Wednesday, March 05, 2008

hunting hindu idols

Update I have closed comments due to sp*m problems.

How many emerging church gatherings have you attended?
Of those gatherings, how many times have you seen a hindu idol present?
Of those gatherings, how many times have you seen the Bible used?
Of those gatherings, how many times has Jesus been mentioned?

I need to know, because I nearly lost it in front of strangers yesterday. I have been attending the Vision New Zealand Congress, probably New Zealand’s broadest gathering of church leaders. In preparation, I had been asked to write a 5,000 word chapter (A Kiwi emerging church. Yeah right?) for the congress book, tracing the development of emerging church in Aotearoa New Zealand. And I am down to do a 75 minute workshop on the emerging church.

All is trucking along in the workshop reasonably smoothly until the word “absolute truth” is mentioned. And at this point, dialogue between myself and the audience goes up a notch. And one punter tells me that if you deny absolute truth, you end up worshipping Hindi idols. I am sure he said other things and I am in danger of misrepresenting the dialogue, but at this point I had lost it. I was absolutely gob smacked.

Stunned. Trying to work out the logic. Mentally flicking through my powerpoint images and presentation, hunting for hindu idols.

Hence this internet survey. I need to know from all of my readers:
1. How many emerging church gatherings have you attended?
2. Of those gatherings, how many times have you seen a hindu idol present?
3. Of those gatherings, how many times have you seen the Bible used?
4. Of those gatherings, how many times has Jesus been mentioned?

(I would also love to know where in the Bible “absolute truth” is mentioned, but that’s another whole arena.)

I am serious folks. I need to know …. has the questioning of the modernist understanding of truth as “absolute” led to hindu idols in emerging church worship?

Posted by steve at 10:08 AM


  1. Yep! I told our elders if we go down this path we will have a plethora of Hindi Idols filling our sanctuary. And, guess what? We followed the post-modern path and now every Sunday they fill our pews 😉

    Actually, the last time I saw Hindi Idols in a church was in 2005…in India!

    Steve, I find this the most difficult aspect of dialogue about the emerging church (truth – not Hindi Idols). I have found Ray Anderson’s book helpful (an Emergent Theology of the Emerging Church). He seems to counter the arguments of conservative modern agendas in the US with a Biblical theology of the emerging church, or as he puts it, an emergent theology.

    I had a similar experience (re: truth) with my former Bible College Principal (before I was a Christian, I had attended a Pente College). I was at a local Christian radio station waiting for someone and I was reading Karl Barth’s “Evangelical Theology”, when my former principal walked past. We had been ‘warned’ about the liberal Karl Barth. When he saw the book he shook his head and said, “I thought we taught you better than that”. His fear was that Barth didn’t believe in absolute truth and therefore I had begun the slippery slide into liberalism. The irony is when I was freed to explore what I believed (not what I had been told to believe because it was true) I discovered God!

    Anyway Steve, I don’t think you can win an argument with a truth warrior.


    Comment by mark — March 5, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  2. I’ve been to dozens of gatherings and we always worship Hindu gods. It’s because we can interpret the Bible to mean whatever we want it to.

    Is this person for real?!

    I really have been to some and of course this never happened.

    You shouldn’t be asked to answer this question. The weight is on the jackass to provide any subtance for his absurd claim.


    Comment by Nathan — March 5, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  3. Nathan,

    I don’t think that calling someone “jackass” is helpful for dialogue. (The word “jackass” has been used on this blog, but the person was calling themselves a jackass). Can you find another word please?


    Comment by steve — March 5, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  4. Alternative to ‘jackass’ – unenlightened absolutist? The conversation about truth being absolute is a complex one that needs unpacking. Is there one God? Absolutely. Did Jesus rise again? Absolutely. I fear that when people ask about ‘absolute truth’ they mean the whole gambit, not the areas being challenged by the emergent church.

