Home Youth Leaders Youth Leaders Blogs What is the Emergent Church Movement Doing Today? (Part 2)

What is the Emergent Church Movement Doing Today? (Part 2)

As I began to update myself on these men in the liberal emergent group (again, I have read their books, listened to them live and online and talked with them in person), I was struck by something obvious.  I wrestled with where they were coming from – where their “roots” were located or where their foundation was placed in their theology, because I sensed something was off according to what I understood the Bible to say.

I felt this way when reading Rob Bell’s books, Velvet Elvis and Love Wins (I blogged about it here).  I have felt it when reading other books by these men in the emergent church.  They like to “deconstruct” everything about Christian Theology and Praxis (evaluation of practice).  They like conversations, not debates.  In general, they are disillusioned by the institutional church (and some have hurt in their past causing them to react).  They like all things related to love and at times to disagree might not seem loving to them.  Tolerance is a value for this group with no one having the keys to Truth leading to accountability.  Evangelism is not a value at all (as evidenced by no reports of people coming to a saving faith in Christ).  They are all smart men.  Many of them have advanced degrees and name names of theologians and philosophers they have studied or written about in their books (the average lay person has never heard of these men they are referencing).

Are you ready for the obvious thing I discovered?  Forgive me for being slow on this.  I discovered that the liberal branch of the emergent church group (Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Leonard Sweet, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones to name a few) is starting from a liberal theological foundation.  There it is.  But what do I mean by liberal theological foundation?

Let me explain with directness…
Most in the liberal emergent camp are either professing Panentheists or their theology is informed by this belief.  If you listen and read carefully and with discernment, you will discover that they ascribe to a god who not only created the world, but “personally exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it.”  In other words, the whole is IN God (like the universe is one of his body parts) and he is in everything (like he is as small as an ant).  To be fair, this is not Pantheism that believes that God and the universe are the same thing and thus there is no personal God.  They believe in a relational God, but that he is literally connected to everything including plants, animals, stars and people of all religions.  Thus everyone has a “spark of the divine” inside waiting to come out.

Panentheism is imbedded and inner-twined with Mysticism, Hinduism, Manichaeism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Kabbalism, Bahai Faith, Native American Beliefs and the New Age Movement.  Oh, and Gnosticism.  Do you remember which false teachers the Apostle Paul was attacking most of the time?…yes, the Gnostics.  Just read the links I have provided above with each belief system and look closely at how they are all connected with panentheism.

Why is this important?  
Because most panentheists believe in what is called Process Theology and Universalism (i.e. Love Wins by Bell and A New Kind of Christianity by McLaren).  These books are steeped with Process Theology and Universalism because Bell and McLaren are panentheists.

Keep reading…

In Process Theology (PT) the only constant is change including a changing God.  In their thinking, God is changing with the universe that he is tied to, thus he is changing and adapting.  PTers holds that God is not omnipotent (all powerful), but is limited.  Limited by what, I wonder?  He is GOD!  PTers emphasis experiences over order.  Thus, feelings seem to be more important than Absolute Truth (which does not exist for them).  They believe God has always been connected to one world or another even before the earth was created.  This sounds like Morman Theology.  PTers hold to the idea that God is connected and working in all religions of the world, not just Christianity.  Finally, the strict Process Theology folks which most of the liberal emergent leaders ascribe do not believe Jesus Christ was God, but just “the divine word in human form.”  Thus, he was not 100% God and 100% human at the same time when He walked the earth.  
Maybe you can see how universalism fits into the Process Theology system of thought.  If everything is in God and if God changes and everything will be aliened with him in the end then when it all is said and done we will all be saved for eternity.  There is no need for the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross because God is already “in” us, no matter what religion we are.  McLaren calls the Atoning Sacrifice of Christ  “cosmic child abuse.”  We just need to get more in touch with where God already is located, according to this camp of theological thought.  This fits with Panenthiesm, Process Theology and Universalism.  This is scary.
Tony Jones, a founding leader and strong voice and writer for the emergent movement wrote this in a blog, “Being a panentheist, I believe that God indwells all of creation, so I usually don’t draw hard lines between things human and things spiritual.”
Rob Bell, in his “Everything is Spiritual” speaking tour emphasized beliefs in Panenthiesm.  He said, “The universe at it’s core is unpredictable.  The best we can come up with is it has some kind of relationship with energy.  This energy gives everything it’s existence.”  In “Everything is Spiritual”, Rob Bell tries to use Physics to make the point for what really is Panenthiesm (and parts of the New Age Movement), but a Quantum Physics Professor from Australia, Dr. Frank Stootman wrote a paper refuting Bell’s use of Physics in his speaking tour (Read here).  In other words, Bell was making some things up about his use of Physics, but he spoke with such authority on these matters.   
Rob Bell also has preached many messages which affirm his belief in “Process Theology”(i.e. he calls it Narrative Theology) and Panenthiesm at Mars Hill Church in Michigan.  Read closely the Doctrinal Statement of MHC.  

