Emergent Elijah or Emergent Gideon?

A recent blog post has got me thinking. Its called “The Emergent Elijah” by Dave Green of Preterist Cosmos. It came to my attention because it was highlighted recently by one of my favourite artists who has provided a soundtrack to my life for nearly two decades. I found it on a post by artist Steve Camp who now blogs, thus making him more human and on occasion, more accessible than when he was just a performer. Debbie, my wife, grew up in the Californian Christian scene and she says Steve Camp (she calls him ‘Barney Rubble’) was always around the big events.

Images-7Steve Camp, if you are new to the faith and scene, is the Christian music artist who introduced the mullet to American evangelicals in the 80’s (a fact that Wikipedia will not tell you) and remains a hair guru today, as well as a musical hero. In fact, even as i blog these words, my iTunes is pumping out “He Covers Me” and the song coming up after it is even better – “He’s All I Need”. His “Fire and Ice” album gave me the soundtrack i needed for a series of messages/dramas for a big youth camp in Australia. I actually saw Steve Camp once at his concert in Portland, Oregon back in 1989 and have been trying to grow a mullet this year to prove my allegiance. I am a fan. Really!!!

BTW – I believe the Biblical figure Mordecai had a mullet and I can mostly prove it.

Gideon??? I don’t think we know what hairtstyle he would have preferred but a question to ask is . . . what would a Gideon do today in our emerging culture about Baal worship and our pagan-based festival that we have named “Easter.”

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And here is why i think Gideon (Judges 6) might be a better litmus test than Elijah (1 Kings 18). This is because Elijah, after taunting the prophets of Baal (“maybe your God has gone to the toilet” is the translation i prefer) gathers the prophets of Baal, brings them down to the Kishon Brook and slaughters them. Not sure exactly how. Maybe he had the Temple priests pull out their swords. Who knows? But the fact is that none of them lived to talk about it afterwards. This was NOT an ecumenical meeting. This was NOT a conversation.

Now the question here is not one of truth. This event, this power encounter, actually happened. That fact is clear. It is TRUTH. And I don’t care if you are “emergent”, “anti-emergent”, “reformed” or whatever label you choose to leave stuck on your back. What is less clear, is the appropriate response in today’s world where such behaviour is not only illegal, but also may NOT be the contextual response that God is looking for.

You remember that James and John thought calling fire down on the Samaritans was a good call “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from the sky, and destroy them, just as Elijah did?” Luke 9:54

The appeal to Elijah was a pretty good attempt at a contextual response to a new situation. It certainly had a biblical and historical precedent. But Jesus thought it inappropriate. He turned and rebuked them, “You don’t know of what kind of spirit you are. Luke 9:55, For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:56.

I am not saying there is nothing to learn or mimic from Elijah’s encounter with Baal’s prophets – even today we still run into power encounters with dark forces that require faith, courage, fighting against temptation, a public stand against evil, supernatural power from God and a missiology of the Spirit to understand it all. This is how the gospel advances, how evil is locked up and Kingdom power is released.

But not a bloodbath. Or Jesus would have given James and John the burning man festival they were suggesting. And he didnt.

Which is why I think Emergent Gideon gives us a good example of dealing with Baal worship in our contemporary world. Especially around the time of Easter. Let me recall the event in the Scriptures. “That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.’” (Judges 6)



The Hebrews called this fertility god Ashoreth or Asherah. An ancient word for spring is “eastre”. Its all related. The pagan origins of Easter are obvious and I don’t need to go over them here.

But here is the real issue. How would an emergent Gideon, located in the emerging culture of todays world, respond to God with the same passion, integrity and courage? God’s desire for Gideon was for him to cut down the pole of Asherah, something that previous generations were reluctant to do. But we cannot assume that in 2006, he would be running around the towns with a chainsaw, looking to cut down fertility poles. We cannot assume that God would want him to act in exactly the same way, just as Jesus was not looking for the exact response from James and John.

So the question is . . . would emergent Gideon honor God by NOT celebrating Easter the pagan festival or would he honor God by celebrating Easter the pagan festival that has been redeemed, cleansed, re-issued and usable as a vessel for the glory of God.

Its here that critics of contextualization suddenly find themselves evangelists and practitioners of the same concept they thought they were fighting against . How else can you explain the Christian apprehension of Easter?

And if Romans 14 is a guideline for this occasion, which i feel it is, then we are looking at a both/and situation that needs a little dose of what Brian McLaren might call a “generous orthodoxy”. For some will see one day as holy (or unholy) and others will not. But “let each be convinced in his own mind” and “Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil.” Orthodox AND generous.

