The Emerging Church: A Magnet for Rebels


December 4, 2013 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article)

The following is excerpted from our book
What Is the Emerging Church? which is available from Way of Life Literature.

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The emerging church is a magnet for those who have rejected the “old-fashioned” New Testament faith and who despise traditional Bible-believing churches, dogmatic biblical preaching, and biblical “judgmentalism” in regard to lifestyle choices.

Many of the books I have read by emerging leaders make this admission.

For example, in
Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller tells how that he refused to be restricted by the teaching of traditional-type churches. He wanted to drink beer and watch raunchy movies and talk trashy and run around with atheists and other rebels. In discussing his involvement in church in his youth he says, “I wished I could have subscribed to aspects of Christianity but not the whole thing” (p. 30). He complains, “In order to believe Christianity, you either had to reduce enormous theological absurdities [i.e., Garden of Eden, universal flood] into children’s stories or ignore them” (p. 31). He wanted to believe the gospel “free from the clasp of fairy tale” (p. 35). In other words, he wanted to pick and choose what parts of the Bible he would believe. He despised dogmatic Bible preaching and hated it when preachers “said we had to follow Jesus” because “sometimes they would make Him sound angry” (p. 34).

In fact, Jesus
was angry sometimes even in His incarnation (“he looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts,” Mark 3:5), and He will be very angry in the future when the wrath of the Lamb is poured out upon mankind as described in the book of Revelation and many other places in Scripture!

When Miller decided to attend a raunchy secular college in Portland, Oregon, where most of the students are atheists and agnostics and they use drugs and openly fornicate and sometimes run around naked, a Christian friend sat him down and warned him that God did not want him to attend there. That was good biblical advice (e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 3:5; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17), but Miller ignored the warning and felt that the wicked atmosphere was a liberating experience. He writes: “The first day of school was exhilarating. It was better than high school. Reed had ashtrays, and everybody said cusswords” (p. 38). After spending time with drug-using, atheistic hippies who lived in the woods he said, “I had discovered life outside the church, and I liked it. As I said, I preferred it” (p. 210).

At a book signing event, one enthusiastic reader of Miller’s
Blue Like Jazz said: “I love Blue Like Jazz because it’s, like, a Christian book, but it doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself” (“A Better Storyteller,” Christianity Today, June 2007). Another said: “I’ve already bought Blue Like Jazz 13 times. But I gotta have all these to give to people. I’m a Jesus girl, but I also like to go out and do tequila shots with my friends. This is a book I can give to those friends.”

Some members of Spirit Garage meet in an Irish bar in downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday for a weekly Theology Pub, a mix of biblical discussion and beer. Lindsey Gice, a member of Spirit Garage, says that when the subject of Christianity comes up, “I always feel like I have to qualify it, like, ‘I’m not that kind of Christian, I go to a cool church’” (“Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer,”
New York Times, Feb. 18, 2004). Gice said that she left church after high school because her former churches were “way too judgmental.”

Brian McLaren’s book
A New Kind of Christian is the story of a pastor who rejects the Bible in a “crisis of faith” and follows the guidance of a modernist. The book recounts the man’s journey from a fairly solid faith in the Bible as the absolute standard for truth, in which doctrine is either right or wrong, scriptural or unscriptural, to a pliable, philosophical position in which “faith is more about a way of life than a system of belief, where being authentically good is more important than being doctrinally right” (from the back cover of A New Kind of Christian).

In
A Renegade’s Guide to God, David Foster mocks “Bible thumpers” and calls for a “renegade” type of Christianity that “resists being named, revolts at being shamed, and rebels against being tamed” (p. 8). He says, “We won’t be ‘told’ what to do or ‘commanded’ how to behave’” (p. 10).

Nanette Sawyer, in her chapter in
An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, begins by describing her “explicit rejection of Christianity” (p. 43). She rejected the division of people into categories of saved and unsaved. She rejected the restriction on women church leaders. She renounced the doctrine that man is “inherently bad” and the necessity of judging oneself a sinner. She complains, “This didn’t leave any room for questions, doubts, or growth in faith.”

