via Philosophical Assumptions
The philosophy of the twentieth century (Enlightenment) was an interpretive framework that presumed philosophy (rationalism) and science (empiricism) as the way to find truth. Twentieth-century thinkers accepted this approach to truth. This philosophy became embedded in North American society and became what we call modernism. Modernists viewed anyone who held contrary thinking to this presupposition as obscurant. Modernism produced postmodernism. Postmodernism became skeptical of modernism’s promises of progress, seeing its hope for ultimate answers as red herrings and its idea
of man’s autonomy as a delusion. Postmoderns came to the view that modern- ist assumption could not fix the problems of mankind. Their conclusion was that modernism produced vacuous banality and, by the middle of the twentieth century, lost hope of solving problems in society. Another dimension is that postmoderns came to the place where they did not believe they could come to God through reason.
The essential presupposition of postconservative theology is postmodernism, whereas (despite current criticism) the presupposition of evangelicalism is not fundamental philosophical modernism. The evangelical view of modernity is not limited to accepting or rejecting its premises, for evangelicals use a broader perspective and see certain, universal (although not exhaustive) knowledge as that which God revealed in his concursive (written) and general revelation. Evangelicals rejected both modernism and the radical philosophical pluralism of postmodernism. Postconservatives argue that evangelicals are modernists, but that is a false charge; evangelicals were always skeptical of modernism.
All views of postmodernism believe that certainty ceased. Postmoderns have no ground for belief, no way to find certainty, for no authority exists outside the autonomous person. Postmodernism is a belief in self rather than in revelation. It is a belief of cynicism, a bitterness of disillusionment. Postconservatives pander to this cynicism and reject doctrinal certainty.
Pluralism holds that objective truth is inaccessible and that meaning resides not in reality but in the interpreter so that there is no normative truth for all people of all time. No one expects anyone to give a valid reason for a belief (1 Peter 3:15).
Although postconservative pluralism hesitates to give equal validity to all religions, it denies that any one religion has exclusive truth. Christianity is just a stubborn viewpoint, but it is good if it is subjectively and personally useful. All viewpoints are revisable, and so is the Bible. Postconservatives do not seek to close down Christianity but to reduce it to private viewpoint that has little bearing on culture as a whole but functions best in transforming a faith community. Authority lies in the function of the community, not in doctrines of the objective Word.
Postconservatives such as Brian McLaren believe that the story is never over. He does not want to get to the place where “only we’ve got it right,” and he has serious doubts about his own views:
If I seem to show too little respect for your opinions or thought, be assured I have equal doubts about my own, and I don’t mind if you think I’m wrong. I’m sure I am wrong about many things, although I’m not sure exactly which things I’m wrong about.95
Because McLaren believes that “clarity is sometimes overrated,” he overtly sponsors murky obscurity.96 He does not want to come to a conclusion about truth, for he functions on a dialectic that cannot make conclusions about truth; elsewhere he expresses antipathy toward propositional statements of Scripture. His dialectical postmodernism will not allow him to operate with propositions essentially but only with stories of personal perspective. He runs on a dialectic that cannot make conclusions about truth. The Word of God warns us about those who are “Always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3: 7 esv).
Even though McLaren rejects modernism, he is at heart a modernist because he operates on the assumption of dialectical and instrumental thought. He views religious viewpoints as “perpetually re-formable” and believes we need to “seek again and again the true path of our faith.”97
Evangelicalism rests on the primary doctrines of the solas: sola scriptura (only Scripture), sola Christus (only Christ), sola fides (only faith), sola gratia (only grace), soli Deo gloria (only God’s glory). McLaren believes that evangelicals must relinquish these solas for the sake of “community” among religions. Although he does not reject the solas outright, his dialectical method in reality washes them out.
Truth, for McLaren, is best understood “in a conversation, a dialectic (or trialectic), or dynamic tension.”98 That is why the solas are unnecessary in his view; they are reductionistic.99 It is important for him to resist the “reductionist temptation to always choose only one thing over another,” preferring instead to “learn to hold two or more things together when necessary.”100 As he points out, Anglicans do not hold to sola scriptura; rather, “Scripture is always in dialogue with tradition, reason, and experience. None of them [sic] sola can be the ultimate source of authority: that source is God alone, the only ultimate sola.”101 However, how does he know about this God other than through God’s revelation? One cannot know about the specifics of God’s revelation without the Word of God; general revelation is another matter.
