John MacArthur Says Emerging Church in “Disarray and Decline” – Evidence Shows Differently

In a July 2011 article titled “Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming. Advice for the Young, Restless, Reformed” written by John MacArthur, he stated the following:

Five years later, the so-called Emergent Church is now in a state of serious disarray and decline. Some have suggested it’s totally dead. Virtually every offshoot of evangelicalism that consciously embraced postmodern values has either fizzled out or openly moved toward liberalism, universalism, and Socinianism. Scores of people who were active in the Emerging movement a decade ago seem to have abandoned Christianity altogether.

However, we contend that the emergent/emerging church is not in decline or dead by any means. In the following report, we are going to take a look at the main defining points made in Roger Oakland’s book, Faith Undone, on the emerging church. We will examine these points to see whether they are still in existence within the evangelical/Protestant church today.

One of the important things about Faith Undone is that it defines the emergent/emerging church in a broader scope than many critical books on the emerging church have done. One of the most important aspects of the emerging church is its embracing of contemplative mysticism. And yet three of the books we know of which are said to be great exposes on the emerging church do not even mention this aspect. That is like telling someone what the ingredients of a strawberry ice cream sundae are but omitting to tell them that it includes ice cream. Yes, mysticism is the driving force behind the emerging church. Ironically, John MacArthur’s article states that a huge number of young people are turning to Calvinism instead of the emerging church. But perhaps he does not realize that there is a huge portion of Calvinism that is now beginning to embrace contemplative mysticism. Some call it the New Calvinism, but we call it just another form of the emerging church. It isn’t a name that makes the emerging church emerging – it’s the “ingredients.” Let’s take a look at what these ingredients are and see whether they are in “disarray and decline.” Each of the 13 points below (each an element of emerging spirituality) is derived from Roger Oakland’s book, Faith Undone and is followed by our brief commentary as to whether that point is no longer valid:

1.  A New Kind of Christianity: Leaders of the emerging church say drastic changes must take place because the church can no longer be effective with old ways and an old church. We need a new kind of Christianity if we are going to make a difference in people’s lives and the world around us.  (Faith Undone, chapter 1)

Comment:Is this idea gone? Not by a long shot. Just take a look at Christian conference and book titles. They call out for change, awakening, reformation, a new way of doing things. This emerging church attitude that everything has to change is here to stay. (eg.

2. The Pioneers of the Emerging Church – Who were they and have they declined today?: Chapter 2 of Faith Undoneidentifies some of the key players in the birth of the emerging church: Bob Buford of Leadership Network, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Peter Drucker, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, Leith Anderson, Bill Hybels, Leonard Sweet, Erwin McManus, Youth Specialties, Zondervan, and Jossey Bass publishers. (Faith Undone, chapter 2)

 Comment:Are these names now in disarray and decline? Or as MacArthur put it “fizzled out or openly moved toward liberalism, universalism, and Socinianism”? Well, a few of the names above have certainly moved fast forward toward liberalism, universalism and Socinianism – McLaren, Pagitt, and Jones. But the rest of these names are still leading figures in the emerging church movement and are actively promoting contemplative spirituality (with the exception of Drucker who is dead), the “energy” that drives the emerging church.

3. A “New” Faith for the 21st Century: The Word of God is under attack. According to emerging church leaders, the Bible is not so much for truth and doctrine as it is for hopes, ideas, and participation. In other words, don’t use the Bible as a means of theology or absolute truth and standards by which to live; rather than the Bible molding the Christian’s life, let the Christian’s life mold the Bible. (Faith Undone, chapter 3)

Comment: The attack on the Word of God has not subsided at all. Leonard Sweet says that Christians spend too much time on “doctrine” and beliefs; Rick Warren says that Christians spend too much time thinking about Bible prophecy and Christ’s return; new Bible versions are completely distorting the Word of God; millions of Christians are racing to buy the latest Bible-mocking books such as The Shack. More and more Christian leaders are rejecting what the Bible says about homosexuality (a symptom of the emerging church) – this attack on the Word of God has not subsided in the least – on the contrary, it is gaining momentum. Phyllis Tickle (an author published by Baker Books) says that the Bible is a nice poetic book but it is certainly not some kind of authority in our lives. J.P. Moreland says Christians are too committed to the Bible. And, once again, we consider all of these names as emerging as they all promote contemplative mysticism and a kingdom of God on earth  now view.

