From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. (Matthew 4:17-20, KJV)

Heaven On Earth? Right Here; Right Now?

In his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith Emergent Church pastor and icon Rob Bell gives a first hand account of the distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ currently going on within this highly schismatic group through its wrong understanding of the true Christian mission. The job of the real followers of Jesus is quite plainly spelled out in 2 Corinthians 5 — He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God (vv.19b-20). It is only after someone has been reconciled to God, through His grace alone by personal commitment to Christ by faith alone, that they will even be in the Kingdom of Heaven to begin with.

This has always been the Gospel preached by the true historic orthodox Christian Church. God the Holy Spirit has told us — I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50). This is completely in line with what Jesus had said while He stood upon His planet earth as He teaches one must be “born again” i.e. regenerated spiritually to enter the Kingdom of God:

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

That’s about as basic a Christian Gospel message as it gets folks. And yet the Emerging Church is downplaying—if not in some cases completely obscuring—the essential work done by Christ in the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement on the Cross, which then leads to a huge misconception concerning the primary mission our Lord has given to His ambassadors to seek and save the lost (see—John 20:21). Rob Bell then illustrates this eternally serious misunderstanding of the work of the true Church of our Lord currently propounded within the Emergent Church when he writes:

True spirituality then is not about escaping this world to some other place where we will live forever. A Christian is not someone who expects to spend forever in heaven there. A Christian is someone who anticipates spending forever here, in a new heaven that comes to earth. The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to. And God is remaking us into the kind of people who can do this kind of work.

The remaking of this world is why Jesus’ first messages began with “T’shuva, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The Hebrew word t’shuva means “to return”. Return to the people we were originally created to be. The people God is remaking us into
(151, emphasis his).

Leaving aside for a moment Bell’s extremely careless exegesis regarding what this text actually says in the Greek version of canonical Scripture, which actually uses the word metanoeo (“repent”), something rather startling immediately comes *ahem* emerging here. Those of us who have studied the eschatology of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (aka Jehovah’s Witnesses) should be a bit alarmed by this teaching from an ostensibly Christian pastor that “true spirituality” is about living in a heaven here on a paradise earth, because this is disturbingly close to what is taught in that particular non-Christian cult.

And while there is an aspect in which one day Heaven will be “here,” what Bell is actually doing by the statement: “True spirituality is not about escaping this world to some other place,” is playing to a stereotype created by theologians in the Emerging Church of a “traditional” Christian who is supposedly neglecting “the gospel of the kingdom” while simply waiting around for Jesus to rapture him home to Heaven. This is what Bell is talking about when he says that the goal of the Christian isn’t “escaping,” but rather we are to make “this world the kind of place God can come to.”

Yes, in our text the Lord does tell us the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, but now there is this growing confusion being spread by the Emergent Church movement as to what this means. And at this point we really should keep in mind just who the actual author of confusion is. However, the next verses quoted in our text shed much light on what Jesus Himself means when He says: “Follow Me.” This missive is not intended to be an exhaustive apologetic explaining that Christ is actually referring to Heaven “there” where God is because this should be obvious enough when our Lord says — “the Kingdom of Heaven.” For now though, let it suffice to say the Kingdom is near (NIV) because God the Son had now brought it “here” to earth when He had come to die for the sins of His people.

The main reason I write here is an attempt to focus attention upon the serious threat that this pseudo-Christian Emergent Church now poses to the largely undiscerning evangelical community church itself, and in particular to our impressionable young. The gross misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God which is now being taught by Emergent leaders does not take into account that this Kingdom of Heaven is only still here on earth in the Church—the Body of Christ—which is made up of regenerated men and women who are the called out ones who are to assemble and worship God in Christ. But it is only after they are born again—this what it means to be in Christ—that they are then prepared to go out and be fishers of men here in order to lead others into the Kingdom of Heaven there.