This dialectical process causes constant uncertainty: thesis produces an antithesis, which leads to a synthesis, and that in turn becomes another thesis that has another antithesis, and on it goes. This is how McLaren can have “an element of liberalism” and “an element of evangelicalism” in his theology.102 He claims that his generous orthodoxy is not “a simple merging, mixing, conflating, or reconciling of the two schools of thought, though. Rather it disagrees with both regarding ‘the view of certainty and knowledge which liberals and evangelicals hold in common.’“103 In other words, his essential consistency is in pluralistic postmodernism. Throughout Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren picks and chooses his preferences between varying viewpoints, using unadulterated subjectivism devoid of certainty.
“Dialogue” is a code word for “dialectic” among many postconservatives, who think that the worst thing that can happen among diverse peoples is for someone to hold to exclusive truth. This new kind of Christian must have an open mind to every viewpoint except to certainty. Certainty violates the code of universal interdependence. God, however, calls Christians to “separate” themselves from the world’s system of thinking (2 Corinthians 6:14–18).
McLaren’s dialectical process requires him to distort theology into something he would like to make it. It is difficult for him to accept didactic truth because his dialectical approach prohibits him from doing so. Because postconservatives are dialectical in their approach to truth, it is difficult for them to come to conclusion or certainty about truth. McLaren expresses his dialectical process in the nomenclature of “emergent.” For him, emergence is like a tree with concentric rings that grows larger and larger yet embraces what has gone before. This integrative thinking is his presupposition for finding truth. To the contrary, the Bible is propositional and didactic in polar opposition to McLaren’s dialectic. Because of his dialectical process, clarity for McLaren is “overrated.”104 Truth is always elusive for those who operate on antithesis—their fluidity goes on and on without certainty and without conclusion. This is why he can lump Protestants and Catholics together with a nice dose of Eastern mysticism.
To conclude that salvation is by Christ alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone is somehow appalling to him, even though God set these truths in extant statements of Scripture. A “generous orthodoxy” cannot tolerate these singular truths.105 McLaren assures his readers that emergent thinking does not reject the thinking that preceded it but enfolds or includes it. The idea is that community is a greater presupposition than a narrow-minded statement of the gospel. All this is distinction without a difference. Thus, the central thesis of Generous Orthodoxy rests on dialectical synthesis and false dialectics.
McLaren’s dialectical thinking correlates with his literary criticism approach. Deconstruction (which states that the true meaning of a text is not necessarily the meaning that the author intended) is McLaren’s tool of choice to decipher truth. Images and feelings replace words so that no one can come to any conclusion other than the conclusion of personal preference. This system has no universal truth; consequently, there is no certain good news.
McLaren admits that he is not a trained theologian. It is amazing that he has become the theological guru for many postmodern evangelicals, for his whole construct and methodology revolve around his deconstruction methodology and radical systems of interpreting literature. His bias from teaching English in secular university influences his view of Scripture and theology.
Dialectical thinking began before Socrates, but Immanuel Kant used this system of thinking to pose transcendent ideas beyond what humans might experience. He believed that certain contradictions in human thinking showed the limitations of finite person, and he did not believe that a person could have rational knowledge beyond sensory experience. A man could hold two mutually plausible alternatives at the same time. Religion was merely the practice of ethics, not belief in exclusive or certain truth.
The dialectical model asserts that the thesis (being) gives rise to its anti-thesis (non-being) which is reconciled in a synthesis (becoming). This synthesis forms a new thesis, which in turn forms a new antithesis, so the cycle continues. Although Hegel never used the term “dialectical” except once, and not in the sense of the current understanding of dialectical, new truths keep forming on this model, so there is no final truth. Dialectical thinkers deemed that contradictions were the heart of how humans should think, thus their method emphasizes contradictions to expose weakness in assumptions. They believed that we can see incompleteness of thinking by exposing these contradictions; for error is incompleteness of thought. Inadequacies of finite thought are apparent in this.
Dialectical philosophy is a philosophy of paradox: that is, the theory of posing opposites against each other to find truth that emerges from the tension. This philosophy believes that propositional truth is not enough to understand truth; rather, we need to hold truths in opposition to one another. Followers of this view do not hold that it is possible to come to a synthesis or the ability to come to faith by reason. Reconciliation of this tension comes in a subjective existential act and a leap of faith. This is the neo-orthodox position, which is where many postconservatives are heading today. We need to live in paradoxical tension of belief. The dialectical model leads to a faith that lives in paradoxes. If concludes that universal truth is not possible, that the only way to find purpose is by a non-rational leap of faith. How can a wholly transcendent God reveal himself? We can grasp truth by rising above the paradox and thereby defy rational explanation. This experiential crisis with paradox becomes a revelation of truth.
