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Excerpts from

Emergent Delusion

by Pastor Bob DeWaay, March/April 2005

A Critique of Brian McLaren's book: A Generous Orthodoxy

Please read the entire article with endnotes at

(Emphasis added throughout)

“...always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2Timothy 3:7)

...The subtitle gives more than a slight hint as to why it reads like this: “Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished Christian.” If this confuses you, welcome to “post-modern” Christianity in the age of despair. This despair is what Francis Schaeffer predicted would happen when man gave up the possibility of validly knowing truth about God and the world He created. ...

Brian McLaren recently appeared in Time Magazine’s list of the twenty five most influential evangelicals.
4 His selection to the list is based on his role as a key leader in the “emergent” (sometimes called “emerging”) church—a movement popular with young people. His book is published by Youth Specialties, a ministry which promotes mysticism as a means of connecting young people with Christianity. In A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren tells the story of how he has created a unique version of Christianity by gleaning parts he likes from many sources. The result is what he calls “emergent” Christianity....

The kingdom as envisioned by McLaren involves holistic, planetary “salvation” without any apocalyptic intervention of God (McLaren despises dispensational theology
6). Personal salvation from hell is disparaged as a wrongly motivated “consumer product” that distracts from the more important issue of saving the “whole world” in the here and now. Rather than providing Christian hope to a generation of young people who have rejected all forms of Christianity, McLaren undermines the possibility for anyone to have a valid Christian hope based on knowing the truth of the gospel. I say that because he removes the hope of validly knowing anything....

A Religion of Perpetual Doubt

As McLaren himself says, if you are looking for a clearly stated theology that asserts what is true about itself and false about other ideas, you will not find it in his book. To argue about what is true or false is a relic of the bygone era of “enlightenment rationalism” that is the hallmark of modernity. The Bible, for McLaren, is about doing good works, as God’s people, for the benefit of all people; it is not about propositional, objective truth.9 ...

...his purpose is not to tell us what is true or false about propositional statements regarding God, man, salvation, and eternity; but to stimulate our thinking by purposely promoting obscurity. I wonder what value “stimulated thinking” has if coming to the knowledge of the truth is ruled out as a reasonable outcome? Paul warned about the result for those who indulge in this type of end times delusion: “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2Timothy 3:7).

Since the book is about orthodoxy, a clear definition of “orthodoxy” should be provided. But alas, clear definitions are too “modern.” Here is his deconstructed version of what he says most of us hold as “orthodoxy”: “For most people, orthodoxy means right thinking or right opinions, or in other words, ‘what we think,’ as opposed to ‘what they think.’”
13Deconstructed” refers to the idea that some personal or social motivation lies behind what people claim to be saying. ...

So if I say, “orthodox means that which is in keeping with the clearly revealed truth that God has given us in the inspired, inerrant Scriptures,” the deconstructionist tells me that this is just code for my arrogant belief that I am right and others are wrong. After all, “Winners write history,”14 so the doctrinal formulations of “euro-centric, western civilization” are highly suspect....

The Line of Despair

...Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is particularly concerned about how one distinguishes valid knowledge from invalid knowledge. Postmodern scholars in that field see flaws in every possible approach to validating human knowledge. They have abandoned the possibility of a field of knowledge that is any more than “tribal” (i.e. “true” for our group only in as much as it helps us make sense of things in our situation). Now theology has jumped on the bandwagon of despair that characterized much of secular philosophy in the twentieth century....

The Scriptures give the key to two kinds of knowledge—the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of men and nature.... There could have been no Reformation and no Reformation culture in Northern Europe without the realization that God had spoken to man in the Scriptures and that, therefore, we know something truly about God, because God has revealed it....

