01 November 2008

The emerging menace in South Africa

There have been a few blog posts recently expressing concern about the emerging menace in South Africa.

Contact Online Weblog: Why Postmodernism and the Emerging Church threaten Missions and World Evangelism:
I am told that there are Anglican churches here in South Africa embracing this new deviation of the Christian faith. which, as I understand it so far, seems to be a kind of neo-liberalism. There is more on the site linked below on the Emerging Church which may be of interest to readers

Another blogger says The Emerging Threat of the 'Emerging Church' in South Africa: Quotes from the 'Emerging Church Conversation' in South Africa
Many older pastors simply don't know the heretical ideas and viewpoints being discussed within the South African 'Emerging Church' movement - and thus fail to take action to speak up against and correct false teachings being spread by the movement. Should you have any other heretical quotes you wish to contribute to this blog, please post them as a comment below, with internet links please to authenticate. The quotes below should help everyone to see the dangerous consequences of using the ideology of postmodernism to interpret scripture.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I find this emerging church thing confusing. Since I first heard about it three years ago, I've been trying to find out what it's all about, and I'm still not sure. But it seems to me that those who are warning against it are introducing more confusion rather than trying to make sense of it. There are a few terms that help to accomplish this: "neoliberalism", "heresy" and "postmodernist ideology".

Now I'm probably more sensitive about terminology than most people, because I worked for several years as an editor of academic texts, and so I'm concerned about terms that could possibly confuse readers.

So let's look at these terms:

  • neoliberalism normally refers to the kind of free-market fundamentalism that has impoverished and underdeveloped many countries in Africa at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In all my discussions with "emerging church" people in the last three years, I can't say I've noticed any who have been advocating that.
  • heresy is a term that is pretty meaningless unless you know where the speaker is coming from. Most of the people who are most free with their use of words like "heresy" and "heretics" actually hold views that seem pretty heretical to me, but I don't say so. As an Orthodox Christian, I don't regard anyone outside the Orthodox Church as a heretic, or their teachings as heresy. A heretic is a member of the Orthodox Church who reaches something that is contrary to the faith of the Orthodox Church. It is possible that Vassula Ryden, who is offering her New Age teachings in Johannesburg tomorrow, is a heretic, to the extent that she represents herself as a member of the Orthodox Church and her teachings as the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But though I disagree with many of the doctrinal presuppositions of emerging church people, I wouldn't call them heretical. OK, that's where I'm coming from -- but where is the blogger who wrote the bit I quoted above coming from?
  • postmodernist ideology is perhaps the most confusing of all. Postmodernism is even harder to put a finger on than "emerging church", so it would be interesting to know what the writer thinks this postmodernist ideology is. I've not noticed any emerging church people talking much about postmodernism. What they do talk about is how to do mission and evangelism in a postmodern world, where many people don't accept the modernist ideology, or accept it only with qualifications. The implication of that citicism is that the modernist ideology is good, and the postmodernist one is bad -- but why? And why should one interpret the Bible in terms of a modernist ideology rather than in terms of a postmodernist one? The Bible was written by premodern people, and I suspect their own understanding of what they wrote was neither modern nor postmodern.
I'm not saying that the "emerging church" movement is above criticism, but to be of any use, criticism needs to be based on something better than this.


I've suggested ways in which South African emerging church people could respond to critics here.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

My attempted post to Davids blog, but it appears to only be available to blogger users (Old gripe of mine). If you get a chance please tell him I called.

Your view of the Emerging Church seems very abstract. You will have to give some concrete examples of opinions, writers, leaders, events and fellowships who make up this "threat".

I have considered myself a thankful, enthused Emergent for 2 of my 28 years of following Christ, and yet I can count Emergents I know in SA on one hand.

Secondly, your only source is from emergentthreat (Phillip Rosenthal). Phillip is convinced of the evil intentions / deception of postmodern Emergents, so if you want a more objective view, you will need to take other sources in before you start making such alarmist comments. Also note his blog has less than 400 hits, if you want to get some perspective of the strength of his lobby; his bark-to-bite ratio.

If you are ever in Cape Town I'd be delighted to meet with you and talk music, modernity, and postmodernity. Do you take 1 or 2 spoons of sugar?

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah that was from Nic Paton (http://soundandsilence.wordpress.com/)

BTW talking of the conversation, did you see my post on emergentvillage called burner culture and the emerging church:
http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/burner-culture-and-the-emerging-church. It touches on many of these issues, although it is around Afrika Burns / Burning Man.

Anonymous said...

some good wise comments. thanks steve.

many in the ec, including myself, have been greatly influenced by the writings of David Bosch and Alan Hirsch - both South Africans.

nice to see your blog.

Steve Hayes said...


Thanks for the kind remarks.

For what it's worth, I've proposed a synchroblog on postmodernity, postmodernism and ideology, in the hope that it might clarify matters a bit.

Roger Saner said...

I might be up for that syncroblog, Steve!

I've responded at both posts you mention...I'm fairly sure that criticism in South Africa of the emerging church will follow the same trend as the rest of the world, which means some people will violently oppose the emerging church, some will deliberately misunderstand it, and others will observe the debate with interest, watching how both sides conduct themselves.

It's my hope that I - as someone who gets FutureChurch.co.za consistently mentioned in many "this is what the emerging church is" anti-posts - respond with grace and humour.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve - i would also be up for the syncroblog.

Peter Veysie

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