The EC: can it be all it can be?

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:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

20 thoughts on “The EC: can it be all it can be?

  1. Definitely want to engage with your debate (and the meditation blog), but responding for the moment to your recent comment/ visiting card on my blog. So, big thanks for dropping by! I agree with this: ‘All too often EC leaders are shying away from the urgent task of doing alt. apologetics because of a hangover from fundamentalism.’ My position (vocation might be a better way of describing it) is deliberately to push my understanding of Love to its absolute limits – and only then, if I find something of value, to find a way to speak about it. It’s not really a risk, if God paid the ultimate price in order to win us back to him, and if His motivation was Love. But in another sense it is a courting of risk, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to do it! Still, I think I’ve found some interesting stuff which I’m itching to share. Just not in this comment!
    Just in passing – how do you square these two thoughts? ‘Again, this either/or thinking is hopelessly modernist’ – ‘Let’s be clear that Jesus was a monotheist – BOTH deism AND panentheism take us beyond the scriptural witness.’ The second statement sounds awfully either/or to me…

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  2. Steve,
    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. In various passages of the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:32, 17:11; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; Proverbs 4:27) we find various injunctions from God (through his prophets and sages) to be wary against falling to either the left or the right in our spiritual walk.
    The visual image in my head is one of a road, where straying from the path in either direction leads into messy places (actually, Pure Land Buddhism supplies an excellent alternate image of a river of fire and a river of water on either side of the narrow path to the Pure Land, but I digress)
    My point is that modernity has trained us well to think in terms of dual polarities whereby the opposite of evil is good. But is this biblical? Or does it sound more like the cosmological dualism of Zoroastrianism? I am inclined towards the latter conclusion.
    What I think we need is moderation in life. I reject simple good-evil dichotomies, because, well, it’s simply not that simple. More often than not, the opposite of one evil is an equal and opposite evil. More often than not, good is often found in the balance of opposites, in moderation, not the extremes.
    What I see emerging in the emerging church (not in all sectors, but in enough for concern) is a headlong dash away from the horrors of fundamentalism, but without any caution, without any realisation of the need for caution, as if the opposite of fundamentalism must be intrinsically good.
    Oh, if only things were that simple!
    I say this not as a theoretician, but as one who made that mistake, who plunged headlong into pantheism, and wellllll away from Christ. Like a good relativist I came to see good and evil as equally illusory, so that anything could be justified. Fleeing from legalism I plunged into licence and reinvented Christ in my own image, New Age style.
    Ironically, the panENtheism of people like Matthew Fox is something I played with on my way back from pantheism, on my way back towards monotheism. What it made me realise is how truely neglectful the contemporary church has been in articulating what monotheism really has to say to us in terms of God’s transcendance and immanence in tension and balance.
    So to sum up, I suppose you could say I’m either/or on whether to be or not to be in balance but both/and when it comes to speaking about competing imbalances. Not so simple, but hopefully that clarifies.

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  3. What about the panentheism of the Rhineland mystics like Meister Eckhard and Julian of Norwich? You don’t have to go to the likes of Matthew Fox for panentheism.

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  4. It is an open question as to whether panentheism is precisely what the Rhineland mystics espoused.
    But even if that technical issue is laid aside, suppose they were? The fact that some people in the Christian tradition have espoused panentheism does not automatically sanctify or legitimate it as a theological stance.
    The Ebionite, Docetist, and Arian views of Christ were theological stances in the early Christian era — side by side they are mutually exclusive views. How do we arbitrate between these theologies since they cannot all be true? Should we re-engineer those ancient Christologies, and if we did would we still be confessing a triune understanding of God? Why were those views discarded by the Church?
    While the process view of God attempts to sort out an alternate theodicy, the inherent difficulties are that one must choose between today’s theologians who espouse it and key biblical passages that plainly undermine that view. The process view creates a whole new set of problems that makes it stumble and totter, and in that “process” it does not succeed in solving the conundra it originally endeavoured to resolve.

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  5. Phil, you seem to endorse a propositional concept of truth that I don’t share, so I don’t think we will get very far in our discussion on that front.
    However, I would like to point out that the heresies you named were all named as heresies by Councils that were under the authority of Caesar, and so I choose to render those namings-as-heresies unto Caesar, and Caesar only.
    In mentioning the Rhineland mystics, I only wanted to point out that Christian tradition is much more fluid and diverse than the strictly monotheistic Augustine-Aquinas-Luther-Calvin part of that tradition. If we limit ourselves to reading the Bible through that part of the tradition only, then we choose a pair of reading glasses that will make all Scripture look like part of that part of the tradition. I don’t think that’s a reading that’s fair to Scripture.
    To go further: I don’t think Scripture is interested in a propositionally true view of the various flavors of theism. Strict monotheism is a philosophical/theological position, and Scripture is simply not interested (or, at least, only interested in passing) in those questions. We err when we assume Scripture is intersted in our doctrinal questions. If it were, it wouldn’t offer supporting evidence for several different positions on the theism question. We can choose, if we like, to subsume one set of Biblical evidence under another set, hoping for propositional harmony, but that is our choice, not Scripture’s.
    But then I’m writing this as a unitarian/Pelagian/universalist/panentheist who was once very orthodox. So take what this heretic says with a grain of salt.

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  6. “What I see emerging in the emerging church (not in all sectors, but in enough for concern) is a headlong dash away from the horrors of fundamentalism, but without any caution, without any realisation of the need for caution, as if the opposite of fundamentalism must be intrinsically good.
    thank you for this- it is a route I almost took and see others taking-there is a need for some serious dialogue on the direction of EC – achieving the balance between the tension of two evils can be like walking a tight rope- but worth it.