All of this rejects the sola scriptura of evangelicalism. Postmodern viewpoint steps out of reason and rationalism. Stepping out of rationalism is good as an essential approach to truth, but leaving reason is a problem because we then have no measurable method for distinguishing truth from error. The dialectical method might work as a sub-method for a reasoning process, but it undermines Christianity as the core reasoning process.
Dialectical reasoning changes the formula for deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning bases its premises on agreed-upon truth and leads to knowable conclusions. Dialectical reasoning resonates with North Americans because they have culturally accepted the fallacious premise of dialectical process without examining its assumptions. They have an unexamined habit of reasoning this way; hence, it “feels” comfortable. This is why many fall into postconservatism or postevangelicalism.
The dialectic produces a philosophy of community in constant philosophical conflict. There is no end to the self-perpetuating struggle between ideas. Dialectical ideas in the end simply justify conflict of ideas. Here is a syllogism of dialectical thought:
Major premise: We can hold truth only tentatively.
Minor premise: All ideas are in conflict.
Conclusion: Therefore, we can never know final truth.
No one can call a duck a duck by the dialectical process. The dialectic presupposes a system that precludes deduction. These dialectical philosophers need a different logic from deduction because they view that only the whole is true. Every stage is partial and so partly untrue.
Aristotle gave his principles for deductive logic in the fourth century bc. His logic was about separating ideas in a deductive pattern. Dialectical philosophers change this into a dynamic movement toward the whole. Their thinking is essentially negative by its ability to show contradiction in any category. They thus challenge the logical law of non-contradiction, making it impossible to come to final conclusion about truth.
The Bible presents didactic or propositional truth that stands in stark contrast to the current system of antithesis. The didactic model and the dialectical model cannot both be true. This does not deny a legitimate dialectical process (i.e., dialogue) where people reach a common ground (not a middle ground) by eliminating false ideas together. True dialectical process is an interchange of ideas. Clarity of certain or final position is evident in propositional truth. Biblical Christianity does not have a message without it.
Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church lays bare the problems of the emergent church movement. After establishing the fallacy of false antithesis between biblical revelation and experience, where people must choose between the false dichotomy of experience and truth, he concludes with a cutting censure of the emergent antithesis approach to Christianity:
Damn all false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings, whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.
The truth is that Jesus Christ is Lord of all—of the truth and of our experience. The Bible insists that we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If emerging church leaders wish to become a long-term prophetic voice that produces enduring fruit and does not drift off toward progressive sectarianism and even, in the worst instances, outright heresy, they must listen at least as carefully to criticisms of their movement as they transparently want others to listen to them. They need to spend more time in careful study of Scripture and theology than they are doing, even if that takes away some of the hours they have devoted to trying to understand the culture in which they find themselves. They need to take great pains not to distort history and theology alike, by not caricaturing their opponents and not playing manipulative games. And above all, they need to embrace all the categories of the Scriptures, with the Scripture’s balance and cohesion—including, as we saw in the previous chapter, what the Bible says about truth, human knowing, and related matters.106
Discarding Certainty by Raw Pragmatism
In postevangelical postmodern thinking, ecumenism carries a higher value than extant statements of Scripture. It assumes that any aspect of ecclesiastical polarization is wrong and that modernism creates this polarization. Certitude is not important, for what these groups believe is not nearly as important as saving “the village which we call planet Earth.”107
Postconservatives hold to the idea that if it works, it is right. Mission defines theology rather than theology defining mission. This undermines the nature of truth and revelation by the presupposition of instrumental or pragmatic method. Our culture rejects the idea that someone has the truth; it sees all viewpoints as merely personal perspectives and ultimately subjective. Truth then for them is private: “You have your belief and I have mine.” To this generation, truth turns out to be purely pragmatic, coming from subjective, personal experience and the opinions of a given community: “If something works for me, it is right.”
Our present culture (postmodernism) looks at truth as pragmatic (it is right because it works), as personal (it is how I view truth), as emerging from a community (it is our perspective), and as experiential (it is my experience). In the light of this view of truth, antipathy rises toward anyone holding to a view of mutually exclusive, objective, independent, absolute truth: Those “narrow-minded evangelicals” are the problem. How can you say that Jesus is the only way? What about Jews or Muslims? This culture scorns and ridicules those who hold to an answer because of its extremely skeptical attitude toward anyone who makes a truth claim. In the light of this prevailing viewpoint in culture, some evangelicals have developed an attitude of shame toward the gospel: It is embarrassing to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
Postconservatives view absolute truth claims as anathema. The gospel for them is not informational but relational/missional. They would rather invite others to a relationship with people of the kingdom than present a certain and conclusive message. In their view, presenting the gospel as information or propositions only exasperates communication to the postmodern world. Their idea is to accommodate skepticism rather than confront it. The gospel might be true for me but not necessarily true for you. Above all, we cannot accept metanarratives (all-encompassing explanations) but we must accept narratives (finite, limited explanations of reality). Because Christians carry limited understanding about reality, they must dialogue with other religions and philosophies to attempt to understand reality. There is no certainty, only uncertainty, with these people.
