Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything Must Change I

We're starting a book discussion on Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change. We'll take it in chunks: after "Everything Must Change I, we'll have EMC II, EMC III, etc. If you're reading the book, skip the next section of this post and go directly to Comments. The following will attempt to summarize the first two sections (roughly the first 70 or so pages) for those who haven't been reading.

McLaren begins with the two questions that have preoccupied him for years, What are the world's biggest problems? and What does Jesus have to say about them? His main contention is that, while the Gospel of Jesus has in fact has a lot to say about these matters, the Western Church has largely proven to be a failed religion in responding to the world's present distress (e.g., environmental degradation, hunger, violence, slavery, addiction, etc).
In the second part, he develops the metaphor of a Suicide Machine to describe the impact of modern Western civilization on the Creation and the human community. All societies have legitimate needs for prosperity, security and equity, and all have a "framing story" that meshes these three areas of need into a coherent whole. (One example would be the way in which the framing story of the pax Romana justified the Empire's manner of providing prosperity, security and equity.) He contends that our current societal "machine" (using the term metaphorically) has become suicidal in the way it attempts to resource prosperity, security and equity in a manner that ravages the ecosystem in which it is necessarily embedded. He further argues that the Church has been largely complicit in the development of this suicide machine, either because of a deficient theology that assumes God has no interest in his Creation but only in "saving" people out of it, or because the Church in the West has tended to enjoy and depend upon the blandishments of the modern enterprise (or some combination of the two).
McLaren concludes section two as follows: "... we have raised the possibility that Jesus' message might be seen as an alternative framing story that, if believed, could save the system from suicide. To test this possibility, we will need to consider the possibility that "Jesus" as we have understood him has... been domesticated and made part of the dominant framing story. For Jesus to save the system, we must first, in a sense, save Jesus--by reframing him outside the confines of our dominant and largely unquestioned assumptions" (page 73).

69 comments:

Brian Emmet said...

A couple of reminders: let's try not to chase too many rabbits at the same time. Try to stay on topic until that particular conversation seems to have run its course (or you just cannot wait any longer). It's good to acknowledge the comments of others. And brevity will be prized, prolixity discouraged.

smokin joe said...

What did you think of the book?

smokin joe said...

Ok, since no one else is going to comment, I’ll go. I read 80 pages and laid it down and lost interest. I think my problem with the book is his writing style … he uses a slightly exaggerated “down-to-earth” style, almost simplistic. Perhaps because I have become accustomed to reading so many academic books, I find that his style puts me off a little. Also, many of his points of view are already familiar to me … such as on page 4, his statement,

“Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven”

This is familiar ground for anyone with a ‘covenant’ history. Nothing new for us. Many of his social and environmental concerns are not new for me either, due to my involvement with secular academic people. When I read N.T. Wright, I feel like I am reading steak or at least a good gourmet cheese burger. When I read McLaren… it is always good, but feels less substantial. That’s a more personal preference.

Here is what I like about his book:

In my opinion, he is attempting to “do theology” from and for a postmodern perspective –something that needs to be done and will be done, with our without us. I applaud his effort.
He is centered around the kingdom more than the church. His previous book, The Secret Message of Jesus deal more directly with his views of the kingdom …this book is more about the application of the kingdom to current social and global problems.
He makes his postmodern, kingdom-centered theology very accessible to the average reader … a person does not need to be a specialist to follow his argument.
He is doing a very good ‘apologetic’ for the kingdom of God for secular-liberal people .. especially young people who tend to be very concerned about global issues. We may not like the style or the package, but his writing is not so much for us as it is for my young, democrat friends who love Obama. It is something that is urgently needed from the increasingly irrelevant Evangelical-Christian community.

I will get another copy and continue reading. His last two books provide me with excellent tools for communicating the KoG with young liberal intellectuals. McLaren is worth wrestling with.

Brian Emmet said...

Hey, don't give the whole game away until some other folks have had a chance to weigh in!

So far, McLaren is feeling to me like "back to the future"--a lot of it sounds to me like early 20th-century liberal Protestantism 'updated' for a new generation. I'm not finding much in McLaren so far that strikes me as much different from what most mainline denoms today would be very comfortable with. Am I missing the point somehow?

smokin joe said...

well... the main line denoms have been declining ... and the emerging movement has some mojo ... plus many in the emerging movement are coming from a heritage of conservative evangelicalism ... so even if nothing he was saying is different than mainline denoms (which I am not yet willing to concede) the fact that his views are getting a hearing among young 'missional' evangelicals is in itself noteworthy.

Regarding mainline denoms... I don't think they were engaging postmodernism... i DO think the Protestant concern for social issues has been neglected by Evangelicals and needs to be revisited in a postmodern context.

John M. said...

I am taking baby steps into EMC. Been working on a labor intensive project, so haven't gotten far. I'm taking my Mom to visit in Ohio, leaving soon today. Won't have access until Tues. when I return, so I'll be playing catch-up. I had hoped to get up a comment before leaving, but it's not going to happen. Talk to you guys when I get back.

Brian Emmet said...

Happy trails, John!

If my observation about McLaren seeming to have "rediscovered" liberal Protestantism has any merit to it, I would not see this as a positive development for the EMC, given the fact that liberal Protestantism represents, to my mind, a serious departure from Biblical faith.

Evangelicalism may have a weak record on social justice issues, but the answer to that problem is not in reclothing liberal Protestantism in supposedly postmodern garb.

smokin joe said...

Hey Brian,

I have to take issue with you on this one. What aspects exactly of Liberal Protestantism do you feel represent a “serious departure from biblical faith”? You can’t just paint an entire wing of the church with such a broad brush without going into some specifics.

I’m guessing that you have in mind such things as the virgin birth, the Trinity, the incarnation and the divinity of Christ, and/or a universalistic view of salvation. Correct? I would agree that these views are essential to a biblical faith.

I have personally known liberal Protestant pastors who have held to orthodox beliefs in all of those areas, but just happened to be ‘politically liberal.’ So please be careful about blanket statements like the one you made above. I don’t think you can generalize about all of liberal or mainline Protestantism as being unbiblical. Detrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind.

Second, I think it unfair to generalize about liberal Protestants and then attach that generalization to McLaren without going into the substance of McLaren’s argument. I admit I have only read about 80 pages, but I do not recall anywhere in this book or in his other books where McLaren questions any of the orthodox doctrines mentioned above. What he does do, is present a more liberal political view of social issues … I think you are on really shaky ground to imply that because a) he sounds like a liberal Protestant he is unbiblical, or b) because he takes a more progressive view on global social or political issues, then he must be unbiblical. As far as I have read, he believes in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, and as far as salvation, my impression is that he is an inclusivist but not a universalist.

Brian Emmet said...

Anyone else like to weigh in? Have I slandered McLaren, or liberals? Don't let Joseph and me do all the heavy lifting!

smokin joe said...

ditto! I have aneaky feeling that you and I are the only ones reading McLaren, except for John, who is on a road trip. 8-)

smokin joe said...

so ... Brian... besides that fact that you think McLaren is theologically liberal, and unbiblical, was there anything you liked in the first 75 pages?

Brian Emmet said...

OK, OK... to back up a comment or two:

"Liberal Protestanitism" is different from being "liberal" on certain social or ethical issues, or being "a liberal" in the current political context. "Liberal Protestantism" refers to the theological movement of the late 19th/early 20th century--the 'foe' of the fundamentalists, the progenitor of the so-called mainline churches, the brainchild of Enlightenment-formed theologians from Schleiermacher to Tillich (yes, these are very broad strokes). The movement denied the meaningful authority of Scripture--they would say they undesrtand this authority in a different way--and from that denial flowed a restructuring of Christian theology that, in essence, denied most of not all of the tenants of orthodoxy.

