Consider a world in which God is so immanently
involved in the creation that He is undoing entropy1 and
recreating the world now through processes already at work.
Think of a world where the future is leading to God Himself in a
saving way for all people and all of creation. This imaginary
world is our world viewed through the lens of Emergent
Several acts of God's providence brought me to
know the nature of Emergent theology and its unique eschatology.
The first happened in 1999 during my final year in seminary when
the seminary hired a new professor, LeRon Shults. Shults, a
theological disciple of the German Theologian Wolfhart
Pannenberg, became my professor for a logic class. Shults often
described his beliefs with this simple statement: "God is the
future drawing everything into Himself."
Some years later, several people suggested that I
consider writing an article for Critical Issues Commentary, our
ministry newsletter, examining a new movement called "The
Emerging Church." For my study I carefully read Brian McLaren's
book A Generous Orthodoxy.2 What baffled me about his
theology was that his views were nearly identical to those
refuted 40 years earlier by Francis Schaeffer, who had called it
"the new theology." But as Schaeffer so clearly showed, the
result of this theology is despair because under it there is no
hope of knowing the truth. But the Emerging writers describe
their theology as one of hope. If there is no hope of knowing
the truth about God, man, and the universe we live in (as they
claim), then how is hope the result? It turns out that a
theology from the 1960s, first articulated in Germany when
Schaeffer was writing his books, is the answer.
That leads to a second providential event. A
member of our congregation handed me a book that she thought
might be of interest in my research: A is for Abductive - The
Language of the Emerging Church.3 Under the entry "Eschaton,"
the heading "The end of entropy"4 appears. It then says, "In the
postmodern matrix there is a good chance that the world will
reverse its chronological polarity for us. Instead of being
bound to the past by chains of cause and effect, we will feel
ourselves being pulled into the future by the magnet of God's
will, God's dream, God's desire."5 Reading this brought my mind
back to 1999 and Shults' interpretation of Pannenberg: "God is
the future drawing everything into Himself." Could this be the
ground of Emergent "hope"?
The third providential event was the debate with
Doug Pagitt, the 2006 event on the topic of The Emergent Church
and Postmodern Spirituality. That event gave me the opportunity
to ask Pagitt, a nationally recognized leader in the Emergent
movement, whether or not he believed in a literal future
judgment. He would not answer either way but did state that
judgment happens now through consequences in history. His
refusal to answer that question convinced me that the Pannenberg/Shults
eschatology was behind the movement!
The fourth providential event was a meeting with
Tony Jones of the Emergent Village with the goal of setting up
another debate. It turned out that they did not want another
debate, but Jones offered to answer any of my questions about
Emergent. I responded by e-mail asking about Stanley Grenz,
Wolfhart Pannenberg, LeRon Shults, and Jürgen Moltmann and their
influence on Emergent theology. Jones replied that Grenz (who,
as I will later show, praises the theologies of both Pannenberg
and Moltmann) was influential and that Jones himself was
studying under a professor named Miroslav Volf who had studied
under Moltmann. Also, he helped me with his comment that their
hope-filled belief generally leads them to reject eschatologies
that "preach a disastrous end to the cosmos."
The fifth providential event was when I fell and
fractured my ankle while trimming trees. The broken ankle
required that I sit with my leg elevated for a full week in
order to get the swelling down. I had found a copy of Jürgen
Moltmann's Theology of Hope that I knew I had to read if
I was going to write this book and prove my thesis. Reading
Moltmann was so laborious that finishing the book was not likely
to be completed quickly. But because of my immobility I finished
Moltmann, taking notes on the contents of every page.
The same week I read Moltmann I obtained the
just-published An Emergent Manifesto of Hope with Pagitt
and Jones as the editors. I read that as well and found Moltmann
cited favorably by two emergent writers.6 In that same book,
Jones describes why this theology is so hopeful for them:
"God's promised future is good, and it awaits
us, beckoning us forward. We're caught in the tractor beam
of redemption and re-creation, and there's no sense fighting
it, so we might as well cooperate."7
Or as professor Shults always said, "God is the
future drawing everything into Himself."
