The “Five Plus Two Makes Three” Network of Bad Theology

Books people read reflect their interests. Books people recommend reflect their worldview. Books endorsed by fellow authors reflect a clique.

To test this aphorism, and as a follow-up to our previous article about influential authors and books linked with the FiveTwo Network that is hiving within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), we dug into the content. And soon wished we had not.

Some of the writing is just puerile poppycock, a lot of it is mystical mumbo-jumbo, but most of it is the Angel of Light feigning love for Christ’s church. There is heterodoxy, heresy and even blasphemy in many of the books currently in vogue among the church growth / missional crowd.

There are common threads in all the books:

  1. Scrambling justification and sanctification: “Transformed lives”, aka supposedly being exactly like Jesus, always trumps “while we were yet sinners”.
  2. Stamping expiration dates on the Office of the Keys: The pastor as shepherd is very passé. We’re all leaders now.
  3. Deprecating the Great Commission and tossing the traditional missionary onto the ash heap of history: This is a new age of hyper-local comfort missions. If you’re getting tatted with a Bible verse in the urban microbrewery whilst chillaxing with your wingman, you’re on mission. Missional discipleship replication, bro.
  4. Claiming direct revelation. Implicitly and explicitly.
  5. Suffocating Scripture in eisegetical iron lungs.
  6. Making Jesus into your homeboy. He’s cool and hip, but powerless until missional leaders with an entrepreneurial bent arrive to help with the heavy lifting.

wolf-in-sheeps-skinEverything is couched in “churchy” language and backed up with egregious proof texting. It must be very alluring for those who have no anchor in, or despise, the church that is creedal, confessional, sacramental, liturgical, trinitarian, incarnational, and cruciform. In other words, the church that Christ gave us in Jerusalem two millennia ago.

Read the output of the church growth visionaries and gurus and you will discover WWJD for the board room; Methodism for Magnates. They are pietist pied pipers who seldom call real sins sinful, and persist with the category error of declaring that the Gospel is to be lived instead of proclaimed.

The authors might have some insights to value from a secular perspective, but there is little that is recognizably Christian. They must be stopped from despoiling the Bride of Christ with this vanity project. Pray for these authors and their apprentices, because they are worshipping another Jesus whilst denying the real Jesus.

Christians have a duty to rebuke the leaders of the Neo Social Gospel as they do little more than make the world a better place to go to hell from (h/t Adrian Rogers). As Lutherans, we have an obligation to firewall the LCMS against this breach of our hard won Confessions. If we stay silent, schism is inevitable – if not required.

Discern for yourself whether the fistful of excerpts below are compatible with 1 Corinthians 15. These are by no means cherry picked. This is the flavor in book after book, page after page.

Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth (Paperback), by Hugh Halter

Published by David Cook, 2014

Endorsed by: Mindy Caliguire, Alan Hirsch, Brandon Hatmaker, Dave Ferguson, Carl Medearis, Deb Hirsch, Roger Cross, Dave Runyon, Michael Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco.

First-decision Christians are like the multitude. They make a decision to follow Jesus for what he might do for them. They have a belief in God, but they leave it at the level of belief. They may be church attenders, they may love to emotionally sing songs to God, they may love to learn more about God through Bible studies and small groups… but they also tend to prefer to stay on the shore or in the shallows.

Second-decision Christians have made this first decision, but they head to the deeper water and make a second decision to pattern their lives after the life of Jesus. He was the least judgmental person the world has ever known, so they work to be the same. Jesus loved enemies, served those who would take advantage of him, had the “outsiders and sinners” as His best friends, and helped remove religious barriers from the spiritually disoriented – so they do the same as second-decision Jesus followers.

First-decision folks take the wide road; second-decision followers choose the narrow road. First decision humans play it safe, avoid the real world, and wait for God’s kingdom to come back. Second decision apprentices take risks, become natives, and make His kingdom tangible now. First-decision people flow to the currents of what the dominant culture dictates; second decision leaders intentionally create and hold one another to the counterculture cadences of Kingdom life.

Oikonomics (Kindle Edition), by Mike Breen and Ben Sternkee


[The rich young ruler] came to Jesus asking what more he needed to do to “inherit eternal life”. Eternal life doesn’t just mean an ending life – it means a flourishing life, a wonderful life.

Eternal life means we are living abundantly, as human beings in every way. This is the destiny we were created for, the destiny to which God is pulling us. Think of it this way: nobody imagines Heaven is a cold, poverty-stricken place where everyone is sick and lonely. Eternal life is the good life.