    Comment by Mark Nichols — March 5, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  5. mark (nicholls),
    the thing that I found hard was that I had talked already about Jesus being way, truth, life; this offer of truth as relational? so why is one person’s use of the Bible to name an understanding of truth less valid than “absolute”?

    i simply don’t get it. i don’t understand the dogmatism and refusal to listen. i thought the Spirit convicted of truth, righteousness and judgement. so it feels like a human taking the place of God. tell me it’s not.

    and its so unfair to postmodernity which is so complex and yet is being reduced to binary views of truth: “absolute” or not. it’s like saying all Christians are liberals/fundamentalists/_____ (take your pick), broad brush strokes that frankly are a lie.

    yep, that’s a good one: to reduce to ‘absolute vs relative truth’ is not truthful 🙂


    Comment by steve — March 5, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  6. Sorry probably can’t help you with your actual question, Steve – but I do recall a time when this logic once made sense to me

    But I’m afraid I can no longer articulate why it did because it so doesn’t.

    Like the evolutionary scientist who trys to convince me he must be objective because he is a scientist and therefore evolution must be true this no longer computes (in that way)

    For the record my experience at Graceway in the years after you:

    1) Many, many dozen
    2) I don’t recall a single hindu idol
    3) I do recall biblical texts – I included plenty myself but so did others – “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”, “true religion is looking after widows”…
    4) I could be exaggerating but every single one that I can think of.

    Bless you bro. Jesus give you words, patience, dialogue and understanding… and none of the bad stuff

    Comment by Randall — March 5, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  7. Thanks Steve. I guess we need to make more careful the distinction between foundational truth and paradigmatic truth (for want of a better term to describe the ‘truth’ resulting from different perspectives and interpretations). Terminology has always been a pain in times of change, as we discover that the very terms we use in conversation are not adequate and tend to be loaded down too much with assumption. ‘Church’ and ‘worship’, anyone? Seems ‘truth’ likewise suffers from semantic overload.

    The challenge to postmodernism is actually right here, too – the apparent paradox that you can’t be dogmatic about postmodernism without at the same time positioning yourself against it ;o)

    What you have exposed here is where the dialogue REALLY needs to take place, as it is the flaw in many people’s critique against what the emergent movement is achieving. I guess we need to somehow assure critics that the sword of the Spirit is still sharp! How would we understand the term ‘truth’ in a pm and emergent context, and how might this differ in a modernistic paradigm?

    Comment by Mark Nichols — March 5, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  8. I attended Expresso for exactly a year with you Steve and I went almost every week so I would say I have been to 45 gatherings and although I am not familar with exactly what a hindu idol looks like I don’t believe I saw one. I do not believe i ever saw the Bible used though. I do not view a Bible opened the entire year. This was one of my greatest concerns that led to me not continuing to attend anymore. I even went looking for one on one particular evening in throes of an animated discussion on whether God is male or not and I could not locate a Bible for quite some time and then when I did it was an unusual modern translation which the Bible College seems to be endorsing these days – a post-modern version I suppose that had changed some key verses.
    Jesus was mentioned in discussions alot though.
    Because I was not at Vision Network I do not know what the punter was meaning but maybe his example of once you don’t believe in absolute truth you may end up worshipping Hindu idols was not mentioned literally but as it can be the thin end of the wedge – if one thing is out what will be out next. It seems very convenient for Christians nowdays to pick and choose which scripture they read, preach, believe in and which they throw off as not relevant, not of our culture of the day, (not what we want to hear) etc.
    You said you wanted to hear back from your readers so please do not get cross with me like you have in the past when I have challenged your way of thinking or disagreed with you.

    Comment by Karen — March 5, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

  9. Steve

    Hindu idols – the last time I saw one was in Francis Schaefers (sp?) book – I think then How Shall We live….. And don’t remembering him suggesting that this was a “god” that should be worshiped.

    Been going to Ex-ile – I would catogrise it as emergent – up here in Hamilton for about 2 years now, so would be somewhere between a dozen to twenty gatherings in total.

    Bible count – say maybe quarter to half of the time. Comments about Jesus – probably about the same. Could be much higher, to be honest I haven’t really been counting….

    Hindi idols – zero, and I think I would have noticed this (or maybe I am in so deep that I wouldn’t 🙂

    It is a difficult transition for people to make from logical “absolute truth” and the bible must be all true to “truth” that is narrative based. I don’t know how to articulate this to people who are still in the logic mode. I don’t have any great solutions, except that I tend to explain that the logical absolute truth deal is based in society and history. And wasn’t a concept that people held before the modern era.

