Emergent: Doug Pagitt’s theology of universalism

I have grown more disappointed about Emergent`s leaders. Why have I become disappointed? I recent heard an interview of an Emergent leader, Doug Pagitt, pastor at Solomon`s Porch and his theological beliefs really disappointed me and it left somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth. I must say, though, that his theology might not be representative of all of the Emergent leaders but it does give me a better idea of where some emergents stand. You can listen to it on YouTube here (part 1 and part 2). Doug Pagitt avoided all the questions that interviewer, Todd Friel, posed to him on Way of the Master Radio (part 1 and part 2). Pagitt didn’t answer even one of the questions in a forthright manner. He evaded the interviewer’s questions and didn’t seem knowledgeable about what Jesus actually said about hell. Doug Pagitt actually denied the existence of hell as a place where non-believers go to. He got very defensive and indirectly denied the existence of hell as a place where one’s soul goes to after this life on earth. Pagitt merely characterized hell as being a disconnection and disintegration with God but he denied its existence. Pagitt could not even agree with Jesus’ own description of hell as quoted from the bible. Friel also asked Pagitt: “I’m a good Buddhist, where does my soul go when I die?” Pagitt could not answer this question. He evaded his question and his response, if it was a response, was rather weak. His response to the question was: “You interact with God just as every other human being interacts with God.” However, this did not answer the question about the existence of hell being a place where non-believers go. Pagitt could not answer him directly and truthfully because if he did, he would have to reveal that he holds to a theology of universalism. This is where one believes that it does not matter which religion one believes in, eventually one will end up in heaven. Neither does Pagitt believe in the traditional biblical idea of judgment. He wanted to evade Friel’s question of what judgment was because he would otherwise have to reveal that he does not believe in an eternal damnation in a place called Hades. For Pagitt, hell is only a metaphor and does not really exist. Just listen to the interview yourself and you will understand. Judgment is only a metaphor because it is only a re-creation of a new heaven where everyone of any religion will end up. Furthermore, what really turned me off was that he turned around and attacked Friel, accusing him of not understanding the bible and how it should be used. That’s arrogant scholasticism! And note, scholasticism was what Luther fought against in the Roman Catholic church. Pagitt became defensive and resorted to using some high-end academic language that most ordinary post-modern people would not understand, e.g., “dual platonic cosmology”. Well, so much for trying to reach a post-modern generation by using academic language taught in seminary. If Pagitt really wants to do ministry to post-moderns, he better get it right with his evangelical brothers and sisters. Scholastic and generational pride should have no place in Christ’s church.

Emerging movement’s problem

In order to learn more about the emerging movement, I have read some books by various Emergent writers like Brian McLaren and Tony Jones, plus emerging leaders like Dan Kimball, Eddie Gibbs, Ryan Bolger, and Robert Webber. I was attracted to emerging’s style of worship and the idea of generous orthodoxy and the fusion of ancient-future. As a post-modern evangelical, many of emerging’s ideas and concerns resonated with me; however, some of their unorthodox theology has turned me off. After having learned more about some of their leaders’ theologies, I will no longer consider myself emerging. I will still consider myself as an interested emerging-evangelical but not an emerging. I still classify myself as an evangelical who is concerned about how to be missional in a post-modern world.

Emergents are concerned about being missional in a post-modern world. However, it might disappoint some emergents to learn that they do not have a monopoly on being missional in a post-modern world. From what I’ve read and heard, I find that Emergent leaders have been overly critical of evangelicalism and have accused evangelicalism of not being effectively missional in a post-modern world. I find this very arrogant and self-righteous. Their attempt to differentiate themselves from traditional evangelicalism has actually caused division between themselves and evangelicals. Nevertheless, I am still interested in learning more about the emerging church movement. The emerging leaders are my brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost their way and my heart goes out to them. Since I heard some of what the Emergent leaders have said, I have become more hesitant to explore this movement as a full participant. I think if more evangelical Christians really did their research into emergent`s theology, they might also become more discerning about this whole emergent movement. I do not doubt their authenticity and desire to love and serve God and to do the work of God’s mission. The emerging movement is just as concerned as non-emerging evangelicals are about how to best carry out God’s mission in a post-modern age. However, in the process, some emergents have forsaken the real power of the gospel and have compromised on the authority of the bible. Evangelical reformers like Luther and Calvin risked their lives during the reformation era because they believed in the authority of scripture and worked hard to preserve it. Emergent`s leaders, however, seemed to have forgotten about the authority of scripture.

