When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20)

They Worshipped Him, But Some Doubted

Verses 18-20 of the above text is often referred to as “the Great Commission” by most people familiar with it, but verse 17 is very important regarding any discussion of the Emergent Church. Sure we hear Christian-sounding ideals from them and they may appear to worship Christ, but some doubted. If one is to really be able to get a grip on what is behind the “gospel of the Kingdom” according to the Emerging Church movement you must first have a working knowledge of what Dr. Walter Martin labeled “the Cult of Liberal Theology.” For those who may not know, the late Dr. Martin was a renowned authority on non-Christian cults and religions having their origin in the United States and author of the classic textbook on the subject The Kingdom Of The Cults. When he went home to be with the Lord the Church lost one of the more bold voices in this critical mission field on our doorsteps and there has been absolutely no one to fill his important shoes.

What is critical to understand here in skeptical so-called postmodern America has been the alarming proliferation of men growing within the Evangelical church under the guise as “brothers” who are busy redefining Christian terminology. It is then emptied of its classic meaning while being replaced with new definitions that are not readily understood by the orthodox Christians to whom they speak. Men such as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones of the Emergent Church are currently doing the exact same thing that Martin was trying to warn the Church about from the late 60’s until his death in 1989; men such as these appear to the undiscerning public as orthodox but the words they use do not mean the same thing to us as they do to those who follow them. And indeed after monitoring some of the more noted emergent websites and writings, we can see there are even some within this highly schismatic movement itself who are not happy with the increasing double-speak they are hearing from the aforementioned three.

I simply cannot stress how critical it is for you to make sure the pastors and leaders within your denominations define their terms for you. Are you able to see now why McLaren has become so known for not actually telling you where he stands on a particular issue? The truth is that he can’t, because if he did it would require that McLaren define what his vocabulary of “Christian” terms actually means. And so this is why they will “play” with words, answer questions with questions and never really commit to anything–which is already your key to recognizing the counterfeit Christian. Truly if you look back through the history of the Christian Church you will find many real men of God who would be more than happy to tell you exactly where they stand in regard to Biblical truth. In fact, God tells us in the Bible that His true spokesmen – must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9). I offer this is impossible to do if no one knows what it is that you are actually saying to them.

The most important thing to understand about this foreign mission field of the United States is the detrimental effect that the poison fruit of secular humanism has had on our pagan American culture. I’ve discussed relativism many times and this itself is some of the deadly fruit of the theory of evolution. Basically what is going on through counterfeit Christian movements like the Emergent Church is a kind of mental “survival of the fittest”; let’s see who can come up with the most intellectual sounding reasons to deny the importance of the ability to reason that separates man from the other creatures in the first place. Unfortunately for the postmodern skeptic the Lord has raised up many men like myself outside “traditional” denominational structures and colleges who, along with more educated brethren, can also tell them that in order to present an argument to me that attempts to get me to doubt my God-given reasoning ability it will inevitably require me to use that very reasoning ability in order to decide whether or not I would reason that this doubting of reason is reasonably true.

I apologize to the reader but this is only one way for me to show you how ridiculous this line of non-reasoning which is currently being presented within the Emergent Church to far too many of our impressionable young people today actually is. Simply put, the attack that Satan is marshalling through men like Brian McLaren is their continual endeavoring to confound any attempts at rational dialogue where one might come up with the obvious meanings of key texts of Scripture and how they then apply to cardinal doctrines of the Christian Church. By stirring up such confusion the Devil attempts to cloud the clear implications that these doctrines have on the true mission of Christ Himself and the actual mission of His Church to the world. Even so the discernment to see through all this is available to those Christians who will diligently study the Word of God, earnestly seek the Lord in prayer, and are humbly willing to do whatever it is God the Holy Spirit reveals to His child.

Repainted Liberal Theology Marries Postmodern Skepticism

Let me just share with you a little background to help you understand the history of the antichrist liberal theology that underlies the Emerging Church movement fueled as it is by the skepticism of alleged postmodern American culture. I am aware that McLaren likes to refer to it as postliberal–whatever–still this theology has made a perfect foil for the enemy of men’s souls to use as he sows his confusion into our Lord’s Church right under the noses of spiritually obtuse Evangelical leaders in The New Downgrade No-Controversy. From Wikipedia we read:

Diversity of opinion is a central characteristic of liberal Christianity, and one which makes it difficult to define with precision. Liberal Christianity exists within many denominations throughout the Christian world, and is often described as ‘modernism’,… Because of its relations to progressive thinking, liberal Christianity is often described as Progressive Christianity in an attempt to redefine it in a way that does not associate it with modernism, since postmodernist views are increasingly becoming part and parcel of liberal Christian discourse…