Repainting And Reimagining The Old Social Gospel Of Liberalism

If you want to know what the Emergent Church is truly about, and why they are emerging away from the Body of Christ, then you will need to know that what these Emergents mean when they use the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom.” It’s important for you to understand that “the gospel” in their theological system has largely been “repainted” i.e. redefined/reimagined back into the old Social Gospel of what Dr. Walter Martin referred to as “the Cult of Liberal Theology.” This secular humanistic distortion of Christ’s true Gospel, which at its core assumes that mankind is basically good, was originally taught by e.g. Walter Rauschenbusch and is much more concerned in its vain attempt at making this cursed world a better place than it is preaching the need for a new birth and a new nature within fallen mankind.

This is the reason that Bell’s “Christian” message all but ignores the need for repentance. You see in his corrupt theology mankind just needs to rediscover the inherent goodness that God originally created him with allegedly restored to all men at the Cross. It’s really a reemergence of an old heresy called pelagianism which Geoffrey Grogan tells us in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary was named after — “Pelagius, the teacher who saw the grace of God simply as an aid to the self-reformation of man.” We’ll briefly come back to this completely false idea, but for now, if you look closely you can see the similarity to twisted Arminianism and apostate Roman Catholicism. First of all, let me set the record straight about this faulty premise put forth by the Emerging Church that evangelicalism (for many this is confused with “fundamentalism”) is not concerned with the physical needs of this world. The fact is that the historic orthodox Christian Church has always taught that there are two aspects to Christ’s Gospel.

There is the preaching of the need for someone to personally believe in Jesus Christ of Nazareth as Lord and Savior as the only means for any person of any race or religion to be forgiven their sins (see—Acts 4:10-12). When God Himself judges this to have been done the Bible says — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:20) It is only after this event takes place in a believer’s life that he is then fit for the work of the second phase of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is to go and make disciples of all nations,…teaching them to obey everything [Christ Jesus has] commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).

Then within this going forth and the making disciples within all nations—not of the nation itself—we can see the secondary level of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the taking care of the physical needs of people wherever the Christian may be sent by the Lord. It’s beyond the scope of this particular work to give a detailed account of the thousands and thousands of orphanages, hospitals, schools, and communities, etc. that have been produced by orthodox evangelical Christians throughout the years. However, it remains that virtually nothing has been accomplished through skepticism and atheism because these “religions” are but parasites that must take over existing organizations and then suck their life from them. In contrast it is an incontrovertible fact that wherever Christianity has gone into the world the improvements in the lifestyles of the peoples is evident while at the same the various philosophies of mankind’s inherent selfishness have produced next to nothing for the betterment of this planet.

Even Walter Rauschenbusch, the man most responsible for the Social Gospel I mentioned earlier, knew as much because  Church historian Dr. Mark Noll informs us:

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,… 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.
(Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 988)

The Unregenerate Nature Of All Of Humanity Is Evil

If you look carefully here you’ll notice a couple of things. In his work Rauschenbusch acknowledged the need for “Christian theology to address the needs of modern society,” but with “no room in his theology for the substitutionary atonement” he was himself advocating the liberal theology I referred to earlier. For those of us who have studied this insidious cult this is evident from his “nearly utopian sense of human potential,” which brings us back to the Emergent Church and its repainted regurgitation of Rauschenbusch’s stressing “of the kingdom of God.” However, with his denial of proper Christian theology, in particular the essential doctrine of the substitutionary atonement—leaving Rauschenbusch outside of the kingdom of God—he was clearly not advocating of the same Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ is speaking of when he said — Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matthew 4:17) which Bell alluded to earlier.

