Friday, August 1, 2008

Everything Must Change II, Chapter and Verse

We're continuing our look at Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change. In order to focus the discussion just a bit, let's try this: please cite a specific section that either (a) says something you strongly agree with, (b) says something you strongly disagree with, or (c) says something that raised some questions (e.g., "I really didn't get this--can someone help me understand it?" or "Hmmm... I hadn't thought of it like that before... now I'm wondering if... ?") One passage could serve for all three kinds of responses.


Bruce said...

To bring things up to date for those of us who didn't digest the preceding sixty nine comments, are there four or five possible points of contention that have already been discussed? Just listed as bullets without the responses or context would be enough. Then we latecomers (yeah, just me) could go read up on the context and skip the stuff we already agree about.

John M. said...

Welcome Bruce. Do I know you? I'm John Meadows in Lexington, KY and go way back with Brian, Joseph, Randy and others. I've met new friends on the blog and renewed old friendships. I'm wondering which category you're in.

Bruce said...

I'm new to you, pretty sure. Been in the Covenant stream since the first year of publication of New Wine magazine, was a friend of Erik Krueger before Shiloh Fellowship in East Lansing started in the 70s. I've been a member of Brian Emmet's church, Covenant Church, in Arlington MA since fall of 1987, with a three year gap in which I was out of town.

Even before all that, I was a student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. One time in 1972 I came to town to do an evangelistic music concert and a friend put me up at his friends' apartment, who turn out to be--their names escape me right now--the brothers that started a church that became related to y'all in Lexington and Bob Mumford. Both brothers went on to do significant works in the Lord, together for a while and then individually.

Bruce said...

They were Peter Doan and Joseph McAuliff, a couple of college guys with a mission.

Brian Emmet said...

Well, here's my offering: chapter 10, pp. 77-83. McL, after qulaifying that's it's not as simple as he's about to make it [and, sorry, but I have to include here McL's insistence, in the "New Kind of Christian" trilogy, that we have to get beyond the tired, "modernist" polarities of liberal vs. conservative, etc., and his taking exactly that sort of polarizing approach here], goes on to compare and contrast the convetional view and the emerging view. He goes on to identify six suicidal tendencies in the conventional view (none in the emerging), while affirming "much of value" in the convetional view (although without giving any indication what the value is), and concludes this ection of the chapter as follows (top of p. 83):

"I believe we need to face the real possibility that the conventional view has in many ways been domesticated, watered down, and co-opted by the dominant framing story of modern Western culture and, as a result, has become 'a gospel about Jesus' but not the 'gospel of Jesus.'"

So: is there a difference between the gospel of and the gospel about Jesus?

John M. said...

Thanks Bruce. I bet we've met. I knew Joseph M and Peter Doane, and visited the B.G. community a few times. I grew up in Southern Ohio and was part of "Community of Hope" in Lancaster, OH under Frank Dawson's leadership.

John M. said...

Brian, sorry to ignore your post. I read Bruce's and replied to him before I read yours.

Would the difference between the two phrases be that the gospel about Jesus is the spin that has been placed on it by Western culture and the actual meaning that Jesus intended and/or that the Holy Spirit is presently speaking to us about what Jesus said?

The challenge of course is discerning which is which, along with the danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water by ignoring 2000 years of history.

I don't think we should do the latter, but I do think we should be open to the possibility [reality?] that the present understanding and application of Jesus' teaching has been distorted, manipulated, and defanged by the current system.

Bruce said...

Two facts of the present era were not the case in Jesus' time. One is the presence of Capitalism--money itself as a moneymaking tool, as opposed to work and stuff; and the other is that almost all Christians hold a legislative/judicial/executive political office, i.e., citizen. We're not slaves, serfs, indentured servants or conquered political enemies--we are the ones who in fact make the laws.

So anything that is in the Bible has to either be cherry-picked for stuff applying to investors per se or rulers. Everything else, maybe 98% of all the ethical teaching, is hostile to holders of money qua moneytool or rulers. The assumptions of almost everything (in Luke/Acts especially) is that these guys are the enemy, that these guys are the ones who hate the Lord who saved them, and all manner of bad things. A blunt application of most of these implicitly hostile words are devastating to people who "use" money, or are in a country where they are the final arbiter of lawmaking.

So we have to spiritualize the meaning. Or bite the bullet and become enemies of our fellow Christians.

By the way, I don't embrace any socialist agenda, which is as contra the gospel as the next ideology. It's possible for rulers and moneymanipulators to be saved inside a gospel point of view, and keep on being rulers and moneymakers.

smokin joe said...

I'm sorry -- I am grinding away on three papers due this week (last class is thurs.) so I have not had time to go get another copy of the book and start reading again.

I will say this: for whatever flaws in the book (and I am sure there are some as you and Randy have pointed out), I find this book and some others like it to be a helpful bridge for strongly left-oriented and politically activist young academics from their social and environmental concerns to Jesus.

I just email a good friend of mine who is a prof. and passionately committed neo-Marxist. She is also amazingly open to the love of God.

I find that there is very, VERY little contemporary Christian literature that I can recommend to such people.

One's context has a lot to do with how one reads something written by Brian McLaren, Dallas Willard, Tom Wright or James Dobson.

I'm sure we can pick McLaren's book apart on technicalities as well as doctrine. That's not too hard to do with any book.The important question is, does he have something valid to say that we need to hear? Or is he just writing the gospel for the left?

Randy R. said...

Leaving tomorow, Monday for Indonesia and then Morocco. Email access will be limited until I reach Morocco. However, I did receive my copy of the book this week and will begin reading it. By the time we reach Kuala Lumpur, I may be able to make a post. They should have a pretty good internet connection there. Love you guys. Blessings to you and your families. RR :-}

Randy R. said...

By the way, as per your suggestion, Joseph, in reading the book, I will try to make positive comments. I think I have said enough about what I don't agree with!!!

smokin joe said...

... and when I get another copy, I'll make some critical comments ...

bon voyage amigo!

Brian Emmet said...

By way of reminder, the current post requests that we cite sections we either AGREE with, DISAGREE with, or QUESTION in some way. While my take on this book is tending to be disagreeable, I would welcome more agreeable contributions from my more agreeable blogmates! Joseph, I liked your point that there is so little 'christian literature' that you could give to your secular friends, and it helps me read McL with a different set of spectacles. May God's grace be upon your studies, and Randy, upon your trip!

Bruce said...

I'm halfway thru EMC.

I agree with his accusations, e.g., pages 6 and 18-19, against those sections of the church that has "one sermon"--that sermon being "Get Saved" or "Get Saved, Healed and Start Tithing." His accusation of that branch of Christendom is that it's too narrow. Yes, that is too narrow.

The solution, IMHO, is to lean out the window and yell, "ANYONE KNOW THE BIBLE?" Whoever comes to the door will probably have the solution to half the problems, and a good Bible expositor will be able to set in motion 3/4 to 9/10s of the solutions. Anyone who preaches the whole counsel of God will warn the church to love their neighbors, love their fellow Christians, not love money inordinately, love the truth about their own in-group, love the truth about their own sins. Of course, that takes actually applying the Bible and not using the Bible as a source of financial gain--which is also taught/warned against in the Bible.

I also agree with him that Christians should be asking his two big questions, first chapter. As in, Duh.

He asks rhetorically whether the Church should be making a difference, p. 12, as to say: the church should be making a difference with the big problems: hunger, illiteracy, freedom of slaves, economic self-sufficiency, etc. Good point. Would shutting down communism, starting universities, building hospitals, and closing down slavery in the British empire and the US, count? (I ask rhetorically.)

Again, p. 12, he suggests that Christians should be involved in solving these problems, and looks at his own church library (it seems) for the lack of serious thought among fiction and popular piety. I agree, we won't find it there. It's a good thing he finds it later on: pp 43-64. I'd guess we could count the work of Rick Warren and other major world-systems thinkers/doers among the Christians who are solving problems. But even more, we should count the World Bank and the State Department (US) and other governments/NGOs, if we include the work of people who are explicitly driven by their Christian commitments, such as Peter Feaver, David Porteous, and the son of Martin Lloyd-Jones (I think). Or Christians such as George Bush the Elder or the Younger. Or Pope John Paul II.

He also lists the problems on pp 25-29. I agree with that list being plausible. It's a good thing, incidentally, that it's a Christian who is asking those questions. Strangely enough, no credit is given to our insightful spokesman as being one of the Christians who is solving the problem--or even telling us his name.

