Southern faculty release statement on the Emerging Church Movement

Southern Adventist University faculty from the religion department released a statement in October of this year denouncing the emerging church movement. The statement appears to also allude to Spectrum's Third Way conference that took place near Southern earlier in October. A student from the religion department shared her observations of the conference with ADvindicate. Southern's statement is a response to the growing impact of the Emerging Church in Seventh-day Adventist churches, colleges and universities, according to the religion department.


The Emerging Church movement (EC) began as an attempt to be relevant to a postmodern and post-postmodern culture. The EC in its various forms seeks creatively to reinvent church in the twenty-first century, “emerging” in protest from traditional Christianity to form a new “post-Christian” worldview.1

Like postmodernism, which defies clear lines of definition, the EC is eclectic and diverse, focusing less on distinctive biblical teaching and emphasizing the authenticity and spiritual experience of the individual. How a person lives is more important than what he or she believes.2  This emphasis that “faith without works is dead” and that true Christianity will display itself in a life which is consistent with the truth is commendable. However, this emphasis also betrays one of the drawbacks of the EC--that experience very easily becomes the essential standard of authentic spirituality without the framework of Scripture or the guidance of an organized faith community.

The EC is committed to accepting philosophical pluralism, denying that any system (or religion) offers a complete explanation of God or truth. Rather than bouncing between arguments of relativism and absolutism, EC leaders insist on a “Third Way” that dialogues and ultimately embraces the multi-faith world and does not judge faith issues and movements within traditional lines of Christian interpretation. While theological humility is laudable, within the EC this view seems all too often to lead to positions which are relativistic in fact, if not in name.3

The EC reduces Christianity to “one voice” among many and is strongly ecumenical, seeking to experience God in dialogue and by adopting beliefs and worship practices in the multi-faith world of religions such as Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Eastern mysticism, and even non-religious atheism.4  EC leaders embrace such practices as symbolic, multi-sensory worship; centering prayer; prayer beads; icons; spiritual direction; labyrinths; and lectio divina.5  While some of these practices have merit, the semantic elasticity of many of these terms, as used by proponents of EC, contributes to the problematic nature of the movement.6  For instance, “spiritual formation” is a key term which has been enlarged by the EC to encompass mystical practices.7  The worship of the EC may include charismatic and post-charismatic elements, and its music varies from hymns to contemporary Christian music and secular forms.8

The EC is disillusioned with the organized church and seeks to deconstruct modern Christian worship, evangelism, and community by providing a new theology for post-Christianity. Within our own denomination and in many others, the lack of emphasis on personal spiritual experience has left many faithful believers hungering for a deeper relationship with God. It is this reasonable desire and genuine need that the EC attempts to address. However, despite some positive contributions, we must be cautious of its theological views and spiritual recommendations.

In response to the growing impact of the EC in Seventh-day Adventist churches, colleges, and universities, we, the faculty of the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University, wish to encourage spiritual revival and reformation and to offer this affirmation of authentic biblical belief as expressed in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

  1. We affirm that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the infallible revelation of God’s will. The Bible has authority in all areas of Christian teaching, life, and practice because it is the inspired Word of God, and all truth is consistent with this revelation (Is. 40:8; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16).

    The Bible is not merely a “library of diverse voices making diverse claims.”9   On the contrary, it speaks in unity and harmony to the world. We therefore cannot accept that “faithful interaction with a library means siding with some of those voices and against others,”10  for “Scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). While we acknowledge and appreciate the role of God’s Spirit in guiding the church, we insist that the Spirit confirms and conforms to the Scriptures. Therefore, we believe in the unique authority of the Bible and understand that it is not merely one way among many to understand God. Rather, Scripture is the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. We cannot accept that “Sola scriptura . . . tends to downplay the role of God’s Spirit in shaping the direction of the church,”11  as some in the EC assert, or that sacred texts outside of the Bible are metanarratives of equal authority to that of the Bible. Personal experience; culture; and ancient, modern, and postmodern philosophies cannot replace the Bible as the basis of all “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
  2. We affirm that Jesus created all things, that He was and is forever truly God and also became truly man to live and perfectly exemplify the righteousness and love of God. We affirm that He died a substitutionary and expiatory death, was bodily resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven to minister there in the presence of the Father in the heavenly sanctuary (Jn. 1:1-14; 8:58; 10:30; Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:10-11; Gal: 4:4; Matt. 1:1; Jn. 1:30; Rom. 3:25; Isa. 53:5-12; 1 Cor. 15:3, 14-17; Luke 24:36-43; Heb. 8:1-2).

