Tuesday, August 15, 2006

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!”

Bell continues…

“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.


At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Clipper said...

Chip -- You make some very good points. I agree with you that any gospel which is incomplete is a false gospel. Unfortunately you make your case based on Scripture. When I read Rob Bell's comments -- "...and he's quoting these Bible verses..." -- it appears he has as much regard for the authority of Scripture as he does for the concepts of sin and repentance. I'm afraid your message will be lost on those embracing the Emergent "church."

At 1:09 PM, Blogger BoringChris said...

To give a slightly different perspective...

The thrust of "Bullhorn" is that using a fear-based tactic as your only method of proclaiming the Gospel would be damaging to those who have not chosen to follow Christ.

At the beginning of Mark, Jesus is clearly calling for repentance. But that's all he says, "Repent for the kingdom of God is near." There is no mention of hell, burning, or death. Paul later says in Romans 2 that it is the kindness of God that draws us to repentance. Not fear. Not "what would happen if you died right now" sermons. It's the kindness demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ.

Bottom line, if you don't agree with Rob, I think the best thing you could do would be to write him, call him, visit him in Michigan, etc. The world doesn't need another blogsite lobbing potshots at him from a distance.


At 8:51 AM, Blogger Chip said...


Allow me to respond to a couple of things you’ve mentioned:

First, you said the “thrust of ‘Bullhorn’ is that using a fear-based tactic as your only method of proclaiming the Gospel would be damaging to those who have not chosen to follow Christ.” Later in your comments you said what draws us to repentance is “… the kindness demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ.”

I certainly agree that telling people about Christ’s kindness is a key in evangelism. But how do you propose to express the full depth of His kindness apart from the concepts of sin and judgment? Seriously, if we tell someone that Jesus loves them, they’ll likely want to know what we mean by that. So we will have to explain about the sinfulness of man, and God’s righteous judgment of sin – both of which made Christ’s atoning sacrifice necessary. This is how we make known to them the extent of Christ’s love.

Sin, judgment and sacrifice together are the Gospel message. To share the first part without the second is incomplete just as sharing the second part without the first in incomplete. The ENTIRE message is the Gospel and I do not regard it as a “fear-based tactic.” I merely regard it as the truth and understand it as the message we’ve been commanded to carry.

Second, you said “…if you don’t agree with Rob, I think the best thing you could do would be to write him, call him, visit him in Michigan, etc. The world doesn’t need another blogsite lobbing potshots at him from a distance.”

Bell’s influence is quite large. His ministry is a very public one. It is not unreasonable to expect public scrutiny, especially when teaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who teaches in the name of Jesus is to be held to account by other believers. And those who teach in a public forum are to be held to account publicly. We are commanded in Scripture to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the Saints. I am not lobbing “potshots” at Bell; I am merely comparing what he says to Scripture. No one who is honestly trying to teach in accordance with Scripture would mind such comparisons. The only people I could imagine would find such comparisons troublesome would be false teachers. And they are the very ones we need to expose.

Thanks for taking the time to write. I sincerely appreciate your comments.

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Connie64 said...

The bottom line is simple: the Bible must be taken in context. That is, everything in the Bible is interdependent and must be approched as such. Chip is correct in his assessments. Using only part of the Scripture to prove a specific point, i.e. prooftexting, is the same as using none of it. Chip, keep up the good work.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger BoringChris said...

I would say that equating Rob Bell with a cult would be lobbing potshots.
We all agree that a 1-sided Gospel is wrong, right? Nooma's website identifies that "We can get anything we want, from anywhere in the world,
whenever we want it. That's how it is and that's how we want
it to be. Still, our lives aren't any different than other
generations before us. Our time is." Nooma's were intended to speak on certain issues, and I think preaching a 1-sided fear-based Gospel is an appropriate issue. Rob never says that you shouldn't tell someone about hell and judgement, he is saying that there is more to salvation that simply hell and judgement.
Am I wrong to assume that you have never passed some crazy "doomsday" preacher on the street talking about the end of the world? Or have you ever been to a children's camp and heard a pastor manipulate children into "walking the aisle"? Hasn't there been a part of you that has cringed at that and thought, "I hope people don't think all Christians are like that" That's all Rob is talking about. Not pastors who talk about sin from the pulpit.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Chip said...


I did not equate Rob Bell with a cult. I said the Emergent Church is at best liberalism repackaged and at worst a cult. I then said the more I read the more I am inclined to believe the latter – I made no firm determining statement. However, I do consider statements by Rob Bell to be among the body of work which compels me to think the Emergent Church is not merely liberal theology warmed over but, in fact, a full-blown false teaching.

In his book “Velvet Elvis” Bell speaks of changing our beliefs. “I don’t mean cosmetic, superficial changes like better lights and music,” he wrote. “I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future.”

Later he contends that everybody is already forgiven their sins. Faith and repentance are not mentioned. No, according to Bell the only distinguishing feature between a Christian and a non-Christian is how they choose to live their lives. Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ does not appear to be a consideration.

I don’t know how much you’ve studied cults, but radically redefining accepted theological terms and concepts is a prime characteristic. By his own admission Bell is “repainting the Christian faith.” This sort of a comment certainly warrants further investigation, wouldn’t you agree?

As you said the Nooma website says our lives aren’t any different. Our time is. But Bell is not merely adapting the Gospel message to our time. He is changing the message entirely in many ways. This is in stark contrast to our biblical mandate to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

God’s message is immutable. It is unchanging and it is relevant in every time for every people. But it seems the consensus opinion of Emergent leaders is that the Gospel is insufficient to stand on its own merits and needs to be adjusted in order to be relevant. This is not biblical Christianity.

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Heath said...


I think you really miss the point of what chip is trying to say. You seem to miss that while God is Love, he is also just. Therefore he must punish sin and we all have sinned. While I agree that going around calling people sinners can cause people to be put off, if you can show them they are sinners it is more reasonable. God’s judgment then becomes more reasonable, and when you understand the holiness of God his punishment becomes more reasonable. Finally the sacrifice of Jesus is mad that much more loving; knowing that we are totally undeserving of what he has done for us and that we actually deserve to be punished and not saved.

As for your comment about Romans 2 and the kindness of God, there are also other verses about the repentance and punishment take Luke 13:3:

I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

This is then reinforced again by Jesus in Luke 13:5 when he repeats:

I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Just a couple of final points Chip thanks for another great article.
Boringchris if you want to know how to show people they are sinners go through the Ten Commandments with them remembering that Jesus said that hatred is murder and Lust is Adultery.

Last thing, the guys at way of the master radio have a great video response
to Bullhorn


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