This is the heart of the ache the rich young ruler felt that drove him to ask Jesus this question. Despite the ruthless riches, power, and good standing with the community, he recognized in Jesus something he didn’t have, some kind of abundance he had no access to.

The reality is that Jesus wasn’t being harsh with the rich young ruler. He was actually offering him the opportunity of a lifetime. Think about it: the thing the rich young ruler knew he was lacking was the thing Jesus actually offered him–a challenge to inherit eternal life. The opportunity to discover the good life the ruler knew he wasn’t fully living. Jesus offered the chance to actually have it all.

Jesus’ strange and shocking answer to the rich young ruler was not to tell him he shouldn’t seek the good life, not that he should suck it up and deal with it. Jesus’ answer was basically to offer the rich young ruler an internship in which he would learn to live the good life. It would cost him everything, but Jesus said that the young ruler could have it all, and that it was appropriate to seek this goal.

The same offer is extended to us, but to accept it, we must recalibrate our idea of what it means to have it all. Typically we define the good life too narrowly and look for it in all the wrong places.

Transformed: A New Way of Being Christian (Paperback) by Caesar Kalinowski

Published by Zondervan, 2013

Endorsed by: Hugh Halter, Alan Hirsch, Jen Hatmaker, Dave Ferguson, Ed Stetzer, Jon Tyson, Reggie McNeal, Michael Frost, Brandon Hatmaker, Leonard Sweet

I remember crying out to God, saying, “I would trade everything I have to experience the joy they find in you!”

And God replied, Then do.

The weeks and months that followed, the Holy Spirit carefully guided my wife and I [sic], along with all our missional community to pursue Jody. He sent us on an extended rescue mission.

For years I believed the bumper sticker theology that told me I was a “saved sinner” instead of the truth that I am now a saint (Member of God’s family) who still sins. The reason we continued to rebel against God and sin is that we have not fully trusted in his grace and are not living out our new identity – that we are who we are because of what Jesus did. The Bible says we really are new people, completely righteous. Jesus became sin so we might be made righteous; He didn’t become theoretical sin.

Receiving and giving God’s love is what we were created to experience. It is what our human hearts have always desired. And as crazy as this may sound, God’s ongoing goal is not to change us. He already has. His goal is to mature us, to empower us to establish trusting relationships with him in all areas of our lives.

I trust I am a new creation through the work of Jesus on the cross, I begin to live life closer to God, a life of fullness and peace. I live free from the power of sin and free to love without reservation. I learn to believe that all God’s power, love, truth, and righteousness already exist in me right now. Even on my worst day.[sic] I begin to live out my new, restored identity.

The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (Hardcover) by Hugh Halter, Matt Smay

Published by Jossey-Bass / Wiley, Leadership Network, 2008

Endorsed by: Alan Hirsch, Rick McKinley, Todd Hunter, Andrew Jones, Michael Frost, Sam Metcalf, Eric Swanson, Doug Pagitt, Bob Logan, Jim Henderson, John Hayes, Wes Roberts, Reggie McNeal

What we are learning is that God’s church can be natural, and it will emerge anywhere an incarnational community exists. People will always be drawn to people who look, smell, and behave like Jesus, and if you are committed to caring for people who move toward Christ through you, church will become a labor of love for you, as well. Fresh faces, new stories, and the whip of relationships Will breakfast to the tangible world Jesus cold his kingdom.

As you let your hope rise up, you’ll come to realize that the big picture Jesus spoke of when he talked of the kingdom was never about “church.” Church is simply a visible and invisible reality of what God does while we work with him in his redemptive ways in the world. God’s church, therefore, is always around you, but it requires your participation to uncover and make tangible.

Building a Discipling Culture (Kindle Edition) by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram


Endorsed by: Eddie Gibbs, Jon Tyson

Jesus created a highly inviting but highly challenging culture for his disciples to function and grow within. If we are going to build a culture of discipleship, we will have to learn to balance invitation and challenge appropriately. Jesus horse-whispered to his disciples all of the time, leading them around what we call the Leadership Square. Fundamentally, effective leadership is based upon an invitation to relationship and a challenge to change. A gifted disciple is someone who invites people into a covenantal relationship with him or her, but challenges that person to live into his or her true identity in very direct get graceful ways. Without both dynamics working together, you will not see people grow into the people God has created them to be.

On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Kindle Edition) by Alan Hirsch, Dave Ferguson

Zondervan, 2011

Endorsed by: Mike Breen, Reggie McNeal

We are living in a time when God appears to be changing the conversation he is having with the church. The dialogue revolves around the church’s self understanding of its mission in the world. Missional church is the buzzword for this conversation. While there are some nuances and various dialects of missional being spoken [sic], widespread agreement exists around a core expression of what it means to be missional. The missional church engages the community with the intent of being a blessing. It looks for ways to connect with the world beyond the walls of church real estate and programming.