It is even problematic to draw a distinction along theological lines,…since many who would accept the label liberal Christian hold to a mix of conservative and liberal theological positions,… Thus among theological liberals, some would be more liberal than others. For example, Karl Barth was more conservative theologically than Rudolf Bultmann…

Ultimately, the word liberal connotes a more progressive attitude towards Christianity based on individualism, in its emphasis on individual subjective experience, and liberalism, in its respect for the freedom of the individual to hold and express views which fall outside the boundaries of conservative orthodoxy and tradition. Disagreements between conservative and liberal Christians arise most frequently when the latter perceive that the former are exhibiting a lack of compassion, mercy, love and inclusiveness, and when the former perceive the latter to be abandoning essential Christian doctrines. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christian, emphasis added)

Karl Barth Tells Them What They Want To Hear

For our purposes here we highlight the cult of liberal theology’s so-called “progressive” approach to Christianity with its supposed superior ethic of “mercy, love and inclusiveness” to that of orthodox Christians and establish its connection to the Emergent Church movement’s own low view of Scripture and its “gospel of the Kingdom.” As we do, it’s important to note the names of Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann was a liberal theologian–a real wolf not even too well disguised–who in the middle to late 1900’s did much to destroy men’s faith in God’s Word. His “demythologizing of the Bible” would mortally wound countless mainline seminaries and in turn end up killing entire denominations. His flawed main premise was that in order to understand the Word of God in the Bible we first have to take all the myths out of it. A “myth” for Bultmann just happened to be everything supernatural or miraculous, and Dr. Millard Erickson points out that in Bultmann’s view the Bible is “not to inform us, but to transform us…to affect our existence” (Christian Theology, 910).

While Barth’s neo-orthodox approach to Holy Scripture was less liberal than Bultmann’s it still denied the inerrancy of the Bible itself as the Word of God; instead teaching that it only becomes the Word of God through the Holy Spirit, thereby opening the can of worms that is subjective interpretation. You might say: “Wait a minute, even the historic orthodox Christian Church has always taught the Bible was written through men guided by the Holy Spirit and that He reveals to the believer what Scripture means.” This is correct; but remember what I said about the critical importance of defining terms, here we see a crucial example of this absolute necessity. Barth was not talking about this orthodox view, what he meant was: “The Bible is God’s Word so far as God lets it be His Word” (Church Dogmatics I/2, 123). His position can essentially be summarized as the Bible is but a fallible human witness to God’s Christ–His infallible living Word–so Holy Scripture then is an errant mailbox in which we can receive communiqués from Heaven, but only as the Holy Spirit may illuminate an individual text to someone.

This is the main source for the subjective approach to the Bible you will see in the Emerging Church; in Barth the EC has simply found a teacher to scratch their itching ears. Dr. Terry Matthews Adjunct Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University gives us some working knowledge about neo-orthodoxy, which is the foundational theology behind Guru Brian McLaren and many of the leaders in the Emergent Church:

The Christocentric liberal movement which began with Horace Bushnell reached the end of its creative period with the appearance of Walter Rauschenbusch’s A Theology for the Social Gospel in 1917. A chief distinction of Rauschenbusch’s work lay in the fact that it organized every basic theological concept around the category of the Kingdom of God, which according to the author embraced “the marrow of the gospel.” This was the classic expression of the Social Gospel movement, and yet both Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel were to fail in their effort to remake society for two reasons.

The first–and perhaps most significant–reason was the advent of the First World War… The second reason for the failure of the Social Gospel was a post-war social and theological climate that was inhospitable to its basic assumptions… In the years following the First World War, Liberal theology floundered and died. (source, emphasis added)

A Denial Of The Holy Spirit

While these were undoubtedly the factors from the physical world, I will also add that from a spiritual perspective the social gospel of liberal theology was doomed from the start. Rauschenbusch denied the supernatural aspect of the Christian faith, the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit through believers in Christ to carry out the Father’s will for God’s creation. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology provides some important information about what Walter Rauschenbusch taught through his social gospel:

“Rauschenbusch’s last major work, Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), appeared shortly before his death. It set out systematically a Christian theology to address the needs of modern society… The volume also warned of how dangerous mere social movements could be if they lost the backing of Christian theology. Throughout his work Rauschenbusch stressed the theme of the kingdom of God. He admitted that his conception of the kingdom represented an effort to Christianize Darwinistic evolution, but he also maintained that progress for the kingdom could never take place without the presence of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (988, emphasis added).

