Because there are no absolutes in postmodern religion, identifying a specific theology for the movement is essentially impossible. So rather than try to develop a comprehensive theology, here are some statements from emerging church leaders that might help at least give us an idea of where they are and where they might be heading.
“God can’t ever really be an object to be studied.”—Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian
“I am not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either…. I now incorporate a pantheistic view, which basically means that God is ‘in all,’ alongside my creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit.”—Spencer Burke, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity
“The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not.”—Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
“Some people are upset with me because it sounds like I’m anti-Christian. I think they might be right.”—Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way
“We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God. Doubting the one true God.”—Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
“Many of us have grown uneasy with this understanding of ‘the fall’ (and with it an exaggerated understanding of the doctrine of ‘original sin’).”—Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
Concerning Peter walking on the water: “Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; he is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself…. God has an amazingly high view of people…. God has faith in me.”—Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
Chalke and McLaren both dismiss penal substitution as “a form of cosmic child abuse.”
When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again “he was simply saying that entering into God’s Kingdom or shalom is about seeing the world differently and adopting his new agenda.”—Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus
“We do not think this [Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service…. This is actually about changing theology. This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes.”—Tony Jones, “A New Theology for a New World,” 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego
“It bothers me to use exclusive and Jesus in the same sentence. Everything about Jesus’ life and message seemed to be about inclusion, not exclusion…. Maybe God’s plan is an opt-out plan, not an opt-in one. If you want to stay out of the party, you can.”—Brian McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That
“Our message and methodology have changed, do change, and must change if we are faithful to the ongoing and unchanging mission of Jesus Christ.”—Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
“And during his lifetime, Abraham—like Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad—had an encounter with God that distinguished him from his contemporaries and propelled him into a mission, introducing a new way of life that changed the world…. How appropriate that the three Abrahamic religions begin with a journey into the unknown.”—Brian McLaren, Finding Our Way Again
“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts.”—Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
“While I believe that actual miracles can and do happen…I am sympathetic with those who believe otherwise, and I applaud their desire to live out the meaning of the miracle stories even when they don’t believe the stories happened as written.”—Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
Satan is not personal, but a personification of evil, “a horribly real metaphor for a terribly real force in the universe.” – Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy
“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”—Rob Bell, Love Wins.
“Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life? This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God; it raises questions about the beliefs themselves…. If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or of the few who escaped this fate? … What kind of faith is that? Or, more important: what kind of God is that?”—Rob Bell, Love Wins.
Hell is “a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.”—Rob Bell, Love Wins.