The Absurdity of Emergent Rhetoric on Mission

This past Sunday I was reading the “Faith and Values” section of The Lexington Herald Leader and came across an interesting article entitled “Evangelicals must rethink mission.” It was written by Chuck Queen the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY and the title immediately piqued my interest. You can read the article in its entirety by clicking on the link above as only excerpts and critique will be given below.

He begins by urging us to rethink mission an then points the reader to Luke 4:18-19 and explains that Jesus is not mandating “a triumphalistic missionary enterprise that seeks to impose a particular set of beliefs and culture on people who have a different set of beliefs and culture.” Rather the mission of Jesus “was a mission to the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, and the spiritually blind. . . . Jesus realized that spiritual oppression from sin could not be separated from economical, political, and social oppression from the powers that be.”

I agree Jesus did not come to impose a particular culture; however, I always find it odd to hear individuals claiming “Jesus was concerned about the total person” and then reducing his ministry to a mere social ministry. How can Jesus minister to the total person if He comes only to shape their sociopolitical circumstances and not their belief structures as well?

The article continues:
Jesus’ vision for humanity was that of a world under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails. When a crowd of people tried to get Jesus to stay in their town Jesus said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (God’s vision for the world) to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Jesus intended his community of disciples (the church) to be an outpost for the kingdom, reflecting the values and characteristics of God’s new world. But the church is not the kingdom, though it is part of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is much broader and wider than the church. So catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.

The kingdom of God as it pertains to humanity is about human beings becoming more truly human; that means becoming the persons and communities God intended for us to be. It is not about propagating a particular brand of belief or doctrine. For Christians, Jesus is the representative, quintessential, revelatory human being on what it means to be human.

At this point I am beginning to wonder if he is just stringing together quotes and pithy sayings to make his version of Jesus sound cool. It is quite ironic that he speaks of Christ’s global vision and global kingdom, even going so far as to describe it as a place “under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails,” and yet he has the audacity to claim that the kingdom is not about doctrine. Maybe he thinks his readers are not listening or are too dumb to notice that he is giving us a doctrine of the kingdom.

As for the kingdom being larger than the church I agree the kingdom is global, as Abraham Kuyper has so vividly stated, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’(1)!” However, Queen oversteps his bounds by claiming that “catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.” The church as the body of Christ is an outpost of the kingdom and a witness to the redemption and reconciliation that will extend to the whole of God’s creative order. Such an outpost is necessary because it exists amidst a world in need of reconciliation and redemption; a world of rival kingdoms and rival kings. What is the use of such an outpost within Queen’s theology where both those within and those without are members of the same kingdom? Maybe a kingdom divided against itself can stand after all.

Again I agree Jesus is the ideal human; however, we must frame this within the larger context of the imago Dei. Humanity was made in the image of God, that image was holistically and pervasively corrupted by the fall. Jesus comes as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and so redeemed humanity is being restored into the imago Christi. It is in this sense that Jesus is the ideal human, He is the ideal human in that He is the exegesis of God; in Christ we have the attributes of God demonstrated in concrete form. This is a problem for Queen as it undercuts his theologically amorphous version of God. Queen’s god cannot have his attributes concretely demonstrated because he cannot be described by “a particular brand of belief or doctrine.”

Now for some tidbits on Jesus:
For Christians Jesus is the way that leads to truth and life; though he is not exclusively the way for all people. A God of love would not be so stingy as to exclude vast numbers of humanity who happen to be born into non-Christian cultures.

Is it just me or do you recall Jesus arguing to the contrary of Queen’s statement? What does he mean by “God of love?” Whatever he means he is not using this in the sense that Scripture does (see here for a more thorough treatment of this.)

After all of this he concludes:
The mission of the church is to proclaim, teach, manifest, and work for the kingdom of God, not get people to believe what we believe about Jesus. And yet, as Christians, we invite people to be disciples of Jesus because we know that by following Jesus, God’s dream for the world can be realized.

What is the point? Who cares? If it does not matter what one believes about Jesus then why talk about him at all? If there are other, broader, more kingdom oriented ways to realize “God’s dream for the world” then why limit ourselves to the narrow perspective of Jesus and the church?

This is what makes emergent rhetoric on mission so absurd. After all their talking all and arguing that mission is not about doctrine but “peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice” we are left with nothing. We have an inconsequential Christ, a narrow and largely irrelevant church, and a god who is so theologically amorphous that he is hardly worth knowing.

Chuck if there is salvation outside of Jesus then why should your church waste their time looking like bigots by promoting some narrow-minded Jewish messiah who is practically useless to the rest of humanity?

(1) Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998) 488.

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5 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Emergent Rhetoric on Mission

  1. Bro. Walters,

    I want to thank you for your piece. Bro. Queen must have a different view of what Chrisitianity should be and look like other than us “gettin’ folk saved” Christians.

    I heard, not long ago, a UTube video where John Piper said that we (Evangelicals) are into the relief of human suffering. And that the ultimate pain relief is to tell folks the Gospel and help them to escape Hell eternally by the finished work of Christ.

    I do appreciate your post.

    “But, I have somewhat against thee!”

