Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis: Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Brian McLaren has two remarkable posts up at the moment which explain his strategy and his goals in his speaking and writing. He basically admits that he is trying to nudge Evangelicals leftward and this is why he has tried to stay within the Evangelical world so long. He has been a theological liberal for a long time, but only gradually revealed his true leanings so as to take as many souls with him out the door as possible.

The first post is on the Sojourners website where he defends Jim Wallis and Sojourners against criticism from the Left based on the fact that Sojourners magazine refused an ad from a pro-homosexual group aimed at local churches. The criticism seems to be two-fold: (1) "why aren't you openly with us on this issue when you are with us on so many others" and (2) "you are being hypocritical because we both know you favor the liberal position on sexuality." So how does McLaren defend Wallis?

Basically, his argument comes down to this: Sojourners is trying to influence as many Evangelicals as possible toward a left-wing, welfare-state, big government politics by portraying themselves as advocates for poverty reduction. And it is working; a sliver of the left wing of the Evangelical spectrum is being seduced [my word] into Marxism. And this is Sojourners' mission. In the world of left-wing politics there are many Soros-funded advocacy groups, but only one that has a realistic chance of appealing to left-wing Evangelicals and so Jim Wallis can perform a service for the radical Left that no one else can. Why destroy that potential by taking a position Evangelicals oppose so strongly it would drive them away?

In this post, McLaren links in this post to one on his blog in which he chronicles his journey from a conservative to a progressive position on homosexuality. What I found interesting is how far back his openness to theological liberalism, cultural Marxism and progressive politics actually goes. He writes:

I speak as a person who inherited the conventional conservative position about homosexuality, but who began questioning it in my teens when one of my close friends came out. When faced with the choice between a) truly listening and seeking to understand this friend and b) showing what compassion I could without endangering my status in conservative Christian circles, I chose b). I suppose my response during my "conventional phase" could have been worse, but it could have been much better.

When I became a pastor, more and more gay people came out to me and data started to accumulate that indicated problems with my inherited understanding. I went through a stage where I sought to be as personally understanding and humane to LGBTQ people as I could while still holding, however tenuously, to a theology that stigmatized them.
So his leftist ideas about human sexuality go all the way back to his teens, before he ever became a pastor. So, you may wonder, how did he ever gain a reputation as an Evangelical writer? It was no accident, but a deliberately crafted strategy:

But at this point I was a pastor and had to deal with the conflict between two commitments: first, one of my primary job requirements - to keep together rather than divide my congregation on the one hand, and second, to stand up with integrity and be counted as an advocate for people I had become convinced were being treated with neither justice nor compassion. I negotiated this tension by speaking up when I could and by seeking to use my influence to increase sensitivity to people whom I felt were being treated by Christians in a truly sub-Christian way.

But at every turn I felt that I couldn't speak out too strongly too fast without dividing the church that I was called to serve. . . .

You might ask why I didn't go ahead and take a stand, letting the chips fall where they may. After all, I had inherited a conservative position on the role of women in church leadership, and our church crossed that boundary and never looked back. The honest answers to that question are complex and many (perhaps a subject for another time). . . .

One essential dimension of my decision to hold back was my desire - and sense of calling - to hold together a fragile coalition.
He wanted to hold together a coalition, which is exactly what he claims is motivating Jim Wallis to cultivate ambiguity about where he stands on biblical morality. In other words, he wanted Evangelical money, Evangelical support and Evangelical converts to his liberal position. He wanted Evangelicalism to underwrite its own destruction.

To the extent that Evangelicals embrace McLaren's sordid sexual ethics and his vacuous and heretical theology, they will witness institutional decline as their hold on the Gospel evaporates. To see the future, one only has to look at the rapidly declining liberal Protestants in the Episcopal Church. The future is statistical decline, cultural irrelevance, and eventually death.

Evangelicals lives only by the Gospel; Evangelical churches grow only because they have a life transformational Gospel to preach. Take that away and substitute a vaguely humanistic therapeutic message and socialism in its progressivist form, and there is no future. The Gospel is Good News about sin and salvation, heaven and hell, a supernatural Savior and a living God who answers prayer. If one turns these doctrines into symbols of social justice with a Marxist tinge, one eviscerates them of meaning and significance.

Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis are trolling for poorly-taught, Scripturally-ignorant, emotion-driven, easily-deceived prey on the left wing or other fringes of Evangelicalism. They pretend to be (kind of) Evangelical even though they have really embraced a new religion and they are dangerous to those sheep who wander around outside the sheepfold. Tragically, there are a lot of wayward sheep and sleepy shepherds today and so the pickings are not slim at all for the wolves.

Let us recall the warning of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:28-32) [ESV, my bolding]
Elders of Evangelical churches have a duty to speak out and warn the flock about those who are "speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them;" men such as Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis, who are wolves disguised as sheep. Make no mistake: book royalties are not their goal, they are after souls. And they are extremely open about it.


The Brooks said...

What do you think of the opposite happening? What about very conservative pastors in mainline groups adopting the same tactic that Mclaren did? Do you think it's still possible to do this? Or is it too late?

Craig Carter said...

I'm exactly not sure what you mean. But if you are asking what effect a conservative pastor in a liberal Protestant denomination can have, the question is highly debatable. I'm not sure what to think; each situation is a little bit different.

I don't think that the liberal denominations that have gone so far as to embrace homosexuality can be turned around. It seems that they have totally lost the Gospel. So a conservative in say the Anglican or United Churches would be dreaming if he thought the goal was to turn the ship around. The most one could hope for is to be a below the radar subversive and to influence a few individuals.

A difficult question, however, is how to avoid being co-opted and corrupted. There is a totalitarian tendency in liberal theology that tolerates very little in the way of dissent. So the pressure is on.

Another issue is whether it is responsible to raise one's family in a morally and spiritually toxic environment. But to say that is to provoke another question: what to do with converts? If someone becomes a Christian, do you encourage them to join your church or go where he or she will be safer spiritually?

Then there is the consideration that alternative, orthodox denominations need good leaders and by staying in the dying denomination you are depriving the orthodox group of your service.

I think each case is a bit different. If you are an Anglican priest under an orthodox bishop in an island of Evangelicalism then you are in a different situation than you would be as an associate pastor of a liberal United Church in which the senior pastor is a liberal. Also, if you are 60 it is different than if you are 30.

These are just some thoughts that occur to me; it is a difficult question.

The Brooks said...

Thanks Dr. Carter.

My question has more to do with mainline denominations that haven't yet caved on the homosexuality issue and lost the gospel.

For example, the Presbyterian Church of Canada still has an orthodox position on sexuality currently .... but what about eight years from now?

What would you think about a conservative beginning his labor in the PCC?

Craig Carter said...

The PCC is probably doomed, but I'm no insider and I am only looking at it from the outside.

My only thought is that I really wish there was a solid Canadian conservative Presbyterian denomination. The PCA and OPC and others have never gotten a foothold here in Canada and I'm not sure why. But we really could use some strong Presbyterian churches here in Canada to give a scholarly and doctrinally robust fiber to Evangelicalism.

If I thought there was hope for the PCC I'd give it a whirl. But is there?

Email me so we can talk offline.