McLaren acknowledges that the Reformation shifted the understanding of authority from the church to the Scriptures. He also sees this very much tied into modernity: “Martin Luther’s famous individualistic statement, uttered before the Catholic authorities with whom he disagreed, expresses the shift perfectly: ‘Here I stand.’”21 ... The following extended quotation from McLaren aptly illustrates the reason the Bible cannot function authoritatively for postmodern thinkers:

"How do “I” know the Bible is always right? And if “I” am sophisticated enough to realize that I know nothing of the Bible without my own involvement via interpretation, I’ll also ask how I know which school, method, or technique of biblical interpretation is right. What makes a “good” interpretation good? ... Which scholars and why? Don’t all these appeals to authorities and principles outside the Bible actually undermine the claim of ultimate biblical authority?...23

...The postmodern view of the hopelessness of knowing the truth flies in the face of the Biblical claims that God will judge us and hold us accountable if we suppress the truth:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18, 19)

The problem, according to the Bible, is not a supposed human inability to know or communicate, but a sinful repression of what IS known. Paul continues, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). ...

Which Jesus Should we Serve?

McLaren’s doctrine of Christ is confusing. He claims to have known “seven Jesuses.”25 I do not think that this was meant to be a literal claim there were “seven Jesuses,” but rather that various Christian groups have emphasized a different aspect of Jesus and that McLaren has gleaned some useful bits from each of them.

This is his theological approach in a nutshell. Having disparaged that we can know the truth of the Bible by means normally accepted by evangelicals, McLaren then gleans from various versions of Christianity what seems amenable to his own religious sensibilities. ...he picks and chooses what he likes from various traditions....

For example, he learned mysticism from these Catholics: “...Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen... as well as the medieval mystics and others.”
26 Mysticism becomes an important part of McLaren’s “emergent” Christianity. He writes, “Many of those little churches [within Roman Catholicism] in the contemplative tradition emphasize how God may be mystically experienced through contemplation....”27

From Eastern Orthodoxy McLaren learned about Jesus saving the whole cosmos by entering it and becoming part of it: “Second, as humanity (and all creation) enters into God through Jesus, God also enters Jesus’ people, species, and history. And by entering all creation through Jesus, God’s heart is forever bound to it in solidarity, faithfulness, loyalty, and commitment.”
28 This aspect of Jesus becomes ground for McLaren’s understanding of planetary, cosmic salvation within history. He later describes an experience where he personally felt the interconnectedness of all things in God:

"I felt that every tree, every blade of grass, and every pool of water become especially eloquent with God’s grandeur. ... It was the exuberant joy of simply seeing these masterpieces of God’s creation…and knowing myself to be among them. It was to be one of them, and to feel and know that 'we'—all of these creatures, molecules, and phenomena—were together known and loved by God, who embraced us all into the ultimate 'We'...”29

To me this experience of the interconnectedness of all things is so New Age that it would not fit into any Christian category. However, given McLaren’s understanding of a Jesus who enters “all creation” and is “bound to it in solidarity,” then there is plausibility for this experience....

Jesus and Planetary Salvation

One of the key features of the “generous orthodoxy” promoted in McLaren’s book, is that practice must precede theology. This means, rather than going to a people group with a fixed set of theological beliefs about God, man, the world... one goes to the people first and finds a practice that fits their needs and priorities. ... He cites Donovan from Donovan’s book Christianity Rediscovered: “. . . praxis must be prior to theology. . . In my work [theology would have to proceed] from practice to theory.... What Donovan and then McLaren gained from this was a theology of creation rather than a theology of personal salvation.36

The practice that McLaren found to inform his theology leads him to what appears to be a version of “liberation theology” in which God comes to judge oppressive systems. He does so by bringing “truth and justice” into our deceived world and liberating us from the vicious cycle of injustice we created in this world.
37 ...

...McLaren is “uncomfortable” with a “hell-centered” approach to salvation.
40 He says that explaining this planetary “saving” Jesus to an agnostic Jewish friend evoked this response: “I could believe in a Jesus like that.”41 It offends sinners to hear about the need to repent and believe the gospel as preached by Christ and His apostles.

