Today, Scot McKnight wrote a post on his blog in which he raised a question which I believe exposes the heart of much of the emerging/emergent/missional/post____/(fill in the next emerging title) church’s theology, perspective and modus operandi when approaching the Scriptures. In this particular entry, McKnight writes of a person named F.W. Newman in times past who was “disenchanted” with evangelicalism. The truth of the matter is that the guy couldn’t stand the doctrines of the Gospel, its truth claims, over a long process of entertaining personal doubts about their very truthfulness.
In a rant against doctrine itself (that is, propositional truth claims-such as, Jesus is Lord, He died in our place, He literally rose from the dead-something our culture abhors), Newman said, “Oh Dogma! Oh Dogma! How dost thy trample under foot love, truth, conscience, justice!” He couldn’t stand the justice of God as explained by Scripture (probably unlovingly by evangelicals, I grant that … though that doesn’t negate the truthfulness of the doctrines), substitutionary atonement, original sin, which inevitably renders the historic Gospel of Christ null and void. For the good news of the Gospel assumes there is a “bad news” backdrop that makes the good news, well, really good.
Now to be sure, there are a lot of things we evangelicals can glean from looking at those who have abandoned the faith in the past. If the doctrine of Paul, for instance, is not united with Paul’s expression of love toward those he encountered, this itself can eclipse the Gospel. We should be aware of the fact that sometimes people won’t hear a thing Christians have to say, be it ever so truthful, if they are jerks toward them or do not engage them in a loving and meaningful way, caring about them as people. Many evangelicals have done a disservice to Christ in various ways in their witnessing by chastising those who disbelieve. This is abhorrent and truly a tragedy.
But with that said, can we conclude then that those who have abandoned the Gospel did so because of evangelicalism or evangelicals primarily? Maybe for some, surely, but I would say certainly not for most. Let us examine though this question McKnight proposes:
“Why is there so little room for questions and explorations among the orthodox? Among evangelicals?”
My answer? (For what it’s worth): I believe that to grow in your faith, you should be asking questions and you should be prodding to know what is the truth, not just prodding and exploring for its own sake. I believe that in questioning with the goal of knowing, you will grow in your faith and belief in those very truths as you dive deep into Scriptural study. But these should not be questions of doubt and skepticism as they were for Newman it seems, so as to try and disprove the “old/conventional way of thinking,” as many emerging/emergent types are bent on doing nowadays, so much as questions of inquiry to know for certain what the Scriptures say on any number of issues for all time, to all cultures, including Western cultures.
Explorations? Now I would encourage exploration of what people are saying, in so far as it doesn’t lead you into any number of heresies that have been dealt with since the church’s inception 2000 years ago. Exploration into ideas that find little to no grounding in Scripture should be avoided at all costs. Legalism, Arianism, Modalism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism … denials (even subtle denials) of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, denials of the Trinity, denials of the nature of man and salvation; each of these are heresies Satan has raised up from within the church to try and destroy her from the inside-out. And God raised up faithful men from within the church who defended the truth of God, with Scripture.
If you are led by your theological imagination away from the path of orthodoxy laid behind us for 2000 years, perhaps you should consider that “your ideas” may be wrong. Just a thought. It’s not that those from church history are infallible voices, but rather, that they have dealt as honestly with Scripture as they knew how against the attacks of heretics from within the church and the Lord Himself has preserved orthodox truth over time, that we all may not stray from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
And here lies a fundamental issue emerging/emergent types do not consider: that the Scriptures do indeed have those answers and that they are rock solid truths from the mouth of God Himself, truths that have been defended for centuries, also known as: doctrine (again, something our culture hates, which is the very notion accepted by these very same teachers). But many times those answers are hard to hear, believe and accept, even for believers, because we’re still sinful and have to have our minds reformed (no pun intended) by the Spirit. Redefining doctrines in light of a modern philosophical system (postmodernism), doctrines that have been preserved throughout the history of the church since its inception though is not an acceptable answer to our questioning, even when we don’t understand the Scriptural answers or find them hard to believe. The problem is not with the answers, but us. We’re the sinners, not the starting point of truth, as our culture assumes.
We should avoid, at all costs, the acceptance of a secular, anti-Christian point of view that embraces skepticism as a linchpin for how you understand the Scriptures. To embrace skepticism is to embrace a form of thinking that at its heart is rooted in unbelief in what the Scriptures have clearly set forth; and in particular, unbelief in the Gospel. This unbelief results in condemnation for those who accept this hardened form of secular skepticism we find so pervasive within our culture toward the Christian faith. Maybe instead we should doubt our doubts? (Keller)
Now to be clear, it is very possible and likely that evangelicals in Newman’s life were partly responsible for his demise, in so far as their witness was concerned. They should have engaged him more and lovingly answered his questions with Scripture. Surely we can critique the “Christian culture” in which he lived and see that many of those people may not have been Christians at all, but were simply adhering to a cultural norm themselves without actually prodding their own faith to see if these things are indeed true. Maybe those believers should have been more patient with him. We can appreciate this and let it soak in that we need to be engaging people where they are and be loving, kind and patient toward them in their searching for answers. We should all be very aware that our actions and attitudes toward outsiders of the faith are a part of witnessing itself.
But I have to ask: who is ultimately to blame for Newman’s unbelief? Newman. He rejected the Gospel. He rejected the truth claims of Scripture, despite what believers did or didn’t do. He rejected that God is just and that the personal implication of this truth was that he would be judged for his own sin at the end of time. Newman will stand alone, as all of us will, before the throne of God on the last day. Will the blood of Christ cover you or not? That is the real issue. And the benefits of this atonement, the absorbing of your deserved wrath in Christ on the cross, is apprehended through faith alone in Christ alone, that He has achieved our salvation for us when we couldn’t lift a finger toward it. Do you believe this or not? There is no in between ground. You are either for Him or against Him. But you are never actually riding the fence, for there is no such person in existence.
The emerging/emergent/missional/post____/(fill in the next emerging title) church, by accepting a worldly philosophical system as the grid through which they view Scripture itself, more and more historic doctrines are questioned. Sooner or later, over time, though maybe not even realizing it, the Gospel is lost and you are then left with a Christless Christianity that amounts to pure moralism. That is the story of much of Protestantism over the 19th and 20th centuries in mainline denominations. I honestly pray this does not happen with my generation as well, although it appears to be happening even faster than it did for former generations.