William James, in Will to Believe, presents an idea much like the emergents’— that we are in the process of finding truth. The lure of the quest is of utmost importance, and all that remains are the variables of human opinion. All we can know for sure are the pragmatic, tentative, relative, fleeting, and mutually contradictory opinions of human beings. Postconservatives take up this thinking by replacing the “sure” Word of God with the shifting opinions of men (2 Peter 1:19). They locate authority in men rather than in God and his Word. Man’s doctrine mutates; God’s doctrine is eternal and certain. There is no variableness in God because he imparts an eternal, absolute view of truth. Finite man cannot find certainty in himself.
René Descartes’s rationalism (modernism) doubted everything in order to erect a pyramid of certain knowledge. His system fell into the fallacy of trusting self as the source of truth—“I think, therefore, I am.” Man became the measure of all things. No wonder philosophy capitulated to skepticism; rationalism failed to come to certain truth. To this belief in the sufficiency of human reason, Kant added the autonomy of the human will. Man became the franchise of truth and acted like the spider that weaves its web from its own body. No wonder the human being cannot find God by his own means. Autonomous man hems himself in by the variables of his presuppositions (narratives). The depraved viewpoint cannot find God by operation bootstraps. “ And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19 esv)
Postmodernism also carries a pragmatic view of truth. Richard Rorty, a leading secular postmodern, follows John Dewey’s instrumental view of truth and dialectical in method. By manipulating his thesis through language, he avoids logic and evidence. According to Douglas Groothuis, professor at Denver Seminary, this amounts to propaganda:
What Rorty is trying to dignify, through his own jargon, is what historically has been called a “snow job” or a “con job.” It is not an argument, because arguments seek to persuade on the basis of logic and evidence marshaled to the effect that something is true or false. Rorty speaks simply of manipulating language. This is propaganda, not argument. Nazis, communists, fascists and assorted racists have excelled in such redescriptions. Such “dialectic” may well “work,” but that does not make it a proper intellectual procedure.108
Postmoderns self-contradict and refute their own beliefs. Their claim that beliefs are nothing more than social construction or social perspective on belief is itself a claim for truth. By asserting what it denies, postmodernism commits intellectual suicide. If there are no facts but only interpretations, then everything is a matter of relative perspective. There would be no way to arbitrate validity between perspectives. Groothuis clarifies confusion between perspective and truth: “Our perspectives only affect our sense of what is true; they do not determine truth.” He shows the reductum ad absurdum of perspectivism: “Perspectivism reduces to a kind of collective autism: everyone has a perspective; no one has the truth; but perspectivism as an epistemology is supposedly true.” Then he declares that this system devours itself: “The philosophical immolation continues.”109
If everything is a matter of perspective or interpretation, then there are no facts upon which to base anything. Words create all reality; there is no reality other than language. Such a functional view when applied to the Bible, dislocates the essence of the more proper view of didactic truth.
There is truth to the idea that human beings have a proclivity to inject their desires and biases into interpretation, but this does not ipso facto preclude objective reason or careful logic by those who interpret the text with integrity. Without logic or reason, postevangelicals cannot make distinctions about their postmodern view of Christianity. They surrender the integrity of evangelical propositional truth. If we forfeit evangelical certainty of truth, then we will lose the exclusive claim of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism itself will be lost.
Postconservatives seek to submit propositional truth to something other than didactics. For them, unity becomes a universal truth to which all other “truth” must succumb. An illustration of this is the postconservatives’ attempt to syncretize their beliefs with postliberals. The obstacle to that is the desire for some measure of truth; if postconservatives could minimize or reduce their doctrines to the least common denominator (a minimalist orthodoxy), then ecumenical unity could be the outcome (a recognition of pluralistic culture). This, according to them, would foster “the pursuit of truth”110 (dialectical process) as over against conclusion of truth (didactic). To them, doctrine divides (indeed, it does). This is why Brian McLaren prefers the term “ortho- dox” as over against “conservative” or “evangelical.” He claims that he is not a minimalist in orthodoxy because he upholds the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, which is to beg the question.111 He tries to maintain that “Scripture itself remains above creeds” and “new creeds are needed to give voice to the cry of faith today.”112
Many evangelicals who, like McLaren, teach in secular universities (and secularly trained professors in evangelical schools, for that matter) have a highly pragmatic or instrumental view of truth derived from William James or John Dewey. The pragmatic view of truth holds that a belief is true only if it yields advantageous results; it is true because it works. This speculative claim assumes certain unsubstantiated theses. How do we know what is good or how do we evaluate what is true? By abandoning the correspondent truth, postmodern evangelicals appeal to Christian community. They have no certain word to those without Christ, who do not believe in the community’s viewpoint. They flounder without any verifying method of coming to truth. Why should a Jehovah’s Witness believe what the evangelical community has to say? Maybe the evangelical should believe the Jehovah’s Witness community.
