Emergent Christianity in Memphis, Part 1

2 Timothy 4.3-4

Earlier this month a meeting of Emergent Christians happened at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee. The meeting was an event honoring Phyllis Tickle, a forerunner in Emergent thinking. Among the over 400 attendees were such emergent luminaries as Brian McLauren, Doug Pagitt, and Tony Jones.

An excellent post came out last week from the Institute of Religion and Democracy‘s “Juicy Ecumenism” blog. The meeting could be summed up as a celebration of Postmodern Christianity, as evidenced by the following blog excerpts and quotes from Phyllis Tickle:

Ultimately, she foretold a “coming age of the Spirit,” in which dogmatic orthodoxy and claims to absolute truth (outdated artifacts from the ages of the Father and the Son) would melt before a loving communion of uncertainty.

This comment is unfortunate, as without truth, how is the Gospel to be communicated? How are we to genuinely know if we are saved, know about, and communicate the items of the faith? In short, how do we know God? This is a classic statement of postmodernism, but it is self contradictory due to being an absolute statement about all of reality not being absolute. Moreover, Emergents constantly live in contradiction with what they say, as they come out in judgment against anything that smacks of the traditional faith.

The noted speaker also contended, ‘We need to devise a new doctrine of the atonement.’ Informing the audience that there are at least six kinds of atonement theory, she excoriated the penal substitutionary view of redemption. ‘This ‘bloody sacrifice’ approach is the evangelical staple, teaching that Christ took upon God’s wrath against Law-breaking sinners upon himself as a substitute, thus purchasing grace and mercy for believers. “It won’t play anymore,’ Tickle stated.

So as Tickle moves from truth generally, she then shows its implications on the Christian faith itself, a similar move made in the life of Clark Pinnock. If there is no truth, then the Bible for sure is not true, and what it has to say about the Gospel is not something one should hang their hat on. As the Emergent would likely say, we are modern people and we have evolved beyond that. I would be interested to hear Tickle’s explanation for the obvious evil in our world, and what the answer would be for it, apart from the biblical message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the exchange for our evil (2 Cor. 5:21, Gal 3.13).

Finally, Tickle warned her peers, ‘For the first time in history, we don’t know what a man is.’ Setting him apart for thinking, memory, emotional affiliation with a tribe, and language have all fallen away to scientific research… She rhetorically pondered, ‘Maybe I’m just a wash of chemical over neurons in my head.’ In short, Tickle outlined that contemporary men do not know what a soul is. She concluded that end of life issues, abortion, capital punishment, robotics, transhumanism, and other questions of personhood cannot be addressed until this question of the soul finds an answer.

And now we have the logical conclusion once one swallows naturalism hook, line, and sinker along with dismissing the truth taught about the Christian faith in the Bible. And naturalism is really where it all begins anyway. Postmodernism was a reaction to naturalism. But you see, once we lose truth, once we lose what the Bible teaches about humanity, we lose humanity in the process. That move is clearly demonstrated in this quote. Furthermore  it is unfair for Tickle to say those issues and questions of personhood are uncertain and unanswered, because many Emergents do make a decision on these questions and it is often on the liberal end of things. Given all the talk of uncertainty, the grayness of everything, and lack of truth, they make black and white decisions and judgments all the time, even on the very things they claim to be uncertain about.

All this is really unfortunate given the venue, the historic St. Mary’s Cathedral. The congregation is known in Anglican history to have some of its members and fellow volunteers from outside the church become martyrs for taking care of the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. They stayed and helped amid many fleeing town, even self-proclaimed Christians were leaving, and the City of Memphis became so depopulated from flight and death that it temporarily lost its City Charter. What makes this unfortunate is the fact that the doctrine that motivated these folks to step out in faith and help the sick and dying, at the risk of becoming sick and dying themselves, is the very doctrine that is denied and being attacked by Tickle and the Emergents today.