Emergent Evangelism: Does it really equal “Social Gospel” and Liberalism?

I have a problem.  I am drawn so powerfully to the idea of the Kingdom of God and people like Dallas Willard who says in The Divine Conspiracy that we need to live and share a faith beyond "bar code" Christianity–where only getting to heaven is the focus.  The problem is that I am not ready to become an advocate of the so-called "social gospel" where we are here to make the world a better place.  In reading the book, A New Kind of Christian, one chapter deals with exclusivism.  The argument is that our doctrine of hell is exclusive.  I think some good points are made in that book, such as the ones about salvation being more than being saved from hell.  However, exclusivity is not in us or in who is or isn’t going to hell.  Our exclusivity is in the person of Jesus–only Jesus.  And, since Jesus called us to more than just a waiting game until He returns, we see that the gospel is good news to the whole world.

I love reading Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog (Emerging Evangelism).  His latest string of posts about evangelism and the emerging church are very thoughtful. Are we heading towards a new form of "social gospel" forged under new terms, faces and institutions?  Or, are we seeing that fundamentalism rejected too much, such as the Kingdom of God being present and real?  I can stomach Dallas Willard, but I am having trouble with Brian McClaren.  Where they both speak about salvation being "more", McClaren seems to redefine historic Christian faith.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

20 comments

  1. This is a great topic, Rich. My stance in general on this is that the core of how Christianity has been traditionally presented in our country is bound to fall apart at some point. We simply cannot have an exclusive, separatist, and elitist leadership dictating the social mores of God’s kingdom. Let’s face it, the far right doesn’t have the market cornered on Christian living. Nor, I believe, do the newer, emerging church leaders. Instead, we are all the body of Christ, with different functions and responsibilities. We must learn to accept those differences in order to further the Gospel.

  2. This is a great topic, Rich. My stance in general on this is that the core of how Christianity has been traditionally presented in our country is bound to fall apart at some point. We simply cannot have an exclusive, separatist, and elitist leadership dictating the social mores of God’s kingdom. Let’s face it, the far right doesn’t have the market cornered on Christian living. Nor, I believe, do the newer, emerging church leaders. Instead, we are all the body of Christ, with different functions and responsibilities. We must learn to accept those differences in order to further the Gospel.

  3. This is a great topic, Rich. My stance in general on this is that the core of how Christianity has been traditionally presented in our country is bound to fall apart at some point. We simply cannot have an exclusive, separatist, and elitist leadership dictating the social mores of God’s kingdom. Let’s face it, the far right doesn’t have the market cornered on Christian living. Nor, I believe, do the newer, emerging church leaders. Instead, we are all the body of Christ, with different functions and responsibilities. We must learn to accept those differences in order to further the Gospel.

  4. This is a great topic, Rich. My stance in general on this is that the core of how Christianity has been traditionally presented in our country is bound to fall apart at some point. We simply cannot have an exclusive, separatist, and elitist leadership dictating the social mores of God’s kingdom. Let’s face it, the far right doesn’t have the market cornered on Christian living. Nor, I believe, do the newer, emerging church leaders. Instead, we are all the body of Christ, with different functions and responsibilities. We must learn to accept those differences in order to further the Gospel.

  5. Willard contrasts the left wing “social gospel” and the right wing “bar-code gospel” with the gospel that was preached by Jesus, “The Present Rule-and-Reign of God is now available to all; re-evaluate the way you look at life in light of this new opportunity!”
    What the liberal church lacks in terms of orthodoxy, and the evangelical church lacks in terms of orthopraxy, are brought together in the “Kingdom of God” language of Jesus.

    The failure at both ends of the spectrum to take seriously a call to discipleship unto Jesus is the flaw that proves fatal; the entire New Testament has the basic assumption that discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.

    A note about McLaren:

    If A New Kind of Christian is the only book of his that you have yet read, then understand that he is not formulating his opinions in that book (or the other two in the trilogy). For the stated ideas of McLaren himself read A Generous Orthodoxy.

  6. Willard contrasts the left wing “social gospel” and the right wing “bar-code gospel” with the gospel that was preached by Jesus, “The Present Rule-and-Reign of God is now available to all; re-evaluate the way you look at life in light of this new opportunity!”
    What the liberal church lacks in terms of orthodoxy, and the evangelical church lacks in terms of orthopraxy, are brought together in the “Kingdom of God” language of Jesus.

    The failure at both ends of the spectrum to take seriously a call to discipleship unto Jesus is the flaw that proves fatal; the entire New Testament has the basic assumption that discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.

    A note about McLaren:

    If A New Kind of Christian is the only book of his that you have yet read, then understand that he is not formulating his opinions in that book (or the other two in the trilogy). For the stated ideas of McLaren himself read A Generous Orthodoxy.

  7. Willard contrasts the left wing “social gospel” and the right wing “bar-code gospel” with the gospel that was preached by Jesus, “The Present Rule-and-Reign of God is now available to all; re-evaluate the way you look at life in light of this new opportunity!”
    What the liberal church lacks in terms of orthodoxy, and the evangelical church lacks in terms of orthopraxy, are brought together in the “Kingdom of God” language of Jesus.