To support his own version of correct belief, McLaren titled his book Generous Orthodoxy, based on G. K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy. But Chesterton himself assailed raw pragmatism. Douglas Groothuis quotes Chesterton, who held that one of the necessities for the human mind is “a belief in objective truth.”113 The pragmatist philosophy, according to Erickson, “makes nonsense of the human sense of actual fact.”114 Any view where truth depends on culture results in truth becoming subjective and relative. Truth must rest on factuality and correspond to reality. Note Groothuis’s conclusion:
Whenever postconservative evangelicals depart from the correspondent view of truth—which is both biblical and logical—and thus sink into the swamps of subjectivism, pragmatism, or constructivism, they should be lovingly but firmly resisted. Nothing less than the integrity of our Christian witness is at stake.115
An idea might work yet not be true. For the Christian, truth always transcends means.
Incoherence of Tolerance
Many evangelicals today are in full-blown latitudinarianism and syncretism. Latitudinarianism holds a mentality of elasticity toward exclusive and certain truth. Syncretism is the attempt to combine different systems of philosophy and theology into one indistinct system. By bowing to these systems of thought, postconservatives lose their core message, not knowing what they believe for sure. This is another cycle of an old problem—infidelity to truth without unifying power.
The Church of England in the mid-seventeenth century tried to develop middle ground between religious truth and skepticism by advocating religious toleration; that ended in latitudinarianism. In other words, what they believed gave way to the least common denominator in order to encompass many beliefs. Postconservatives are latitudinarian when they want to affirm even Eastern religions. By professing to reject both absolutism and relativism, they find themselves caught in the dilemma of being either true to Scripture or true to latitudinarianism. Their answer processes through pluralism to something that lies “on the other side.” A Christian should be a “welcome friend to other religions of the world, not a threat.”116 Obviously, Christians should not threaten other religions in the sense that the Crusaders did, but the Bible thoroughly attacks the idolatry of religion and its deception. The latitudinarianism of postconservatives runs counter to biblical revelation—to all of its exclusive claims. In biblical parlance, belief in other religions is idolatry. Latitudinarianism is just a mechanism for evading distinctive claims of Scripture.
Carson states that McLaren wants differences in religion to be “additive” so that he can learn from all religions. He wants to learn from Zen Buddhism because it teaches meditation, for example. Carson makes this statement about McLaren’s “additive” view:
But quite apart from the failure to address what we must do when the religions contradict one another, this merely additive approach carries a hidden set of problems. In this instance, meditation in Zen Buddhism is not conceived of as mere technique. It is integrally related to Zen’s understanding of the divine, which is fundamentally alien to that of the Bible.117
Carson also makes the telling point that other religions of the world would find McLaren’s approach insulting “because they hold that their own religious understandings are true and can be addressed respectively only by adjudicating truth claims.”118 Carson then lays a stinging indictment against McLaren’s handling of truth claims:
Regretfully, I cannot resist the conclusion that McLaren keeps ducking all the hard questions while claiming he has found a better way. I do not see how he has wrestled with the question of how abominable idolatry is to the God of the Bible. I have not found him coherent and convincing, precisely because he will not deal with the claims of truth.119
A fallacious current idea holds that no one individual belief is better than another, no matter how absurd, silly, immoral, or irrational it might be. This is a distorted view of tolerance. We used to understand tolerance to mean respect for other people and the positions they held, even though we disagreed. Toler- ance gave opposing positions the right to disagree so that both parties differed civilly. The desire was not to suppress another viewpoint. Nevertheless, tolerance assumes disagreement; we can respect the person and his viewpoint and still engage him in public discourse. In other words, we might strongly disagree but respect the process.