Please note the above was written by noted Church historian Dr. Mark Noll, who is one of the signers of the Evangelicals & Catholics Together document. Noll, who is also a contributing editor to Christianty Today, continues with this historical perspective of Walter Rauschenbusch. But as he does Noll inadvertently gives us a tremendous insight as to why the Evangelical Protestant church in this nation is so pathetically weak right now that it is in danger of making Christ nauseous. Noll has already told us that Rauschenbusch’s “conception of the kingdom represented an effort to Christianize Darwinistic evolution,” now watch as he informs us of Rauschenbusch’s outright denial of the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Christ–only means by which a man can be saved–and then lauds him as a great “Christian” thinker. Don’t you think it’s important for one to actually become a Christian before he is considered a great “Christian” thinker?

Rauschenbusch had no room in his theology for the substitutionary atonement, a literal hell, or a literal second coming. He also encouraged a nearly utopian sense of human potential. And he accepted many of the conclusions of biblical higher criticism… In his day he was known as an “evangelical liberal” who combined elements of orthodoxy with convictions of the modern age… He was undoubtedly the most influential American Christian thinker in the first third of the twentieth century. (ibid, emphasis added)

Rauschenbusch was most certainly not any kind of “Christian” to emulate. And now Dr. Matthews explains that liberal theology’s ultimate demise actually came:

in the controversy that grew out of the effort of militant fundamentalists to purge the churches of all modernists… In the end, the fundamentalists failed in their primary objective, but at least they forced their opponents into a self-defensive posture… But by the mid-twenties, they had been drawn into dialogue with a small but vociferous party from the other end of the theological spectrum known as religious humanists.

At the same time as the Humanist pressure was increasing, the liberal movement was subjected to the impact of the “dialectical” or “Crisis” theology of Karl Barth. An American translation of Barth’s Das Wort Gottes und die Theologie came out in 1928. It was followed by what some have referred to as “the most devastating American polemic of its time,” Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) which analyzed the whole structure of liberal culture and found its optimistic view of man to be far to unrealistic to solve the problems of a technological and industrial society.

The new theology that Barth and Niebuhr proposed in place of the now discredited theological liberalism was variously labeled “neo-orthodoxy,” or “realistic theology.” This new theology distinguished itself from the old order at a number of points… First, it reasserted the idea of God’s Sovereignty. This was by and large a protest against the prevailing tendency to glorify man and all his works. Several aspects of liberal theology had served to cultivate man’s consciousness of his moral and spiritual autonomy. One of these doctrines was divine immanence. The idea that God infuses the individual served to nourish a sense of a person’s own goodness and self sufficiency. (source, emphasis added)

Repackaging A Social Gospel And Reimagining Neo-Orthodoxy

If you want to understand the thinking behind Brian McLaren’s theology and that of the Emergent Church movement I ask the reader to pay close attention to what Dr. Matthews is telling us here. Whether he even knew it or not Matthews has uncovered the theological underpinnings of Brian McLaren’s “new kind of Christian,” which you will come to understand is really not so new after all. As you are coming to see the Emerging Church movement is essentially a repackaged social gospel using a reimagined neo-orthodox, or new liberal, theology as its base. And we’ve already established and discussed at length in the series Brian McLaren And Evangelical Panentheism how the EC can marry these two reinterpreted views.

What Dr. Matthews tells us in his article about neo-orthodox theology here also helps us to further understand why McLaren is so enamored with two of those “living spiritual teachers” of the Living Spiritual Teachers Project. McLaren is on record saying he is stimulated and encouraged “deeply” by the reimaged Christianity of ultra liberal Alan Jones, and that he thinks Jesus Seminar fellow Marcus Borg’s work is “helpful and important in many ways.” As Matthews points out:

Fourth, Neo-Orthodoxy is characterized by a revival of interest in Christology. Liberals had tended to focus on the Jesus of history or the personality of Christ. Both approaches to Jesus had involved no necessary metaphysical presuppositions, and suggested that he was only a historical figure who had existed apart from the Jesus of myth who was largely the creation of the church… Liberals truly believed that they had been able to isolate the real Jesus as he had actually lived and taught apart from “all the theological coloring by his followers.” This man was a prophet-teacher of a new righteousness who had taught the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man“…

Fifth, Neo-Orthodoxy has a much more serious appreciation for the Church. Protestant Liberalism was fairly indifferent to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church)… And many in the Social Gospel movement feared that focusing on the church would in someway detract from their fixation on the Kingdom of God.

