Emergent's Incomplete Gospel
My first comments regarding the Emergent Church began with this series of articles. In them I pointed out some things I considered both dangerous and beneficial about this movement. And, while I’ve continued to read about and study the Emergent Church movement and its leaders, I’ve commented little. But, as Scripture commands us to contend earnestly for the faith and to speak out against false teaching, I find myself compelled to offer the following…
My original assessment of the Emergent Church was that it is, at best, liberalism repackaged and, at worst, a cult. The more I learn the more I am inclined to believe the latter. Consider Rob Bell.
Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the author of the book “Velvet Elvis,” and the featured speaker in the Nooma DVD series, is a leading figure of the Emergent Church culture. His popularity and influence is growing and should be held up to scrutiny. After all, 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
We try the spirits by holding them up against the inerrant Word of God. If the teachings therein are contrary to Scripture then what are we to conclude? They are false.
Let’s hold a portion of Bell’s message up against Scripture and see what happens.
In the Nooma DVD “Bullhorn” Bell speaks about a man with a bullhorn preaching on a street corner. Says Bell, “As I get closer, I hear the words ‘sin’ and ‘burn’ and ‘hell’ and repent.’ And then I hear the word ‘Jesus.’ And he’s got these pamphlets, and he’s quoting these Bible verses about the anger and wrath of God, and how if I don’t repent, I’m going to pay for it for eternity, and how I might die, I might die tonight! This might be my only chance!”
“Bullhorn guy, I don’t think it’s working. All the yelling and the judgment and the condemnation, I don’t think it’s working. I actually think it’s making things worse. I don’t think it’s what Jesus had in mind.”
Now, if Bell were talking only about Bullhorn guy’s method he might have a point. Ranting on a street corner may not be the best way to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But viewed in context it becomes clear that Bell is not talking only about methodology. He’s talking about the message. Bell makes it plain that he thinks preaching or teaching about sin, judgment, wrath, and repentance is a bad thing.
But what does Scripture have to say about such things?
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” – Romans 3:23
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
Judgment and Wrath:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
“For we know him that hath said, Vengeance [belongeth] unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. [It is] a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” – Hebrews 10:30, 31
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” – Acts 3:19
These are not isolated verses. The Bible is filled with references to sin, the penalty for sin, God’s wrath to be poured out on sinners, and the necessity of repentance. Bell seems ashamed of these words, these concepts. According to Bell this is not what Jesus had in mind.
Says Bell, “I mean, that’s why so many of us are so fascinated with Jesus, because he never stops insisting that God really, really loves us exactly as we are.”
I will agree that God loves us. The Bible teaches this.
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
God’s love is evident. But Bell completely misses a very, very important part. In what way, in both of the previously quoted verses, is God’s love is evident? It is evident because of the price He paid on our behalf. He gave His Son for us.
God’s love compelled Him to sacrifice His son, but our sinfulness before His holiness is what made the sacrifice necessary. God does not love us “exactly as we are.” Reconciliation is necessary. Justification must be made. He loves us enough to change us, not leave us in our wretched condition. All of these concepts together constitute the Gospel – sin, judgment, wrath, repentance, Christ, sacrifice, grace. This is the Gospel.
Bell wants to focus on God’s love apart from His righteous judgment of sin. He wants to just ignore all those unpleasant words Bullhorn guy was using.
“I mean, isn’t that what draws you to [Jesus],” says Bell.
No, Mr. Bell it’s not. In fact, the thing that draws anyone to Christ is not a matter of speculation. Christ Himself told us what it is that draws us to Him.
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him:” – John 6:44
God draws us to Christ, period. And it is when we hear the Gospel that God chooses to do this.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth;” – Romans 1:16
The gospel of Christ is the power of salvation and we should not be ashamed of it. The Apostle Paul wasn’t.
It may be more popular to just skip those unpleasant aspects of God’s Word – that nasty sin and wrath portion – but a gospel that overlooks man’s sin, his need for repentance, and the just wages of his sinfulness is no Gospel at all – and it has no power unto salvation.
Once was the day when pastor’s did not shy away from the hard truth of Scripture, just take a look at this sermon by Jonathan Edwards. May God grant us pastors and teachers unashamed of the gospel of Christ. Unafraid to preach Christ and Him crucified.