Transformational Church: The Result of Merging Church and Culture

By Brannon S. Howse 

Pastor Brian McLaren is one of the most popular authors and speakers within the Emergent Church movement. On his website, McLaren recounts a conversation with a college student about how the Emergent Church was formed: “Emergent grew out of the Young Leader Networks, which was launched in the mid-90’s by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based foundation.”


I include a chapter on the Emergent Church in Grave Influence, but in case you’re not familiar with it: it is a church philosophy and movement based on embracing mysticism, uncritical tolerance, and postmodernism. Please note that this is not my definition. It is a summary according to my friend Jason Carlson, who was part of the founding of the Emergent Church. When Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, and some of the other emergent founders began to embrace heretical teachings, Carlson left and became a nationally recognized EC critic. In fact, Worldview Weekend has produced a one-hour DVD featuring a keynote presentation by Jason entitled “My Journey In and Out of the Emergent Church.” (It can be purchased through the online bookstore at 


Jason outlines the tenets of the Emergent Church this way:


A highly ambiguous handling of truth;

A desire to be so inclusive and tolerant that there is virtually no sense of biblical discernment in terms of recognizing and labeling false beliefs, practices, or lifestyles;

A quasi-universalistic view of salvation;

A lack of a proper appreciation for biblical authority over and against personal experience or revelation;

Openness to pagan religious practices like Hindu yoga and incorporating them into the Christian life and Christian worship;

Openly questioning the relevance of key historical biblical doctrines such as the trinity;

An uncritically open embrace of the Catholic and Orthodox churches;

An unbridled cynicism towards conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism;

A reading of Scripture that is heavily prejudiced towards a social gospel understanding;

Little or no talk of evangelism or saving lost souls.


Christians who have not “studied to show themselves approved” unto God and who are not committed to the Word of God are at great risk for spiritual deception as the emerging church has mixed Christianity with pagan spirituality and thereby embraced the apostasy warned about in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:


But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!


As with many corrupting philosophies, Emergent Church ideas have been sparked by schools of higher education. One of the seminaries that has done the most harm to America’s churches is Fuller Theological Seminary, where New Apostolic Reformation and church growth leader C. Peter Wagner taught for many years. Rick Warren also attended Fuller and listed Wagner on his doctoral thesis as being his “advisor/mentor.”

In 1998, the Baptist Press article “Church Growth Scholar Advocates Radical Change in New Millennium” detailed the agenda of Fuller Theological Seminary professor Eddie Gibbs: 


Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, speaking during the annual meeting of the American Society for Church Growth at Golden Gate Seminary’s Mill Valley, Calif., campus Nov. 12-14, Gibbs warned churches must embrace transitions or “forfeit the possibility of exercising a transformational ministry within changing cultures.”


Transformational? The traditional terminology has been the thesis and antithesis of the Hegelian Dialectic Process. The Communitarian Church Growth Movement has adopted the code words “traditional, transitional, and transformational,” and now many conference speakers and emerging authors tout the importance of transformational church. 


The CGCM is transitioning traditional churches by bringing in unbelievers to conflict with the believers. The church gradually moves from being a traditional church to a transitional church to finally becoming a transformed church. In the end, the church has been completely transformed and become a totally different organization with a totally different purpose and goal.


In April 2011, I spoke on this topic to over 1,500 people at one of our Worldview Weekends, and I asked the audience how many of them, after having this process explained, could say they attend or have attended a church that has gone from being a solid, Bible-teaching, traditional church to being completely transformed. More than 60 percent of the people in the auditorium raised their hands! 


Emergent Church proponent Jim Belcher wrote a book in 2009 titled Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. His book is a perfect example of the Hegelian Dialectic Process in action. Belcher calls for traditional evangelicals and the Emergent Church to come together in dialogue, find what is good about each other, and then blend their ideas. 