Neo-Orthodox theologians took an opposite position. For them, the church was the first sign of the Kingdom, and its message pointed to a Kingdom–not of man’s making–but of God’s. One product of this interest in the church was a renewed appreciation of ecumenism, and several steps were taken to create institutions like the World and National Council of Churches to help foster Christian unity. (source, emphasis added)

But Man Cannot Ever Please God On His Own

From all of the above we should now be able to see that the Emergent Church, with its “gospel of the Kingdom,” really began as nothing more than the rebirth of a neo-orthodox based theology and a reimagined social gospel of liberal theology with some old Roman Catholic mysticism slapped on top of it. However, as we move to wrap up Part One of our look at this reimagined Christian faith of the Emergent Church movement we need to remember that apart from the new birth in Christ it is not possible to do works pleasing to God. So human potential is useless in that regard and despite the often-profane disagreement by Emergents themselves Holy Scripture is indelibly clear on this point:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Romans 8:1-8).

And then verse 9 totally destroys any panenthesitic view of God, or some brotherhood of man, and it is also the key to understanding why repainted neo-orthodoxy (new liberalism) will never change that stark reality of mankind’s true condition before his Creator – You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. This one verse alone obliterates the distorted social gospel of the kingdom of God held by Rauschenbusch and his spiritual ancestors in the convoluted conversation that is the Emergent Church. As the King James Version puts verse 9 – But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

This whole passage from the Book of Romans above, and most particularly verse 9, makes it abundantly clear that our Creator wants His creation to know we are powerless on our own to ever please God before we are born again. Prior to that mankind is dead in self-ishness and sin with no possibility of ever changing it on our own. Furthermore, that we are not all a brotherhood of man as children of God by some panentheistic creation now becomes obvious – You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. You – only those in Christ – however, are not controlled by the sinful nature – as are those who are not. The Greek word here is sarx, translated “the sinful nature” in the NIV, but the KJV “flesh” is better here as the word refers to the human body.

You, however, are controlled not by your sinful human nature in the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. The meaning now becomes clear: Prior to being born again by God’s grace through personal faith in Christ and thus being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, the human being is controlled by his fleshly nature–held captive to sin. And what is more, we can see by the word “if” that all mankind does not have the Spirit of God living in them. The implication is devastating to the non-gospel of the Emergent Church: If they are telling men that we are all children of God by creation then they are responsible for damning these people to an eternity in Hell by withholding from them the only means by which they might be saved. By Emergent Church leaders like spiritual director Brian McLaren, or his friend prophet Tony Campolo, selfishly being unwilling to bear the possible persecution that comes by telling someone the Truth about their condition before the living God of the Bible they are sentencing them to eternal death. And this is the exact opposite of the Christian witness, and it is instead, to “bind” these people rather than to “loose” them (see–Matthew 16:19).

The Shattered Image Of God In Man

Now the b part of verse 9 – And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Here again we see this is conditional and simply does not apply to the total of humanity at all. And if – the logical inference is that this doesn’t apply to everyone – if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ – undoubtedly there are those who don’t – then he does not belong to Christ. Also we will notice that the Spirit of God here being interchanged with the Spirit of Christ which then destroys the New Age/New Light teaching of an alleged “Christ consciousness” or divinity present in all of mankind. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not belong to Christ. Clearly then, the person who does not possess the “Spirit of God,” which is the “Spirit of Christ,” does not belong to Christ. And since Christ Himself is God the Son, then these people without God the Holy Spirit would not belong to God the Father either. Hence according to the Bible we are not all children of our Creator God.

However, the sinner-centered Emergent Church leader is quick to remind us that Genesis 1:26 says – Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” Let me note here that it is interesting how even despite their low view of Scripture, and their constant insistence that no one can really know for sure what a given interpretation of a verse should be, these EC leaders sure do like to go to the Bible whenever it seems convenient to them. Here’s how you answer this: Yes, the Bible does say mankind was initially made in God’s image, but that image was irreversibly warped through the sin of Adam and Eve. Then you need to remind them that as we get to Genesis 6 we read – The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain (vv.5-6).

And as we now close this Part One of the reimagining of the social gospel, we can just imagine how grievous mankind must have been to our merciful Creator–a Being of pure love–for Him to finally be moved to destroy all of humanity save for eight people. Then we need to keep in mind that after the flood the world was repopulated through Noah and his family; but these were people who already had a sinful human nature having themselves been born after the fall. So as a result the image of God within their offspring would become even further marred because the shattered image left in their parents was distorted by sin to begin with. This is what is missing from the theology of Emergent Church leaders regarding their discussion of the true nature of man. Thus it becomes vitally important for you to note this to someone who has come under the spell of the Emerging Church movement’s distorted view regarding the total depravity of mankind.

The truth is, no matter how much we try reimagining a social gospel and repainting a brotherhood of mankind the Word of God and the Cross of Jesus Christ will always stand in the way…