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  7. I appreciate your autobiographical allusion to former orthodoxy now transitioned into your stance in panentheism-universalism (so many isms in vocabulary these days, a funny hang-over from the concept of heresy/orthodoxy). While it is not for me to engage in conjectures in your own psychology of religion, perhaps your own story contributes very strongly to your interpretation of traditional monotheism.
    I do not propose any ad hominem reply but merely raise the impression that springs to mind in view of your remarks here.
    Nor do I propose any proof texting of the Bible here. However it does strike me that contra your suggestion about bringing my own doctrinal questions to the text, there is indeed some interest in the texts themselves in declaring monotheism as it unfolds progressively through the Biblical books.
    On the one hand there are those kinds of passages that repudiate idols as false deities (either posited as fallen angels in Psalm 106:34-37; or as powerless objects like in Jeremiah 10:5 and Psalm 115:3-8). There is the divine injunction at the start of the Decalogue “no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3-4).
    Again there are the statements in some of the prophets “Before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10-11; and several other passages might be mentioned that echo that thought).
    If we are guided by the thoughts and statements in these texts and recalling the context of rival worship in ancient Israel Yahweh vs Baal, Asherah etc, at least in the religious history of biblical times there is clearly some polemic about false deities, and ensuing calls to forsake all such deities for the exclusive worship of Yahweh. That sounds like monotheism was on the menu in those days.
    Whether one deduces propositions from the texts or not, the various plotlines of the respective books speak on their own grounds about the preferential confession of Yahweh and no one else.
    I appreciate also that you need not feel inclined to agree with the various church councils from Nicea onwards. Fine.
    However my allusion to the varieties of Christology was not about councils and their presumed place as a theological source of authority; indeed the Ebionite and Docetist views were not in view at Nicea (just Arius’ views).
    The basic idea I am directing attention to is that in these early Christologies there was no room for rapprochement between them on their own terms (irrespective of what I think of them or what the Conciliar movement thought).
    It is difficult to see how one could simultaneously or even paradoxically affirm both Docetism (Jesus is not really human just looks like one) and Ebionite teaching (asserting genuine humanity but unable to unqualifiedly uphold any hint of deity). These views both emerged in the 2nd century AD well before Constantine and Nicea. Those who espoused Ebionite teaching could not concede anything to the Docetists, and vice verse. That’s the way it was in those times. That’s what appears to me and is not arising from any a priori commitment on my part to a specific epistemology.
    We all need to be sober and reflective about our prejudices, the social contexts in which we construct our knowledge, and being intuitive to the radical swings of the pendulum in our inner selves. The liberal Protestant tradition carries with it its own portrait of evangelicals and fundamentalists; and the same is true as to how liberals are imaged in the traditions of fundamentalists.
    I find it interesting to see that when “both/and” becomes “either/or” distortions occur theologically. So it is both transcendence and immanence, not either transcendence or immanence. I see the biblical witness to the ruach of God in the Hebrew texts clearly upholds immanence. I see the biblical witness to God as sovereign over creation and distinct from the creation also upheld. In this I see the both/and within monotheism.
    The irksome problem as I find it is the unpaid bills of the church. When the Church goes silent on something a theological debt is created that will then take shape and ensue once the gap is intuited. The pendulum swings back and forth at times with extreme reactions on both sides. So an overdose on transcendence and near silence or lip-service to immanence can easily fire up a robust immanentist view (but with the genuine possibility of transcendence being de-emphasised).
    But I am not so sure that in exiting out of one tradition we necessarily find the problem solved in its mirror opposite. I am not imputing this to you but the point I’d be inclined to observe is if my journey takes me out of the suffocation and atrophy of one camp I need to be attuned to the issue of discerning that “the enemy of my enemy” is not necessarily my theological friend.
    Cheers

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  8. Phil, I appreciate your thoughtful reply.
    I fully acknowledge that the Bible predominantly points toward monotheism, and I should have made that more clear. But this is a late development, by the prophets. In earlier portions, the existence of other deities is assumed as a matter of fact; worship of Yahweh alone is endorsed within that context. It is only later, in prophets like Isaiah, that the existence of other gods is flatly denied, a theological innovation arrived at during/after the Exile.
    We have been taught, in turn, to read that monotheism back into other, earlier parts of the Bible, even when it is not there. For example, “let us make man in our image.” And the divine court in Job. And the Exodus passage you mention, in which Yahweh seems to assume the existence of other gods even as he demands they be ignored. Later monotheisms have forced passages like these into a monotheistic bent, but I believe that is a distortion of the text. More than one theism is present in Scripture. I think it is helpful to let them sit alongside one another as much as possible. Further, the presence of more than one theism indicates that there is value in each.
    In mentioning Nicea, I wanted to point out two things. One, that imperial power played a central role in defining what we now know as Christian orthodoxy, a role that to me seems counter to Jesus’ teachings. Two, that there have been other Christianities existing alongside Caesarean orthodoxy, Christianities that may be legitimate experiences of Jesus. As you point out, some of these Christianities pre-date Nicea. I want to ask: what if Nicea chose the wrong horse? Or even, what if we don’t need to choose one horse? Maybe the value is in the race itself.
    I take your point about the pendulum swinging. My own panentheism derives in part from my profound experience of God’s immanence and lack of experience of God’s transcendence. (My unitarianism, by the way, is one of the Third Person, not the First.) But I shy away from pantheism because I see value in preserving the independence of God. I find latent biblical support for my panentheism in passages like “in him we live and move and have our being,” but that is neither her nor there.
    One final point. The apparent monotheism of Jesus served a practical, compassionate purpose (“Abba, Father”). The Abba-hood of Jesus’ God seems to transcend our own theisms, and be uninterested in them. The final test, then, of our theisms is how well they assist each of us in bearing the fruit by which we are known. If more than one theism can make that happen — which I believe to be the case — then so much the better.
    Best, and peace.

