It is a fact that falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true. It is when the stab comes near the nerve of truth, that the Christian conscience cries out in pain.
G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton lived a few decades before neo-orthodoxy (N-O) hit its stride and 70 years before N-O’s expression in the emerging church reared its ugly head. Chesterton probably wrote these words about theological liberalism, but liberalism never used the sophisticated tactics of N-O, which used the same language as orthodoxy, but meant entirely different things. N-O’s use of words like sin, salvation, atonement, etc. were parasitic, stealing the orthodox terms, while gutting them of their meaning.
The emerging church is just the latest dress of neo-orthodoxy mixed with postmodernism. While not every practice of emerging churches is wrong (some are a corrective of the errors of the traditional church and the seeker-sensitive church), the theology of most emerging churches is thoroughly N-O. And as Chesterton says above, this makes the theology of the emerging church downright dangerous. It is error of the most devious kind. As one of my apologetics professors often says, if you want to kill a church, preach neo-orthodox doctrine. Every church that lets it in the door ends up dying.
What compounds the threat of emerging postmodern theology is its tendency to change the locks as soon as it gets in the door of a church. As soon as it starts infecting the host with its venom, it declares discernment and biblical critique to be mean-spirited, Pharisaical, and judgmental. This tactic immediately precludes any attempt to judge everything by Scripture. In no time, the hip, young emerging pastor (or “life coach” as they are wont to call themselves) becomes the sole authority, and coolness becomes the measure of all things. The very thing that would save the church, biblical authority and discernment, is cut off at the knees.
One of my favorite contemporary authors, Englishman Carl Trueman sums it up best:
Of course, if we pause for a second and reflect, it will become clear that errors which are a million miles from the truth — denial of the resurrection, say, or of the deity of Christ — are unlikely to deceive most Christians or do much damage to the church. Errors which are nearly there, nearly true, nearly within the pale of orthodoxy, perhaps which even use the language of traditional orthodoxy in nearly the same way as the orthodox do, are much more difficult to discern and to handle; and Matt. 24:24 seems to indicate that the deadliest falsehoods are akin to this kind. What a shame that the modern evangelical aesthetic regards exposing and opposing such as distasteful, divisive, and about as welcome as a prize of a couple of Barry Manilow concert tickets in a raffle at a biker gang fundraiser.