11 August 2005

New-model Christianity, or old-model heresy?

PyroManiacThe following post, and some of the material that will follow in subsequent posts, has been adapted from one of my messages at the 2005 School of Theology at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London last month

About fifteen years ago, Christianity Today (February 19, 1990) published a major article describing several novel theological ideas that were (at the time) barely whispers among a handful of influential academic evangelical writers and theologians. Written by renowned Canadian theologian Robert Brow, the article was titled "Evangelical Megashift."

According to Brow, evangelical theology was quietly being remodeled by some of the movement's most influential thinkers. He used some benign-sounding language to describe how evangelical thinking had already changed radically, even though most evangelicals had not yet noticed the changes. But Brow implied that even more monumental changes were on the horizon. Subsequent history has shown, I believe, that he was exactly right in his predictions.

(Don't take that as an endorsement of Brow's theological perspective. In my assessment, he is himself a theological miscreant of the worst stripe. I've listed him in the "Really Bad" section of my annotated bookmarks and given a brief explanation for that assessment. I don't need to rehash it here.)

Brow's 1990 CT article pretended to be an objective report about what was happening in the theological world, but the truth is that Robert Brow himself was one of the main figures working hard behind the scenes in the academic world to bring about a wholesale remodeling of evangelical theology. He was an ardent advocate of virtually every theological innovation he described. So the article was actually a propaganda piece promoting what Brow referred to as "new-model theology."

Today the new model exists in full form, and it has a name: Open Theism. Every issue Brow discussed in that 1990 article touches on a key point of doctrine where some or all of the leading Open Theists have departed from the historic evangelical position.

But here's something I find even more interesting: Read Brow's article and notice that virtually all the issues he raised are also the pet issues of several leading figures in the Emerging Church movement.

I'm not suggesting everyone associated with the Emerging Church is also tainted with Open Theism. Nor would I necessarily accuse Emerging Church leaders of harboring deliberate sympathies with everything their "openness" cousins stand for. But I do believe the two movements clearly have common roots, and the Emerging Church, in a very real sense, represents the metastasis of the same unhealthy theological tendencies that gave rise to Open Theism. Brow's article is a catalogue of those pathologies.

In the days to come, I'll say more about this and examine some of the key similarities between Brow's "Megashift" and the Emerging Church. But in the meantime, if you want to take an interesting romp down memory lane, review the article referred to above, and notice how the clear theological agenda being touted by the more outspoken leaders of the Emerging Church (including various champions of innovation ranging from Steve Chalke to Tony Campolo) is a clear, almost point-for-point echo of what Robert Brow was already talking about more than fifteen years ago.

Phil's signature


Jeremy Weaver said...

As I read Brow's article again, I can see clearly the tendency that the church is drifting, not only in the 'Openness' and 'EC' movements, but in Baptist and Presbyterian circles as well.
It is a reminder that the church and individual Christians need constant 'reforming'.
This is an area where real Pastors need to stand and say "No more!", and then tell the church why and how this road leads to heresy. It's not a matter of 'if' but 'when'.
Thanks for taking the lead on this issue, Phil.

A Birdy said...

To me it is all "old model Heresy" repackaged for each new generation.
Whether Ancient Gnosticism , Medieval Catholicism, a 20th century liberal church, 21st century Emergent church or 22nd century post-post-modern church. They are all the same. A congregation of unsaved people who have been deceived into thinking they are true Christians who believe and follow anything but the truth. - Gavin.

Chris said...

Check out this quote on open theism by Stanely Hauerwas (Duke Div. School). You may not agree with Hauerwas' theology, but it's interesting to see his take.

Daniel said...

Open Theism is, more than anything else, a rejection of predestination, and the doctrine itself little more than an 'apology' for that rejection. In the same way I see the "new model" as a rejection of God's justice (in favor, of course, of His love). It doesn't strike me as all that 'new' since people have focused on the love of God to the exclusion of His justice for as long as I can remember. It is the same old fluff, but dressed up in theological hubbub.

Daniel said...