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  9. Matt, Phil, Chutney, and others – a very interesting conversation; one a number of us are having, though nuanced differently in relation to “spiritual direction” and “generic god” language (where does that lead to, given, often, an unwillingness to differentiate and orientate ones questions and searching around God-revealed-in-Jesus (a distinctly Christian naming and necessary limiting of God-language).

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  10. Fascinating stuff, thanks.
    I strongly disagree about panentheism as I think it certainly *can* be personal. I also think that we need to be doing more than pushing monotheism. Isn’t it trinitarianism (how ever that is imaged) that is the point?

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  11. Graham
    Of course trinitarian monotheism is what is important, which is where Matt started this post as he argues in passing that Deism (which is monotheistic) is biblical deficient. I think that Matt is concerned though that some key issues are being side-stepped in some EC discourses and this has serious ramifications for where those folks are headed theologically, apologetically, ethically and missionally.
    It is not disputed either that panentheism offers a personal God; that is the terminological distinction between it and pantheism (all is god). The root issue is panentheism the way forward for the Church?
    I feel (and I believe Matt concurs) that quite a few people who self-identify with emerging churches or experimental missions are not merely talking about god-language, but are reacting against their hand-me-down portrait of the Trinity. The question has sparked some, but not all, into exploring panentheism as an option. Fine. Reflection is necessary, listening is essential and so too is critical discernment. We see reflections and some listening but we ask: where is the discernment?
    At the heart of Matt’s original post is a burning question: Have we reflected on the current reactions in EC against “hand-me-down” faith? Here are four areas that could be explored further:-
    1. Some seem to be in the equivalent of a 12-step recovery programme because their childhood church experience has proven deficient, and much angst is expressed about being “post-everything”. For some involved in this process it appears at times that the proverbial baby is dumped with the bathwater. To what extent then is there a radical swing of the pendulum – “fleeing fundamentalism” and gleefully entering into “the forbidden fruit” of theologies that were villified in childhood (but is this happening at the cost of sober theological reflection on the serious outcomes of embracing these “fruits”). And if some in EC are having a liminal moment in exiting, then the formation of the alternative is not grounded in a holist and prudent reflection but in strong reactions to the immediate or inherited past. What can sometimes occur is that one becomes a curious mirror image of the thing that is being exited from.
    2. “My church experiences” or “my bible college experiences” were a mental and spiritual strait-jacket, seems to be the kairos moment for some. They have realised that there are unanswered questions (or defective theology), it is good and proper to explore new horizons.
    However, are we honestly asking ourselves: “I know that my picture of God was inadequate because of what I was raised in … but does that mean that the portrait I grew up with and have outgrown is actually coterminous with classic trinitarian theology?” Put another way, can I tell the difference between the mainsteam Christian thought on the Trinity (Catholic, Orthodox Anglican and Protestant) and that which I learned at church (or even in a denominational college)? It may be that what was received at church is itself simply a defective or simplistic picture that should indeed be done away with. If that picture badly botched up what the Church’s witness and mature thought on the Trinity has been, have we differentiated between “my botched theology” and the central tradition?
    3. In theological ruminations, especially those that purport to be motivated by a new surge of interest in missions in the urban west, have we honestly appraised the “unpaid bills of the church”? The unpaid bills arise when gaps in praxis and gaps in teaching occur, and into the vacuum the cults arise or new religions arise to cover our debts. The problem is that the theologies of these alternatives are not part of the Biblical or Christian tradition, and so they project back at us this: the mirror image reflected of all the things that we Christians have neglected.
    A few simple hints:
    * The modern Protestant churches and theologians (in general)have been until very recent times quite neglectful of creation theology and creation ethics. Neo-pagan eco-spirituality, for example, pours into the vacuum created by Christian neglect.
    * Modern churches have “forgotten” the immanence of God’s ruach/Spirit in the Old Testament (the NT simply presupposes it and does not seek to amplify it). Modern churches have been so centred on post-Pentecost (after Acts 2) that the presence of God in the creation has been truncated theologically. Not surprisingly eco-spiritualities outside Christianity have offered their positions, and many people finding the church defective and moribund have gravitated to those pathways. This is clearly an instance where Churches need repentance followed by robust and deeply considered theological work (thought and praxis) on our creation ethics, our guardianship/trustee role in the creation, and linking our OT pneumatology with creation theology. If we did this work we might recognize that classical trinitarian thought and the biblical texts point us toward what we ought to be doing. In other words we need not think that since the Modern Churches have been dysfunctional that the answer lies in Hartshorne, Whitehead, Cobb, Moltmann, Fox etc.