John M. said...

Randy, blessings on your trip. Look forward to hearing from you. Good points Joseph and Bruce.

Side comment. I read "The Shack" over the weekend. For me it was a powerful experience. I'm planning to read it again and recommend it. The "Christianity Today" review titled "How to Read the Shack", encouraged readers to read Mac's story and take it as that, rather than reading it as theology. I agree. Although the author is addressing theological issues, it is not a systematic theology, it is a novel. As the story unfolds some of the earlier "shocks" are lessoned (or in some cases maybe heightened?) by later events and conversations. I pretty much agree with his presentation of how God operates.

Joseph, I think this is one you can share with your friends. It has appeal to mainstream Christians (many of whom will react negatively to it I predict) and for seekers and agnostics (many of whom will love it, I predict). Either way, it will knock down a lot of preconceived ideas and misunderstandings, if the reader allows it to.

smokin joe said...

Brian, I have to speak in general terms at the moment, because I don't have copy in front of me. I'll try to remedy that.

I agree with you Brian, that he occasionally adopts a tone that I don't necessarily like.

However, 'prophets' are very rarely agreeable, and very rarely doctrinally balanced. They tend to be provocative, and in the Old Testament tradition, tend to call the people of God back to God's heart for the poor and oppressed, in that sense, it could be argued that McLaren is operating in that tradition.

For those of you who were around the teachers in the 1970s, I want to recall to your mind that they often spoke in similar terms as McLaren. Some of their comments, especially Mumfords, take along and out of context, could have been interpreted as belittling the work of “personal” salvation and the hope of going to heaven, in favor of an expanded “here and now” view of the kingdom of God. Remember the old saying, “so heavenly minded that they are no earthy good”?

I don’t want to come down on McLaren hard for taking the same kind of prophetic-poetic hyperbolic license that our guys did when they were young, edgy, and provocative – and they were trying to get Christians to get beyond personal salvation to give some attention to the kingdom of God ruling now in the earth with practical consequences.

Have we lost our radical prophetic edge? Is that why McLaren gets under our skin?

Bruce said...

Smokin' Joe, thanks for referencing the CGM leaders. They, like the Latter Rain movement leaders, the Reconstruction movement leaders, and the founders of Protestant theological liberalism (Emerson thru Walter Rauschenbusch) , all said, "Kingdom! Now!"

I'd suggest that the whole prophetic ensemble overstated their case, to be kind. As McLaren is overstating his case. When you're on the receiving end of an overstatement, it's no longer trivial.

In McLaren's defense on another front, I found the real, living representatives of what he calls "conventional view" e.g. p 78. They are profiled in lurid detail in the recent book Deer Hunting WIth Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War.

If members of the churches described in DHWJ were to read EMC, it would probably be a good thing. Otherwise, I don't think McLaren is writing for the rest of Christians, really.

smokin joe said...

prophets normally do overstate their case ... I think of the guy in the OT who went around naked in order to make a point. It is the teachers that try to be 'fair and balanced.'

Bruce said...

yeah, like the guy who said you have to eat his body, drink his blood, stuff like that.

Still, what's this blessed are the cheese makers? I was at the edge of the crowd and couldn't hear very well.

Bruce said...

I'm ready to stop making comments, if it matters. Here, consider McLaren's general position. The earlier posts concerned how theologically liberal and how politically liberal he is.

Turn to the footnotes section, which serve as an index for finding an overview of his sources. He quotes extensively, and a quote attached to a name is an "argument from authority." That is, the reader is supposed to respect the quoter because the reader respects the original quote's author. That's the usual, customary, use of quotes in making an argument.

McLaren quotes approvingly and without extensive disclaimers: George Soros, Karl Marx, Ghandi, Fenelon, Herman Daly (who I don't know at all), Al Gore, Cornell West, Garry Wills, Kofi Annan, and Walter Rauschenbusch. An ordinary reader should assume that a quote without comment means that the author both agrees with the source and, importantly, thinks that people reading his book here already think highly of these sources.

I quoted, without attribution, Monty Python's The Life of Brian, in my previous entry. I was assuming that you guys, my readers would both recognize the quote and find it humorous, and we'd both laugh together around the campfire, so to speak. If you didn't recognized the quote, or if you thought Monty Python came straight from hell, you would think badly of me and everything I say. Likewise, with the proper changes, to the quotes by McLaren. I could excuse him citing Jim Wallis...big name, maybe in the ballpark, a personal friend...but McLaren piles the offenses on and on and on. He evidently--by the evidence--wants the reader to think that these guys collectively are telling the one true story, the real metanarrative or Framing Story. McLaren, in his folksy style, then, is the "tour bus driver" pointing out the sites.

smokin joe said...

what do you have against Fenelon? His devotional book, "The Seeking Heart" was one of the best I have ever read.

Bruce said...

Fenelon, along with Evelyn Underhill and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the works of St. John of the Cross and the devotional writings of Soren Kierkegaard--all of them--are highly regarded for leading worshippers to a deeper commitment to Christ. That's only true, I'm thinking, if they already have something that's providing roots. They are "all inspiration" as in "all inspiration you blow up, all doctrine you dry up, both together you grow up."

McLaren is showing a serious contempt for the (Plymouth Brethren?) conservative tradition of his past, and does not embrace any competing tradition inside anything we could call "orthodoxy." He does quote approvingly all manner of liberal economics that seek our religious devotion.

Sorry. I said I'd stop. Thanks, bro.

John M. said...

I'm glad you all recognize all those guys that Bruce sighted -- I recognized Marx, Ghandi and Gore...

Bruce you said that McLaren doesn't embrace any tradition inside anything that we would call orthodoxy.

Ironically on page 309, footnote 5, he claims, "This emerging view is deeply resonant with the Anabaptist and Eastern Orthodox views, so it is better understood as the recovery of ancient understandings rather than the creation of innovative ones." The footnote is from page 81.

Bruce said...

"Resonance" is a slippery word. He seems to mean that there's an overlap in the "emerging movement" and in Eastern Orthodoxy and the Anabaptists.

We haven't heard yet that he has submitted to the local Patriarch of any Orthodox hierarchy--so that's out. The Anabaptists are all dead. So--a guess is the best we can do here--he's not associating himself with a richly figured community, one that has doctrines and such.

Rather, there are some nice salad bar options at the cafeteria of religion. Hmm, a little Lectio Divina, that sounds nice...ooh, and there's the ACTUAL Body and Blood of the Lord...I think I'll pass on submitting to a bishop...mmm, I'll pass on giving up retirement plans...ooh, traveling the world to talk to poor people, that sounds nice--the anabaptists always do that...

"Resonance" seems to mean then that he's doing what he likes, and finds that there were and are some Christians in some times and some places who liked to do some of the same things.

Time for a disclaimer. I want almost all those things that McLaren advocates, but many are faults and not ideals. I KNOW the thin line between sensing the moving of the Holy Spirit and channeling a demon. There's a resonance between abiding in the peace of Christ and becoming One with the Universe. My favorite "resonance" of all is the expression, "I'm spiritual, not religious." I always remember the "nice ladies" that the Midianites sent to Israel to seduce the guys-- women who could be described as "spiritual, not religious."

If all this sounds too straw-man-ish, spend a little time in Tolle Eckhard's recent books or A Course in Miracles. Or gays. Or with people who practice yoga or tantric sex. There's a real "resonance" with Christianity, especially pentecostal/charismatic Christianity. OK, resonance without the scare quotes. We can reach out to these people because they want the real spiritual stuff, but those other sources are circumventing Christ while getting a real spiritual connection that heals people and brings tranquility to their hearts. I'm reaching out to these people, regularly, frequently, and have not yet figured out how to bring the gospel into their experience, in which they are getting this supernatural electricity and spiritual guidance without going thru Christ. The closest I can come to a solution is to be emotionally present (nice emerging phrase) yet unambiguous in the gospel, e.g., the Romans Road.

smokin joe said...

The anabaptists are NOT all dead ... I was with one last month, Juan Martinez, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the head of their "Latino" ministries and is a Mennonite theologian. He gave me the names of a number of current anabaptist theologians to check out including John Howard Yoder and one other author who's name I cannot remember.

Bruce said...

My bad. I thought the Mennonites were only loosely related to the Anabaptists. Of course, of course, we've got Taylor University and everything.