    Comment by david whyte — March 5, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  10. Karen,

    my apologies if I have done things to close down our dialogue together. Please forgive me.

    Can I make an observation and ask a question: at bcnz and as I travel, I get to engage with a lot of different Christian groups. Every group I go to accuses other Christian groups of picking and choosing. So I wonder, (and here’s my question), is it only “Christians today” who pick and choose? Or is that groups find it easier to see the speck in the other’s eye rather than the log in our own?

    i guess that doesn’t make it right though. so here’s the 2nd question: if we’re not perfect in our living of Christianity, how do we grow together with people we disagree with?

    this was my failure yesterday (although I might not have been totally to blame) – that I was unable to grow together with a person who disgreed with me. i was unable to learn. that saddens me and I wish I knew better how to respond in such situations.

    (that is also obviously the failure of espresso for you – again not casting blame, simply making a statement) the inability for people who disagree to grow together).


    Comment by steve — March 5, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

  11. Hey there. Just posted the post that has been inside me all day…

    Karen, what you say raises an interesting question for me… do you need to actually have a bible in front of you to be biblical? (perhaps that one should go in the espresso bowl!)

    Seems to me that Scripture (that is the Bible, yes, indeed, the Christian bible :)) forms much of our discussion at Espresso. I remember many occasions when the Bible was referred to, in openings, endings and during the discussion. (including one you refer to about whether God is male, unless we talked about that more than once in which case i may be remembering a different time, but i remember verses being referred to…). Perhaps we didn’t open a bible to find them, but bible verses were used.

    i also looked back through the endings i have done (those that were paper based, and that i prepared at home, and therefore are stored on this computer), and like last night’s (see my blog) many had scripture as part of them. Some as quoted verses, others as words or phrases that are indeed biblical.

    our 5th week workplace reflection cards are scripture-formed, and use bible verses to help us reflect on our/others work…

    but no, our espresso discussion time isn’t a bible study. we don’t take a bible passage and go deeply into it. we come at it from people’s questions and use scripture, experience, others wisdom to think and discuss together.

    I am sorry that you were concerned about the lack of Bible at espresso. Perhaps we/I should have been more overt when my/our comments were scripture-shaped/quoting. Perhaps it would have been better for you if we had found scriptures in the Bible rather than vaguely referring to them.

    And no, i don’t recall any hindu gods either… and yes, plenty of talk about Jesus!

    (The unusual modern translation you refer to was most likely the NRSV, which is pretty well accepted there’s ome info about it here:

    Comment by lynne — March 5, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  12. I was saddened to read about the difficulties in your seminar. I just wish the person who was objecting could know you, and hear you regularly like we do. Perhaps they would then voice any concerns in a more constructive and gracious way!

    My other thought was that our enemy is still on the job, and after what was obviously a wonderful time with the children (which we heard more about as we drove back home on Sunday), he is trying to disturb you and distress you.

    I’ll pray that God’s peace will reign in your heart, despite this distressing experience.

    Comment by Maureen — March 5, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

  13. Mark (Nichols) I find it interesting that you call the person in Steve’s experience an, “unenlightened absolutist” and then go onto to make some absolutists claims yourself i.e. “Did Jesus rise from the dead etc”. I happen to believe he did rise however, some of my good friends are, what some may previously have labeled, “liberal” and don’t believe it was a physical resurrection. Does this make them any less Christian? They are passionate about God, Jesus, Scripture yet they choose for whatever reason to explore a more progressive form of Christian theology. I find my dialogue and friendship with them enriching if for no other reason they are comfortable for me to believe what I believe.

    Why do we struggle to dwell together with difference of opinions? I like what NT Wright says, “I am absolutely right about one third of what I say, pretty sure I am right about another third, and wrong about the final third. I am just not sure which third is which!” (Paraphrase).

    I think two questions arise for me out of your experience Steve.
    1) Why do people fear the “slippery slide?” It seems to me this person has reacted to something and your words have caused him discomfort theologically.
    2) Why, why, why, can we not dwell together with difference?

    Comment by mark — March 5, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  14. Hi,

    Longtime listener, first time caller.

    Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on a quiz I caught up on over here, and a discussion about the moral values of the Christian faith I had with some peeps down here in Dunedin.

