NOTE: The following is protected by federal copyright law and is an excerpt from the book Marxianity written by Brannon Howse and is not to be published online. The footnotes that document the content in this article are found in the book Marxianity or the eBook.
Although many Americans don’t know the name Søren Kierkegaard, they know all too well his essential philosophy of life. In the mid-1800s, Kierkegaard, who claimed to be a Christian, denied any consistent morality. Known as existentialism, his philosophy suddenly gained steam in America a hundred years later.
The central tenet of existentialism is that there is no absolute truth, and “Christians” practicing existentialism introduced what is called neo-orthodoxy. The American version of this movement grew popular in the 1960s and virtually took over in the 70s and 80s. David Breese, author of Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave, explains how it happened:
[quote] A careful neglect of Calvary, the blood of Christ, divine forgiveness, original sin, and other great Christian themes. Salvation becomes experience-oriented, theology becomes contextual, and ultimate truth becomes contradictory. They announce that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring economic liberation to the oppressed masses of the earth. [end quote]
There is really nothing new under the sun, and I contend that this neo-orthodoxy laid the foundation for what we now call the ‘Emergent Church.’ It consists of post-modern radicals who could be characterized just as Dr. Breese explained neo-orthodoxy.
Deconstructionism in the Culture and in the Church
Worldview Weekend speaker and columnist, Jason Carlson, was once part of the small group that founded the Emergent Church, but he recognized their drift to heresy and got out. Today, Jason writes and speaks with conviction against the worldview of the Emergent Church, and he outlines its main tenets this way:
- A highly ambiguous handling of truth.
- A desire to be so inclusive and tolerant that there is virtually no sense of Biblical discernment in terms of recognizing and labeling false beliefs, practices, or lifestyles.
- A quasi-universalistic view of salvation.
- A lack of a proper appreciation for biblical authority over and against personal experience or revelation.
- Openness to pagan religious practices like Hindu yoga and incorporating them into the Christian life and Christian worship.
- Openly questioning the relevance of key historical biblical doctrines such as the Trinity.
- An uncritically open embrace of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
- An unbridled cynicism towards conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
- A reading of Scripture that is heavily prejudiced towards a social gospel understanding.
- Little or no talk of evangelism or saving lost souls.
- A salvation by osmosis mentality, where ‘if you hang out with us long enough, you’re in.’
In my 2009 book Grave Influence, I also explained that:
[quote] I’ve known several Christian leaders to argue that the Emergent Church movement is simply a fad that will fade away. But that is like saying Secular Humanism, the New Age Movement, postmodernism, Gnosticism, pagan spirituality, or existentialism is a fad. While it’s true the term Emergent Church may go away, the philosophies, theologies, values, and ideas that make up the movement are not new and will not go away until Christ judges the world and sets up His Kingdom that will endure forever. [end quote]
Indeed, what I predicted in 2009 has happened as the Emergent Church has been repackaged into groups like The Gospel Coalition.
EC pastors sell millions of books and leaders have convinced millions of youth that all roads lead to God, that the social gospel is our highest calling, socialism is the economic philosophy that Jesus Christ embraced, homosexuality is the new civil rights, abortion is a matter of choice, pagan spirituality and Christianity are compatible, and proclaiming absolute truth is intolerant. Emergents believe the problem with Christianity in America today is narrow-minded evangelicals who oppose their emerging worldview because of our commitment to the divinely inspired Word of God—which the Emergents say is man-made.
The website science.jrank.org explains that “existentialism is a philosophical movement that became associated with the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (who rejected the name as too confining) and whose roots extend to the works of Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger.” While Martin Heidegger’s existentialism and that of Kierkegaard’s differed in some ways (as did the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), there is room for both on the highway of postmodern thinking:
[quote] Kierkegaard and Nietzsche differed radically, most famously in their approach to religion (Christianity in particular). Kierkegaard was devout, while Nietzsche was a blasphemous atheist. But so, too, twentieth-century existentialism would include both religious and atheistic philosophers. [end quote]
Of course, once a person or society rejects absolute truth, the consequences of the downward spiral into moral relativism become increasing brutal. Hitler, for instance, greatly admired Nietzsche. Heidegger was a member of the Nazi Party and an influential German philosopher who became rector of the University of Freiburg. In a 1933 article in the Freiburg student newspaper, he publicly endorsed Nazism: “The German people must choose its future, and this future is bound to the Führer.”
