I have great hopes for the Emerging Church. I would like it to be a force from vitalization of the Christian movement in the West and beyond. But I think there are a number of critical issues it must come to grips with if it is to be all it can be. Here are my concerns:
The EC is drawing a false dichotomy between Secularized Spirituality and New Religious Movements. I don’t know why I need to keep saying this but try as you might, you cannot separate the commercialisation of Yoga from the westernization of Hinduism, the commercialization of meditation from the westernization of Buddhism or the commercialization of Enneagram therapy from the re-branding of western esotericism, that is, the occult. Both are intimately related. They are two sides of the same coin. Each one feeds the other. So you cannot hope to understand what is happening at alternate spirituality festivals and in alternate spirituality books unless you get this essential point. Be wary of approaching the subject of new religions and secular spirituality in a modernist either/or way, for it is a post-modern both/and phenomenon.
- If the EC wants to become seriously missional it must develop a robust theology of other religions that is BOTH respectful AND challenging. All too often EC leaders are shying away from the urgent task of doing alt. apologetics because of a hangover from fundamentalism. But if you keep gazing inwards on your past baggage (post-whateverism) to the neglect of the demands of mission field, you risk making the error of the opposite extreme –a position that lacks any backbone whatsoever. Again, this either/or thinking is hopelessly modernist. From my experience, if you really want to engage in missional conversations, it is more important to develop alt. apologetics that alt. worship.
- If the EC wants to develop a truly alt. apologetic it must learn to discern between pan-theism, panen-theism and mono-theism. If modernist fundamentalists have been guilty of overemphasizing the transcendent with their dalliances into functional gnosticism, modernist liberals have been equally guilty of overemphasizing the immanent with their dalliances into sub-biblical universalism and panentheism. Again, can those of us who would embrace a post-modern alternative move beyond the either/or polarizations and explore a both/and position? It concerns me when I see universalist and panentheistic perspectives come into EC conversations without a word of critique. We deconstruct fundamentalism, why is liberalism such a sacred cow? Sure, we need to approach the theological task humbly. But since when did humility and discernment become mutually exclusive? The word ‘god’ may be infinitely flexible within alternate spirituality – but it is not infinitely flexible within scripture. Can’t we see there are limits to the inclusiveness project when it comes to our understanding of God (or gods)? Incorporating the insights of apophatic theology is not an excuse for theological vagueness. Let’s be clear that Jesus was a monotheist – BOTH deism AND panentheism take us beyond the scriptural witness. If history has any meaning for us we must take this seriously. If you refer to the story of Paul at the Areopagus it is clear that he went to great pains to find connection points with the Athenian Pagans. But that was not at the expense of being fluffy on God’s nature, it was not at the expense of offering a challenge to their within their reference frame. Let’s be clear that while our Creator indwells all creation – he remains distinct from it. He is holy. On the subject of mystical unity, pantheistic, panentheistic and monotheistic teaching is not identical. For monotheists, unity with God is intrinsically relational. Our God is a god of love. And love requires differentiation, love requires action, love is not simply a matter of pure being. Monotheistic mysticism is personal in a way which pantheistic and panentheistic mysticism can only aspire to.