Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, We’re Not Listening!


Fingers in earsAll over the Christian Blogosphere the talk seems to gather sooner or later around one topic: the “Emerging Church” or “Emergent” (although there have been some comments that they are not strictly the same thing, for my purposes here I will consider them one and just call it the “EC” from here on.) While the EC considers itself Evangelical, hardcore orthodox Evangelicals have criticized the EC and buried it under a list of grievances, primarily dealing with aberrant theology and doctrine. Not a day goes by that my Bloglines list of Christian blogs does not feature some blogger shellacking the EC.

I’ve talked about the EC in several posts on Cerulean Sanctum, but I want to come out and take a firm stand publicly. I do not support the EC as it exists. I agree that it is making concessions with the world in order to make immutable doctrines more appealing to itching ears. Too many of the leaders in the EC are not-so-closeted Universalists and I personally think that guts the Gospel and cheapens the deaths of martyrs. The cross also takes on a bizarre appearance within EC doctrine. Open Theism runs rampant in the movement. I also find it arrogant that the EC has put the Bible on the table in order to analyze the veracity of this truth or that; there are things of God we should never deconstruct. We too easily forget that sin entered the world after these words were spoken: “Did God really say…?”

But I want to proclaim this to all the orthodox believers out there, particularly those who label themselves Evangelicals, and especially if you enjoy throwing stones at the EC. The EC exists for one reason and one reason only: because Evangelicals blew it. The EC exists as a reaction to the fact that Evangelicals have largely failed to address several key aspects of Christian life and practice. The EC exists because some people got sick of the concessions to materialism and worldliness that have defined many Evangelicals in America. The EC exists because far too many Evangelicals in the United States and Canada have lost their first love.

The issue as I see it is that Evangelicals are only compounding the very problems they are accused of by the EC by their constant tirade against it. It is possible to reject the doctrinal aberrations in the EC and still thoughtfully listen to its criticism of today’s strain of Evangelicalism. I find that criticism to be highly astute in several areas:

1. Many Evangelicals have lost the mystery and awesomeness of God. They have reduced God to a buddy they carry around in a shirt pocket and pull out whenever they need him.

2. Too many Evangelicals have little or no concern for people who do not possess what they have. I’ve even sat in on small groups of Evangelicals who spent part of their time griping about the poor around them, but without any sign that they would lift a finger to do anything to help them.

3. Evangelicals look too much like the world and have lost the aroma of God that pervades the saints.

4. Evangelicals are too often enshrouded in a cocoon of doctrine and never come out to put any of it to practical use.

5. Evangelicalism has lost the focus on Jesus and has become self-centered.

Personally, I believe that every one of those skewerings of Evangelicalism by the EC is sadly accurate. The problem is that Evangelicalism is simply unwilling to listen to criticism. Whenever the EC answers criticism from Evangelicals and offers their own criticism of Evangelicalism, the Evangelicals turn into five-year olds with their fingers in their ears chanting, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, we’re not listening!”

Now before I get lumped into the EC crowd just because I’m pointing out this truth, I want to appeal to someone well-respected within Evangelical circles who has made every single point I listed above—points that the dreaded EC is making, too. That would be Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer prophesied (and I believe his voice is prophetic) each of the five points I mentioned above, points that are considered EC today. Despite the near sainthood status that many Evangelicals give to Schaeffer, it appears that too few are willing to listen to the criticisms he leveled at Evangelicalism in North America in books like The Great Evangelical Disaster.

And so I end with this: Take the fingers out of your ears, Evangelicals. Be more willing to admit that you’ve made mistakes and fumbled the Gospel in several places. No one will hate you for it; in truth, some might be more willing to listen to what you have to say. Keep the Lord’s doctrine pure, certainly, but be more human with it at the same time.

33 thoughts on “Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, We’re Not Listening!

  1. Carla

    Good words – and for the record – not all who appear to be throwing stones, are.

    I see a nasty tendency on both sides of this issue to lean toward “guess what I read on so and so’s blog, unreal, you’re not gonna believe this!”

    Alot of assumptions are being made, and that’s a shame.

    I try to read every word from a pro-ec proponent with a fair attitude toward what they’re saying. I try to do the same with the critics.