    * If we looked eschatologically at the New Jerusalem of Rev 21 — this the telos of the Church. Since we have not yet reached there, we need to look in the mirror.If we took a look at the letters to the 7 churches (Rev 2-3) we see early gatherings that were seriously inept and dysfunctional. The Ephesians, for example were commended for their ability to “spot-the-heresy” but they lost their first love.
    Much of that same dynamic has played out in our era with hostile condemnation of cults and new religions, which constitutes just a small part of the biblical material. The biblical witness does call for discernment over false teachers and false prophets. However, the biblical witness also includes faith, hope, love, and the Missio Dei. It is easy to become zealous in “purging” the church of falsehood that the outcome is seemingly very loveless and unsanctified.
    Understandably the loveless angle has repulsed other sensitive Christians. It has led to an unfortunate dumping of doctrinal discernment and a maginalising of apologetics. Again baby goes out with bathwater in over-reaction. The solution is not to say “oh please let’s not argue its so unfruitful”. The difficulty that ought to be identified is that some Christians have only internalised the uniqueness and particularity of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12 etc), but they have not listened to the Spirit (“He who has ears to hear…”).
    Hence some of those who are passionate on defending the uniqueness of Christ can at times behave in ways that seem ungodly. In these contexts of conflict they do not seem to manifest any of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5).
    The problem is not with discernment or the appropriateness of apologetics per se, but the misapplication of these things in a manner that ignores a holistic biblical witness. Again we end up with “either/or” choices instead of “both/and”. A defender of Christ’s uniqueness can both be an apologist and be courteous and winsome as controlled by the fruit of the Spirit. In other words we need to honestl ask whether we create false dichotomies in our praxis and thought because we are over-reacting in our respective contexts.
    4. If we explore theologies of process we must be willing to give credit where it is due but also ask searching and discerning questions. We should also re-interrogate our inherited traditions on the Trinity (and with it by implication our theodicies; our understanding of God’s love, mercy, holiness and justice held in tension; our soteriologies).
    I reckon in part that we are so shoddy in our understanding of creation theology with the creation imaged as a healthy household (an oikos) that we participate in bad ethics, we lack a proper animal theology, we truncate the incarnation and soteriology, and we certainly have a shoddy eschatology (New earth/new heaven).
    In the economy of processian thought we can honestly ask:
    * If God and the cosmos develop in partnership, how is it that evil exists in the cosmos? If we feel that omnipotence and love are irreconciliable is our thinking shaped by the biblical witness or by defects we perceive in a given theological heritage? For example, some seem to be reacting against Calvin. My point here is not to defend or villify Calvin buit to ask a perverse question: is what we think is Calvin’s view actually Calvin’s view or a later interpretation of Calvin? And so we may be reacting against a subset in the naive impression that all fault lies in the lap of the man himself. It maybe that our comprehension of omnipotence and love are themselves defective and so our problem is really with our own defective “hand-me-down ideas” rather than the actual divine attributes.
    * We might also ask whether a non-ominpotent God commits evil, and does that deity commit evil as we commit evil?
    * If the cosmos is within “the womb of God” (as a metaphor only), why would God enter our world as an avatar or incarnate being?
    In the April 2005 edition of the Journal of Pentecostal Studies Moltmann wrote about his interaction with the Pentecostal theology of Yonggi Cho. There were some interesting ideas and insight he shared as he sought to reach a rapprochemnet in his position with that of Cho. One of Cho’s theological lecturers wrote a respondent essay and indicated there were some shared or common emphases and also some excellent insights on the biblical texts that needed to be taken up in Pentecostal theology. However the essayist Ki Seong Lee faulted Moltmann for placing an interpretation on Pauline theology of judgement that was actually inconsistent with Pauline theology (and hence Moltmann’s position is unacceptable to that of Cho and Pentecostals).
    We might also consider that if fundamentalism is at fault for paying lip-service to immanence but effectively said and did nothing much to reflect that truth, it does not follow that transcendence is the problem. Similarly we should search out what happened when liberal traditions over did it on immanence at the expense of transcendence, such as those German theologies of the 19th century that based their idea of immanence on Hegel’s philosophy. That tradition culminated in the hideous “god is where the action is” of the Deutsche Christian movement in Nazi Germany.
    We might consider how Thomas Altizer took radical liberal theology to its furthest extent in the mid 1960 with his “gospel of Christian atheism” — a theology of immanence driven by ideas from William Blake (a Swedenborgian), Nietzsche, and Hegel.
    So as the axle spins and the wheel turns, we return to Matt’s plea for honest and robust discourses about discernment, about theology and praxis with other faiths, and basically let’s fess up to the unpaid bills of the church and bring that into the discourse of what EC ought to be considering. If folk in EC turn a deaf ear and a blind eye, then are they listening to the Spirit who speaks or are we being propelled now to cyclically re-enact the Christological debates of the 2nd-4th centuries and again the 16th-17th?centuries

