The Emergent need for Christ

“Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, the God’s wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.” (Tony Jones “Why Jesus Died,” 4-10-09,

The Emergent church has received much warranted and unwarranted criticism over its inaugural decade. Because the Emergent doctrine is intentionally nebulous in definition one cannot speak generally about the movement as a whole. Therefore in order to gain any sort of pulse as to what is being said by this group, we are left with no choice but to look to the individual leaders who are driving it through books, conferences, and social mediums of every kind. This leaves us with quotes like the one above to help piece together the mosaic of the Emergent movement.

The above quote is emergent church guru Tony Jones, author of the book The New Christians. Though he is clear to state that he does not speak for everyone in the movement, I’ve been hard-pressed to find an author/ “leader”/ Emerging “ethos” contributor within the movement that has a differing opinion with Mr. Jones concerning relative/absolute truths. Hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t make Christianity a philosophical, humanistic understanding rather than about Jesus. I’ve read somewhere near 45 of the main books driving the movement, talked to different leaders like Mr. Jones, and was once a part of the movement or at least the “vibe” of it for many years.

The goal of this post is to be merely an introduction to some of the concerns within the Emergent church. My fight is to see that the truth of Jesus Christ be forefront in a place where people like Brian McLaren, Doug Padgitt, Peter Rollins, Phyllis Tickle, Spencer Burke and many others are diminishing His value

For the un-initiated, allow me to try to add a little definition to the movement that they do not to define. The Emergent church is a group or collection of people who are seeking to make a form of Christianity that is more relevant to our present Western Culture. In theory, it’s a way for Christians to join the ranks of the society around them and be Christians within their environment. Whether that’s hanging out with the fray at the local bar or joining a local bowling league. The premise is that Christians should not separate themselves from society into sheltered Christian circles, but they join society as Christians. They call this being “missional”; missionaries to our communities. Here is how Mr. Jones puts it:

“The emergent church is a way for us to figure out how to be Christians in a globalised, pluralized environment. Making the church reflective of the society that is around it… The push is for the church to become more participatory. In other words your opinion about the Bible becomes part of your churches orthodoxy”

This statement is where the Emerging/ Emergent “ethos” gets fuzzy and is translated into an unnecessary dichotomy between Faith and Practice. This point is also where the average person shrugs their shoulders and where most theologians throw up in their mouths. Being that my aim isn’t to help theology students but the average “Joe” better understand the Emergent church, I’ll leave the comparison/ contrasts for those capable theologians who have books out on the matter. (see- D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll John McArthur etc.) I’ll state the problem as plainly as I see it:

To make Christianity reflective of a society and culture that hates God and has made sexual immorality, self gratification, and greed idols of worship isn’t a new way to do Christianity, it’s a way to depart from Christianity. Scripturally, I believe a lot of what is being said is what the Apostle Paul warns us to stay away from in I Timothy 6 when he says:“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of Jesus Christ and the teaching of godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.

Adele Sakler, who heads up the Gay, Lesbian, Trans, and Questioning side of the Emergent church called “Queermergent” is one of many whose life has been led away from Christ and into sin because of the teachings of the Emergent church. On her site Why Queermergent? She describes her transition in the following statement:

“I began to read Brian McLaren and found him writing things I had felt inside but was very afraid to express outwardly to anyone. In 2002 I went to Northern Ireland to do a DTS with YWAM.I met the great Peter Rollins and we developed a great friendship. His teachings and writings on postmodernism and Christianity radically shaped how I viewed my faith. I could no longer hang onto certaintywith regards to interpreting scripture… There were more important things in kingdom living than where we go after we pass from this world to the next, like poverty, AIDS, the environment, etc. About 2.5 years ago I FINALLY came to terms with my sexuality. I found peace with myself and with God. Coming out was fairly painless with the exception of a few people who still think I am in sin and going to hell. I no longer hold this view and I am ok if people think that about me.” (Adele Sakler, Why Queermergent?”

I Timothy 1:15 “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Again, my fight is not against Adele Sakler, Peter Rollins or Brian McLaren. My fight is for people to know the truth about Christ before it’s too late. I want them to know that there is reprieve from suffering for the next 40-60 years of their lives and to know that they were created for so much more than simply trying to survive life without pain. Humans were created for so much more than coming to grips with their sin. They were created to experience the Divine pleasures of a loving God. We were made to communicate with Heaven, and live lives of peace and joy that only comes from life in the Holy Spirit. My fight, my cry is that people know that they can answer the question “Why do I exist”. We can have real freedom from the one thing humanity has been longing to be free from since Adam and Eve took a bite of that apple; sin.

I agree that the church in our culture is failing. Newsweek estimates that 25% of nationwide congregants have left the church in the last 10 years. The church has failed to love its fellow man as secular organizations out give and out serve the church worldwide. Yet, that lack of innovation is not our greatest peril.

The problem in the church is that it has wavered from making Christ the center and adopted a humanistic deism that puts the responsibility on the church to be inviting instead of Christ to be impacting.

The solution is simple and found in Luke 18:1-9, Col. 3:1-4, and Matt 5, 6, & 7. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the Earth?”