As for me and my house, we discussed it as a family. Again. Actually, we are still discussing our response to Easter in 2006.

I was leaning towards NOT celebrating it, after a chat with an Indian friend, Bhindi Choudrie. Their network of house churches in India refuse to celebrate Easter, just as they refuse Christmas which they claim is just as pagan in its roots. And they might be right. But there are lots of pagan things at the base of our current worship and practice which have now been cleansed and re-used as pure vessels. Could the Easter festival be one of those things?

Yes, for some. And no, for others.

Anyway, what would Emergent Gideon do at Easter time? At Christmas time? One thing is for sure. He would be fully convinced in his own mind and would act in response to the guidance of God – a God who never changes but sometimes changes the way He works.

So this year our family will celebrate parts of Easter – the holiday, the chocolate, and Good Friday. But I don’t want to see any eggs in my house. If I can help it, we will be a little less pagan this year. We will also be tolerant and generous towards those who, after critically thinking through the issues, decide on a different approach. There is only One Judge and he is not tall, nor skinny, nor a kiwi. Well . . . some might argue the kiwi thing . . .

But another question remains. What is the cultural equivalent of Baal worship in our current emerging culture? We have been discussing Easter but the Easter festival lacks the erotic draw that characterized the fertility rituals of early Baal worship. What would better represent a similar temptation and similar godly response? Hello?

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

11 Comments

  • Ok, so, like, i saw him in concert in VA. Beach in the early 1990’s. He told a story of how a person who ran out of gas blamed it on a gas demon instead of taking responsibility. i cracked up.

  • I can’t think of anything quite parallel to Baal worship, but sometimes I think that we yankees worship poles… it’s just that ours have flags on top. Maybe in the states Emergent Gideon would cut down our Caesar-poles?
    On a different note, I was just reading last week about how our names for the days of the week are all pagan in origin: Sun-day, Moon-day, Tyr’s-day, Woden’s-day, Thor’s-day, Freya’s-day, Saturn’s-day. Once you start pulling at the thread of pagan influences it’s hard to stop, you know?
    By the way, and for the record, not all of us preterists are anti-emergent! I happen to be a new friend to the conversation! 🙂

  • I think as much as we are really concerned with combatting Baal and Asherah, we ought to consider how our societies are dominated by those gods today.
    Baal was more than a fertility god – he was the god who (theoretically) controlled the weather. This was the primary controlling factor in economics. If we are concerned with Baal worship, we ought to consider our economic structures and the “gods” who control them today. How much are we beholden to these “gods”? Do we worship them?
    As for Asherah, this kind of fertility was more explicitly s.xual. How might we be dominated by a culture dominated by such things? How might we worship them?
    Finally, why are these two gods always working together in the Scriptures? How might they work together today?
    Perhaps the answers to these questions would help in the discussion of how we might live out being an “emergent Gideon” AND an “emergent Elijah.” Then we can ask what parts of our cultures must/can be redeemed and which must be rejected or destroyed.
    Yeah, I know… more questions than answers, but you really got me thinking! Thanks!

  • I cannot understand why people continue to take snippets of a book and place them in a way that confirms their ideas and thinking about an individuals beliefs and never are held accountable for it. I have read McClaren and disagree with stuff that he says…however he was poorly quoted in this piece. I don’t think there has ever been a human being so mistaken…so misrepresented…so hated for his revolutionary thoughts….oh wait…there was one…I think they called him Jesus. And as I recall McClaren does proclaim the name of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of this world…the only way, truth, and life.

  • thanks john, i assume by “this piece” you are referring to the Dave’s post and not mine.
    And I dont think McLaren was truthfully represented either.
    Jared – welcome to the conversation.
    Matt – fantastic questions and the heart of this blog post. What evil,idolatrous, controlling influences are stealing the glory of God and must be confronted.
    If they are to mirror Baal worship in Elijah’s day (or Gideons)then they would have a s.x.ual bondage, financial wealth invested and risked, a national/cultural connection or perhaps all of these.
    Maybe the good folk at XXX Church are doing the Emergent Elijah/Gideon thing by challenging the internet porn industry?

  • I assume you’ve got ‘The Bible and Colonialism’ by Michael Prior. Fabulous text. He’d totally agree with your Elijah/Gideon parallel.
    What’s interesting is that the pagan/christian cycle continues… The christians take over a pagan festival like Christmas, then the pagans come and take the message out of it with presents and slush. Same with Easter. So I’m up for celebrating them. They’re archetypes. They’re natural human responses. But let’s keep dragging them back into line, while still enjoying them properly.
    I’ll bring my Union Jack in the summer, Jared ;p

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