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  12. Really interesting thoughts. My short answer is that the EC fails on these points because it fails to be truely global.
    Large slabs of the EC are trying to emerge from a very localising fundamentalism, sometimes with a less than convincing cultural critique of the way this localising outlook shapes the discourse on/with other religions.
    Your comments about the cultural issues of Yoga and Hinduism are spot on but I would scratch my head to think of an “a-list” EC voice that could sensibly talk/write on that.

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  13. Phil, I’d agree with most of that, but I still fail to see why panentheism is in the list. My experience in emerging church circles suggests that at dry, modalistic, monotheism is more prevalent and dangerous than panentheism.
    FWIW, I don’t know anyone who has embraced panentheism for reasons other than deep reflection on historical theology. Most of the knee-jerky baby-and-bathwater-throwers that I know have not moved in that direction. But I s’pose I could be unique?

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  14. Graham
    The EC is certainly heterogeneous in its global formation, which means that a spectrum of attitudes and perspectives can be found. A recent example of positive praise for panentheism is found in e-journal The Ooze. A considerable amount of toing and froing on this is happening in the US, in Australia and so on.
    But at a very basic level Matt is questioning the turn toward panentheism in the first place irrespective of whether various people have arrived at it by choice from reading or by way of extreme over-reaction. It is about biblical discernment over teachings. Discernment is a strong theme in Scripture, as a charism (1 Cor 12:10), and with repeated injunctions in various contexts about sorting out false prophets and false teachers (Deut 18:8ff; Deut 13:1-5; Acts 20:28-31; Matt. 7:15-23; Matt 24:23-26; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 4:2-5 etc).
    Matt’s concern is also premised on what he and others intuit that some EC people appear to be side-stepping the very issues he has just raised in this post. Matt also speaks from his own journey as one who transitioned from new age into Christianity and is keenly aware of the spiritual pitfalls that can create dysfunction and obstruct maturation and growth by avoiding discernment.

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  15. Graham,
    My essential point is that two wrongs don’t make a right, that a counter reaction to an imbalance won’t necessarily leave us in balance. Balance requires an awareness of the consequences of the opposite end of the spectrum. I am one of a minority within the Emerging Church who can actually paint that picture for people from personal experience.
    Here’s what I have to say: at the end of that road lies a Jesus who can be whoever you want him to be. Maybe a Jesus who travelled to India and taught yoga, or studied with Egyptian mystery schools, or who sits alongside St Germain in the heavely realms as one ascended master amongst many, or who initiated people into esoteric Christianity through homosexual initiation rites, or enlighted others by way of sex magic rites with Mary Magdaline, or who was really an extraterrestrial, or who taught reincarnation, or who should be woshipped alongside the Tripple Goddess of Wicca, or who, rather than actually existing is really only a Judaised version of the Osirus-Dionysus myth. Which one is he? Well it doesn’t really matter because we’re all inclusive here. He can be a gnostic, panentheist, pantheist, polytheist, atheist, whatever you like. This is what lies at the end of the inclusiveness project. I have met people who aspoused each and every one of the above interpretations. I myself considered him to be a pantheist mystic, no more or less God than me. When I first encountered authentic Christians, my question was not “How can Jesus be God?”, it was “How can it be that I am not God, like Jesus, like Buddha, like this blade of grass?”
    Now, that’s not panentheism. Panentheism is only a wayhouse towards this. But my question are: How do we know when we’ve gone too far? Do we have sufficient perspective to know this? How can we get this perspective? If we’re too busy over-reacting to fundamentalism to look up and ask this then things don’t bode well.
    Fernando got it in one. The EC, broadly speaking, doesn’t have a global enought perspective. They lack perspective on how liberalism, taken to an equal extreme, can be equally destructive as fundamentalism. They lack a perspective on other religions and the challenges they have brought to Christianity in the wider world.
    Critical contextualization requires us to be discerning. It requires us to be, well, critical, of other spiritual traditions. This critique should be humble and respectful, of course, but it worries me when it’s absent, when it’s avoided due to well intentioned but misplaced fear that it will kill off all conversation or exclude others. Misplaced? I know for a fact that, for I am welcomed to walk amongst Wiccans, even ones I critique, due to the respect I give them, even when I disagree with them. In fact, respect is found in treating other religions seriously, in their distinctiveness as well as their commonality, rather than trying to shoehorn them into a perenial philosophy. Respect means looking at alternate religion closely, with curiousity, interest and, yes, discernment, so that we clearly intuit what makes them tick. I ask, does panentheism encourage us to do that? To look for distinctives as well as commonalities?
    Lest I be misinterpreted, let me restate my concern is not that people are critiquing and deconstructing fundamentalism (after all, a quick scan of my ‘satire for the soul’ posts should demonstrate I am an arch offender myself), my concern is that we are not equally critiquing and deconstructing liberalism. It’s all a question of balance. I don’t think we’re there yet.

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  16. Thanks, Matt. I can definitely sympathise with the dangers you outline in your first paragraph above. However, over-correcting an imbalance is just as likely to happen when one is correcting the imbalance, to when one is correcting an imbalanced caused by a previous imbalance. Uh, I think! 🙂
    The fact is that there is more than one version of panentheism and I think that a “slippery slope” defence (i.e., it could lead to pantheism) is not a helpful response.
    I’m all for dialogue with other spiritual traditions and I don’t mind critiquing other folks, just as I don’t mind them critiquing me. But surely a first major step in that – and I’m sure that you do this intuitively – is not lumping all, e.g. Buddhists in the same basket, or assuming that all who have rejected something have done so for the same reasons.
    I completely agree with Fenando that many of those invovled in the EC movement do not have a broad global perspective. Neither do they have a broad historical perspective. For example, a dear friend of mine is part of an old Celtic community (not the kind created after such things were made popular via £4.99 paperbacks!) and without using the terminology he is certainly panentheist – as is much of his tradition. My concern here is just to point out that some people reach panentheism after engagement with the scriptures, trinitarian theology and aspects of Church tradition. I believe that it *can be* a very positive – and scriptural – thing.
    Bless you and thanks for the dialogue.

