Convergence of Emergent Church and the New Apostolic Reformation? Unlikely.

[In the following, references to the Emergent Church (EC) and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) generally deal with the extremes of these movements. Both are extraordinarily diverse, and one cannot deal will all possible variations and nuances in a single posting such as this.]

There have been some blog postings which have suggested that the Emergent Church movement and the New Apostolic Reformation might be coming together in some kind of super merger that cuts across a wide range of contemporary Christianity, including charismatics, neo-charismatics, pentecostals, evangelicals and fundamentalists. Apparently one of the evidences of this coming together is the June 1, 2010 release of “Jesus Manifesto” by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet.

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, for a variety of reasons.

For example, take a look at the Viola/Sweet connection. It seems that this constitutes a superficial dot-connecting of the two authors, with no real reference to the content of the book. Supposedly Viola has some NAR connections, while Sweet is considered by some to be a major player in the EC movement; they collaborate on a book – doesn’t matter whether or not the book deals with fundamental issues driving the NAR or the EC – and the two movements are now one? I don’t get it. Plus, in Sweet’s recent “Response” to his dis-invitation to speak at the National Worship Leaders Conference in Albuquerque, he seems to distance himself from the EC and the New Age, as well as from his own youthful work, “Quantum Spirituality.” (Incidentally, isn’t it time to stop posting references to a nearly 20-year old book, and start focusing on what Dr. Sweet has said/written recently?) Maybe if Brian McLaren and C. Peter Wagner co-authored a volume entitled “Coming Together” or similar, you might have something.

The problem is of course, the EC and NAR movements could hardly be more different, in many respects. Yes, both in their extremities contain dogma that many would consider to be aberrant or heretical views relative to orthodox Christianity, and yes, for very different reasons, one can plausibly aver that they both – in these aberrations – pose a serious threat to undiscerning believers. But the problematic points are not even close to being the same, and more importantly, the underlying epistemology and hermeneutics involved in those problems are very different. Further, the type of believers most susceptible to EC aberrations bear little resemblance to those enticed by NAR extremes. And fundamentally, the EC is birthed in fundamentalism and evangelicalism, whereas the NAR is almost exclusively a product of charismatic Christianity.

Consider an end-result of these movements; both EC and NAR produce political outcomes. However EC ends up with left-wing socialist proclivities, complete with wealth redistribution and green-as-good policies, whereas NAR ends up with right-wing, dominionistic goals. The EC is fine with working with current governmental structures, as long as they continue in the leftist direction, whereas the NAR in the extreme wants to have political structures at the top taken over by right-wing Christians. In fact a very significant difference in this respect is that the NAR has would seem to have much bigger ambitions than the EC, as is evidenced in the seven mountains formulation. At the political apex, the extreme EC would have a Barack Obama, with Jim Wallis as advisor; the NAR might have Sarah Palin, with Lance Wallnau pointing the way.

Now there is an area where there is seeming overlap: both the EC and NAR emphasize the importance of the Kingdom of God. However they get there by very different routes. The extreme EC downplays personal salvation, heaven and hell for a “this world only” emphasis, coupled with various flavors of universalism. Either most everybody gets saved, or it doesn’t matter. The NAR on the other hand consists of a both/and view: personal salvation is of utmost importance, but what “saved” people should be doing is greatly emphasized. The NAR wants believers engaged in the world both to evangelize/ disciple individuals and to take over the leadership of the “seven mountains” in a culture: the church, family, education, political structures, the arts, media, and business — simultaneously a top-down and bottom-up approach.

Further, it is true that both the EC and NAR in their extreme would say that we must work for the Kingdom so that the world can be in a condition that Jesus can come back to: “Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” And it is also true that both movements in their extreme reject dispensationalism, with the NAR treating rapture scriptural references symbolically, and the EC essentially not interested, other than to maybe deconstruct those references. The EC however probably tends to be more anti-Semitic or at least anti-Israel, with the NAR a mixed bag; for example, some of John Hagee’s associates are apparently in NAR leadership positions, while many not in the Hagee camp support replacement theology, whereby the church inherits the unconditional, irrevocable promises that God originally made to Israel, because of their rejection of Christ. I don’t see the EC dealing much at all in anything like “promises of God”; that’d just be too objective.

