McKnight on McLaren’s New Book

Some of you have seen this review of mine at Christianity Today. I’m happy to hear your responses at this site, but I’ll only clip the opening two paragraphs from the CT piece. I like Brian, and I think Brian is a good man, and I think he said important things that we evangelicals need to hear, but what I think of Brian as a person is not the same as what I think of his latest book: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
. So, I’d appreciate it if this review does not turn into a “I like Brian” or “I dislike Brian” contest. The issue is what he has written. Here are the first paragraphs of my review…


Let’s have a conversation on this site about the review and the book. Have you read the book? What did you think? What did you like? What did you disagree with him about? How does this book fit with his other books? Any changes you see?
Brian McLaren has grown tired of evangelicalism. In turn, many evangelicals are wearied with Brian. His most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (HarperOne), must be understood as his latest iteration of a project of deconstructing the old and reconstructing a new kind of Christian faith. In it, he poses a question that this review will seek to answer. It is a question he asks of himself: “How did a mild-mannered guy like me get into so much trouble?” Or, as he asks one page later, “How did I get into this swirl of controversy?”

As a friend and a chronicler for more than a decade, I have watched Brian’s work. Generous Orthodoxy gave us a critique of both sides and some glimpses of a third way, even if the book frustrated to no end by leaving too many loose ends dangling. I thought both The Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change provided us with what could become an evangelical social gospel. Along the way, Brian has poked evangelicals in the eyes and chest by fixating on sensitive spots that bedevil them–not the least of which is the uneasy connection between the “spiritual” gospel and the “social” gospel. If evangelicalism is characterized by David Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral–that is, biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism–then Brian has poked and, to one degree or another, criticized, deconstructed, and rejected each.

[The link above will take you to the rest of the review.]

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rick

    Scot-
    You are certainly not obligated to defend yourself, but I would like you to respond to those critics who are wondering why you waited so long for such criticism of McLaren (you “lacked discernment”), since many have been seeing red flags about him for years (namely, his reluctance to be clear in some positions).
    For many this has become an “I told you so” moment in regards towards McLaren, and you.
    I am sure you have a good response to that criticism, and that it might be helpful if it was heard.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Rick (#1),
    I am not Scot, but I have an inkling as an answer to your criticism of Scot for “lacking discernment.” Brian McLaren is a victim of the process that he applies to God in his latest book—evolution. As Scot writes, early on Brian was making some remarkable contributions to evangelical thought which many of us agreed with. Thus, Brian was affirmed. But, as Scot observes in the CT article, Brian has “evolved” to the point of departing from Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is a bigger tent than much of USAmerican reductionist evangelicalism as you know.

  • Danny

    I have met Brian McLaren in Germany, he is very gentle, kind and nice person. He has the soul of a great pastor. But reading some of his material I keep thinking: Brian has apparently been hurt greatly by something in his past, maybe his fundamentalistic background he is struggling against.

  • Rick

    John #2- “…an answer to your criticism of Scot…”
    I was not saying Scot lacked discernment. I was saying Scot might want to reply to those who are saying such things.

  • Rob

    Ahhh…the “departing from Orthodoxy” charge. What “is” historic Orthodoxy? Who defines it? Is it EO, RC, Protestanism? What about anabaptists? Are they Orthodox? What is the single agreed upon Orthodoxy? It’s interesting that all the definers and defenders of orthodoxy come out of the woodwork when Brian writes a book.

  • Ken

    Perhaps some should also revisit the critique of paleo-orthodoxy posted last week. It is precisely for these reasons, ie. MacClaren’s wanderings therefrom, that tell us the Nicene (choose another if you must) Creed is needed. The fear in the post was authority. But note that MacClaren and others define themselves out of orthodoxy if this is the definition of Christian faith; no council is required, no enforcement or police–just people who can read and place the biblical summary which is the creed against what anyone else is saying.
    MacClaren’s lack of theological sophistication prior to writing any of his books–and the naive consumption evangelicals gave to them speaks volumes about the lack of authority in any meaningful sense. Appealing to a vague concept of priesthood of all believers, as though scripture is for private interpretation, doesn’t satisfy.

