That Hideous Strength


I have news for every author of every book I have read recently on the subject of how to fix the American Church’s problems:

You are wrong. Every last one of you.

To your credit, though, your ability to note everything that is awry in churches across this country is astute and well-cataloged. It’s just that your solutions are no solutions at all.

Over the last year, I’ve been following much of what is being called “The Emerging Church” or “Emergent.” This is a new movement that is calling churches out from their country club mentalities into a vital first century NT church life. It caters to the postmodern crowd, is heavily invested in relationships, story, mystery, and being “organic.” It has a whole host of its own buzzwords, authorities, and conventions. And—to its credit—it loathes consumeristic, megachurch seeker-sensitivity.

But any random reading of authors like Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Len Sweet, Randy Frazee, and a growing legion of others finds the very core of the movement very much rooted in a sort of sentimental humanism. Buried beneath the buzzwords and angry polemics against the crusty institutional church is the real source of this trend’s power: what I like to call (with apologies to C.S. Lewis) “That Hideous Strength.”

That Hideous Strength has been behind much of what churches in America call progress in the last forty or fifty years. In recent years, the Church Growth Movement largely abandoned itself to that strength, and Emergent is taking it one step further—at least if a decent reading of the acolytes of Emergent is any indication.

What is That Hideous Strength? Well, for my purpose here it is not quite what Lewis defined in his novel as the power of the Eldils (fallen angels), but it is another monstrosity virtually on par with it: the power of Man.

Here is where we are going wrong. Here is why the Church in America is failing to live up to Her glorious potential. We have put all our faith in what we can do through our own strength. In almost every Ermegent book I have read, I have come away noting that to make the solutions they espouse a reality, we really don’t need the Holy Spirit at all. If we just love people and love God, reach out with a tender touch in a missional way to our communities and to the downtrodden, then all will be well.

Except we left the Lord out of the equation altogther. My heart breaks thinking about this.

Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit to His disciples in the upper room and then told them to await the Spirit coming in power at a later time. When the Spirit fell on the disciples, they went out and ministered in a power that was not their own.

Check out every occurance of the Spirit falling on believers in Acts. The result was that they went from being average people to being someone touched by the Divine. Everything they did after that point was extraordinary. No longer were they people who were satisfied with being loving neighbors or nice people, but they were energized and bold saints of God!

How is it that in a charismatic generation, we have entirely forgotten the Holy Spirit? Why do we think a model, no matter how wonderful it sounds, will make a difference in our churches if our people are not filled with the Holy Spirit?

Some will argue that the average person in the pew is filled with the Holy Spirit. My question then is, when was the last time that person’s shadow fell on the sick and they were healed? When was the last time he was caught up to the third heaven? When did she last prophesy? When did his testimony drive the lost to cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” or cause others to pick up rocks to stone him?

The major distinction between all of us in the Church and those of all other religions is the fact that the Spirit of the Living God dwells in us! All those advocates of Emergent are preaching a Gospel that is no different than what the average Buddhist or Shintoist preaches if there is no Holy Spirit involved. You can be missional all you want, you can have a love for other people around you who don’t know Jesus, but if nothing you do is flooded with power from on high, then it is doomed to failure in the long run.

Are we ever going to learn this lesson? The reason no one cares about our message anymore is largely because we Christians in America are no longer supernatural people. Our faith has become one largely of mental assent and Hallmark card sentimentality, devoid of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. We have shoved the Spirit out the doors of our churches and tried to do it all on our own strength.

And just who out there on the street is impressed with that? Our bankrupt results speak for themselves.

11 thoughts on “That Hideous Strength

  1. Anonymous

    Excellent analysis!

    It seems to me as if the emergent church is like the children of Isreal, wandering the desert. There has been an escape from the imprisoning mindset of the past. Right now emergent is free, but without placing our confidence in the power of God, rather than the power of man, there is no way that we are going to enter the promised land.
    I wander if it will take a whole generations wandering in the wilderness to bring the change?

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you SO much – you have nailed it, I believe. I have felt slightly unsettled about the Emergent Church movement and wondered why when so much of what they say and critique I do actually agree with. It has all seemed fine to my thinking but I have remained spiritually unnerved. It is a case of discerning the underlying spirit. I know I will give account for verbalising this even if it is posted anonymously so am very careful what I say. However, when I read what you wrote, my Spirit seemed to leap inside me and I recognised something of the call to life that I know to be of God. Let us turn away from these broken cisterns we have hewn for ourselves and plead for the life of Christ in heavenly wisdom to be all we depend upon.

  3. “Some will argue that the average person in the pew is filled with the Holy Spirit. My question then is, when was the last time that person’s shadow fell on the sick and they were healed? When was the last time he was caught up to the third heaven? When did she last prophesy? When did his testimony drive the lost to cry out, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ or cause others to pick up rocks to stone him?”

    Never, Dan. Never. This powerful message is not for the Emergents; it is for us.

  4. Glen

    You are right on target. I have spent a great deal of time on this as well, searching the true church. First, by attending various churches over the years, then reading history, then going back into the Bible and seeing the same problems there as reflected in the Epistles and Jesus’ letter to the 7 churches.

    You may be quite interested in a history of the translation of the King James Bible called The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy at

    The reason these authors can’t fix the church is because they don’t know what the church is. We may say we know the ekklesia is the assembly of all believers in all time, but our vision of what the church is and how it operates is veiled by our practical understanding, or lack thereof, of the word. This is true even in the house churches or unchurches, whatever the latest “movement” becomes.

