Destroying America: Muslims, Communists…and Me!

So, it seems I — and all of you who are part of the emergence of Christianity — are bent on destroying America. So are Communists and Muslims. So says Art Ally, in his forthcoming seminar at the Values Voter Summit:

If that’s too small to read, here’s the text:


  • Speaker: Art Ally, Founder and President, The Timothy Plan
  • Synopsis: This session will equip you to engage in the debate over the war for the soul of America.  We will explore the fundamental foundational problems we have in America and three of the channels the adversary is using to bring America down (Communism, Islam and the Emergent Church movement.)  The first 200 attendees will receive complimentary copies of Curtis Bowers’ award winning DVD Agenda (exposing Communism), Pastor Paul Blair’s comprehensive DVD (on the truth behind Islam) and Roger Oakland’s outstanding book “Faith Undone” (an expose on the Emergent Church movement.)

Religion News Service‘s Sarah Pulliam Bailey dug a little deeper. Here’s what she found:

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Synergies Between the Emerging Church and 12 Steps

The following is a guest post by Chris Estus. Chris is an “Aspiring Emergent.”  He left the friendly local mega-church in 2011 to start Pioneer at Asbury – A worshiping community of people in, in need of or interested in recovery.  He and his good Al-Anon wife Pat have lead the Pioneer Group since 2001.  His worship CD – The Chris Estus Band can be sampled at

I had my last drink of alcohol on July 24th 1999.  I ‘ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, I had enough.   It had quit working.  My ways of fixing me had quit working too.  I went to AA the next day.  There I found a community of people that immediately welcomed me and seemed to have a solution.  I discovered that I was a sick person trying to get well, not a bad person trying to get good.  They explained that I had a fatal, progressive illness with no known medical cure.  But there was a solution.  One day at a time, just keep coming back and drink this bad coffee and pray and follow direction and take the steps and try to help somebody and don’t drink and you won’t get drunk and life will improve.  Seek God, Clean House, Work With Others.  They were and are right.  Since then I have been an active member of the fellowship and an active participant in my recovery and that of many others.   I haven’t had a drink since I showed up and my life has improved exponentially.

A few months after sobering up, a recovery friend invited me to the local friendly Non-Denominational Mega Church.  I loved the music, the atmosphere, the shiny everything.  The motivational seminar attitude and vibe was hopeful and vibrant.  I soon responded to an altar call, prayed the prayer, repented from not tithing all these years and went through the new members class.  I quit the bar band, became a Contemporary Christian Praise and Worship Artist and joined a home group.

It was at the home group that I started noticing something troubling.  About 10 of the home group members were alcoholics or addicts that had sobered up in AA or another 12-Step program.  They all became active in church.  They loved and studied and knew The Word.  Somewhere in the process each of them had somehow convinced themselves that: [Read more...]

Book Sale

Dear readers, for the next week, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope is on sale in the ebook version for just $1.99. It’s a great book, edited by Doug Pagitt and Your Favorite Blogger, with contributions that include:

• Brian McLaren on postcolonialism
• Dan Kimball on theology
• Sally Morgenthaler on leadership
• Will Samson on mission
• Karen Sloan on sexuality
• Tim Keel on imagination
• Carla Barnhill on parenting
• Tim Conder on church

Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or

Whaddya Say We Get Honest about Labels?

This morning on Marketplace Morning Report, Krissy Clark filed a story entitled, “What Does ‘Welfare’ Mean to You?“:

Once upon a time, the word welfare simply meant, faring well. That’s how the framers of the U.S. Constitution used it in the preamble. Right after the part about “forming a more perfect union” and before the part about “securing the blessings of liberty”, there’s a charge to “promote the general welfare.”

And yet, if you go out on to the street and ask people how they feel about the word welfare today, the feelings are, to put it mildly, fairly negative.

“It’s for people who sit on their butt all day and don’t do anything and then say ‘give me your money,’” is how John Frazer, a car service driver from San Diego, put it.

“It’s kind of associated with failure,” added Suncana Laketa, a graduate student from Arizona who said she had received welfare in the past herself.