The truth is that it is impossible to blend biblical truth with heresy, yet that is exactly what you would be trying to accomplish if you followed Belcher’s “Third Way.” Belcher, of course, sees things differently:


Yet the two sides can’t get along? They are hostile to each other, using their writings and conferences to denounce the other side. The vast majority of people are confused by the debate. Many have read emerging authors, agreeing with their assessment of the problem and aspects of what they are proposing. But they also have read traditional authors and are drawn to parts of their vision of the church as well. The majority want to learn from both sides….This book is written for those caught in between. They are unhappy with the present state of the evangelical church but are not sure where to turn for an answer. They like some of what the emerging and traditional camps offer, but they are not completely at ease with either. The public conflicts make this anxiety worse, and these people don’t know who to trust or believe. What if both are off target? Is there a third option, a via media? I believe there is a third way….I will demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of both groups, and move beyond them to a third way, the deep church.


The foreword for Belcher’s book was written by Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw. Mouw was a signer of the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document declaring that Catholics and Christians are both Christian groups, and thus evangelicals need to stop trying to convert Catholics. The ECT document proclaimed: 


In the exercise of these public responsibilities there has been in recent years a growing convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We thank God for the discovery of one another in contending for a common cause. Much more important, we thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our cooperation as citizens is animated by our convergence as Christians. We promise one another that we will work to deepen, build upon, and expand this pattern of convergence and cooperation.…[I]n view of the large number of non- Christians in the world and the enormous challenge of our common evangelistic task, it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community. 


In Deep Church, Belcher speaks highly of Mouw’s influence, referring to him as “My mentor at Fuller Seminary, President Richard Mouw….”


Mouw also defended Emergent Church pastor and author Rob Bell’s heretical book on universalism when he wrote on his blog. “I told the USA Today reporter that Rob Bell’s newly released Love Wins is a fine book and that I basically agree with his theology.”


Mouw even reveals his theological liberalism when he says, “Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she went to hell, I have only one response: shame on you.”


While I do not know what Mother Teresa believed on her death bed, all previous doctrinal fruit suggests that Mother Teresa did not reject pagan spirituality and cling to Jesus Christ alone. Numerous statements, such as this one, reveal Mother Teresa’s rejection of biblical truth: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we . . . become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are….What God is in your mind you must accept.” 


Belcher’s book is endorsed by Tim Keller, an extremely popular author in the Reformed theology movement. Some friends who speak at conferences with Keller were shocked when I pointed out the errors in Keller’s theology. Although I will have more to say about that in a later chapter, for now let me say that what makes the religious Trojan horse so dangerous is that pastors who are thought to be theologically sound embrace false teaching and thereby give false doctrines credibility which would otherwise be rejected if presented by known theological liberals such as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, or Tony Campolo. That’s why I believe pastors like Tim Keller can be more dangerous than Bell and the like. Keller’s endorsement of Belcher exclaims:


Jim Belcher shows that we don’t have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other. This is an important book.

You know you have a problem when Tim Keller, together with one of the founders of the Emergent Church, Tony Jones, endorse Belcher’s book! 

Belcher is not the only one calling for a synthesis of the traditional church with the culture. Eddie Gibbs has declared:


The church itself will need to go through a metamorphosis in order to find its new identity in the dialectic of gospel and culture. This new situation is requiring churches to approach their context as a missional encounter. 


Excuse me, but the Church does not need to find a “new identity.” It needs to return to the prescription, the formula, the biblical requirements of a New Testament Church. We do not need to merge the church and culture. Christians are called to be in the world, but not of the world. According to Baptist Press, though, this is not good enough for Gibbs, who says:


“For the church to become a missional church, a new kind of leader will be required,” Gibbs argued. “It will not simply be a matter of people with traditional mind-sets acquiring new ministry skills to supplement what they already know.”


Gibbs’ new breed is a pastor/leader who more closely resembles a community organizer promoting social justice than a biblical shepherd of the flock. Behind this thinking is a commitment on the part of most of these authors to dominion theology, which promotes the building of God’s Kingdom through our own efforts here and now on earth. 


We are co-workers with God to build His Kingdom in the spiritual realm, by preaching the gospel without compromise. Preaching a social gospel, on the other hand, is nothing more than what a friend of mine calls “giving water bottles to people on their way to hell.” Social justice is the redistribution of wealth through socialism, and the social gospel is social justice embraced by the Church and given a Christian veneer by twisting and distorting the Word of God. These men should repent of their double-minded thinking and preach faith and repentance through the teaching of God’s Word. 

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