    I can’t believe how much of our energy is wasted constructing defenses (rhetorical, historical or epistemological) of our interpretations of scripture. Why do we hold so tightly to our beliefs, and so loosely to the One in whom we believe?

    We all acknowledge our helplessness before God, but do we really believe it? If we think we’ve got it Right (TM), or figured out, then we’re wrong, and our doctrine has become an idol. It’s that simple. Theology must be faith seeking understanding, not dogma delineating faith…

    …Of course, by my own standards, none of the above is even remotely true. 😉

    Comment by Rory Grant — March 5, 2008 @ 8:46 pm

  15. sorry, note re earlier comment, version was likely to be the TNIV, not NRSV. my bad 🙂

    Comment by lynne — March 5, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

  16. 1. 80-100? [my definition of ’emerging’ being quite broad…!]

    2. once, possibly, in a photo of some hindu folk.

    3. too many times to count. my experience of alt. worship, the bible was used a lot more – quoted more, explored more, read much more, discussed more and thought-in-depth-about much more than the standard church services that we attended [where frankly, much more time and effort was given to the sermon than the passage of scripture under discussion…]

    4. lots. especially in services exploring new testament/gospel narratives. obviously less so when looking at the OT 😉

    Comment by si — March 6, 2008 @ 12:26 am

  17. Strange i just had the same experience, blogged it then read yours…

    Comment by Ben Edson — March 6, 2008 @ 3:43 am

  18. Mark (mark) – yep, my absolutism was intentional, hence the need to further get to grips with what we mean when we use the term ‘truth’ ;o) The ‘physical resurrection’ example is interesting, and for me gets to the heart of the matter!

    “Why, why, why, can we not dwell together with difference?” Because, eventually, those differences could lead to different gospels? More a question than answer!

    Comment by Mark Nichols — March 6, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  19. I’ve just read in Numbers about Miriam and Aaron criticising Moses. It was not a bright move. Then in Matrthew 23:12 Be humble and don’t exalt yourself because the “exalted” will be humbled and vice versa. Steve, I trust you and I will learn from this experience – which is not very pleasant, but sends us back to God Who will protect His servant. After all (the obvious) it’s His Kingdom and His Word.

    Comment by Allan — March 6, 2008 @ 7:56 am

  20. In answer to the question – i don’t think I’ve seen a hindu god, but have seen a number of ‘things’ that many in the church would say are out of place in the context of worship. Having put some of these ‘things’ in my self i always try to reflect on criticism as your doing here, more often than not I think the objections have been misreading the metaphor or symbolism or simply having their understanding of what is sacred challanged.
    In terms of seeing the bible used I think it’s often not how it’s used but misused – for eg someone said to me in the context of a sermon “the bible says if you stand at the door and knock Jesus will let you in.” Is that what the Bible says? they had a bible in thier hand as they said this. I think the call is for scripture to be living – word made flesh – sure it helps to have the written word on hand when you do that, but it is more important that we are shaped and formed by it – isn’t that part of what the word being made flesh means?
    Jesus mentioned – yep all the time.
    With the whole absolute truth thing I often wonder what people are on about, for me i understand Jesus’ words that i am the way the truth and the life as an invitation to relationship – to check him out, to see if what he says and does stack up. Through walking with him you discover the truth – it’s relational, absolutley relational and i think can only be absoulte truth becuase of the relationship. I suspect this view is probably more biblical that the modernist assumptions and arrogance that is so often spouted.
    In terms of the conference i had a chat with soemone who attended – their opinion great to network but it would be great to network more with people who don’t just put on an artificial front but are willing to show their warts. This person has been pretty heavily involved in the Vision Congress thing but finds it all a little shallow and artifical now.

    Comment by Michael — March 6, 2008 @ 10:28 am

  21. Ps did you notice your Google add box is getting a bit of a huindu god flavour – they invade everywhere – in fact i think i just found one on my desk – scratch that its my Jesus action figure

    Comment by Michael — March 6, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  22. Allan,

    i was pondering your “Numbers/Miriam and Aaron criticising Moses” comment, and then suddenly thought, what if both parties thought they were Moses? what if both groups think they are right?


    Comment by steve — March 6, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  23. michael

    do you really have a jesus action figure? i need one for Sunday?


