In the Emerging Church’s pantheon of idols there is one chief idol that overshadows all the others. His/her/its name is PARADOX. On page 32 of his book “New Dreams for New Realities” Nelus Niemandt defines PARADOX as follows.
Paradoxes mean that two things, that seem to contradict one another, are simultaneously true and valid. It is a case of “the one and also the other.” We live in such an “and/also” world. The one thing is true and also the other. Opposites are both true and valid. Life and reality can no longer be placed or explained in black/white categories.
The oldest known PARADOX is the one in Genesis 2 and 3.
GOD: . . . thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2: 17)
SATAN: Ye shall not surely die: . . . (Genesis 3:5).
According to the Emergent “Confusionists,” or rather “ Crazy Mixed-up Kids,” what God and Satan said are both true and valid.
See if you can spot the paradox in the following statement:
The Gospel of emerging churches is not confined to personal salvation; it is social transformation arising from the presence and permeation of the reign of Christ. – Eddie Gibbs & Ryan Bolger (as quoted in Stephan Joubert’s book “Jesus, a Radical Leap”,” p 152)
If personal salvation is the only means to transform a person’s innermost being, to the extent that you become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), then it is impossible to transform an entire society without confining your gospel to personal salvation. If a journey begins with the first little step then surely the transformation of entire societies begins with the transformation of the individual. Societies are made up of unique individuals who need to be transformed individually before entire societies can be transformed. Could that great city Nineveh have been transformed if its King and every subordinate had not repented toward God and his Gospel individually? Nay! saith the contemplative brotherhood who have learnt to speak the first language of God in silent solitude, we are able to transform entire societies without having to preach the Gospel of personal salvation. We only need to incarnate or permeate societies with Jesus Christ’s presence and his reign (Kingdom of God).OK! and how do you aim to do that? Well, as Ron Martoia said so eloquently:
Preaching about forgiveness from sin becomes increasingly ineffective in a postmodern world where a sense of guilt and obligation is less often operative. In contemporary American culture, one can no longer assume that people identify themselves as sinners in need of grace. People may not think of themselves as sinners going to hell, but they seek wholeness and recognize they’re not there, (What he should have said, is: ”. . . and recognize that they are not there [in hell] yet). (Emphasis added). (Read here.)
And as Stephan said with equal contemplative clarity:
[The] “standing up for the truth” efforts of religious people have no real healing effect on society. It only serves to highlight the boundaries between “us” and “them.” It makes religious folks come across more judgmental than ever. But it does not embody Jesus’ words that we need to let our light shine before people in order for them to see our GOOD WORKS and glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
If ever there was a Joubert-Paradox, this is it. Allow me to explain. The word of God says: “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20). In other words, anyone who fails or refuses to stand up for the truth or contend for the faith that was once delivered to us by the apostles, is completely void of any light. Indeed, his/her life is goverened by darkness. And yet the Joubert paradoxical tension between to apparent contradictory things is stretched to its limits when Joubert says that they who do not stand up for the truth are the true light-bearers in this world.
Stephan Joubert quotes Jim Henderson in his book Jesus a Radical Leap (p. 150) who said:
It’s not the number of conversions that count; it’s the number of conversations! (Evangelism Without Additives, 2007) (Emphasis added)
Fancy that! That’s exactly what Peter said on the Day of Pentecost?
“Ok, I really don’t want any of you to get caught up in numbers. I am not concerned about the number of conversions. It’s the conversations amongst you that count. So please, would you be so kind to form little groups of 10 people, 300 groups in all, and begin to converse with one another about your contemplative journey as well as your never-ending quest for the truth. Remember! There are no absolutes. It is always one truth AND/ALSO another truth that seems to contradict the other but are in fact both true and valid. Therefore salvivic belief in God and his Son is a valid response to His Gospel but so is the rejection of God and his Son equally valid. I also would like to warn you against any arrogant claims that you have stumbled upon the ultimate Truth. Such arrogance only leads you to stand up for the Truth which has no real healing effect on society.”
Imagine the angels in heaven shouting with joy over the number of conversations sinners are having amongst themselves in stead of over the conversion of one sinner (Luke 15:10). This is the kind of nonsense you have to put up with when you start altering the Word of God to accommodate the cultures of the world.