If I was a Buddhist or Muslim seeker looking for answers about the Christian faith, and I had to turn to Emergent’s leadership for answers, I would not be confident in their spiritual leadership. I’d even wonder if Emergent’s answer might steer one back to return to Buddhism or Hinduism. If I have lost faith in Emergent’s ability to discern the truth, I could not advise my seeker friends to turn to Emergent for answers or advice. There just seems to be too much compromise in order to appease the morals, values, and beliefs of a post-modern generation. They want to appease secular humanism by blending their values in order to be accepted by them. In the process of trying to be missional in post-modernism (which is a good thing), they have distanced themselves away from orthodox evangelical theology. They have lost their moorings and are like a lost ship in a sea, wailing through a muddy mixtures of doctrines. The traditional and orthodox evangelical theology of Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, and Spurgeon were anchored in the authority of the bible. They did not compromise on scriptural truths. Emergent, however, is dancing around with relativism in a secular humanistic post-modern culture. They may have started out from counter-cultural evangelicalism, but they have lost their effectiveness as salt and light in the world. Their liberal theology has resulted out of a fear that the power of the cross is insufficient. They feel they have to add to it in order to make it more acceptable. It weakens the proclamation of the gospel and will ultimately compromise God’s mission on earth and God’s mission to the post-modern generation. Does anyone have the authority to make the gospel of Christ more acceptable to anyone? Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who convicts one of sin and draws a person to Christ? The good news of Jesus does not need any help from humans. Any human work added to the good news is no longer gospel, rather, it becomes a human work and no longer the work of God.

The egalitarian versus complementarian debate

I am new to this egalitarian versus complementarian debate so I admit that I am ignorant of this terminology. I know but yet don’t technically know where I stand on this issue yet because I am not familiar with the terminology. In my effort to educate myself in this area I did some research to educate myself on the difference between the egalitarian and complementarian views. I came across a new blog called Complegalitarian and found one post called Shaeffer on Utopianism by Suzanne McCarthy. It had a string of interesting comments that were even more interesting than the post itself. They’re as long as a book. (Sorry Suzanne, it’s not to take anything away from your post).

If you want to educate yourself in this debate starting from ground zero, it might be easier to begin by reading this brief paper that attempts to layout the definitions between egalitarian and complementarian. Also, an interesting blog post I found was at Evangelical Resources (but it has remained inactive for a while now) describes the difference between complementarian view and a traditional view he calls the male dominance view. Happy reading.

The ESV Literary Study Bible

The Literary Study Bible (LSB) was most recently published and released by Crossway on September 14, 2007. It is based on the English Standard Version (ESV). As far as I know, the LSB seems to be in a class of its own and should get high marks for originality because it is aimed for those who appreciate literature for its own sake. The ESV-LSB may be the type of study bible that readers of literature have been looking for. Its commentary takes a literary perspective from a divinely-inspired literary approach, and will feel like a breath of fresh air for those who may not have a deeper bible-reading background. This way of reading scripture makes the bible not only a useful book for instruction but also allows us to enjoy it as aesthetic literature. As far as I know, it has never been seen in a study bible before. Finally, someone from an evangelical background recognizes that it is okay to appreciate the bible as a literary work. It is really neat to see a study bible speak of scripture using terms like genre, literary subject matter, archetypes, motifs, style, rhetoric, imagery, metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion, irony, wordplay, hyperbole, personification, paradox, pun, artistic form, design, contrast, coherence, and symmetry.

