October 16, 2018

Roger Oakland and Evangelicalism’s Shrinking Map of the Church

Roger Oakland does apologetics and “discernment” ministry at a well known web site. His theology is highly influenced by dispensationalism. I recently visited his web site from a link at Phoenix Preacher, taking note of his warnings about how to know your church is going “emerging.”

What we have here are Oakland’s “Signs That Your Church is Going Emergent.” Or is Emerging. Or is headed for heresy and apostasy.

* Scripture is no longer the ultimate authority as the basis for the Christian faith.
* The centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being replaced by humanistic methods promoting church growth and a social gospel.
* More and more emphasis is being placed on building the kingdom of God now and less and less on the warnings of Scripture about the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a coming judgment in the future.
* The teaching that Jesus Christ will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical and heretical.
* The teaching that the church has taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often embraced.
* The teaching that the Book of Revelation does not refer to the future, but instead has been already fulfilled in the past
* An experiential mystical form of Christianity begins to be promoted as a method to reach the postmodern generation.
* Ideas are promoted teaching that Christianity needs to be reinvented in order to provide meaning for this generation.
* The pastor may implement an idea called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.
* While the authority of the Word of God is undermined, images and sensual experiences are promoted as the key to experiencing and knowing God.
* These experiences include icons, candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.
* There seems to be a strong emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
* Some evangelical Protestant leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are reexamining the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.
* There will be a growing trend towards an ecumenical unity for the cause of world peace claiming the validity of other religions and that there are many ways to God.
* Members of churches who question or resist the new changes that the pastor is implementing are reprimanded and usually asked to leave.

Now there are some serious things to be concerned about here. I don’t mean to dismiss any legitimate concerns. But this list shows a lot of the position of the “discernment” ministries in relation to the larger Christian church.

Anyone who has been around this web site the past year knows that our Catholic friends have a point to make about evangelicals and their tendency to assume that you can have unity without a uniform teaching authority. In other words, doing “discernment” and hunting heresy is a rather unusual business to be in when your entire system is premised on rejecting Catholic ideas of authority and making every person with a Bible equally authoritative.

My answer to this position of my Catholic friends goes something like this:

I agree with your basic contention that we need the boundaries of unity and authority in order to talk about the “Christian faith.” Millions of people reading their favorite verses to one another won’t produce unity. If Protestantism has demonstrated anything, it’s that.

But what kind of unity? Many of us believe that a kind of “creedal minimalism” brings the necessary unity to Christianity. The Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds provide this minimum coverage, and the leadership of local churches (or geographic/denominational structures) use it for the purposes of mission, definition and discipline.

In other words, we don’t believe that the infallible teaching authority of a completely hierarchical church defining every detail of Christian faith and mining tradition for further dogma is the necessary expression of unity. All the unity we need is available through the processes of a fallible church.

Further, a kind of creedal minimalism keeps us from elevating minor matters to the position of major ones. For example, creedal minimalism would keep us from making complementarian positions on gender into essentials of Christianity or from refusing someone participation in the Lord’s Supper because they are part of a different denomination. Creedal minimalism would have little to say about eschatology or Biblical interpretation. And it wouldn’t have us ruling amillienialists like Kim Riddlebarger as likely apostates.

If you read Mr. Oakland’s diagnosis of the disease of emergent heresy and apostasy, his own premillennial eschatology and dispensational hermeneutic figure prominently into his definition of orthodoxy. Note that his dispensational beliefs- which are historically provable to be extremely recent innovations in protestantism- have become the only orthodox position. His views on the interpretation of the book of Revelation now are the boundaries of Christianity itself. His views on the relationship of Israel and the Church are the only Biblical options. Only the Darby-Scofield-Chuck Smith dispensational stream- a tiny minority that rejects the greater Christian world as almost completely representative of Satanic error and deception- has the truth.

And there’s more. If someone were, let’s say, post-evangelical a la yours truly, and called upon evangelicals to go to the broader, deeper, more ancient church to repair the glaring deficiencies of evangelicalism, if they were to recommend reading the writings of the ancient church or the reconsideration of the spiritually formative practices of the ancient church, then such a person is either an enemy of the faith or certainly headed for apostasy.

Mr. Oakland is doing discernment ministry with zeal, but he has almost no idea where he is on evangelicalism’s map and time line. He speaks of “Ancient-Future” evangelicalism as immediately suspect without admitting that evangelicals have both an ancient, catholic past and an uncertain future. He is doomed by his own loyalty to his tiny theological village to deem the rest of the continent as apostate and worthy of judgment.

He knows that what he finds in the Bible and is persuaded to believe is right, and that those who don’t join him in believing these things are headed for the eventual end times apostate reunion with the anti-Christ approved Ecumenical Church at Rome ™.

He speaks of the reformation while, of course, ignoring the fact that Luther was far more catholic than protestant, and many of his own books and teachings would be burned by the reformers as dangerous heresy. He is, like so many recent evangelical discernment ministries, convinced that the restoration of true Christianity happened when his particular team got into the game.

