The Emerging Church, Part 3: What Gospel? By Scott Diekman

(This is part three of a five part series on the Emergent Church.)


In Part 2 of our series, we discovered how beliefs in the Emerging Church are often created through a triad of community, experience, and Scripture, as opposed to sola Scriptura. The results of this sort of viewpoint can be seen playing out in the words of Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren:


I don’t think we’ve got the gospel right yet.   What does it mean to be “saved”?   When I read the bible, I don’t see it meaning, “I’m going to heaven after I die.” (online reference)

Other big names in the emerging conversation, such as Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and N. T. Wright, pay lip service to heaven.   But their passing nod to heaven (if it occurs at all) is generally more of a disclaimer quickly mentioned, before they move on to what they really want to talk about, redefining the Gospel into a utopian vision of earth now.

So people shouldn’t think of their destiny in relation to heaven or hell, which aren’t the ultimate reality, but in relation to God–God the compassionate Father, God who loves the poor and the weak and the vulnerable and cares when they’re mistreated, God who values both personal morality and public justice, God whose will is peace and justice for all. (Brian McLaren through a character in his book The Last Word and the Word After That, p. 164)

They often speak of God’s dreams for the world and their participation in those dreams, and of love:


Our dream is to join in the activity of God in the world wherever we are able, so that God’s dreams for our world come true.   In the process, the world can be healed and changed, and so can we.   (Emergent Village, online reference)


We invite you to join with us in pursuing the dreams and love of God for the world in the way of Jesus.   (Solomon’s Porch, leader Doug Pagitt, online reference)


God’s dream was for freedom and creativity, kindness and justice, generosity and peace, diversity and harmony. (McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, p. 141)


Repentance is redefined, and original sin is omitted entirely:


How would a person make a move from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be, from the old confining kingdom of egotism, racism, consumerism, hedonism, and its other associated -isms to the expansive kingdom of God…

  The first move is to hear from the heart and to think deeply about what your hear.   …this profound rethinking is what the word repent means.   …It involves a deep sense that you may be wrong, wrong about so much, along with the sincere desire to realign around what is good and true. (The Secret Message of Jesus, p. 105)


And hell is also redefined:                                                                  


When people use the word hell, what do they mean?   They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be.   Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter – they are all hell on earth. (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p. 148)


All of the above characteristics rob the Gospel of its salvific power, and repackage it as a social gospel with a liberation theology bow.   Certainly, not all people in the conversation would identify with all of these quotes, but these are the attributes commonly associated with the Emerging Church.   There is a total confusion of God’s heavenly kingdom and God’s earthly kingdom, and a complete abandonment of a proper distinction between Law and Gospel.


Justification by grace through faith has been discarded, in favor of a gospel of works consisting of “living in the way of Jesus.”   Sadly, many people who have been attracted to the Emerging Church wholeheartedly believe they are Christians and are “doing the right thing,” but they have rejected Christ’s redeeming work on the cross.


The Emerging Church, in its zeal to attract postmodern people, has in many cases abandoned the truth of God for a lie.   Yet there is a way to reach postmoderns and still remain faithful to the Gospel.   That’s the subject of The Emerging Church, Part 4: Failing to Unwrap the Gift.

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


The Emerging Church, Part 3: What Gospel? By Scott Diekman — 10 Comments

  1. Another good post Scott. I think you really hone in on one of the largest problems in the emergent camp of the emerging church: the repristination of many theological errors embraced by some of the older liberal mainline camps – i.e. social gospel, emphasis on “now” without “not yet”, etc.

    One thing I did notice, was that most of these quotes are from the more liberal camp (aka “emergent”) of the emerging church. Some of these same issues are addressed among the more conservative people in that movement – i.e. Dan Kimball talks at length about the differences between his views on hell and that of Bell or McLaren. I think you can also find some of these same errors in the more conservative camp, although not to the same degree or frequency.

    As always, keep up the good work.

    in Christ,

  2. Scott, thank you for this eye-opening analysis.

    If it weren’t for BJS and Issues, Etc., I would have no idea how bad it is.

  3. Folks I’ve been following a bunch of threads since the Tuesday of Easter week.

    I wish I’d seen the previous two episodes in this thread.

    Can someone persade whoever to put search facilities on this site please? T’would be greatly appreciated, I’m sure.

    In the mean time would the author – or anyone else – please post the urls of the two previous articles?

    Thanks a million.

    Have a blessed Christmas-tide,

    In Him,

    Richard from downunder, where the crows fly backwatds to keep the dust out of their eyes

  4. Thank you, Norm, much appreciated.

    And I apologise for not just the query (being a new boy on this forum) but also for the two (three??) typos in that very sort post. Maybe you’re lucky I caught the others before it was sent, lol.

    On the techn forums I’m subscribed, I have a signature which says…

    “[i]Have you noticed editing is always needed for the inevitable typos that weren’t there when you hit the “[b]post[/b]” button?[/i]”


  5. Hi there jWinters. Yes, I’m predominantly quoting the more “liberal” voices in the Emerging Church, which I’ve pointed out somewhere or other – that’s where the false doctrine “lies.” Of course, as you point out, some of the more “conservative” voices stray from the straight and narrow. For instance, Dan Kimball, visiting expert apparently in the LCMS, endorses mysticism. It’s a broad spectrum of people.

  6. Actually it’s something that is repeated all over the world now, and causes a lot of friction between those who have found that fighting “Babylon” don’t actually win, so they (like I have) have come to conclusion that the solution needs to be “Come out of her”.

    The problem lies (good word) with thise far less liberal who still hang on to some of the fallacies, while in leadership.

    There is an entire denomination here in Australia, created out of three apparently bible-believing denominations in 1977 (Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregation), that is so hopelessly lost, just like those things I’ve read about the LCMS since the “Issues, etc” debacle.

    I personally see little hope, short of God-created miracles, to reverse its headlong demise.

    The super-denomination here were warned (not by me, I didn’t believe in Jesus at the time), ahead of their departure from the Word, that their “articles of association” allowed for such things to happen.

    And if anyone is interested I have one such warning on-line and can point to an URL. But that is water under the bridge, too, sadly.

    As someone who believes in mainly a pre-trib endtimes scenario (but without the rapture errors), one has to wonder if actually this is part of the deception the Almighty describes in His prophetic word, as it escalates, apparently out of control.

    Ozzie Richard

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