Roger Oakland has provided for God’s people a needed and valuable exposé of the emergent church movement. This is the most complete and up-to-date treatment of this complex and rapidly changing “conversation” (as adherents like to call it).
Faith Undone is extremely valuable on many fronts: First, we are given the history and roots of the movement. While officially of recent vintage, the roots go back many years to people like Peter Drucker along with Bob Buford and his Leadership Network.
From the foundation laid by these the emergent movement was launched in the mid-1990s by disillusioned pastors Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones and Mark Driscoll. While not all of these men are in complete agreement and Driscoll has distanced himself from emergent, these individuals continue to provide much of the leadership to the “conversation.” Oakland quotes fluently from these key leaders and others, documenting what is being taught. In addition Oakland adds another individual to the list, one rather unexpected, Rick Warren. Warren is not a “card-carrying” member of the emergent community, but many of his teachings and efforts (e.g. P.E.A.C.E. Plan) dovetail with the emergent agenda. Additionally, Warren has endorsed and contributed to some emergent books and often speaks highly of emergent leaders. If not an official part of the emergent team, nevertheless, Warren gives it much validity and encouragement.
Most helpful, Oakland has identified the major teaching and direction within the emergent movement. Some, including Mark Driscoll of late, have described emergent as liberalism for postmoderns. While old liberalism was a denial of biblical truth for moderns, this new liberalism is a denial of biblical truth for postmoderns. Along this order Oakland demonstrates emergent deconstruction of such cardinal doctrines as the atonement (p. 193) and scriptural inspiration (p. 196).
The bulk of Faith Undone addresses a few major threads that run throughout emergent philosophy: ecumenism, the movement toward and connection with Roman Catholicism, kingdom-now theology and, most importantly, mysticism. As a matter of fact Oakland goes so far as to say, “In actuality, mysticism is not just attracting the emerging church—it is the emerging church” (p. 103).
With this understanding of the fabric of emergent, we would expect Faith Undone to heavily document both the dangers of mysticism and those promoting it. In this we are not disappointed, as Oakland devotes much of his book to such documentation. The warnings concerning mysticism serve a dual role—to identify a major component within emergent and to demonstrate mysticism’s wider infiltration into the evangelical community. Oakland sees mysticism as (quoting Aldous Huxley), “The highest common factor among the world’s religions” (p. 108). Couple this with the enormous efforts, on every front, to downplay theology (see p. 223) and we can easily see that it will be mysticism that will unite all religions in due time.
Oakland’s summary of his own book explains the emergent “conversation” well (p. 220).
Ironically, the emerging church who says its main goal is to help the suffering and to help eradicate the world’s problems, is not pointing the world to Jesus Christ and His body. Rather it is rejecting the atonement, locking arms with a religion (Catholicism) that teaches we are justified by works rather than by grace alone, embracing mystical practices and altered states of consciousness, and pulling these suffering lost souls further and further away from the only thing that will ever help them—a personal one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ, who explains very clearly who He is.
Criticisms of Faith Undone will surely be prolific. The two most common will be that Oakland quotes the emergent leaders out of context and that he is too harsh and divisive. Having personally read most of the authors and books referenced in Faith Undone, I would disagree with the out of context criticism. The opposite is the case—Oakland has done his homework. I found nothing taken out of context concerning either the immediate material quoted or the larger thrust of the ministries of these individuals. As for divisiveness, I find it ironic that defenders of the faith are often accused of such when they expose those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Maybe an occasional reading of Jude would be a good balance for those who make such accusations.