ON APOLOGETICS, SALVATION, DECISIONS AND HELL: An Interview with a few Emerging types at a local Baptist church.

At Northern, I teach a Doctoral seminar every year on the cultural/intellectual shifts involving modernity, postmodernity and post-Christendom. Jack Thompson, a Doctoral student in the class and a local pastor handed in a great paper last year. Within the paper were parts of an interview with two twenty-something emerging church type guys. They were leading a house group at Jack’s church. They were also teaching a class and talking about church in ways that was all new to the rest of the more traditional Baptist church. Their words really illustrate the deep cultural shift taking place among the sons and daughters of evangelicals. I used some of this interview in teaching another class yesterday. Much of the content here may be old hat to many of us. Yet it continually shocks me how many churches are unaware of the depth of this shift taking place. In reading it again, I thought it illustrates beautifully the shift that is going on in the new generations of the West. If you are looking for some clarity on these issues, I offer this somewhat lengthy interview as transcribed below. And if you have time, can you answer this: How would your local church receive these two guys, Matt and Jose, and what they have to say? If you have the time, enjoy!

JACK: What have you learned about modernity?

MATT: Modernity was an era of science, proof about things and solid facts. It was a wonderful age of construction and maybe a kind of renaissance…. Today, modernists are using apologetics against non-Christians and it was never intended for that. That’s the problem. They use books like Mere Christianity to logically try to explain God and his existence then they use Evidence That Demands a Verdict and all of this archeological dig stuff… but we were never meant to prove the existence of God. You can’t do it. God is way too big. And then when you think you have a hold on God’s existence, then you realize he’s just bigger. And people then give up. People today get really angry and say, “You can’t explain God. Don’t even try.” And if you think that you can totally explain God as a Christian, then you’re close minded because you are just putting God in a box and non-Christians know this….

JACK: What else have you discovered?

MATT: …In the evangelical world…we throw terms like repentance around and how we just try to sell the gospel to people… going door to door, using the four spiritual laws, which are half-truths anyway. They are ridiculous. They’ve only been around about 10 or 15 years anyway…selling the gospel becomes like selling fire insurance. You just have to believe, intellectually that Jesus is God, and that he died for your sins, and then you are saved and can just sit around for the rest of your life. And I think this is all just so ridiculous because God wants us to move, and go, and do something. It has nothing to do with simple belief. Your beliefs may start something, but actions come out of your beliefs and that’s the point. The evangelical system says, “believe the right things, adhere to the correct intellectual things and you are going to be saved.” And “saved” to evangelicals is the idea that you are going to heaven later— then life becomes a kind of a waiting room. But they don’t realize that God wants to save you from traumas of the past. God wants to save you from what’s going on inside you right now, psychologically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, it’s every part of you that God wants to renew you. And evangelicals forget about this. They make an empty system where all you have to do is have a little bit of faith—whatever that means—and then you will be saved. And it’s just like becoming a mere shell of a Christian and totally miss the point.

JACK: Do you see decisions to follow Christ as connected to the background of the seeker?

MATT: Right, it’s about the filters we all have. It’s the parents we grew up with, the culture, the time, the atmosphere, just everything about us. And these filters move into our theology too. Moderns think, “We’ve got it! ! It’s been over 2000 years and we finally have a good grasp on the Bible and what it means, and we have archeology and all this other evidence and facts and we’ve now finally got it!” Unfortunately, they don’t realize that maybe their idea of God and how to understand him and their theology, is like just one way. They don’t understand that it’s not the only way but just one way of thinking which came from somebody before, right. Their idea isn’t the best one, it was just a new one when it came out for the first time—when they had to fight against the modernist interpretation of scripture. And now, we’re doing it in the postmodern age. And people today are saying, “No, you’re just wrong, and you’re heretics” and stuff. But the modern viewpoint and how they interpret scripture isn’t the only way or the best or the most evolved. The world is changing. I mean, God doesn’t change, but He is changing us, right.

JACK: What do you think about evangelicalism’s idea of salvation?

JOSE: I find it interesting in the NT, that when Jesus talks to his disciples, he never asks them make a decision. He asks them to make a commitment.

JACK: …to “Follow me.”

JOSE: Yes. They had to leave their houses. It was a great commitment.

MATT: And they knew what it looked like. They knew what they were getting into.

JOSE: Yeah, they did know what they were getting into. Jesus used harsh words at time like when he said, “Let the dead bury the dead…” (Lk 9:59). They were tested and knew what Jesus was about. So they had to make a real commitment. It wasn’t only one more year of my life. It was like two, three and the rest of their lives. They knew that. It was like a marriage. When you get married, you don’t do it with just the first person you find…. You have to get to know the other person—you have to experience who they are and ask questions, and then you make the commitment. I mean, we are supposed to be the church, the bride of Christ, and we expect nonbelievers to find Christ by answering a certain way to a bunch of dumb questions? Do we really expect them to make a commitment based on that? I mean, how stupid is that! Nobody does that in their right mind today.

JACK: So you’re saying the motivation for making a decision to follow Christ has to be right?

JOSE: You have to fall in love with Christ. You can’t just get married because you want to get out of your house. That marriage is ruined in that case. You have to fall in love with the real person.

JACK: Often evangelicals will throw “hell” at people to get them to make a decision. I suppose you’re saying that this can also be wrong….