It is certainly possible that there are orthodox believers who are politically liberal and members of liberal Protestant denominations. However, their theological orthodoxy in fact puts them in conflict with their denominational theologies.

Godliness of character and genuine piety do not necessarily indicate an embrace and practice of 'the truth' Biblically understood. This applies to us all, not just to 'liberal Protesstants.'

My problem(s) w/ McLaren flow not from his denial of the specific truths you mentioned, but the way he handles Scripture. I don't think he denies the 'core doctrines,' but I suspect his theological children will. For example, McLaren is clearly uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus through his death somehow satisfied (expiated or propitiated) the 'wrath of God.' He advances a Jesus-as-medicine-for-the-addiction-that-is-sin metaphor. What McLaren characterizes as 'the conventional view'--and by the way, his characterizations of this view at the best are straw men, at the bad represent significant misunderstandings and at the worst are outright misrepresentations--ends up picturing us and Creation needing to be saved 'from God', which McLaren finds a distatseful and unscriptural idea. Why does McLaren largely abandon a metaphor (the legal/courtoom metaphor) that is foundational to the presentation of the Gospel in the NT for another that while helpful is largely absent from Scripture?

Taking a progressive or 'liberal' view of certain social issues is of course not a departure from Biblical faith. However, I'm pretty sure I can demonstrate, if anyone is interested, that McLaren is far more the theological offspring of the seminal thinkers of 'liberal Protestantism' than of, for example, Luther or, in our day, David Wells (who I am NOT comparing directly to Luther!)

But I could be wrong and will be happy to repent when my errors are brought to light.

So there! ;~)

smokin joe said...

thanks Brian, that was more helpful. All I was asking for was for you to be a little more specific and give a concrete example. The example you are going about atonement is a good one, and I will ponder it.

Brian Emmet said...

I think my main quarrel with McL is what I perceive as his loss of confidence in the authority and truth of Scripture. He cites Scripture, he seeks to contextualize Scripture, he refers to Scripture... but Scripture doesn't seem to me to really form for him a foundational, authoritative word of God that is true for all people in all times and places. (This goes beyond necessary and appropriate contextualization, good historical research, etc.) I think this is why he spends so much of the first part of the book developing a "new framing story" (the suicide machine)--a perfectly good framing story is available to him--Romans 1 comes immediately to my mind--but he doesn't really go there, and I have to wonder why. I think it may be due in part to his reaction against his conservative roots, but a deeper problem is the way in which he seriously distorts "the conventional view." While there certainly are folks who may hold the caricatured views McL includes in "the conventional view", it is hardly the case that the only, or best, way to get to where McL wants to go is by chucking most of "the conventional view" (symptomatic as well, by the way, of his a-hitoricity--there's Jesus and the apostles, then 2000 years of not a whole lot that's of value, then voila: the church emerges from the long night of "the conventional view"!) and substituting a way cooler framing story. I think it's pretty clear that this mirrors the "liberal protestantism" of the early 20th century: Scripture isn't really all that definitive. We need to "get behind/beyond" the conventional Jesus given us by the conventional church and discover the real Jesus, who interestingly enough looks and sounds a whole lot like an emergent postmodern.

An example of all this: McL in several places says we need to move from the Good News ABOUT Jesus (what the conventional view has given us) and get back to the Good News OF Jesus. Does McL really believe that the Good News isn't ABOUT Jesus, that the Good News OF Jesus is not also the Good News ABOUT Jesus?

If I am reading McL accurately (big IF!), this will quickly come to mean that Jesus' saving work has more to do with his being a good example, likely THE example, of "how God works his will for the world", and that the Cross somehow is a saving act but not in any way we can really know or understand with any real confidence. It takes me back to sophomore year at college, sitting in the class of the great dean of NT studies, Krister Stendahl, who remarked that "Jesus preached the kingdom, but the church preached Jesus." My question: why the "but"?

smokin joe said...

have you had the same observations from any of his other books?

If you are right, maybe that is why I started losing interest in the book. Or then again, maybe you are a unreconstructed conservative modernist! ;-)

I wonder how the judicial, or forensic view of penal substitution (did I say that right? This area is not my strengh) compare with earlier medieval or patristic views of salvation?

Brian Emmet said...

Yeah, I've felt this for a while about McL, but a lot of my concerns seemed to have crystallized in reading the current book. But I may be misreading or misunderstanding him, so I am happy to be corrected by my betters.

I'm not competent to discourse on patristic, medieval and reformational understandings of the judicial/forensic view of penal substitution. Emergents, if I understand them, take a fairly dim view of the reformational construction of the penal substitution--"cosmic child abuse" in a phrase I suspect Steven Chalke, its autor, would like to have back! Can anyone else enlighten us on these matters?

smokin joe said...

I'm not sure that you have any "betters" in this forum in terms of theology, unless it is Steve. The two of you are much more theologically oriented that I am ... I am more of a 'history/cultural' issues type of guy, although I like to dabble in it.

The reason I am asking about the patristic and medieval views of soteriology... is that one of the contentions of some of the emerging people is precisely that the legal metaphor is heavily influenced by Reformation rationalism. The particular comment I read (don't remember who it was, might have been online) emphasized that the legal metaphor had "some" validity...but that it was only one of several metaphors for viewing the work of salvation, even though it has become the dominant metaphor for evangelicals.

I sense that this is an area of conviction that is very important to you ... so I don't want to unduly ruffle your feathers on it... but it seems to me that Jesus approached salvation very differently than the legal metaphor ... he mostly dealt with salvation is entrance into a kingdom lifestyle. I cannot recal anywhere that he raised the issue of penal substitution ...

It is true that the legal or forensic approach can be found in and supported by Paul (mostly in Romans). But not in James... and off the top of my head, not so much in Peter or John.

So, I guess the question is, is McLaren attacking frontally the forensic, legal view of penal substitution? or is he trying to help the evangelical world to broaden their understanding of 'sozo', to the fullness of its meaning: healing, deliverance, restoration and wholeness...both corporately and individually.

I'm not taking issue with your view here...just thinking outloud. I think you expressed a valid concern.

On the other hand, the 1970s and 80s approach to using the Romans Road and the 4 Spiritual Laws to sell cosmic fire insurance for "personal" salvation was surely unbalanced and even "unbiblical" as well. Perhaps with McLaren the pendulum is swinging a little too far in trying to bring a needed corrective? As did the Reformers in their time occasionally go too far in correcting the abuses of medieval Catholicism?

Brian Emmet said...

I don't mean to be prickly about this; in part, I'm just trying to stir up some good conversation (which we're having!) I agree that there is more to sozo than the legal/forensic picture, but it seems to me like the meregent folk end up (inadvertently, I hope) driving a wedge between Jesus and Paul here--another example of their 'liberal protestantism' in postmodern attire.

In terms of Jesus' use or non-use of a penal metaphor for his message and work, I would say that the Gospels frame their telling of the story with it, from the angel's words, "YOu shall call him Jesus because he will save his people from tehir sins," to John's testimony, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," to "he bore our sicknesses and by his stripes we are healed," to "It is finished!" along with all of the OT antecedents that these passages draw upon. The work of the cross is not exhausted by the legal or penal metaphor, surely--but why neglect something to which Scripture bears such clear witness? Why set one "theory of the atonement" against others? Scripture doesn't do that--no one "theory" could ever comprehend it; we need them all, and all working together.