Today secular postmoderns deem all viewpoints to be virtually equal in validity. Everything is permissible except the beliefs of those who claim certainty. Those who believe in objective and certain truth are the problem because the postmodern ultimate assumption of what is true is that there is no absolute truth, that relativism and subjectivism are paramount. Postconservatives want to identify closely with this position. Carson calls this “intellectually incoherent.”120 There is a huge distinction between catholicity or generosity of heart on the one hand, and tolerance of error or compromise of faith on the other. Catholicity of heart is the same as true tolerance. True tolerance comes with detection of error yet respects the person who holds that view but not the error itself. Postconservatives hold to an incoherent tolerance because they are intolerant of clarion claims of certain truth.
Postevangelicals want to reduce reality to perspectives of social groups. No group can claim certainty over other groups; postconservatives cannot tolerate an exclusive claim for certainty, and to do so would be intolerant and would be perceived to be intolerant. Christians should reduce their thinking to a personal or group story (narrative). Although they begrudgingly leave a place for truth, postevangelicals are uncomfortable with proclaiming it with authority. They reduce truth to its least common denominator, issuing an anemic Christianity. They cannot handle truth very well but cave in to secular postmodern culture. They have great difficulty in proclaiming truth the way Scripture proclaims truth (1 Corinthians 2:1–4).
If we cannot assert that other viewpoints are wrong, then we would bankrupt truth of God’s revelation. If there were no place for truth claims, we would end in belief bankruptcy. Pluralism is a mechanism for imposing uniformity upon all beliefs. Postconservatives claim that Christianity is superior to other religions, yet they cannot assert a basis for that belief because of their reluctance to fix truth claims. Judgment is necessary even for them. They must assert the “truth” that we cannot know truth as certain. A deep-rooted myth among postevangelicals is that tolerance is neutral about truth. What passes for tolerance among them is not tolerance whatsoever, but rather cowardice that hides behind the myth of truth neutrality. They are even afraid to employ obvious extant statements of Scripture.
This tolerance is intolerant, but truth changes our approach to the nature of tolerance. We accept our medical doctor’s conclusion when told that we have cancer and need surgery. Why do we not accept the advice of a psychic healer? It is a matter of credentials and certification. There is a definite distinction between belief and truth. To believe sincerely in the psychic does not make the psychic’s conclusions valid. This belief will not change facts that the surgeon found. The question is one of who is trustworthy. It is not narrow minded to believe in factual credibility.
Tolerance of behavior is a different matter. Society does not tolerate all behavior; it has certain limits. North American culture does not accept murder as a proper norm and generally views adultery as wrong. However, ironically, those who hold to exclusive an viewpoint are not tolerated, and postmoderns extend little tolerance toward those with the “bigoted, narrow-minded” idea that some ideas are heretical. In a 1987 address at Duke University, Ted Koppel, formerly of ABC’s Nightline, established the need for drawing clear lines in the sand:
We have actually convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. Shoot up if you must, but use a clean needle. Enjoy sex whenever and with whomever you wish; but wear a condom. No! The answer is no. Not because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying in an AIDS ward, but no because it’s wrong, because we have spent 5,000 years as a race of rational human beings, trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In its purest form truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach. What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions.121
Today even mission organizations try to negotiate away from truth by the syncretism of biblical truth with culture. Some evangelical missions attempt to fit Christianity into national religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam to contextualize the gospel culturally with given countries. The World Council of Churches accepted religious beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. This is an easy step for Eastern religions but a very difficult step for Christianity, if one believes the revelation of Scripture as exclusive truth.
Brian McLaren protests exclusivist claims of truth as elitism. He maintains that evangelicals say, “We’re the only ones who have it right.”122 His idea of authenticity is to not make claims of certainty. He then asserts that we do not want to “lower our standards of authentic discipleship,” but rather “raise our standards of Christ-like acceptance.”123 McLaren is employing pure exploitation; the issue is not about “discipleship” but about truth. He reasons by false dichotomy. This attempt at syncretism undermines the truthfulness of the Word of God. Jesus himself was very divisive when it came to truth. He even called religionists of his day children of the devil (John 8:44). Division over truth and the Word of God is a wonderful and glorious defense of God and his Word. This does not excuse slanting a perspective on truth without logical, rational, or biblical justification. No one could charge Jesus with supercilious hubris when he unapologetically claimed to be “the way, the life, and the truth” (John 14:6). There is a place for drawing a line in the sand biblically. Aristotle argued that mutually exclusive or contradictory statements cannot be true at the same time (logic of the law of non-contradiction).