MATT: …The idea of hell was borrowed from the pagans. The Pharisees took the concept of hell from the pagans to scare people to following God and Christ just pretty much takes their language and throws it back in their face. So then the question is what hell is really about? Jesus uses images like “Gehena” outside the city gates—an actual garbage dump—so that they understood the imagery…. But the thing is that Jesus never pushed hell into somebody’s face. There were a lot of people that did come up to him who were honestly seeking God. Jesus had infinite patience with them. But those individuals like the Pharisees who were getting in the way of people following God, people who were honestly seeking and asking questions about who God is, and how to follow him, Jesus just got their face and tore them apart. How dare you get in the way of people honestly seeking God. You know, the rich man came up to Jesus, and asked him, “How do I follow God? I’ve followed all of the Ten Commandments.” And whether he believes him or not, Jesus just says, just sell all of you stuff. Jesus didn’t throw him in the back of the stage and say, “What do you mean you have followed all of the Ten Commandments! You haven’t done that! No one can do that! You’re going to Hell!” No, Jesus takes him a step further and goes, “Fine, if you love God so much, just sell your stuff.” Jesus seems to always push us further. He challenges us, right.

JACK: It seems to me that in your class, you are also challenging us at Immanuel to change our attitudes towards decision making, salvation and following Christ.

MATT: We were created for something bigger…. Evangelicals today have this system where people are “saved” and don’t go to hell and Christians are wasting away what it is supposed to be for them. The Christian faith is supposed to be a way of life, and we’ve made it a constrained belief system. The Greeks would say that the end is the goal and the journey is just how to get there. The Jews would say that the journey is the point. We have to understand that as Christians we are going somewhere. The journey is important. It’s the experience of going and growing…

JOSE: Well, we do have eternal life. But the problem with many evangelicals is the idea that we are going to have eternal life—we are going to be saved and are going to heaven. God really wants us to live now, and people don’t understand that. He wants us to live today. We don’t have eternal life just when we die, but we have it right now and we are supposed to live life to it’s fullest.

JACK: We are supposed to have the Kingdom of God right here and right now, not just in the future.

JOSE: Yeah, it’s right here. And we do this by living. How many Christians today don’t fully live? They just exist.

MATT: I agree. A person has to get to know Christ, what he does, what he’s about, what it’s like to be a Christian. They have to know that there’s going to be hard times ahead but it’s the best possible way to live because they were created for something bigger. I mean that’s the gospel message for me. You are created for something bigger and beautiful, more than you have ever imagined. It’s epic, it’s for God. It’s wonderful and beautiful and God’s going to help you along the way on this journey. And He wants to heal you, and you are going to do great things in this world. You are going to do things involving love and beauty, and peace, and justice and kindness. And you are going to spread it to the ends of the world. And that’s what it means to be a Christian. And if they’re not into that, then they’re not into God. I’m not going to fake them into thinking it’s going to be some beautiful life, you know. Because then you get a whole bunch of angry Christians like I was before….

JACK: Postmoderns will emphasize a new ecclesiology for the church today—emphasis on be the Church—be the body of Christ—be a community…

MATT: Moderns don’t like the idea of a commitment to Christ because they would rather see numbers of decisions…. Honest commitment is scary for many evangelicals today because it means that salvation is out of their hands. It is then up to God and the Spirit to work inside of the seeker…. They maintain their techniques because they want to keep evangelism in their hands. They don’t have real faith that God is going to make Himself attractive to the seeker. They just have to give up trying to control everything and let God do His work.

JOSE: Often times modern churches try to make things appear cool. “Let’s just make God cool for the seeker. Let’s make him relevant to our society or to our culture.” What…God is God! He is cool.

MATT: Also, it seems like today, Christians have to be cool people. And actually I don’t try to be cool—I’m not that cool anyway. I’m kind of a nerd. But I am who I am, you know. I’m not cool or different around my friends. My friends understand me. I’m not any different around them. I’m just being myself.

JACK: How can Immanuel come to terms with the new postmodernity era ahead?

MATT: The world is postmodern. So what does it look like to be the church in postmodern era? I don’t like the idea of Immanuel trying to be a “postmodern Church.” We are the church. We are one body. It is just that we are going to have to reinvent some things to be able to fit into today’s culture. Something Rob Bell said is that you call yourself postmodern, then you are not. I was postmodern even before I realized what that term meant. It’s just a mindset and it’s a culture. You don’t try to be a postmodern church; you just try to be relevant to the time. It’s not anti-modern, it’s postmodern —emerging out of the modern world. We are growing out of it, pushing to the next step. But we are coming out of modernity. We don’t deny it. We look at church history and think it’s beautiful, and modernity had its place, but it is over. And it’s not like postmodernism is better, but it is more relevant. It’s just growth…. Is a two year old more important than a fifty year old or vice versa? And it’s not that emergents are rebelling against the modern church; it’s that we are asking questions because we have to.

JACK: Do you see a need to try to bridge the gap between the young postmoderns and the older traditional members of the church?

MATT: Yes. It would be really bad if we had this group of people who were postmodern and emergent and this group modern and traditional. This would be divisive. This is why people often leave churches. Some people feel unwanted and just leave. We have to have an understanding at some point. And we don’t want another denomination. The emergent church is not a denomination. It’s a new way of understanding church within every denomination. This is huge. It is something about the faddish aspect of the emergent movement that it becomes a denomination. They had an emergent church conference for a couple of years, and Brian McLaren showed up and absolutely hated it. He was like, “What are you trying to do, for an elitist group or something? We’re trying to bridge and accept and bring everyone together, right?” They missed the point altogether. The point is to move away from the church being like a country club….postmoderns are not trying to destroy the modern system. If the modern system works for them, then cool…. But I am just trying to get people to follow God whether it is modern or postmodern.

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