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.