First of all, while in Velvet Elvis Bell does acknowledge that “the image of God is deeply scarred in each of us” (150), and that “Jesus can repair” (151) this problem, the distorted view of man which is inherent in the counterfeit Christianity of the Emerging Church movement becomes crystal clear when Bell writes, “exactly as I am, I am totally accepted, forgiven, and there is nothing I could ever do to lose this acceptance” (ibid.) This is why in the initial selection I highlighted above Rob Bell changed the actual quote from Christ Jesus from “repent” to “return.” You see, the Emergent Church has in its view a false idea that because people are still basically good then men of all religions can work together for the advancement of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Emergent Church pastor Doug Pagitt often refers to this idea as finding the good in “the other” religions and then if somewhere along the way someones decides to become a “follower of Jesus”—aka Christ-follower as they deem themselves—then this is perhaps better. If you are familiar with the book A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren you’ll know that there are those who in the Emerging Church who feel we shouldn’t necessarily try to convert people to Christianity, but instead we should “seek to encourage the growth of good wheat in all religions including our own, leaving it for God to sort it all out as only God can do” (255).

And no doubt this might sound good to other people of other religions. But the truth remains that the Bible itself flatly refutes this faulty philosophy espoused by McLaren, Bell and many others within the Emergent Church that the Kingdom of God Jesus was referring to was here on earth and that His message conveyed the idea that we should all work together in “kingdom work” in order to make the world ready for God to come to it. This whole erroneous Emergent theology is destroyed by what we read in Holy Scripture a little earlier — flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). And then God the Holy Spirit also tells the true regenerated (i.e. born again) believer in Christ through His chosen vessel the Apostle Paul that the Father — has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Colossians 1:13). So now you should be able to see that this fatally flawed view that mankind’s nature is basically good, as taught by the orginal cult of liberal theology, and then later vomited into the evangelical church by Robert Schuller, simply cannot be supported by Scripture. This is exactly why the top leaders in this Emergent rebellion against the Word have such a low view of veracity and perspecuity of the Bible .

In part 2 of his article Distorting The Gospel, Emergent “authority in Jesus studies” Scot McKnight tells us “that the gospel is designed to regenerate our hearts to love God and to love others.” However, mankind being dead in sin cannot simply will himself to “love God” because God Himself must do the regenerating.  This serious misunderstanding of the true nature of humanity is what apparently prevents him from seeing these issues clearly. The Emerging Church is trying to get us to believe that these self-proclaimed “Christ-followers” are to “summon others to become friends with Jesus and to join us in the work God is doing in this world” but this is actually impossible until these people are “born again” personally accepting Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Prior to this regenration the Bible unquestionably teaches that a person is already condemned and under the wrath of God being anything but a “friend” of Jesus (see—John 3:18, 36). Exactly what do these people think caused Him to be hung on a tree in the first place; some minor disagreement with the religious establishment of His day over just how to be friends with God so we can make this world a better place?

As we close this out let’s look briefly at what Jesus Himself said about the actual nature of fallen mankind. We’ll use chapter 7 of Matthew’s eyewitness account of his walk with Christ Who happens to be the LORD God Almighty in human flesh. While discussing the need to keep on asking and seeking and knocking for the Father to give us the “gift” of filling us over and over with the power of the Holy Spirit, in verse 11 Jesus draws a drastic distinction between God and mankind when He says to His Own disciples — “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts.” Can you see what God the Holy Spirit has now informed us about mankind’s true fallen nature? Yes, when Adam and Eve were originally created they were perfectly good, but that was prior to the fall and God’s cursing of even the very creation itself. And so this supposed “goodness” within man has been horribly corrupted and irretrievably lost through generations upon generations of sin.

For further proof we need only continue on in Matthew to chapter 15 where the Master tells us — “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (v.19). And then Mark adds Peter’s own recollection of this event when he tells us that our Lord Jesus also said — “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside(Mark 7:21-23a). For those who have eyes to see, Christ Jesus—our very Creator Himself—has clearly stated in unmistakable terms that in his basic fallen nature mankind is “evil.” Men and women, this should be enough to forever shatter the false idea people have today that people are simply products of their environment and we are still basically good so the problems in the world are only due to our wrong thinking . While Rob Bell and the Emergent Church are certainly welcome to their anthropocentric theology it most definitely is not orthodox Christian theology and as you should now be able to see that it’s quite clearly contrary to what God has just told you here.