From an evangelical perspective, I recognize the value of this study bible as something a post-modern reader of modern literature would appreciate. As a conservative evangelical, I was taught at a young age that the bible is primarily useful for moral and religious instruction, this study bible will come as a breath of fresh air for me personally. I believe that the ESV Literary Study Bible will be one that literature fans will enjoy reading in future decades. Although I am not a regular ESV reader, it may actually help pique more interest in me to start reading from the ESV translation as part of my staple diet. What makes the LSB unique, in my opinion, is that it recognizes the bible as divinely-inspired while also recognizing the bible as literature. Certainly the literary approach to reading the bible is only one way, but it is not the only way. Traditionally, theology has been using the critical-historical approach, which has been limited to scholars sitting in the ivory towers of theological schools and seminaries. Most Christians have recognized the bible as a religious instructional book but not many Christians also recognize it as literature. In the preface, the editors try to debunk some of the fallacies associated with this approach by explaining that to read the bible as literature does not mean that the bible should be seen as written by common or unholy inspiration. This should not be so, according to the editors of the LSB. The editors also apologetically defend that the literary approach to bible reading should not be associated primarily with liberal theology. The editors are Dr. Leland Ryken, who is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and Dr. Philip Graham Ryken, who is a pastor and author. Their theology is evangelical through-and-through.

What is this literary approach? The preface (available online at http://www.esvliterarystudybible.org/) tries to explain to the reader what this literary approach. A person who has studied literature or English would more likely have an appreciation for the Literary Study Bible. The literary approach to reading literature has actually been in use in some academic disciplines for a while now. It has only recently been used by contemporary theology in the last decade or so. From an academic perspective, the literary approach is a new approach to studying theology and so it seems fitting for today’s post-modern bible readers who want to read and understand the scriptures from a literary perspective. In seminary, I took a class that approached the bible as literature but it was done from a liberal humanistic approach that did not recognize its divine inspiration. This study bible, however, does recognize the bible as being written from divine inspiration. The market for a literary study bible might be limited, and this might be a determining factor in its future sales. There are already so many study bibles out there already but the LSB is quite unique. It is different from regular study bibles, e.g., T/NIV Study Bible, NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Thompson-Chain Reference. Good job Drs. Ryken and Crossway for producing a ground-breaking work. My post is intended only as a commentary on the ESV-LSB. For an excellent and detailed review of the LSB, see The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and also see Adrian Warnock’s comment.

Denominations and bible translations

The universal church is divided between denominational lines. A sign of this division is that we differ in the translation we prefer to read in our pews and pulpit. For example, in evangelical churches, the NIV generally reigns supreme. In “Word of Life-type” of pentecostal-charismatic churches, the NKJV is widely used in study. In mainline churches, e.g., Episcopal/Anglican, Presbyterian-USA, ELCA-Lutheran, the weekly staple of lectionary readings are usually taken from the NRSV/RSV. In the Roman Catholic Church, the NAB is the officially approved translation. In conservative evangelical churches where the bible is studied in-depth, the NASB is king. In ultra conservative churches, the KJV is considered the only “true” word of God. Forgive me for making these broad generalizations but my purpose behind making these generalizations is to show that there is a relationship between denominations and bible translations. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, there is, at least, an ounce of truth in this.

This was first made most plain and visible to me when I first began to attend seminary. In my seminary, a Lutheran seminary, the NRSV was the only translation I had ever heard read from during chapel services. Believe it or not, the NIV is almost seen as a foreign translation, even a despised one by some Lutherans with liberal tendencies. This was rather disappointing for me when I started seminary. However, I am sure that this same bias also exists in conservative evangelical seminaries. I am almost certain that the NRSV or NAB would never be read in a conservative evangelical or pentecostal seminary/bible college. Many evangelicals have never even heard of the NRSV. The NAB and Jerusalem Bible are also rarely or never read from in evangelical or mainline churches. In conservative evangelical churches, where I have attended most of my life as a young person, the NIV, NLT, NASB, and NKJV were usually the translation of choice. I had never heard of the NRSV or NAB until I started to cross over the great denominational divide to visit some of my mainline and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. You could imagine the cataclysmic shock I experienced when this naive conservative-charismatic evangelical attended a Lutheran seminary.