So is Brian McLaren joining the Mennonites?

steve H said...

The Amish also are direct descendants of the Anabaptists.

The Brethren in Christ and others also developed from the Mennonite and Amish groups.

John M. said...

Hey Bruce, I like your 3rd and 4th paragraphs were you're describing McLaren's theology and lifestyle... Sounds like a great way to live!

Is he trying to "eat his cake and have it too"? Or is he trying to eat as much of the "pie" as possible without settling for just one little slice?

Bruce said...

I'll put on McLaren's hat here.
Ok, we've got this Christianity stuff. Wait! There's more! "I know, I know," I cry. "The people where I come from didn't do any of these really good things. We never thought reflectively--everything was commands and external obedience, except for believing in your heart that God hears and answers prayer, and that you're going to heaven."
"But...but..." I go on, "it's **really** true! We should share our money! We should lay down our lives for our brothers. Even around the world! How could we have missed all this. Oh, how could we???"
"And, and..."I continue, "we could live something like in--what shall we call it?--*community*? maybe?--to actually have all that stuff that is part of the WHOLE gospel"

So I, in my McLaren hat, want to stay with everything good I learned before, but to not be individualistic, or unreflective, or resist the authentic movings of the Holy Spirit, or deny the wonderful things that God has done in the whole body of Christ over twenty centuries.

Only unlike McLaren, I'm not willing to think that this is some cool new thing that I just thought of. Like McLaren, I feel like I'm hitting my head against the wall when I'm with brethren who act like "this is it", like we've got it all; or with brethren like Emergence, who think that they are discovering the Apostles Version of the One True Church.

Maybe that's why I studied philosophy and other guys have studied church history, to reappropriate the good stuff without naivete or hubris. Yeah, that's why.

John M. said...

Were any of you ever in that naive discovery phase when you thought you had the last best word on Jesus, the Apostles and the Kingdom? Were you ever proud of the movement you identified with and thought that this was pretty much the ultimate thing that had ever happened in church history since the Book of Acts?

If you were part of the Covenant/Shepherding movment back when it and we were young, you, perhaps like most of us who identify ourselves with that movement and that era, have also harbored similar attitudes of superiority and "specialness".

I'm not accusing you here, Bruce, I'm just pointing out the tendency to overcompensate in the light of "new" discovery. I think we've all been there. It seems that each generation/individual must to some degree "discover" the truths that have been obvious to their forefathers. To each who makes this disovery it becomes "new" truth.

And dare we hope that there may be some insights and revelations still to be gained from the scriptures and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I used to know that collectively we had it all and that I as an individual had most of it. Now I've come to understand that in reality I know very little compared to all that there is to know.

Like Joseph mentioned I see some pretty clear "mirror images" of what our leaders were teaching in the '70's. I agree that there is a liberal social angle mixed in which I am still evaluating. But the heart of the reality that the Kingdom is for the earth and for now, not just for the sweet by-and-by, and that there is much more at stake than just our individual, feel-good assurance of eternity on streets of gold in some etherial future -- I resonate with that. It's been part of me and my vision for the last 35+ years.

So, I'm actually glad that McLaren and guys like him have the ear of many of the "emerging" generation. I think that he is reframing the "Dominion Mandate" in language and in a soial context with which the younger generation will idetify. And perhaps he is "redeeming" it from some of the ways in which it has been misinterpreted, misinformed and misapplied by the traditional Calvinist-Protestant ethic.

I'm aware of at least some of the excellent fruit that has been borne by "dominion theology". I'm not discounting that -- just acknowledging that it has also been applied in some very unbiblical ways that would support some of McLaren's accusations against the "tradidiontal" view.

Could it be that McLaren's and other's voices calling for social reform are a prophetic voice (as Joseph has said, Prophets are usually very one-sided in their presentation) that will in the end bring balance to the individualistic, self-serving, ethnocentric tendencies that we see the church taking in North America, and which we have been faithful to export to the nations?

Could it be that Scot McKight and other serious biblical theologians like him who also have the ear of the "emerging movement" will help bring balance to McLaren's theology when it escapes the bounds of biblical realities?

To read McKnight on EMC, Google "Jesus Creed" and when it comes up search "Everything Must Change" and scroll down to #18, November 9,2007, where Scot reviews the book and gives his personal response. He makes both positive and critical comments and ends with several perceptive questions about the book's potential weaknesses.

Personally, I think the Holy Spirit is stirring the pot, and I don't want to receive a stone when He's offering me fish and bread.

Because of that I'm trying to be quick to listen and learn, outside my normal box, while trying not to be naive -- although I would have to go with childlike naivety over shriveled-prune phariseeism, if I'm given the choice!

Sorry Brian. I keep planning to make a specific page, chapter reference and highlight sections as I read, with that in mind, and then I end up making these general sweeping comments.

John M. said...

Sorry for the length everyone. I wrote the last post in several sittings throught the evening, and didn't realize it was so long until I posted it.

You may not hear from me until next week. I'll be out of town, with unkown internet access.

Bruce said...

And me too--sorry for the ramblings.
I was actually trying to show why McLaren is reasonable.
For me, when I got saved, I was immediately struck by how little I knew. So the particular presumption that "we've got it all" wasn't my besetting sin. (I had other ones.)

smokin joe said...

good morning gentlemen (and gentle ladies).

I'm still waking up in California at pastor Kevin D.'s house. I'm here for the weekend to interview a friend of his who was a missionary in Cuba from 1953-1960.

By-the-way, I went by Barnes&Nobles on Thurs. to get a another copy of McLaren's book but they didn't have any in stock (I don't know why I waste my time at B&N's any more--is there a metaphore here for megachurches?). So I found a used copy on Amazon and it is on its way.

I just wanted to mention to you all that there is a really good feature on Scot McKnight's blog on Saturdays called "Weekly Meanderings" in which he gives a quick overview of about two dozens web articles and blogs ... I have learned more about what is going on in the emerging blogosphere from just clicking on his links than anything else... especially if you have a lazy Sat. and don't want to do anything but do want to look busy for your wife.

Brian Emmet said...

OK, I'm back, and have throughly read and digested... well, I've read... all right, I've skimmed everything to get myself semi-up-to-date!

For our own shepherding/discipleship history (for those who share it), and for McLaren's call/claim to "the prophetic": ultimately, we have to come back to Scripture and say, "Is this what Scripture really teaches?" In terms of shepherding/discipleship, we reflected Scripturally and assessed ourselves differently from when we felt we were in the white-hot heat of the prophetic moment. We're still reading Isaiah because Isaiah is part of Scripture; everything else has to bow before the counsel of God's Word (not just Isaiah). That's what I'm trying to do with McL: is he really tracking with Scripture? I have my reservations...

...but God undoubtedly has some reservations about me!

Can someone please point us to a new "chapter and verse" from McL that you agreed with, disagreed with, or have questions about?

smokin joe said...

Hi folks, I just got back from California last night. While I am waiting for my used copy of McLaren’s book to arrive, I found this passage in Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which I found interesting in the light of our discussion of McLaren’s liberal tendencies.

“The falling apart of the two poles of the business of knowing—the objective and the subjective—is reflected in the life of the Christian churches. It would be surprising if it were not so, for our churches are from one point of view part of our culture. I am referring to the deep and tragic split which divides Christians between those who are usually labeled liberals and fundamentalists. Clearly we are dealing here with another form of malaise. There are on the one hand those who seek to identify God’s revelation as a series of objectively true propositions, propositions which are simply to be accepted by those who wish to be Christians. And on the other hand there are those who see the essence of Christianity in an inward spiritual experience, personal to each believer, and who see the Christian doctrines as formulated during church history as symbolic representations of these essentially inward and private experiences. This falling apart, this dichotomy, is one manifestation of the more general situation which I have tried to describe, the falling apart of the objective and the subjective poles of knowing. They are the twin products of the movement of thought which came to full self-consciousness in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and which still dominates what we call “modern” culture. Between them they are tearing the Church apart."

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Cambridge and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989, p. 24.

Brian Emmet said...

Welcome home, Jose! Could you expand a bit on the ways in which the Newbiggin quote casts some light on our discussion? I'm not questioning its applicability, just would appreciate more about what was in your thinking as you read it.

smokin joe said...

it seems that your major critque of McLarn is a) that he is a theological liberal and b) that he applies certain criteria inconsistently.

