Silencing the Voice of Hearsay in the Church


I suspect Cerulean Sanctum will be delisted from a number of blogrolls after this post, but I need to write it. Put on the seatbelt and hang on.

Recently, Tim Challies had an interesting post entitled “Body Piercing Saved My Life,” a review of a book of the same name by Andrew Beaujon, a frequent contributer to the secular music magazine Spin. Christian rock music intrigued Beaujon, so he decided to get the real scoop on the genre. He went to concerts, talked with fans, attended several churches, interviewed the artists, and delivered his book, a firsthand account of what he learned.

In the end, Beaujon didn’t have a life-changing conversion, though he grew to appreciate Christian music through the time he spent examining it.

On the heels of Beaujon’s book comes a much-anticipated book from a renowned Christian author and pastor. He attempts to expose what he perceives as truth-mangling in the Emerging Church (EC), ripping into its questionable theology and practice. The Godblogosphere’s already quoting excerpts from the book, some blogs claiming it will deliver the final word on the EC.

I’m no rah-rah fan of the Emerging Church. Like a lot of reactionary movements, it’s underdeveloped in many ways, off completely in others, and right on the mark on a few select issues. EC proponents offer both enlightening critiques of institutional Christianity and brain-dead ones. As with any critical movement, I weigh their rhetoric against the Scriptures and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, then discard the dross. In truth, I’ve learned a few things from the EC concerning Evangelicalism’s shortsightedness. I’m a wiser Christian for those insights.

Over the last five years, I’ve interacted with hundreds of people in the EC. I’ve written on the EC several times here at Cerulean Sanctum (“That Other Standoff,” with embedded links elsewhere). I know something about it, though I’m by no means claiming to be an expert.

But this new book IS written by someone many people consider a bastion of truth and expertise. In fact, truth is the subject of the book. Plus, his offering isn’t a haphazard blog post (like any of mine or yours), but a book-length examination of truth problems in the EC, and postmodernism in general. For these reasons, what he says ought to be better thought-out, researched, and double-checked.

What I would like to know then:

Before he wrote his book, did this prominent author/teacher/pastor…

…personally sit down with EC leaders and get firsthand answers to his concerns?

…personally talk to a wide range of real people who left “traditional” churches in favor of Emerging Churches to find out why they did?

…personally talk to a wide range of real people in Emerging Churches to see what their doctrinal stances truly are?

…personally visit a wide range of churches under the EC umbrella in order to see if they might not be “One Size Fits All” in doctrine and practice?

I really want to believe he did. I hope that every question I asked above can be answered affirmatively.

For any book that’s ultimately about truth, second, third, and fourth-hand reports (or sound-biting unclear quotes without getting a firsthand clarification) simply won’t cut it. WhisperThat’s particularly true when millions of people will be affected by some major Christian leader’s withering assault.

I’ve been a Christian for 30 years. In that time, I’ve been shocked how easily we condemn other Christians on what amounts to hearsay. Even though the biblical standard is two or three witnesses, we know how two or three witnesses worked at the trial of our Lord! I think the Christian standard must be higher than that.

The Church of Jesus Christ is founded on relationship: our relationship with the Triune God and with each person He indwells. Because we are supposed to be a community free of rancor, the Lord commanded that if we have something against our brother, our best response is for us to stop what we’re doing and go make peace with that brother face-to-face. We don’t send emissaries and don’t write notes. We go in person.

Rather than write a book on contemporary Christian music from indirect sources, Andrew Beaujon (an unbeliever, remember) put his person on the line and went to see for himself. All through the Gospels, people who encountered Jesus, especially those on the receiving end of miracles, said, “Don’t take my word for what He did. Go see for yourself!” That admonishment carries some weight.

It would be terribly ironic if a book about absolute truth contained nothing but indirect reports on supposed malfeasance. I’ve read far too many Christian books that attempted to uncover the truth about a leader or movement, then failed to contain any firsthand accounts by the author. Such books are nothing more than venom.

Are we seeing for ourselves? Or we are crafting “truth” out of hearsay?

That Other Standoff


Is it almost Thanksgiving? You’d never know it from the various wars erupting all over the Christian blogosphere as one faction yells to the other faction,Standoff “Oh yeah, well what about this!”

Yes, I’ve participated, but I’ve tried to be as civil as possible. I’m not trying to establish a beachhead. I just desire that other people understand the faction I’m tenuously a part of, especially since mine seems to be on the small side as factions go.

The cessationist/charismatic debate on the surface has tended to be civil. I think that the default faction leaders, David and Adrian, have done well. There have been a few gashes, but I’m not seeing any severed limbs lying around.

But there’s another war out there and this one has turned grisly: Emerging Church vs. Traditional Church. The rhetoric on both sides is so dense that it’s approaching depleted uranium stage. This week brought out the mustard gas and biowarfare as Emerging Church proponent Justin Baeder attempted a domain rustling by securing “” in an effort to put the spoofing screws to Traditional Church proponent Carla Rolfe of Emergent No at “”

Two words: Truly Lame.