    The failure at both ends of the spectrum to take seriously a call to discipleship unto Jesus is the flaw that proves fatal; the entire New Testament has the basic assumption that discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.

    A note about McLaren:

    If A New Kind of Christian is the only book of his that you have yet read, then understand that he is not formulating his opinions in that book (or the other two in the trilogy). For the stated ideas of McLaren himself read A Generous Orthodoxy.

  8. Willard contrasts the left wing “social gospel” and the right wing “bar-code gospel” with the gospel that was preached by Jesus, “The Present Rule-and-Reign of God is now available to all; re-evaluate the way you look at life in light of this new opportunity!”
    What the liberal church lacks in terms of orthodoxy, and the evangelical church lacks in terms of orthopraxy, are brought together in the “Kingdom of God” language of Jesus.

    The failure at both ends of the spectrum to take seriously a call to discipleship unto Jesus is the flaw that proves fatal; the entire New Testament has the basic assumption that discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.

    A note about McLaren:

    If A New Kind of Christian is the only book of his that you have yet read, then understand that he is not formulating his opinions in that book (or the other two in the trilogy). For the stated ideas of McLaren himself read A Generous Orthodoxy.

  9. Steve–Now, the most troubling thing you have said is that “discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.” That is really sounds more like the Catholic Church and John McArther’s “Lordship Salvation” which on the surface seems to imply that one is not really saved without works. I do not know if this is what you exactly mean, but I am not prepared to go to pre-Reformation days of working for my justification before God.

  10. Steve–Now, the most troubling thing you have said is that “discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.” That is really sounds more like the Catholic Church and John McArther’s “Lordship Salvation” which on the surface seems to imply that one is not really saved without works. I do not know if this is what you exactly mean, but I am not prepared to go to pre-Reformation days of working for my justification before God.

  11. Steve–Now, the most troubling thing you have said is that “discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.” That is really sounds more like the Catholic Church and John McArther’s “Lordship Salvation” which on the surface seems to imply that one is not really saved without works. I do not know if this is what you exactly mean, but I am not prepared to go to pre-Reformation days of working for my justification before God.

  12. Steve–Now, the most troubling thing you have said is that “discipleship to Jesus is a prerequisite to experiencing salvation.” That is really sounds more like the Catholic Church and John McArther’s “Lordship Salvation” which on the surface seems to imply that one is not really saved without works. I do not know if this is what you exactly mean, but I am not prepared to go to pre-Reformation days of working for my justification before God.

  13. I don’t see how “discipleship unto Jesus” could possibly be construed as a “work?”
    It is not an act, but rather a posture, an inner reality, namely faith!

    I would affirm, “If we trust Jesus we will be saved.” “I trust Jesus” is another way of saying, however, I believe that what he said is true, which is the same as saying that we are sure that what he tells us to do is what we should do, which is discipleship.

    Action is the natural byproduct of faith, this is an ironclad truth of scripture, yet scripture also says that we are not saved by the actions of faith, but by the person we have faith in. If, however, we want to say that our “faith” does not result in actions, the Bible says simply, “You are deceived, faith always results in actions!

    To put it quite simply “one is not saved without works!” (Albeit one is not saved by works!) Without the fruit of saving faith (works), we can be assured that there is no salvation. This is not the same thing as saying we are saved because of our works; rather, we are saved by Jesus! (which will necessitate works…)

    As to the “reformation…”

    I am not beholden to the ideas of the reformers. I think we should be cautious of grabbing hold of the ideas of men who, for all of their inspiration, were merely men. Calvin was a murderer, and Luther a bigot. This is not to negate their ideas, but to put them in context.

    Hold true to the words of Jesus, grab onto what the scriptures say.

    When it comes to the interpretation of scripture we must hold in mind the way the scriptures have been used by the entire church, not merely the white, protestant, wealthy, western church.

    Sola Scriptura is as much an idol, and a cop-out, as it was in the days when the pharisees said it to Jesus…

  14. I don’t see how “discipleship unto Jesus” could possibly be construed as a “work?”
    It is not an act, but rather a posture, an inner reality, namely faith!

    I would affirm, “If we trust Jesus we will be saved.” “I trust Jesus” is another way of saying, however, I believe that what he said is true, which is the same as saying that we are sure that what he tells us to do is what we should do, which is discipleship.

    Action is the natural byproduct of faith, this is an ironclad truth of scripture, yet scripture also says that we are not saved by the actions of faith, but by the person we have faith in. If, however, we want to say that our “faith” does not result in actions, the Bible says simply, “You are deceived, faith always results in actions!

    To put it quite simply “one is not saved without works!” (Albeit one is not saved by works!) Without the fruit of saving faith (works), we can be assured that there is no salvation. This is not the same thing as saying we are saved because of our works; rather, we are saved by Jesus! (which will necessitate works…)

    As to the “reformation…”

    I am not beholden to the ideas of the reformers. I think we should be cautious of grabbing hold of the ideas of men who, for all of their inspiration, were merely men. Calvin was a murderer, and Luther a bigot. This is not to negate their ideas, but to put them in context.

    Hold true to the words of Jesus, grab onto what the scriptures say.

