(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.