He won’t if we are found putting more faith in our intellect, schemes, and ministry models. The answer is knee wrecking, ear straining, eye squinting, heart wrenching prayer. The answer is a people with faces set like flint, stumbling in a dark world with only the light of His face to guide them. (Is. 50:7-11) In our misunderstanding of prayer, we have cheapened our primary tool to seeing God’s power break in to our lives, and we have been found bankrupt in our attempts to impact society.

My desire is to expose lie of the Emergent church so that Jesus can have His glory. My prayer is that those perpetrating such lies would be set free by the power of Christ that they have so wrongly ignored and misinterpreted.


15 thoughts on “The Emergent need for Christ

  1. Awesome post Zach! I really didn’t know this about emergent, we used to watch Rob Bells videos at school always good to research what exactly you are reading or watching so this helps!

  2. “The problem in the church is that it has wavered from making Christ the center and adopted a humanistic deism that puts the responsibility on the church to be inviting instead of Christ to be impacting.” – So true, love the quite, love the truth. Amen Brother.

  3. One of the most studied and thoughtful posts I’ve seen by you Zack. Proofread well, good style, and pertinent theological topic (unfortunately the newest forefront is post-evangelicalism). I would argue that humanistic deism may not capture the sentiments of Jones and co. Most would agree that God enters into the affairs of creation, however, to what extent? A deist sees creation as a closed system with God merely on the periphery without an interaction.

  4. While I probably agree with you 100% on the need for orthodoxy, especially in the deity of Jesus, etc., I wonder what the best approach is with this generation. While one approach is to pander to the philosophy of the day, and the other approach is to simply denounce that philosophy, I wonder if either of these two approaches are helpful for those who find themselves searching for truth?

    I’m sure I don’t have this figured out yet… I need to study Jesus’ approach to dealing with the Pharisees (i.e. the leaders), and the masses…

  5. Zack,

    I’m sorry you’ve chosen to believe that Emergent is full of “lies.” I think you’re deeply wrong about that, but in my estimation the Christian faith is big enough to include both Emergent (Tony Jones, et al) and IHOP (you, et al). Your version of the faith seems intent on drawing lines where you are “in” and I and Tony and others in Emergent are “out.” I don’t think God’s given you or anyone that role to judge, but I understand you interpret the New Testament in ways that justify this blog post.

    I just wanted to challenge you on what you did here – quoting an incendiary comment from Tony related to his view on the Atonement and then you didn’t follow up on it to give that any focus or intellectual energy whatsoever. Have you read Scot McKnight’s “A Community Called Atonement”? I think that’s probably the best representation of an Emergent approach to theological reflection on the Atonement that’s been written. You’re doing an injustice to Tony and others in Emergent (and your own readers) by not dealing with the actual orthodox/biblical views of the Atonement that are deeply and personally held.

    I’d argue that you’ve accepted one view of the Atonement and elevated it over every other theory espoused in Scripture and held as orthodox by the Church over the centuries, thus making Tony and others who prefer to hold multiple interpretations based on Scripture in tension. I realize that approach to theology is scary for many, but I wish you (and other critics) would stop jumping from your own discomfort to playing the “heresy”/”lies” card on all of Emergent. I think you’re missing out on a deep move of the Holy Spirit in our time, frankly, and I sincerely pray that you’ll wake up to see God’s hand in this. The judgment from those in IHOP is deeply saddening and hurtful to me.

    Steve K.

  6. Steve,

    I’m sorry you are hurt. I don’t not, nor would ever consider anyone with breathe in their lungs “out” but in need of being “in”, and I would and have laid down my life to help anyone and everyone “in” however possible.

    I do agree that there is room in the church for many in the Emergent church, and would agree that this is one of the more intense posts I’ve written, one of the more boundary line posts I’ve written; and I may be being a bit too unreasonable toward Emergents- but i stand by the need to make it about Christ.

    However I care too much about the truth of Christ not being misrepresented by those claiming to represent Him.

    I love to be wrong- I’m not just saying that- If am wrong tell me how.

  7. Zack, sorry for my delay in replying.

    I guess I’ll just repeat that I think you’re wrong about how most Emergents (myself included and probably Tony Jones, whom you quoted) would view the Atonement. I think you’ve mischaracterized and misjudged, and I’m just asking you to keep looking and listening.

    In my estimation, the emergent church is all about Christ — being Jesus’ witnesses in the world, participating with God in the work God is doing to reconcile all things to God’s self. Wrestling with Scripture and asking hard questions is not being unfaithful, in my estimation, but is in fact the definition of what it means to be faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition we are a part of.

    As Matthew quotes Jesus, I think we’ll be surprised who is “in” and who is “out,” when it’s all said and done. Don’t try to separate the wheat from the tares, let them both grow together and let God sort it out in the end. Wasn’t that Jesus’ advice to his disciples? I’m not sure why that’s changed, but you are not the first to cast that aside and make yourself the arbiter of God’s judgment. I just hope you see that’s what you’re doing here, and I hope it gives you some pause.

  8. Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google “Famous Rapture Watchers”), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if John has a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if he wants to have “security” for his retirement years and hopes that the big California quake won’t louse up his plans, he has a decided conflict of interest. Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters – who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don’t dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don’t you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you’re mulling all this over, Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 180-year-old fantasy.

  9. Pingback: Communism, Islam, and… The Emergent Church?? | Zack Hensley

  10. Pingback: Communism, Islam, and… The Emergent Church??

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