    It’s not easy. Especially when solid Biblical teaching is dumped, and/or when character is maligned just to make a few points with others, or score some large blog-comment numbers. (and yes, I’ve read admissions of “that ought to get the comments flying!).

    My solution? Back to the Bible… massive time in prayer, and listening and following the leading of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, missions work (of all types) and evangelical leaders raising the standard HIGH, when it comes to holy living and conduct, sound Biblical teaching and practical application to every day life.

    Pie in the sky? Nope… I know believers who are doing this very thing.

    Maybe I’m over-simplistic, but I genuinely believe, that if a man truly loves the Lord, these are the things that he would be busy doing.

    I’ve rambled on enough. Thanks for this – I appreciate your words.

    SDG – Carla

  2. Excellent, balanced post. I agree that the Emergents are deconstructing the gospel. But then, so are the seeker-sensitives.

    On the other hand, thank you for asking those questions and pointing out that they had been asked before—by Schaeffer…that is something new I learned today.

  3. Teresa

    OK Dan, I made a boo boo, putting you in my Emergent Catagory on my blog. It’s a new catagory for me. I guess just like the “Evangelicals, we have just created another catagory” I have always said that we are followers of Christ—that it! I love your perspective! My husband and I left our SO Baptist, Evangelical, Mega Church after serving on staff and in leadership for 8 years. We have begun and network of home and small churches in the area which are very diverse in nature and discipling others to do the same. I think though that you are putting people who call themselves “emergent” in a catagory as well—they are not all the same either. Just like evangelicals are not all the same…Can we manage to look past all of that. We just need to find the balance in the old and new as God did when He came to earth as Jesus!

  4. Teresa

    Be definition: emergent, rising out of URGENT. Based on what I have read of you, I would ASSume that. My Blog is dedicated to the Restoration of Churches and Hearts to the Main Thing—Jesus. Please do me a favor and read my latest post on Old Religion and let me know what you think.

  5. Surphing

    If the Emergent Church movement is so against the consumerism and megachurchism that exists in “evangelical Christianity” today, then why do they invite leaders of such, like Rick Warren, to speak at the Emergent seminars? Ever take a look at the speaker list of Emergent Convention or the National Pastor’s Convention?

    Come now, I’m not buying this reasoning hook, line, and sinker. They may think it doesn’t fit what they see as a better mold, but not so much that they separate themselves from the leaders of it.

    Of course, then, there’s the Emergent bookline that is coming through Baker books. Conventions, books, seminars, worship….seems to echo that which they dispise.

    At any rate is there room for criticsm in “professing evangelical Christianity”? You betchya. But the problem is not resolved by half-hearted protests. Nor is it resolved by going back to Rome or the New Age. If anything, the EC is very much self-centered. It is the “your not the boss of me” syndrom that so many display when given an absolute truth based on Scripture.

    No, the EC movement is about rebellious young folks who want to do things their way and think they’ve found something nobody has ever thought of (incense, labrythins, all things worldly and Roman/New Age come to mind). They are reinventing the wheel…a broken wheel.

    The answer, is of course, Scripture. Believing it and living it, and dying on the hill for it.


  6. Teresa,

    I don’t really consider myself anything but a Christian. I eschew the “Evangelical” tag because I have a strong base in “Reformational” thinking. I shy away from calling myself “Reformed” because I am not a Calvinist, slewing more toward Lutheran theology than Presbyterian. I am most definitely a “Charismatic,” but don’t identify with today’s charismatics. And while I attend a non-denominational Pentecostal church, I am not a “Pentecostal.” Many of my Christian social ideas resemble those of the Mennonite and Ananaptist traditions.

    I guess the only way to look at me is that I’m a “Mongrel” in the Faith.

  7. Surphing,

    Don’t fall for the very thing I’m critizing here. You and I both know that together we could pick every Christian thought group out there to pieces if you gave us enough time. I could find fault and inconsistencies in nearly every denomination, author, ministry, pastor, teacher, prophet and whatever. To do so merely ignores our own foibles.

    How do Evangelicals clean up their act? The EC is asking some legitimate questions amidst all the trash. Let’s throw the trash out and see if their reactionary response has some teeth to it.

    Yes, I painted with broad brushes here, but only because my point isn’t about the broad strokes themselves but about God might want to be saying to a largely comatose Church. Does every stroke apply to every church and every believer? Of course not. But nothing will be accomplished unless we start asking big questions, some of which might apply to you and others to me.