4. Riding the Emerging Church Wave: How far is this new kind of church willing to go to reach its objective? Emerging church proponents say there is a new wave taking place, and we have to hop on. The wave is a Vintage Christianity, which in reality is an experience-based religion. Experiences must be implemented in order to attract both Christians and non-Christians alike; we must appeal to this postmodern generation with its hunger for experience, rituals, and mysticism. (Faith Undone, chapter 4)

Comment: It is almost needless to say that experience-based Christianity is alive and “well” in the church. No decline here.

5. Ancient-Future Worship: The emerging church embraces multi-sensory worship. While many are bewildered why their churches are darkening their sanctuaries, setting up prayer stations with candles, incense, and icons, the promoters of the emerging church movement say they know exactly what they are doing by practicing mysticism through music, rituals, and worship and offering stimulating images for a spiritual experience. Leaders of the emerging church say the ideas and beliefs of the early church fathers (100 AD to 600AD) are important and these teachings from the past will bring spiritual transformation and success to churches in the 21st century. (Faith Undone, chapter 5)

Comment:Interest in the “ancient” fathers or the desert fathers is on the rise. Even conservative Christian schools are emphasizing them. Lectio divina (from the desert fathers and other ancient mystics) is practiced widespread now. And ancient-future worship is too. The writings of the late Robert Webber, known mostly for his efforts to bring about ancient-future worship, are found in large numbers of Christian colleges and seminaries in their worship or music department courses.

6. When West Meets East: Contemplative spirituality (i.e., mysticism) is to the emerging church what the wind is to a sail boat. Without it, there is no momentum, and it is woven into the very fabric of the emerging church’s ambiance. In order to understand why this is so important, we must first understand the dynamics of contemplative spirituality. (Faith Undone, chapter 6)

Comment: Contemplative spirituality is promoted by the majority of Christian leaders and Christian publishers  today. We wish it were the case that it was in “disarray and decline,” but that simply is not the case. Faith Undone names the names of those you will find in Christian university classrooms and on the shelves of countless Christian pastors: Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Thomas Keating, and Julian of Norwich. “Christian” Yoga, also discussed in Faith Undone, has increased in popularity in church settings, as well.

7. Monks, Mystics, and the Ancient Wisdom: The emerging church is embracing contemplative spirituality and what is called the ancient wisdom. While appearing to be Christian because of the altered terminology, in actuality, it is occult based and New Age. (Faith Undone, chapter 7)

Comment:The new monks and the new mystics are those emerging figures who are part of the emerging church and who push this “vintage” mystical Christianity. There are too many to mention, but a few are Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Tony Campolo, Marcus Borg, J.P. Moreland, and Klaus Issler. Incidentally, in relation to MacArthur’s article, the Reformed movement that he talks about has its own new mystics and monks (e.g. Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller, etc.).

8.The Evangelization of Eucharistic Adoration: The Roman Catholic Church has a plan to establish the Kingdom of God here on Earth and win the world to the Roman Catholic Jesus—the Eucharistic Christ. It is believed the “triumph of the Eucharist” will be accomplished when the world (including the separated brethren) come under the rule and reign of Rome and the Eucharistic Jesus. The presence of “Christ” in the Eucharist is the second coming, Roman Catholic style. The emerging church is a bridge to Rome. (Faith Undone, chapter 8)

Comment:The infiltration that the Catholic church (and it’s Eucharistic evangelization) has made and is continuing to make  into the evangelical/Protestant church is astounding. This Road to Rome is one of the major earmarks of the emerging church. Thus, to say this effort is in disarray and decline is showing a great lack in discerning the times in which we live.

9. The Kingdom of God on Earth:The Bible says that Jesus Christ will establish His kingdom when He returns to Earth. But today a theology called Kingdom Now or Dominionism is permeating the walls of Christianity, and the emerging church movement is taking this heretical belief full speed into the next generation. With the idea that the church can establish the Kingdom of God before Christ returns and essentially turn our world into a Christian world, this belief system has literally changed the way countless Christians view the world and go about their Christian living. What most of them don’t realize is this Kingdom of God on Earth mindset is an all out effort by Satan to merge together the religions of the world and thus negate the gospel message. (Faith Undone, chapter 9)

Comment: As we have shown in recent articles (see one), the kingdom of God on earth/dominionist movement has not only not gone away – it is beginning to show up in denominations and groups that at one time denounced these unbiblical teachings.