  • John C

    I thought Scot made a couple of powerful points in this article. First, that the idea of an evolution from a violence-prone OT God to a non-judgmental NT God (the God of Jesus), just won’t work. Second, that despite the postmodern trappings, Brian and others are in danger of reinventing a very old (19thC liberal Protestant) wheel.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rob,
    Let me say this clearly, if bluntly: theologians know what Orthodoxy is. They know “what” defines it: the Creeds. They know Creeds don’t define everything; they know Creeds are parameters and boundaries but not definitions of everything. When you say classical orthodoxy or Orthodoxy, theologians know what you mean.
    Protestantism is more or less defined by the solas. Protestant theologians know this.
    Anabaptists largely define themselves by their connection to the Bible and by their own creeds/confessions or statements of faith. Anabaptist theologians know how they define things.
    I see the point you offer to be a smoke screen. Sorry to say it that way, but I don’t see any merit in offering up questions as if to muddy the water when theologians have clarified these issues.
    Of course, of course, other issues obtain, but when someone says “orthodoxy” there is a presumption that such a term has meaning and can be used in ways that people can detect meaning.

  • Rob

    We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
    he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
    and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.
    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
    and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    I understand what you’re saying Scot, and appreciate the pushback. I believe these creeds leave alot to the interpretation as well, no? For example, if I happen to believe that PSA is not the sole metaphor for atonement, am I departing from this? If I don’t subscribe to inerrancy, am I departing? If I don’t believe that Jesus came for individuals but to fulfil Israel’s story, which was to also provide salvation to the nations, am I departing from this? Has anyone seen/read/heard Brian deny the Godhead? I’m really curious where the departure is.

  • Eric

    Scot,
    Your comments about “the inevitability of the blinders we all wear when we try to read Scripture” were spot on. I was quite surprised when Brian wrote about the 2 ways of reading the Bible – forwards and backwards. His suggestion that we can “directly see Jesus” without all the historical baggage seemed odd. We are located in a particular time, place, and culture and any reading of the Bible is going to reflect that particularity.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rob,
    Thanks for taking it well.
    PSA is not about classical orthodoxy (all we’ve got there is forgiveness of sins). It is, however, central to the Reformers. Both Luther and Calvin saw the atonement happening that way. No one argues, though, that it is the ‘sole’ metaphor. Some overemphasize it and squelch the others.
    Inerrancy is an odd one; the term and its meaning in many circles are connected to post Enlightenment apologetics. That the Bible is true, though, and fully true: Yes, historic Judaism and the Fathers (read vol. 1 on the opening “We believe” part of the 5 volume set on the Creed from IVP); clearly the Reformers were big on the truthfulness of Scripture and Calvin probably believed in what is now called inerrancy. (I had a colleague who wrote his dissertation on this.)
    Now the point that Jesus did not come for individuals but for Israel’s story … overstatement? Both and?
    I did not say in my article that Brian departs from orthodoxy. What I wanted to say is that orthodoxy — as defined by creeds and, for that matter, in the Reformers, is not at all important to Brian in this book. I find it interesting how you said it: “deny” is the operative word. I hear this often. The point I was making is that “not denying” does not make one orthodox. What makes one orthodox is to see the Bible through the lens of the Creed or the Regula fidei. That happens to be a fine distinction I am making and I think a very important one.