Nietzsche may not have agreed with all that Hitler did, and I am certain Kierkegaard would have absolutely rejected Hitler’s worldview, but Kierkegaard’s own rejection of a biblical worldview and commitment to subjective truth set up a cultural slippery slope. Such slopes are often greased by professors, philosophers, intellectuals, and liberal theologians to the benefit of a dictator or tyrannical central government.
The wide way of existentialism is described by Walter Kaufmann in his book, Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre:
[quote] Existentialism is foreshadowed most notably by nineteenth-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though it had forerunners in earlier centuries…Although there are some common tendencies amongst “existentialist” thinkers, there are major differences and disagreements among them (most notably the divide between atheistic existentialists like Sartre and theistic existentialists like Tillich); not all of them accept the validity of the term as applied to their own work. [end quote]
Hubert Dreyfus puts Kierkegaard’s particular contribution to the movement in succinct perspective: “Contemporary Heideggerians regard Søren Kierkegaard as, by far, the greatest philosophical contributor to Heidegger’s own existentialist concepts.”
Nietzsche and Kierkegaard believed a person could not know truth, that we should embrace the mysticism of the world and reject absolutes. We can see this influence of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on both the American culture and many of America’s churches, seminaries, and Christian colleges.
Postmodernism, which is closely tied to existentialism, was introduced through the English departments of many American colleges and universities. The study of literature offered a convenient vehicle to teach the idea that one can never know what an author means to convey. Any interpretation is subject to each individual reader. As David Noebel notes:
[quote] Postmodernism’s most effective methodological tool is known as deconstructionism, which means (1) that words do not represent reality, and (2) that concepts expressed in sentences in any language are arbitrary. Some postmodernists go so far as to deconstruct humanity itself. Thus, along with the death of God, truth, and reason, humanity is also obliterated. [end quote]
Phonics, one of the most basic and successful methods of teaching reading, has already been tossed aside by “enlightened” educators. “Whole Language” is now the instruction of choice for most public schools. And what is whole language? “Rethinking Whole-Language,” an article in the January 1994 issue of The Executive Educator, explains:
[quote] The most basic principle of Whole Language, according to many laudatory books on the subject, is that illiterate people can best learn to read and write in precisely the same way they learned to speak…To develop writing skills, children are encouraged to “invent” the spellings of words and the shapes of letters they need for their compositions. In short, Whole Language demands that instruction be directed unsystematic, and non-intensive. The second fundamental principle of Whole Language is that individual learners should be “empowered” to decide what written materials mean. [end quote]
Later, the article makes the crucial point: “Language never can communicate exactly what the author intended to convey.”
In teaching kids to read, Whole Language proponents utilize relativism or postmodernism, which rejects absolute truth, as the Executive Educator article reveals:
[quote] The founders of Whole-Language call reading a guessing game; in other words, the meaning of a written passage is generally anyone’s guess. Whole-Language teachers urge students to use sentence context cues to guess at the identity of the various words they read. Students accordingly substitute, add, and omit words in sentences they read—as they see fit.…As a student is at liberty to “reconstruct” the meaning of a reading selection in his or her own personal, idiosyncratic terms, differing interpretations of the author’s intended meaning are encouraged. Whole-Language advocates dismiss concerns that such reading habits leave students unprepared to examine an author’s ideas and expression critically. [end quote]
You can imagine the results. Parents of children who have experienced the Whole Language approach have wondered why Johnny can’t read, spell, sound out words, construct a simple sentence, or analyze the meaning of a story. The February 13, 1995 issue of Forbes reported the failure of Whole Language:
[quote] Parents dislike Whole Language because it downgrades accuracy—children are allowed to approximate meaning—and also because it seems not to work: San Diego schools, for instance, found that the percentage of first-graders scoring above the median on a reading test dropped by half after 18 months of Whole Language instruction. And a study of two schools by University of Georgia professor, Stephen Stahl, shows that children at the school using traditional instruction far outperformed those at the Whole-Language school. Yet, Whole-Language is increasingly inescapable: Many states have actually mandated its use. [end quote]
Postmodernists seek to deconstruct Western society by denying absolute truth even in the disciplines of reading and writing. Postmodernists within the American Church deconstruct Christianity—as did Kierkegaard—by proclaiming that the Bible is not the absolute, inerrant, divinely inspired Word of God. And the Emergent Church is gaining ground in spreading this false concept.