    Please do not use the word “rhetoric” in a prejoriitive (sp?) or negative sense or as a term of derision. My grad work is in “Rhetoric,” “Rhetorical Criticism,” and “Communication Theory.”

    Aristotle said that “Rhetoric is finding the available means of persuasion in each given case.” That is, you and me can persuade with any means necessary. Rhetoric is just “a means to and end!” That end could be good. The preacher tries to “persuade” people to trust Christ and repent.

    Rhetoric is just like a dollar bill. It is neutral. It can be used to gamble or spent on booze. Or it can be spent to feed the hungry and homeless. It has no morality about it. The user and the use determine the moral goodnees or badness.

    So, when you use the word “Rhetoric” in a headline as you have, you give the term a “bad name!”

    We are alwasys hearing from the political and news types: “The Rhetoric of the Republicans!” “The Rhetoric of the Democrats!” “The Rhetoric of the Communists!” And it nearly always means the empty and bombastic verbage of our advasaries or enemies. Most have no idea what they are saying and only show their blatant ignorance. (Although I am not putting you in the category with these!).

    This is FYI! and not intended to be a criticism, only a gentle correction. But then again most people who use the word “rhetoric” use it incorrectly.

    I hope I have “persuaded” you?

    sdg!
    rd

  2. I believe I remember Jesus saying, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

    One problem I have is I simply can’t find that Jesus was concerned about socio-political issues at all. In our modern world, we see Jesus go to the poor and downtrodden and think that means some social work is to be done. However, Jesus didn’t do that work. Nowhere in the Bible is that work proclaimed for His church. Rather, he took the gospel to the poor and downtrodden because those were the people most likely to recognize they needed something. The wealthy, healthy, popular, and powerful never realized they needed anything more.

    Sadly, this mission that has Christ’s church trying to make sure everyone is socio-economically happy and prosperous is merely giving to people the very things that Jesus said made it hard to enter the kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we need to go around making everyone poor. I just think it is sad that the mission these folks are giving the church is actually counter-productive to the mission Jesus gave it. The church’s job is to be the pillar and support of God’s truth that can save souls (I Timothy 3:15). The church’s job is to take a soul saving message to a lost people. It is not the church’s job to entertain, to politicize, to feed, to protect, socialize, or any other thing.

    Jesus’ mission was quite clear. Die for the lost and establish a kingdom of the saved. I think the issue above about kingdom may use kingdom in more than one way. While in one sense God rules the entire world, if that was the sense in which kingdom is really used in the New Testament, then the prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” would be a bit moot.

    Finally, when I hear this kind of stuff from the emergent crowd, I can’t help but think they are taking their cue from Depeche Mode as they present their own personal Jesus instead of from the real Jesus who can actually save us.

    I’ve rambled enough.

  3. @Roger,
    Thanks for the comment. I also appreciate your thoughts on the use of “rhetoric.” I agree it is a neutral word it can speak of persuasion and speech in a positive sense in regards to skill and craft of persuasion; however, it also speaks to a type of persuasion that is “intellectually vacuous.” Queen’s article is a prime example of this. He speaks and writes effectively, as do many proposing similar ideas, yet his argument is intellectually inconsistent and hollow.

    @Edwin,
    I agree. I think they have learned far more from the welfare system than the Bible. Where Scripture explicitly speaks to social care it does so in regards to believers (Matthew 25:31-46). I do think we have to look to the parable of the good Samaritan and to the general character of God as merciful and compassionate provider and realize that as men made in His image we must imitate Christ in the way we care for others; however, the emergent church has made this the pinnacle of Christ’s mission rather than an attribute of God which is seen as He proclaimed, and we proclaim, the gospel.

  4. “It is not the church’s job to entertain, to politicize, to feed, to protect, socialize, or any other thing.”
    As Keith pointed out, this is not exactly true. The Church is exhorted to feed & protect other believers, children, aliens, and widows (see 1 & 2 Timothy). I’ll add Matthew 10:40-42 to Keith’s reference.
    What the Emerging/ent folks are often angry about is the defense of other Christians for building their personal wealth without living out a Christian lifestyle of love and responsibility. I see Queen railing against some of the pharaisicm (sp?) he sees. I think when he says we can catch people in the “kingdom of God” without them joining the Church, he is simply talking about influencing them. You can do an unbelievable act of kindness for a non-believing stranger that would have been impossible if you hadn’t known the love of Christ. In doing so, you have demonstrated that you’re a citizen of the Kingdom of God and touched them without them coming to Christ. (I may be giving him a wide benefit of the doubt here, but that’s what I was thinking of… I don’t like how he worded it, though).

    However, Matthew 10 also gives us something that the Emergent folks don’t like to read:
    “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; nd (BB)A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. ”

    We’re called to be set apart, righteous, and promised that we will be persecuted and charged to persevere to the end. That’s hardly utopia, which is what I think Queen and other Emergents want to see established on earth.

    Should we be less judgemental, more communal, care about justice and the love one another more? Absolutely.

    Should we be so tolerant that we believe that many roads lead to heaven without Jesus? No. Queen’s pluralistic statement was obviously heretical.

  5. Yup. That’s why our family left his “church”. Sad really to see so many people who used to be faithful followers of Jesus brainwashed. Chuck doesn’t believe that Jesus is the way the truth & the life.

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