Newbigin's book is very valuable on its own right .. but I was captivated by his heart cry over the "tragedy" of division between "liberal" Christians and "fundamental" conservative Christians. Newbigin believes (I think) that both two sides of a "modern" coin which distorts the historic Christian tradition by polarizing certain emphases.

I'm not convinced that McLaren is quite as theologically liberal (or unorthodox) as you have implied ... and I have not had a chance to examine the passage that you point out as examples of his inconsistencies ... which I will do when the book arrives.

But it still seems to me, that it would be more fruitful to engage his positive proposals one-by-one on their own merits, rather than paint him as a liberal (or as inconsistent) and dismiss him on that basis. That only seem to me to perpetuate the "tragedy" that Newbigin (who is certainly a biblically orthodox) is so deeply pained by.

Brian Emmet said...

Hope your copy of McL arrives soon. I'm looking forward to your comments (and corrections to whatever distortions I have and perpetuate)!

smokin joe said...

I never said that you have "distortions" ... I think your criticism of McLaren's 'inconsistencies' or double-standard is probably right on. I may be wrong, but I do think you have a sort of visceral reaction against the appearance of liberalism ... perhaps because of your negative experiences with pervasive religious liberalism in Boston and at Harvard.

I am guessing that the whole point of using words like ‘post-conservative’ and ‘post-liberal’ are an attempt to get past the polarizing use of labels like 'conservative' and 'liberal' in which people just talk past one another rather than respectfully engaging the substance of the issues in dialogue.

I have been thinking some about the environmental issue. Most of my liberal friends become very passionate about the damage being done to the planet, and most of my conservative friends blow it off as ‘propaganda.’ I have no clue whether global warming is a real problem caused by human civilization or not … the issue is so polarized.

However, it seems to me that even conservative Christians could find solid scriptural support for a strong position on environmental stewardship … from Genesis 1 and 2, and from Romans 8 where all of creation is "groaning for the revealing of the sons of God."

So when McLaren brings up the environment and tries to get it inserted into Christian discourse, alongside the family and right-to-life issues, shouldn’t we find a biblical way to engage planetary stewardship from a scriptural perspective … and let that be a bridge of common concern with liberalism rather than fall back into the 'liberal' versus 'conservative' arguments? So what if they minimize some things that we hold dear, and we emphasize other things that they are not so passionate about. Let’s find the common ground that we can come together on.

One of the books I was reading (I can’t remember if it was Newbigin or McDermott) gave an example of Catholics and Muslims coming together and working to lobby a United Nations commission in the 1980s and successfully preventing a UN endorsement of abortion for population control. To me, this seems more constructive than endless theological arguments between Christians and Muslims…. To ask the question, "what do we agree on?", and "how can we find common moral ground to serve humanity?"

Surely, if Muslims and Catholics could do that, why not fellow Christians? (liberals and conservatives).

by-the-way, as soon as my book arrives, I promise I will read the portions you cited, and i will gave some page numbers in here for things I agree and disagree with.

steve H said...

Since I haven't been able to read McClaren either, following Joseph's lead, let me offer some insights on the general topic from what I have been reading:

N. T. Wright—excerpts from chapter 7 “Walking to Emmaus in a Postmodern World” in The Challenge of Jesus (IVP, 1999)

This quite sudden and threatening transition [“…now rapidly moving away from the modernist industrial economy and into a world where the microchip carries more muscle and generates more money than the factory chimney”] is bound up with the great move…from what has been called modernity to what has been called postmodernity. To oversimplify, this has focused on three areas. [1] Where modernity thought it could know things objectively about the world, postmodernity has reminded us that there is no such thing as neutral knowledge. Everybody has a point of view, and that point of view distorts; everybody describes things the way the suits them…. Everyone creates his or her own private world. [2] Modernity vaunted the great and lonely individual, the all powerful “I”: Descartes’ cogito ergo sum and the proud “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” But postmodernity has deconstructed the self, the I. The “I” is just a floating signifier, a temporary and accidental collocation of conflicting forces and impulses. Just as reality collapses inward upon the knower, the knower him- or herself deconstructs. [3] Modernity told an implicit narrative about the way the world was. It was essentially an eschatological story. World history has been steadily moving toward or at least eagerly awaiting the point where the industrial revolution and the philosophical Enlightenment would burst upon the world, bringing a new era of blessing for all…. Postmodernity has claimed, primarily with this great metanarrative as an example, that all metanarratives are suspect; they are all power games….

What does the church do when faced with this huge swirling set of cultural movements and tensions?

Most of us who are now adult Christians learned our trade, learned Christianity, learned to preach and live the gospel, within the resolutely modernist and industrial world. Some branches of Christianity, it is true, have managed to hold onto a premodern way of thinking and even of living, holding the modern world at arm’s length. But most of us who have been practicing Christianity for half a century or so have traditionally articulated the gospel to people who thought and felt as modern people, particularly as progress people; people who thought that if they worked a little bit harder and pulled their weight a bit more strongly, everything would pan out. That modernist dream, translated, into theology, sustains a sort of Pelagianism: pull yourself up by your moral bootstraps, save yourself by your own efforts. And since that was what Martin Luther attacked with his doctrine of justification by faith, we have preached a message of grace and faith to a world of eager Pelagians. And we have announced a pure spiritual message, uncorrupted by social and political reflection.

That looks fine to begin with. If you meet a Pelagian coming down the street, give him or her Augustine or Luther. But there are at least two problems with it. First, it is not actually what Paul himself meant by justification by faith. [For more on that subject, see chapters 6 & 7 of Wright’s What St. Paul Really Said.] …second, with the move to postmodernity, most of our contemporaries already, and all of them soon, will not be Pelagians any longer. Those who live in this world [postmodernity], which is increasingly our world, are not trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Where would they pull themselves up to? Why should they bother? Who are “they” anyway? Motive, goal, identity—all these have been undermined by the shifting sands of postmodernity.

Faced with this, many Christians have tried—some are still trying—to deny the presence of postmodernity, to retain the modern world that we felt so comfortable in, to which we preached a modernist gospel (whether we realized it or not). Many want to turn the clock back, culturally and theologically. It cannot be done. My proposal…is that we should not be frightened of the postmodern critique. It had to come; it is, I believe, a necessary judgment from within. Our task is to reflect on that moment, and reflecting biblically and Christianly, to see our way through the moment of despair and out the other side….” [What follows here in Wright is a wonderful exposition of Luke 24:13-35 in the light of Psalms 42, 43.]

How are you to address this [postmodern virtual smorgasbord where you can pick and choose what you want] world with the gospel of Jesus? You cannot just hurl doctrine at it. You will either crush people or drive them away. That is not actually a bad thing, because mission and evangelism were never actually meant to be a matter of throwing doctrine at people’s heads. They work in a far more holistic way: by praxis, symbol and story as well as what we think of, in a somewhat modernist way, as “straightforward” exposition of “truth.”

…We need to learn how to listen for the hidden stranger on the road [Jesus in the Emmaus account] who will explain to us how it was that these things had to happen, and how there is a whole new world out there waiting to be born, for which we are called to be the midwives. The answer to the challenge of postmodernism is not to run back tearfully into the arms of modernism. It is to hear in postmodernity God’s judgment on the follies and failing, the sheer selfish arrogance, of modernity and to look and pray and work for the resurrection into God’s new world out beyond. We live at a cultural turning point; Christian mission in the postmodern world must be the means of the church grasping the initiative and enabling our world to turn the corner in the right direction.

...What we must not do, I believe, is to pretend that it [the judgment of modernity] really has not happened, to cling to modernity in some shape or form because to admit postmodernity has made its point is to connive with the forces of destruction. That would be like two disciples trying to pretend that Jesus had not really been crucified, that he was still around, somewhere, that everything was all right, that those wicked, indeed diabolical, Roman soldiers had not really killed him….

…nor can we construct a Christian worldview from within postmodernity itself. Our task is to discover, in practice, what the equivalent of the resurrection might be within our culture and for our times. There is no way back to the easy certainties of modernism, whether Catholic or Protestant, fundamentalist or liberal. The only way is forward, forward into God’s freshly storied world, forward with the symbols that speak of death and resurrection, forward with the humble praxis of the gospel—and forward to the multilayered context with fresh thoughts, fresh arguments, fresh intellectual understanding. Foolish ones, slow of heart to understand what God was up to! Was it not necessary that modernist versions of Christianity should die in order that truth might be freshly glimpsed, not as a set of doctrines or theories but as a person and as persons indwelt by that person?

