My Very Own False Advisers

Ryan, my doctoral adviser, sent this to me this morning, and I confess I had a good chuckle over the fact that all three of my PhD committee members are considered false teachers:

“It’s common to see the promotion of false teachers from the Emerging Church Movement such as N.T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Ryan Bolger, Wilbert Shenk, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball, Scot McKnight, Elizabeth O’Connor, Nancey Murphy, Leonard Sweet, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Donald Miller and Phyllis Tickle. And we wonder why the church is so messed up!” (quoted here

Note, most of these people are Anabaptists, Mennonites and/or Quakers, and a few others are at least sympathetic to the peace churches.  The obvious question for me now besides where do I go from here, is what Ryan wrote in the email: How can a tree planted in bad soil produce anything good? I have no idea, but I guess it will take some consideration.

On the one hand, it’s easy to joke about because of the ridiculousness of the claim. Ryan, Wilbert and Nancey are people I respect not just intellectually, but who are people I look up to in faith. These are people who I consider to be working out their faith with fear and trembling, people who authentically care about their students’ well-being, take their faith very seriously, and live out what they believe.

On the other hand, it’s down-right infuriating because of the ridiculousness of the claim. And not just because it is absurd (I will venture to guess this person who has said this does not personally know any one of the people he has a problem with), but because it is a rampant attitude within American Evangelical Christianity.  It’s a militant Christianity that is in bed more with consumerism and nationalism than supping at the table of the Lord. Consumerism because it is based on a version of faith that says there is one answer, one explanation, one commodified and controlled Christianity to be consumed rather than participated in. It is a don’t ask questions, don’t have different ideas, swallow this pill in this way, or get out kind of Christianity (which is the basis for what I have called Christian terrorism previously). Nationalistic because any version of Christianity that challenges the equation of God and country is threatening to the power-politics and cash flow behind these movements, any version of Christianity that presents an alternative narrative to the one that underwrites the mediated version of what takes place in the name of the church and in the name of the flag is automatically suspect.

Now you can see it does get under my skin a little! Or a lot. I just read an interview with a man who started out in Evangelicalism and has since rejected faith precisely because of this pre-packaged, slick-rick version of Christianity.  The statement from that interview that stood out to me was,

“Believing the right things and not doing any of the right things is the norm in evangelical Christianity, and it’s really perplexing. I’m flabbergasted ever time I run into this, because basically there’s this who movement of people who ostensibly believe the right thing, but are the pawns of the military-industrial complex, and that’s just too bad. It seems like high comedy, like a very twisted joke.”

Now this doesn’t necessarily reflect my experience (or at least all of it), but I can see how he came to this perspective. And people like those above, who think they are doing the Lord’s work by naming false teachers and are doing the devil’s bidding instead. They are not just underwriting a false gospel, one based on fear and hate rather than Christ Jesus, but are pushing themselves back into a corner, fists up, with no place to go. The church is shrinking, and is found holding the electro-magnetic shrink ray.

9 responses to “My Very Own False Advisers”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Wess. I got a good chuckle, and then passed it on for Meredith to read. But then I also felt that same sinking feeling – this isn’t being posted to be funny, this person is dead serious about what they see as the downfall of Christianity. Funny yes, but extremely scary stuff.

  2. Well, after seeing that list I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell.

    Though after reading the original post, I’m not sure who this guy is for. What list of heretics includes Robert Tilton AND Thomas Merton?!

  3. Agreed, agreed, agreed: re the ridiculousness and the sinking feeling. And I was hoping we’d left most of that silliness in the 20th century …

  4. Ouch! Not only did I graduate from Fuller, but these authors continue to shape me in huge ways. I guess I’m in trouble b/c these are my top recommendations to skeptics, disillusioned, or “seasoned” Christians.

  5. I would say Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and St. Teresa of Avila got included because they’re (wait for it) — Catholic!!

    Of course, George Fox railed against “Papists” (overly) frequently.

    Related to this, here’s what Zizek says in In Defense of Lost Causes (p. 332):

    “Are, however, the terrorist fundamentalists, be they Christian or Muslim, really fundamentalists in the authentic sense of the term? Do they really believe? What they lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, deep indifference to the non-believer’s way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe that they have found the truth, why should they feel threatened by the sinful life of non-believers…? Deep inside themselves, terrorist fundamentalists also lack true conviction — their violent outbursts are proof…. The problem with fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior.”

    (I think this is one of only two passages in the book so far that I can actually understand! It’s quite dense. As you’d expect.)