the contemplative practices. Phyllis Tickle continues to travel around as the unofficial media maven for the Emergent cause, telling all who will listen that the days of Sola Scriptura, 40 and all the beliefs that go with it, are coming to a close. Doug Pagitt, the initial ringleader of what would become the Emergent Village, today proudly promotes Yoga 41 as a way finding “a whole and healed and complete life…as part of the Jesus agenda.” His buddy, Tony Jones, who will soon be an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, continues to ponder the ever-transforming Theology 42 of the Emergents. Brian McLaren, point man for the Emergents, has also jumped onto the Social Justice Christian 43 bandwagon. He has now moved beyond the confines of author, speaker and networker to now share his home-spun message of hope for the future through music. He presents his fuzzy, feel good, something-better-is-emerging-but-still-striving To Be Born 44 gospel, in what he describes as a Resurrection Song.
So where does this leave us? I don’t really know exactly how the final days of planet Earth will unfold. I’m no closer now, to really understanding how the book of Revelation will play-out, than I was a quarter-century ago. I am not going to lose any sleep over it now. God is in complete control of the Universe, and I trust him to bring everything in this world to the place it needs to be, at the time that he has decided.
I am not claiming that what the Emergents are doing, will in fact, open the door for The False Prophet and the Anti-Christ to step onto the stage of world events. But if someone was going to try to bring a One-World religion into existence, this would be the example to follow.
The only thing that I will say with absolute certainty is that what all of these people are teaching is wrong. They have crafted an altered Gospel message, about a different type of Christ, and a hold to a contrary concept of God. They have discarded the plain teaching of the Bible to follow that ancient lie, you will be as God. The only source of authority that they will recognize is the voice in their head. I can assure you that nothing of value is to be found in there.
“The Gate of Heaven is everywhere” ~ Thomas Merton
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” ~ Jesus Christ