    Jesus was not merely a good moral leader: He was truly the divine Son of God.12  It was an act of unfathomable love for God to send His Son Jesus to die on the cross and for the Son to consent to come. It was not an act of “divine child abuse,”13  as some in the EC have asserted. Though Jesus’ death on the cross was indeed an example to humanity of authentic, missional living, it cannot be limited to that. It is also the atoning sacrifice which redeems us from our slavery to sin, as well as the unique basis for the reconciliation of humans to God. God’s grace is channeled to the world through Christ and cannot be found where enlightenment is sought within the person. As revealed in God’s Word, it is a gift bestowed by Jesus Christ and cannot be acquired by the skill of humanity or merited by human goodness. Though Jesus, as God, is ever-present through the Holy Spirit, the pantheistic notion that Jesus is a Cosmic Christ “woven into Creation and all of life”14  misrepresents the fundamental distinction between creature and Creator.
  3. We affirm that this world is the focus of a great cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan over the character and government of God, His eternal moral law, and His sovereignty over the universe (Ezek. 28:12-17; Is. 14:12-14; Rev. 12:4-9; Job 1:6-7; 1 Cor. 4:9; Matt. 4:3).

    Satan is not simply a metaphor for evil. He is a fallen personal being, working actively today to confuse humanity into believing that there are many avenues to God other than Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). To the extent that other philosophies and faiths identify alternative links between God and humanity, they are mistaken. Just as the means of access to God are unique and irreplaceable, so also God’s law is not a mutable metanarrative, subject to change over time and place. It was written by God’s own finger in stone as a permanent, comprehensive moral and spiritual revelation of His loving character to humanity (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 10:1).
  4. We affirm the biblical revelation of the fall of humanity after a perfect creation, and we acknowledge that sin is the transgression of God’s eternal law (1 Jn. 3:4; Gen. 3:1-10; Jas. 2:10; 4:17). Obedience to God’s law through the empowering of the Holy Spirit is Christ’s command to His followers: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15; Jn. 15:10; Matt. 5:18; 19:17; Heb. 8:10).

    Although personal experience is an essential element in Christianity, it is not the standard by which we test truth. Christianity is not all about us or our subjective experiences, for it was humanity, relying subjectively on the senses, which disobeyed God and plunged the earth into sin. The work of the Holy Spirit is to lead sinners to Jesus Christ, rather than to self.15  Our faith must rest in Christ, as revealed in Scripture, and not on our own spiritual inclinations, feelings, or experiences: “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” says the apostle John, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
  5. We affirm that the church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who are called out from the world to join together for worship, fellowship, service, proclamation, instruction, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 16:13-20; Eph. 2:19-22; 3:8-11).

    The church is not an amorphous and unbounded gathering of persons who hold dissimilar views of the Bible and Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that there were clear and non-negotiable expectations, both of belief and of practice for members of this community, and it specifically warns us of the danger of false teaching (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Church organization is vital to accomplish the mission which Christ has entrusted to His followers. While diversity of means and methods is vital to the church (1 Cor. 12:12-20), this does not imply that any doctrine, any spiritual practice, or any ethical standard espoused by a person claiming Christ is approved by Him or should be accepted by the church. The church is sent to all nations (Matt. 28:19) and strives to become “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), but the church expresses this diversity within Scriptural guidelines, being commissioned by Christ to teach all that He has commanded (Matt. 28:20) and not “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8-9).
  6. We affirm that in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. The remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness to call God’s people out of error and apostasy (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Pet. 1:16-19; 2 Pet. 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.).

    The message of Christ is unique: it is not just one metanarrative among the many metanarratives of other world religions, all of which lead to truth. God’s end-time call to all faithful people is to leave all falsehood and sin and to unite themselves with Him and His faithful and obedient people by upholding biblical doctrine and practice.16 Therefore, the Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot minister as, to, or with postmoderns, but must, rather, minister for postmoderns, calling them out of the confusion of relativism into God’s eternal truth.17  We must not blur the boundaries of truth and error, whether through the revisionist critique of Protestantism and the advocacy for “post-Protestantism and post-Christianity,”18  or by returning to any historic Christian tradition (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant,19  or Celtic,20  or even some indistinct blending of these21) or by any syncretistic merging with world religions that would displace or redefine the everlasting gospel.
  7. We affirm that the final test of humanity at the end of time will be over the issue of faithfulness to God and obedience to his expressed will, including a call to return to the observance of the original seventh-day Sabbath of Creation (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Rev. 14:7-9, 12).