And then, of course, there is Brian McLaren whose glorious statements exceed the wisdom to overflowing of the emergent at the Mosaiek and e-church:
“Jesus seems to say, ‘The kingdom of God doesn’t need to wait until something else happens (in reference to the Second Advent of Jesus Christ). No, it is available and among you now…. Invite people of all nations, races, classes, and religions to participate in this network of dynamic, interactive relationships with God and all God’s creation!” . . . the kingdom of God will be radically, scandalously inclusive. As we’ve seen, Jesus enjoys table fellowship with prostitutes and drunks . . . He affirms and responds to the faith of Gentiles.1
If the truth with regard to the salvation of individual lost sinners are no longer sufficient for the transformation of societies, what is? Ah! don’t fret because the brotherhood of contemplatives who have learnt to speak the first language of God in silent solitude have found the answer to this complex problem in . . . in . . . in . . . YES! BUDDHISM.
The Emergent Church has an insatiable obsession to care for the poor, the destitute, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the outcast and the suffering in our world. Like Mother Teresa whom they revere greatly for her work amongst the poor in Calcutta, India, they too have a passion to alleviate and even put an end to the suffering of the poor. Jesus Himself said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him because He anointed Him to preach the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18). Please note, He did not say that He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to put an end to their suffering and poverty (John 12:8), but to preach the Gospel of salvation to them. Neither did He say that He wanted to teach them the contemplative art of conversations but to preach the unadulterated Word of God to them so that they may be saved for all eternity. Who are the poor? In Matthew 5:3 the “poor” are categorically identified as “the poor in spirit” with reference, not necessarily to the poor only, but to every person who knows and acknowledges that there is nothing in himself to please or appease God and therefore must rely entirely on the mercies of God. The man who beat on his breast and cried out in complete abandonment “Be merciful to me a sinner” was a tax collector (publican) who filled his pockets with filthy lucre and therefore was not poor. If Jesus focused his attention on the poor only it would follow that they alone are the lost because He came specifically to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). All the others, the rich, the religious and the have-all’s would have been left-out of his mercy-mission to the lost which is completely untenable.
Idolatry – Another Jesus
So how does the emergent fraternity’s compassion for the poor tie in with Buddhism? Let’s begin with Richard Rohr (I refuse to call him Father Richard Rohr in obedience to Jesus Christ who commanded us NOT to call anyone “father” in the spiritual sense of the word . . . “for One is your Father, even He who is in heaven” [Matthew 23:9]). Richard Rohr, who together with personae like Eckhart Tolle is greatly honored and respected by the e-church fraternity Dries Cronjé and Stephan Joubert, was one of the key speakers at a conference in January 2008, in Albuquerque, on “Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening: Finding the Four Noble Truths in the Heart of the Gospel.” (Emphasis added).
You may recall how I briefly sketched the journey the Gautama Buddha undertook on his quest for enlightenment with regard to the reasons for the suffering in the world. Just as a reminder I would like to repeat what I had said in my previous comment (Idolatry: Can the blind lead the blind-Part 1)
At the age of 29, Siddhartha abandoned his palace, his wife and his son on a quest to find the truth about suffering. He later teamed up with five companions with whom he decided to live an austere life of asceticism. They believed they could reach enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food and through acts of self-mortification. . . .
When Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha and his companions realized that their severe deprivation of food quite naturally leads to death (the Buddha’s consumption of a leaf or a nut per day nearly caused his death), they resorted to the Buddhist Middle Way, a path that allowed them to lead a more moderate way of self-mortification. Wikipedia notes:
Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree – now known as the Bodhi tree – in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. . .
According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths,” which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements” (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world,” in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha. ((Emphasis added).
You may read a summary of the Four Noble Truths here. I am not going to discuss each Noble Truth separately but would like to draw your attention to the fourth Noble Truth that says the following:
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering – a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely “wandering on the wheel of becoming”, because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.
The end of suffering, therefore, will be accomplished by the Four Noble Truths which, according to Richard Rohr and his contemplative accomplices are found at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it is true that the Four Noble Truths and its aims are akin to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then there are no boundaries between the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and the Kingdom of God. And that’s exactly what one of e-church’s gurus, Eckhart Tolle, teaches.The End of Suffering
To recap what Eckhart Tolle said about the Kingdom of God, the following excerpt will suffice:
When you are ready to hear that message, and that’s really the message that is in every religion – the central message of Buddhism is the end of suffering and even the central message of the teaching of Jesus is finding the pearl of great price, finding the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you here and now as Jesus says – . . . that of course is the end of living in a state of suffering.
