The Muddy Waters of the “Emerging Church”

Kevin Cauley

In August of 1991 my wife and I visited Vicksburg, Mississippi on our honeymoon.  One sight we could not miss was the Mississippi River.  The United States Geological Service estimates that approximately 373 billion gallons of water flow by Vicksburg every day.  That water comes from the thousands of lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks that flow into it creating the river’s distinctively muddy character.

Christians today live in a world that, not unlike the muddy Mississippi, is influenced by multiple streams of ideas, thoughts, and philosophies.  This period has been characterized as postmodern because of its anti-rational thinking and its complete acceptance of any and all ideas regardless of how ridiculous they may seem.  This is illustrated for us in the chorus of a Charlie Daniels’ song entitled, “Muddy Mississippi.”  “Everybody is alright / Ain’t nobody uptight / Dancing in the moonlight / Muddy Mississippi roll on.”

It should not surprise us that some are placing a special emphasis upon taking the gospel to the postmodern world.  This effort is known as the “Emerging Church.”  It is a pan-denominational effort to engage the postmodern world around us with the gospel, but with a subtle twist.  The “Emerging Church” wants to do this with the acceptance of postmodern presuppositions.

“Emerging Church” adherents do not believe that we ought to characterize the message of the gospel as either true or false.  This, they claim, buys into a failed system of knowledge.  Instead, they seek to engage the postmodern culture “non-confrontationally.”  This entails that we simply sit down to have a “conversation” about things; no one is right or wrong; no one is exhorted to give up false doctrine and embrace truth.  All ideas and philosophies are equally legitimized and somehow the postmodern culture is evangelized.

It reminds me of the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman,” in which a rich businessman hires a prostitute to act as his escort.  During the course of their relationship, the businessman ends up realizing that there is more to life than money; the prostitute ends up leaving her life of sex for money.  Both are somehow redeemed from their formerly wasted lives without condemning or being condemned.

In that regard, the “Emerging Church” movement is analogous to evangelizing a prostitute by fornicating with her.  While that seems harsh, some in this movement would accept that analogy as an accurate characterization.  The only “evils” in society are defined as things that cause human suffering and Christianity is simply equated with an effort to solve social problems such as hunger, homelessness, and racism.

Some Christians have even been caught up in this kind of thinking.  They need to be reminded that Jesus didn’t die for the philosophies of men, but for man’s salvation from the philosophies of men (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).  Jesus proclaimed His message as “truth” (John 8:32) and severely chastised those who did not believe it (John 8:44-45).

The disciples confessed Jesus as the one that they knew and believed to be the Holy One of God (John 6:69).  They died willing to confront a similarly pluralistic culture with the absolute truth that Jesus was the way and the gospel was the truth.  If we, as Christians, are unwilling to stand up for the absolute truth of the resurrection of Jesus, then we’ve been evangelized instead of evangelizing.

The muddy waters of the Mississippi are broad and deep, but it is impossible to see anything clearly when surrounded by them.  If we surrender truth to engage the postmodern world with Christianity, we’ve surrendered the whole war.  Let us not seek to be conformed to the world, but transformed out of it (Romans 12:1-2).

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