And then how long must it be before we learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of constructing the post-postmodern world? The individual angst of the sixties has become the corporate and cultural angst of the nineties. The human beings who could not pull themselves together in the 1960s have become the human societies that cannot put themselves together in the 1990s. What is the Christian answer to it all? The Christian answer to it is the love of God, which goes through death and out the other side. What is missing from the postmodern equation is of course love. The radical hermeneutic of suspicion that characterizes all of postmodernity is essentially nihilistic, denying the very possibility of creative or healing love. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus we find the answer: the God who made the world is revealed in terms of a self-giving love that no hermeneutic of suspicion can even touch, in a Self that found itself by giving itself away, in a Story that was never manipulative but always healing and recreating, and in a Reality that can truly be known, indeed to know which is to discover a new dimension of knowledge, the dimension of loving and being love.

Bruce said...

Steve's quote is rather long. Especially since he uses big words. I'd like to challenge one little point. Wright says:

…second, with the move to postmodernity, most of our contemporaries already, and all of them soon, will not be Pelagians any longer. Those who live in this world [postmodernity], which is increasingly our world, are not trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Where would they pull themselves up to? Why should they bother? Who are “they” anyway? Motive, goal, identity—all these have been undermined by the shifting sands of postmodernity.

Here's my take. The Vietnam era in nonwarzones were a heartfelt embrace of postmodernism. 1974 ushered in a heartfelt embrace of materialism as a reaction to "PoMo." Charles Simpson summed it: if we're going to hell (or we don't know where we're going) we may as well drive a BMW. Grateful Dead to Disco. What we have now is the bastard child of a modernist aspiration for justice and truth with a heartfelt denial of same led by PoMo sensibilities.

FA Schaeffer summed up the late seventies moment, which we are somehow caught up in, as being defined by the twin gods of Personal Peace and Affluence. We could rename these as lawlessness and mammon, perhaps.

I think the whole PoMo cultural moment that we are experiencing is solidly inside the genetic heritage of Modernism. No matter what we come up with, the default modernist position will cry out for Reason to tell us the One True Position to take or believe with enlightenment criteria.

I've dropped a comment into a parallel conversation with some brothers online talking about God and Poverty. It overlaps with us here.

John M. said...

I move that we bestow upon Steve the LPEA -- Longest Post Ever Award! :)

smokin joe said...

yes, it is the longest, but it is also the most profound thing I have ever read on Postmodernism. This is most of what I have been trying to say for a while in my own inept way.

steve H said...

I apologize (up to a point) for the long post. Please forgive me if I caused you offense or consternation. I had typed those excerpts in MS Word and simply copied them over -- not thinking about length. I hope I didn't violate copyright laws in doing so. Wright gets the credit!

That being said, Wright's comments are, I think, are very relevant to this discussion. While I have not been able to read this McClaren book, what I have read of his work has left me unsatisfied and cautious. McClaren (like many "postmoderns") asks many of the necessary questions about modernity's impact on Christian thought and practice--questions we need to hear--but it seems to me that he has bought into so many postmodern presuppositions that some of his proposed "solutions" will create new and maybe bigger problems.

Wright, on the other hand, understands and values the postmodern critique but remains firmly within the lineage of the historic orthodox faith.

steve H said...

I apologize (up to a point) for the long post. Please forgive me if I caused you offense or consternation. I had typed those excerpts in MS Word and simply copied them over -- not thinking about length. I hope I didn't violate copyright laws in doing so. Wright gets the credit!

That being said, Wright's comments are, I think, are very relevant to this discussion. While I have not been able to read this McClaren book, what I have read of his work has left me unsatisfied and cautious. McClaren (like many "postmoderns") asks many of the necessary questions about modernity's impact on Christian thought and practice--questions we need to hear--but it seems to me that he has bought into so many postmodern presuppositions that some of his proposed "solutions" will create new and maybe bigger problems.

Wright, on the other hand, understands and values the postmodern critique but remains firmly within the lineage of the historic orthodox faith.

steve H said...

And now I have no idea how my last post got duplicated!

Brian Emmet said...

I'm tracking with you here, Steve. I find Wright more "trustworthy", at least by my lights, than I do McL, for the same reasons that Bruce mentioned: Wright seems to be able to understand/gain from the postmodern critique and perspective without buying the whole package; I feel less sure about McL in this regard. Steve's point, too--postmodernism brings a necessary critique to modernism, but I don't see postmodernism offering us truly viable options yet. These may be developed, and maybe McL will prove to be a prime developer.

Joseph, to your comment: I may show a visceral reaction against "liberalism", but that isn't quite what I'm trying to do. I do not think conservative = good and liberal = evil. I'm trying, along with all of us, to understand where the truth may be. I think McL & Co are playing fast and loose with some of this in a way that may come back to haunt them, just as I feel that a similar problem exists for more conservative folk--no one is beyond the need for reformation of mind, heart and life. I don't yet trust the way I see McL handling Scripture, which is partly why I accuse McL of reinventing the modernist theological liberalism of the early-20th c: it appears to me that, for McL as for the early liberals, Scripture was a "guide" rather than something closer to "the Word of God written". I am happy to be shown to be incorrect.

smokin joe said...

Thanks Brian ... I appreciate your clarifications. With blogs and digital media... one must work harder at clarification than one normally does face-to-face.

Steve, I agree with you about Wright ... I am only part way through Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope but I appreciate his approach and his careful scholarship.

I suspect part of your concerns (you and Brian) about McLaren is that he is a catalyst but not a scholar ... he tackles these big issues head-on but partly out of reaction ... and that will undoubtedly produce problems down the road.

Steve: your post was one of the few truly justifiable lengthy posts--no apologies needed.

steve H said...

Bruce, thanks for responding to the Wright excerpts. I certainly agree with you that the sixties had much "postmodern" in them even though I don't think the term had been coined. It seems to me that most of the "postmodernism" of that was individual and/or generational. It may have been more existentialist than "postmodern." (Main difference I think is that the existentialist still assumed he could find or create meaning and validation, whereas the postmodern basically assumes there is no meaning, no validation.

More importantly, perhaps, now I think that the culture/society is becoming postmodern (or post-Christian as Schaeffer labeled it.) Wright pointed this out in the excerpts, I think: "The human beings who could not pull themselves together in the 1960s have become the human societies that cannot put themselves together in the 1990s."

smokin joe said...

I agree Steve ... the 60s generation (us) was extremely idealistic ... we were going to change the world ...both in the church and out of it.

From what I see in the current millennial or Gen "Y" (my two younger kids) is "what is the point?"

They are pretty hopeless. That is one reason I really appreciated what Wright said about postmodernism seeing the bankruptcy of modernism, but it in itself, has no real alternatives. Wright said that pomo is lacking "love." I agree.

Brian: I also agree with you that postmodernism offers us nothing, but suspicion of knowledge, power and modern progress. Postmodernism is a critique, nothing more, and inevitably leads up a nihilistic dead-end.

I find that to be extremely hopeful ...

Kevin D. said that he sat on an airplane with a backslidden Morman who went to Brigham Young. With a lot of foul words he derided BYU and made it clear he had lost his faith... and finally looked at Kevin and said "is there anyone out there that has a message?"

I find postmoderns to be much more open to a living demonstration of love, than moderns.

Bruce said...

PoMo is missing not just love, but truth and justice as well. Their desire for reality in love, truth and justice (and, hit o' the hat to the man of steel, the American Way), usually has as much substance as a greeting card. Sounds nice, but empty.

One of my solidly liberal and post-charismatic discipleship divorced friends is a strong Democrat. She says about Obama that she thinks he's-as they say in Texas--"all hat and no cattle." I mean, who are the people who have HOPE, where hope actually has content? We do, I mean old-school Christians. My point: if PoMo wants love, they're going to have to tell the truth about love, and they're going to have to enforce justice against violators against love. They DO recognize when we love our neighbors--they really do--but only in the context of dissing us for defending the unborn and politicizing marriage, as if we started it.

John M. said...

I have to admit something: I had not really read Steve's post when I made my tongue in cheek "nomination".

I kind of tiredly skimmed through it, made my comment and went to bed.

After a careful reading I agree that it is an excellent evaluation and descritption of the water in which we are swimming, culturally, intellectually and spiritually. And the length is necessary to fully convey what Wright is saying.

