By Brannon S. Howse
Although many Americans don’t know the name Søren Kierkegaard, they know 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 ideas gained steam in America a hundred years after his death. The central tenet of existentialism is that there is no absolute truth. “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 explains how it happened:
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.
Kierkegaard’s existentialism proclaimed that “truth is subjective,” a worldview very much alive today. “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.”
Martin Heidegger’s existentialism and that of Kierkegaard differed in some ways—as did the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche—but there is room for both on the highway of postmodern thinking. “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.” In other words, Nietzsche applied the idea of subjective truth to the natural world as an atheist while Kierkegaard applied subjective truth to his brand of spirituality and called himself a Christian.
The wide way of existentialism is described by Walter Kaufmann in his book, Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre:
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.
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. Some Christian authors and pastors have claimed that the Emergent Church is a fad, but that is like saying Gnosticism is a fad even though Gnosticism is as popular today as it was in Paul’s day. Paul warns of Gnosticism in Colossians 2:8-23; 1 Timothy 1:4; and 2 Timothy 2:16-19.
Gnosticism includes the worship of angels, the belief that salvation is not gained exclusively through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that truth can be obtained through mystical experience and practices. As we will discover later in this chapter, Gnosticism also elevated women to a role of savior of mankind, and it helps explain why the worship of Mary is so prevalent in the Gnosticism of the Catholic Church. Gnosticism and feminism are inextricably linked.
John MacArthur describes Gnosticism this way:
Gnosticism took Greek rationalism, that is the musings and the mind of man, and Eastern mysticism, those intuitive esoteric fanciful imaginary experiences that mystics supposedly have and wed them together and said this is the higher knowledge, this is the lofty knowledge, this is a superior knowledge. The Bible is mundane, earthy, common and wrong.
Gnosticism is very much alive today in many forms, especially in the Emergent Church. While the term “Emergent Church” may no longer be in vogue, its philosophies will become some of the foundational beliefs of the one world religion, described as Revelation 17’s woman who rides the beast.
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. Interpretation is subject to each individual reader.
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.
The Emergent Church is gaining ground in spreading this false message. In rejecting traditional morality and values, existentialists uphold what they call an ethic of authenticity. You will also hear this phrase from the Emergent Church as it rejects traditional, orthodox Christianity for an “authentic” Christianity.
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. This commitment to dominionism, or building God’s kingdom on earth now, is not only embraced by the Emergent Church but also by the Church Growth, New Apostolic Reformation movement, and Word of Faith movements. All four of these can be traced back to a few seminal leaders.
Copyright 2012 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.