All of this leads me to my thesis: That the
worldview represented by the theology of Grenz, Pannenberg,
Moltmann, and Shults is the bedrock foundation of the Emergent
Church movement. Their language and ideas present themselves
on the pages of many Emergent books. For example, McLaren
"In this way of seeing, God stands ahead of
us in time, at the end of the journey, sending to us in
waves, as it were, the gift of the present, an inrush of the
future that pushes the past behind us and washes over us
with a ceaseless flow of new possibilities, new options, new
chances to rethink and receive new direction, new
Here is Pagitt's version of it:
"God is constantly creating anew. And God
also, invites us to be re-created and join the work of God
as co-(re)creators. . . . Imagine the Kingdom of God as the
creative process of God reengaging in all that we know and
experience. . . . When we employ creativity to make this
world better, we participate with God in the recreation of
These writers often refer to "God's dream."
Apparently they mean that God imagines an ideal future for the
world that we can join and help actualize. When this dream
becomes reality in the future, it will be the Kingdom of God.
This series of providential events in my life
worked together to help me accurately understand a movement that
works very hard to stay undefined. Definitions draw boundaries.
Definitions are static. But definitions are necessary in order
for us to understand anything. With no defined categories we
would be hopeless human beings because, for example, we need our
rational minds and valid categories to distinguish between food
and poison. Definitions are valid, and no amount of
philosophical legerdemain can change that reality. Definitions,
to their way of thinking, impede the process of the "tractor
beam" of redemption they are experiencing. They consider
definitions too "foundationalist," as we will discuss in a later
chapter. I believe that I can now define the Emergent Church
movement more accurately because I understand what they believe.
The Emergent Church movement is an association of
individuals linked by one very important, key idea: that God is
bringing history toward a glorious kingdom of God on earth
without future judgment. They loathe dispensationalism more than
any other theology because it claims just the opposite: that the
world is getting ever more sinful and is sliding toward
cataclysmic judgment.10 Both of these ideas cannot be true.
Either there is a literal future judgment or there is not. This
is not a matter left to one's own preference.
(The article above
is taken from
The Emergent Church: Undefining Christianity
by Bob DeWaay, pp. 15-18; used with permission.) This material
is also covered in the new DVD lecture series
Exposing the Quantum Lie
by Bob DeWaay and Warren Smith.
In September 2009, Bob DeWaay attended the "2009
Emergent Theological Conversation"
where Jurgen Moltmann was a guest speaker. This substantiated
DeWaay's findings regarding Moltmann's significant influence in
the emerging church.
Bob DeWaay is the pastor of Twin City Fellowship in St. Paul,
Minnesota and the author of The
He also writes for the
Critical Issues Commentary,
a hard-hitting, Scripturally based commentary and articles
ministry covering some of the most important issues affecting
the church today, including mysticism and spiritual formation.
1. Entropy is the principle by which physicists describe heat
loss in a closed system. The existence of entropy is a proof
that the universe is not eternal because if
it were infinitely old it would have already died of heat death.
2. CIC Issue 87, March/April 2005.
3. Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer,
A is for
Abductive - The Language of the Emerging Church
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
4. Ibid. 113.
An Emergent Manifesto of Hope,
Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones editors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007);
Moltmann is cited favorably by Dwight Friesen on page 203 and
Troy Bronsink page 73 n. 24.
7. Ibid. Tony Jones, 130.
8. Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy; (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2004) 283.
9. Doug Pagitt,
Rapids: Zondervan, 2003/2005) 185.
10. Please note that classical amillennialism also believes that
the world is facing future judgment. Emergent is not merely
opposed to dispensationalism, but any version of eschatology
that asserts that God will bring cataclysmic judgment at the end
of the age.