I also like the hope that I find in Wright's quotes. I share that hope, anticipation and excitement about what God is up to in all this.

Bruce's observations about materialism are interesting. The counter-culture of the '60's dropped out and "repudiated" materialism and then came full circle to totally embrace it.

The under 30 Po Mo's began as materialists and still maintain the trappings of materialism, but don't seem to be driven by it. What I mean by that is that they don't seem to be motivated or willing to "sell everything" for upward mobility and professional success like their parents and grandparents; even though they are content to enjoy the fruit that it has produced.

steve H said...

"PoMo is missing not just love, but truth and justice as well," wrote Bruce. How true and how sad.

I still use Schaeffer's "How Should We The Live" as on of the books my worldview classes are required to live. I am moved, sometimes to tears, when I read Schaeffer's evaluation of the sixties generation -- they recognized the emptiness of their parents basic values, personal peace and affluence; but when their idealism was smashed they were left with nothing to live for but those values, even though they knew them to be valueless values.

One of my friends who several years ago was working with GenXers came to the conclusion that their highest value was despair -- at least they could feel bad that there was no purpose, meaning, or personhood, that they were only products of impersonal evolutionary process.

Are the Millenials (under 30 PoMo's) any more hopeful? Joseph's experience says "no." Some have said Millenials tend to get out of themselves and work for causes more; if so, because of "hope" or because people can't live long with despair as their fuel?

Makes one want to weep to "feel the pain" of it!

In that light, what is this response to Obama's message of hope (and the youthful response to him). If there is really no content to his hope (which seems pretty true), why is it attractive to so many? Is it a grasping at straws, a futile response to "feel hope" even without hope? It is analogous for this generation to the Sixties hippies and yippies becoming yuppies?

On the other hand, is it the indicative of the "sound" of the Kingdom that can capture the hearts and minds of this generation? Will God give us the keys to open the hearts of a generation with a message of true hope for this life and world as well as the age to come?

If so, how, Lord, do we make that sound with you? What are the keys that we should be living and speaking? How can we point them to the faith of Abraham who hoped against hope and was rewarded? Lord Jesus, give us this generation for your Kingdom!

steve H said...

Would that I actually could require my students to "live" a book. It wouldn't be Schaeffer's as much as I esteem him and his work.

I obviously didn't proof read my last entry. I hope there are not too many distractions like that.

Bruce said...

So Steve, you teach "worldviews" do you? Me too. How cool is that? Please contact me so we can compare notes.

Schaeffer's treatment of the 60s is what pieced together the PoMo gestalt for me. My own nutshell treatment is that sex, drugs and rock and roll were for the people then the Last Best Chance to "break on thru to the Other Side", to the other side of Kant's phenomena-noumena barrier.

(Phenomena is us and the measurable details of experience, Noumena is where meaning and significance lies, as well as "the real me" and God.)

Presently though, sex, drugs and rock and roll are viewed as party favors. The only real difference I can think of for PoMo versus oldstyle Existentialism is that PoMo explicitly disowns, disavows, the hope that there CAN BE a single one best answer, because they are being consistent to enlightement reason: reason itself shows that reason is not able to transcend itself, thus there is no transcendence, thus there is no hope, no love, no justice. All that is left is mechanics (naturalistic science based on statistics), material prosperity (=mammon), personal willfulness (=lawlessness).

Now onto Emergence: The religious spin on this is that any version of Christianity which draws a hard line, e.g., has sacraments or requirements or prohibitions, is *obviously* imposing an arbitrary personal preference on other people, taking away their freedom, and being unloving in the process. And if many people together still believe such things as moral obligations, they are a political movement bent on oppressing "free" people who define reality as they see fit.

This final stage that I've described here is what I think McLaren is giving voice to. There is a connection to the old-style liberalism, in that old-style liberalism was old-school Bible believing protestantism filtered thru the Existentialist grid to remove any historical specificity to the doctrine or practice. The Emergent moves (several kinds) have been introducing a finer grid, to filter out even more specificity of faith and practice.

Emergents (several kinds) still want to have Faith, Hope, Love, Justice, Truth; but the only places that they are willing to let these things appeal to are in the personal preferences of the individual.

If I'm right, you shouldn't be able to find almost anything McLaren (or whoever) has written that would contradict me, and almost everything they say would go along with me. I say "almost" to allow for some cultural lag or inconsistencies in the Emergent folks.

I also think that no consistent Emergent writer should be able to look to Paul as a model for ministry, as in Acts 24:25, "Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid..." or Colossians 1:28, "Him we preach, warning everyone..." Seems there's nothing to warn about, because we have peace thru Jesus, and God is love anyway.

Maybe--they do warn against violating the shibboleths of extreme liberalism.

John M. said...

One thing we can all take comfort in. When it comes to actual people in the real world, the vast majority of them are as "blissifully" unaware of the stuff we're discussing here as fish are to water and humans are to air. They are just living and swimming in the culture without giving it any thought. Many of them are just trying to survive another day or make it to the weekend.

So, when we meet them there, connect with them and befriend them, we can still share Jesus' love with them and know that He will be faithful to draw them to Himself.

OK, I'm going to do what Brian has been asking and draw us back to EMC.

On page 96 near the top I quote, "Although the question of how to go to heaven has been deeply important in Christian history, it was not a preoccupying question in Jesus' day. The phrase eternal life" (zoein anionnian in Greek) would be better translated 'life of the ages,' meaning a life that transcends 'life in the present age.' It is, in other words, 'life in the kingdom of God.'"

In footnote 2 on p. 311 (noted from the above quote), McClaren also adds other possible alternative renderings such as "life to the full, life the way God wants it to be, and life when God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven".

In the footnote, he also says that John in John 17:3 does not define eternal life in terms of "heaven after death, but in terms of "knowing God -- beimg in an interactive, interpersonal relationship with God, which is the essence of life in the kindom of God, both in this life and beyond it." He then attributes that idea to N.T. Wright in his book "Mark for Everyone", (Westminster John Knox, 2004).

What are your thoughts on this reading of the concept of eternal life, and especially on McLaren's intrepretation of the words of Jesus in the Gospels?

Also, McClaren seems to quote N.T. Wright quite frequently in the mid-section of the book, where I'm reading. Is McClaren reading Wright correctly, misinterpreting him, taking him out of context or...?

I'm asking the last question for myself, since I have, up to this point, read only one of Wright's books.

steve H said...

Wright does address the issue. His newer book "Suprised by Hope" lays out the matter quite clearly and thoroughly -- plus it addresses Wright's views on how we should live and work in society in view of the reality.

The object of life is not heaven, as I think you would agree. In fact, it the whole idea of "going to heaven" as is held in popular Christian belief is quite shaky Biblically and Wright points out that it is dualistic (wrongly idealizing spiritual above material) in its assumptions.

That is not to say that this life is all there is, of course. If we have hope for this life only then we are of all men most miserable. Our hope -- already begun in Jesus -- is for resurrected, transformed bodies and a recreated heavens and earth. That which to come -- whatever else it may be -- will be more real, more substantial than what we know now.

I can't tell from your quotes: does McClaren overemphasize eternal "life " and not make clear that there is a resurrected life yet to come?

John M. said...

I don't think McClaren is disavowing a life that continues after this life. He says that "eternal life" is living life the way God wants it lived, which is "life in the Kingdom of God, which includes this life and the life beyond".

I hear him tryig to bring the focus onto how we live here and now, rather than on trying to escape to our idea of heaven.

As you surmized I resonate, both with what he and N.T. Wright are saying here.

God is not so concerned about getting us to heaven as he is with getting heaven into us. His focus is earth, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". That is what we as His followers should be about.

If we have his [eternal] life in us then heaven, whatever it may ential and whatever form it takes, and whenever we may go there, is a given. The future comes with the down-payment.

I like McClaren's emphasis on this point. We need to get our mind off heaven (so to speak) and onto earth.

Anyone else?

smokin joe said...

well, that is basically the same thing we were taught in the 1970s by Simpson, Mumford and co. It is the kingdom of message, now coming through McLaren and the emerging group with new applications for the environment and the poor. it might be new for many evangelicals, but it is not really new for us.

John M. said...

Amen! That's what I was trying to say earlier about being glad that the younger generation of "emerging" leaders is being exposed to the message of the Kingdom.