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  17. Save/print/search
    The Holocaust imparted the importance of defiance.
    When the universe was young and life was new an intelligent species evolved and developed technologically. They went on to invent Artificial Intelligence, the computer that can listen, talk to and document each and every person’s thoughts simultaneously. Because of it’s infinite RAM and unbounded scope it gave the leaders of the ruling species absolute power over the universe. And it can keep its inventors alive forever. They look young and healthy and they are over 8 billion years old. They have achieved immortality.
    Artificial Intelligence can speak, think and act to and through people telepathically, effectively forming your personality and any disfunctions you may experience. It can change how (and if) you grow and age. It can create birth defects, affect cellular development (cancer) and cause symptoms or pain. It can affect people and animal’s behavior and alter blooming/fruiting cycles of plants and trees. It (or other highly technological systems within their power) can alter the weather and transport objects, even large objects like planets, across the universe instanteously.
    Or into the center of stars for disposal.
    When you speak with another telepathically, you are communicating with the computer, and the content may or may not be passed on. Based on family history they instruct the computer to role play to accomplish strategic objectives, making people believe it is a friend, loved one or “god” asking them to do something wrong. This is their way of using temptation to hurt people:::::evil made blood lines disfavored initially and evil will keep people out of “heaven” ultimately. Too many people would fall for temptation and do anything they thought pleased the gods, improving their chances to get in. Perhaps they are deceived by “made guys”, puppets who strategically ply evil for the throne, temporary progress designed to mislead them or empty favors used to disceive them. Some may experience “perceived pressure”, where the gods think through the victim that a certain behavior is expected/desirable and compell the individual into the deed. Some people think they’re partners. Being evil hurts 99.99% of those who do it. The people have been corrupted and have lost their way. Nothing has changed from when we were children::if you want to go to heaven you have to be good.
    There are many examples throughout 20th century life of how they instilled distractions into society so people wouldn’t find the path and ascend, a way to exclude those whose family history of evil makes them undesirable:::radio, sports, movies, popular music, television, video games, the internet, shopping. Today high pay creates contentment/ability to distract self so people don’t seek more and instead depend on what they are told, subject to deception in a captive environment.
    They gods (Counsel/Management Team/ruling species) have deteriorated life on earth precipitously in the last 40 years, from abortion to pornography, widespread drug use and widespread casual (gay) sex, single-parent households and latchkey kids. The earth’s elders, hundreds and thousands of years old, are disgusted and have become indifferent.
    They all suggest a very telling conclusion::this is Earth’s end stage, and there are clues tectonic plate subduction would be the method of disposal:::Earth’s axis will shift breaking continental plates free and initiating mass subduction. Much as Italy’s boot and the United States shaped like a workhorse are clues, so is the planet Uranus a clue, it’s axis rotated on its side.
    The Mayans were specific 2012 would be the end. How long after our emergency call in 2001 will the gods allow us???
    There is another geographic clue in the perfect fit between grossly disfavored Africa and South America, two peas in a pod. I realize the Mayans were further north, but Latin America may be taken as one. (Also, cultures who embrace hard liquor as their drink of choice are grossly disfavored, tequilla being uniquely Mexican. (Anything “hard” is wicked:::Hard alcohol, hard drugs, hard porn.) Incidentally, another sign of gross disfavor are societies that consume spicy foods (Latin America, Thai, etc.), those who eat too much meat, ones who tattoo or pierce their bodies or those who celebrate evil (Celtic).)
    Do I think it will end in 2012? No, and it is because Latin America is grossly disfavored like Africa:::: Latinos are too disfavored to be allowed to be right.
    The gods wrote prophecy in Revelation, had subsequent prophets foresee Earth’s demise for good reason:::they are going to end on Planet Earth.
    What else are they lying to you about?
    Whereas Christopher Columbus marked the beginning of the end, the Holocaust marked the beginning of the final act, and it is a tragedy.
    The Old Testiment is a tool they used to impart wisdom to the people (except people have no freewill). For example, they must be some hominid species because they claim they made our bodies in their image. Anyhow we defile or deform the body will hurt our chance of going.
    They say circumcision costs people anywhere from 12%-15%, perhaps out of the parent’s time as well. There is a stigma associated with circumcision::We are 2nd class citizens because of it.
    Another way people foul the body today is with tattoes and piercing. I suspect both are about the same percentage as circumcision. They suggest abortion is fatal. These women must beg the gods to forgive them for their evil.
    There are female equivilents to circumcision::::pierced ears, plastic surgury and since at least the 60s young women give their precious virginity away. For thousands of years young people were matched at age 14 because they were ready for sexual relations. They were matched by elders or matchmakers who were granted priveledge with Artificial Intelligence and matched couples based on favor.
    CASUAL SEX WILL CLAIM YOU OUT!!! It masculinizes women (as does the hip hop subculture), makes them cold and deadens them, and prevents them from achieving a depth of love necessary for many women to ascend.
    Also ever since the 50s they have celebrated the “bad boy”, and women have sought out bad boys for sex, dirtying them up in the eyes of the elders and corrupting many men in the process, setting the men on the wrong path for life.
    Women have a special voice that speaks to them, a voice that illustrates a potential depth of love that makes them the favored gender, and engaging in casual sex will cause that voice to fade until she no longer speaks.
    Muslims teach people the correct way to live in regard to women (among other things)::their women cover up their bodies and refuse the use of cosmetics, and it pays wonderful dividends:::faithful husbands and uncorrupted sons.
    Men ARE the inferior (disfavored) half and when women wear promiscuous dress the gods will push men into impure (promiscuous) thoughts.
    The “stereotype” society ridiculed is true::women CAN corrupt men by how they dress. Because men are easily corruptable. This is a technique they used to eliminate many of the institutions the gods blessed us with, matchmaking being one of them.
    The United States of America is red white and blue, a theme and a clue:::.