    The seventh-day Sabbath is not a transitory expression of religious practice, but from Creation it has been a memorial of God’s power and love and a sign of faithfulness to Him, and it will remain the test of worshipful allegiance at the end of time. God’s truth is unchangeable, and His will is immutable. Those who are recognized by heaven as God’s own people at the end of history will conform to the same standards of belief and practice which have characterized the righteous in all ages.
  8. We affirm that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” and that our spiritual practices ought to be those taught by the Lord, directed by the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by the Scriptures (Jn. 4:23; Luke 11:1; Rom. 8:26-27, 2 Pet. 1:3-4; Ps. 1:2; 119:97).

    True worship must be defined biblically.22  No doctrine, behavior, or spiritual practice, however great its antiquity or wide its acceptance, can be approved, except by its conformity to the Word of God.23  Regular study of Scripture, unceasing prayer, constant attention to the leading of the Spirit of God, and frequent spiritual conversation with fellow believers, both in daily life and during weekly Sabbath rest, are indispensable elements of true biblical spiritual discipline, which leads to the formation of Christian character.24  Other spiritual practices (such as centering prayer, contemplation, meditation, lectio divina, eucharistic devotion, icons, and labyrinths), whether of non-Christian or medieval origin or of recent devising, must be evaluated by Scripture.25
  9. We affirm the movement of history toward the final culminating event of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will return literally, personally, and visibly with the heavenly hosts to take up the elect for an eternal kingdom that will be established in heaven during the millennium, followed by the descent of the New Jerusalem on a restored new earth (Matt. 7:22-23; 16:27; 24:30; 25:11-12; Jn. 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 14-15; Rev. 1:7; 19:12-16).

    The Kingdom of God is not merely a better life to be established politically or socially on this present earth through an ecumenical movement where all religions “are revelations of the same reality.”26  Though it has begun on this earth through the teachings of Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the hope in Jesus is that its culmination will be in a world that will be cleansed of all evil and perfectly restored by Christ after the millennium. The final message of the “everlasting gospel”27  must be faithfully preached to all the world to fulfill Christ’s mission. God desires all to be saved, but those who reject the Son and show themselves unfaithful to God will be lost (Jn. 3:35-36).

School of Religion Faculty,
Southern Adventist University 



For a primer on the EC, see Leonard I. Sweet, Brian D. McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer, A Is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003; for critiques of the EMC movement, see D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005); Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails, 2007); Jeremy Bouma, Reimagining the Christian Faith: Exploring the Emergent Theology of Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Samir Selmanovic, and Brian McLaren (Grand Rapids, MI: Theoklesia, 2012); Fernando Canale, “The Emerging Church – Part 1: Historical Background,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22/1 (2011) 84-101; idem., “The Emerging Church – Part 2: Epistemology, Theology, and Ministry,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22/2 (2011) 67-105; idem., “The Emerging Church – Part 3: Evangelical Evaluations,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 23/1 (2012) 46-75.

Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” Christianity Today 51/2 (February, 2007); accessed online Sept 29, 2013.

For the impact of relativism in EC, see the extensive discussion by Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, 125-56; and most recently, in general, Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012); cf. Canale, “Emerging Church – Part 2,” 79-80.

Samir Selmanovic, It’s Really All About God: How Islam, Atheism, and Judaism Made Me a Better Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010); and his website on Faith House Manhattan, where a “Christian Buddhist” is a member the Board of Directors:, accessed Sept. 23, 2013.

On Lectio Divina, see David Foster, Reading with God: Lectio Divina (London/New York: Continuum, 2005); Basil Pennington, “Lectio Divina: The Gate Way to the Spiritual Journey and Centering Prayer,” in Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry, ed. Gustave Reininger (London/New York: Continuum, 1998), 20-25.