The testimony of Anna Dodridge of Bournemouth, England, is featured in the book
Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. She describes how that she grew up in a Christian home but fell in love with the world and got deeply involved in the club culture, which involves all night dance and drug parties. Her interests were “in drinking and kissing boys” (p. 262). She got fed up with the churches because they “refused to support me” and “couldn’t see how I could possibly want to go into nightclubs, and they thought it was disgraceful that we were encouraging the culture.” As a result, she “went off to Ibiza, Spain (a magnet for clubbers from all over Europe) for a couple of weeks.” She and others that support the emerging church philosophy are “fed up with traditional church, heavy-handed guidance” (p. 264).

The membership of the emerging church congregation called Revive in Leeds, England, is “mainly made up of people who didn’t fit into ‘regular’ church. They were too cynical, too rebellious, too radical” (
Emerging Church, p. 273).

Jonny Baker of Grace in London, England, says: “We once did a service called ‘we’re right, follow us’ that explored the discomfort we all feel with that old-school, arrogant approach to evangelism” (
Emerging Church, p. 123).

Donald McCullough complains about those who make “cocksure pronouncements about God” and engage in “doctrinal warfare” and are “eager to condemn others to hell” (
If Grace Is So Amazing, Why Don’t We Like It, p. 25). He is opposed to preachers who “crack the whip of the imperative (‘Do this!’) [rather] than announce the news of the indicative (‘God has done this!’)” (p. 78). He doesn’t like the type of preaching that says, “... don’t do that, curb your appetites, reign in desire, discipline and sacrifice yourself” (p. 104). He claims that grace means “we may relax in our humanity” (p. 141).

These people are rebels against the plain teaching of the Bible, and as a magnet for rebellion the emerging church holds a wide attraction in these last days as prophesied in Scripture:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This prophecy describes a great turning away from the truth among professing Christians. It says they will reject the sound teaching of the Bible and desire a new type of Christianity that allows them to live after their own lusts. That is a strange type of Christianity, but we are seeing its fulfillment before our very eyes. The prophecy says there will be heaps of teachers who will give the people this new type of Christianity, and this is exactly what we see. Christian bookstores are filled with books and the Internet is filled with Christian articles and blogs, but the majority of this material does not contain the straightforward preaching of God’s Word that reproves, rebukes, and exhorts (2 Timothy 4:2). Rather, they are filled with doctrine that scratches the itching ears of those who have rejected the Bible. They are filled with pop novelties, psychology, self-esteemism, pampering of the ego, friendship with the world, heresies, questionings, boastings, doubtings, illicit fellowship with error (e.g., evangelicals and contemplative spirituality), railings against “legalism” falsely so called, fairy tales, fictional romance, reconstructed history, fascination with ancient heretics wrongly called “church fathers,” and many other such things.

The New Evangelicalism of the 1950s was a rebellion against strict biblical Christianity, and the emerging church is simply a step further in that fearful direction.

Rebellion is a natural product of our fallen nature. The Old Man, as it is called in Scripture, which we inherited from Adam’s fall, is at enmity against God and His Word. True Christianity requires a new birth. There are no “second generation” Christians in the true biblical sense. Thus each person that grows up in a Christian home and church must come to grips with the gospel for himself and herself, and because the devil and the indwelling fallen nature are real, there is a spiritual battle that must be waged. I faced this battle in my youth. I grew up in a Bible-believing church and went through the motions of receiving Christ and joining the church, but I wanted my own way more than Christ’s. I rejected the Bible, left the church, and went very far into the world before being converted at age 23. Emerging church philosophy would doubtless have been appealing to me in my unsaved, rebellious condition.

Because of this ongoing battle that rages with each new generation, the rebellion that is part and parcel of the emerging church philosophy is very enticing to a wide range of people.

-- This article is excerpted from our new book
What Is the Emerging Church? which is available from Way of Life Literature.

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About Way of Life - The name “Way of Life” is from Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” The biblical instruction that molds men to God’s will requires reproof. It is not strictly positive. It does not focus on man’s “self-esteem.” It does not avoid controversial or unpopular subjects. It warns as well as comforts. It deals with sin and false teaching in a plain manner. It is reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2). This is what we seek to do through Way of Life Literature. The Way of Life preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. A mail stop is maintained in Port Huron, Michigan.

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