Emergent Church Overview – EC and Dispensationalism, Social Justice and Ecumenism

One of the stranger aspects of the EC movement is its tendency to be anti-Christian Zionism, and sometimes anti-Israel as well.  Consider the following quote from Brian McLaren:

“If you hold to a deterministic-dispensationalist or Zionist theology, I sincerely hope you will rethink your view. I grew up with these views as well, and have become thoroughly convinced that they are not only biblically unfaithful but also, in too many cases, morally and ethically harmful. […] Wasn’t it necessary for many Christians to have the courage to differ when racism was acceptable and even justified in most American churches? Wouldn’t you want to have the same moral courage today you would have wanted to have back then?” (ref)

And this from Tony Campolo:

“Unfortunately, Evangelical Zionists are not content to simply teach their version of Biblical prophecy. Instead, they seem determined to make it happen through their highly effective political action groups. I believe it is time for the rest of Christendom to stand up to these people and declare that God’s infinite love and requirement for justice extends to both Jews and Palestinians alike. We must open our eyes to both the pain and the excesses on both sides of this conflict, and refuse to be drawn into simplistic solutions that fail to hold everyone responsible for peace. If we don’t, President Bush’s roadmap for peace will soon fade into oblivion, and the blood of continuing violence in the Middle East will be on our hands.” (ref)

Finally, consider the following description for a recording of a session on Israel – Palestinian issues by Vineyard pastor Rich Nathan at the 2009 National Vineyard Leadership Conference, Galveston, Texas.  The session had the title: “Learning to Love Your Enemies in the Middle East”:

“Rich Nathan was raised in a traditional Jewish family in New York, and considered joining the Israeli national army at age 18. He decided to follow Jesus instead. With unique credibility he challenges Christians to leave behind their Zionist eschatologies in pursuit of Jesus’ kingdom ministry. In what will likely prove a historic event for the Vineyard, Rich Nathan interviews Palestinian Christian Sami Awad, who is working with Palestinians and Israelis of all faiths to bring healing and hope to Israel and Palestine. The grandson of a Palestinian Christian martyr of the 1948 Israeli Independence war, Awad was raised under violent Palestinian occupation. He is now leading a movement that is moving past forgiveness toward loving his Israeli brothers-in-arms toward total kingdom reconciliation. WARNING: this interview may permanently mess with your dispensational/restoration eschatology permanently.” (ref)

A problem here is that Sami Awad is Executive Director of the Holy Land Trust, which does not have a reputation for being even-handed in the Arab-Israeli divide.  Consider the following quote from Front Page magazine:

“The PSE’s program will be financed by the Holy Land Trust, a California-based NGO. Already the Holy Land Trust has caused headaches for U.S. counterterrorism officials by funding Palestinian NGOs that refuse to guarantee that the U.S. Agency for International Development funds they receive won’t be used to bankroll terrorism. The trust is run by Executive Director Sami Awad, who formerly headed the Palestine Children’s Welfare Relief Fund, an outfit that routinely featured photos and praise of suicide bombers on its website. According to Arab-American Christian journalist Joseph Farah, editor of World Net Daily: “The lies this group tells in the name of Christianity are big and bold. They include the standard lines about Jews robbing the homes of Arabs, stealing their land and brutalizing them in a repressive state of military occupation. These so-called Christians even rationalize terrorism.” A further look at Holy Land Trust’s website shows it is clearly political and designed to demonize “occupier” Israel.” (ref)

A perusal of blogs relative to Rich Nathan and his Vineyard mega-church in Columbus, OH, indicates that “social justice” has become a big item on his church’s agenda, for example bringing in Jim Wallis for a three-day Sojourners Social Justice revival.  Yet a long-time member of his congregation states at some length that very behaviors and programs being advocated at the “revival” have actually been going on through that congregation for the past 20 years, prior to the words “social justice” being expressed by anyone.  This is a long quote, but worth the read:

