On March 4th, Mount Vernon Nazarene University will bring Walter Brueggemann (Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary) to speak as part of their year long Lecture/Artist series. (1) Brueggemann is a proponent of contemplative/emergent spirituality as are other speakers that have been brought to MVNU in the past. Two weeks ago, the university invited Shane Claiborne to speak after he was disinvited by Cedarville University because of Claiborne’s emerging spirituality proclivities. 2 In Brueggemann’s case, he could be considered a pioneer of the emerging church, someone who has been promoting the new spirituality for a long time.
Many people may not be familiar with Brueggemann, but his influence has been strong within the contemplative/emergent camp. One of the projects he participated in was Richard Foster’s Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible, in which Brueggemann was one of the editors. The Renovare “Bible” focuses on Richard Foster’s six disciplines (from his book Streams of Living Waters), one of which is the contemplative practice. Among the other editors of Foster’s book are Catholics, universalists, and contemplatives; in addition, there are quotes by many mystics of the past.
Perhaps one of the more telling indicators of Brueggemann’s spiritual affinities is his endorsement of Alan Jones book Reimagining Christianity. In Jones’ book, he calls the doctrine of the Cross a vile doctrine, yet Brueggeman says of the book (on the back cover): “His vision of faith and ministry for the time to come will be a gift for many readers.” 3 A few quotes from Jones’ book, however, will show that Reimagining Christianity is not a gift, at least not for those searching for biblical truth:
The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it. p. 132
The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus’ sacrifice was to appease an angry god. Penal substitution [the Cross] was the name of this vile doctrine. p. 168
The image of the child Jesus sitting on the Buddha’s lap appeals to me and captures the spirit of this book. It is an image of the Kingdom. “The Kingdom” is a sort of shorthand signifying an inclusive community of faith, love and justice. p. 12
Christianity as a set of beliefs doesn’t work for me. At the same time, I acknowledge the need for ritual and celebration in my life and find fulfillment and joy in many traditional practices. I light candles and ask for the prayers of the saints…. These disciplines … do not require me to believe literally in angels and the Virgin Birth. p. 31
Later Jones suggests that the doctrine of the Cross is a myth made up by man. (p. 133) It should be painfully clear to biblical Christians that someone who is endorsing Alan Jones should not be speaking to Christian university students at all, and Mount Vernon University will be putting their students in harm’s way by bringing Brueggemann. We cannot help but wonder why the leaders of the Nazarene denomination are allowing this to happen.
A revealing critque of Brueggeman’s beliefs states the following:
With the facet of interpretation, Brueggemann argues that the Bible requires and insists upon “human interpretation that is inescapably subjective, necessarily provisional, and as [we] are living witnesses, inevitably disputatious.” Beyond the baseline of main claims or affirmations of Apostolic faith, we must attach only “tentative authority” to interpretations on almost all questions.
This is perhaps the crux of the matter – Brueggemann, along with many other contemplative/emerging leaders, considers the validity and reliability of the Bible “subjective,” “provisional,” and “disputatious.”
Brueggemann is no stranger to emerging spirituality. In his 1993 book, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination, he lays the foundation of current emerging thinking to some degree. In fact, emerging leader Tony Jones’ new release, The New Christians, has some resemblance to Brueggemann’s 1993 book. Brueggemann explains what he means when he calls the Bible “compost.” He says: “I use it [the term compost] to suggest that the Bible itself i not the actual place of new growth … it does not tell us about the specificity of our life (pp. 61-62). For Brueggemann, “imagination” means that the interpretations of the Bible and its doctrines are up for grabs and cannot be set in concrete. And like so many of the other emerging pioneers (such as Leith Anderson – see page 28, 55 of Faith Undone), Brueggemann emphasizes the importance of our experience to interpret God’s word. Experience molds the Word as opposed to the other way around. Basically, Brueggemann proposes that since our world is always changing, our interpretation of Scripture should always be changing too. Thus, the term “imagination.”
Another pro-emerging speaker at Mount Vernon was Dr. Christian Scharen, who spoke in September (on staff at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture). He is the author of a U2Eucharist-type book titled One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God which he touted when he came to MVNU. He is also a signer of (in Yale’s own words) “the recent historic open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals from around the world. ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ identifies some core common ground between Christianity and Islam.” 4 Another MVNU speaker that falls in the emerging camp was Eddie Gibbs, (see pp. 181-185, Faith Undone)
Mount Vernon Nazarene University is doing a disservice to students who are paying them for a Christian and biblical education. We hope that MVNU students can see this and request the president and administration of the school to reverse its present course.
For Further Research:
Nazarene Superintendent Praises “A Time of Departing” But Denomination’s Schools Sinking into Contemplative
This article or excerpt was posted on March 2, 2008@ 12:31 pm .
Category: * Contemplative Colleges