So! . . . to a very large extent the poor are the originators of their own suffering and the only way to end their self-inflicted suffering is to teach them how to contemplatively meditate themselves into a state of a bigger metanoiac mind so that they may become aware that the Kingdom of God is already in them, here and now. Don’t teach them to repent because that word has become such bad news, especially when weird characters in long overcoats tell you to turn or burn, as Trevor Hudson says, but rather tell them to repent in the beautiful sense of the word which is accomplished through contemplative spirituality.
What is self-inflicted suffering? In South Africa, and I reckon elsewhere in the world as well, poverty and self-inflicted suffering are caused, amongst other things, by gambling, drug and alcohol addiction. Many heads of families amongst black and white citizens alike have good jobs and are quite capable of caring for their families and themselves but have fallen into the abyss of gambling, drug and alcohol addiction, The result, of course, is not only an endless downward spiral into a pit of self inflicted suffering for the head of the family but also for his wife and his children. But please remember, as Eckhart Tolle says, his self inflicted suffering is not caused by his craving for drugs and/or alcohol; his “self-created suffering is created out of resistance to what is, it is created out of an interpretation of something that is. It comes from a thought, from an interpretation, not from the situation.“ And so, his self inflicted suffering will only come to an end when he is taught, through contemplative spirituality, that he does not need to seek and find the Pearl of Great Price but that the Kingdom of God is already within Him, here and now. Who needs Jesus of Nazareth when you have a great guru like Eckhart Tolle who teaches that you can conjure up the Kingdom of God in you here and now by merely ending your own suffering and changing your thougt patterns in relation to the moment of NOW (what is)? And this is the man Stephan Joubert and Dries Cronjé of e-church reveres with so much idolized delight?
Is contemplative spirituality just another form of idolatry? To answer this question I would like to take you back to Trevor Hudson’s sermon “Letting God be God in your life again” where he defines idolatry as follows:
Trevor Hudson’s definition of idolatry is spot-on but he seems to have forgotten what he had read in Acts 17 verse 29:
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:29).
Please bear this in mind when I quote to you a few excerpts from Trevor Hudson’s book ”Discovering our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved” (pp. 93-95) and decide for yourself whether he is promulgating idolatry in the form of “an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”
THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS MADE ACCESSIBLE THROUGH THE PRESENCE OF THE CRUCIFIED AND RISEN CHRIST, AND THIS PRESENCE NEEDS TO BE INVOKED IN ORDER FOR US TO EXPERIENCE THE KINGDOM.
Can you think of some external sign which, if strategically placed in your home or place of work, would encourage you to be more mindful of God’s nearby presence?
TURNING IN A CHRIST WARD DIRECTION
The meaning of the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, once again helps us here. It means “thinking about our thinking.” Whereas prior to conversion we lived our lives without reference to Christ, there is now the desire to let him be the center of our thinking and living. Regularly turning our minds toward him is one practical way of ensuring that this happens.
This does not mean thinking only about the Holy One all the time. This could have disastrous consequences concerning the tasks we have to accomplish. I like the story which David Sheppard, bishop of Liverpool. tells about himself. He was playing in a crucial cricket test match between Australia and England. He had recently been ordained as a priest. In the outfield he dropped a vital catch. An Australian spectator shouted at him from the stands: “Hey, parstor, keep your eye on the ball and take your mind off God:’
We direct the mind Christward by frequently affirming the closeness of the Divine Presence. Whether washing dishes, doing housework, sitting in the boardroom. working on the factory floor or typing reports, we acknowledge God with us wherever we are. These repeated affirmations may find their shape in a short prayer inwardly whispered, the recall of a biblical phrase, a silent pausing. Sometimes just repeating the name of Jesus centers our lives in that portable inner sanctuary where the Most High dwells. This way of invoking the presence of Christ is made known through an easy-to-read little book called The Way of the Pilgrim. It tells the story of a Russian pilgrim peasant who repeated the name of Jesus wherever he went and describes the experiences that resulted from this practice.