10. The Undoing of Faith:The fruit of the emerging church includes: changes in views on sexuality (e.g., homosexuality acceptance), the desire by emerging leaders to stop identifying with Christianity, eradicating the gap between good and evil (the very goal of Satan’s religion, the New Age), and developing a new missiology which says keep your own religion, just add Jesus. This truly is the undoing of Christian faith. (Faith Undone, chapter 10)

Comment: Take a close look at the new missiologyshowing up in major Christian mission organizations, such as YWAM, and you will not be able to say that it is on the decline. And see how the “new sexuality,” which includes tantric sex, has found its way into evangelical circles. Gary Thomas, one of evangelical’s most popular authors, promotes a tantric sex advocate (he promotes contemplative prayer too in another of his books) in his widely read book, Sacred Marriage.

11. A Slaughterhouse Religion?:If someone said that emerging church leaders don’t like the Cross, many would cry out, “Yes, they do. I’ve heard them talk about Jesus and the Cross.” But while this may be true, there is an underlying theme building momentum in the emerging church that says, “Jesus going to the Cross was an example of sacrifice and service that we should follow. But the idea that God would send His Son to a violent death for the sins of mankind—well that is not who God is. He would never do that!” This mindset negates the very atonement on which biblical Christianity rests. (Faith Undone, chapter 11)

Comment: The saddest emerging church symptom of all is this sometimes subtle denouncement of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the Cross by emerging writers, and it has rarely been addressed publicly by Christianity’s major leaders. Christian leaders are ignoring (or promoting) those who make this devastating proclamation. If they are ignoring it and remaining silent then they are part of the problem. One thing for sure, the attack against the message of the Cross has not diminished, and it never will until Christ returns to set things right.

12. A New Reformation?: The nature of the emerging church’s new reformation is anything but new, and when it comes to pass could bear violence and persecution on those who defend the Bible as the true and literal Word of God.  (Faith Undone, chapter 12)

Comment: Once you realize that the emerging church movement actually began in the Garden of Eden when Satan deceived Eve and thus brought about the fall of man because of sin, and once you realize that Satan hates Jesus Christ (and His sacrifice on the Cross) and hates His church, you will see that the assault against those who name the name of Christ will never be in decline until Christ returns. Rick Warren talks about a new reformation, one that will include all religions. But this new reformation that is coming about will not include biblical Christians.

13. End-Time Deception: The Bible says that in the last days Satan will deceive the whole world with doctrines of demons and seducing spirits. The question must be asked, is the emerging church spirituality part of this great falling away? And just what are the earmarks of a church that has become part of this end-time deception? (Faith Undone, chapter 13)

Comment: We are living in a time of great spiritual deception. It’s not just the world that is spiritually blind – vast numbers of proclaiming Christians, who are following leaders they shouldn’t be following, are completely unaware and uninterested in understanding the times in which we live and in wanting to recognize spiritual deception.

To John MacArthur, we beseech you to reconsider your public statement that the emerging church is in “disarray and decline.” This misleading statement will give many a false sense of security and will also keep many from being able to spot a dangerous spirituality that may be in their very midst. We urge all Christian leaders to do what the old saying suggests: “Speak the truth and shame the devil.” Or as the Bible says: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).  And do not forget Paul’s warning about spiritual deception: “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11: 15-16).

A final note to our readers:

Those who have followed our commentaries, reports, and books on the emerging church over the last several years may recall one more key element of this movement – evasiveness. Emerging leaders, though getting bolder, have been careful to present their heresies in a most subtle manner. Names and terms are frequently changing (such as emergent, emerging, and so on), even though the belief is still the same. This is why we must insist that the emergent/emerging church is not dead. Some use the age-old method of using questions instead of declarative statements – hath God said . . . ? Often, you will hear statements like, “Would a loving God send people to Hell?, would a loving God send His own Son to die on a Cross?, did God really mean this or that?  While such non-committal questions cloak many a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the destructive force is evident to us at Lighthouse Trails as we receive so many letters, calls, and e-mails relating stories of young people who have been snatched away from the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” The spiritual battle is not over, and this is not the time to feel at ease and thereby lay down the “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Rather, let us be diligent and prayerful for our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).


A few of our articles showing that emerging is on the incline in the evangelical church:

Contemplative Spirituality Lands on Charles Stanley’s In Touch Magazine . . . Again

Mennonite Brethren Youth Hear Emerging Author Shane Claiborne

The New Look of Christian Missions

Students Fight for Homosexual Rights on Christian Campuses . . . And Emerging Church Leaders Must Share Blame

Book review: Love Wins by Rob Bell – Mocking Truth: Rob Bell’s False Hope, Worldly Heaven, and Earth-Based Hell

Will the Evangelical Church Help Usher in the “Age of Enlightenment” and the Coming False One?

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