So what am I saying? Is there a point to all this? I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that we, as Christians, are divided along denominational lines and it tends to affect the bible translation we prefer to read from. Our personal theologies and worldviews determine how we translate our bibles, which in turn, also affects the translation we prefer. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, it is true. If we do not see this, we really have our heads stuck in the sand. Our preference in bible translation is proof that we are divided and separated by our personal theologies and worldviews. No, I am not an ecumenist who thinks that we should all be the same and believe in the exact same ideology and theology. And no, I am definitely not an advocate of a one-world church. I admit that I also have a preference of translation, ideology and theology. But what I do advocate is that we ought to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ from different denominations. Behind the different theologies and worldviews, the true universal church may be bigger than what we first thought it was. (logos: Lutheran, Alliance, Presbyterian, Methodist, Assemblies of God, Episcopal)

Luke 18:1-8 Parable of the persistent and violent female widow

As I was reading the passage about the persistent widow from Luke 18:1-8 in the TNIV, I noticed that it projected a very different image of the female widow. Look at the big difference in verse 5.

“… I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” (NIV)

“… I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!‘ ” (TNIV)

“…I’d better do something and see that she gets justice – otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.” (Message)

“…I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” (ESV)

In the TNIV, she is one who is strong, forceful and combative . In contrast, the NIV portrays one who is unsubmissive and contentious, but yet nonbelligerent. The NIV’s “wear me out with her coming” has also been the traditional rendering in other translations such as NASB, NRSV, HCSB, or NLT. The ESV and the Message translations provides a different rendering than the TNIV’s “come and attack.” Nevertheless, the TNIV, ESV, and the Message seem to portray a widow who is not so helpless.

New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg, says: “Luke 18:5—Another forceful idiom in the parables, which more literally means ‘to blacken the face,’ is more vividly translated ‘come and attack me’ rather than the fairly bland ‘wear me out with her coming.'” The idiom: “to blacken the face” implies some continual and repeated beating. The Message translation portrays an even more violent image than that of the TNIV’s. To show a person being beaten black and blue by her pounding is to use real brute force. The ESV seems to have taken a middle of the road approach. The ESV’s use of: “beat me down,” may or may not imply a repeated use of violence. To be beat down may imply a wearing down of one’s patience, or it may also imply that one is physically beaten down with force. I would say that the TNIV, and the Message especially, have taken a radical approach. Who says Jesus always has to encourage passive and non-violent behavior? Remember the table-changers?

Newer scholarship’s discovery of this idiom’s meaning may eventually change the way this widow in this parable is perceived and preached about in our sermons. To say: “come and attack me” is very different from:“wear me out with her coming.” The persistent but harmless widow has suddenly become a danger widow whom one must be careful of. She is no longer just a relentless widow who comes to the judge to ask for justice. Rather, she is now a forceful and potentially dangerous widow who comes to the judge to demand justice and who is not afraid of using some brute force to get what she deserves. This widow is ready to strike fear in the heart of the judge in order to get justice. Are we ready for a new image of a tougher woman in Luke 18?

Testament or Covenant?

Why do we use the word “testament” and not “covenant” to describe the old and new testament divisions in the bible? In Hebrew, “berit” is translated as covenant. In the Greek it is translated as testament. Is testament completely interchangeable with covenant? Some do not think so because the Hebrew word “berit” or covenant has a broader meaning than testament.

The idea of covenant sounds political because of political treaties between nations (i.e., treaties between ancient patriarchs, e.g., Jacob and Laban in Gen. 31). Therefore, covenant is more of a political idea and is religiously applied to Israel. Covenant is also used to speak of a marriage covenant (e.g. Mal. 2:14). Covenant also brings a sense of a contractual promise (i.e., in the Old Testament sense, a promise made with an oath) to distribute certain “goods” or “assets” to the beneficiary at a certain time. We have interpreted the word “berit” in the broad sense of “contract.” “Testament”, however, is more specific and stresses the promissory nature of the covenant which God made with his people. Therefore, some people feel that “testament” is more accurate than “covenant”.