Why I am not Part of the Emerging Church – part 5

November 16, 2006

The readers of this blog are a curious mix of those who love theological discussions and those who want to improve their ability to deliver good therapeutic help to others. Therefore I give this warning to half of you reading this: This blog entry is chalked full of theological grist for the mill. You may want to have a dictionary handy.

For me, one of the clearest and distinct separations between my view of Truth and what the Emerging Church believes is found in 1 John 4:10. It reads

10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

That phrase “atoning sacrifice” is one greek word, Hilasmos. The NIV translators actually sought to skirt a long-standing theological discussion of the 20th century by putting in the words “atoning sacrifice”. The word is most commonly translated “propitiation”. Bruce Waltke, in writing on why they chose “atoning sacrifice” for the NIV instead of “propitiation” says, “Propitiation is a word never used by anyone but theologs any longer and would be confusing to the average reader of Scripture”. He may be correct, but atoning sacrifice is not the meaning of the word hilasmos. Not by a long shot.

The word means “to dispense with the wrath of another person”. To propitiate an angry person is to do whatever is necessary to completely remove their wrath. To meet whatever punishment they require in order to get rid of their anger and vengeance. When we put this in context of 1 John 4:10, we get “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as a propitiation for our sins”. Throughout the modern age, theological liberals have quaffed at this idea of God’s wrath. From their humanist viewpoint, they could not conceive of a being in their universe that can be absolutely loving and yet wrathful toward the sinner. Therefore, in the translation of the Bible known as the Revised Standard Version, these theological liberals finally achieved their goal: Instead of the word “propitiation”, they translated Hilasmos as “expiation”.

What does expiation mean? The word means to compensate. It could be used in this sense. If a young man shoplifts an article from a department store, his father may go down and in order to keep his son out of trouble with the Law, offers to pay for the article and pay extra to expiate his son’s sin. In translating hilasmos this way, the RSV sought to eliminate the need for God’s wrath in the Salvation story. They would say that God does not need to have his wrath removed, he simply needs to be bought off.

The Emerging Church takes this concept to another level. They reject the idea that we have any real need even to have our sins expiated. A well-known Emergent writer Steve Chalke writes this in his book “The Lost Message of Jesus”:

“While we have spent centuries arguing over the doctrine of original sin, pouring over the Bible and huge theological tomes to prove the inherent sinfulness of all humankind, we have missed a startling point: Jesus believed in original goodness! God declared that all his creation, including humankind was very good. That’s not to suggest that Jesus is denying that our relationship with God is in need of reconciliation, but that he is rejecting any idea that we are, somehow, beyond the pale.”

I wonder what Chalke would do with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:11 “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, etc.”. Actually, you can probably imagine how Chalke would deal with that. He would give it the old Narrative touch. He would say something of this magnitude: “Jesus is speaking to Jews who were of the mistaken belief that God was angry at them all the time and that this was because they were innately evil. His point in this passage was not to correct their misunderstanding about their nature but to show the good gifts the Father has for them.” Notice in the quotation above that what we really need is not propitiation or expiation but reconciliation. In essence, what God and Man have had is a misunderstanding. Can’t God and man just get along?

This doctrine underscores so much of the Emerging Church teaching, though it is often not spelled out as clearly as Chalke does. But the theme colors almost all teaching in this area. In an introductory course explaining Christianity for teenagers called “The Story We Find Ourselves In – An Approach to Narrative Living” Brian McLaren has posted the outline on his web page. In explaining how mankind has come into Crisis stage (note: He never uses the word sin, just crisis and Fall), he lays this out as his outline;

In the modern telling of the story, the fall – a cataclysmic event that leads from the ideal & perfect world into the material imperfect world. (use of the word ‘perfect’ comes from Grk idea of ideal & unchanging, complete whereas text uses word ‘good’).

However, if there is only one world, then ‘the fall’ doesn’t mean the loss of one ideal world & move into a different chaotic world of change & conflict. Rather the goodness of the world remains but the goodness is put at risk. (p52)

b) Story of Emergence:

Return to our story as one of emergence – a world that goes on creating itself (as in evolution)

Process of creation or development:

Humans, living as hunter-gatherers – develop language – leads to other innovations & an avalanche of crises “ a disintegration of the primal harmony and innocence of creation” & link is in intellectual & technological development goes beyond moral development


Adam & Eve – go beyond limits – want to be like God; experience evil & result is loss of TRUST – in one another – feel shame & fear.

Human trust is based on respect for limits – boundaries –respect for differentness & uniqueness (sexual trust is gone so cover up differentness) Cain & Abel shows loss of trust between brothers

Disagreement over land & ownership – Abel a herder of sheep/cattle – nomadic, dependent on land. Cain as agriculturalist farmer, growing crops – land ownership key & settling in one place –lead to conflict over use of land with herders. (p55)

Notice some of the key buzzwords in this outline. Adam and Eve don’t sin, they “go beyond limits”. They aren’t kicked out of God’s presence they “experience evil”. They are not evil, they simply experience it. In the description of the Fall, McLaren clarifies it this way, “‘the fall’ doesn’t mean the loss of one ideal world & move into a different chaotic world of change & conflict. Rather the goodness of the world remains but the goodness is put at risk”.

Here is another of my huge problems with the Emerging Church. Their narrative approach to Hermeneutics has eliminated a basic biblical premise that mankind is fallen, sinful and subject to wrath.

I used to think the Emerging church was just a new label for 60s liberalism. I now see them as much more insidious: They are a repackaged, reworked version of 1800s liberalism sold and marketed to Evangelicals who grew up in church and are generally dissatisfied with legalism and traditionalism. Most of them are not cognizant on the implications of Emergent theology to know the dangers of the package they are buying. Next time, I want to conclude this series by giving some practical suggestions to the Emergent church how they can pull out of these errors before it is too late. I hope someone will listen.



  1. Wow.

    Your explanation of Hilasmos is chilling, but absolutely the clearest I’ve ever heard or read. I pray I never lose sight of what it means to me as a human, or what it shows that Jesus actually took onto himself for the sins of the world… . DJM

  2. I’m still trying to chew on all this Emering Church.
    Yes we need to never lose sight of what the cross meant. In my eyes The Passion of Christ is the greatest love story ever told.

  3. I’ve stumbled across you quite by accident. And I’m thankful that I did.

    I will chew on the idea of “propitiation” in the weeks ahead, grateful to have found the beginnings of an answer to my questions about the anger of a loving God.

  4. To all who have commented so far, know that I also am blown away by the word Hilasmos. It is so much easier to conceive of the God of love if I can send his wrath in my mind a thousand light years away. But love becomes much more intense when we realize that it was what sent Jesus to the cross and that the necessity of the Cross was predicated on His wrath and love. Without both love and wrath, the Cross would have been meaningless.

  5. God as a singularity is a bit like trying to explain the universe before the Big Bang. Love works in other ways & Steve Chalke is right of course.

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