It does not offend them to hear that God is angry about corporations that make products in a way that might be deemed not environmentally friendly and that in His judgment He is raising up a cadre of “Christians” to save the planet from the industrialists. For the postmodern young people McLaren is targeting, that is “speaking their language.”...

...for McLaren the mission is to save the world in a social and environmental sense, not to rescue lost sinners from a lost and dying world that God is going to destroy in judgment. When he says, “He creates the church as a missional community to join him in his mission of saving the world,” that is what he has in mind.
42 ...

Practicing Christianity With No Clear Message

...Mysticism is a key part of “emergent” Christianity, in my opinion, because of the rejection of propositional truth... and ultimately the belief that there can be valid, concrete language from God about God. With an uncertain concept of Jesus, uncertain knowledge, uncertain salvation, and an uncertain hope based on the tenuous idea that the kingdom of God is somehow emerging in the process of world history, McLaren offers the comfort of mystical experiences such as the one he had of the interconnectedness of all things.52

Youth Specialties, who published A Generous Orthodoxy, promotes numerous mystical practices including: deep breathing, Lectio Divina, Ignatian Contemplation, Labyrinths, Iona, and others.
53 A recent national pastor’s convention at which Brian McLaren was one of the workshop speakers and Rick Warren was a keynote speaker featured a Labyrinth and Yoga.54 Evidently Eastern mysticism is seen as an important way to reach out to and train evangelical youth. Never mind that none of this is taught in the Bible....

McLaren’s uncertain orthodoxy apparently is only “certain” about one thing—that those who believe that God has spoken clearly, verbally, authoritatively, and finally to us through the Scriptures are sadly mistaken....To escape from this “control,” McLaren offers mysticism and even silence....

What is being escaped from is the authority of Scripture. McLaren apparently would like the Bible to say either nothing or anything, but nothing so concrete as to be restrictive....

So when the emergent church service consists of lighting to set a mood, religious symbols, silence, and mystical meditation without clear expository preaching, this is in keeping with the logical consequence of giving up a rational, meaningful knowledge about God that has been communicated from God using human languages with concrete meaning. It is, “escape from reason....”

...Synthesis is precisely the essence of a generous orthodoxy. McLaren laments, “Western Christianity has (for the last few centuries anyway) said relatively little about mindfulness and meditative practices, about which Zen Buddhism has said much. To talk about different things is not to contradict one another; it is, rather, to have much to offer one another, on occasion at least.”
65 We are being offered a synthesis of world religions in dialogue."66

....this is not the language of the gospel, it is the language of “dialectic synthesis” that sees the thesis and antithesis merging into a synthesis that supposedly promises a better future. McLaren further says: “We constantly emerge from what we were and are into what we can become—not just as individuals, but as participants in the emerging realities of families, communities, cultures, and worlds.”

Think about what this might mean if his eschatology is wrong and what is actually emerging is the world system of the Beast prophesied about in Daniel and Revelation. The new emergent world of religions cooperating and learning to make a new, better planet earth would turn out to be the hellish nightmare the Bible predicts. The new mysticism would be an excellent way for religious differences to be laid aside because mystical experiences are not of the sort that contradict one another like theological ideas do.
70 How better to resurrect the dream of the tower builders at Babel and unify the world?

Copyright © 1992-2005 Twin City Fellowship

Please read the rest the of this much-needed message -- along with the endnotes and references -- at

Other articles by Bob DeWaay: Redefining the Church

Redefining the Church - Part 2 |  | The Dangers of "Spiritual Formation"

Discernment in an Age of Deception | The Emergence of Imaginary Eschatology

True and False Unity | Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement

 “Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ? | True and False Unity

Bob DeWaay is the Pastor of Twin City Fellowship, a non-denominational evangelical Church in Minneapolis, MN:  "We are a body of believers who attempt to live our Christian faith according to Acts 2:42 by devoting ourselves to prayer, fellowship, searching the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper. Our mission is to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this through expository preaching, study of the Scriptures, publications, our website and neighborhood outreaches."

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