Seismic changes are going on within the American church – the transition as I see it from a solidly Bible-believing base to a “spirituality” community – and there are daily examples of this dramatic shift.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the Emergent and quasi-Emergent community. “Emergent” was a label created in the mid-’90s by founders Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. Many of their views reside well outside the camp of orthodoxy (Jones, for example, publicly announced last year he simply doesn’t believe in original sin anymore).
In essence, “Emergent” thinking is akin to the rank liberalism of past generations. Today’s Emergent theology, while seemingly fresh and new, is in reality the old-line liberalism of Harry Emerson Fosdick, dressed in new clothes – Fosdick with a soul patch.
I would add to this community those who still identify as evangelical, or are at least accepted by evangelical leadership, but who show definite signs of unorthodoxy. I would call such folks “quasi-Emergent.” Spoiler alert: if you choose to agree with my view, you will be labeled a “hater.”
Bloggers Rachel Held Evans, Margaret Feinberg and Jonathan Merritt are among the more popular rising stars in this community. It ain’t your granddaddy’s church now, as this group so gleefully claims.
So it was that I noticed Feinberg promoting, through Lent, the work of Denver Seminary professor Craig Blomberg. Honestly? If I see Feinberg touting someone, I am suspicious. She gave Blomberg a platform to answer questions that readers submit, with some on the controversial side (what did Paul mean that a woman cannot teach? That kind of thing).
I got a copy of Blomberg’s “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” In the book, Blomberg uses what is technically an even-handed approach in discussing various topics: the creation accounts; the historicity of Job and Jonah; the Resurrection, etc. He gives equal space to various views: Young-Earth Creation vs. the Gap Theory, and so forth.
Yet, in keeping with the Emergent foundation that “certainty” is old school, man … competing views are basically treated as if they are equally valid. If you want to believe in theistic evolution, the Day Age Theory or what-have-you, that’s cool.
Frankly, I think that sort of view confuses and ultimately harms young people, in particular. If we can’t stand on the Bible as the Word of God, accurate in its history, how can we possibly turn to it when we are in the depths? In fact, Francis Schaeffer said that the liberal/leftist perspective ultimately is a theology of despair, because young people can readily see that if, for example, Adam and Eve weren’t real people, how can we trust that Jesus was raised from the dead? One can logically conclude that if doubt is cast on Genesis, then doubt can be applied anywhere else in the Bible, particularly the New Testament miracles and claims of exclusivity.
For example, in a March 21, 2014, entry at Feinberg’s blog, Blomberg tackles the question: “Is Matthew 27:52 literal? I’ve been in church my whole life and never looked into this verse. Did believers actually raise from the dead?”
Blomberg answers thusly:
Great question. Mike Licona, in an amazing and amazingly thorough book, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” defends the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from every angle imaginable but raises in just two or three pages the question of whether verses 51-53 might be what he calls an apocalyptic symbol. For asking that question, he lost his jobs at Southern Evangelical Seminary and the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention!
The irony is that whether literal or symbolic, commentators agree that what Matthew is teaching is that Jesus is the firstfruit (as Paul would put it in 1 Corinthians 15:22) of the coming bodily resurrection of all believers. In that light, I don’t see why a few select, holy individuals of Old Testament times couldn’t have been raised, but neither do I see it as remotely related to what someone should keep or lose their job over!
So let’s peel back a few layers here. According to Blomberg, Licona “defends the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus” but opens the door to doubt that others were raised from the dead, as clearly stated in Matthew 27:51-53.
I hope you’re paying close attention, because if Licona is “defending” the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but at all doubts the other resurrections, then he is in fact not defending the resurrection of Jesus, at all.
You get that, don’t you?
Matthew 27:52 reads, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.”
Now, my question is, why would someone ask if that really happened?
It should seem obvious that if there wasn’t a real, bodily resurrection of those Old Testament saints, why should we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? That could be (and is) called into question, as well.
In “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” I noticed that Blomberg also addresses the historicity of Jonah and the “great fish” story.
He writes: “Surely, however, someone might argue, Jonah must be completely historical, because Jesus himself likens his death and resurrection to Jonah’s experience with the great fish: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40; cf. Luke 11:30). Actually, this does not follow at all. A contemporary preacher could predict that Christians may have to face spiritual warfare of great magnitude, ‘just as Frodo and his companions faced life-threatening opposition and dark powers throughout their journey to Mordor.’ Anyone at all familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ or the trilogy of epic films made from it, would instantly recognize that the preacher was not affirming that any of Tolkien’s characters ever existed. But they would also recognize the aptness of the comparison.”
Notice Blomberg’s key phrase: “Actually this does not follow at all.”
Well, yes, it does. Here we have an example of the manipulation of language. Jesus cited the account of Jonah, as a factual account, so why would we not conclude that Jonah was actually swallowed by a big fish? We would, unless the agenda was to give space to rank unbelief.
By the way, you do realize that Blomberg’s insertion of the Tolkien material is irrelevant, right? One cannot base the veracity of Scripture on the work of novelists, philosophers or circus monkeys. But the use of alleged parallels between, you know, the Word of God and the works of men is a common weakness of liberal scholars. Just read some passages from the old “Interpreter’s Bible,” full of mind-numbing “parallels” between Scripture and Homer, Gibbon and Tolstoy. It would be comical, if it weren’t so dangerous and wrong.
Interestingly, when I emailed Blomberg and asked him a direct question: “Do you believe the ‘fish’ account from Jonah 1-2 actually occurred?”
Blomberg’s answer was short: “Yes.”
So at least we have that.
What concerns me though is the tendency for leaders of today, like Margaret Feinberg and seminary professors, who want to raise doubts about the veracity of Scripture.
My prediction is that Margaret Feinberg and her friends will continue to be mainstreamed within mainstream evangelicalism, by folks like LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer –who endorses her work.
The question is: Why?