Book review by Joe Slater, Thayer, Mo.
In Faith Undone, Roger Oakland, a premillennial dispensational evangelist, examines a fairly new movement among Evangelicals called the “emerging church” (or emergent movement). Having been through the periods of modernism and postmodernism, the church is now “emerging” into a new era requiring a complete re-thinking of “doing church,” so proponents of the movement say.
Emergent leaders see their movement as “a new reformation,” shattering “intolerable carapace” of “institutionalized Christianity,” even as Martin Luther revolted against Roman Catholicism. Oakland, however, believes the “emerging church” to be an “end-time deception,” in keeping with his dispensational convictions.
Oakland sees little to commend emergent ideas or practices, and much which makes them dangerous and heretical. Some would accuse him of alarmism or “sour grapes,” since he unapologetically exposes numerous high-profile Evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren, Tony Campolo, Chuck Colson, Bill Hybels, Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren.
Even Max Lucado receives a brief mention for his book A Cure for the Common Life, in which he quotes Martin Buber’s statement that “a divine spark lives in every being and thing” (emphasis mine, J.S.).
Following is a list of some of the most obvious objectionable features of emergent beliefs and practices Oakland exposes. It should be noted that not every item in the list is accepted or practiced by every person or group involved in the “emerging church” movement.
Mysticism – Roman Catholic, also other religions & New Age.
Meditation – not as in Scripture, but with chants, etc., seeking altered state of consciousness.
Contemplative spirituality, contemplative prayer (centering prayer) – emptying the mind of all thoughts via meditation and repetition of a single word or syllable – preferably a one-syllable word. Any time outside thoughts return, attention is re-focused by saying that word/syllable again.
The Jesus Prayer – While meditating, breathe in while saying “Lord Jesus, Son of God,” and breathe out saying “have mercy on me.” Repeat over & over, keep track of repetitions by using beads, knots on a rope.
Labyrinth – Similar to a maze, but has only one path – walking to the center is like a journey to the presence of God. May have “stations” along the way for prayer, etc.
Multi-Sensory worship – All five senses, thus icons, incense, darkness, emphasis on tasting the bread and wine, music.
Cosmic Christ – As opposed to the historic Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was not “THE Christ,” but had a “christ-consciousness” in him, as did Moses, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Buddha.
Eucharistic Christ – As advocates of the “emerging church” are heavily involved in Catholic mysticism, they also gravitate toward the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the worship of the “host,” consecrated wafer which the Catholic priest holds up to be worshipped just as one would worship Jesus.
Not Christians but Christ-followers – Having Christ as Lord & Savior is not a prerequisite to being “like Jesus” thus a Christ-follower; may remain Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu.
Minimizing the atonement – Some emergents say that the God who would require a blood sacrifice to atone for sin does not exist. They say Jesus died as an example of sacrificial service, but mock the idea of blood atonement for sin as being a “slaughterhouse religion.”
Experience over doctrine
God in everyone, everyone is/can be God – Or perhaps we already are God but just need to realize it – the idea is also set forth that all humans are united but just need to realize it.
Vintage Christianity – Going back to the “church fathers” (but not back to the New Testament) and adopting the “spirituality” that the “fathers” set forth. Some emergents are rejecting the idea that the church went into apostasy eventually leading to the Reformation; instead they are affirming and embracing the entirety of church history, or so they claim. One wonders if they include the various varieties of Gnostics within that.
Contextual theology – “… a way of doing theology in which one takes into account: the spirit and message of the gospel; the tradition of the Christian people; the culture in which one is theologizing; and social change in that culture, whether brought about by western technological progress or the grass-roots struggle for equality, justice and liberation” (quoting Stephan B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, pp. 42-43).
While premillennialism and Calvinism are not the major emphases of Faith Undone, I would recommend the book only to those firmly grounded in the truth and thus able to resist those two false systems. The bulk of Oakland’s work is valuable in alerting us to the trends in the religious world around us, for those trends invariably affect our own brethren. A few illustrations of that sad fact follow:
Emergent inroads among change-oriented brethren
Abilene Christian University
“The Spiritual Life Core would like to extend an invitation for students to attend ‘Come to the Quiet’ at 8:45 Sunday evening in Chapel on the Hill. This will be a time of contemplative prayer and worship in the form of a Taize service. . .”
