Gone Fishing–at ETS

I’ll be gone for the rest of this week, fishing for friends, new books, and theological insights at the annual Evangelical Theological Society in Providence, Rhode Island.  So if you write a comment this week, it won’t be posted until after the Ohio State-Michigan blowout on Saturday.  Meet me here for the post-game celebration.

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  1. mike g. (grts student) November 18, 2008 — 2:16 pm

    Dr. Wittmer,
    I hope you have a good week at the ETS conference. I’m scheduled to take Systematic III this spring so I look foward to hearing some of the helpful insights you glean from the conference this spring during class.
    Anyway, I just wanted to share I just finished reading your book from yesterday to this morning. I thought it was a great read and I see some of the lessons you taught in our Program Intro course on how to write shining through. Your writing style is clear and to the point, while being straightfoward and many times quite funny.
    Substantively, I thought the book address some of the foundational issues with those in the emergent leadership who are drifting or sometimes crashing into the extreme liberalism.
    My aggravation with some of the postmodern innovators is their disguise of false humility. They are strongly critical of the extreme fundamentalist conservative traditions in very specific ways. But, when they are asked about problems within their own movement they make general statements like ‘it is likely that many of the things that I am suggesting could be wrong’ as sometimes McClaren does. But, they stop there and avoid specifics in what ways they are likely wrong. Do they chalk it up to the youngness of the movement as the reason why they have no concrete examples where the emergent movement has gone too far?
    I was wondering, Dr. Wittmer, if you plan on specifically sending a copy of your book to the postmodern innovators you are most concerned about? And not only send them a copy but fervently request a response to the issues you bring up and ask them if they can think of specific areas that the emergent church has ‘swung the pendulum too far to the other extreme.’
    That’s the contrast I see in your book and theirs. You specifically point out the blind spots, dangers, and flaws of both extremes while the liberal wing of the emergent movement doesn’t do the same. When will their writers and leaders start making statements on their own blogs saying, “Hey guys, we’ve gone to far on this and the conservatives have a strong point on this one.” I know there are some within the movement who are critical and who are this way, but we don’t seem to get that at all or enough from the guys like Spencer Burke, Doug Pagitt, Brian McClaren, Rob Bell, and Stephen Rollins.
    I hope you plan to send them a letter and a book and maybe it’s time for them to be brought to a forum not to talk about their own ‘humble writings’ but maybe brought to a forum to specifically respond to the subjects brought up in your book. Do you think they’d do this? I’d invite them all to GRTS and give them an opportunity to respond to these concerns and be specific about criticizing their own movement. Then, maybe we can determine if they are a friend or enemy of the cross of Christ. (Paul warns that many have become enemies and yet in this movement it’s hard to discern who is who). I still think overall it’s the wolves in sheeps clothes issue and that it would behoove us to heed Paul’s warnings when he says that many will arise in your own midst and turn people away from Jesus’ gospel. But, I tend to side on being too harsh, so I’ll stop now. Let me know if you do end up deciding to send your book to them… I’d be interested to hear how they respond.

  2. I’ll admit, the Ohio State v. Michigan match up has never looked as one-sided as it does this year. But still, you just never know what to expect with this game. I wouldn’t get too over-confident.

  3. Rob Bell and Brian McLaren are some of the most gracious, humble guys I’ve ever encountered. I’ve heard them make countless, self-critiques and appeals to their adherents to repudiate arrogance. They embody a compelling set of beliefs and they continually point people to Jesus, not to themselves.

    I find polarizing rhetoric like Mike G’s unhelpful in finding a middle road through this malaise!

  4. Hi Mike G,
    I too am a GRTS student and I’d love to meet with you in the Dobson study center to better understand your angst with Rob. Mars isn’t emergent, Rob isn’t emergent. I’m curious as to how much you think he “owes you” to give you enough critique of the movement.
    I’m also curious, does it have to be a published critique? Would an email be OK? How about a sermon or two? How often should these critiques come to you? If a person that you label as emergent does not self identify as emergent do they still need to send you these critiques?
    I’m not trying to be mean here, but do you see the arrogance in your statement? How do you know their humility is false? Do you have some sort of special dispensation from God where you are able to read the hearts and minds of men? I’m sure your professors will find this helpful when determining issues in your future classes. Be careful in painting an entire movement in such a way. Some of the men you are talking about are friends of mine. One is my pastor, and as such I find your statements are not only unhelpful, but they also are detrimental to the body of Christ.
    They violate many commandments in Scripture.