It is also the case that the Reformers were 16th century folk locked in conflict with the RC Church of their time--however, does that mean they got Paul wrong, or that what they came up with can now be set aside because "we know better"?

From 1 Peter: "the sprinkling of his blood" (1:2), "Christ suffered for you" (1:21), "he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree... by his wounds you have been healed" (1:24), "you were redeemed from your futile ways with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish" (2:17-19), "for Christ died for our sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (3:18).

I'm not meaning to lecture or hector you either! Am I really missing the point of McLaren?

Brian Emmet said...

Hey, at least you and I are having a fruitful conversation!

John the Musician said...

Hate to say it but I haven't read and probably won't read the book... just doesn't really seem like something that would catch my interest and from reading you guys' comments I would guess that when he entitled the book Everything Must Change he probably meant to say let's all stay the same and not change a damn thing.

I think in many ways it's possible that people set out to set a bench mark and somewhere along the line they end up going back to what they know and feel most comfortable with. It's pretty difficult to stay out of our comfort zones, and yet I think in a lot of ways that's what God calls us to do. Be uncomfortable in the world and be comfortable in your spirit in relation to Jesus.

Just thought I'd chime in to keep you guys from getting lonely =OP

Brian Emmet said...

Hey, John, thanks for chiming in! It's probably unfair to McLaren to say he really doesn't propose serious and significant chnage... there is some disagreement about whether the changes he proposes are good. But there doesn't seem to be a ton of interest in this book, so not pressing you to read it.

Randy R. said...

Hey Brian, why do you keep apologizing for your comments on McL? I have not and am not reading this book; although, I did read one of his earlier works. Based on your summary statements at the indroduction of this blog, I have some theological thoughts regarding McL and his work, which are based on my 60 hour Masters' degree in Theological Studies, completed ten years ago and the subsequent study and work that I have done since then: I feel that he is full of shit! Period!

Brian Emmet said...

Uh, Randy, that's perhaps a bit more, uh, aggressive than I'm willing to be in my assessment... ;~) I want to make sure I'm neither misreading nor misinterpreting McL. Besides, if nobody says anything that's reasonably inflammatory, it's hard to get a spirited conversation going!

Randy R. said...

I interrupt this program for an important announcement! We have not yet discussed what is happening in Lakeland, Florida, and I don't want to change the course of this present discussion (all be it pirmarily between Joseph and Brian). However, for all "listening" eyes (!), I wanted to share something.

We have a woman in our church, Collette, who is in late 30's, has been in good physical condition, relatively small in stature, who over a year ago developed chronic back pain along with fiber mialgae (sp). For the most part she has been bed-ridden (literally). We have baby-sat her two young children, provided meals, prayed for her, cleaned her home, etc.,etc. She took pain medication during the day, could not sleep with out some medication, and could not sit more than an hour. It has been a tough one.

Her husband had a business trip to Orlando last week and flew her down at the end of the week, so that they could go to Lakeland. I must confess, I was somewhat skeptical; in fact, my daughter, Michelle, was watching the children while she was away, and my son-n-law, Jeremy, asked me what I was going to do when she returned and was not healed?! I think you already know what I am going to share: God has miraculously healed her!!!!! She can sit for hours on end, she is dancing, no more meds! PTL! Brian, why don't you ask McL to put that in his pipe and smoke it!

Brian Emmet said...

That's good news! And I don't think it's anything McL would take issue with--do you? He may not feature this dimension of the kingdom as prominently as some would like, but I'm not aware that he denies the reality of God's healing power.

Randy, even though you're not reading the current book, I'd be interested in hearing more about what from your theological studies persuaded you that McL was full of, how should we put this politely, bovine excrement?

david said...

joe, as to the patristic understanding of the atonement - it doesn't seem that until anselm (11th century) does the penal substitutionary model really come the the fore.

i've recently read a new book by a methodist professor at asbury seminary entitled "recovering the scandal of the cross" in which he discusses the various takes on the atonement and which one he see as the most compatible with scripture and the alligning patristic understanding of it. very good read.

don woolley said...

so I'll interupt my lurking to say I went to Asbury Seminary and had Joel Green (the author of the book you mention). He's an amazing, brilliant guy.

I need to get that book - thanks for the tip.

smokin joe said...

Thanks David, I'll check it out. hey David and Don, could you guys send me your email addresses? my address is josenmiami@yahoo.com

thanks!

don woolley said...

mine is jesustribe@comcast.net

Brian Emmet said...

I'll be in and out over the next ten days, so may not be as active here. feel free to continue, or to strike off in a different direction. Wherever you go, I'll catch up!

Brian Emmet said...

What, I go away for a couple of days and NOTHING HAPPENS? Sheesh...

John M. said...

John, don't mind these guys and their heavy theological discussion. McLaren doesn't focus on this kind of thing, he's very conversational in his writing style, is a great story-teller and is easy to understand. I think you would resonate with a lot of what he's saying.

I wish we could engage issues without always polarizing. (I know, I do it too; and I'm probably doing it in this post, although that's not my desire.) I think McLaren is trying to depolarize issues, believe it or not.

God is neither "conservative" nor "liberal". God is too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives. God will not stay in your box, no matter how convinced you are that within your box, perfect orthodoxy exists. In fact, God delights in jumping out of our humanly constructed (yes I know that your box is perfectly biblical) boxes. He also crushes every box he gets a chance to, or at least dismantles it piece by piece.

Personally, I don't want to stay in a box that God has left, no matter how familiar and comfortable it is. Do I believe that the core fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy have changed, including biblical authority? Absolutely not. But I also don't claim to have the last or best word on how God views all this -- what His total thoughts are on these issues. I absolutely believe in absolute truth in the sense that God is absolute, but I do not claim to have an absolute grasp of the absolute reality of God. What if in his absolute, unchanging nature God also morphs and moves and interacts with His creation in ways that affect Him as well as us? Oops, more heresy. I would rather be swimming in gray, swirling theological waters that challenge my presuppositions and be where God is moving, than to be in a crystal clear, black and white theological box that God is not in.

Randy, how can you say that McLeran is "full of shit" when you haven't read him or listened to him? I doubt that you like it when others do the same thing to you. I suggest that you not hide behind your 60-hour Master's degree in Theological Studies , and come on out and engage the present reality of at least one significant segment of the Body of Christ -- the emerging church movement. Don't just write off a whole lot of brothers and sisters in Christ, who represent many of the next generation leaders, with a, "you're full of shit". They'll just write you off as a pharisee and go on with their "shit" as you call it.

John M. said...

PS Randy, I didn't intend to demean your degree. Please forgive me if I did. I respect the time, effort and dollars it took to gain it. But seemed in your statement it seemed that you were using it as a qualification to write off McLaren. If, in fact, that is true, then that's where I have a problem with using it that way.

On another note. For Brian and Joseph and anyone who lurked through their atonement discussion, I recommend that you go to www.jesuscreed.org, click on "atonement" in the side bar and read Brian McLaren's review of Scot McKnight's book "A Community Called Atonement", posted August 24, 2007.

John the Musician said...

phew I had to take a breather after that one John. =O) I definately appreciate your desire to move into different boxes as you feel that God himself is moving.

That reminds me of the quote from Narnia, "Aslan's on the move." He never works in the same way twice, and that seems to remain true of God as well. It's extremely important however to realize that God isn't specifically trying to not the same thing over and over but rather that for each person for each movement for each generation there is a vastly different approach that is needed in order to be effective. As similar as all humans are we are still exceedingly unique, if we weren't then we'd all know exactly how every other person will act.

