03 August 2009

Review of the Concerned Nazarenes DVD (Part 1)

A friend of mine recently posted a review of the Concerned Nazarene's DVD. This week, I'll be posting each day one section of the review. This review initially appeared at Naznet. The author has edited the review a bit from the initial posting to clean up typos and such. I've been working too much to watch the DVD so I'll share his insights with you. This is the first post in a five part series.
By Ryan Scott
I spent a few hours recently viewing “The Emerging Church,” a DVD provided by the group, Concerned Nazarenes, across the street from the recent General Assembly. This DVD is a series of interviews with pastors and authors concerning really three distinct topics, Brian McLaren and his Emergent movement, contemplative prayer, and New Age practices. Out of respect for the great effort and expense exercised in the production of this product and because of a commitment to Christian unity and dialogue, this review is an attempt to be even-handed and positive embracing the value of the DVD and also challenging some aspects from a Nazarene perspective. I do not wish to disrespect the fervor and passion of the Concerned Nazarenes; these are fellow Christians with legitimate concerns about the course of the denomination. The worst thing that can be done is to react dismissively or defensively. In that vein, I will highlight each section with a brief summary, followed by comments specific critiques.

After a brief opening, viewers are greeted by Rev. Beverly Turner, an experienced evangelist and ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, who explains the problems inherent in the emerging church movement and the problems they will bring to our treasured denomination. In these few minutes, Turner presents a calm and concerned demeanor; she very passionately believes that the emerging church may be the end of the Church of the Nazarene.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 is an interview with Pastor Gary Gilley (no biographical information is provided for any of the speakers). This chapter deals mainly with Brian McLaren and other emergent leaders, focusing primarily on theology. The most common theme is Gilley’s explanation of specifically how the emergent leaders desire to throw away all doctrine and focus Christian life on fixing the world in our own power. The main charge is that the emerging church seeks to repeat the mistakes and continued failures of the late 19th century liberal theology movement.

Gilley does well in hitting the heart of nearly every extreme statement made by a liberal outspoken proponent of many of McLaren’s ideas. This chapter is spot on in naming and refuting some of the troubling beliefs and teachings at the fringes of the emerging movement. He is never condescending or dismissive, even as the interviewer tends to be on occasion. Pastor Gilley handles his presentation in a very professional manner. He presents his viewpoints clearly and concisely. The quotes from various authors have been interpreted in more extreme and different ways than I have interpreted the same passages (for the books I have read), but that is hardly a matter of fact. McLaren often leaves his statements extremely open ended, which allows for any number of understandings. Gilley is good to remind us that no one person or system of belief should be accepted without digestion; this is a sentiment shared by McLaren and often stated publicly, even in reference to himself.

My biggest critique of the chapter itself is simply that it failed to recognize or address the fact that the concerns presented deal only with the extreme fringes of people speaking in favor of the ideas of the emergent proponents. There are certainly a number of issues (heaven, atonement, salvation, ecclesiology, etc) in which some voices have moved beyond orthodox positions. However, in those same doctrinal areas, the emerging church presents legitimate, orthodox alternative views, which should rightly be discussed; this does not happen.

By far the majority of the objections in chapter 1 (probably 60% or more) were simply a defense of reformed theology. Many of these were entirely counter to traditional Nazarene beliefs that could be seen in the Manual Articles of Faith all the way back to the beginning of the denomination. One example of this was when Gilley described an emergent understanding of salvation as being “opt-out,” that is God’s saving action of the cross provided salvation for all and only when one chooses to deny that grace are they removed from its covering. This is the classic Wesleyan understanding of salvation, which is only an affront to Gilley because of his belief in limited atonement (that Christ died only for those who would ultimately believe).

My thoughts on chapter 1 are simply, that it presented astute critiques of the theological excesses of the emerging movement, even if it may have mischaracterized some of Brian McLaren’s quotes, but the vast majority of the time was spent directly refuting classic Wesleyan principles, which have formed the Church of the Nazarene from the beginning.

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