Few statements cause as much reaction in Christian circles as those proposing that all religions lead to God. After all, it is generally accepted that Jesus himself stated “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
One topical variant on this theme has to do with “Global Religion”, and the idea that Christianity is but one of many faiths which point us towards Divinity, the Sacred, or Enlightenment. And with the advent of Emergence Christianity, with its pluralism, and its revisioning of Biblical Faith, the Emergent Church is viewed by many as leading us away from true orthodoxy into a new religious synthesis. This urge is typified in such statements as
“From Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Native American and Goddess religions, each offers images of the sacred web into which we are woven. We are called children of one God and “members of one body;” we are seen as drops in the ocean of Brahman … we interexist – like synapses in the mind of an all-encompassing being.” (Joanna Macy, Despair)
Before we examine the question of whether Emergents are indeed leading us astray, we need to unpack and identify the underlying questions which make up assertions such as “those who follow this [emergent] ideology are the founders of the coming global religious order.” (Comment on Emergent Village)
These questions include
- What do we mean by “Global”?
- What is syncretism?
- Is there a pure, static orthodoxy by which we measure truth?
- Does emergence Christianity reject this orthodoxy?
- Should we be suspicious of a false, global end-time religion and if so how do we measure that?
- Are the only choices we have Exclusive Christian Truth, or Global Truth?
Let us set up a framework for a conversation, by addressing each one briefly:
Globalism is a phenomenon that has accompanied progress. The tendency towards a global view has always been there, especially since the age of discovery, but it has exploded in the latter part of the 20th century, particularly as multinational business interests and technology have created a homogenised culture, in its wake destroying many local cultural expressions with a new, overarching dream of consumerist bliss. Contrary to increasing diversity, localised particularity, and awareness, it reduces them. The filmmaker Godfrey Reggio observes: “Technology as the new Terra Firma, has replaced the Earth as the comprehensive host of our life.”
Syncretism is a concept much maligned by those believing that their vision of truth, normally that the “Western Christian Civilisation” is the one correct truth and that this view must be communicated to those falling outside of these categories. This can be accomplished via missionary work in the framework of Western expansionism, or colonialism.
To such as these, to syncretise, or create new beliefs and practices based on multiple cultural myths, is to compromise truth. For example, in a CNN interview, evangelical John McArthur views the Eastern practice of Yoga as incompatible with the Bible: “Why would Christians want to borrow something from pantheism – from a false religion? Why borrow a term which has been part of a false religion for centuries?”
Orthodoxy (narrowly seen as “correct belief”) is usually seen as the absolute mainstream of religious practice. But what many of those with this view tend to deny is how the idea of Orthodoxy itself is born of a relative worldview. In the case of current conservative Christianity, a view of Orthodoxy is born from the assumptions of modernism – The Enlightenment, Age of Reason, Industrialisation, and Colonialism. The spirituality of other ages and cultures is not included in their definition, for example, the Coptic, Syrian Malabar, Celtic or Medieval European traditions, let alone any other traditions outside of the Christian “mainstream”.
The Emergent worldview is by and large a post-modern one. Many of the assumptions of modernity have been rejected and in a costly, often painful process, the core vision of the Biblical narrative has been revisioned. One might say that Emergence Christianity has rejected orthodoxy, but it is also fair to see it as recovering orthodoxy from a pseudo-orthodox Modern point of view. Brian McLaren’s “Generous Orthodoxy” is one such attempt at this recovery.
In the Christian church as it now is configured, deep suspicions remain of anything tainted by a suggestion that there are other “ways” to God. That which pertains to the universal, as is especially prevalent in much Eastern thought, is automatically seen to be anti-Christian. By this logic, “Christian” is synonymous with non-universal. Augustinian thought, and especially Calvinist “predestination” in which some are finally accepted but most rejected by the God of truth, guides this logic.
One expression in recent decades is the group of teachings concerning the end times, in which a false, global religion, associated not with Christ but rather the Antichrist, comes to pre-eminence. The main basis for these teachings is the Book of Revelation, which from a literary point of view is classed as “Jewish Apocalyptic” writing. This genre is widely misunderstood by the modern mind, and many a fallacious argument about current events has come forth from this misunderstanding. And worse, blatantly xenophobic readings have lead many a Christian into deep anxiety about other cultures, political systems and nations, such as interpreting the eagle (one of the four living creature in Rev 4) as representing the United States of America, leader of Free Western Civilisation, thus underpinning a deep mistrust of non-western cultures.
A current meme sees the likes of Tony Blair with his Faith Foundation and Barak Obama with his appeal to Arab-Western reconciliation as heralding in a Global Religion, due largely to statements such this recent one by Obama: “This idea – that we are all bound up, as Martin Luther King once said, in ‘a single garment of destiny’– is a lesson of all the world’s great religions.”
With these thoughts in mind, let us re-examine the basic question: Is Emergence Christianity leading us away from Christ and towards the Global Religion of the Antichrist? Is the proper “Christian” response to reject efforts at interfaith dialog, fearing contamination by impure, non-Christian ideas?
But the fundamental issue here is that this question assumes only two answers:
True, Exclusive Christianity
False Global Religion.
But the binary nature of this assumption completely misses a very plausible middle way: Inclusive Christianity. This is built on Gods universal promise to the world via Abraham, the Incarnation of Jesus, is non-dualistic, finding connections with other mystical traditions, is rooted in all Creation, and holds as central the core idea that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
Global Religion, if one examines it in the light of the above ideas, is an oxymoron (like “military intelligence”). The word religion, despite our current distaste for it, means “to bind back” and implies connecting to our sources. And Global implies an homogenising of the planet under the modern myth of progress. It does not mean the same as “universal”, which has as its guiding principle balance, not unsustainable, unjust, material acquisition by the few.
So is emergence leading us to Global Religion? Does it have a sinister “inner truth” like many sects, which are going to destroy the very fabric of society from within, and instead of preserving God’s Truth, actually leads us headlong into error of the most cataclysmic sort? I have provided but a few perspectives on this question.
And to conclude, instead of offering a comprehensive rebuttal, let me rather ask some further questions:
- What if the gospel of Jesus and the biblical account stands not for the salvation of just a select few, but of all?
- What if Inclusion is at the very heart of God, who like a divine, brooding Hen, yearns to embrace all people?
- What if “New Age” ideas, which Christianity largely dismiss, hold fundamental truths, vital to Christianity’s own survival?
- What if the Christianity of the future looks much less like Western Modernism and much more like Eastern Mysticism, or something far more pre-civilised, more primal, more creation based, and more cosmic?
- And what if we are in fact right now, not in some future time, already under a global religion – Western Consumerism – and that what is to be feared is not so much inclusive spirituality as homogenising, dehumanising, materialism?