Oh, I wish I had said 'hubbubery' instead of hubbub. Well, you know what I meant. :)

Jim Crigler said...

I find it amusing that Brow took a view of The Great Divorce to support his deviance that Lewis himself did not take. The point was not that there is a purgatory, or gray area, but that the choices we make in the present world have eternal consequences. It works equally as well whether you are Calvinist or Arminian --- primary and secondary causes for the former, or eternal free choice for the latter. If you actually read the book, Lewis even makes clear that this ambiguity is on purpose.

Sled Dog said...

BAG nailed in his lost comment..."Until people are Bereans, they'll never even know they were duped.

Spent some time on the phone yesterday with a friend in youth ministry. Great guy, loves the Lord. He told me about his visit to the Emergent Convention. I tried not to be obvious, but simply asked him questions about his observations. He totally missed the fact that so much of EC stuff is flat-out bogus.

I harass Phil a bit here at his site, but on this issue I must wholeheartedly agree...

Brad Huston said...

"Sadly it seems that Mclaren, and Brow, and others are taking advantage of the "sheep". Its interesting with sheep, the shepherd leads them to green pastures--and the sheep just know to eat."

There are issues on both sides of the coin here folks. Postulation without authentication is worthless and resting on one's laurels because they happen believe they are on the right side of theology leads to blindness just as easily as failing to uphold some "Berean Standard."

Again, Phil has pulled out another couple of "bogey men" without taking the time to really addressing the why there is an issue. When it is addressed, I suspect to see the various "isms" reached for and employed as to why this or that movement is the real problem in the church today, instead of a direct quotation of the Scriptures in order to demonstrate the harm. The problem today is much simpler: We either do not love each other or we do not obey His Word.

Certainly Open Theism and the EC have their issues, but so do we on the "right side" of theology, and I think it is important to note that Christ condemned the church in Ephesus just as equally and forcefully as the Laodiceans.

Sled Dog said...


I too get frustrated with the "postulations without authentication" and a unwillingness to learn why certain movements come to be. There stands to be much improvement in the dialogue,rather than standing at a distance and proclaiming someone is theologically wrong.

But simply understanding the "why" of what's taking place won't make the situation better. If someone is off course, than they are off course. Yes, there may be a reason for it, but they are still off course. What's the old saying? Two wrongs don't make a right? (All Relient K fans can chime in about 3 lefts...)

Bottom line, Messenger, I believe your calling everyone to a willingness to examine ourselves, that we might live fully in what God has intended for us.

Brad Huston said...


There stands to be much improvement in the dialogue,rather than standing at a distance and proclaiming someone is theologically wrong.


Bottom line, Messenger, I believe your calling everyone to a willingness to examine ourselves, that we might live fully in what God has intended for us.

Yes, I am, but I am also asserting that we place to much emphasis and energies into packaging and labeling movements without a detailed explanation as to why "so and so" is harmful. Such does little to address the issue, because most do not have the time nor care to fully research the various "isms" and "ists" that we should avoid.

Or it is for example, that since their favorite pastor says Post Modernism is bad, then the flock is prone to believe that all pomo's are therefore in error on all aspects of their theology - even if they happen to raise a sound biblical argument against Reformers on a specific issue.

So, given the complexity of various individual beliefs, even the "isms" or "ists" themselves are prone to error when applied liberally and in many cases are but a partial description of teacher or church.

And yes, we do little reach across the lines in order to discuss the issues. Far too often we simply divide on the basis of our theologies and creeds without taking a step back and directly refuting using the Word of God (which I find to be a highly ironic practice for self-professed Reformers).

Anyway, this is what I was driving at. Thanks for the thoughful response, Sled.


Brad Huston said...

Today's post is a mere introductory comment. The discussion hasn't even started yet; the parallels have yet to be revealed or explained. We gotta be careful about "presumption before articulation," too.

