If you’re familiar with Superman, you might be familiar with one of his enemies, Bizarro.
Bizarro is a doppelgänger of Superman—a broken, inverted, mirror image. For example, Bizarro comes from a square planet called Htrae, where it is a crime to do good. He’s pale and zombie-like. He’s very dumb, speaking a primitive version of English. But he’s powerfully strong.
You get the idea.
Here’s something to look out for—bizarro grace! It goes by the name “grace”—but it’s got all the wrong features.
I recently read an excellent book about the emerging church movement (ECM), written by two sociologists and published by Oxford University Press, called The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel. As sociologists, Marti and Ganiel are simply reporting, based on interviews and other research, what people in the emerging church believe, without offering their own opinions about it. It is very eye opening.
The ECM is basically progressive in its theology. They have a low view of Scripture, a low view of truth, and are morally and theologically permissive, allowing a wide variety of opinions…so long as the opinion lands comfortably on the left-hand side of the spectrum.
For example, a recurring theme was the moral permissiveness in the ECM:
When Wyatt was asked by his church, “Do you want to be on leadership?,” he responded, “Well, yeah, but I don’t want to be a moral pillar or whatever. I’m still trying to figure this stuff out. Like, next week my friend is turning twenty-one, and we’re going to take him out and get him drunk and go to a strip club.” According to Wyatt, his plans did not disqualify him for leadership. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, we still want you to be on the leadership,’ and I said, ‘That’s great. I would love to be on the leadership.’” (p. 46).
So purposefully getting drunk and visiting a strip club (i.e., sex workers) is not a barrier to leadership in the ECM!
Another theme was the ECM’s increasing advocacy for LGBTQ issues and overall sexual permissiveness, which was shocking even for progressive people:
A gay man expressed similar surprise regarding his reactions to the sexual lifestyles of others in his congregation. He talked about people he had met who were in a “polyamorous relationship” that sidestepped notions of monogamy. He said, “it blows my mind, and it’s so fascinating to talk to them and go, ‘How does that work for you? You call yourself a Christian, and you’re obviously engaged with this learning relationship with Christ. But how?’ I mean, it’s just mind-boggling to me” (p. 53).
The authors continue:
Despite his discomfort, he refuses to condemn this lifestyle. “I don’t know if I can say, ‘I don’t think you should be in that relationship’—those hard words. That’s really hard for all of us.” He explained, “I’m constantly affirmed and constantly growing and constantly being challenged to rethink things and think outside the box. Always there’s grace to understand all that. It’s really changing me in my understanding of God’s grace and what grace really is about.” (p. 53).
What does grace mean to this man (or what has he learned grace means from the ECM)? Refusing to call sins what they are—calling sin “good,” or at least turning a blind eye to it. “I’m constantly affirmed,” the man said. Unconditionally affirmation is not healthy, is it? Do you think every decision you make, even the bad ones, the plain ole evil ones, the ones that hurt others and yourself, should be affirmed?
Of course, not.
We all need affirmation, but we don’t need to be affirmed in our sins. That’s not grace; that’s just a lack of moral conviction, holiness, and church discipline. It’s libertinism. That’s bizarro grace—a twisted imitation of the real thing.
True, Jesus loves you even though you are a sinner. In a loveless world full of harsh criticism, judgmententalism, and rejection, that message of love is what we all need to hear. But it’s precisely because you are a sinner and Jesus loves you anyways that makes His love so amazing. God shows you grace, in Christ, through faith, in spite of your sins.
Jesus loves you—but don’t confuse His love with His approval. He didn’t approve of the Corinthians’ carnality, and if the book is correct about the ECM’s moral permissiveness, I don’t think He’d approved of it either.