Friday, March 12, 2010

Christianity and McLarenism: A Response to "A New Kind of Christianity" - Part II

- Continued From Last Post -

4. Salvation by Good Works: Turning the Biblical Gospel Upside Down
On p. 204 Mclaren explains his revised understanding of the Final Judgment. It will be the "life and way of Jesus - not a list of laws, rules, or beliefs - to be the high and gracious standard by which history's events and our own lives will be valued and evaluated." So what we believe about Jesus is irrelevant. Whether we have put our trust in His amazing grace or not is beside the point. McLaren has nothing to say about the Lamb's Book of Life in Rev. 20.

On the one hand we have the most depressing moralism: "God will examine the story of our lives for Christlikeness - for a cup of cold water or a plate of hot food given to one in need . . . " By this standard none of us has a hope. But, on the other hand, there is a breezy and cheerful denial of eternal punishment: "So when we say, with the writer of Hebrews, that 'it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment,' we are not saying 'and after that the condemnation' (Heb. 9:27). We are saying, with John, that to 'see God,' to be in God's unspeakable light, will purge us of all darkness." (p., 205)

He twists the Scripture here so as to make it say that we will all escape condemnation even if we have no personal faith in Christ. There is no eternal punishment, no hell, no eternal separation from God. The promises made to believers are applied to humanity as such. All that is important is that we do good works, but even when we don't we still will experience salvation.

5. Undermining the Authority of Scripture: From Constitution to Library
In chapters 7-9 McLaren works hard to subordinate the authority of the Bible to the enlightened common sense of late modern, Western culture. He says that we should move from viewing it as a constitution (i.e. a document with authority) to a library (from which we can pick and choose what suits us).

He sees the Bible as the record of the evolution of human ideas about God and the trajectory is from viewing God as violent, tribal and punitive to seeing God as peaceful, universal and tolerant, that is as Christlike. The 19th century liberal Protestants who advocated this type of evolutionary view of the Bible engaged in a lot of detailed biblical criticism to rearrange the order and structure of the Bible so as to get the structure of primitive to higher to line up properly. But McLaren does not engage in that level of detailed consideration of the text. For him, what is important is that have a common sense conception of what is loving and good and then we project that on Jesus, who then becomes our criterion for choosing what in the library is "relevant."

The problem for the evolutionary view of the Bible is that there is grace in Genesis and wrath in Revelation. And the biblical Jesus speaks as much about hell and judgment as most of the Evangelical theologians and pastors McLaren rejects as "gatekeepers," "prison guards" and other unsavory labels.

6. Having a Crisis of Faith? Get a Consultant
Chapter 21 is a kind of altar call plus some follow up advice for those who come forward in response to McLaren's call for conversion. He starts out by assuming a victim/martyr position and assuring the potential convert that in ten years' time it will be easier for them because of "some of us who have pioneered the early paths and taken the brunt of the first rounds of unfriendly fire from people who, like Gamaliel's colleagues, want to 'keep it from spreading further among the people.' (Acts 4:17)" (p. 242) He is pretty clear he is in a war and he expects to win.

He gives some advice to people who find his new religion compelling and want to join. If potential converts find their pastor or priest strangely uninterested in McLarenism, they should not bother them. Instead they should consider leaving their church and starting a new congregation. Instead of trusting their own pastors and leaders, McLaren advises them to "get a consultant." Now, it just so happens that McLaren and his friends, Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt advertise themselves as "consultants."

At the end of the day the most fundamental question is the one Jesus posed to his disciples: Who do you say that I am?" (Mk. 8:29) Brian McLaren sees Jesus as the one who proclaims the new society of the kingdom of God, a teacher of ethics whose message remains when all the doctrinal accretions have been swept away. J. G. Machen, in his classic, Christianity and Liberalism, critiques the liberals of the early 20th century who argued for such a view of Jesus:
"In another way also the teaching of Jesus was rooted in doctrine. It was rooted in doctrine because it depended upon a stupendous presentation of Jesus' own Person. The assertion is often made that Jesus kept his own Person out of His gospel, and came forward merely as the supreme prophet of God. That assertion lies at the very root of the modern liberal conception of the life of Christ. But common as it is, it is radically false." (p. 33)
In the end, McLarenism is another religion and not Christianity at all because it does not do justice to the biblical portrayal of Jesus Christ.

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