With these little affirmations” we are not trying to generate or manufacture the presence of God. The bottom line has already been clearly established: in God we live and move and have our being. Or as Paul elsewhere reflects, “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Developing the practice of this mental habit means we are taking this truth seriously and acting boldly on it. There come times when dark circumstances, painful relationships and feelings of spiritual barrenness will mock our attempts at this practice. In such moments. continuing with our affirmations demonstrates a trusting faith that there is nothing “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39 MV).
Habits of holy mindfulness are not easily formed. In their awkward early stages they need all the help they can get. Tangible symbols of the Holy help us in this regard. Orthodox Russian believers place an icon in the corner of each room that communities a sense of the sacred to anyone who enters. A business executive friend of mine writes out a biblical verse on his desktop pad. A stay-at-home mom 1 know plays a music tape of Taize chants while she dusts and sweeps. (Emphasis added).
Why do you need to invoke the presence of the crucified and risen Christ when He has already promised that He would never leave or forsake his true followers? The irony is that Trevor Hudson refers to Matthew 28: 20 (p. 91) where Jesus made his immutable and infallible promise “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” but then completely neutralizes the potency of Christ’s promise by declaring that his presence needs to be invoked in order for us to experience the Kingdom of God. It’s more like saying: “Christ’s promises are irrevocably steadfast and true but we need to invoke his promises in tangible ways in order for us to experience his presence.” And how do they aim to do that? Well, Hudson himself says that his presence cannot be generated or manufactured but that tangible symbols such an icon in the corner of each room in your home or Taize chants are little affirmations that strengthen your faith in his promises. When Jesus asked his disciples whether they also wanted to turn their backs on him and leave, Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). He did not say: “Lord, give each of us a little icon of yourself and we will place it in a strategic corner of our home to serve as little affirmations of your words of eternal life. We desperately need to direct our minds Christ-ward by frequently affirming the closeness of Your Divine Presence” No! Jesus Christ’s words (promises) are sufficient to carry his disciples through the debris, problems, inconsistencies and complexities of this world right into the hereafter of eternal bliss and into the never-ending presence of God. Did He not say that his followers should remind Him of his promises (Isaiah 62:6), not that He had forgotten them but that they should know and understand that it is the only way of affirming his promises? His promises are not affirmed by means of external signs (Matthew 16:4), icons or chants but through his followers’ steadfast faith in his promises and their unwavering clinging to his promises, even to the extent that they remind him of his promises day and night. This, however, poses a huge problem for the emergent fraternity, because they do not see the Word of God as a book of certitudes or certainties. To them the Bible (God’s Word) is in flux; whatever it says to you today is not necessarily what it may say to you tomorrow and yet both these sayings, although they may paradoxically seem to contradict each other, are both true. It follows that you can never be certain but merely grapple with Bible truths that seem to be true and valid for today. Hence the emergents’ never-ending quest for the truth on a spiritual journey that is said to be more important than the destination. Here’s what Johan Geyser said in a sermon he delivered at the Mosaïek Church.
Look what happened in the first church. Heathen are saved and now [when] they read [that] the old Christians believed that the covenant guys must be circumcised, the new male Christians said: we do not agree with you. We do not think it should happen and one wonders why. Then they said, Ok, let’s see what the Bible says. Then they took the Bible and they all began to wrestle and to think and talk together and when they had finished (Acts 15:25). they said: It seems right to us and to the Holy Spirit.” Wow, one gets the impression that the entire future of the church relied on this decision. The only thing you could come up with is: “It seems right.” There’s no authority: Thus says the Lord. This is what the scriptures say. No! it looks to us. They are convinced but they are very humble. They are open. This is where we are now in our journey with the Lord. But let us go along with this thing. This is what the community is now convinced of. Our great peace is [that] the Holy Spirit has worked a great peace in everyone’s heart and we say: Yes, this is the path, this is the next step, this is where we are going. That journey hasn’t ended. We are being challenged by completely new things – new things that are not in the Bible, like cloning, oh we can go on forever [and] mention long lists. And what must we do? And in the community we must converse and we must all come to a place where we say: this is where I am now. This is my conviction and now I begin to act. And it’s a journey; it can change. Three or four years later it may be something different. It’s not wrong. The things are not solidified in concrete slabs. It’s a road we have to take.
