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Can Right Be Wrong?

Commentary by Roger Oakland

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Proverbs states there is a way that “seems right” to man. [1] However, Jesus said what seems right to man may not be right with Him. [2] For this reason, Christians must be led by the Spirit of God and follow God’s Word. [3] However, as the Bible teaches, it is possible to believe one is being led by God, but instead be misled by Satan. [4]

Emerging Church propaganda has created a major controversy within a number of fellowships that were once made up of Bible believing and teaching pastors. Pastors sympathetic to the Emerging Church say Christianity must change or be reinvented if we are going to be relevant and reach the postmodern generation. Change is necessary, they say, because Christianity is no longer relevant for the postmodern era and the gospel can no longer reach young people who are looking for experiences.

Recently, a group of pastors debating the pros and cons of the Emerging Church in a private pastors’ discussion group, put forward a number of ideas with regard to the Emerging Church. Some felt that older pastors (even the founder of the movement) were out of touch with today’s youth and therefore no longer relevant. Apparently, teaching the Scriptures verse by verse and pointing people to the soon return of Jesus had its day, but not anymore.

Of course being relevant and reaching this generation for Christ is of vital importance. However, reaching people for Christ must be based on the Scriptures which are always relevant, if we are going to hold fast to the faith. [5] Not so, you see, with the Emerging Church. Promoters say that being relevant means augmenting the Scriptures by stimulating the senses with sounds, smells and images.

According to Emerging Church leaders, reaching people is often equated with finding ways to encourage people to come to church. This is in keeping with the Peter Drucker church growth model that has been incorporated by Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and others. In order for the sheep to be “driven” the pastor must designate a purpose in order to help focus their faith. While Jesus is mentioned, the main focus of Christianity becomes social action. As well, providing what the sheep like by meeting their spiritual consumer needs also plays a role.

Further, since preaching the gospel of Christ requires telling sinners they will end up in hell unless they accept a Savior, Emerging Church promoters often look for ways to make Christianity more acceptable and appealing. Of course not all Emerging Church leaders have ignored the gospel that we find in the Scriptures. If this were the case those who still had some discernment would detect where the Emerging Church movement is headed. Instead, the deviations from the true gospel are more subtle.

Rob Bell, who many pastors now are emulating, suggests that people who witness to people about sin and the reality of hell are “bull horn” Christians. “Bull horn” people are not “cool” now that we are in the postmodern era. Instead Bell suggests “for a mind-blowing introduction to emergence theory and divine creativity, set aside three months and read Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything.”  [6]

Ken Wilber is a New Age guru who promotes an Eastern religious worldview that everything is God and that mankind is in the process of evolving to a higher level of consciousness. [7]

Another Emerging Church view is the idea that it is necessary to develop a global community of faith. [8] This idea is based on the view that truth can be found in other faiths, other than faith that is based on the Bible. For example, one emerging leader I know requires that members of his church attend Buddhist meetings to learn about Buddhist beliefs that have the potential to enrich the “Christian” experience. [9]

Speaking of Buddhist experiences, monastic disciplines borrowed from Buddhism are becoming very popular as Emerging Church promoters like Richard Foster,[10] Tony Campollo [11] and Tony Jones [12] promote contemplative prayer, centering prayer and the “Jesus prayer”. The idea that spiritual seekers can get into a “silent state” or a “thin state” in order to “hear God’s voice” is now being promoted as “getting closer to God”.

All of this sounds very spiritual, of course. However, it is important to understand where these ideas come from. You will find that the Scriptures are silent about using mantras, focusing on objects on the wall, performing breathing exercises, and using beads to count repetitive prayers, in order to get closer to Jesus and be more spiritual.

Richard Foster openly acknowledges that Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist monk was very helpful in introducing contemplative practices to the Christians of his day. As Foster stated in a book he wrote:

Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood… His interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion. Zen masters from Asia regarded him as the preeminent authority on their kind of prayer in the United States. [13] 

So what should this tell a discerning person? It seems that getting “closer to Jesus” through embracing Emerging Church practices should be a good thing. It seems right! What possibly could be wrong with getting closer to Jesus? But what if in one’s zeal to get “closer to Jesus”, the person was actually deceived and contacted a demon?

Stop and think about this for a moment! Instead of “getting closer” to Jesus, the sincere Jesus-seeking person could contact “another Jesus”. Thus, what was thought to be right would be wrong!



[1] Proverbs 16:25

[2] Matthew 15:8-9

[3] Romans 8:14

[4] I Timothy 4:1

[5] Hebrews 10:23

[6] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005) p. 192


[8] Doug Pagitt, Re-Imaging Christianity: The Spiritual Formation of People in Communities of Faith, Zondervan, p. 28-29

[9] Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, Baker Academic (a division of Baker publishing group), p. 132

[10] Richard Foster, Celebration of Disciplines, Harper Collins Publishers

[11] Tony Campollo, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Basic Books (a member of the Perseus Group)

[12] Tony Jones, The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, Zondervan

[13] Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin, Spiritual Classics, San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2000, First Edition, p. 17



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