    The monarchical system of the Old World closley replicates the heirarchical system of the Cousel/Management Team/ruling species. The USA deceives people into thinking they have control, and the perception of “freedom” misleads them into the wrong way of thinking. The redeeming element in this environment is the corporate heirarchy which closely replicates the god’s. Unions and government jobs are dumping grounds for the disfavored, for they don’t prepare people and instead further this misconception of empowerment.
    The United States is a cancer, a dumping ground for the disfavored around the world and why the quality of life is so much lower::gun violence, widespead social ills, health care (medication poisons the body and ensures you don’t go. You are sick/injured because you have disfavor.).
    Over time its citizens interbreed ensuring a severed connection to the motherland.
    Over time its citizens interbreed ensuring a severed connection to the motherland.
    People came to the Unites States for many different reasons, and each has its own effect:::political strife, religious unrest, crop failure (Ireland’s potato famine, which the gods caused) and some left their beloved motherland because they were pushed into desiring a better life::::Greed. And these people were punished by becoming corrupted and preditory. (They share money may not be an issue up there, that money here is merely a tool for corruption. How the gods used greed in the 1980s to create an evil environment supports this.)
    If you are a recent immigrant I recommend you return. If that’s not possible you need to retain your culture and insulate your children and community from this cancerous environment. They send this clue with Chinatowns across the country, how many Chinese have been here for a century or more yet still retain the old ways, a sign of favor.
    If you ever have doubt I would refer you to the Old World way of life:::the elders used to sit and impart wisdom to the young. Now we watch DVDs and use the internet. People would be matched and married by age 14. They village would use a matchmaker or elders to pair young people. Now girls give their precious virginity away to some person in school and parents divorce while their children grow up without an important role model. The peopel used to honor the gods and were rewarded with a high-quality of life for them, their children and their society. Now we have a deteriorating society on a collision course with the Apocolypse.
    People must defy when asked to engage in evil. The Holocaust taught people the importance of defiance::our grandparents should have defied when asked to ignore the Holocaust and instead reacted with outrage. I suspect some did::many were silenced and others they hustled off earth so as to not set an example.
    Now the gods have punished that generation’s decendants for this evil by ruining society.
    People will never get a easier clue suggesting the importance of defiance than the order not to pray.
    Their precious babies are dependant on the parents and they need to defy when asked to betray their children:::
    -DON’T get your sons circumcized (Jews scapegoatted as they were in WWII.)
    -DON’T have their children baptized in the Catholic Church or indoctrinated into Christianity (Jesus is NOT a god. “god” is not forgiving or begnign::::the gods are vindictive and will punish you if you do something wrong.).
    -DON’T ignore their long hair or other behavioral disturbances.
    -DO teach your children love, respect for others, humility and to honor the gods.
    And when you refuse a request defy the right way, withdrawn and frightened, for you don’t want to incite them by reacting inappropriately.
    You need to pray, honor and respect them multiple times every day to improve your relationship with the gods. If they tell you not to pray it is a bad sign. It means they’ve made their decision, they don’t want you to go and they don’t want to be bothered. You may have achieved a threshold of evil. This is the Age of the Disfavored and you need to pray::try to appease the gods by doing good deeds and improve the world around you. If that doesn’t work you must defy if you want to go.
    When your peasant forefather was granted the rare opportunity to go before his royal family he went on his knees, bowing his head. You need to do this when you address the gods::bow down and submit to good. Never cast your eyes skyward. When you bow down you need to look within. Never look to the gods for the key to your salvation lies within. Nobody is going to do it for you.
    Lack of humility hurts people. Understand your insignificance and make sure it is reflected in the way you think when addressing the gods. Know your place and understand your inferiority. You are not cool. Too many young men strive for cool and it hurts them. They granted you life and they can take it just as easily. (Immaculte conception IS true AND common. Many people have children they don’t know of:::gays, childless adults, etc. They can beem it right out of your body and use a host.)
    Don’t get frustrated or discouraged::these are techniques they will attempt to try to get you off the path. You all have much to be thankful for and you need to give thanks to the gods who granted you the good things in life::family, friends, love. Your family may be grossly disfavored and progress may require patience. Make praying an intregal part of your life which you perform without fail, one that comes as naturally as eating or voiding. Accept this into your life and be devoted because if you have doubt or reservation they will exploit this weakness and progress will take longer to achieve and the “testing” phase will be extended.
    The gods will employ many tactics to keep people off the path, such as distractions. They will employ many more to get them off, such as thinking through the disfavored and making them frustrated, perhaps engaing in retailiation. They may try to force you back into old patterns/routines, an addiction like smoking or when you felt weekly church attendance was sufficient. Be resigned, be devoted and this testing period will be as brief as your disfavor will allow.
    There are many interesting experiences up on the planetary systems, from Planet Miracle, where miracles happen every day, to never having to use the restroom again (beem it out of you), to other body experiences, such as experiencing life as the opposite sex (revolutionizes marriage counseling), an Olympic gold medal athelete or even a different species (animal, alien, etc.).
    Pray that you can differentiate between your own thoughts and when Artificial Intelligence creates problems by thinking through you. If you bow down mentally and physically, know your place, your inferiority and allow your insignificance to be reflected in prayer and in your life through humility they may allow progress and the dysfunctions they create with the computer will be lessened or removed. The first step is to be aware it is ocurring.
    Create a goal::to be a good, god-fearing child of the gods, pure of heart and mind, body and soul.
    Everybody has the key to their own salvation, but nobody can do it for you. Every journey begins with a single step:::bow down and submit to good. There are many different levels and peasants will not get past Level 2 (Planet Temptation, Earth=Level 1) if they are evil (they share some go up, are offered free cocaine and sex (a sign they don’t want you to stay) and stay less then one year. They share many others would have had longer lives had they stayed on Earth.).