One Internet site says that “Taize worship includes candlelight, prayers, readings, silence, and soft music with repetitive words led by a keyboard and flute, or violin, and other instruments. The service is very meditative and offers a wonderful opportunity to be silent and center on the Lord. Come as you are – and listen.”
“Title: Be Still and Know that I am God An Introduction to Contemplative Prayer
Presenter: Jackie Halstead, Abilene, Tex. (chair of dept. of Marriage & Family Therapy)
Description: Contemplative prayer has been practiced throughout the history of the Christian church. One example of this prayer form – imaging prayer – will be taught to increase an awareness of God’s presence.”
“Title: Up Willow Creek Without A Hybels (leading by cultivating missional imagination)
Presenters: Chris Flanders (Abilene, TX), Robert Foster (Dallas, TX), and Mark Hopkins (Pasadena, CA)
Description: For a new missional frontier, traditional patterns of leadership that emphasize problem solving and predicting outcomes will simply not be adequate. Missional leadership will need to develop Christian imagination through the cultivation of spiritual practices. Come and explore what possibilities leadership on the missional frontier holds.”
Mysticism in a Modern World
“Focused on reaching the students during Lectureship, the student track offers more student-friendly topics, such as mysticism, at later times in the evening. Monday night at 8:45 PM in the Den CafA of Barret Hall, the Spiritual Spectrum topic is Mysticism in a Modern World, hosted by Randy Harris, instructor of Bible, missions and ministry. Harris said the topic was picked because it appeals to students. ‘The director of the lectures wanted to have things that the whole campus would be involved in, especially students,’ Harris said. ‘This is aimed at students, not the guests.’ ‘I’ve done a number of things related to the topic,’ Harris said. He’s spent time at a Trappist monastery, a Buddhist retreat, a Celtic retreat house and a hermit community for 40 days of silent prayer. ‘We’re in a world where everyone is looking for religious experience,’ Harris said. ‘Monks and hermits are people who seem to know about that – that’s why I’ve gone to check ‘em out.’ . . . Though he studies mysticism, Harris said his education on the subject includes learning through experience. ‘I’ve done a whole lot of reading about it, but you get to a point where you don’t want to read about it,’ Harris said. ‘I’ve really been on a search and kinda decided I would go any place in the world to try and learn from people who know about meditation or contemplative prayer or who were practicing a mystical tradition.’”
Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Tex.
Experience Contemplative Prayer: This class will continue to meet from 7:00 to 8:30 PM each Wednesday . . . led by Jackie Halstead
GB5553 Spiritual Formation and Guidance (Spring 2008). Professor: Gary Holloway
Course Description: This course explores how God works in us through his Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ and to empower us for ministry. In the course students will experience spiritual disciplines for themselves, develop a rule of life, and be invited into the ministry of spiritual guidance.
….. This course assumes some familiarity with the practice of the spiritual disciplines (various books recommended, others assigned)
Select Bibliography included books by Richard Foster on Spiritual Disciplines, books on Contemplative Prayer, Centering Prayer, Mysticism, etc.)
ZOE Group Ministries/New Wineskins
Look to the Hills Leadership Conference (Oct. 4-5, 2007)
Guest Keynote Speaker: Brian D. McLaren
“We will be challenged by the ZOE Growing Deeper Team and Brian McLaren to grow deeper in our spiritual life and to live a transformed life.”
Brian McLaren is one of the main “movers and shakers” in the “emerging church” movement. This is freely acknowledged in the biographical information posted on the ZOE Group/New Wineskins web site.
This extensively documented book contains a table of contents, 13 chapters, 25 pages of endnotes (517 notations) and an index. The index is inadequate, one of the weaknesses of the book.
Book information: Roger Oakland, Faith Undone. Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007. 263 pages. Price: $12.95 (shipping additional; www.lighthousetrails.com or 1-866-876-3910).