(This is, quite honestly, an auspicious way for me to reenter the blogosphere)
On April 14, just weeks before he died, Jerry Falwell preached a sermon entitled “What’s Wrong with the Emergent Church?” I’m especially interested because he mentions me by name.
You can listen to the sermon
here (it’s also available on iTunes) [LINK REMOVED], and you can see his notes here [LINK REMOVED, new link here] I suggest you listen as you look over the notes, since he several times leaves the notes and makes some extemporaneous comments.
He’s got some things right, and some things wrong in this sermon. And I’ll interact with them point-by-point. But the first thing I’d like to note is that this is not a biblical sermon. I mean, it seems to me that Falwell and other evangelical leaders excoriate “liberals” for not being biblical preachers, but in this sermon the Bible is hardly mentioned. He reads a passage from Matthew at the beginning, then briefly and vaguely mentions it later, and that’s it. He doesn’t interact with it, interpret it, or even preach about it. In that respect, this isn’t so much a sermon as it is a speech, and it seems to me that the Bible is nothing more than a covering for a speech about some things that he holds dear.
1) The Intro: Jerry begins by saying that the emergent church started with people who are dissatisfied with evangelicalism. Partly right. Then he says, “I’ve studied the emergent church, and I’d like to tell you what’s wrong with it.” Based on what’s below, you be the judge of how much “study” he’s done.
2) The Passage: what I said above. I think it’s funny when he says, “Right answer” about Peter’s reponse to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s funny because it’s cute, and because of how many times Peter gives the “wrong” answer to Jesus in other places.
3) Peter Drucker: Jerry quotes Peter Drucker on cultural shifts, then riffs on all the shifts he’s seen in his own life. It’s a bit eery that Jerry refers to his birth in 1933 and all the changes since then (ball point pen, computers, etc.). He says that other than the printing press and the steam engine, his parents grew up in a world very much like the Apostles. Hmm. That’s curious. “And so the world is changing rapidly,” he says, “And, unfortunately, so is the church.”
4) Method and Message: Jerry goes on about how great microphones are and how styles of music don’t matter. “I remember all of those changes, but they have nothing to do with spirituality. It has to do with preference and taste.” I think many people would be hard-pressed to agree that they’re musical preference is disassociated from their spirituality. But he does say that the emergent church has become destructive.
5) What is Emergent: He says that Leadership Network is the “fountainhead” of emergent, then he quotes at length from the LN website — “You can look it up,” he says, “At the Leadership Network.” The problem is, it’s not from LN’s website, but from the Emergent Village website. He reads from this page, under the last three subtitles. I wrote those paragraphs, and, I must say, they sound great in Jerry’s mouth! I wonder if anyone at Thomas Road Baptist Church that morning thought, “Hmm, that sounds pretty good! I’d better check that site!” I checked our analytics, and out hits weren’t particularly high that day, so I guess not.
6) Context: Jerry talks about innovations in worship that are cool by him, then he takes us to task for re-analyzing “the Bible against the context in which is was written.” He says that’s from our own words, but I don’t know where that’s from. Nor do I know what it means to read something “against a context,” but anyway, I guess he’s on the right track here. Hermeneutics is key in emergent…
7) Foundation: He says we’ve built our movement on the wrong foundation (this is where he refers to the Bible, equating Jesus’ statement about on this “rock” I will build my church with a philosophical foundation and with Jesus himself. Isn’t Peter the “rock” in this passage???). He then accuses us of
Denying the divinity of Christ (I don’t know of one person in Emergent who does)
Denying the Second Coming (I know of about 3 “full preterists” who do)
Denying the knowledge of Christ for salvation (again, I know of a few, but not many)
8) Slippery Slope: That’s what he says we’re on. Then he says something very curious: “I know the founders [of emergent]. I have ministered with them, and they have ministered here. We have been friends, and we still are friends. And I have cautioned them just as I am speaking here, that you have weak biblical foundations.” So, if you are one of those emergent leaders who was friends with Jerry, please leave a comment below.
9) Theology: He says several times that we don’t have any theologians in the group, that we don’t care about theology, and that we learned everything we know at a few pastors’ conferences. “No theology. A bit of knowledge, but no wisdom.”
10) Non Sequiter: He talks about neckties and says, “Please bury me in a black suit and a red necktie and a ‘Jesus First’ lapel pin, or I’ll come back and haunt you.” Strange. Eery. He also talks about DC Talk, etc.
11) My sinful mouth: Now here’s the fun part. We are
“encouraging profane and vulgar speech, in private and now from the pulpit. Tony Jones, who’s one of the leaders of the emergent church, recently was speaking from the podium, and he was asked a question about the Bible. Here is what he said — obviously I can’t use the expletive, but I’ll just use the letter. These are his words. He’s the leader. He’s the minister. He said, he said, ‘The F Bible is scary to me. The F Bible is scary to me.”
He then says that if anyone says that at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the men should rush the stage and remove that person from the building.
Now, I hope I don’t have to say that — unlike some of my friends — I’ve never dropped the F-bomb in the pulpit, nor do I have any plans to (breathe easy, Mission Gathering!). What Jerry (or the person who actually wrote his sermons) found was a post at churchandpomo in which I wrote (in the midst of a longer post on deconstructionist readings of texts),
This connection between deconstruction and the Bible is especially meaningful, methinks. I am quite convinced that the Bible is a subversive text, that it constantly undermines our assumptions, transgresses our boundaries, and subverts our comforts. This may sound like academic mumbo-jumbo, but I really mean it. I think the Bible is a f***ing scary book (pardon my French, but that’s the only way I know how to convey how strongly I feel about this). And I think that deconstruction is the only hermeneutical avenue that comes close to expressing the transgressive nature of our sacred text.
Well, I could go on and on. He compares a bottle of beer with cocaine. He talks about traveling “with some of them” to Egypt and, at a stop in Zurich, his co-travelers drank wine at dinner. Again, if you’re one of the emergent church leaders who traveled with Jerry to Egypt, please drop a note in the comment section so I can hear about that trip. He lists Dave Travis (an LN staffer) as an emergent church leader.
Anyway, you can listen to the rest of it about how Jerry shuns all forms of evil, about drunk gospel singers, etc. It is wild stuff. He even promotes gossip in the choir (that is, tell me if you know of a choir member who is drinking or sleeping around, and I’ll be sure they aren’t in the choir next Sunday). We are “galvanizing into a denomination.”
I must say, it is something to be immortalized by Jerry Falwell just days before his death.
will say this, during the whole “sermon” he seems to have a smile on his face. He was not an angry critic, like some. But still, I don’t quite know what to make of it.
Wild stuff, friends. Wild stuff.