I would agree here if it were just the post we were speaking of, but click the link to the article (actually it turns out to be a link to Phil's "Sprurgeon" site where you have to hunt a bit for the article) and you will find that his assessment of Mr. Brow is:

Brow's article "Evangelical Megashift" in the 19 Feb 1990 issue of Christianity Today touted "'new-model' thinking," which looks remarkably like old-model heresy—blending generous doses of Socinianism, modernism, and theological liberalism with post-modern relativism. (There's a troubling measure of libertinism thrown into Brow's strange brew, too. He believes all kinds of sexual fantasy can be explored freely without guilt unless our imagining "turns into a decision to commit adultery." His article "Sodomy in Leviticus" also suggests that Scripture is tolerant of homosexual activity as long as it doesn't involve penetration.) But the worst aspect of Brow's theology is his unrelenting attack on the forensic "model" of justification and the substitutionary "model" of the atonement. Brow insists he has new, better "models" for these doctrines—but what he is really selling is the dressed-up wreckage of early-model liberalism. To label such notions "evangelical" is simply duplicitous. Or maybe somewhere along the line he got diverted from the models and started sniffing the modeling glue.

I don't find such assessments particularly helpul or all that specific, but I have found such to be consistent with how Phil broad brushes assessments - of which I have witnessed first hand pertaining to a citation of his to something I wrote last month that was completely mischaracterized.


Habitans in Sicco said...

Well, Broke, I went and looked at Phil's bookmark to Brow's Web Site, and it's a lot more "all that specific" than your cut-and-paste quotation makes it seem. Phil provides live links to three of the articles he cited, so you can easily check his sources. (I did. Did you?) And he quotes verbatim from another article of Brow's. (A quick Google search verified that the quote was accurate.)

After reading his comments about Brow, I can't believe you're complaining that he "broad-brushes." Even the quotation you gave disproves that! He's very specific, even though he's writing a short weblink annotation, not a critical treatise or formal review.

So your complaint makes no sense, and your final sentence makes it sound like sour grapes.

If you're still troubled by "a citation of his to something [you] wrote last month," you ought to address that complaint, rather than looking for reasons to criticize, which is what your posts today make it look like you're doing.

Andrew Lindsey said...

you suggest that post-modernists have raised a sound biblical argument against "the Reformers" on some specific issue. Could you be more- um- specific? i mean, could you provide some documentation on where some post-modernist has argued in a consistent exegetical manner against some point of Reformation theology?

AuthenticTruth said...

Phil, you are right on! I am looking forward to your future posts on this subject. This "emerging church" stuff concerns me as the pastoral staff of my church has begun reading some of this material and I have already strongly warned one of our pastors about its dangers.

As for as "Broken messenger's" comments, I think we need to look at what the Lord said that Ephesus did right. The Lord COMMENDED them for their stand on the truth. The Lord did not want them to change that. The condemnation was that their passion for Christ cooled off. They became cold and mechanical in their adherence to the truth. Certainly there is a good lesson for us to learn here; let us not forget to keep our hearts tender for Christ, especially when we are in the heat of the battle for the truth. There is no denying the importance of the lesson there. But, compare this to Christ's strong condemnation to Laodicea. Unlike Ephesus, there was NOTHING for Him to commend.

More importantly, look at Pergamos and Thyatira. Both tolerated false teaching. I have been hearing a lot lately of "what you know does not, matter. what you do is what counts". There is a certain element of truth there, but make no mistake, what you know DOES matter. Thyatira was a church dominated by plenty of love and good works, but they tolerated false teaching in their midst. The Lord condemns them VERY strongly. The Lord has NO toleration for false teaching, regardless of how much it is dressed up in love and good works!

Brad Huston said...

you suggest that post-modernists have raised a sound biblical argument against "the Reformers" on some specific issue. Could you be more- um- specific?

No, I was trying to suggest that we are more likely to completely ignore everything they may have to say on the basis that disagree with their view - even should they raise some specific issue of error against Reformers. I think in a few areas they do raise some good points that we should investigate internally. If you'd like to discuss this you can send me an email at brad@brokenmessenger.com


Brad Huston said...


The Lord COMMENDED them for their stand on the truth. The Lord did not want them to change that.