  • Richard

    I haven’t read the book yet and am planning on picking up a copy and wrestling through it with some friends.
    I’m just wondering if someone would be willing to point-by-point clarify for me how McLaren is unorthodox. I ask this sincerely because it’s a valid concern of mine. Where I run into trouble is that when I read McLaren or hear him speak, I don’t hear him disavow the creeds, the resurrection, etc. In fact, quite the opposite. My question is how do we engage with comments from McLaren openly affirming a physical resurrection, the trinity, and the Apostles and Nicene Creed: http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/a-new-kind-of-christianity-contd.html
    As for the review, i had a couple of questions after reading it through a second time:
    “Reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ is indeed the way to go. But to use Jesus against the God of Israel he worshiped and prayed to and loved and obeyed pits us against what Jesus himself is doing”
    Isn’t Jesus redrawing and reinterpreting the OT and what had become the “Jewish” understanding (I know it wasn’t singular, etc) of God- the dominant view being his concern with the nation-state of the Jewish people. Don’t we see him doing that time and time again with his parables and the gospel accounts of his actions? Don’t we see Paul and the Apostles carrying on this process in their ministries?
    “Unfortunately, this book lacks the “generosity” of genuine orthodoxy and, frankly, I find little space in it for orthodoxy itself. Orthodoxy for too many today means little more than the absence of denying what’s in the creeds. But a robust orthodoxy means that orthodoxy itself is the lens through which we see theology. One thing about this book is clear: Orthodoxy is not central”
    Echoing above, which orthodoxy? Evangelical, reformed, protestant, RC, EO, Creedal, etc. Which theology are we to view Jesus through?
    I think Anabaptists would be very comfortable with the orthodoxy of the “old saw—namely, the Constantinian Fall of the Church, the event and era in which the Greco-Roman narrative was developed.” That’s one of the big shifts in church history that even affected which view of the atonement was the dominant understanding (PSA supplanting Christus Victor at that time). I think it’s really hard to underestimate the consequences of wedding the church and state.
    @ Scot 8. If the Creeds define orthodoxy, how has Brian erred from it? And I would agree that theologians have clarified Orthodoxy for each of their camps but what about when all the camps come together?
    Sorry for the length but I wanted to get this out so I can hear some pushback. I am really wanting to learn from this conversation.

  • Richard

    @ Scott 11.
    This clarifies one of my questions in 12. You responded while I was still posting. Thanks for leading this conversation.
    Understanding that you’re walking a very fine nuance, I have to wonder if there is a way you could have rephrased this that would’ve had less potential for volatility? What does it mean that he has no concern for the creeds but he isn’t unorthodox?

  • rob

    Thanks for the feedback Scot. I think we’re more on the same page than not. I was more reacting to another comment that stated: “But, as Scot observes in the CT article, Brian has “evolved” to the point of departing from Orthodoxy.” I would hope you would agree though that even seeing the bible through the creeds is a presupposition that we must own up to? Not saying it’s a bad or wrong lens, just saying that it is “a” lens.

  • tscott

    I picked a Christian fellowship, that once having been there for awhile, discovered that it was actually a sect that has revived(and to me sadly had a long time fading) throughout Christian history. The number of Christians that are of Paul, Apollos, Muggleton, or Reeve and don’t know it is alot. Not to mention, how it is usually thought of as the vanguard.
    Please continue, even after we explore Peterson’s “Practice Revelation” with a theme of maturity in the future.
    Concerning the bigger fish to fry section, I am more sympathetic to McClaren than you are in the review for two reasons:
    1. Otto Piper observed that there are “two tendencies in the German soul which seem to be opposed. People seldom realize that in the German soul the desire for absolute independence exists side by side with willingness to subordinate itself absolutely. Both traits form the polar expression of the German attitude toward others.” This helps me understand the passivity of it’s church toward the state, and my German neighbors lack of acknowledgement that I even exist.
    What does this have to do with McClaren? His criticism that we are a passive church has some truth.
    2. The soul sort narrative is really believed and pushed. My daughter is in a university ministry to students. Very successful history, well received presently, looks like on a good trajectory.
    Just this past week a major controversy has started to brew because guest bible study leader preached “an end time message”(soul sort all the way), and you can guess the feelings it stirred, and the scramble to leave the group.
    Just because I am sympathetic to McClaren’s passivity concerns, doesn’t mean that I am willing to go down the road to a new kind of Christianity with him. I concur that those who seek new (or restoration) are often not that at all. Even deconstruction can become like going down the road with eyes in the rear view mirror. To stay with my German analogy here, Heidigger cannot be forgiven for not just being passive, but sympathizing with Nazis.
    Hebrews Chapter 6 urges us to press on to maturity. My current fellow travelors want to go directly to whether you can lose it altogether. I see the immediate implication to be that a group can lose it’s ability to help. But also convinced of better things to those that appropriate what accompanies salvation.
    I cannot leave the themes of unsustainable, inequity, violence, or a spirituality crises. I cannot leave Orthodoxy. I don’t want to go to solutions tried and not true. I actually loved your review.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Scot McKnight, thanks for your comment #8–it helped me in this discussion. And this comment in #11 is spot on: “The point I was making is that ‘not denying’ does not make one orthodox.”
    John

