An Anti-Christian Christianity

My friends, it has again been a long time. I think I find that some posts just flow from my fingers, while others take time to germinate and grow in my mind. With this latter type of post, I feel – as I have always felt, with many projects and pursuits throughout my life, to allow it to gain a level of maturity before I share it with the world.

This is such a post.

Many of you who read this might consider yourself representatives of the “emergent” or “missional” community as it is sometimes known. I need to preface this post by the fact that I consider myself neither, for reasons that have nothing to do with the reasons those who take these names have for choosing them.

I simply do not like the terms. The first – when taken to its logical conclusion – seems to me to imply that believers can somehow “emerge” to different levels of spiritual enlightenment. In one sense, I have “emerged” from the institutional religious setting known in the 21st century as “the church.” But in truth, the sense in which I have “emerged” is the same sense in which all those of us who follow Christ are free from the bondage of our own sin and the weight of our humanity.

The second, it seems to me, misses the point. Even those who consider themselves “missional” define it as a different way of “doing church,” a different focus.

All of that said, I have a tremendous amount of respect for many of the ideas espoused by missional and emergent thinkers, and for those who espouse them, particularly their focus on how much of Christian tradition is precisely that – mere tradition.

It is for this reason that I was incredibly disturbed by something I read on the popular conservative political site formerly operated by the Heritage Foundation, Townhall.com.

I was disturbed because it was one more reminder of who I used to be . . .

The item in question was a column by Townhall columnist Frank Pastore, referred to in his bio as “a former professional baseball player with graduate degrees in both theology and political science,” who is also a radio talk-show host for KKLA 99.5 FM in Los Angeles. His original column has now become two. They can be found here and here.

The first column is entitled “Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church.” It is a lengthy diatribe against members of the emergent movement, the logic of which seems to run “Emergents are generally not politically conservative. Political conservatives are the only people interested in fighting al Qaeda.” Therefore, Emergents are allies of al Qaeda.

His second column is a defense of his first, in which he responds to challenges for his “sources” by citing several emergent writers and a number of critics of Emergent, none of which, according to his citations, at least, says anything about al Qaeda at all.

The most ironic thing, for me, is that as someone who is generally pretty politically conservative, I probably line up with Pastore’s political views a fair percentage of the time. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I do not consider myself “emergent” or “missional,” I feel the sting of Pastore’s accusations myself, simply because I seem to fit his overarching definition of an “al Qaeda ally” – by which he seems to mean anybody who disagrees with his personal, political and spiritual agenda. I have written a lengthy response to his first column that addresses several issues he raises point by point. That response continues below the fold . . .

Frank Pastore’s recent column at Townhall.com, entitled, “Why Al Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church” may have intended to be humorous. It was certainly provocative. For me, however, the emotion it most strongly provoked was a profound sadness that an American, conservative Christian like Pastore would equate those with whom he claims to share the kingdom of God to Al Qaeda.

Pastore’s biography says that his radio show “integrates religion and politics with the news of the day in an entertaining and stimulating style at the intersection of faith and reason.” This is odd because his column is not very “reasoned” at all.

Pastore says of the emergent church that:

“the term ’emergent church’ refers to a loose association of people who share common values and attitudes toward, well, everything. It’s Christianity for postmoderns who don’t like truth, knowledge, science, authority, doctrine, institutions, or religion. They claim absolute or objective truth is unknowable, that the only ‘truth’ that can be known is rooted in communities of shared subjective experience�the infamous ‘it’s my truth’ of relativism.”

This quote is a perfect example of why Pastore’s “true or false” world is a pipedream. His quote is partly true, and partly false.

The so-called “emergent church” is no more homogenous than any other denomination of any religion � up to and including radical Islam. Those who call themselves “emergent” do not follow a particular leader, a particular creed, or a particular set of beliefs.

Pastore is right in that they tend to believe that objective truth is unknowable, but he is utterly wrong in that this necessarily leads to relativism.

I would assume � would hope at least � that Pastore believes he is not God. Therefore, as a less-than-omniscient being, he would be forced to admit that he does not know truth in all of its aspects.

An emergent philosopher would probably take that to its logical conclusion and ask how, if an individual cannot know all that is true, can that individual be certain that what he or she believes to be true is actually so?

This is hardly the same as believing that truth does not exist.

Pastore has thus executed a flawless straw man fallacy. Rather than genuinely addressing the details of emergent theology, he has set up his own, overly simplistic definition of “emergent,” and has attacked that instead.

One of the key points to Pastore’s column could be summed up in the famous quote from President Bush, “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

I voted for President Bush � twice. I cheered when he first said this.

But he was mistaken. So was I at the time, and so is Pastore here. Branding everybody who does not agree with his theology an “al Qaeda sympathizer” is precisely the sort of tactic that spawned the emergent movement in the first place � a movement of those who are tired of being marginalized or attacked for asking questions or expressing opinions contrary to those of people like Pastore.