A sermon from 2010 by Bell was critiqued by former New Age Spirituality sisters (Read here) and Chris Rosebrough of Fighting For the Faith (Listen hereaffirming Bell’s belief in Panenthiestic Universalism.  In this sermon Bell “proof texts” Paul’s writings not continuing from chapter 1 to 2 to 3, but stops to make a point that is not there.  Paul is building a case.  Ephesians 2:1 starts with the Greek word for “and”…  Paul is telling his listeners (and us) that they were “dead in their sins.”  Bell does not share that we were “children of wrath” and needed “grace” to make us alive in Christ.  It is by “grace through faith that we are saved,” Paul says in Ephesians 2.  Full Biblical context is important, but Bell fails to present the Bible in it’s fullness with the whole story with the author’s intended purpose (this is just the way good hermeneutics works).  Instead, Bell argues that we are to “center ourselves” in line with Mystics, Hindus, Buddhists and New Age thinking.

Bell goes onto speak about taking the Gospel to other places misinterpreting Paul’s words in Colossians.  He argues that Jesus is present with all people already.  “We don’t take Jesus to them,” Bell says with lots of sarcasm.  They already have Jesus.  “We just need to name Jesus for these people,” Bell says.  This is thoroughly unbiblical.  People are under the “wrath of God” because of their sins against Him (Romans 3:23, 6:23).  Someone needs to tell them that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world because they do not know who Jesus is.  Paul did this over and over again in his letters (see Acts 10:14-15).  We are called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 2), but Bell does not talk about sin, depravity, wrath, separation from God and the need for grace, and forgiveness to put us back in right relationship with God.  Bell shares a dangerous mystical spiritual teaching of just being “woken up to Jesus already there for you” and he says, “the church is the gathering of people who gather around this presence and power…church is the fullness of the one who fills everything in every way.”  This is a dangerous view of Jesus that the Bible does not share and hits the bull’s eye of the panenthiesm target.

But there is more…

Shane Hipps, Bell’s right hand man at MHC preached a sermon last year saying, we find ourselves in a ‘this not that’ mindset with religions.  Some are in and some are out is what we are tempted to do, but everyone already has Jesus.  Hipps emphasizes Jesus being part of “all things” and “being big enough.”  Really?  Is Jesus in the depravity of man?  Did Jesus die for nothing?  Did Paul sacrifice his life for little cause?  No.  Jesus is not this mystical force or power literally present in all things.  That is a Panentheism view with a sprinkle of mysticism which is not the real Jesus at all.  There is the Biblical Jesus (100% man-100% God) and there are false “jesus'”.  We reject the false teaching of the day and grab the Truth that God presents in the Biblical Scriptures (in context).  This is why Paul took the Gospel while suffering to the world, because they needed to be rescued from the “wrath of God.”  I could continue on this destructive sermon…                                 

One more on Rob Bell.  

He and Shane Hipps, preached a sermon saying that all religions are valid (Listen here) because they have an underlined belief in Panenthiestic Universalism.  Hipps says about John 1, “John is connecting and unifying the Greeks and Jews together saying there is one thing that unifies you.  His name is Jesus.  John is unifying their religions getting us past the diverse religions of the world.  It is not a bad thing to believe in a different religion.  Hipps says, “To loose your religious identity is like loosing your sail at sea.”  We all need this sail.  The Spirit does not need religion, but people need religious structures.  Some sails are built better than other sails.  Some religions are better equipped to catch God.  “Don’t confuse the sail with the Spirit,” Hipps says.  “Just because our sail is Jesus does not mean other religions are wrong. We all just need to experience this wind of the Spirit.” Hipps is telling the congregation at Mars Hill Church that the Gospel writer, John is saying all religions are okay because they are not God. The kicker comes when he says, “As long as Osama Bin Laden has breath, he has a spark of the Divine.”  Really?  What about the depravity of Bin Laden?  What about the wrath of God against Ben Laden (just like me before I believed in Jesus as my Savior)  If he said that Bin Laden was made in the image of God, I would say, “Yes”, but to say, “a spark of the Divine,” in the context of Mars Hill Church, other teachings of Rob Bell and books from these men, this does not sit right because it is absolutely wrong in every way.  It is built on a Panenthiestic Universalism of Process Theology, not Historic Orthodox Biblical Theology.

But what do you think?

One more to come…
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Jeff Baxter's passion for helping the next generation know and love Jesus led him to pursue his Doctorate in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. Jeff has been a frequent speaker in various settings including the National Youth Workers Convention. Jeff lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife, Laurie, and their three children where he is an associate pastor at Foothills Bible Church. His most recent book is Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church (Zondervan). Jeff blogs at sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com.