Being A Friend To Sinners: The Emergent Way

The following is excerpted from the WHAT IS THE EMERGING CHURCH? This book is available from Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143 (toll free phone), (online catalog), (e-mail).  I highly recommend the book.  It is one of the best on the emergent church phenomenon sweeping evangelicalism.


Being A Friend To Sinners
(originally posted at Way of Life website)

The emerging church calls upon Christians to build intimate relationships with the unsaved but not necessarily with the objective of leading them to Christ. 

Mars Hill Church in Seattle used to operate a secular rock club called Paradox which hosted hundreds of rock concerts. Senior pastor Mark Driscoll said the focus of this operation was simply to show hospitality. “So we welcomed kids into a safe place where we could build relationships of grace on Jesus’ behalf RATHER THAN PREACHING AT THE KIDS or doing goofy things like handing out tracts” (Confessions of a Reformission Rev., pp. 126, 127). 

In the eyes of emerging church leaders, distributing gospel tracts is “goofy.” 

In They Like Jesus but Not the Church, Dan Kimball begins by relating a talk he gave to a group of pastors. He told them that he spends a considerable part of his time as a pastor developing relationships with unbelievers. He said that he gets invited to [rock & roll drinking] clubs to hang out and see bands, and said that “this also is a way to hang out with and build trust and credibility with those I’m befriending” (p. 12). He said, “I shared how incredibly refreshing it is to be friends with people outside of church circles” (p. 13). When one of the pastors asked him if he had won them to Christ, he replied, “No, I’M JUST TRYING TO BE THEIR FRIEND and get to know them” (p. 14). 

When another pastor commented that the emerging generation of people are “pagans” and “they just need to hear solid preaching, which will cause them to repent of their ways,” Kimball strongly disagreed.  Kimball says the term “missional” means that “we don’t ‘bring Jesus’ to people but that we realize Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing,” and, “we serve our communities, and that we build relationships with people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets” (They Like Jesus, p. 20). 

Kimball quotes from many unsaved people that he has befriended, giving their opinions about Christ and the church, and he says: “I DIDN’T SET OUT TO PROSELYTIZE THEM; I SIMPLY MET THEM TO BEFRIEND THEM, enjoy their company, and ask their opinions. … I see them as friends, not as evangelistic targets” (p. 61).  Kimball says he thinks Christians have done more harm than good by witnessing to unbelievers using “traditional” methods of confronting them with their sin and need for Christ (p. 38). He says that instead of street witnessing we should develop “relationships in which we dialogue and build trust with people” (p. 43). 

We agree that believers should be friendly to the unsaved and should be ready to befriend them, but this friendship must be done very carefully in the context of holiness.  It is far better to invite the sinner to spend time with us than for us to spend time with them on their own turf (bars, rock concerts, and such).  And there should always be the objective of reaching the unsaved for Christ. Yes, we have an agenda, because we are commanded by our Master to preach the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15). That is the “agenda” Jesus has given us. The most important way a believer can be a friend to the unsaved is to confront him with the gospel. Assuming that hell is real and that salvation is only through faith in Christ, nothing is friendlier or more compassionate than this! 

 In his book The Peril of Islam, Gene Gurganus, who was a missionary to Muslims in Bangladesh for 17 years, gives a proper biblical philosophy of befriending unbelievers in the context of evangelism. The first of his nine suggestions for winning Muslims to Christ is the following: 

“If we are going to evangelize Muslims, the first thing we have to do is to cultivate a friendship. Saying, ‘Hello. How are you?’ is not enough. We need to come along side and get to know him, know his problems, his frustrations, his ambitions, and his fears” (p. 61). 

Gurganus is saying we should befriend the unsaved, but he is not saying what the emerging church is saying. Gurganus is saying that the objective is not merely to befriend the unsaved but to win them to Christ!   That is what we see in the life and ministry of Jesus. He was the friend of sinners par excellence and He spent time with sinners, but He never sinned in any way with sinners. Jesus was not a rock & roll “party animal.” And He most definitely had the “agenda” of saving those He befriended. He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus did not come to earth just to make friends, to give people a sympathetic ear, and to help them in some vague sense. 

The context of Jesus’ statement in Luke 19:10 was his visit to Zacchaeus’ house, and Jesus didn’t go home with the tax collector to hang out and party; he went home with him specifically to lead him to repentance. Jesus was guilty of being “a guest with a man that is a sinner” (Luke 19:7), but this simply means that he loved sinners and sought to win them to God. Jesus didn’t spend his time with sinners partying to rap music; He spent His time teaching spiritual truth.

Christ preached very plainly to people; He was not afraid of offending them with direct truth. He demanded repentance (Matthew 18:8-9; Luke 13:3-5). He instructed sinners to “sin no more” (John 8:11). He warned often of hell, at least 14 times in the Gospels, describing it as a place of fire and eternal torment (i.e., Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 11:23; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:5; 16:23). He warned men to cut off their hands and pluck out their eyes rather than go to hell. This type of preaching would put an end to any party! Jesus’ preaching was so plain and uncompromising that most of his own followers eventually turned away from Him because they were offended at His words and His powerful call to discipleship (John 6:60-66).

God has made us ambassadors for Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-21). The believer’s chief job in this world is to urge sinners to be reconciled to Christ. This is not a peripheral part of our purpose in this present world; it is the very heart of it!  Further, our ministry to the unsaved must have a great sense of urgency to it. To preach the gospel to “every creature” necessitates this. There is not time to build an intimate relationship with every unbeliever in the world. Further, the Bible says that today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). It warns against banking on tomorrow (James 4:13-14). “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12). We are the Lord’s ambassadors who are left in this world to proclaim this solemn message while there is still opportunity. 

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42).

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44).

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13).

“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

Evangelist D. L. Moody, though not one of my spiritual heroes, had it right when he said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”


This article is excerpted from the WHAT IS THE EMERGING CHURCH? This book is available from Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143 (toll free phone), (online catalog), (e-mail).


2 responses to “Being A Friend To Sinners: The Emergent Way

  1. The author of this is correct. To befriend an unbeliever without even so much as acknowledging that one is a Christian is not evangelism. You want to call it making friends, fine; but if the unbelievers don’t so much as know that you even attend church there’s a problem.

  2. Manny,
    Good article illustrating how far people will go to discredit the word of God as if it is no longer important to obey. The great tragedy is they substitute the truth with a lie similar to how Satan deceived Eve in the Garden and come up their own agenda to follow. Genesis [3: 1] describes Satan as; “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.” Here the devil in the shape of a serpent deceived Eve into believing a lie as if he was telling her the truth and she bought into his plan. The greater sin they pretend their prescription of truth is equal to Biblical truth deceiving many into following their agenda.

    A friend of mine sent me the web-site to the following sermon “The Subtlety of Satan” that was preached by Pastor Jim on July 8, 2012. First Baptist Church Johnson City, NY. The pastor addresses how Satan little by little has deceived the church into compromising the word of God. Be prepared the sermon is almost 1 hr. long but worth your time. It supports a lot of the things that Manny has been writing about.

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