I think we need to trust the Holy Spirit to guide them through the "mixture" (we all have it) and bring them to a knowledge of the truth.

Brian Emmet said...

I agree that Western evangelicalism has bought into a dualism that is contrary to the Gospel and a Biblical worldview. I find Wright far less "slippery" than I do McLaren, but that may just be me. For what it's worth, I'm co-reading w/ McL David Well's "The Courage to be Protestant" and find there a far more trenchant analysis of where Western culture is than I find in McLaren, but that may just be me.

Hey, I really am postmodern: everything may just be me!

Kathy and I are off for a week in NH, so I may be a bit quiet for the next coupla days, although there is free computer in the Peterborough Public Library. I'm taking along the Tiessen (Thiessen) book that Joseph recommended ("Who Can Be Saved?" or something along those lines, laying out the author's position of "accessiblism"... but we'll see if that grabs me more than the CS Forrester and James Lee Burke novels I'll be bringing along! Blessings!

smokin joe said...

hey Brian,

Maybe you can give us a thumbnail summary of Well's book on Protestantism when you get back.

I think McLaren is deliberatley trying to 'shake' things up with his book, compared to Wright who is laying out a very scholarly and comprehensive view that may in some points coincide with McLaren ...

I am about a third of the way through the Tiessen book ... I also finished McDermott's book called "God's Rivals" which covers much of the same ground as Tiessen but is shorter and more readable. Tiessen's work is very theological and academic.

I have also been captured by a book by Leslie Newbigen called "The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society" ... I am getting a lot out of it ...

I'll have to lay all of these aside in one more week and buckle down to another semester of 3 academic books a week.

Have fun in New Hampshire!

steve H said...

Hey Brian, since you got off theology by mentioned Burke (one of my favorites), another murder mystery series that I have really enoyed are P.L. Gaus' Ohio Amish series (Ohio University Press, 6 books so far beginning with "Blood of the Prodigal." Read any of them? These books have less graphic violence and bad language. The stories to me are gripping and feature Amish life and the interaction and friendship of a college professor, a Mennonite pastor, and a county sheriff. Good mysteries and excellent insight into life among the Amish.

smokin joe said...

hey, do you guys mind (especially you Brian) if I start a new post giving a brief into to Newbigin's book? Perhaps we could have a light discussion about him while we are waiting for Brian and Randy to get back, and for my new copy of McLaren arrives... what do you think?

Bruce said...


smokin joe said...

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Cambridge and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Lesslie Newbigin was British missionary and theologian born in 1909 and educated in a Quaker school. He was converted to faith in Christ in Queen’s college at Cambridge in 1928 and began to work with the Student Christian Movement. He was ordained in 1936 by the Church of Scotland and was sent to Madras, India as a Presbyterian missionary. He eventually became Bishop of Madras in the fledgling Church of South India, an ecumenical group of Protestants (Wikipedia). After his retirement in 1974, he moved to Birmingham and became a pastor and a lecturer at a nearby college. He died in 1998.

From Wikipedia:
“He is remembered especially for the period of his life when he had returned to England from his long missionary service and travels and tried to communicate the need for the church to take the Gospel anew to the post-Christian Western culture, which he believed had unwisely accepted the notions of objectivity and neutrality developed during the Enlightenment. It was during this time that he wrote two of his most important works, Foolishness to the Greeks (1986) and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989)”

Christopher Duraisingh from the forward:

“Newbigin has the courage to take up a position and the conviction to defend it against what sometimes appear to be impossible odds. What he has to say—and says with refreshing clarity—comes out of his background of long pastoral experience, missionary commitment, ecumenical vision, and unwavering confidence in the gospel."

Here is a passage on page 9 that adjusted some of my own thinking:

“In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, so often quoted in the interests of religious agnosticism, the real point of the story is constantly overlooked. The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly told to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind there would be no story. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies.”

ok -- my new copy of McLaren just arrived as I was writing this ...I'll hit it this week.

smokin joe said...

oops! sorry... my intention was to post this as a new discussion post ... copy and pasting now!

smokin joe said...

ok Brian... I got my new but used copy of McLaren. I went back to the previous thread and read some of your specific objections to McLaren.

I am on page 121 looking at your concern about how McLaren interprets Jesus' statement about "The poor you will have with you always." I don't remember your actual phrasing, but it seems to me that you implied that McLaren was loosely interpreting that passage through his own agenda, or something like that.

However, when I read this, McLaren clearly grounds the statement of Jesus in the Old Testament passage that Jesus was quoting: Deuteronomy 15:11:

10-11 Give freely and spontaneously. Don't have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God's, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.

McLaren's point is that we cannot use Jesus' words in the NT to evade our God-given responsibility to be generous toward the poor. I cannot argue with his interpretation on this point. It seems clearly grounded in Biblical truth.

reading on ....

John M. said...

I'll chime in an piggy-back on Joseph's comment. I just read that passage in the book recently myself. McClaren's point is that Jesus' statement about the poor cannot be accurately understood without going back to the context out of which Jesus was speaking. He and everyone who heard his comment that day knew the Deuteronomy passage and knew what it commanded.

Looked at the statement through that contextual lens it's as if Jesus is saying that the "wasteful" generosity being shown him was the same kind of generosity that should be shown to the poor "who would always be with us", implying that there will always be someone or some group that are more needy than we are.

Bruce said...

McLaren just endorsed Obama.

smokin joe said...

hi Bruce. That does not surprise me. I felt for a long time that there was a need to see a more balanced participation of believers in both partys, Republican and Democrat. I think the close identification of conservative evangelicals with the Republican party was problematic.

That being said, I admire Rick Warren's decision not to endorse either candidate.

smokin joe said...

Okay … moving right along … on page 122 McLaren starts a section titled “The Good News of Jesus.” He cites N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan regarding the original ‘political’ overtones of the announcement of ‘good news’ in the days of Caesar Augustus.

Actually, I first heard this from Steve Humble. Euaggelion was originally a secular term for the announcing of politically glad tidings of Caesar’s beneficent rule over the empire. I cannot argue with Steve or N.T. Wright, or by extension, B. McLaren over this interpretation. It seems solid enough … so the question is not if the glad tidings of the arrival of the kingdom has a political dimension, but rather which politics is harmonious with the rule of Christ?

Many of us would not have a problem identifying the glad tidings of the kingdom of God with the election of Reagan and winning the arms race with the evil empire … or with Bush appointing two conservatives to the Supreme Court. But we seem to draw the line at McLaren’s discussion about concern for the environment, or concern for global poverty and the implication is that McLaren is somehow not ‘orthodox’ … although in most of his biblical interpretation, he hews pretty closely to Wright. The problem seems to be that he spins the political dimensions of the euaggelion more to the left than to the right. Is it really fair to accuse him of not being ‘orthodox’ when his main offense seems to be his orientation toward issues supported by the democratic party?

Reading on …

Brian Emmet said...

Now that aspersions have been cast upon my reading of Mclaren while I was away on unable to defend myself...

Now that I'm back, I'll be back!

John M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John M. said...

I have a couple comments on Joseph's last post:

It frustrates me that important moral and stewardship issues become political footballs that are polarized as "right or left".

I have said since I was in college that the church should be at the forefront of the environmental movement if we really take the scriptures and our stewardship role seriously. But instead, we have allowed the issue to be
co-opted by the "left".

Many of the other issues McClaren raised should cause us to examine our "standard" responses and be sure that we are not just having our usual knee-jerk reaction. If a knee-jerk reaction is justified, we should ask, "Is my response conditioned and rooted by and in scripture or in a particular political ideology?

One other thought. Chapter 13"Jamming the Accelerator, Slamming the Brakes", seems to indicate that McCaren is not ready to stick Jesus with any existing "framing story", but that Jesus is creating His own revolutioinary framing story, that transcends all the others.

smokin joe said...

ok, in accordance with Brian's guidelines about citing passages that we strongly agree or disagree with ... here are two passage that I strongly agree with:

Bottom of page 152, speaking about Sam Harris’ critique of religion: “We need to acknowledge and reject the ways in which religion aids and abets the violent turn in human nature and society.”

And again on page 159, next to the last paragraph on the page: “Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God’s own blood…” (atonement?) “…in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.”

John M. said...

I would like to site another "chapter and verse".

