Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

Setting Up Hollow Emergent Straw Men

This a short companion piece to The Emergent Social Gospel and Liberation Theology. You will hear much talk in Emergent and new evangelical circles about their supposedly superior approach to the Christian faith, which they refer to as being “followers of Jesus” or “Christ followers” as they increasingly call themselves now. And generally what is meant by this is they want to be considered separate from the historic Biblical Christian faith recovered at the Reformation that is mistakenly lumped together as fundamentalism.

Suppose we now contemplative the followng statements by Emergent Rob Bell taken from the article Find the Big Jesus: An Interview with Rob Bell where he says:

Well…It would be great if the leaders that are telling everyone that they need to trust Jesus actually did it. I have a wonderful opportunity to actually live what I’m talking about.

I’ve had too many experiences where I was carried through by a strength that was not my own so I’m not worried about that. It is very, very humbling and I’m blown away by the people who are with me on this.

Everywhere I go I meet people who know that there is something more and they know that the Jesus life can be so much more and if I, for whatever reason, get to be a voice for that and tell them all they are not crazy, that is not a bad life. I’ll take that. (Online source)

Space doesn’t allow a thorough analysis but your first clue something is a-miss here with Bell’s social gospel is that this interview was even carried on the highly ecumenical interspiritual all-roads-lead-to-god website in the first place. You see those of us who preach the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ are not asked to appear on such nebulous centered on man’s musings websites in the first place.

That aside, Bell opens with a classic Emergent and new evangelical straw man. Skillfully repainting his Elvis-sized tall tale with the hugest of broad brushes Bell enlightens us “the leaders” who “are telling everyone that they need to trust Jesus” aren’t living this way themselves. And no doubt this would have some truth; but exactly who these “leaders” are we’re never actually told. This is like the school principal who receives a phone call from the bus driver about how the kids “were all acting up” when it in fact was but two or three.

In the second paragraph where Bell talks about being “carried through by a strength that was not my own” we hear a strictly subjective experience that actually proves nothing in and of itself. And as far as “people who are with” him in his repackaged social gospel the same can be said as well for someone whose message is diametrically opposed to that of Bell’s e.g. Dr. John MacArthur. But my focal point here is the statement Bell makes when says he often meets:

people who know that there is something more and they know that the Jesus life can be so much more and if I, for whatever reason, get to be a voice for that and tell them all they are not crazy, that is not a bad life.

The problem is that none of us who hold to the doctrines of grace, which most assuredly encompasses the sola Scriptura Bell flatly rejects, deny “the Jesus life can be so much more.” There’s nothing in the Biblical faith of the Reformers that excuses Christians from doing any of the mission and social work the Emergent Church exhibits so much spiritual pride in telling us they perform. In classic cult fashion this in itself is another straw man designed to create a supposed need for the indoctrinated to feel that their particular group has some special calling.

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ Has Always Included Social Responsibility

But the fact remains that since its very inception the historic orthodox Christian Church has been responsible for the feeding of countless people, building innumerable hospitals and creating untold institutes of learning long, long before Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball or Rob Bell ever showed up on the scene. A case in point would be the Salvation Army and its founder William Booth. While commenting on the opening verse at the top of this piece Booth said:

Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again–until you can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.

In closing this out here’s a short biographical sketch of William Booth and what happened through his ministry of preaching the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ, the same one preached by men like Tozer and MacArthur:

William Booth was converted to Christ in 1844 and soon developed an intense passion for the slum dwellers of London. That passion led Booth and his wife Catherine, to found an agency that ministered to both the spiritual and physical needs of the poor. Their commitment to doing what Jesus would do resulted in that agency, the Salvation Army, having a worldwide effect on the souls of millions of people, continuing to this day.

What most people don’t realize is the terrible persecution Booth and his early followers suffered because of their commitment to doing what Jesus would do. The newspapers openly reviled Booth. In 1889 there were 669 known assaults on Salvation Army workers–some were killed, others maimed. There were instances of dead animals being thrown at the workers, pots of human urine poured on them, lime thrown into the eyes of a worker’s child.

A group of thugs who, in parody, called themselves the “Skeleton Army” took great delight in disrupting meetings, frequently storming Salvation Army halls, breaking windows and trashing the building. At first the police offered little help. Instead they too harassed Booth and his followers. Such adversity is what can happen [and will happen] when the enemy wants to halt the work of those who would do what Jesus would do. (Nick Harrison, 365 WWJD?, 28)

Well that is, when we do what the Jesus of the Bible would do (see–2 Corinthians 11:4). Carefully consider the above reaction by those the Salvation Army was trying to reach for Jesus, as well as thinking about what happened to those working with William Booth, and it all seems remarkably similar to the way the world received Christ’s initial Apostles. But now prayerfully contrast all of the this with the easy-going popularity of men like Rob Bell and Erwin Raphael McManus with their numerous media interviews, speaking engagements and lucrative book deals because:

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. (1 John 4:5)