One way to contrast these two movements is to take a look at the underlying philosophical approaches. The EC is basically Christianity meets post-modernism, with the more extreme forms thereof eroding the ability of a Believer to properly interpret the Bible, and the re-casting of core doctrines of the faith in non-orthodox fashion. Perhaps the most damaging aberration is the redefining or down-playing of the atonement, exemplified by the now-infamous reference by Steven Chalke in “The Lost Message of Jesus” as “cosmic child abuse.” In general, the revisionist camp of the EC has simply rediscovered century-old theological liberalism with the accompanying social gospel. The new feature is their incorporation of Christian mysticism, not much of a factor the last time around. That’s a big contributor to the introduction of universalism, as EC believers who participate in mysticism come in contact with Buddhists, Sufi Muslims and Jewish Kabbalists who undergo essentially identical experiences, without entering through the John14:6 portal. With a post-modern, deconstructed, relativistic view of scripture in the EC, universalism would seem to be nearly impossible to resist.

On the other hand, most NAR adherents presuppose the Word of God as inerrant. Their problems such as may be found do not arise from scriptural or doctrinal deconstruction or post-modernism, but rather through a combination of hyper-charismatic interpretations of a number of key scriptures, combined with a great number of extra-biblical revelations. The NAR then runs with those revelations, finding scriptures that can be molded to support the dream, vision or impression. Some of this scriptural molding would appear to allow support of aberrant dogma; the point being however that the NAR believes that they must have the scriptural basis for their ideas. For example, the “A” in the NAR acronym represents Apostles, which have apparently re-appeared after an absence of nearly 2000 years, and there are considerably more than twelve this time. Detailed justification for these beliefs can be found in the writings of C. Peter Wagner, for example. However, the intent of this posting is not to delve into these beliefs and accompanying scriptural support, but simply to contrast the overall approach with that of the EC: they are very different.

An interesting note. From my limited experience, the EC and NAR worlds seem to be unaware of one another. I have immersed myself in learning as much as possible about the EC over the past year, reading some books and a lot of articles and blogs on websites with a variety of viewpoints. In all those hours of reading, listening and watching, the NAR, Third Wave, Joel’s Army, etc. was never discussed.

My exposure to the NAR is less comprehensive, and really came to the forefront upon attending the recent Convergence 2010 conference in Ft. Worth. The major speaker there was Graham Cooke, although Lance Wallnau provided an opening presentation on the “seven mountains” concept. While Cooke’s talks did not deal explicitly with either Wallnau’s 7-M perspective or the dominionist viewpoint of the NAR, some of what he said was certainly consistent with NAR thinking. Upon further review of Cooke’s writing and speaking, my conclusion is that he is not an NAR ideologue – his teaching seems to transcend any particular viewpoint or stance, rather focusing on encouraging Christians to understand their identity in the body of Christ, and to be earnestly seeking “upgrades” in their walk with God, especially relative to a prophetic calling.

During the conference, I brought up the issue of the Emergent Church movement with a half dozen or more attendees and host church members; none of them had even heard of it, including one or two host church staff people. When I would attempt to explain briefly what some of the issues were, they simply didn’t seem interested. Not a scientific survey, but consistent with my view that the EC and the NAR have very little in common, and are certainly not headed for some kind of merger. The differences are simply profound; for example does anyone really expect Jim Wallis and Sarah Palin to endorse the same slate of candidates in the fall 2010 elections?

On the issue of Christian mysticism, in the case of a charismatic-based movement, there is much that needs to be examined, beyond the scope of this posting. In addition there are undoubtedly existing books and blogs that have already dealt with this issue.

Another area that needs more examination is the role of house churches in both of these movements. In recent years a number of articles/books examined the relationship of house churches to the EC movement. For example, both Mark Driscoll and Ed Stetzer Identify the house church thread as a separate entity in the overall EC movement, although both seem to place them in the doctrine-friendly camp. The truth is undoubtedly more diverse; they probably vary over the entire spectrum of belief and practice, just as one finds in the “organized” church. Just because you have a house church does not make you emergent.

Nor does it make you part of the NAR. In this case, the house church movement would appear to be more part of a strategy than a group of doctrinaire-pure NAR fellowships; the NAR is very big on the establishment of networks which can be in some fashion co-opted into the overall dominionistic goal. Similarly there is also some connection with G12-types of entities, which brings up a whole series of new problems: just check with some of your friends in Latin America. Point being that just because there is a growing house church movement, that doesn’t necessarily and exclusively feed either the EC or the NAR, any more than mega-churches or seeker-friendly or any other grouping.

In conclusion, I’d like to comment on the list provided by the Discernment Research Group in their posting entitled ”The Other Side of Emergent: the New Apostolic Reformation.” My comments are in italicised bold.