  5. Rob Bell and Brian McLaren could be false teachers. False teachers can surely be humble in some of their ways.

    There are many Jesus’ being proclaimed in the Church. The Jesus of the fullness of the Scriptures is how we know whether we are false teachers or genuine.

    I say all this, because Jesus Himself said, “Take heed, for false prophets and teachers will come, many of them, and if it were possible, these false teachers would deceive even the elect of God.”
    Even Satan comes as an angel of light, and so his ministers come as ministers of righteousness, and yet they are deceived, and deceive others, and even deceive themselves.

    Brian has taught unbiblically, as has Rob Bell. I don’t know their hearts, but they seem to be more like false teachers, then the genuine pastors from Christ.
    Brian even made a campaign video endorsing Obama, a man who endorses infanticide. Are pastors of Jesus Christ here on earth to be campiagning politically? For any candidate would be wrong I think.

  6. Hi Rob,
    I apologize if my previous message came off as “polarizing.” I was attempting to point out an observation that not only myself but others have made. I have not personally met Brian, but I have heard the audio recording of him during the talking points forum back in 2006. He does come across as a humble and genial man. I have also heard Rob Bell teach and he too comes across as a humble and kind person. But, that was not where my criticism was pointed. My criticism was in regards to their lack of clarity in regards to some of the historic doctrines of Christianity. You pointed out that they make countless repudiations of “arrogance.” But, my issue was not with their attitude, but with the content of their writings.
    I have a question for you Rob. Throughout the history of Christianity, has heresy arose from the teachings of arrogant, polarizing men or pious and respected teachers? Some of the doctrinal aberrations on the more extreme conservative side were not adopted because their teachers were obnoxious and arrogant, but because they were amiable and well received. This history should cause us to view these teachers with sympathetic scrutiny. Should we also remember that the serpent in the garden did not win Eve over because of his divisiveness, but his cunning and crafty speech? Your post seemed to shrug off my concerns while admonishing me for my “rhetoric.” Paul warns to the church in Galatia, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” (1:8) And later, as an elder to Timothy, Paul in his first letter to him warns, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16)
    I still think that the ones who have raised questions in regards to theology need to have some accountability. That is why I suggested that some of these prominent emergent teachers be invited to GRTS or someplace to respond to the specific issues that Dr. Wittmer brought up in his book. I hope communication remains open and I hope the comments made above are received as trusted ‘wounds from a friend’; a friend of Jesus, a friend of his gospel, and I pray a friend of yours.

  7. Dear Joe,
    I would be happy to meet in the Dobson Study center if my car were functioning. I hit a deer this morning on the way to work and my car was badly damaged.
    I will address here what your main objection was to what I wrote. I’d encourage you to first read the post I’ve written above to Rob since both of you ended your posts with the similar impression that I was being harmful and polarizing toward the body of Christ.
    After you have read what I wrote to Rob, then please receive this message. I in no way said that Rob Bell or any of the other men I’ve mentioned “owes me” anything. I believe there are many in the Christian community that are concerned about some of the things being taught in more emergent trending churches. I ask did you watch the interfaith forum that Rob Bell went to earlier this year? Many Christians thought he misrepresented some of the key cores of Christian beliefs when he was asked some very specific and direct questions in regards to the topic of compassion. I attended the service at Mars Hill the week after he returned from that and he mostly joked about his experiences he had at the event. He came across as downplaying this opportunity when other Christians were strongly concerned.
    I don’t believe Rob or any of the others “owe me” anything. But, there has been enough borderline heretical things that many of them have said to warrant some type of Body accountability. I believe he and others in the movement “owe” if we want to use that word, some direct clarification on some of the things they have said. Maybe it will take some more forums and some articles by them so they can clearly renounce or affirm some of the things that have been said. They are hip and popular in our country now. They have speaking tours, book tours, and forums for their own writings; I would just ask that they would maybe consider coming to a forum that addresses some of these issues head on. A lot of the topics raised in Wittmer’s book could be the springboard for some great clarification.
    I frankly have seen a lot of continued ambiguity in the movement and that could simply be the movement being still in its infancy. But, when McClaren says “I’m not responsible for everything being written in this movement” that doesn’t seems like he’s sidestepping. Is it a bad thing to be clear on the points you disagree and agree with others in the “conversation” that is still going on?
    I’d still love to meet….
    I hope you have a great thanksgiving as we remember how thankful we are for what Christ has done and is doing…..

  8. Email me through my blog and we can arrange for me to swing by and pick you up for a cup of coffee. Have you ever been to the bitter end? Sorry about your car, that sucks.

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