No, not entirely he didn't, He commended them for keeping part of it. For Christ rebuked the church in Ephesus for their departure of their first love which is based on keeping the command (the truth) that we who follow Christ are to love the Lord your with all heart, mind and soul. What Christ commended them on was their perseverance and for testing false prophets - again, only adherence to part of the truth:

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
-Rev. 2:2-4

But, compare this to Christ's strong condemnation to Laodicea. Unlike Ephesus, there was NOTHING for Him to commend.

Both were nevertheless called to repent and were warned.

The Lord has NO toleration for false teaching, regardless of how much it is dressed up in love and good works!

This cuts both ways. The Pharisees were false teachers in the sense that they taught correctly, yet demonstrated otherwise...
Ephesus appears to have exhibited hypocrisy in claiming Christ, yet not expressing His love.


Jeremy Weaver said...

Interesting eisogesis going on over here at the 'Pyro'!

John said...

Phil, this is a brilliant post, thank you. I have linked this to Scotwise, in Around The Bilogs!


Brad Huston said...


Since you have an ability to get at the "truth" presented by people like Brow, what is it?

I never claimed such an ability. I assume you did not mean to ask this sincerely, at least it appears sarcastic.

What should we be integrating into our hermeneutical grids that we have some how missed since the Prot. Reformation, or even the Patristic era, for that matter?

As a whole, I would say: obedience. Understanding comes not only by hearing but by doing. "Do not merely listen to the words and so decieve yourselves, do what it says" -Ja. 1:22. James also had much to say about faith and works in the following passage.

Speaking generally, we Reformers are wonderful at absorbing doctrine but its practice, however, is another issue. And ironically, our lack of practice, equates either to flat disobedience or from ignorance - i.e. - the Scriptures actually require us to do what they command us to do.

ECs, OTs and PMs seem to have a heart to practice the elements of the Gospel, and their movements seem to have sprung from a stagnation of Reformers, but unfortunately, their zealousness has led into areas of biblical error.

But the overall decay within the church is not a "us" versus "them" problem. It's simply just "us" from different points and manifestations of error.

So (again, generally speaking) we have a divide in the church where one group is entrenched in systems of theology for sake of theology so that their love for Christ grows ever cold, the other, zealous for Christ and led astray by biblical error. Neither side seems willing to open a dialogue with the other, and neither side seems willing to honestly look internally to address its own problems.


AuthenticTruth said...

Broken said,

"This cuts both ways. The Pharisees were false teachers in the sense that they taught correctly, yet demonstrated otherwise..."

I don’t know how you can say that the Pharisees taught correctly, especially considering the statement of Jesus in Mathew 15:7-9,

“7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘ These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:7-9, NKJV)

I think it is a bit of a stretch to compare the Ephesians with the Pharisees. I really do not find any instance where Jesus gives any words of praise for the Pharisees. They did not teach God’s truth, but rather man-made doctrines.

I also do not want to imply that the warning to the Ephesians is to be taken lightly. I even commented that there was an important lesson to be learned there and we certainly need to take heed to the warning. The fact that their love began to wane was indeed a serious error. But I have grown weary of the warning given to the church at Ephesus and of the warning against the Pharisees, as an excuse for departing from the fundamental truths of Scripture and tolerating false doctrine. It seems that today anyone who points out error is considered a Pharisee.

Char said...

I am with authentictruth on the "Pharisee" issue. It has gotten to the point where I no longer listen to a debator once that card has been pulled, because it is like calling someone a Nazi; it has no real meaning and is often just used to say "you're mean and I don't like you!"

If the Pharisees taught correctly, why then did Jesus charge them with teaching others to break the law? And this was not some obscure 'minor' law, but part of the decalogue! They disregarded, and taught others it was acceptable to disobey the law of honouring one's parents. This was correct teaching?
And though they claimed to follow the LORD, they rejected his son-whom all the correct teaching pointed to.
"Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed."
Spiritualised disobedience-this was what the Pharisees were guilty of.

Sorry that always gets me going.