“It was inevitable that the NAR would eventually openly connect with the Emergent Church. First, they are related historically in many diverse ways, some of which we have previously documented on this blog. It’s beyond the scope of this posting to challenge that statement and the documentation behind it. Second, and more obviously, the aberrant beliefs of the New Apostolic Reformation are nearly identical to those of the emerging church movement in some of the following ways:

  • The same Gnosticism, mysticism and altered states of consciousness. The belief that we are evolving to a higher order body of believers here on earth, and that if we would just jump through various mystical or restructuring hoops, paradise or “culture” would be renewed. The ‘leadership” of the NAR arises essentially from the charismatic movement, and is often directly confronting New Age people in hand-to-hand spiritual combat. Alternatively, the EC has leanings in the direction of the New Age, and mysticism is very much a part. It is true that charismatics can be accused of two-tier beliefs, but they desire everyone to come to the “upper tier.” If one wishes to define the charismatic and Pentecostal movements in totality as “Gnostic” and participating in Christian mysticism, then one shouldn’t restrict condemnation to the NAR; take on the whole lot. Needless to say, I believe that the charismatic and Pentecostal movements are neither Gnostic nor participants in Christian mysticism, any more than every other branch of orthodox Christianity.
  • The belief that we can transform the Earth and restore it to pre-Fall conditions — either via a green environmentalism return to paradise (George Otis, James Rutz, Ralph Winter), or by building the kingdom of God on earth where Christians will reign and rule and finally “get it right” by imposing their kingdom authority on the whole planet (Dominionism). Ok, fine, as stated above, both the NAR and the EC have as a major component the restoration of the Earth to pre-Fall conditions. My point is, the starting assumptions and praxis involved in such as mission are extraordinarily incompatible in the two movements, such that anything more than minimal cooperation would appear to be unlikely.
  • The belief that God has assigned certain men with special abilities or supernatural powers to be rulers and kings, Apostles and Prophets (aka “leaders”) now on earth, in this present age. This is a characteristic of the NAR, and not the EC. Of course, commentators on the EC scene will identify someone as a “Leading Emergent,” but there’s no hierarchy in which to place that leader. The NAR on the other hand does have such a hierarchy.
  • The belief that the church should realign into a networking downline marketing “apostolic”/cells/small groups for a more “authentic” or “original” New Testament structure. As stated above, both the NAR and the EC have involvement with house churches and similar small groups. It’s my contention that the NAR is much more intentional about the networking among such groups than is the EC.
  • The deconstruction (de-emphasis, denigration or mangling) of solid biblical theology and practice, and the concoction of new theologies augmented with old/new extra-biblical practices. Deconstruction coupled with diapraxis is a fundamental tool of the EC, but not the NAR. The NAR on the other hand goes much further in the direction of extra-biblical practices; both movements concoct some new theologies. However, both the methodology and the substance of such new theologies are totally incompatible between the NAR and the EC.
  • The belief that God is giving his church new revelations, new understandings, or “fresh words” for these times, especially by including old manuscripts, mystical writings, supernatural incidents, extra-biblical traditions and sources, etc. This is much more a characteristic of the NAR. Since it has originated out of the charismatic movement, “fresh words” is part of their spiritual DNA. Mystical writings and a general compatibility with world religions and universalism is much more a part of the EC. Just as an example, an EC person is much more likely to look on Islam as a “cousin” of Christianity with Jehovah and Allah essentially the same being, whereas people in the NAR would have a tendency to define Islam as a false religion, with Allah and Jehovah distinctly different.
  • The idea that we are somehow responsible for bringing back Jesus either literally and physically, or that we are evolving or “incarnating” into little christs and/or one big cosmic Christ. It is true that both movements express some responsibility for bringing back Jesus, but as stated above the “how” and the “why” are both different. Further, the concepts of little christs or a cosmic Christ is a New Age concept, much more likely to be part of the EC.
  • The idea that onerous and manipulative psycho-socio and scientific technologies are benevolent tools to bring in the kingdom on earth, including even altering the basic nature of man. I do not understand what this list entry is referring to.”

Bottom line: the extreme EC and doctrinaire version of the NAR tend far more towards incompatibility than toward some kind of convergence with one another. They think and act differently, and their starting assumptions are wildly divergent. However there is one major overlap: they both emphasize the Kingdom of God on Earth, but the motivation and methods for bringing that Kingdom to Earth are decidedly different. However, both the NAR and the EC in and of themselves are forces to reckon with in the Christian community, and along with other “movements” will have a tendency in certain extremes to venture into non-orthodox beliefs, which can at times be very confusing to many, as well as destructive to some.

1 comment to Convergence of Emergent Church and the New Apostolic Reformation? Unlikely.

  • The common denominator for EC and NAR mentioned is ‘they both emphasize the Kingdom of God on Earth’. The common factor in that emphasis stems from one Peter Drucker. Although not himself a Christian, his philosophy profoundly influenced both EC (Rick Warren / Bill Hybells / Bob Buford ) and NAR (Wagner who was influenced by Donald A. McGavran)

    It all goes back to PETER DRUCKER!!

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