I wonder if perhaps we all got our unique-ness from our creator and the way that he is always the same in character but always different in action.

"Once a King or Queen of Narnia...always a King or Queen of Narnia."

Randy R. said...

WOW! Looks like I created a stir! John, you are right; I do need to step up to the plate. I plan to make a post today that will explain my position in more detail and in more polite terms. Stay tuned! Blessings to all who are "listening" and and engaging this discussion. Randy

John M. said...

You are very gracious, Randy, and I wasn't very gracious, but hopefully our stumbling around trying to find words and phrases to express ourselves will bear some fruit. Instead of coming at you personally like I did, I should have just asked you what you meant by your statement about McLaren. I'll look forward to your post.

John, I agree with what you're saying about how God expresses himself in different generations. And I love the Narnia quotes and analogies.

Randy R. said...

I think that I will make this post in several parts not to look for a reply to each "episode," but to simply break up the long paragraphs. First, my apologies to the group if I sounded a bit smug in my reference to an MTS. It was intended to be "tongue in cheek." I know most of us have not had the opportunity for further schooling, and many us were taught that seminaries were really "cemetaries." However, I am very grateful that the LORD did afford me the opporunity. I loved every class at Cheaspeake Theological Seminary (modeled after Reformed Seminary in Jackson, MS); however, they never completed their accreditation and subsequently folded. Therefore, my degree is from a non-accredited, now defunk seminary! Plus, we all know that a BS is really Bull ____, and that a MS is More ____, and a PhD is Piled Higher and Deeper (no offense intended Joseph). Therefore, my statement was not intended to sound so vain!

Randy R. said...

Part 2. John, thank you for your apology; there was no offense on my part. Those who know me best on the blog, I think will agree,that I have pretty think skin. However, in this part, I would like to address your statement about my lack of interest or understanding of the Emerging Church Movement. Again, you would have no way of knowing, but I actually have more than a passing understanding. In fact, Joseph has credited me with orienting him to this pathway several years ago on one of his visits when I shared with him one of the earlier books on this subject that I had recently read, "The Emerging Church" by Dan Kimball, I think was the book. Which by the way has a forward by Brian McLaren. Subsequently, I attended a two-day seminar at his (Brian's) church (which is only 20 minutes from my home) on the Emerging Church. It was actually sponsored by a different group, but hosted at his place, and he spoke at one of main sessions. Then, at different times, Fred and I visited his church with our young adult children and got their feedback from their experience. One of Eric, my now 30-year-old son's friends, Drew, joined us. He later became member of the church, and is still attending there! We even tried to model some more emergent type services on Sunday mornings at New Heritage. I have read McClaren. I have read his articles on the internet and in Christian magazines. Plus, in December 2006, I read his book, "The Secret Message of Jesus." I found that some of the chapters in the book were among the best that I had read anywhere, others were troubling. I am not surprised by the title to this latest book. Plus, when I read a book, as I am sure many of you do, I am always checking the footnotes, who and what is the author referencing. Some of the people that ML was referring to were not familiar to me. Therefore, I looked them up on the internet. In the kindest words, my I suggest that he has made some strange bedfellows. Finally, I have read other books and articles on the Emerging Church, and am presently actively engaging a young pastor (28), who has planted a missional church in Baltimore, in a rough neighborhood. We have met twice for lunch this summer, jointly sponsored a YWAM team from Pittsburgh, and are scheduled to meet, again, next week. Sooooo, I am far from an expert, but I think that I might have a little more epxerience in this area than I have been given credit for :-}. RR
PS: I actually need to run now, I will write Part 3 tomorrow and at that time address my specific concerns. Thanks for your patience.

smokin joe said...

I didn't take it as vain, Randy.

I am curious, what was your main area of focus? Was it biblical studies or theology? pastoral care?

Also, did you read McL's Generous Orthodoxy?

John M. said...

Somewhere in Proverbs it says, "He who speaks before he hears is a fool..." I'll wear the shoe, since I did the deed. Randy, I obviously jumped to premature conclusions and made faulty assumptions.

I'm glad that you're doing quite the opposite of what I assumed in my post. I'm looking forward to hearing your perspective.

Dan Kimball's books were my introduction to the emerging church also. I got to hear him speak and talked with him briefly at a conference a couple years ago. I also heard McLaren speak at a conference put on by the emerging movement.

The book Joseph mentioned is one of McLaren's best in my opinion. I purchased "The Secret Message of Jesus" at the same time I got EMC, but haven't read it yet.

Randy R. said...

Thank you John for your kind words. As I indicated earlier, no offense here. You know that I am a Wildcat fan too!!!! One footnote to my last comments that may also demonstrate practically my interest and desire to learn from the Emerging Generation. Several months ago, I felt that the LORD put it in my heart to make time for the young adults in our church. So, I invited them over for a dinner. The first gathering there were only four. Now we are averaging about 16 out of a possible 30, ages 18 - 30. I am not dictating what we do each time we gather, which presently is monthly; in fact, I asked them how often THEY would like to meet. I don't even know until the evening, a Friday, how many will show up!

However, I did suggest that at our last gathering we watch a video. I told them that I wanted their impressions. It is one of Rob Bell's . . . "Dust." Absolutely, one of the most powerful messages that I have heard! The amazing thing is that this 56 year old man was the only one of the group who had read of or heard of Rob Bell!!!!! They loved the video so much thatthey asked to watch another one at our next gathering! :-}

smokin joe said...

Randy: that is the most powerful thing you can do to effectively minister to the young adults in your church ... just to 'hang out' with them, or what Michael Cook calls "wasting time together" (non-agenda-driven).

Jeff Rohr, who occasionally reads along on this blog, does something similar with young school teachers he works with ... they get together on Wed. nights to watch American Idol.

Keep it up...

Randy R. said...

Part 3: I don't think that I can be as succint as I would like to be, so I will continue to deliver multiple posts. What is my problem with Mr. McLaren's writings? First, one minor disclaimer. I can only respond to Brian's post, since I do not have a copy of the book. However, in fairness to all involved, I am ordering a copy today and plan to read it on my long flights to Indonesia, Morocco, and back (like more than 60 hours!). However, you guys may be finished by the time I return (August 24)!

Let me begin with the title: "Eveything Must Change" Really? Sounds like the rhetoric of a current presidential candidate! The same cry was uttered by a few in Cuba before the Revolution. Now, more than 50 years later, I don't think there are many who would agree that Cuba became a better place to live. I am meeting monthly with my brother's father-n-law, Luis Ortega(Luly's dad, John and Joseph). He knew Fiedel personally, and Luis was a member of the congress when the overthrow occured. There were many in Cuba who felt change was necessary and were seeking to bring about those changes. Luis and his family, like many others had to flee their homes, leaving their possessions and most importantly the country they loved!

A similar cry was heard in our church, June 1, 1987. We (the leaders) indicated that change was coming, but for many it was too little, too late . . . when the dust cleared roughly 40% of the church had left, the senior pastor stepped down, an I was asked (along with with help of Dave Sudduth) to keep the ship from sinking! Change DID come, and actually, some who left later returned. They all said, "This IS a different church." We were different in our orthopraxy but not in our orthodoxy, AND we mainted our relationships with what has now become ACM.