    When it comes to the interpretation of scripture we must hold in mind the way the scriptures have been used by the entire church, not merely the white, protestant, wealthy, western church.

    Sola Scriptura is as much an idol, and a cop-out, as it was in the days when the pharisees said it to Jesus…

  15. I don’t see how “discipleship unto Jesus” could possibly be construed as a “work?”
    It is not an act, but rather a posture, an inner reality, namely faith!

    I would affirm, “If we trust Jesus we will be saved.” “I trust Jesus” is another way of saying, however, I believe that what he said is true, which is the same as saying that we are sure that what he tells us to do is what we should do, which is discipleship.

    Action is the natural byproduct of faith, this is an ironclad truth of scripture, yet scripture also says that we are not saved by the actions of faith, but by the person we have faith in. If, however, we want to say that our “faith” does not result in actions, the Bible says simply, “You are deceived, faith always results in actions!

    To put it quite simply “one is not saved without works!” (Albeit one is not saved by works!) Without the fruit of saving faith (works), we can be assured that there is no salvation. This is not the same thing as saying we are saved because of our works; rather, we are saved by Jesus! (which will necessitate works…)

    As to the “reformation…”

    I am not beholden to the ideas of the reformers. I think we should be cautious of grabbing hold of the ideas of men who, for all of their inspiration, were merely men. Calvin was a murderer, and Luther a bigot. This is not to negate their ideas, but to put them in context.

    Hold true to the words of Jesus, grab onto what the scriptures say.

    When it comes to the interpretation of scripture we must hold in mind the way the scriptures have been used by the entire church, not merely the white, protestant, wealthy, western church.

    Sola Scriptura is as much an idol, and a cop-out, as it was in the days when the pharisees said it to Jesus…

  16. I don’t see how “discipleship unto Jesus” could possibly be construed as a “work?”
    It is not an act, but rather a posture, an inner reality, namely faith!

    I would affirm, “If we trust Jesus we will be saved.” “I trust Jesus” is another way of saying, however, I believe that what he said is true, which is the same as saying that we are sure that what he tells us to do is what we should do, which is discipleship.

    Action is the natural byproduct of faith, this is an ironclad truth of scripture, yet scripture also says that we are not saved by the actions of faith, but by the person we have faith in. If, however, we want to say that our “faith” does not result in actions, the Bible says simply, “You are deceived, faith always results in actions!

    To put it quite simply “one is not saved without works!” (Albeit one is not saved by works!) Without the fruit of saving faith (works), we can be assured that there is no salvation. This is not the same thing as saying we are saved because of our works; rather, we are saved by Jesus! (which will necessitate works…)

    As to the “reformation…”

    I am not beholden to the ideas of the reformers. I think we should be cautious of grabbing hold of the ideas of men who, for all of their inspiration, were merely men. Calvin was a murderer, and Luther a bigot. This is not to negate their ideas, but to put them in context.

    Hold true to the words of Jesus, grab onto what the scriptures say.

    When it comes to the interpretation of scripture we must hold in mind the way the scriptures have been used by the entire church, not merely the white, protestant, wealthy, western church.

    Sola Scriptura is as much an idol, and a cop-out, as it was in the days when the pharisees said it to Jesus…

  17. Steve….whatsup here?
    Again…I am not going back to indulgences and the Catholic Church or salvation by works.

    But, to be true to the intent of my post is simply to state that the gospel is about God’s grace, not our works and that any new or old thinking that tries to put works in is heretical. I think this even though I am not a completely white, wealthy, American, Protestant believer in Sola Scriptura as opposed to church tradition. Amen.

    OK…now read my post about flatuence free beans, PLEASE! Feel free, Steve, to email personally for further discussion.

  18. Steve….whatsup here?
    Again…I am not going back to indulgences and the Catholic Church or salvation by works.

    But, to be true to the intent of my post is simply to state that the gospel is about God’s grace, not our works and that any new or old thinking that tries to put works in is heretical. I think this even though I am not a completely white, wealthy, American, Protestant believer in Sola Scriptura as opposed to church tradition. Amen.

    OK…now read my post about flatuence free beans, PLEASE! Feel free, Steve, to email personally for further discussion.

  19. Steve….whatsup here?
    Again…I am not going back to indulgences and the Catholic Church or salvation by works.

    But, to be true to the intent of my post is simply to state that the gospel is about God’s grace, not our works and that any new or old thinking that tries to put works in is heretical. I think this even though I am not a completely white, wealthy, American, Protestant believer in Sola Scriptura as opposed to church tradition. Amen.

    OK…now read my post about flatuence free beans, PLEASE! Feel free, Steve, to email personally for further discussion.

  20. Steve….whatsup here?
    Again…I am not going back to indulgences and the Catholic Church or salvation by works.

    But, to be true to the intent of my post is simply to state that the gospel is about God’s grace, not our works and that any new or old thinking that tries to put works in is heretical. I think this even though I am not a completely white, wealthy, American, Protestant believer in Sola Scriptura as opposed to church tradition. Amen.

    OK…now read my post about flatuence free beans, PLEASE! Feel free, Steve, to email personally for further discussion.

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