The Rabbis have a prayer they pray when they do not understand the Bible. If there’s a verse they do not understand, they ask: Lord, please help me at the right time that this thing may open up to me so that I may know what its about. We must learn how to live with uncertainties; we must learn how to live with paradoxes. There are things I believe I do not know how to bring them together. Sometimes I feel that both the things are correct. That’s all I know and its OK. There’s mystery, there’s paradox, we do not know, we are on a journey.
This kind of gibberish usually ensues when you deliberately divorce God’s Word from his character. The Calvinists are guilty of the same thing. Single verse eisegeses has always been a risky business. You cannot take a single text and embroil an entire exegesis around it. First off, the disciples never said “It seems right to us and to the Holy Spirit.” In all the known translations of the Bible verse 28 of Acts 15 reads as follows.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
The Holy Ghost is mentioned first and not the other way around as Johan Geyser suggested. It clearly shows that the Holy Spirit took the initiative in solving the entire dispute in Jerusalem and not the disciples. There are two diametrically opposing ways of approaching the problem. You can either ascribe to the Holy Spirit a sense of uncertainty, doubt, vagueness, indecision, hesitation, ambiguity, insecurity and even paradox or you can believe that God sent his Spirit of Truth (John 15:26) to guide and lead the followers of Jesus into the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth (John 16:13). If Jesus’ claim that He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore (Hebrews 13:8) is true then it follows that the Holy Spirit is also the same yesterday, today and forevermore. Being the same yesterday, today and forevermore, it is obvious that their words will also be the same yesterday, today and forevermore. The decision the disciples of Jesus made then — that circumcision was not essential for one’s justification — has never changed throughout the history of the church until the present day. It was ratified for all time by Peter when he stood up and said “We are saved, just as they are.” It was one of the most amazing statements any Jew could ever have made in the presence of Gentile believers. A Jew under the Law would rather have said the opposite and in reverse order (“they are saved as we are”), but a Jew who knew God’s grace, as Peter did, would never say that. Salvation for anyone — whether Jew or Gentile — is by God’s grace alone (verse 11) and is by faith alone (verse 9; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2”8). It is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.
To declare with absolute certainty that verse 28, by virtue of the word “seemed,” gives us the leeway to learn how to live with uncertainties and paradoxes, is a travesty of the worst kind and a misrepresentation of the character of God the Holy Ghost. In any case, the word “seemed” was not used in reference to the law of circumcision. The controversy over circumcision was already resolved in verses 7 to 11. The word “seemed” was used in reference to the abstaining from meat offered to idols, from blood and from things strangled and from fornication and NOT in reference to circumcision. (Acts 15:29). Surely, Mr. Geyser, fornication is not something to shun because it seems right to us and the Holy Ghost to avoid it. There are many unbelievers who live morally sound and good lives who would tell you that fornication is not a matter of uncertainty. They would tell you outright that it is wrong and a sin. You yourself mentioned the sin of fornication a man commits in his heart when he looks lustfully upon a woman, However, you failed to apply the same unchangeable rule to homosexuals in which case a man looks with lust upon another man and a woman looks with lust upon another woman. Did you have any reservations or uncertainties about the right or wrong of fornication then? No! you suggested with unflinching certainty that fornication was absolutely wrong in the past, is wrong in our present day and will be wrong in the future. Where’s your paradox now? You are obvioulsly not on a journey in reagrd to fornication with the purpose of wrestlng, thinking and talking about it with your fellow pilgrims and to come to a conclusion that it seems right to us and the Holy Ghost that fornication is a sin. By the by, how do you know with certainty that fornication is a sin? You and I know it is a sin because Jesus Christ tells us so in his Word (Matthew 5:28). If his words, in one particular place in Scripture, leaves no room for uncertainty why should his words do so in other places in Scripture? If there’s no paradox in his words in one place in Scripture why should there be any in another place?
If your spirituality is built on a foundation of uncertainties and paradoxes and God’s Word is so much of a mystery to you that you can only say “I do not know,” then you will of necessity seek other extra biblical avenues to find some kind of affirmation of God’s presence. When biblical faith which “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) is replaced by visible and tangible little affirmations such as icons and music you are not busying yourself with God and his will but with downright idolatry.
1) Romans and Syrophonecians and Samaritans.’ (Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that could change everything (Nashville: Thomas Nelson’s W Publishing Group, 1006), page 74 & 94). [idolatry]