A Question I Was Asked:

'I Was Interested in Your Refuting of the “Emergent Church” Isn't the “Emergent Church” Inclusivist?'

ARTICLE QUOTE: Postmodernism says, 'Who cares if the Scriptures are far more accurate than anybody once thought? All these religious concepts are relative anyway...there is no ultimate truth to be discovered anywhere....everything is freely open to personal interpretation'

The Question:

I Was Interested in Your Refuting of the “Emergent Church”.... Isn't the “Emergent Church” Inclusivist?”

My Reply:

Whoa there, whoa there!

I have been critical of the 'emergent church' movement because, probably largely influenced by Newbigin's 'The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,' it often seeks to operate from within postmodernist assumptions. Christians should not do that. Liberal Protestantism made the monumental error and compromise of operating from within Modernism, that is, they accepted Modernism's criticism that the Gospels and in fact the whole Bible was unreliable, so best to only seek 'romantic' meanings within it and to preach that. Of course, we now know that this was a huge compromise which eventually led to hundreds of pastors being employed who only saw 'God' as a romantic/mystical/existential concept – nothing anybody could really ever pin-down or depend upon! This faithlessness was a destroyer of the authority of the Church in western Europe and it has never recovered from it.

It is no coincidence that conservative evangelicalism has been steadily gaining real academic respectability as Modernism has been increasingly losing its grip over the last few years. Take Professor Alister McGrath of Oxford University, for example. He is acknowledged as a real academic 'heavyweight' here in the UK, and he is also our senior evangelical theologian. This man has taken on atheists in public debates and left their reasoning in tatters! People like McGrath have brought huge respect to conservative evangelicalism.

But postmodern reasoners seek to change the rules. They effectively say: No creed or document can claim authority over everybody everywhere every time, moreover, you are entitled to interpret all such creeds and documents through your own cultural spectacles.

These people attack the whole concept of truth being an eternal proposition, they say that 'truth' varies according to circumstances – that there is no such thing as ultimate truth. Modernism never said that. It said that if you researched you could uncover the truth. But Modernism's great error was to rule out all supernatural revelation from its research – it embraced Philosophical Naturalism, therefore it was not prepared to consider anything which might be thought of as supernatural or divine.

Modernism sought to discredit the Scriptures by saying they were unreliable, spurious and that the Hebrews stole ancient religious ideas and oral poems and applied them to their own concept of the 'Lord' and his 'Chosen Ones' – - of course they never had a shred of evidence in making these claims. But during the last 50 years these people have steadily lost ground and Holy Scripture has actually gained credibility. It started with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. That discovery was a bombshell for the sceptics. From about that point onwards the Bible has been gaining authority with many new mid-east archaeological finds giving increasing credibility to Holy Scripture.

Postmodernism now seeks to discredit Scripture in a new way; it has changed the rules. It says: who cares if the Scriptures are far more accurate than anybody once thought? All these religious concepts are relative anyway. We should all just worship our own god (or, no god at all) in our own way, since there is no ultimate authority or ultimate truth to be found anywhere.

Right now we should be standing our ground on upholding biblical authority – but instead of that, several evangelical theologians are starting to operate from within postmodernist reasoning. I think this is a little dangerous, to put it mildly.

Of course, there is no reason why the Augustinian/Calvinist roots of much of modern evangelicalism should not be challenged and I, for one, would welcome that. I genuinely think there are some areas of our theology which are – at least – questionable if not clearly erroneous and we have tended to just assume them without sufficient biblical authority – that is not good. But the eternal truths of Scripture should not and must not be compromised in any way. We must all stand by the great truths of Scripture and insist that there is such a thing as ultimate truth! Moreover, we must insist that Christ presented this very ultimate truth in His Gospel message which remains pertinent to every man, woman and child on this planet. See John 1:14,17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 8:32,40,44-46, 14:6,17.

What About Inclusivism?

Okay, now what about the inclusivist question? Actually there is no connection between theological Inclusivism and the 'emergent church' even though some 'emergents' might be Inclusivists (just as some Roman Catholics and some evangelicals might be). Theological Inclusivism states that salvation is only possible through Christ – there is no other Name whereby salvation may be appropriated!! This is evident through Holy Scripture. But that same Holy Scripture seems to make it plain that people can be saved who never actually heard the name of Jesus during their lifetimes – yet they can nevertheless only be saved through His Sacrifice and Resurrection. That is Inclusivism. By the way, Inclusivism is very definitely not Universalism! Although some writers continue to confuse the two.

A few who support the Emergent Church Movement may be inclusivist, others undoubtedly are not, but Inclusivism should not be evaluated by what the emergent church people say about it, just as it should not be evaluated by what the liberal John Hick says about it. Hick does not accept the authority of Scripture and so all Bible-believing evangelicals will reject his reasonings on that basis alone. No. One must consider what I term 'Evangelical Inclusivism' only in the light of Scripture. In that particular light, and that light alone, and after over 40 years of Bible study, I myself support it. Moreover, theological inclusivism was the majority position of the 'church fathers' right up to the time of the Augustine/Pelagius debate (Athanasius, who is much admired by evangelicals, had described the work of Christ as, “A sufficient exchange for all.” That is an Inclusivist position and it is also more biblical than to say, 'a sufficient exchange for a tiny group' which is what Calvinism later effectively claimed). The Augustine/Pelagius debate changed Christian theology forever. Pelagius said that anybody can be saved “by keeping the law” - quickly perceiving the obvious error of Pelagius, Augustine reacted by stressing grace and faith but then accompanied that with the claim that only a small minority would ever be saved. He stressed this in reaction to the claims of Pelagius even though much of Augustine's writings do not always stress those things. From that point forwards, this came to affect the whole balance of Christian theology. Actually Restrictivism (only a tiny minority can ever be saved) focuses on certain Scriptures but is disinterested in many others. It comes from Augustine and shows the strong influence of Manichaeism (the cult which Augustine had belonged to before becoming a Christian). But Restrictivism came to form part of the foundation of both Roman Catholicism as well as Protestantism. Arminianism tried to break away from this but unfortunately it attempted to do so in a somewhat unbiblical manner by rejecting much of what the New Testament teaches about grace and by over-stressing human freedom.

Okay, so I think that this answers this particular question. One should not reject Theological Inclusivism just because a few 'emergent' people accept it. Would we ever consider rejecting Christ's resurrection just because Roman Catholics accept it? Ridiculous!

I use the term “Evangelical Inclusivism” as a term to describe the doctrinal position of those who embrace Inclusivism on Scriptural grounds alone – as I do.

Robin A. Brace, 2006.