I believe that McL is suffering what many in America are suffering on both the LEFT and the RIGHT. The Bible addresses this when it says: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." We have an incredible country, which has gone through a lot of growing pains over the last 200+ years. However, we are far from perfect. The RIGHT is frustrated by what it sees and doesn't see happening. Likewise, the LEFT is equally frustrated by what they see and don't see happening. Both are suffering from heart sickness (in my humble opinion). For us as believers, the key is simple, "Seek first the kingdom of God. . . ." I think for McL and equally true for folks on the far right, God is not doing enough; therefore, we need to jump in and help Him! There is much more inside of me, but I will pause here. :-}

don woolley said...

I know this is backtracking and I apologize for interupting the flow, but I just wanted to say i think the post from John M. on the 21st was just beautiful....the post talked about the boxes we try to put God in:

"I would rather be swimming in gray, swirling theological waters that challenge my presuppositions and be where God is moving, than to be in a crystal clear, black and white theological box that God is not in."

I meet so many people for whom this is not true. They are very religious and good people, but they think of gray area as somehow weak or unfaithful. They can quote Scripture, chapter and verse like crazy, but (and this sounds judgemental) they seem disconnected from the author of the very words quoted.

The more I have studied and read Scripture, the less dogmatic I am about some things. I'm very orthodox in my beliefs, but I just think there's a whole lot I can't know and when i get to heaven I expect to find out I was wrong about a lot I thought I knew.

John M. said...

Thanks Don. My feelings exactly. When I was 25 I thought that "what can be known" was about 95% of all knowledge and that I probably knew at least 90% of it. Now "what can be known" is a small slice of all knowledge and what I know is a tiny percentage of that. I have not only become comfortable with mystery, I have come to love it.

Randy, thanks for your posts. They're good and helpful. My motto for the last 10 years or so, instead of "Everything Must Change" has been "No More Status Quo". I think I assumed that McL's title was meant as a retorical attention getter, and I was substituting my little phrase instead of a literal interpretation. Since I'm only starting section II, I can't really say yet which is true. I obviously jumped to a lot of incorrect conclusions about your perspective when I wrote my post. Again I apologize and I really appreciate you taking the time to post your thinking and read the book.

smokin joe said...

I was assuming that "Everything must change" was his rough paraphrase of "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Randy R. said...

Part 4: Good morning, gentlemen! I am enjoying my coffee on an absolutely beautiful day! Yesterday, was an extrodinarily busy one, but it was worth it, as I have today off! So, I reread all he posts on this current blog, and although I would like to express some further thoughts that have been brewing in me, I am realizing that they are not a whole lot different from what has already been stated.

This morning in my devotional time, I began rereading Acts, which some feel should be titled, "The Acts of the Holy Spirit." Do I hear an "Amen"?! I actually couldn't get past the opening verses. I began thinking of McL's writings. We learn, as you well know, that Jesus visited His disciples at various times over forty days. When He spoke with them, He was not suggesting that they do something about the sewage system in Jerusalem which stunk (pun intended!), or that they begin to deal with the issue of slavery in His absence (remember, most of the labor done in the Roman Empire was done by slaves. They made up a HUGE perecentage of the overall population), but the text says, "He talked with them about the Kingdom of God" (1:3b).

Now, I know that McL would counter with his belief that the K of G includes dealing with environmental issues, etc., and believe it or not, I agree, in part. However, I would base my position on the opening chapters of the Bible where we read what theologians call the "Dominion Mandate" (Gn. 1:28).

John H., John M, and Don M. you have all said it well with regard to putting our faith in nice tidy boxes. I am reminded of a quote from a now retired female Naval Aviator and Astronaut: "Find your comfort zone and stay out of it." That was her life motto! I agree with you men (and McL, too on this point), that the church has created boxes for God. In fact, isn't that what Jesus did? He turned over the boxes that the Jewish leaders had established in His day! He really rocked the boat, BUT He didn't engage the Gentile world!!!! Pretty amazing, if you think about it. He mentioned nothing about the issues of slavery, the expansion of the Roman Empire through conquest, the unfair treatment of the poor (outside the Jewish faith), etc., etc. His primary focus was the Kingdom and related issues of faith.

Now, one might argue that this is precisely what McL is doing with regard to the church. That is a fair argument. However, what I believe he is doing is saying that God is not in the boxes we think He is in, BUT He is in THIS box. You can't operate in a vacuum. One has to chose, and I believe that he is saying that his choice is the right one. We need to get out of whatever box we have created and jump into the one's that he feels are essential.

Everything in me wants to write more, but I should stop for a bit here. Love you guys! :-}

John M. said...

Hey Randy, it's your day off, you might as well keep writing!

Regarding the "creation mandate" in Gen., I have always seen the "Great Commission" given by Jesus as a restatement of it under the New Covenant. I think there's a delicate balance between making the "Kingdom" totally spiritual and totally social. McLaren in his desire to bring balance to the current situation in the American Evangelical church is probably in danger of putting too much emphasis on the social aspect.

But once inner transformation takes place and the Kingdom resides within us, shouldn't that make us desire to have our outward attitudes and actions changed as well? And wouldn't this involve more than personal morality and also reach to issues addressed by the biblical prophets? Is it possible that Jesus and the Gospel writers were taking it at face value that their primarily Jewish audience would understand and act on the messages of the prophetic books?

What would you say to the issues McLaren raises of "Christian" colonialism and slavery, and the problems created in developing nations, particularly Africa, when a "spiritual only" Gospel is preached with no practical instrurction about how to overcome the extreme social problems the people face?

Joseph, that's a good interpretation of the title. Do you have support for it from the book? Does anyone else want to weigh in on what McL means by the title?

Randy R. said...

Part 5: This one will be a long one. It is all that I still have in me cocerning this current post. My "Grand Finale" of sorts! John, it seems like its you and me; I am glad that Brian and Joseph can take a break! Thank you for your last post. In it you asked: "But once inner transformation takes place and the Kingdom resides within us, shouldn't that make us desire to have our outward attitudes and actions changed as well?" My short answer is "YES! Absolutely!" My long answer follows:

Reading again this morning in that great book, Acts! "LORD, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?" McL translation (I am taking some liberty here!): "LORD, are you going to put an end to proverty, pollution, war, AIDs, and all the other social ills that plaque OUR world?" Jesus answered, "But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will power and will tell people about me everywhere. . . ."

My issue is not for the need for us to be involved with these matters, my issue is with McL stating that the Wester church has failed! Perhaps, he (McL) and I are looking at the same glass, and he is saying that it is half-empty, while I am seeing it as half full.

Has the church really FAILED over these past 2000 years? First, I seem to remember some place in the Scriptures where Jesus said, "I will build MY church." Hmmmm, perphaps Jesus has failed an now needs our help! Secondly, and this is where McL really leaves me scratching my head, almost every benevolant work over the centuries has originated in the church! From the monestaries taking in the poor, widows, and orphans to the establishment of orphanges, the list is exhaustive. Consider just a few following examples: The origins of Sunday School were in England during the beginnings of the industrial revolution to teach the children who were working in the factories every day of the week, except Sunday, how to read and write. In one period of time 1831 - 1833 (?), the population grew 25%, the SS attendance grew 250%! How about the similar story of the Salvation Army? What about the YMCA, started for similar reasons, as young men were leaving their farms to work in the city. the Young Men's Christian Association provided a safe haven for them (away from the bars) where the could read good wholesome literature, especially, the Bible. By the way, John, it was in the Y that that GREAT sport basketball was invented, also to provide a recreational outlet for these young men. GO CATS!. Most hospitals in the WEST were originally started by the church, as were ALL but one of our Ivy League Universities (as Brian well knows!). Let's turn the clock forward a bit . . . what about Teen Challenge, started by a young AG preacher named David Wilkerson, who came to the city of New York from a rual church to work with gangs in the late 50's and developed what is still one of the best drug rehab programs in America and now in 92 countries in the world (by the way, I just checked their website, and they are celebrating their 50 anniversary this year!). Then there is Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship, also worlwide in its ministry . . . THE most effective prison ministry out there. Then we have World Vision and Samaritan's Purse; likewise, serving people in need around the world in a very dramatic and positive way, putting hands and feet to the Gospel. Can we include Catholic Charities? Unbelievable what they are doing, both nationally and internationally. Rick Warren has launched a HUGE effort at his own church to fight the battle of AIDs in this world. How about the Mercy Ships and Doctors Without Borders? I think for what John Lowry and his church has done for the poor in Albany. I have been involved in our community in a number of ways including sitting on the board for our county's homeless shelter and helping improving the quality of life in our village for which I was honored at a dinner attended by our local congressman and senator (state level). Needless to say, those reading this blog can add to the list!