From the forward by Reggie McNeal.

Not only is multiculturalism a missional challenge, but it’s also a challenge to our ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church as Jesus designed to be. It’s going to take a lot of thinking, loving, and reaching out to correct this imbalance in the people of God.

Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake. And yet, by all accounts, most churches can be described as primarily institutional in form and nature. That is, they are conceived (by insiders and outsiders alike) as being made up of buildings, programming, creeds, rituals, denominational templates and formulas, symbols, clergy and religious professionals, and so on. Now these things aren’t necessarily wrong, but we must not confuse this with New Testament ecclesiologies.

Seven Steps to Start: A Sacramental Entrepreneurs Guide to Starting Strong (Kindle Edition) by Bill Woolsey


We have become so focused on doing doctrine right, that we shirk doing new.

We are the means through whom whom God desires to bless our neighbors.

The single mom might not experience his grace if I didn’t mow her lawn. My sales manager might think God merely a demanding deity had I not invited him to dinner with my family. While the real presence of Jesus is offered us in food elements in worship, the real presence of Jesus is also offered to my neighbor in real people elements every day: in the baptized body of believers known as The Church.

Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary [Kindle Edition] by Greg Finke

Published by TenthPower, 2014

Endorsed by: Will Mancini, Reggie McNeal, Bill Woolsey, Jim Herrington, Sarah Guldalian, Jock Finken, Robert Newton, Terry Tieman, Gary Faith, Peter Meier, Al Doering, Matt Popovits

There is a growing sense among the leaders I am talking with that Jesus is up to something, that he’s messing with our presumptions, calling us to something more than what we have settled for. He is giving many of us a holy discontent with the status quo so that we will look up from work we are doing, pay attention to him and start to wrestle with what he is currently showing us and asking of us.

Something is coming to a close and something new is coming upon us. And Jesus wants us to pay attention.

The good news is that Jesus isn’t struggling and he knows exactly what to do next. In fact, he is already showing us and leading us into his response. And that is the purpose of this book, to help you see what he is already showing you and following where he is already leading.

Jesus is very clever.

We will discern a simple plan take the first steps of joining Jesus on his redemptive mission in the places we already live and work and go to school.

It’s why he’s been messing with us. So now he has our attention… “Come, follow me.”

DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Exponential Series) [Kindle Edition] by Jim Putman (Author), Bobby William Harrington (Author), Robert Coleman (Author, Contributor), Bobby Harrington (Contributor)

Published by Zondervan, 2013

Endorsed by: Greg Surratt, Alan Hirsch, Judy Wilhite, Dave Ferguson, Dave Stone, Scott Thomas

Something is missing in the life of the church. Today’s institution has a polite form of religion, but it seems to lack power, the power to radically change the wayward course of society.

[God] rewards people who seek him, and we need God’s strength to get us out of our comfort zones and proceed.

The core question of effectiveness – the question that ultimately matters – is whether the people who are getting saved are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Are we making mature disciples of Jesus who are not only able to withstand the culture, but are also making disciples of Jesus themselves?


The “Five Plus Two Makes Three” Network of Bad Theology — 65 Comments

  1. @Martin R. Noland #27
    Dr. Noland,
    I really appreciate this post, especially your example of ULC Minneapolis. I, and many others, continue to be deeply affected by this grave sin against that faithful flock. I still shed tears over their plight, and the fact that they are still homeless. I am deeply grieved that we, as a synod, were impotent (and mostly silent) to help them and prevent this travesty in the first place. Let us continue to pray for them, and to support them with any amount of financial help we can give, until they a chapel again. And let us pray for their congregation that our Lord will bind up the brokenhearted as He has promised. Let us not forget them.

  2. @Vanessa #50

    All the more reason to tank the DRP. It may have merits, but is so poorly designed, and ripe for abuse. Calling Dr. Noland. We need your expert analysis, so we can submit overtures to the synodical convention.

  3. Lifelong,

    Most specifically, years ago they began to embrace contemporary worship and new measures for growing the church.

    Knowing the bronze age LWML’ers and LLL’ers from 30 years ago it just makes me laugh to see them sitting around jamming to the latest contemporary pop and rock music.

  4. ULCMN does need our support. They are extremely well-positioned to build another chapel right at the campus doorstep, already owning the property on which to build, with a good design in hand, a campus center already in operation adjacent to the proposed chapel site, a strong congregation already in place, and an effective campus ministry already functioning. Construction costs are the only current barrier to putting up a church, at the University of Minnesota–one of the biggest universities in the country–a tremendous mission field.

