Brain Snakes

The New Testament talks a lot about the truth, knowing the truth, holding to the truth, believing the truth. The assumption throughout is that there is a correspondence between what the faithful believer holds to be the case, and what actually is the case. This is in contrast to those who hold to delusions, in contrast with those who cook up their cleverly-devised fables, as St. Peter put it. In short, there is a difference between a false cleverly-devised fable and a statement of the truth. Throughout the New Testament, the assumed correspondence between the statements made by the apostles and the way things actually were was not dependent at all upon Enlightenment categories. The apostle Paul was in no way leaning on post-Cartesian developments when he said that if Jesus did not actually come back from the grave, we of all men were most to be pitied. The smallest child listening to the smallest story knows the difference between a “make-believe” metanarrative and a “for-real” metanarrative.

This is because certain things are, you know, true. And other things are, like, you know, false. But on this very point, one of the most striking features of the emergent church movement is an unwillingness to speak in the same way Scripture speaks. We who have been forgiven and saved through Christ know, believe, declare, confess and affirm. And we don’t take back with the left hand what we gave with the right. Find me one place in the Scriptures where one of the apostles declared that “these affirmations” were “merely” the “grammar of our faith community.” We can read the Scriptures and determine what they say (which is why God gave them in the first place), and the fact that we cannot be infallible and omniscient in our interpretations does not throw everything up for grabs. Two faithful interpreters of Scripture are not like two poets arguing about shapes in the fire. God created us to be able to understand and love Him.

In a recent post, Andrew Sandlin calls one of my posts on postmodernism a “historically irresponsible screed,” and he praises Peter Leithart for taking what Andrew considers to be the high road. This is yet another form of the very common “let’s you and him fight,” which Peter and I decline to do, being friends and colleagues and all. But as the apostle Paul once taught, different parts of the body do have different spiritual gifts. Peter’s is that of being a gentleman and a scholar. He can get articles published in respectable academic journals about as easily as I can hit the ground with my hat. But I have some gifts too. One of mine is the spiritual gift of saloon brawling. And whenever I see another authentic schmoozer like McLaren emerging from under one of those tables, wham!, one of those special breakaway chairs goes right over the head. Then I grab said zeitgeist meister and run him out through those swinging double doors, and wham!, right into a post. I call this the post-emergent strategy. Is this cold and uncaring? I don’t think so. In the first place, it is a metaphor and emergent types talk a lot about those little busters. They should be able to follow the drift. In the second place, I agree with D.A. Carson’s assessment that it is in the highest degree likely that McLaren is a personally winsome fellow. But this just makes his propositions (and that is what they are, hairy warts and all) all the more dangerous.

But in reactions to my posting on this subject, Andrew has continued to misconstrue my point about heresy, despite the fact that I amplified and explained the point in this place, and tried to amplify the point further in private correspondence. Despite my qualifications, Andrew remains concerned that in Post A I called postmodernism heresy, and that in Post B I acknowledged that Andrew called himself a biblical postmodernist. But my point was not to say that I know the eternal destiny of this person or that one, this preacher or that one, and it certainly was not to call Andrew a heretic.

My point is that we are in a situation that is almost exactly comparable to what Machen faced in the early part of the twentieth century. Christianity and Liberalism represented two different faiths. The fact that Liberalism used a bunch of the same words as the orthodox did not exonerate anybody; the point of using the same words was to deceive and lead people astray. Which it did, by the truckload. At the same time, I have every confidence that there were individuals among the liberals who were saved, and those among the conservatives who were lost. When the Lord faced down the Pharisees, one of His number was a devil, and there were men on the other side who were elect and saved. When Machen identified liberalism as a false religion (which was true enough), it did not follow from this that every last person on the other side of “that line in the sand there” was lost. As I have noted before, this is not a “all men are mortal, Socrates is a man” kind of thing. Nevertheless, taking one thing with another, liberalism was unbelief masquerading as scholarly sophistication. Some were propagating the error, others were taken in by it.

We have the same set-up today. And I have no idea at all whether Andrew is propagating the errors of postmodernism, or if he is simply taken in by them. I understand he is working on a small book on the subject which should make that point clearer. I will read that book with interest, and until then would not really have any basis for saying anything about Andrew’s teaching ministry, one way or the other. But as one brother in ministry to another, I would simply warn Andrew to be careful.

This is because the Church has been here before. If the devil were a football coach, and that old liberalism play flattened our left tackle, what do you think he would do? He would run the play again. And that is exactly what he is doing in this emergent foolishness, and it appears that our left tackle has not really learned anything since then. Our left tackle is still a pencil neck. And no, I am not saying that Andrew is our left tackle. This is just another one of those metaphor-thingies that, when stacked up, along with some nouns and verbs and propositions and such, makes for an enthralling metanarrative.

After having gone through this stuff carefully, I can say that the emergent movement is best typified by Brian McLaren on this side of the Atlantic and Steven Chalke on the other side. These two men represent the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement as “child abuse.” McLaren is more than a little bit coy about what Jesus taught about Hell, is a big-time waffler on what Scripture teaches about sodomy, and, for someone who emphasizes story-telling, tells the “story” of historic evangelicalism in a disingenuous and manipulative way. He is not intellectually honest, which is a pretty serious charge to make against someone whose whole schtick depends on intellectual honesty. And he thinks he can evade the charge of such dishonesty by admitting it out front in a disarming way. “Beyond all these warnings, you should know that I am horribly unfair in this book, lacking all scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness . . . This is simply an inexcusable shortcoming of the book that serves no good purpose, unless by some chance it could generously be included under the proverb,’Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Prov. 27:6 NASB), Even so, will I be grateful and gracious when this friendly wounding is generously reciprocated?” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 35-36). But it seems to this observer that the wounds of a friend are faithful, not intellectually manipulative. This is like a guy stealing your car and then acting the part of the lovable rogue afterwards. I agree with McLaren on this much. He is “horribly unfair” to the orthodox faith.

Now when you are standing in a beautiful garden, minding your own business, and a serpent worm comes sidling into the garden, and tells you to start messing around with a tree that God told you not to mess around with, saying that the prohibition was really meant to be understood in another semantic field, and that how are we supposed to understand God’s sentences anyways, and that your husband Adam should go in for a little humbled and chastened epistemology, how can you tell the dragon is lying to you? Well, his dragony eyes go back and forth really fast. And trying to follow his arguments gives you a bad case of brain snakes.