Plus, I believe that our Judeo-Christian Heritage has caused us to live life differently than much of the rest of the world. We give more than ANYONE else in the rest of the world to charities, not just dollar amounts, but percentage wise. I shared on this in a message last year and can't remember the exact statistics, but they are astronomical and no one else is even close.

Another example of the type of people we have become comes from a book I am reading by Oliver North about war in Iraq. He is an enbedded news correspondant from FOX (also, Col. North was the most highly decorated Marine in Vietnam, a USNA grad., AND most importantly a committed believer!). This event occured very early in the conflict. He was aboard a CH-46 helo (large, twin rotars). They flew their mission and picked up two wounded. On their return flight, much to the surprise of the corpsman, one of the wounded (severly burned from an oil stove accident) was an eleven year old girl. Now they faced a delimma: The Kuwati's would not allow ANY Iraiqi's to be hospitalized (military OR civilian). So, they decided to take her to a U.S. Hospital ship; however, now they had a new problem, they needed to fly over water (obviously), and they did have any life-preservers or flotation devices on board, which meant that they "legally" could not make the trip. The only other alternative was to take the girl back to where they had picked her up. Everyone on board voted to throw caution to the wind and take this eleven year old, Iraqi girl, who may not even survive her wounds, to the ship! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, McL!

Speaking of smoking, what in the world is McL smoking???? If the WEST has failed, then I challenge him to join me in visiting the rest on the world. It this guy's head in the sand. Come with me to Cuba, where "the best medical program in the world" according the Michael Moore, provides shots at the pharmacy (not so bad in and of itself), using the same needles over and over!!!!

Join my in Banda Aceh Indonesia, which suffered the worst natural disaster in modern history as a result of the Tusnami, December 26, 2004. It is on record that the GREATEST relief effort ever, in the history of the world, was witnessed in the devastating aftermath. Guess where the majority of the relief came from? I will give you a clue, it was NOT from the Muslim world; it was not even from the rest of Indonesia! That's right, it was from the WEST. In fact, a true quote from the first days after it hit; we had U. S. Navy ships in the area: "Hey mister, I though that America was a long way away? How come you are here helping us, when our own [Inodnesian] military is not here?" Mr. McL, come live with me among people who have very poor medical care, pollution is everywhere, roads are in horrible condition. Visit with me the local mental hospital where men are grouped in "cells" (literally concrete rooms with beds and bars on the windows) of about 20. Come, join me in praying for those poor desparate men and women.

The glass that I am looking at is half-full AND it is filling!!!!

Randy R. said...

Part 6: This is it! I am exhausting my burden, the final entry on this recent series of ramblings. John you asked how I would answer McL with regard to colonialism, slavery, etc. Very good question. First, and again, I have not read the book, only Brian's summary. I would agree with McL and anyone else who says that such social injustices are a blight on Christianity. I would quickly add to the list the Crusades. Many Muslims around the world still think of ALL Christians as Crusaders. I don't even like the song "Onward Christian Soldiers" for that reason. However, I am very slow to judge our forfathers. They lived in a very different time. Once again, returning to the thoughts of my previous blog, who was it that brought the slave trade to an end in England? He was not a Muslim, an athiest, or a Hindu. His name was William Wilberforce, and he was a Christian man. For the life of me, I cannot understand enslaving black men and women from Africa. My children can't even believe that there was a day in America, not so long ago where "coloreds" had to use different bathrooms and water fountains. For four of my five children their closest friends growing up were Afro-americans. They ate at our table, slept in our home, and even traveled with us on vacations. YET, I realize that GREAT Christian men (e.g., Robert E. Lee, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, Jeb Stuart, and others) fought for the South in the Civil War. In fact, I cannot speak for his eternal destiny, but Gen. Grant was not a man of faith when he finally lead the Union to victory. Likewise, to the best of my limited knowledge, George Washington (the FATHER of our Nation), Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Wesley, or Greorge Whitfield were never vocal about the issue of slavery. They may have had personl opinions: i.e., Lee had no slaves and Jackson started a Sunday School for the slave children to teach them how to read and the Word of God, but I believe that they lived in a different era. Likewise, who is having the greatest success in the dealing with the current slave trade in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia? Yes, a Christian based organization, the International Justice Mission.

For the life of me, I can't understand colonialization, but I will not let McL (assuming he would say this) tell me that what we are doing in Iraq is U. S. Imperialsim!!!! Never-the-less,I
was not living one hundred and more years ago. Had I been, the odds of me even being alive today (i.e., at 56) were far less than they are today.

So, what about environment? Don't we have a responsiility there? Amen and amen! BUT that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to buy into the whole liberal agenda that is full or innacuracies. For example, the whole idea of the earth warming and the potential problems. Is that at result of our emissions or is Global Warming a naturla phenomena that occurs every so many thousands of years? A recent speaker at Hillsdale (where some of Paul's children attended and your's too, John?) believes the latter. However, for the sake of the argument, let's agree upon the former. OK, so what do we do (and I am not suggesting we ignore the problem)? What essentially will happen is HUGE restrictions will be placed on American industry. These will result in costly changes and modifications. The money has to come from somewhere; therefore, the cost of goods will increase. Meanwhile, India and China, who could care less about the problem (as clearly seen at the recent G8 Conference), will manufacture goods far more cheaply. The net reult is the loss of U.S. business and ultimately the loss of jobs. Now, we have a new problem, unemployment, a growing welfare system, the gap grows larger between the "haves" and the "have nots." What is my point? My point is that the solutions to our social problems are not always easy fixes. The fact that these problems exist in the first place does not mean that the church has been asleep at the switch, does it?

The support from the church for the Kartina aftermath was so overwhelming that FEMA has now included churches in their data base and have gone about systematically contacting and training churches around the country in disaster preparation. By the way, one of the first disaster relief agencies was the Red Cross, started as I am sure everyone knows by Clara Barton. She began her work aiding wounded soldiers during the Civil War. The following quote about Clara is from the American Red Cross website: "Barton offered personal support to the men in hopes of keeping their spirits up: she read to them, wrote letters for them, listened to their personal problems, and prayed with them."

We should not be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but neither should we be so earthly minded that we fail to realize that the only place where there is eternal peace, the absence of injustice, and life everlasting is in heaven with God, the Father, the Creator of this universe. At least that's how I see it. RR :-}

smokin joe said...

I told Dennis Coll recently that Christian history in Western civ is like Jesus' story of the field sown with wheat and tares ... you can't really tear out the tares without running the danger of pulling up the wheat. there is good and bad in the history of the church and God will sort it out at the end of the age ... meanwhile, the kingdom seed keeps advancing regardless of the weeds sown by the enemy.

