As I said in a previous post, I am teaching through the book of Romans in my Sunday School class. As I have been studying, I am preparing for an upcoming lesson on 1:18-32. Verse 18 is the starting point at which Paul begins to unfold the details of the gospel of which he is not ashamed. It reads: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
As I pondered this verse, I thought how it is that in today’s postmodern, evangelical culture, talking about the wrath of God against sinners isn’t a popular point to start trying to win someone to Christ. These days, we are told that the idea of a wrathful God is passé, and to tell people that they are sinful and corrupt and on their way to hell apart from a saving relationship to Christ is judgmental and intolerant.
In fact, let me read you what Brian McLaren, the leading spokesman of the Emergent Church movement, had to say about the subject of salvation. He states:
“Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply. In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal’. It emphatically does not mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death,’ as many preachers seem to imply in sermon after sermon. Rather its meaning varies from passage to passage, but in general, in any context, save means ‘get out of trouble.’ The trouble could be sickness, war, political intrigue, oppression, poverty, imprisonment, or any kind of danger or evil.”
So, in other words, people need to quit thinking about being saved from eternal judgment and only think about being saved from temporary problems. That sounds very different from Jesus, who said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
McLaren goes on to say:
Isn’t hell such a grave ‘bottom line’ that it devalues all other values? It so emphasizes the importance of life after death that it can unintentionally trivialize life before death. No wonder many people feel that ‘accepting Jesus as a personal Savior’ could make them a worse person—more self-centered and less concerned about justice on earth because of a preoccupation with forgiveness in heaven.
What he is saying here is that if you believe that you are saved from an eternal hell, you won’t be as concerned about justice and equal treatment for others during this life, because “I’ve got eternal life, so who cares what happens to everyone else!” And he remakes Jesus into a social justice mascot.
Another Emergent Church writer, Alan Jones, goes even further than McLaren. He states: “The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.”
Let me just go on the record as saying that the Emergent Church movement is nothing more than an attempt to revive dead theological liberalism and disguise it by calling it evangelical. Just as the mainline denominations drifted from the true gospel which deals with eternal judgment, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life, to a false gospel which focuses on the temporary problems of mankind such as social injustice, poverty, and oppression, so too, the Emergent Church is an attempt to redirect evangelicals toward a false gospel.
Beware of their deception. They will use phrasing such as this: “We just want to have a conversation about how to deconstruct and contextualize our understanding of Scripture so that we can reorient the whole Christian community around the missional heart of God and the incarnational ministry of Jesus.”
You may be reading that statement wondering what in the world it means, but I used it in order to bring your attention to certain “buzz” words that characterize the Emergent Church so that when you hear them used, warning bells ought to go off in your mind. They commonly and frequently use words such as “conversation,” “deconstruction,” “contextualize,” “reorient,” “community,” “mission” [and “missional”], and “incarnational” in their writings.
There are several more terms, but that’s just a few of the more common ones. If you have a hard time understanding what they are saying because it sounds like “double-speak,” it is probably post-modern Emergent Church garbage.
If you want to read a great book on the subject, buy Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s new book titled Why We Are Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). It’s published by Moody Publishers and is the best articulation of the problems with the Emergent Church that I’ve read. And Phil Johnson, who is one of the leading voices on the dangers of post-modernism, gave it extremely high marks in his review of the book on his Pyromaniacs blog.
But don’t think this aversion to proclaiming a gospel that includes man’s sinful condition and condemnation is limited to the liberals and heretics. Much contemporary evangelism speaks only of the abundant life one can have in Christ, the joy and blessings of salvation, and the peace with God that faith in Christ brings. All of those benefits do result from true faith, but they are not the whole picture of God’s plan of salvation.
Just to show what I mean, I went to www.GodLovestheWorld.com, a website of Global Media Outreach, which provides the Four Spiritual Laws in 144 different languages and dialects. I read only the English version, since that’s the only language I can read fluently, and the thing I noticed about it, is that nowhere in the Four Spiritual Laws presentation of the gospel will you find the words “eternal judgment” or “hell” used. It does mention sin, which it states results in broken fellowship and “spiritual separation from God,” but it never states that God’s righteous holiness demands punishment for sin or that spiritual separation means an eternal hell.
Now, someone might try to excuse the incompleteness of the gospel presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws by saying, “But it has been so greatly used by God to bring people to faith in Christ.” But it does not answer the questions, “Why should I accept Christ?” and, “What am I being saved from?” If you are going to answer those questions—which you must—you must talk about man’s sin offending a holy God and that, as a result, God condemns him to eternal punishment in hell unless he comes to Christ in repentance and saving faith. So then, the corollary truth of God’s judgment against sin and those who participate in it must also be included in our presentation of the gospel.
That’s how Paul starts his presentation of the gospel—by explaining that the wrath of God abides on all mankind because of mankind’s rejection of God’s revelation of Himself.
For Paul, fear of eternal condemnation was the first motivation he offered for coming to Christ, the first pressure he applied to evil men. He was determined that they understand the reality of being under God’s wrath before he offered them the way of escape from it.
That approach makes both logical and theological sense to me. An individual cannot appreciate the incredible wonder of God’s grace until he understands the perfect demands of God’s law, and he cannot appreciate the infinite fullness of God’s love for him until he understands something about the infinite fierceness of God’s anger against his sinful failure to perfectly obey that law. No one can appreciate God’s forgiveness until he understands that his sin requires a penalty be paid and that unless they are forgiven, there is the consequence of an eternal hell.
Like the apostle Paul, we must not leave out these essential parts of the gospel when we present it to people. It is what makes the gospel “good news.”