Mention names like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, and you are sure to get a reaction from many Christians. The two “emerging church” leaders are no strangers to controversy.
McLaren has long pushed theological boundaries and flirted with other world religions, all in the name of a “generous orthodoxy.” He fancies himself a nuanced, free-thinking Christian, even branding himself and his ilk “a new kind of Christian.”
The writings and educational materials of Rob Bell, meanwhile, made a fairly large impact within the church. Countless congregations used Bell’s “nooma” videos, all while he questioned key doctrines, even the significance of the virgin birth.
Only recently did the two leaders run aground with most Christians today. For Bell, it was the publishing of his book, Love Wins, which preached ideas akin to universalism, and called into question the doctrine of hell. For McLaren, it was officiating the so-called homosexual “wedding” of his own son, Brian.
Several years back, as the emerging church seemed to be gaining traction, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler said this: “When it comes to issues such as the exclusivity of the Gospel, the identity of Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine, the authoritative character of Scripture as written revelation and the clear teachings of Scripture concerning issues such as homosexuality, this (emerging) movement simply refuses to answer the questions. . . . (the) emergent movement represents a significant challenge to biblical Christianity.”
Mohler’s analysis of the situation was right. While the emerging “conversation” may have brought up some good questions, its answers ended up looking like old-fashioned liberal Christianity. While these two leaders no longer carry the same weight with evangelicals today, their ideas have left damage in the wake.
In many ways, we all should have seen this coming. The Bible warns us of wolves in sheep’s clothing coming along.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” 2 Tim. 4:3
There has been perhaps no age more vulnerable to the sudden rise of a false teacher. By setting up a web log (“blog”), people passing themselves off as Christian teachers can gain a tremendous following. The rise and fall of the emerging church brings to mind a few lessons.
1) Gimme that old time religion. There is a saying in the course of debate: “That which is new carries the burden of proof.” We should not necessarily discount all ideas that are new, but we should be hesitant to trust new-fangled theories over the time-tested truth.
2) Time tells. For Bell and McLaren, it was only a matter of time that the real fruit of their ministry would show. Building doctrine and teaching on shifting sand, their houses were bound to fall.
3) Truth wins. In Acts 5, the Jewish leaders wished to silence the apostles, but wise Gamaliel knew better. He said, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. Not long ago, Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. … For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” (V. 35-39a)
While we can be glad the influence of Bell and McLaren will continue to diminish, we must pray that they will repent of their ways and seek forgiveness from the countless many whom they have deceived. May God have mercy on us all.