    I love the Church of the Lord. I want to see Her bright and shining. I think you desire the same thing. How can we work together to make that vision possible?

  8. Carla,

    Thanks for coming over from “Emergent No,” I read it every day via Bloglines. I’ve seen a lot of growth in your blog since you started and appreciate what you have to say, I hope you can help rein in the excesses of the EC while also challenging the traditional Evangelical church to consider shoring up some of its own house.

  9. Jennifer


    As usual, you have written an excellent post and hit the nail on the head. I don’t know about all this emergent stuff; seems like name calling and hair splitting to me. But you are absolutely right: people are flocking to it because evangelicals blew it. And I agree, these people have some very valid things to say, and we’d better start listening if we are going to bring others to Jesus.

  10. PFGW

    Well said, Dan. Alot of Evangelicals are responsible for a good deal of the “attitude” of many in the EC. And there are many current Evangelicals who do
    agree that the envangelical community bare “some” blame.

    The flip side; it’s one thing to rebel against contemporary envangelical’s modus operandum, quite another to be rebelling against the very word of God!

    But God causes all things for good and I believe that the EC is finding out that the church is coming out of it’s coma!

  11. Teresa

    Dan, Thanks for the response. I think that everything crosses over-lapping. And Jennifer is right, there is a reason that there is anything emergent, but it is not just the evangelicals, but Christians as a whole. In the end, there will be no emergent, no evangelicals, no reformed, NOTHING! Lets get back to the MAIN THING!

  12. thad

    Excellent post. While I don’t completely agree with the characterization of EC (or at least believe there’s enough deviation from this characterization to be more cautious about generalization), I don’t need to pick that fight and I’m otherwise content to say “amen” to what you’ve written. I made a very similar contention about 17 comments down on this EmergentNo post (http://emergentno.blogspot.com/2005/06/emergent-church-movement-appoints.html), but it was mostly ignored. I’m thrilled that you’ve elevated the conversation.

  13. “The Great Evangelical Disaster” has already come and gone. The only thing we’re doing now is just picking through the rubble, in a confused daze.

    I read Schaeffer’s book several years ago. I think I saw it at Borders still.

  14. john o'keefe


    interesting – good points. it seem you know more about why we are doing what we do them mot evagelicals – i see this as hope 🙂 maybe those who simply want to jump on us when we say “we are emerging” will want to talk with us and open a dialog with all who are in the emerging world 🙂

  15. Reloaded

    Like “evangelical” or “fundamentalist”, the term “emergent” covers a great many things, not all of which are likely the will of Christ. I believe a broad brush was used here.

    I will say this about the emergent church in general. Most seem focused on reaching out to people burned by established churches. I am one of those burned people. I was told by a Baptist minister that my mother’s pastorship was unbiblical, not of God. I was told all denominations other than a certain denomination were going to hell. I was told that certain sins could undo your salvation. I was told that I was going against the will of God if I did not spank my children.

    Burned. Burned. Burned. In the Name of God.

    The emergent church I know and am now working to birth in our local community is about returning to the core. To Christ. To enduring salvation by grace, not works of any kind.

    I bristle at the broad brush stroke of apostasy for emergent churches. I bristle at the lack of humility when established churches firmly declare they are the sole knower and keeper of God will.

    I am not an advocate of Universalism. I believe salvation comes through Christ alone. And perhaps that’s the biggest problem many other churchpeople have with me. My faith is too simple, too broad. But it is not universalism. I am not a threat to the established church. I am a child of God, as those who worship in established churches are.

    I am a different lifeboat, that’s all, and my eyes are on those in the water drowning. Many of whom jumped out or were pushed out of other lifeboats. In the end, that’s all the various Christian denominations are – different lifeboats. I’m not interested in comparing boats or defending the construction of my boat as much as I’m interested in helping people get out of the water by telling them the Good News.

    A good topic nonetheless. Like John, I also see hope here. Thanks 🙂 You have another (emergent) reader now.

  16. An Intellectual Tortoise

    MacLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” is my only exposure to the EC movement (aside from the usual invectives hurled about in the ‘sphere and conversations with others as uninformed as myself). Based on it, I support your thesis. I can’t really say I know what their theology is (or the particular abberations people are concerned about)… because although I read it trying to figure out what that is (as if — I’m learning now — that’s possible), I soon realized that I was reading an insightful critique of where I’ve come from, where I’m at and where I thought I should be heading.