For Mr. Oakland, true Christianity is completely defined by the stream he finds himself in. It’s commendable that he feels strongly that other Christians should affirm the truth as he sees it in the Bible and as he’s heard it from his favorite preachers. I join him in opposing the relativizing of non-Christian religions and the displacement of the authority of the Bible by anyone.

But perhaps Mr. Oakland might want to consider the possible rescue of a term like “Generous Orthodoxy.” We can reclaim and benefit from such an idea. There is much, much more to strong, orthodox Christianity than the pessimistic innovations of rapturists and dispensationalists. There is far more of value in the larger church than he suspects from his parochial point of view. In fact, if he might find a way to overlook some of the very real deficiencies of the current emerging scene and look closer at the work of post-evangelicals, he might find that the larger, deeper, more ancient church was both more generous and more orthodox (Biblical, truly Christian, deeply committed, etc.) than he has allowed as possible.

I appreciate the work of discernment apologists like Roger Oakland, but their narrow view of true Christianity points out the unfortunate result of believing the tiny stream running through your yard is the Mississippi River.

Comments

  1. I have bemoaned the lack of humility before in my responses, so here I go again. Sure, stand up for what you believe, but no one has a corner on the whole truth. We can learn much from others who may believe differently than we do. Mr. Oakland, as you note, didn’t just drop into the game with all the “correct answers,” especially as many of those “answers” have come relatively recently.

  2. Good point. Half the things he mentions in that list would make Riddlebarger, Horton, Rosenbladt, and R.C. Sproul part of the emerging church. Making the Christian tent to small is just as wrong as making it too big.

  3. People who have “discernment ministries” should be required to have some.

  4. Have you ever noticed with the “discernment” types, the Holy Spirit always seems to agree with the persons own preferences and biases?

    I see this in the teachings that drinking is a sin, even though most Christians around the world do not, and have not, held to that view and that Christian monks invented/perfected most forms of brewing/fermentation/etc. Modern music is of the devil…discernment tells me so. Sure, some of our beloved hymn are new words written to old drinking songs but at least they didn’t have drums or electric guitars. Smoking is a sin because one verse in the middle of a bunch of verses about not fornicating calls the body the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sure, I weigh 375 pounds but that’s different…

    Also, as mentioned, they almost always reflect a deep lack of understanding of the historical church.

    Don’t even get me started on the Pre-Trib Rapture.

    DD

  5. Upon reading the list, it sounds like some Methodists I know have been Emerging long before the movement named itself.

    But it’s not the first Anti-Creed I’ve come across; by “anti-creed” I mean “Here’s a list of things Christians shouldn’t believe,” and if they do they’re going to hell.”

    Even though the first statement on the Anti-Creed violates Christianity. The basis for the Christian faith is Christ crucified, resurrected, and reigning. Not the bible. It is only because the bible points to this that the bible is valid at all. Anyone who puts bible before Jesus is an idolater, plain and simple. (And some of the other statements in the Anti-Creed, particularly the ones about biblical interpretation, stem from this basic heresy.)

  6. I don’t get too jazzed about discernment ministries. Although discernment is important it almost seems like alot of discernment ministries and leaders who emphasize discernment are really just judgmental and need a way to vent and so they emphasize being ‘biblical’ as a guise or ticket to go around with a critical or suspicious attitude ‘examining’ people and churches who are not ‘following the rules’. With that said I am for discernment but want to avoid being a pharisaical (dogmatism,anger,pride,self righteousness) christian as tim keller puts it. I want to be discerning without being obnoxious or proud.

  7. …or smug

  8. I got “discerned” out of the church last week by some friends and according to this list, I’m a heretic of the worst sort. Thank God for grace!

    Thanks for this post, iMonk. It reinforced and comforted me that I’m not crazy bc I don’t hold to dispensationalist theology. I’m not crazy because I have finally been awakened by God to care for the poor and oppressed because I believe the Kingdom of God is already here and I don’t have to wait for it at the 2nd (or is it 2 1/2? coming). And I’m not crazy because I think Christendom is growing as wheat and tares, side by side that will be separated by Christ himself (I don’t have to do it), and I can fellowship with Christ followers of many denominations, not just the one I call “home”. Depending on one’s theology, if I look at my spiritual journey, I have been a tare and how I’m a wheat. Or I was wheat and now I’m a tare…oh bother.

  9. “What we have here are Oakland’s “Signs That Your Church is Going Emergent.” Or is Emerging. Or is headed for heresy and apostasy.”

    So… pretty much anything that could be interpreted as savouring of Papistry, huh? 🙂

    I agree with him about labyrinths, by the way. Tsk! If you’re gonna do praying whilst walking in a circular movement, then you have to do the whole shebang: barefoot in the cold and rain, while fasting, after staying awake for 24 hours as in the pilgrimage to Lough Derg, or barefoot climbing a mountain over scree, as in the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick 😉

    What are prayer stations? The Stations of the Cross, or something else?

  10. Martha I don’t think that the Emergent church would nescesarily be heading to us, if anything it just opens it self up for ancient heretical doctrines that have long been buried to be brought up from the sulfer covered pages of history in to a modern world ready to accept anything as true.