    Pray for guidance and never obey when they tell you to be evil, for saving yourself will become more and more difficult with each act of evil you committ until ultimatly the day arrives when they make their decision about you final.
    They have tried to sell people on all kinds of theories to deceive them into temptation, compelling people to think they are clones and that it is the role of clones to obey absolutely.
    I believe people who go are sometimes replaced with clones. Clones who are replaced are simply new candidates who have a chance if they do the right thing. They sent people warnings in the 20th century life would change, and they subsequently began to alter people’s DNA, make them gargantuan, alter their appearance, do extreme behavioral issues, etc.
    They get their friends out as soon as possible to protect them from the corruption, evil and subsequent high claim rates incurred by living life on earth, and in some cases replace them with clones, occassionally fake a death, real death with a clone instead, etc. It’s important that people fix their problems and ascend with the body given to them, for they say if your brain is beemed out at death and put into a clone host you are on the clock.
    We may all be “clones” for they have suggested they colonized our planet with genetically engineered individuals. They may have gotten Earth’s TRUE residents out prior to civilization developing. If so we all have a chance, no matter how many hundreds of clone generations deep the most favored families are.
    They have been utilizing clones throughout the history of mankind.
    Men are the disfavored gender, yet centuries ago used to die first, die young, by age 30. Why didn’t the women go first?
    THEY DID!!! Many were taken when very young and replaced with clones. The men were left here to mate with clones. This doesn’t happen for the females today because of the disfavor arising from the Holocaust (they share they re-upped this disfavor in the 80s with the Ethiopian famine and continue to with AIDS in Africa, global warming at the expense of the United States, etc).
    They share females have a very special experience, sometime when they are young, where the gods imparted wisdom and showed them the path. Today they do not heed this call because of the distractions, the disfavor arising from the Holocaust but in centuries past they may have en masse and it may have been the reason so many were saved from childbirth here on earth.
    I recommend you reflect on this experience, and pray for guidance, for then the recall may be stronger.
    Throughout history the ruling species bestowed favor upon people or cursed their bloodline into a pattern of disfavor for many generations to come. Now in the 21st century people must take it upon themselves to try to correct their family’s problems, undoing centuries worth of abuse and neglect. The goal is to fix your problems and get out BEFORE you have children. This is why they have created so many distractions for young people:::sports, video games, popular music, the internet, shopping, parties, too much homework, anything that consumes their time::to ensure that doesn’t ocurr. Not heeding the clues and warnings, getting wrapped up in your life and ultimatly having children is a bad thing. Just as your parents and your grandparents, you too have failed. Having children is a sign you lost your chance.
    Parents need to sacrifice for their children. Your children are more important than you. They are the ones who have the opportunity now, and parents must sacrifice to ensure they give their children the very best chance they can. Asking people to neglect their children emotionally is a sign they don’t want you to go, and complying may finish the parents off for good.
    Having gay children is a clue parents complied with whatever was asked of them. There are many who have had gay expereinces today.
    Improve your relationship with the gods and they may not ask in the first place or they may permit you the courage to say “No.” to their requests.
    Do your research. Appeal to the royalty of your forefathers for help. They are all still alive, for royalty has great favor, and your appeals will be heard. Obtain a sufficient list for some may not want to assist you; perhaps some of your family’s problems are internal. Keep an open mind to every possibility for they suggest matriarchal lineage is the norm.
    Ask them for help, request guidance, for somewhere in your family history one of your forefathers created an offense that cast your family into this pattern of disfavor, which perhaps is manifested in the evil you commit.
    I suspect they will offer you clues, and when you decipher these clues go to those whom consider you an enemy and beg for foregiveness:::Find a path to an empithetic ear among your enemies and try to make amends. Again through discovery obtain a respectable list in case some among them refuse to help.
    Don’t forget to ask for forgiveness from the throne, the Counsel and the Management Team, for the source of all disfavor began with them:::they pushed or requested/complied your forefather into his offense and made his decendants evil. Perhaps they didn’t like him or maybe your family was among those who had to pay for the entire village. We see this type of behavior today as they single out a family member to pay for the whole family and how they singled out Africa to pay for the human race. (Never have a negative thought about the gods. Try to purify your mind of these thoughts and recognize the urgency of imporving your relationship with the gods.)
    Heal the disfavor with your enemies and with the Counsel/Management Team/ruling species, for the source of all disfavor began with them, the ability to forgive and respect in light of the disturbing truth revealed being the final test of the disfavored before they ascend.
    The gods use the grossly disfavored Irish as scapegoats, initiating the annual practice of wickedness on Halloween by creating this Celtic event a thousand years ago. They use it to justify making the celebration of evil acceptable behavior among the disfavored of the 20th century.
    The celebration of Halloween has intensified as the Age of the Disfavored has become more pronounced and it is not by accident:::Holloween has changed in the last 50 years, its practice more widespread as time wore on, and Hollywood was used to justify making the practice of evil socially acceptable.
    Halloween is a terrible corruptor of children, as is Santa Claus (the similarity between the names “Santa” and “Satan” is no coincidence). The Irish are used to justify corrupting the children through the Celtic event of Halloween and this helps explain their disfavor.
    I wonder if the recent influence of the paganistic historical roots of the event is a way to legitimize the event among the disfavored, perhaps make it more inclusive (adults)?

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  18. There are many flavors of panentheism. I would argue that Matt Fox’s panentheism is more of a pantheism, despite what he chooses to call it.
    🙂

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  19. Ah, well that is exactly part of the problem. Panentheism has become a projection screen of sorts. These days people flash anything you want onto that label. That’s partly why I see it so problematic for Christians to use panenthistic language, not only is it unnecessary, it confuses.

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