    That congregation is faithful in every way. They could have used their funds to move further away from campus and abandon campus ministry, but showed their unflinching commitment to campus ministry by purchasing these strategically located properties instead, quite a sacrifice since it has left them worshipping in rented off-campus space while they wait to be able to afford to build.

    How long can we let them wait?

  5. @Pastor Tim Rossow #17
    We need to de-institutionalize professorship if we are to have a confessional church body with accountability for all. It has become obvious to me that we need to return to an early church model where there are no institutions. Instead, the bishops are the teachers. They remain pastors but also teach the students.

    But isn’t this exactly what “5/2” is doing? How do you keep the false teachers from propagating their individual notions instead of the Gospel?

  6. @Joyce #49
    You cannot attack a pastor’s wife for words that aren’t hers. It doesn’t get simpler than that. If you fail to grasp this fact (and that you owe the woman an apology), there is nothing I can do through this method of communication to convince you.

    I asked a question. AS answered it with a simple “No.” I appreciated the information.

    I doubt the “pastor’s wife” [who is no more ‘royal’ than the rest of us; I’ve got two in my immediate family and more among the cousins] turned a hair. She probably doesn’t read this.

    But I apologize for getting YOU all lathered up! I don’t know why, and now I’m afraid to ask!

  7. Helen,

    In 5/2 the is no teaching of theology, just leadership and new measures. I would still have teaching in the classroom but it would be done by the bishops at their parishes as it was done in the early centuries of Christianity.

    I have other reasons to do this but one of the new motivations is that we live in a post Christian world and having large educational institutions will not be necessary in a shrinking church and we are certainly not going to want certification by the state as we have now.

  8. @Mrs. Hume #10

    The MNS district convention wanted to overturn the sale. A large majority of the delegates voted to do so, but not enough to overcome the DP declaring the motion to be out of order, which was wrong of him. Then as the ‘next best thing’, the convention awarded ULC with $2,000,000. This is a princely sum, but not nearly enough to purchase land near the campus and rebuild.

    It put ULC in a tough spot. Either they had to spend the money to buy a church far enough away from the campus to be unable to support a Word and Sacrament ministry for students, OR they could purchase property near campus but be unable to build on it without raising considerably more. They chose to purchase property near campus, and have been renting chapel space some distance away for their Divine Services. They have renovated an old sorority house as a student center, and own an adjacent property to build a church on. They need about $450K to do this. It’s a formidable sum for a church of about 120 members, many of them college students. That is why they need us to pitch in.

    As for the rest of the funds the district received, a lot went to legal bills and closing costs. The remainder has mostly been reserved. Only one grant has been made for the stated campus ministry purpose–$5000 given to do campus work in the Rochester area. What a horrendous waste that whole fiasco has been.


    As confessional Lutherans, let us not rest until our brothers and sisters at ULC Minneapolis have a chapel again. Click on the “Donate Now” button on the link and give your best gift again. Let’s keep giving our best gifts to them, as we are able, until they are restored.

  10. Martin R. Noland :((updated 10/31 6pm))

    A book critical of sheep-stealing by Evangelicals, their hipster churches, and mega-churches is: William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001). On page 181 n.38, Chadwick notes where McGavran and C. Peter Wagner defended sheep-stealing in their book Your Church and Church Growth: A Self-Study Course (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth, 1982).
    Chadwick also observes that C. Peter Wagner stopped producing church-growth materials when he realized that there was no real growth in the Evangelical churches adopting his methods, only transfer growth (i.e., sheep-stealing). That is when Wagner started his emphasis on spiritual warfare and apostolic ministry (i.e., the New Apostolic Reformation, a.k.a. NAR) (ibid., 182 n. 44).

    Dr. Noland, I ordered the Chadwick book and I’m astounded that it’s all about promotion of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Very disappointed. Did you not see that when you read that book? Or, at least you could have warned us when promoting this book so I would not have wasted my money on it.

  11. My LCMS church is currently endoctrinating the people in our Bible study with the ‘Joining Jesus on His Mission’ book. It miminizes Jesus’ divinity – to make him into a camp counselor home boy – fun at parties and ‘enjoying hanging out with people’ – creepy. Finke presumes to know Jesus’s every thought and action at present looking less and less like the holy sin-convicting Jesus of Scripture. Tragically Christian churches are cycling back to their original heresies, the big one being Arianism. Jesus is God-like but more oompletely human than divine. So much for the Nicene Creed. Let’s market Church as a solution to what ails the world, lets sell Jesus like a snake oil elixir. Kool Aid anyone?

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