I am such a person. I resigned my membership from my conservative, Baptist church not because I disagreed with them on any essential point of doctrine, but because I had questions about the church’s interpretation of scripture, on which many of its practices were based, and because of those questions I was treated condescendingly, marginalized, and eventually threatened with expulsion. I left, rather than continuing to distract from the life of the church.

I am not a member of the “emergent movement” or of any “emergent church.” There are things about it with which I disagree too strongly to “join.” Ironically, a number of the problems I have with the emergent movement are the same problems I have with Pastore’s column. Chief among them is that they seem to be engaged in what emergent church leader Brian McLaren calls “an adventure in missing the point.”

Is the point of being a “Christian” a matter of patriotism or politics? Is the point that one supports the President, or the war in Iraq? Is the point, even, to insist on a strictly literal reading of Scripture? Pastore seems to think so.

Alternatively, is the point to engage in community rather than hierarchy, or to feed the poor rather than protest against homosexuals? Is it to create a “Christian Left” to stand up against the supposedly abusive “Christian Right?” Some emergent leaders such as author Jim Wallis seem to think so.

I submit that the point of being a Christian is to follow Christ. We can debate what that means all we want, and can come to sincere agreement and disagreement over what it means. But if Pastore tells me that as a believer he is following Christ to the best of his ability, I will take him at his word. All I ask is that he do me the same courtesy � whether I go to a Baptist church, an Emergent church, or any church at all.

Am I “emergent”? By some definitions I suppose I am, though I do not identify with the movement. I am emerging from a worldview where once I believed that I had grasped “the right way,” and that all who disagreed with me were either ignorant or sinful.

That is the belief system Pastore sets up in this article. He spends a great deal talking of “good and bad,” of “black and white,” of “right and wrong” � and has made himself the arbiter of those terms. Oh, he would certainly tell you that it is Scripture to which he ultimately turns . . . but all one finds in Scripture is a collection of words. While they may be the most important words ever committed to paper, they are still words, and as such are read through the filter of one’s worldview.
Pastore would thus have you believe that his is the only worldview that matters � or rather, that worldviews contrary to his are evil � or at the very least, are allied with evil.

He argues that only “an America where the church is strong, resolute, and courageous” will be able to stand up to radical Islam.

He forgets that this line of logic is hardly unknown to history. One must remember that the strong, resolute and courageous Christian church of the Middle Ages engaged in genocide in God’s name, just as al Qaeda does now. Strength and certitude are hardly the determinants of what Pastore would call “rightness.”

Therein lies the rub. Pastore says that “the emergent church has rejected the ‘linear’ and ‘modern’ categories of true/false, good/evil, and right/wrong.” He fails to note that Christ Himself rejects those categories, at least as we think of them in the 21st Century.

He said that he came to fulfill, not to destroy, the Judaic law, yet argued passionately against honoring the Sabbath day � one of the ten commandments.

He demonstrably believed that adultery was wrong, yet he convinced the religious leaders not to visit upon an adulteress the very punishment He Himself had laid out for them in Jewish law, and then freed her without consequence.

His handpicked apostle Paul advocated both celibacy and marriage, both abstaining from and partaking of alcohol, and both eating and refusing meat from pagan altars.

The simple fact is that Scripture declines to give us a “right” and “wrong” answer to every question � and questions of modern American politics, national security and theology are markedly absent from its pages.

I may or may not be “emergent,” but if Pastore is the ultimate authority on what makes a “good Christian,” I am no longer certain that I want that label either.

3 thoughts on “An Anti-Christian Christianity”

  1. I read Pastore’s article when it first came out a couple weeks ago. I automatically dismissed it as illogical and rather stupid. He knows if he equates the emergent church with Al Qaida, he will get a response — either negative or positive. And he certainly is not the “ultimate authority” on Christianity. If I were you I wouldn’t let people like him define what the rest of the church is like.

  2. M.R.H.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I agree with you that Pastore’s article was probably written for grandstanding purposes, and that we shouldn’t let him define what the rest of the church is like. Unfortunately, he’s far from alone in his mindset – nor, judging from his comments section, in their extremism. I agree that he’s not the “ultimate authority” on Christianity, I merely used that phrase to indicate that this is what he seems to think. And while he is hardly representative of the entire church, he is certainly representative of a very vocal wing of it.

    It is to this wing, and those who have been victimized by it, that this post is directed.

  3. Excellent article! I too was disturbed by Pastore’s article. It reminded me of the “my way, or the highway” tone on some Christian forums I used to participate on-especially from many so-called pastors, or their underlings. Thanks Copernicus! Always a pleasure to drop in and read your thought provoking comments.

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