  17. This is about a month late, but I’ve been out of the country. 🙂 Catching up on all your posts.

    Here’s a link to an article that Frank Viola wrote to those who would consider themselves to be part of the “EC.”

    I’m hearing a lot of the Francis Schaeffer book, will definitely check it out.

  18. Jim from OldTruth.com

    Dan said:
    “…the only way to look at me is that I’m a ‘Mongrel’…”

    Should it be a red flag, to any of us, who have created a “denomination of one”? Is biblical-truth really a buffet-style meal, where we pick and choose what we want? What does it say when our buffet plate has such an odd combination of different foods on it, that nobody else has ever assembled a plate like that before? It’s a one-of-a-kind religion. Nobody can have true unity (emphasis on the word “true”) with such a person, because nobody else believes the same way. And yet, surely there is absolute truth on all doctrines. God has a definite opinion, and definition of “truth”. To say that, “I really think that my odd mixture of buffet food is the one that’s true, and everybody else is off base” seems a little outrageous.

    In my opinion, the Reformers and Puritans had the right idea. Lets unify behind major creeds and confessions, and at whatever point we disagree, lets reason together to determine the truth of the bible. Lest I be misunderstood, creeds and confessions are summaries of the bible, and not replacements for it.



  19. Jim,

    No one is utterly pure in their doctrine and the practice of it at all times. Not even Peter was immune from falling prey to the circumcision party.

    This is NOT to say that absolutes do not exist, but as I responded to your comment about Calvinism vs. Arminianism, we do not always see all sides of a single truth or we cherrypick what portions of that truth appeal to us. Is the picture a vase or is it two faces? Can’t it be both?

    Are you a cessationist? I am not. Are you a paedobaptist? Even within the ranks of Calvinists there is not agreement on that issue. You will not find, even within the same church, two people with absolutely identical positions on every fine point of doctrine. We are wiling to let some of those finer points slide most of the time, but if we hew to the position you are claiming, we can’t even do that. I’m not sure if anyone living is 100% in every single aspect of doctrine and practice. If we use the standard you claim, then I fear that almost everyone is practicing “another gospel.”

    You are right in saying that there is an absolute truth. I believe that, too. I also believe we can have certainty on the most important issues of faith. But I’m willing to also say that coming to that complete and absolute understanding is a process. And each of us is in a slightly different place on the road to that absolute. None of us will know perfectly this side of heaven, though, but we’re getting there.

    When I say I’m a “mongrel,” I’m saying that my exposure to different denominations and theologies has been used of God to form me spiritually. I got The Priesthood of All Believers from the Lutherans, the Authority of Scripture from the Presbyterians, the Power of the Holy Spirit from The Assemblies of God, and so on. Each of those denominations emphasized one part of the whole of the Gospel. My encounters with those denominations resulted in the expansion of my belief and practice because of those emphases. And I think God is fully behind everything I have encountered. If He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, then I will not question His wisdom in how He has led me. If every Christian in this country were called to converge on New York City, each of us would take a slightly different path to get there. Jesus gave us the map, but our life experiences and His leading will cause all of us to be in different places at different times. Spurgeon had his path to Christ, but certainly yours was not the same as his. Nor is your discipleship playing out exactly like his. The same is true for all of us. There is no sin in that, only the wisdom of God.

  20. Not everyone who is “emergent” likes R. Warren or purpose-driven. I think that there are some that are leaving churches because they feel no warmth there, just peer pressure to conform. They do not receive teaching, but dogma. In some churches they think that man was made for the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for man, like Jesus tried to tell the Pharisees. Rules and pressure instead of freedom, conformity instead of love and fellowship. Where is the Holy Spirit in that?

  21. You know I come from a church that considers itself Emergent… kind of. Vineyard… at least our Vineyard here… and I pray to God that we never stray from the balance we have now. At times I’ve asked for something more on one side of it but I’m beginning to see the beauty and wisdom in that balance. We tend to act emergent… but our beliefs never fall from what the Bible teaches. We don’t skip over doctrine to please men and bring them into the seats.

    Thanks for the self examination Dan. 😉

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