  11. Michael A says:

    “…a social gospel.”
    “…building the kingdom of God now…”

    Does this officially make Jesus and emergent leader?

  12. Giovanni, I was more poking fun at the notion that signs of Emergence? becoming Emergent? the Emergency? 😉 include such heinous and devilish notions as:

    * The pastor may implement an idea called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.
    * These experiences include icons, candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    * There seems to be a strong emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
    * Some evangelical Protestant leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are reexamining the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.

    Icons? Candles? The Real Presence? Liturgy? Sacraments? Contemplative prayer? Oh, the horror, the horror 🙂

  13. I’m a dispensationalist. [feel free to start yelling.] That means I believe God works in a variety of ways with a variety of people at a variety of times. It doesn’t NECESSARILY mean I’m a raving lunatic who thinks candles are a sign of catholicism and social justice is something only liberals care about.

    I’m offering this disclaimer because “dispensationalist” has become the latest group to make fun of, and examples like Roger Oakland reinforce the misconception that being a dispensationalist means I think everyone whose pastor didn’t go to Dallas Seminary doesn’t really understand the Bible.

    I don’t really disagree with any of the critiques of Roger Oakland that anyone has offered; I just wanted to make sure you guys realize that not all dispensationalists are crazy. I grew up in a very strong dispensationalist church, then attended a predominantly dispensationalist college (that college, by the way, has been denounced as heretical by its denomination and others for being too emergent; and it is no less dispensationalist now than it was before the emergent developments), and then went to Dallas Theological Seminary (in case you’re not familiar with it, we basically invented dispensationalism). So while the jury is still out on my own personal beliefs concerning the rapture and other eschatological issues, I just want to make it clear that not everyone who calls themselves a dispensationalist is screaming “heretic” at the rest of the christian community. Some of them are. But not all.

  14. Is it OK if we emerge just a little? Or if we do not emerge can we protrude? Pastor Oakland I am sure has good intentions, as do some emergers who emerge out of The Body so far they become unrecognizable to their brothers and sisters. IMONK we need a MonkOmeter or something with with a measurable weirdness to Holiness
    showing progressive sanctification, allowing of course for justification. Please do not measure me with it, I do not want to know, I’m just doing my best.

  15. I pray Martha that they find a safe shore in the sea of herecy they will encounter.

  16. Michael,

    I don’t think your ideas about unity are “dangerous”, nor did I claim that. Of course I agree with you that all Christians should affirm the Creed. My argument is that unity can’t be achieved by ‘mere Christianity’, because ‘mere Christianity’ does not address the fundamental source of our disunity. As far as I can tell (though I may have missed it), you haven’t addressed that argument.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Anne Lamott said “you know you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out He hates all the same people you do.” hahah– oh, wait, she was talking to ME, too. Dern.

  18. Mike (at 14 Oct 2008 9:54 pm):
    Could you say more about your experiences with other dispensationalists?

    I was in a small church (not Plymouth Brethren, but similar) that strongly followed J.N. Darby’s and Scofield’s teachings. When I stopped meeting with them, and began to open up to teachings beyond dispensationalism, I felt that I could breathe again. It was as if I had been living by a tiny stagnant pond, and all of a sudden someone showed me the beautiful ocean.

    Sorry, that comes across as putting the entire dispensationalist movement down, and that’s contrary to your own request. I’m not putting you down. I’m simply describing my own experience. But most of the dispensationalists I have known are very narrow and sectarian people. I’m curious if you are often treated improperly because you seem to have an open mind.

  19. * The teaching that Jesus Christ will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical and heretical.
    * The teaching that the church has taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often embraced.

    LOL

  20. “Is it OK if we emerge just a little?”

    Like Groundhog Day – come out, peer at your shadow, then scurry back to your burrow? 😉

  21. Amen, Giovanni, and definitely there is a danger of going to far in a mix-and-match, do-it-yourself, cherrypicking the shiny bits out of the past and other traditions.

    What I was more amused by, however, was the notion by the man (God bless him) that anything in either the physical appearance or liturgy of a church that harked back to earlier than last Tuesday was creeping Romanism and the path to perdition.

    Actually, even having something along the lines of a liturgy was next-door to inviting the Pope to be your own personal Evil Overlord 🙂

  22. In the American Experience series on the Presidents, this quote from Nixon’s famous “Silent Majority” speech is included: “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”

    This can be applied to the church. The devil cannot defeat us, because he has already been defeated by the cross. Only the church can defeat itself, through petty fighting and name-calling. But ultimately even that’s not possible, because it is Christ who builds his church.

    Following the example of Saint Benezet, this is a time to be bridge builders. That accepts the fact that there will always be those things that divide us. I like my dispensational friends; I like my Baptist friends, my Catholic friends. I have no interest in converting them to anything. They don’t have to “get” me (I don’t get myself most of the time, either). They help me see things differently. The bridges mean that on those things with which we can agree, we can fellowship and experience Christ’s presence “where two or more are gathered…”. We need to draw near to one another, without fearing that we’ll somehow lose our identities. That takes courage.