In rejecting traditional morality and values, existentialists uphold what they call an ethic of authenticity. You will also hear this phrase echoed in the Emergent Church as proponents reject traditional, orthodox Christianity for an “authentic” Christianity.
There are other symptoms of deconstructionism as well. Deconstructionists tell us America was founded by rich, white men who wrote our founding documents in order to control the masses and implement an evil capitalist worldview by which to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority (sound familiar?). Many deconstructionists within the Church add that rich, white men also founded the Church as we know it and defended certain biblical theology and doctrines in order to control and manipulate the masses while commercializing the Church for their own personal gain.
In The Emergent Church: Undefining Christianity, Pastor Bob DeWaay describes the worldview of Church deconstructionists:
[quote] Deconstruction assumes that, like the producer in the Truman Show, authorities have conspired to make us believe that the limited and constricted version of our “world” is all there is…In the minds of some in the Emergent Church those motives are “command and control” and the spread of white, Euro-centric male-dominated Christianity over others. Hints of such motives are ferreted out in written material. [end quote]
DeWaay also explains how this affects a person’s reading of Scripture:
[quote] Literary deconstruction has serious ramifications for the interpretation of Scripture…One can see the perverse effects of this postmodern approach to texts in many Bible studies that are far too common nowadays. A portion of Scripture is read and the question, “What does that mean to you?” is posed. So rather than seeking the singular meaning of the Biblical author, the group shares various feelings about how they respond to the text. The authority of Scripture becomes a meaningless concept because the Bible no longer binds anyone to one valid meaning….Deconstruction also doubts that language corresponds to reality. [end quote]
Deconstructionism undermines a biblical worldview in the areas of law, family, science, education, economics, history, and social issues, and replaces it with “social justice.” By deconstructing the influence of the Bible and biblical doctrine, the neo-orthodox create an all-inclusive neo-evangelicalism committed to a social gospel.
You’ll recall that Alice Bailey and her demon predicted the “new order” would come about through the educational establishment and the apostate church. Clearly, both institutions promote the same humanistic, postmodern worldview, and the roots have been with us since the mid-twentieth century.
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann in the 1960s created what he called “a theology of hope,” based largely on the philosophy of Friedrich Hegel. Pastor DeWaay reveals how the heretical teachings of the Emergent Church find their source in Moltmann:
[quote] The Hegelian synthesis denies absolutes, such as absolute truth or knowledge, and instead claims that everything evolves as incompatible ideas merge into something new and better. Two incompatible opposites, such as good and evil, combine and evolve into an improved third option that surpasses both. Moltmann applied Hegel’s synthesis to theology and eschatology, deciding that because incompatibilities were evolving into new and better things, God could not possibly allow the world to end in judgment. Instead of judgment, Moltmann set aside scripture to declare that the entire world and all of creation was heading toward paradise and progressively leaving evil behind. [end quote]
The Emergent Church, like many liberal, mainstream churches, has rejected the idea of the return of Jesus Christ and His judgment of the world. Instead, they see it as their responsibility to build God’s kingdom through utopian ideals of the redistribution of wealth, the social gospel, disarmament, and a world community committed to social justice and pluralism.