“As a long time member of Vineyard Church of Columbus, and, one who attended all 3 nights of the Sojourners Justice Revival PLUS the Sojo’s Workshop on Justice, plus purchasing and reading most of his books, I can say that not much substantial was said; it was a big political rally, nothing more – promoting Wallis and his agendas and social justice philosophies. I know that quote by Rich that is quoted in the article. It personally made many in this wonderful congregation feel that they weren’t doing enough. When, the track record and favor of the Vineyard in the Central Ohio area is what it is today because of God’s people loving Him wholeheartedly and giving His unconditional love away anytime and anywhere they can. Vineyard Columbus has been doing “social justice” for over 20 years. And, it is its largely conservative evangelical members who built the Community Center by giving generously millions of dollars above and beyond their tithes, who have run a free medical clinic & pantry for over 18 years, who have gone into homeless campsites for over 10 years, who have seen many homeless placed into apartments and off of addictions and into new life with Jesus, who spend thousands of hours each year in community outreach, have run a food pantry with recovery meeting and free meals, who go into low income nursing homes, who go into homeless shelters, prisons, juvenile centers, who offer freely many services such as free legal service to the least, the lost, and the forsaken in our society. How? Not by a “second conversion” as Wallis insists, but out of pure hearts and passion for Jesus Christ. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, whites, blacks, Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and more serve faithfully side by side – and never worried about whether God was “Democrat or Republican” nor about party affiliations. Now, the body is becoming divided and restless for the first time in 20 years – because according to Wallis/Sojourners – He (Wallis) has the corner on what the philosophical and theological perspectives for public policy should be for evangelicals. He comes across as if he has the inside scoop on what God’s Politics and what Jesus would do. The wealthy were made to feel like dirt, the poorer in our congregation questioned having things in storage; People have been leaving. Any church needs to think twice before bringing Wallis into their church. Vineyard Columbus has grown to its size NOT because of forcing “social justice” causes (with its socialist/redistribution of wealth philosophies), but because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Word of God preached and held in high regard, and strong evangelism among most members throughout the city in their daily lives and outreaches, following hard after Jesus, not a social ideology. Many many lives have been changed forever. I pray that this will continue, and that, we as a body, will not become distracted by this next fad.” (ref)

A fair question can be asked: should Rich Nathan be considered an “emergent”?   Well, that depends on what is meant by “emergent”.   I think it’s clear that he’s doctrine-friendly, but also keen on the “social justice” political program.  He also is a signatory to the document “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You”, part of a dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  On the home page of the “A Common Word” web site, the following is stated:

“…Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.” (ref)

Not only Rich Nathan, but also Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, David Yonggi Cho, Brian NcLaren, Robert Schuller were signers, interestingly along with Berten A. Waggoner, National Director, Association of Vineyard Churches.  So at a minimum, he shares beliefs of many within the EC. 

Incidentally in the above quote, a fundamental question must be asked about the veracity of the suggestion that Christianity and Islam share the same “Divine Origin.”  An alternative view must be considered that Christianity and the Word of God expressed in the Old and New Testaments are unequivocally and objectively true, whereas Islam is a religion based on adherence to Allah who is a false god similar to others defined in the Bible, and that Muhammad’s life was characterized by much evil, and that the Quran is a book filled with irreconcilable contradictions, and more than a few anti-Christian and anti-Jewish passages.

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2 comments to Emergent Church Overview – EC and Dispensationalism, Social Justice and Ecumenism

  • Alwyn George

    I doubt that all of them signed on to hat statement because of political correctness and not because they know about Islam. Islam is an ideology that was made to semi-civilize a completely uncivilized population.(An arab focussed ideology now projected completely wrongly as a world religion.) Most of the imagery used are from the old testament and the technique used is to repeat as many times required to make you feel this is absolutely right and traditional. Yes I accept there are contradictory statements about peaceful living among others and christ and christianity.

  • Dick

    Thanks for your comment. I suppose to not characterize Islam as a world religion begs the question of what defines a “world religion.” Certainly Islam has a significant number of adherents (Pew in 2009 says 22% of the world population), and the majority are not Arabic. Further, depending upon which people-group one focuses on, the degree of fidelity to Islam range from cultural-only as found in places like the Balkans – remnants of the Ottomans – to the fanaticism of groups like the Taliban and the Wahhabi’s, to the Sufi mystics.

    One thought on the contradictions found in the Quran: is it not true that the more conciliatory portions were written first from Mecca, where Mohammed himself was somewhat oppressed? Then when he moved on to Medina and became a warlord, conquering the city, the more bellicose portions were written? If you add the concept of abrogation, then you can get to contradict yourself, and if you happen to be deity, who can argue?

    As stated in the post, I have a problem with attributing the “same Divine Origin” to Islam and Christianity; however I do embrace that attribution to Judaism and Christianity. And in doing so I’m not denying your statement that much of the imagery in Islam comes from the Hebrew scriptures. The point is, if Islam is a false religion (which I believe), then it cannot have a Divine Origin at all, even if it borrowed imagery from the Old Testament.

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