    Comment by steve — March 6, 2008 @ 11:17 am

  24. Steve,

    This is about epistemology. Why not reverse the implication which leads the person who alledged this bizzare extraction to become a secular modernist while you stay Hindu!!

    Don’t let the buggars get you down. They have enough power already!


    Comment by Andrew — March 6, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  25. Andrew you write “This is about epistemology.” And that’s true. But to reduce postmodernity to epistemology is to narrow and intellectualise the debate. It drives people into their heads.

    And the gospel ain’t about our heads. It’s ain’t about a correct epistemology. It’s about following/seeking in relationship that invites Kingdom participation. Christianity ain’t an epistemology.

    So I can play epistemological games (I’ve got a PHD and I’ve read the scholars), but it’s a game I’m loathe to play.


    Comment by steve — March 6, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  26. welcome rory, thanks for dialling in,

    karen, do i presume from your silence that you are not accepting my apology?


    Comment by steve — March 9, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  27. There is a world of difference in Emerging vs. Emergent churches, one is good one is not so good, the one you are referring to having Hindu idol’s would most likely be in a Emergent church not a Emerging Church.

    The “emerging” church movement is basically a generic term. It typically refers to any church or organization that sees as its primary mission reaching today’s postmodern culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are thousands of these emerging churches in our world today and they span a multitude of denominations.

    The “emergent” church movement, on the other hand, is a much more specific term. It refers to those churches and organizations that align themselves, whether formally or informally, with the vision and philosophy of an organization officially named Emergent. The Emergent organization can be found online at And they embrace a very liberal theology, leave lots of room to design your own God and Jesus, that is define who they are yourself. A cut and past what verse of the bible you with to hold to be true and throw away the rest and they do embrace a lot of pagan and religious practices, really a what ever way to God you want is OK.

    So you must really understand the two are worlds apart, similar in name, but that is all.


    Comment by Dennis — March 17, 2008 @ 3:22 am

  28. Thanks Dennis. I made the same distinction at the start of the seminar.

    I would be interested to know on what basis you make the assertion that the emergent church “embrace a very liberal theology, leave lots of room to design your own God and Jesus, that is define who they are yourself. A cut and past what verse of the bible you with to hold to be true and throw away the rest and they do embrace a lot of pagan and religious practices”. It does not seem to line up with a recent post by Tony Jones, of emergent village saying how boring he finds liberal Christianity and his personal passion to engage the whole Bible? (

    I sometimes think that it is the opponents of emergent church that are doing the cut and paste, taking only the bits of emergent they don’t like and ignoring the bits that, as in Tony’s blogpost, name a very serious reading of the Bible in their quest for the real Jesus.

    steve taylor

    Comment by steve — March 17, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

  29. Apologies, have been very busy and have only just caught up on my blog reading. I do accept your apology.

    When thinking about Espresso you ask how do you continue to grow with people you disagree with. I think the problem for me came when it wasn’t just one or two people that I ‘disagreed’ with but the whole group. The thoughts and ideas and beliefs I shared seemed to be the oddity – it did feel like I was just a thorn in everyone’s side. I felt my absence would not hinder the group at all. It made me think of the hundreds of people who have left churches over the years because they did not belong – because their belief system did not fit with the people they were seeking to grow with. I now know how they felt as I didn’t feel I belonged and that my belief system was just so hugely different to what the other punters were.

    That is possibly not something that could be helped as I have a more traditional fundamentalist black and white belief which did not at all fit with that of majority of the members of Expresso.

    I still love the concept but did find we analysed our own thoughts and feelings and spent less time seeking out what God or Jesus would say on the matter from the scriptures.

    However I hold no anoymosity and count my time at Espresso as an experience I enjoyed for a time and something that has helped me as a Christian also. Peace

    Comment by karen — March 17, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

  30. Thanks Karen. appreciate you coming back. when you were with us at espresso, i had thought you were attending another church on a sunday morning and that was you and your family’s primary community.

    as you say i had always imagined that espresso was simply a season for you. i’m glad it was helpful, both at a challenging as well as a soothing level.

    strange how faith is like that, we often tend to grow the most in the hardest places. this Holy week is surely the BEST example of that.


    Comment by steve — March 18, 2008 @ 10:36 am

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