Catering to Uncertainty
The current emergent idea of the kingdom is that we can change the world by Christian socialism. This view of the kingdom equates to social justice, demotes the millennial kingdom to something irrelevant, and promotes a present kingdom concocted from eisegesis of Scripture. Emergent thinkers want to see youth correct injustices and poverty in the world with a method of evangelism that does not communicate the gospel. Bob DeWaay, a senior pastor in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says, “The Emergent Church movement is an association of individuals linked by one very important, key idea: that God is bringing history toward a glorious kingdom of God on earth without future judgment.”124
Acceptance of inerrant Scripture is a problem to postconservatives; accordingly they do not make a stand on the inspired, inerrant, infallible, unadulterated Word of God. They compromise the Word of God in lieu of a utilitarian, pragmatic, functional approach. Brian McLaren equates divine authorship of Scripture with human authorship in a dual origin of authorship.125 Nowhere in Scripture do we find the “dual origin” of truth that makes tradition and the Word of God equivalent.
The emergent church is missional; that is, it is a faith community that does not hold fast to a body of doctrines. It derives its belief from inside the community; this emphasizes belonging to a faith community as the priority rather than holding to a set of propositions or doctrines. The missional approach uses the incarnational idea that as Jesus walked among us to effect social change, so the church should do the same. People become Christians by association with the church rather than by the proclamation of the church. Emergent thinking is reluctant to proclaim the certainty of truth such as the objective gospel, believing it is better for non-Christians to absorb Christianity subjectively in order to see it “authentically.” Christianity can by this “emerge” from the community.
Postmodern evangelicals also change other essential doctrines to adapt to a postmodern worldview. They question the nature of the Bible as the primary source of revelation by adding another source of authority; for them, Scripture came by “God’s creation and the creation of dozens of people and communities and cultures who produced it.”126 The classical evangelical view holds that God spoke as the Holy Spirit moved authors of Scripture to write it down under his superintendence (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Thus, the Bible “alone” (sola) is God’s ultimate authority; God’s truth does not equate to the Bible plus tradition, the Bible plus community, or the Bible plus anything else. Radical emergent rejection of evangelical belief in the area of inspiration makes people the final arbiter of truth. This scheme flies in the face of the idea that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Because postmodern evangelicals can identify little with certainty, social justice is the true core of emergent belief. The norm for this conclusion is personal experience and the pragmatic view of truth, but knowing which experience or which practice has validity is impossible without absolute truth. Follow- ing the theological trail of liberals, the message for them is justice on earth.127 However, the gospel is about eternal life, not temporal life or social justice.
Emergent twisting of the truth of the gospel into socialism and social justice is an attempt to change the gospel into a pluralistic message that accommodates everyone and quashes Jesus’ claim to mutually exclusive truth (John 14:6). A panacean gospel of love is a selected or preferred gospel, a gospel of personal creation is a custom-designed gospel from culture. Like designer clothes, we now have a designer gospel situated for those who cannot tolerate a pure gospel. A mutated gospel requires a select gospel, a generalized gospel, a non-offensive gospel, a gospel from wolves in sheep’s clothing. Postevangelicals do this to “suit” the “passions” of their hearers. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4 esv)
Postconservatives cater to mutated forms of Christianity instead of the pure biblical message. They heed secular postmoderns’ protests against the biblical gospel that says, “I cannot accept the idea that someone has to pay for my sin; that is offensive to me. I cannot believe in a God who sends people to hell.” Some postmodern evangelicals worry about those who accept a God who sends people to hell and who sacrifices his Son to die for the sins of others.
Postmodern evangelicals adapt the gospel to the comfort zone of cultural preference by disregarding the God who confronts sinners to accept the finished work of Christ. Thus, these people carefully select what they preach; they talk about love and grace, and they neglect large sections of Scripture dealing with the whole counsel of God. They want a prissy and banal god who does not offend the sensitivities of postmodern thinking (unless, of course, it is something like egregious pedophilia). Their answer is to mutate the gospel, to accommodate it to the preferences of those who would play god and stand in judgment over the Bible.
People can formulate this hybrid gospel only by neglecting great sections of Scripture that deal with the nature of gospel certainty. They selectively take from Scripture only the portions dealing with God’s mercy and love, and they neglect portions dealing with judgment and hell. They make Jesus into a sweet, sentimental, and caring social worker who deals with issues of justice. They reduce Jesus to the kind of person who does “nice” things for others, especially those who are the subject of injustice. By doing this, they ignore the idea that Jesus condemned the Pharisees in very caustic terms. He called them children of the devil because they did not have truth (John 8:44), hypocrites, blind guides, fools, whitened sepulchers, serpents, and a generation of vipers. That does not sound like a prissy Jesus to me, but this is what postconservatives would have us believe. Jesus even had the temerity to say that they could not escape the damnation of hell (Matthew 13). Postconservative ameliorators obvi- ate Jesus’ extant statements about hell (Matthew 10:28), and neglect his caustic judgment on religion (Matthew 23; John 8:44) and sin. They can do this only by neglecting great sections of Scripture, formulating a theology of their own making. Francis Schaeffer in The Great Evangelical Disaster made the point that this amounts to accommodation of truth to culture. This is accommodation of truth rather than accommodation of method.