    So even when the Holy Spirit leads His sheep out, they tend to create another version of the idol. I think you will find the article I linked will be useful.

  5. Anything, anywhere that does not include the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit cannot be a place of Truth.

    In any pew if one is not seeking God (as in Jeremiah 29) then we are in trouble. Yet hearts in the Church have become numb and the Spirit is whispering “wake up”. Who will hear this cry?

    It is a cry to the Church, not to any movement or denomination – but to the whole.

  6. I have no quibble with your comments on the Emergent Church, but I do with your assumption that the only way someone’s being filled with the Spirit can be manifested is through someone being healed merely because we’re standing between that person and a source of light. Especially given what Paul says being filled with the Spirit looks like: edifying each other through our public worship together, our praise itself and thanksgiving to God, and our submission to each other according to God has ordered our relationships, and then seeking our strength for spiritual battle in our faith, the reality of our salvation, walking in steps that accord with the peace of the gospel, knowing and obeying the word of God, interceding on behalf of each other, etc., as Eph 5:18-6:20 go on to unpack Paul’s command to each believe to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That and Gal 5 demonstrate what the life in the Spirit is all about. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, as demonstrated in these ways. We’re not commanded to be workers of miracles.

  7. Jeremy,

    There is an inner life of the Spirit and an outer life, too. The outer life looks just like what I noted, while the inner life looks just like what you wrote. They are all part of the whole.

    We are told that we will be miraculous people. Jesus promised we would be. We can say to a mountain to be thrown into the sea and it will be. If that is not miraculous, then what is? Is Jesus simply using hyperbole? No way.

    We make excuses for not being miraculous people, and that is one of the problems with American churches. Go to any Third World country where revival is breaking out and you will see the miraculous. Our lack of faith and our constant pooh-poohing of the miraculous results in a stagnant church and lots of finger-pointing. And this is what I am talking about.

    John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the King and the Kingdom. When he lost heart, Jesus said to John’s disciples:

    Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
    the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. — Matt. 11:4-5

    That is the Kingdom in operation right there. Now if anyone wishes to debate that the Kingdom of God doesn’t consist of those things, then he’ll have to take it up with the Lord. Fact is, those things are the normal manifestations of the Kingdom in operation through those who are in the Kingdom. To say otherwise is to believe in a kingdom that is wholly other than the one Jesus instituted.

    Frankly, I am tired of the small “k” kingdom, particularly when others hold it up as our best model. The Kingdom Jesus talks about has some fire in its belly! We need to get that back, though we never will unless we start thinking differently about this. Don’t be satisfied with smoke; ask for the fire!

  8. Anonymous

    yikes… some of your comments about the “you are wrong. every last one of you” about the emergent/emerging church are so incredibly wrong! have you even read any of those books? if you have, you would find that what you are saying makes no sense. you are getting comments here all agreeing with you, but i doubt they have actually read the books or they wouldn’t be agreeing.

    without knowing you, it seems you must be a frustrated sort of pastor or person afraid of rethinking things and holding on to middle-aged theology and probably a john mcarthur fan without even realizing why. it is sad reading comments like that, and i feel bad for you. oh well. you blog is public, and you say “you are wrong” there are others who will say “you are wrong”. jesus is love and that by the love disciples have for one another others will know we are His disciples, and i don’t sense too much love from this blog.

  9. “Yikes” wrote:
    some of your comments about the “you are wrong. every last one of you” about the emergent/emerging church are so incredibly wrong! have you even read any of those books? if you have, you would find that what you are saying makes no sense. you are getting comments here all agreeing with you, but i doubt they have actually read the books or they wouldn’t be agreeing.Yes, I have read a number of books by Emergent leaders in the last year (such as The Connecting Church, The Search to Belong, The Present Future, Making Room for Life…) and the one things about that that strikes me again and again is that you can implement every idea they have and never need the Holy Spirit. If our churches continue to function—as I noted in my post—without the Holy Spirit, but by sociology texts, demographic polls, and manmade solutions, then we’ve lost the very mandate we were given at Pentecost. We’ve ceased to be the Church and have instead become a powerless club of people who “minister” out of our own strength and clever ideas.

    What distinguishes the Church from the Peace Corps? Or from the Red Cross? Or from the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or from the Kiwanis Club or the Shriners? All of those groups do good things for people, that try to reach out to people to bring them to a place where they find community, but they are not the groups upon which the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell.

    If Emergent continues to think they can do everything apart from the supernatural power of God, then they are no different from the Peace Corps. They might do great things for people, but they do it from the wrong source of power.

  10. Penny Chandler

    in response to your response to jeremy on 9.26.04, Jesus told the disciples that they would be miraculous people, not us. The Gospels note what He said to His disciples, and I think we take His words out of context when we take what He said to the Twelve and assume that He meant it for us too. The disciples were going on to set the world on fire with a brand-new faith and they needed some signs and miracles to set this new faith apart in the world. Nowhere in passages addressed to new-covenant Gentile Christians, like most of us, do I remember reading that we are supposed to be miraculous people. If God wants us to be, then He certainly brings it about, but I don’t think we should arbitrarily say that about ourselves. jbjust my thoughts.

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