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Emergent Words

In order to create an Emergent “Jesus Worldview” (see previous Herescope post), or any other new worldview for that matter, new words must be created or old words are given new connotations or meanings.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer in his classic work Escape From Reason, which we quoted from the other day (InterVarsity, 1968), spent a considerable amount of time discussing the problem with undefined words in neo-orthodoxy. Schaeffer made the surprising statement:

“I have come to the point where, when I hear the word Jesus — which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and His work — I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word Jesus than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught.”

Dr. Schaeffer drew many diagrams in Escape From Reason which show the rise of existential mysticism in Christianity. He postulated that 20th century man has divorced spirituality from rationality. His “upper story” shows how man has spiritualized faith to become mystical and non-rational. Therefore faith has become esoteric, unmeasurable, irrational, and subject to mystical experiences. Schaeffer discussed one of the most alarming consequences of this:

“Men are called to follow the word [Jesus] with highly motivated fervency, and nowhere more than in the new morality which follows the radical theology. It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man, if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human, you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person — at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these people this does not matter, because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content.”

Earlier in the book Schaeffer specifically noted that the nonrational neo-orthodoxy used connotation words, devoid of any specific biblical meaning. He observed that:

“Neoorthodoxy seemed to have an advantage over secular existentialism because it uses words that have strong connotations, as they are rooted in the memory of the race — words like resurrection, crucifixion, Christ, Jesus. These words give an illusion of communication. The importance of these words to the new theologians lies in the illusion of communication, plus the highly motivated reaction men have on the basis of the connotation of the words. That is the advantage of the new theology over secular existentialism and the modern secular mysticisms. One hears the word Jesus, one acts upon it, but the word is never defined. The use of such words is always in the area of the irrational, the non-logical. Being separated from history and the cosmos, they are divorced from possible verification by reason downstairs, and there is no certainty that there is anything upstairs.”

Nearly 40 years ago Schaeffer warned what would happen if the Word of God became experiential and devoid of content:

“The evangelical Christian needs to be careful because some evangelicals have recently been asserting that what matters is not setting out to prove propositions [from Scripture, ed.]; what matters is an encounter with Jesus. . . . [emphasis added]

“If we think that we are escaping some of the pressures of the modern debate by playing down propositional Scripture and simply putting the word Jesus or experience upstairs, we must face this question: What difference is there between doing this and doing what the secular world has done in its semantic mysticism, or what the radical theology has done?”

It is interesting to note that the new style of evangelical writing, exemplified by McLaren’s quoted material yesterday, no longer capitalizes the pronouns refering back to the antecedent word Jesus. This is more than simple disrespect or the use of new grammar rules. It is indicative of the new mystical Jesus image, which replaces the biblical Jesus in emergent and neoevangelical writings. Dr. Schaeffer warned that this would happen:

“We have come then to this fearsome place where the word Jesus has become the enemy of the Person Jesus, and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word Jesus not because we do not love Jesus, but because we do love Him. We must fight this contentless banner, with its deep motivations. . . which is being used for the purpose of sociological form and control. . . .”

Schaeffer concluded with this remarkable observation:

“This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether when Jesus said that towards the end-time there will be other Jesuses, He meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the Antichrist, he is not the anti-non-Christ. He is the anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word Jesus, separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable portions of Scripture), we shall, without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system. This system surrounds us as an almost monolithic consensus.”

The Truth:

“I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou has magnified thy word above all thy name.” (Psalm 138:2)