She goes on to explain how the word has changed — how it has been demonized. The label “gay” has undergone a similar change, as many parents have had to explain during the annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” And here’s a telling book title about how labels are used: Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.

You see, calling someone a “liberal” isn’t just a forensic exercise in academic differentiation. It’s a political act. And leaders who claim a theological tradition that’s particularly attuned to the political should stop acting naive about the politics of labels.

This post and the hullaballoo that surrounds it has the potential to be seen as internecine sniping, so I’m going to try to draw some larger lessons.

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The Fuller Seminary of Malaysia

I’ve given three lectures so far in Malaysia. The first was on ministry uses of social media for Alpha Omega College in Kuala Lumpur. It was a great crowd. After my presentation, there was a time for questions. The first question was:

We have been told that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg work for the CIA. Is this true?

I almost made a “Culinary Institute of America” joke, but figured that would fall flat. I assured the nice woman that, no, I highly doubt that Facebook is a front for the CIA. The questions went on from there. Interesting.

Your Favorite Blogger with Dr. Joseph Komar

Then, yesterday, I gave two lectures at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia – known here at STM — one on the emerging church movement and one on emerging spiritualities. It was great fun and involved some excellent repartee with students and professors. I’m especially grateful to my host, Dr. Joseph Komar. STM started as an Anglican school, but it’s now also populated with students and profs who are Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and free church. It very much reminded me of my alma mater and part-time employer, Fuller Theological Seminary.

It continues to amaze me as I travel abroad about how much people know about the American church in general and the emerging church specifically. DA Carson, for instance, is a regular visitor here, brought by the small yet fervent group of Reformed pastors. Students at STM were well-versed in the work of Tim Keller and the split between Mark Driscoll and Emergent Village.

One of the first things I’ve done in each of my talks is ask forgiveness for the imperialistic ways that the American church has previously carried out missionary work. I’ve asked them to teach me about how the characteristics of emergence might play out — or not work — in a Malaysian context.

But it remains somewhat awkward. There is a general Asian deference that is cultural — my hosts all insist on calling me “Doctor” or “Dr. Tony,” even when I ask them not to. And I’m more interested in discussing ideas and theological perspectives than I am at parsing the differences in American celebrity Christians.

But these things go as they will. Here there are two major similarities the the American church, albeit modified in the Malaysian context. One is that the mainline churches are on the decline and struggling to retain younger people. Our term for that is the “nones,” and Malaysia is seeing a similar trend. Many young people just aren’t interested in practicing religion of any kind, but neither do they want to declare themselves atheists.

And secondly, the influence of Willow Creek and the seeker sensitive movement was very influential here. Today I’ll be speaking at a conference at Eagle Pointe Church, a seeker named church if ever there was one. (Remember this classic article by Sally Morganthaler: “Soon, sandwich signs littered the newly poured sidewalks with names befitting North American Generic: Mountainview Community Church, SouthHills, Ridgecrest, Deercreek, Frontrange, Stonybrook.”)

When I put the genesis of the emerging church in that context, I can see the connections forming between us. I hope that more of that happens today…

The Pentecostal Controversy

Over the past month, I’ve both requested help from the Pentecostal readers of this blog for assistance with my paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and then posted that paper in several parts.  All the while, I kept under wraps the controversy that surrounded my invitation to that group.  I did so out of respect for my hosts.

However, Arlene Sánchez-Walsh has gone public with her feelings on the matter at Religion Dispatches.  So now I’ll weigh in on the matter publicly.

But first, some background.

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Society for Pentecostal Studies Paper: What Pentecostals Have to Learn from Emergents

I don’t know that we’re far enough into this thing called emergence Christianity to proffer any definitive statements in the other direction, so I tender these suggestions humbly and tentatively.

First, while Pentecostals have, as I said, excelled at listening to the voice of God open the scriptures, particularly to individuals, the emergent church has worked at listening to God’s voice in corporate environments.  As my own community of faith, Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis, the weekly sermon is both prepared and presented communally, with contributions from those of us with PhDs to those us with GEDs.  Every member of the community is considered an “expert,” albeit one is an expert in Greek or Hebrew and the other in lawn mower repair.

