In the emerging church, "Everything Must Change."1 So everything—and I do mean "everything"—has gone out of style! The "old-fashioned" notions of "getting religion"—including repentance, redemption, deliverance, salvation, and being "born again"—belong to the past. Emerging leaders may talk on and on about the "conversion" of the church but they rarely talk about the conversion of the unchurched.

Yet, who can blame them?

Increasingly, our salvation "system" reflects the triumph of man, where "scoring" feeds the hungry pride of those who "do the saving." Prepackaged programs, for example, control the conversions while cookie-cutter salvations secure the quantities. Never mind that man has never saved anyone. And, never mind that God has already done the saving.

Yet, this "system" has become a means to an end. "If it works, do it." Some clergy, for example, win more converts by fear than by joy. That is, they win more converts by sin than by grace. Other clergy promote an easily marketed "benefit plan" that guarantees health and wealth, and prevents suffering and sorrow.

Whatever the strategy, these clergy always throw in a few "extra" rules. They insist that the "unsaved" must "do what it takes" to become a Christian. And "doing what it takes" means the "lost" must lift themselves to heaven with the right "bootstraps." So new recruits must hear a tedious recital of cultural mores, morals, and manners. And they must hear a repeated litany of precise taboos, conventions, and virtues.

Then—after it’s all over—the "saved" usually live no differently than the "unsaved." They may be "converts," but they are seldom "disciples."

"Salvations in the Sauna"

A far different ploy, however, arises from the more "sophisticated"—or "educated"—clergy. Those "in the know" have reduced salvation to a "thinking man’s religion"—salvation by information—deliverance by data. These "keepers of the creeds" invoke centuries of rhetoric in winning reasoned agreement with their proposed ideas about God.

Of course, "knowing" something was never the same as living it. And, regardless of the "method," manipulation for a divine end always proves a contradiction.

So we see why many emerging church leaders avoid the whole salvation issue! In its place, they offer a "relaxed" repentance, a "designer" deliverance, a "cool" salvation, a "multiple choice" belief. . . . In other words, "Just hang out with us and enjoy ‘salvation in the sauna’."

Such confused conversions totally ignore hidden dishonesties, messed up lives, and single-minded selfishness. (We used to call this "sin," but most emerging leaders are too "sophisticated" for that.) And the notion of being spiritually dead—though mentally alert—does not cross their minds. In fact, "It’s not even a possibility."

While we’re at it, don’t mention the word "evil." Such a notion is "a naive holdover from primitive mentalities." Today’s "enlightened" leaders now classify this ancient term as a mere "absence of good" or—in worst cases—a "temporary illness."

Such indifference to our spiritual deformities makes "goodness" meaningless. It makes profoundly changed hearts and the integrity that flows from changed hearts not worth talking about. And, today’s emerging leaders might as well forget the Gospel. After all, Jesus called his followers to change themselves first. . . .

. . . then the world.

A New "Altar Call"

Yet, the Lord of History has changed history, so "changing the world" must take place within a changed world. For example, no one in today’s world—including the Holy Spirit—likes steamroller religion, in-your-face salvations, or hit-and-run evangelism. No one knowingly suffers manipulators, con artists, or "any-means-to-an-end" evangelists. And no one honestly prefers the rhetoric, jargon, and formulas of antiquated institutions.

In short, the world has refused loveless Christianity. The unchurched, for example, have refused the big egos behind "big evangelism." And, the discerning have refused "quantity" as a deceitful substitute for "quality."

So emerging church leaders must seek a new "altar call," a new "salvation," a new "evangelism"—a new honesty, a new authenticity, a new reverence for the Mystery—a new caring, a new belonging, and a new journeying. . . .

. . . yes, it’s a journeying, a maturing, a growing. It’s not just a one-time event!

The new evangelism will look more like "planting" and "watering," mentoring and modeling through endless stages of growth. The goal, in other words, is not salvation. The goal is discipleship. Jesus said, "Watch me, then you do it." And, finally, "Go teach others."

What’s our problem?

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt


1. "Everything Must Change" is the title of a book by Brian McLaren, a leading spokesman for the "emerging church" movement. I appreciate his friendship and respect his concerns. None of us, however, remains totally free from "Designer Deliverance," so I believe Brian will always welcome mutual accountability in our efforts to help a desperate world.

Future Church Administrator