6 Many of the terms employed for spiritual practices, including “contemplation,” “meditation,” “spiritual reading,” “spiritual direction,” and even “prayer,” are vague and can be accompanied with major redefinition and new application. Both the Bible (Luke 5:16; 11:2; Ps. 55:17; 1 Tim. 4:5; Jas. 5:13) and Ellen White provide extensive commentary on the importance of meditation on God’s Word and prayer (Acts of the Apostles, 424; Gospel Workers, 127). Ellen White writes, “Let the truth of God be the subject for contemplation and meditation. Read the Bible, and regard it as the voice of God speaking directly to you. Then will you find inspiration and that wisdom which is divine” (Testimony Treasures, 3:188). See especially White’s statements in Desire of Ages, 83, 363 and Education, 260-61.

On spiritual formation from an EC perspective, see Doug Pagitt, Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004); Richard Foster, “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Three Priorities for the Next Thirty Years,” Christianity Today, Feb. 4, 2009; accessed online Sept. 23, 2013.

8 For an analysis of the relationship between charismatic worship and EC worship, see Canale, “Emerging Church – Part 2,” 74-75.

9 Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (New York: Jericho Books, 2012), 204.

10 Ibid.

11 Will Samson, “The End of Reinvention: Mission Beyond Market Adoption Cycles,” in An Emergent Manifesto of
ed. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 156.

12 For an analysis of McLaren’s views on the divinity of Christ, see Jeremy Bouma, The Gospel of Brian McLaren: A New Kind of Christianity for a Multi-Faith World (Grand Rapids, MI: Theoklesia, 2013), 47-51.

13 McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 102.

14 Selmanovic, All About God, 76-82.

15 John Markovic, “Emergent Theology: Voices of Confusion,” Ministry (May, 2010).

16 Stanley J. Grenz, a key theologian of the EC adopts “open theism” which restricts God’s ability to predict the future and limits the gift of prophecy which is central to the prophetic voice of the faithful remnant at the end of time (Grenz in Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times, ed. Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor [Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 2004], 19).

17 On these categories, see McKnight, “Five Streams.”

18 McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), Chapt. 7; on other revisionist works, see Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008); Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (New York: HarperCollins, 2009).

19 McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 221-225.

20 Selmanovic, All About God, 22-23.

21 See the discussion by Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, 172-77; Canale, “The Emerging Church: What Does it Mean and Why Should We Care?” Adventist Review (June, 10, 2010); accessed online Sept. 14, 2013, states, “The emerging church is going back to Rome. If we continue to play follow the leader, new generations of Adventism will go back to Rome, as well.”

22 Canale points out that “the center of emerging worship is no longer Bible preaching, but the Eucharist,” (“The Emerging Church – Part 2,” 72). For many “preaching is no longer the authoritative transferring of Biblical information” (Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004], 87), but has been replaced by storytelling. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe Geisler critique the EC’s limiting view of Scripture in “A Postmodern View of Scripture,” in Evangelicals Engaging Emergent: A Discussion of the Emergent Church Movement, ed. William D. Henard and Adam W. Greenway (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 107.

23 Grenz places the community and tradition over Scripture as the basis for doctrine, “Our Bible is the product of the community of faith that cradled it . . . the writings contained in the Bible represent the self-understanding of the community in which it developed” (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993], 121; see the critique by Canale, “Emerging Church – Part 2,” 79-80). In Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era ([Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006], 347), Grenz quotes Michael S. Horton favorably maintaining that the new center for evangelicalism is to embrace a consensus view of tradition (“What Still Keeps Us Apart”? in Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyse What Divides and Unites Us, ed. John H. Armstrong [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994], 253). This is a reversal of the biblical and Protestant hermeneutic of sola Scriptura, see discussion by Norman Gulley, Systematic Theology, Vol. 4: Church, Final Events (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2014).

24 On spiritual discipline, see Ellen White, Christian Education, 136; on the formation of character, Fundamentals of Christian Education, 254. In contrast it should be noted that in the EC “Spiritual Disciplines are a very important part of the ‘vintage’ Christianity that emerging leaders retrieve from medieval Roman Catholic spirituality” (Canale, “The Emerging Church – Part 2,” 73).

25 On the use of monastic mysticism in the EC, see Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad, 2009), 12; Nanette Sawyer, “What Would Huckleberry Do? A Relational Ethic as the Jesus Way,” in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 41–50; Selmanovic, All About God, 130-141.

26 Selmanovic, All About God, 288, note 3.

27 Ellen White writes, “The messages of Revelation 14 are those by which the world is to be tested; they are the everlasting gospel, and are to be sounded everywhere” (Selected Messages, 2:111); cf. Great Controversy, 311.

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