David Wells warns against losing the evangelical message in the tactical maneuver to get the gospel a hearing. Evangelists who try to be contemporary to the point of changing the message ultimately lose the message:
Inevitably, those enamored by its contemporaneity will find that with each new tactical repositioning they are drawn irresistibly into the vortex of what they think is merely contemporary but what, in actual fact, also has the power to contaminate their faith. What they should be doing is thinking strategically, not tactically. To do so is to begin to see how ancient this spirituality actually is and to understand that beneath many contemporary styles, tastes, and habits there are also encountered rival worldviews. When rival worldviews are in play, it is not adaptation that is called for but confrontation: confrontation not of a behavioral kind which is lack in love but of a cognitive kind which holds forth “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). This is one of the greatest lessons learned from the early Church. Despite the few who wobbled, most of its leaders maintained with an admirable tenacity the alternative view of life which was rooted in the apostolic teaching. They did not allow love to blur truth or to substitute for it but sought to live by both truth and love.128
Above all, postconservatives do not want to be “judgmental,” so they hide the exclusive gospel and the certain nature of the gospel from their listeners. They apply a “pick and choose” method to the Bible by masking what the Word of God has to say fully about a subject. They create doctrines of their own making by selecting Scripture portions that current culture prefers for pluralistic civility. Yet Jesus was very judgmental, so postconservatives carry a distorted view of judgment. The Bible never condemns judgment of facts but judgment of motive. To call an apple tree an apple tree because there are apples hang- ing from a tree is not judgmental. That simply judges or assesses the fact. To impugn motives without facts to document the assertion is judgmental, but Jesus based his judgment on patent fact.
Some evangelicals cater to pluralistic sensitivities to such a degree that they themselves are willing to be evangelized by other religions!129 This is an attempt to establish an inclusive model in evangelicalism as over against presenting an exclusive gospel model. Postconservatives deem that we must find what is true in other religions and then go back to Scripture to see if we interpret God’s Word properly. We must go to Buddhists to be truly inclusive and see them as children of God, but the Bible calls them children of the devil. This radical redefinition of the gospel works against the true gospel. The true gospel is the conviction that there is no salvation apart from Jesus (Acts 4:12). This is an exclusivist message:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13, 14 esv)
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18 esv)
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 1:12 esv)
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 1:5, 6 esv)
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12 esv)
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15 esv)
Exclusive teaching was scandalous to the polytheism (pluralism) of the first century, just as it is to those who try to make Christianity relevant today by age. No one has the answer, so we have to learn from the whole spectrum and plurality of diversity. Every idea is “open” to dialogue. Relativism is necessary to openness and is the pivotal virtue upon which all else rests. Because diversity requires openness, it is a necessary condition for relativism. Multiplicity of viewpoint is incompatible with objective and certain truth, so no one can claim normative truth. This approach rests on the assumption that relativism is necessary to openness and that relativism is the only acceptable virtue to our times. Objective truth in Christianity does not fit this model. The relative assumption requires us to view competing truth claims uniformly. No one can know truth with certainty, so we must be open to all viewpoints, and Christianity cannot be exclusively true.
Postconservatives court evangelicals by manipulation. Many evangelicals are so vacuous about the Bible that they do not recognize the error of postmodern evangelicalism. Their thinking is that if a person shows passion about something, then it must be real. No doubt, passion is an indication of integrity, but there is more to discernment than passion. To hold to the single criterion that passion is the way to determine truth is to put evangelicals in great danger. Many cults display great passion for their followers, but their true interest is power lust. They use religious means to satisfy their hunger for power. False teachers fawn over people to get their attention (Galatians 4:15, 16; 2 Corinthians 11:13–15). The Galatians went from one extreme of wanting to give their eyes for Paul to the other extreme of treating him as an enemy, and all because he told them the truth (Galatians 4:15, 16).
It is a precarious business to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Paul desired to be with the Galatians so that he could rebuke them with the proper tone. He wanted to adapt his voice to the true situation. It is always wise for leaders to understand the context in dealing with a problem situation. The Galatian relapse into legalism perplexed Paul, and he was at loss to find an adequate reason for their leaving the grace principle for legalism (Galatians 1:6–7). Good leadership does not rush into doctrinal error like a bull in a china shop but seeks to understand the context of the problem and adapt the tone to the situation. It is difficult to speak truth to those in error (4:16).