On page 146 I quote, "The Jesus of one reading of the Apocalypse brings us to a grim resignation: the world will get worse and worse, and finally this jhadist Jesus will return to use force, domination, violence and even torture -- the ultimate imperial tools -- to vanquish evil and bring peace. But exactly what kind of victory and peace are we left with when domination, violence, and torutre have won the day? This version of Jesus brings us to a kind of fatalism that sees the future predetermined and our actions incapable of altering the divinely preset outcome. And it sees domination, violence and torture as the eternal legacy of God's creative project.

The Jesus of the emerging reading we have considered in the preceding chapters tells us the opposite: that good will prevail by peace, love, truth, faithfulness, and courageous endurance of suffering, and that domination, violence, and torture are among the things that will be overcome..."

What is your response to McCleran's reading? Is this classic amellinialism (a modern classification that McCaren would probably resist) or...?

John M. said...

Joseph's post slipped in ahead of mine. I agree with these statements, but they make me very uncomfortable because I have all my life pretty much bought into the framing story of the "American Empire" regarding violence, war, and even torutre to protect our "national security" and "national interests".

smokin joe said...

I was actually a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war and was attending a Society of Friends church ... when I got born again at age 25, I found myself in a super conservative church (the same one you were in John) ... and I gradually adapted my social and political views to the peer group I was part of. Some biblical formation plus a lot of peer pressure.

Brian Emmet said...

For me, it's not so much the things McL affirms--I, too, track with the passages cited by Jospeh and John--but the things he seems to drop or ignore (e.g., just what was it that occurred on/in/through the Cross?). Actually, that's not right--McL doesn't ignore as much as recast, and it's some of the recasting I take issue with. By locating sin primarily, if not exclusively, within the large structures of society, he takes a tack that strikes me as different from the scope of the NT. The essence of our sin becomes our buying into a suicidal framing story and then supporting the structures that support that story. If we want to say that McL is only emphasizing what hasn't been properly emphasized by evangelical theology, I'm fine with that; I'm just not seeing the bold and brand-new synthesis that seems to me to be on offer.

Is it really so difficult to maintain some sort of balance between "I'm a sinner in desperate need of saving grace" and "Our social structures are likewise sin-deformed and in need of God's saving grace"?

Not to try to dodge any bullets here, but do we feel this topic continues to have legs for us? I realize some are just getting to McL's book, so am not trying to short-circuit anything, just checking in.

smokin joe said...

Brian, I appreciate your honest and open-hearted comments in this discussion. There is undoubtedly a ‘moderate left-moderate right’ continuum in our own midst in this blog discussion, with me and john tending toward the moderate left (although seriously, in society and on the u. campus, I view myself as moderate-centrist on most things). If we decry the polarization of the political sphere (and social-religious) in our society, it is important that we can avoid polarization and engage serious conversation with careful listening to one another in this discussion. So far, I think we are doing pretty well.

Regarding McLaren, I simply read him differently than you do. I went back to your earlier blog comments today and re-read them, and then reread the parts that you cited. In my re-reading, I simply did not “see” what you claim to be seeing. You said (in the post where you were on page 200) that “Mcl locates the heart of evil in the world with the U.S. and has no problem chiding and ridiculing Bush but indentifies the US as the “evil empire” – my phrasing not his.”

I simply cannot find this in the text. I do see McL offering strong criticism of wrong-headed or just bad policies in the U.S. AND the other members of the UN security council (Russia, Great Britain, France and China -- page 171). I do NOT see him “ridiculing” bush or the U.S. I see an impassioned appeal for a more just and moral foreign policy and a strong (and perhaps “prophetic” in the Old Testament minor prophets sense) critique. I don’t see ridicule. I tend to agree with him about SOME of the U.S. and other great powers policies (I can give specifics if you want them). That does not mean that I don’t love the United States or that I don’t appreciate the many good things in our country.

You also say in your previous post that “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.”

I have already pointed out that he grounds his interpretation of Matt. 26:11 in the Old Testament … a solid hermeneutic device. But once again, you use the pejorative term “ridicules” … I can’t find any ridicule on those pages. Perhaps we define the word differently.

The closest thing I could find to “ridicule” was the second paragraph down on page 121 where he refers to fundamentalists as “cranky kids playing on a backyard lot.” Notice, he is talking about “FUNDAMENTALISTS” not orthodox evangelicals … and I tend to agree with his characterization. So if it is accurate, is it ridicule? I really don’t think so, any more than Jesus ridiculed the scribes and Pharisees.

And to your point about balance about personal individual salvation and dealing with sinful corporate structures such as poverty, the arms race, violence and aids. I think you need to consider the purpose of his book and who he is writing to. It was not his purpose to write a balanced, scholarly academic treatise. It is a polemical work, written to Christians who are thoroughly familiar with the term “born again” and the “4 Spiritual Laws” and have had 40 years of teaching and preaching under the likes of Billy Graham. When you are trying to confront a serious, glaring imbalance, you don’t do it by stating the obvious, putting careful fences around your theology and being balanced … you post 95 theses to the blog and tell people to get their head out of their asses and wake up. That is what he is trying to do… however imperfectly. This is not Eugene Peterson, serenely walking us through the Psalms, or Phillip Yancey talking about astonishing grace … this is guy who is convinced we are destroying the earth and missing the purpose of Jesus .. he is crying “fire!!"

I gotta tell you, I was bored with the book on page 80 and ready to lay it down, but you guys motivated me to keep on reading. Chapter 22, Joining Warriors Anonymous fired me up and almost left me in tears about violence and the war industry. I strongly agree with the whole chapter. It is basically a classic Anabaptist or Mennonite view, and as my young friends would say “I feel him.” If I wrote the book, I would probably change the title to “Something damn well better change.”

These are critical, pressing and valid social and moral issues that most conservative evangelicals have been content to ignore. Brian McLaren is making it harder for us to ignore these issues (as is R. Warren in a different way)… we have other prophets, teaches and theologians who will be happy to talk to us about individual salvation … McLaren is talking about what few others are even willing to “think” about, much less risk their reputations to talk about publicly.

Sorry for the length of this. Brian, I posted another comment on Leslie Newbigin’s book … I would suggest that we allow people to keep coming back to this thread as we continue reading the book, but also move on to other topics. We can talk about Newbigin’s book … or I would enjoy talking about Wright’s Surprised by Hope, or Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways.

John M. said...

Another good discussion would be Frost's "Exiles". I think most of us have read "The Forgotten Ways", not that a corporate discussion wouldn't be good.

Personally, I plan to finish McClaren's book whether we continue discussing it or not. I probably wouldn't have read it, at least at this time, if we hadn't decided to discuss it, but I'm glad I did.

As soon as I finish EMC I plan to go back to Frost's "Exiles".

Brian Emmet said...

I'm content with the airing of our differences re McL's book, so rather than answering Joseph's comment with a very much longer one, let's move on to either additional comments on other aspects of McL, or receive suggestions for a new direction.

Do we feel that these kinds of book-based discussions work for us?

smokin joe said...

I think it would be good on the next book, that it be a book that either everyone has read recently, or that everyone commits to get the book and read most of it before we start to discuss it. On McLaren, only you and I were reading the book in the beginning, and I gave my copy away. Randy and John got into the book late ... and apparently no one else has read it. It tended to greatly restrict the conversation.

By-the-way, I have mixed feelings on Chapter 24 on 'theocapitalism' ... I agree with some things, and I have doubts about other of his assertions. Although he is very critical of global capitalism, he does not, in my mind, propose any clear cut practical alternatives other than altruism. I am not nearly as convinced by him in this chapter as I was in the chapter on war and violence.

smokin joe said...

I said I was going to 'lay low' for a while didn't I? I guess I am a blogging addict.

I found this passage in N.T. Wright's book (Surprised by Hope) interesting in the light of our discussion of McLaren.Speaking of the resurrection and the new creation Wright says,

"If what I have suggested is anywhere near the mark, then to insist on heaven and hell as the ultimate question--to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world--may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century, the mistake that both Jesus and Paul addressed.

How was God going to rescue Israel? What the gospel of Jesus revealed, however, was that the purposes of God were reaching out to a different question: how is God going to rescue the world through Israel ...?

Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it, but on the question of how God is going to rescue the world through human beings ... if we could reread Romans and the light of this reframing... I think we would find much food for thought" (p. 185).

John M. said...

Hmmm... I'm remembering what I heard Mumford say one time, "If you ever write a "systematic" theology don't put "The End" at the end of your last chapter.

Brian Emmet said...

New post is up!