Yet there is a presupposition that all voices are valid and important.  To put it another way, each individual believer is equally capable of being used by God’s Spirit and a vehicle of God’s truth.  God’s ability to use an individual to speak truth the community is neither enhanced nor hindered by number of letters after one’s name, how much is in one’s bank account, or which set of genitalia one has.

It seems to me that this egalitarian sense of God’s activity among humans, this “communal hermeneutic” would resonate among Pentecostals and would even hearken back to the early days of your movement.

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Society for Pentecostal Studies Paper: What Emergents Have to Learn from Pentecostals

It’s on this very point that I’d like to suggest that emergents can learn from Pentecostals how to talk about the Spirit of God.  In yesterday’s theology session on the emergent church, there was much talk about the need for emergents to develop a “robust pneumatology.”  I agree, in part.  For I think that emergents have a robust pneumatology, but I don’t think that we’re very good at talking about it.

As I argue in The New Christians, I think that most American Christians are “binitarians.”  That is, while they profess a belief in all three persons of the Trinity, their practice of the faith betrays that the Father matters to them, and so does the Son, but the Spirit is an afterthought.  As reflected in hymnody and praise songs, sermon titles and prayers, the Spirit gets far less than one-third of the time in the spotlight in most churches.

I think that emergents know, in our guts, that the Holy Spirit needs to make a comeback in our churches.  But we’ll need some brothers and sisters in Christ to show us the way.  I ask you who are Pentecostal and Charismatic to help us in that way.  Give us guidance in putting words on and legs to that pneumatology that lies latent within our movement.  I do believe that you will find willing dialogue partners in this endeavor.

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Society for Pentecostal Studies Paper: Characteristics

In any version of Christianity, certain things bind the persons who affiliate with that variety together.  For some, it is ethnic heritage, and for others, a certain confessional stance.  Most emanate from a particular individual, or, in the case of Pentecostalism, a particular event.

The emergent movement has no such genesis, and no such confessional glue.  Within emergent, you’ll find Southern Baptist preachers and lesbian Episcopal priests, Missouri Synod Lutherans and Quakers.  For what binds emergents is not unlike what binds Pentecostals – it’s an ethos, a posture.  In fact, I might describe it as a posture of openness to the movement of God’s Spirit in the world.

Thus, you could walk into a United Methodist Church with the an organist and choir and a minister in alb and stole, and stroll down the street to a Vineyard assembly with a rock band and a preacher wearing shorts, and each could self-identify as emergent.  Why is that?  What in God’s name do these churches have in common?

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Society for Pentecostal Studies Paper: Definitions

Getting one’s arms around the emergent church is no mean feat – indeed, I believe that the same may be said about Pentecostalism.  In a sense, the genesis of the emergent movement was the disenfranchisement of GenX evangelicals in the 1990s.  But in another sense, of course, the Bride of Christ is always emerging.  It is, as Brian McLaren has written, better referred to as “the church emerging” than “the emerging church.”

Further, those of us involved in the emergence Christianity have a particular antipathy toward rubrics, labels, and categorizations.  They seem to us convenient ways of boxing someone in, which all too often leads to writing someone off.

Please allow me a tangent: Was Thomas Aquinas a “liberal” or a “conservative”?  Well, we might at first paint him a conservative, for he rescued orthodox Christianity from a particularly stagnant period by recovering – i.e., conserving – scripture and tradition.  But how did he do that?  By entering into a thoroughgoing dialogue with the Aristotelian philosophy of medieval Islam.  I daresay that if a theologian today were to admit that he or she was dipping into the wells of Muslim philosophy in order undergird Christian theology, that theologian would be condemned as having slipped off the slippery slope.

My point is that the question, Was Thomas a conservative or a liberal? is nonsensical, because “liberalism” and “conservatism” are modern categories, linked to modern (read, analytic) philosophical presuppositions.  If I can make the point even more strongly, they are not theological categories.  Thomas was not a liberal or a conservative, Paul was not a liberal or a conservative, Jesus was not a liberal or a conservative.  And, if I may be so bold, I am not a liberal or a conservative.  Those non-theological categories become less helpful each day.  I suggest we stop using them.  OK, end of tangent.

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