Regarding history and slavery, if I am not mistaken, both John Adams and John Wesley voiced criticisms of slavery ... Wesley's life and ministry had a significant influence on Wilberforce.

There is a great secular history on the radical change of Western thinking about slavery over a one hundred-year period, (from roughly 1740 to 1840) (an extremely short period of time in history).

David Brion Davis, Slavery and Human Progress. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Davis documents how European thinking changed from a view that slavery was a "Christian responsibility" to evangelize and civilize unenlightened Africans (originally articulated by the Portuguese and Spanish Catholics), to the view that slavery was barbaric and a shameful blot on a Christian civilization. It is not a 'Christian' history, but he does highlight the role of the Quakers and eventually the Moravians and Methodists in changing public opinion.

It is interesting to me that the "Christians" who first justified slavery were representatives of Empire ... and the "Christians" who succeeded in changing the moral view of slavery were all from dissenting sects at the margins of the British empire. It tends to bolster the argument about the separation of church and state.

steve H said...

Oh, man; how do I catch up. Gone a few days and then... a lot, even if from a relative few.

Because of a request from a friend for some book lists, I picked up my copy (which I have owned for years, but never read) of E. Stanley Jones "The Unshakeable Kingdom and Unchangeable Person" (written when Jones was 87 and published in 1972) and took it with me as I went up to help care for my mother. Why in the world have I not read this one before? I ended up typing out 5 pages of quotations from the introduction and the first chapter. I think Jones anticipated our wrestlings with several of the topics we've dealt with.

In the light of the recent entries try this one in which Jones talks about insights stemming from a trip into Communist Russia:

"…It is a choice between the kingdom of God on earth and the kingdom of man on earth—wherever you have man at the center instead of God—mammon; self-seeking; things-seeking; pride—individual, group, race; hate; lust; lack of love (the list can be enlarged interminably). When you have something other than the kingdom of God as the center, then you are on one side and the kingdom of God is on the other and the choice has to be made. The imperative is this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things (including yourself) will be added unto you.” Seek first something other than the kingdom of God and everything else, including yourself, will be subtracted from you.

"…I had a gospel, the gospel of the Unshakeable Kingdom and the Unchanging person. I had a gospel for the total man, individual and collective. I was no longer interested in an individual gospel or a social gospel. An individual gospel without a social gospel is a soul without a body and a social gospel without an individual gospel is a body without a soul. One is a ghost and the other a corpse. You can take your choice. I didn’t want either one. I wanted both. I had it in a living blend. A Gospel that lays its hand upon the individual and says: “Repent, be converted, obey, live in the new order, the Kingdom.” That also lays its hand upon the collective will, the social, and says, “Repent, be converted, obey, live in the new order, the Kingdom.” This was a total answer to a man’s total need, a head-on answer, one gospel for all men and for the total man and his total environment. A gospel relevant in every situation for all men, everywhere, at anytime, in any and every condition. And it was no modern imposition on the Gospel, it was the revelation of the basic nature of what gospel I had always believed in. It was not reversing anything, but regenerating everything.

"I was to become a disciple of the kingdom of God—disciple to the kingdom of God—what a name! A disciple to the ultimate order, the Unshakeable Kingdom; this is radicalism par excellence, a radicalism that makes the man-made radicalisms look sick and inconsequential and anemic and irrelevant. No wonder the account says: “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasures what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52 RSV). A scribe, a dry as dust copyist, begins to bring forth the new. He becomes creative for he is dealing with the revealed drama of creation, the unfolding of the kingdom of God, the revealing of the very purpose, goal, and intention of the creation. That is exciting, it reveals an intention in every happening, for every happening it says, “The Kingdom is coming, the Kingdom is!”

"But it is also conservative, for the scribe who is a disciple to the Kingdom also brings forth from his treasure things old. This is conservatism, par excellence, for it brings everything packed into the old into completion in the new. “Gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost” was said of fragments of bread, but here is a gathering up of the fragments of truth found everywhere and completing and fulfilling them in the truth.

"We need both the new and the old. If we were all conservative we would dry up; if we were all radical we would bust up. Between the pull back of the conservative and the pull ahead of the racial we make progress in a middle direction. A French philosopher says; “No man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.” So the severely radical man is weak and the man who is severely conservative is also weak; the man who is conservatively radical and who is radically conservative is strong. But note the new was first, things new and old. The Christian faith leans toward the new, for it stands for the great change—the Kingdom. This points to the kingdom-of-God man as the man of the future.
(Chapter 1, pp. 40-41)

Sean said...

Hey everyone,

I have finally returned. I've stumbled onto some free time for once. What a conversation!

My brother Neil and I have been discussing MCL. I haven't read his book, but I have read some of his articles.

I've tried to read through all the posts - and got through most of them...

I think the Gospel announces to everyone that the King is now taking over the world. Human communities are thus challenged to make a decision: come under the rulership of the Messiah or go after some other god (which there are a great many choices).

Because the King is taking over, things will change, not only in individuals, but in communities. There will be justice, peace, and a culture of life. There will be goodness, truth, love, and hope. It's the presence of God returning to the earth, to reign over the world of humankind. This is the Good News: God dwells among Israel and the nations again through the Messiah.

I think the problem is that the moral majority in the 1980s politicized Christianity into conservative politics. The problem is that conservative politics are not the Gospel. They are conservative politics. This idea that we are a Christian nation is not true. The moral majority was wrong, although they did some good.

But going to the left politically isn't the answer either. We must depoliticize Christianity entirely. We should not be seeking the upper hand in power politics. All we should be doing is living out the Gospel. MCL is reacting to the moral majority and the American Church that is transfixed in power politics. I don't blame him. But Christianity isn't just about homosexual marriage and abortion. It is about so much more than those things.

Anyways, this post might be rambling, so feel free to chastise it.

BTW, not everything must change. Hebrews 13.8.

don woolley said...

Randy, thanks for two really, really great posts.

Minor point, but as a Methodist one I'll make any way. John Wesley was very outspoken against slavery and an encourager of Wilberforce.

You remind me of all the good things God has done through His church, in spite of its wanderings and failings. I tend to focus on what's wrong, so thanks!

John M. said...

Welcome back Sean! Your post was not so rambling as to not make sound points and good sense.

Randy, I echo Don. Thanks for your thinking and taking time to put it down. I had some similar thoughts when I read McL's blanket, unsupported statement that "the church in the West has failed". It came across as way too strong, and your post balances it brilliantly.
Why don't you email McL and ask him his thoughts/response to the points you're making.

Wait 'til Brian gets back. He, tongue in cheek, wondered if anything would happen while he was gone. He...he...

steve H said...

An aside:

For any who may be interested, Amazon.com is now offering a hardback reprint of the original "My Glorious Brothers" by Howard Fast for about $30.

It has been out of print. Around the time of the Gatlinburg conference used copies were being offered on the net at up to $140.

don woolley said...

Randy, I had the same thought as John M. I think it would be great to email McLaren your post and get his reponse.

Randy R. said...

Greetings, brothers, on a Monday morning! Don and John M., thank you for your kind words and encouragement to write McL. I have ordered the book, and I think that I will wait until I have read it before writing him. I appreciate your suggestion.