While the cessationists and charismatics appear to at least be listening to each other so far, the Emerging Church (EC) vs. Traditional Church (TC) battle has degenerated into a hatefest. I’m halfway tempted to pronounce a pox on both their houses. (I’ve previously blogged about this issue here, here, and here.) The sad part is that there are people on both sides of this EC/TC war whom I appreciate, and the truly thoughtful folks on both sides are not as heinous as they are portraying the other side to be. In many ways, both sides there are attacking the same fringe elements that are under assault in the charismatic/cessationist debate.

But assaulting the weirdos is easy. I’m a charismatic and I’m fed up with the fringe within the charismatic movement. (I’m even more fed up that the fringe may be taking over!) When examining the war going on between the EC and TC camps, each side has every right to be hacked at the lack of Christlikeness in the other side, but then we all know what Jesus said to the group ready to stone the woman caught in the midst of adultery.

I’ve got zero diplomatic skills, so if I tick someone off here in either the EC or the TC camps, I apologize in advance.

This is what the Bible says:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
—Mark 12:28-31 ESV

Earlier this week, Ingrid Schlueter of Slice of Laodicea, one of the TC blogs that is most fiercely battling the EC, had this to say about Traditional Churches:

There is, without doubt, a shortage of biblical love and concern on the part of church members in Bible preaching churches today. There is a reason that emergent churches and mega churches with small groups are attractive. There is no more empty feeling in all the world than having attended a church service as a visitor and leaving without a kind word being spoken. In my husband’s and my search for a church for our family in an area where good churches were in short supply, we found this again and again. At one point, after attending a church for almost a year, I said, “Tom, we could be in an advanced stage of rigor mortis in the back pew and I doubt seriously that anyone would notice.” … After moving to a new state, we visited one church where we needed directions. I went to the church office and said, “Excuse me, we’re just visiting and we need to find out where to put our children for Sunday School.” The woman looked me up and down rather cooly, and gestured vaguely down the hall. “Someone will help you down there.” She said. This, folks, was a small church. But I was new and uninteresting looking and that was that.

I don’t think I can add anything to her disappointment. Far too many Traditional Churches, filled with people who adore God and love the Scriptures, are getting the first part of Jesus’ two greatest commandments right, but are missing the second. Doctrine has no strength unless it’s put into practice. It’s not enough to be able to cut down every heretical anti-lapidarydipsydoodlearian out there with the Truth of the Scriptures. Yes, that has extreme value and must be guarded, but if we do not love the very people that the Lord Jesus died for, all the doctrine in the world will sit idle in our hearts, gone begging for someone, anyone to put it into practice for the disenfranchised of the world.

Ingrid’s lament is even more tragic, since it should be second nature for us to at least love the rest of the Body of Christ, even if we have difficulties with extending the love of Christ to the lost. Yet how can we do the latter, as the Lord Himself showed us, if we can’t even love our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Does the EC do this better than the TC? Probably. That need to be part of a loving community greater than oneself is one of the reasons that the EC is gaining adherents. The people who don’t normally get called to the wedding party are being handed an invitation. The Traditional Church needs to understand this and repent.

Now as open as Ingrid was about failures of the TC, I’ve searched high and low to find someone within EC ranks who was willing to take on the fact that the EC plays fast and loose with a lot of Scripture, muddying just about every doctrine it touches. With Open Theism increasingly discussed within the EC (but not in those exact terms, since the EC doesn’t desire to have exact terms about anything), one wonders if they’re doing the second commandment right, but are unraveling the tapestry that spells out that the first commandment clearly. What the TC does well—speaking to sin, holding up the cross, affirming the inerrancy of Scripture and its authority—the EC outright mangles, with many of the leading lights in the EC giving depositions on doctrine in the same manner that Clinton asked us to rethink what the definition of “is” is.

For this, the TC has every right to hold the EC’s feet to the fire, but the EC won’t stand for it. I won’t go into all the sites posting doctrinal fallacies attributed to the EC (and they are legion), but suffice it to say, it’s hard to think of the EC in any way other than a reactionary movement that can’t form a coherently Biblical reason for everything it supposedly believes. What other outcome, other than rank heresy, can be expected from the EC if it continues to deconstruct the Scriptural base on which it’s supposedly founded. The oldest lie in the Book is, “Did God really say…?” The Emerging Church needs to understand this and repent.

All this makes me tired.

Why is it incongruous to think that we can have solid doctrine that holds up the full revelation and personhood of the Triune God while ministering Christ to His Chosen and the lost around us? When those two are melded in purpose, isn’t that The True Church? Emphasizing any part of the whole revelation of the Gospel over any other part is a recipe for disaster, yet somehow Traditional Churches and Emerging Churches are doing their best to cook up such a mess.

And we wonder why the Church in the West is failing.