Robert Grant has always said that "No horse is too dead that it can't withstand one more beating." So, at the risk of sounding redundent, there is one more group that I had intended to include, "Alcoholics Anonymous." They have grown from their fragile beginnings in 1941 [Offical/formal beginning] to more than 100,000 chapters worldwide in 150 countries. When they were first chartered their "Traditions" stated: "For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority -- a loving God. . . ." Likewise, one of their co-founders in the U. S. shared this about his own introduction, "The spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group [in the U.S.] was struck at Akron, Ohio, in June 1935, during a talk between a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician. Six months earlier, the broker had been relieved of his drink obsession by a sudden spiritual experience, following a meeting with an alcoholic friend who had been in contact with the Oxford Groups of that day." You may recall that in the early beginnings, the Oxford Groups were made-up of sincere believers in England. There is a lot of history there that I won't digress into. Although, today AA speaks of a "Higher Power," most of he members that I know have a sincere faith in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. To them that IS the "HighEST Power." Amen! :-}

Brian Emmet said...

Hey, guys, what's been happenin'? Oh, yeah, just read the comments, Brian! Good stuff, gents (and any ladies), and I won't attempt to do more at this point than say hi and try and not get flung off the rapidly spinning merry-go-round that y'all have torqued up.

Small note: McL's title comes from a woman, in Africa, I believe, who upon facing some of the ways in which the Christianity being practiced in her community was obvioulsy falling short, said, "Well, then, everything must change." (See the 1st or 2nd chapter of the book). But I also think that Joseph's sense that the title is McL's take on "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand" is on target.

Sean, great to hear back from you!

(Same goes for everyone else, too!)

smokin joe said...

I don’t want to get cast into the role of a McLaren apologist, and I do think there may be some serious weaknesses in his theology. For one thing, he is not a theologian, he is more of a social-cultural thinker trying to stir things up with some out-of-box and uncomfortable questions.

However, the story about the woman in Africa illustrates a growing awareness of some of the tremendous global problems facing us from a Third World perspective. When Deb and I were in Brazil last summer, I had to step over sleeping bodies of homeless people about every 50 yards on my way to language school. This is Third World capitalism at its worst. Liberation Theology cannot be understood, appreciated or fairly critiqued unless you have spent some time in a Brazilian favela or a poor Colombian barrio.

As far as the title of his book, I was thinking about how I would respond to one of the young agnostics in our Tuesday night group if they asked me how to enter into the life of the kingdom. “Everything must change” would not be a bad way to explain the concept of repentance.

don woolley said...

“Everything must change” would not be a bad way to explain the concept of repentance.


or sanctification

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph's not an apologist, and I'm not trying to be a picker-on-er, but "Everything Must Change" strikes me as the kind of slogan that may not be that helpful in the long run. Our creatureliness does not change; being men and women does not change; our ethnicity and many aspects of culture need not change (although many must); God's Word does not change; I'm not sure we get to serve pizza and beer and call it "communion" (although pizza and beer as an aspect of a weekly agape feast is fine by me!)

I guess this is part of what I'm not getting about McL's approach: on the one hand, he will make appreciative gestures in the direction of "the conventional view" (although that very title tags that view as hoplessly outdated and out-of-touch--who wants to be "conventional"?), but without ever saying much very specific about which aspects of the conventional view are helpful or even possibly true. (Side question: does McL use terms like "true" or "truth"?)

"Everything Must Change" is kind of like throwing gas on a fire--all kinds of interesting things will happen, some of which may be helpful... but the potential for collateral damages of various kinds seems as carelessly overlooked as was/is the case in Iraq.

And I get it that it's just the title, and that McL takes the whole book to unpack what he means. I'm not meaning to be picky; no doubt I am trapped in the filthy rags of conventionalism!

Brian Emmet said...

Friends, help me out here. I'm 200+ pages in and becoming both more distressed and more disnechanted with McL's enterprise in this book. I don't like his tendnency to trash brothers and sisters in Christ who see things differently; he rarely does so by name, but did it come across to anyone else as "unity on my terms only"?

McL speaks of not dividing the world into "us versus them" groupings, and then spends the middle portion of the book doing exactly that. Of course, McL is clearly on Jesus' side and the "others" clearly are not, so that seems to make it OK.

As I think Randy pointed out, McL seems to locate the heart of evil in the world with the United States. He apparently has no problem with chiding and ridiculing Bush for the phrase "axis of evil," but has no similar compunctions about identifying the US as "the evil empire" (my phrasing, not his).

He ridicules folk who misuse Scripture (pp. 120-122) and then seems to be to do exactly that with Matthew 26:11 ("the poor you have with you always"), wrenching it out of its context and using it to make a point I'm not persuaded Jesus was making.

So: are these just the squealings of a conventionalist whose ox is being righteously gored by God's prophetic word?

smokin joe said...

sorry Brian, I am only on page 80. I'll try to get another copy and catch up over the weekend Lord willing. Maybe someone else can comment?

John M. said...

I'm only on page 60 something.

Randy R. said...

HI Brian and company, I expect to receive my copy of McL's book today via our good friends at Amazon.com. Therefore, I cannot comment from the reading as to your thoughts and comments. However, what you are stating has been my impression of McL from reading other works by him. Your statements are also interesting to me, because although it is not fair to put anyone in a mold or box, it seems that those on the liberal end of the spectrum seem to demonstrate common tendencies. As you would be aware, like yourself (Brian), Linda and I live in a VERY liberal part of the country. I have often found that the right has been accused of being judgemental, and then they (those on the left) are exceedingly judgemental of Bush and other Republicans calling them names that I can't even print in this blog! Likewise, as you pointed out with McL, they hate using the distinctions of "us vs. them," and then quickly do the exact same thing! I think what I fail to see is a heart of humility. The right is definately not always right, and the left is definately not always wrong. I don't believe that God is a Republican, either. We are ALL struggling to try to make this fallen world a better place. However, it will never be perfect until Jesus returns! :-} R.R.

John M. said...

It sounds like human nature is a universal trait whether one is "conservative" or "liberal"! These of course are labels that tend to polarize from square one. Maybe we should start a new movement of "liberatives" or "conserverals". I think the closer we get to the total message of scripture and the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus, the harder it will be for us to be categorized.

I'm trying to read McLaren's book with an ear toward what God might be saying to me/us/the Church through it. Consequently I'm not reading it as a critic but as one who wants to try to hear what McLaren is saying and then spit out the bones.

Although we might not agree with his packaging (ie using "suicide machine" instead of sin, and "everything" instead of a more modulated tone, I hope that we can also ask ourselves, is God's heart in here anywhere, and if so, what does that mean for me/us?

I haven't read any further in Mclaren since my last post, so let me quote from a different source. Charles Simpson's newsletter came today. The title is "The Next Revival". He says that his main question is not, "Is it here or is it there?", but "What will bring it about?" Then he goes to Isaiah 58-61.

Here is a quote: "Isaiah 58 is very clear about what is chosen [by God] and what is not. Not chosen is any religious observance that lacks the desire to lift the afflicted. What is chosen is for God's people to be aligned with His heart for the hurting. Isaiah lists twelve motivations for prayer and fasting that include a broad range of human conditions: loosing bonds, broken yokes, feeding, clothing and housing the poor, caring for kinsmen, ceasing from criticism an oppression."

smokin joe said...

hi guys: with all the negative reviews, I am starting to lose interest in the book ... I also have two books by Wright and the book by Tiessen going at the same time and I have two more papers to finish writing this week and next. I'll guess I'll see...

momentary change of topic: there is a great article on religious conversion and religious freedom in the current issue of the Economist (July 26). The article is called "The Moment of Truth" and is on page 29. Other than the U.S., it appears that it is getting harder to convert from Hinduism or Islam (or Orthodoxy in Russia!) without facing some legal and social problems.

Brian Emmet said...

New post up.