  • http://www.ill-legalism.com Rick Presley

    I have said elsewhere that this book is the product of an English professor’s approach to the Bible. We all know The Law of the Instrument: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I don’t believe Brian is guilty of such simple-mindedness because he appears to bring every tool in his toolbox to bear on solving the problem. However, his error seems to come from appropriately identifying what he sees as “the problem.”
    Instead, I think he sees the Bible and Christianity as a particular kind of “problem” to solve or at least explicate. I like many of the questions Brian asks. I just wish he had asked a few more. Actually a lot more. I dearly loved his earliest books and read them avidly. As time went on, I found his publications becoming increasingly disengaged from my experience of both Christianity and the Bible and Christians themselves. For that matter, there is a whole wing of the Emergent movement that seems increasingly disconnected from what seems to actually be happening in the pews and pulpits of evangelical churches and in the byways of our country. Like the military which has been accused of always planning to fight the last war they fought rather than the one that is coming, I see many in Emergent circles fighting against a form of fundamentalism and evangelicalism that represents the way things used to be, McLaren chief among them.
    Rather than listen to me, however, here in Brian’s (and Spencer Burke’s) own words is how an English professor views the Bible http://theooze.tv/brian-mclaren/brian-mclaren-q2-the-authority-question

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    At several points in this book Brian is deliberately and explicitly Trinitarian. And his discussions of who is Jesus and whether God is violent were thoroughly Incarnational (not to mention Barthian). In what sense then does Brian fail to “see the Bible through the lens of the Creed”? I don’t see that in this book at all, but of course I tend to agree with Brian’s so-called critique of “evangelicalism” (despite the fact that he doesn’t actually use that term in this book when he critiques “Greco-Romanism”, though I suppose if the shoe fits y’all should wear it.) But since when was being “evangelical” ever the point?

  • Karl

    Scot, your concluding paragraph sums up my reaction, not just to McLaren but also to his many disciples and co-travellers:
    “I read this book carefully, and I found nothing new. It may be new for Brian, but it’s a rehash of ideas that grew into fruition with Adolf von Harnack and now find iterations in folks like Harvey Cox and Marcus Borg. For me, Brian’s new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it’s not old enough.”
    Yeah, it’s new to them – it’s not the blinkered fundamentalism and over-conservative evangelicalism they grew up in. But Christianity never was bounded by that subset in the first place. A PhD acquaintance of mine spoke of McLaren by talking about “the peril of the master’s degree.” These folks discover the heady rush of ideas outside the narrow place they grew up in, learn a smattering of stuff from the social sciences, and are exposed to theological thinking that is new to them – and think they have arrived and are at a place where they can confidently critique, condemn and deconstruct not only the little corner of Christendom from which they came, but the entire faith.

  • Richard

    Rick @ 17
    I’m not sure I disagree with what Brian is saying in that. I think he’s actually providing a more robust approach to Scripture, isn’t he- that we can’t just cite a chapter and verse to support whatever we want but have to fit it in context of the overall thrust and direction of the Narrative of Scripture?
    It reminds me of a local reporter asking me if the Bible supports Christians going to war. My answer to him was that you can support a lot of things from Scripture if you’re just looking to find it somewhere in the Bible (i.e. slavery, war, etc) but that for the Christian, whatever we find in Scripture must be interpreted through the life and death of Christ as a lens (including difficult passages) and especially how those closest to Jesus in terms of timeline seemed to interpret those teachings and his example.
    How is that different than what Brian is suggesting? Or maybe it’s the same as what he’s suggesting, in which case my question is how should I approach things like that in the future?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “I see many in Emergent circles fighting against a form of fundamentalism and evangelicalism that represents the way things used to be, McLaren chief among them.”
    Here’s the question I have for Rick and Scot and all the others here who think that Brian is being unfair towards or somehow misrepresenting “evangelicalism”: do you or do you not essentially affirm something like Brian’s “Greco-Roman six-line narrative”? I’m not asking whether you think it should be called “Greco-Roman”, or whether you think it should only have six-lines, or how you might tweak it to soften some of the problem points. I’m asking whether or not you and most other evangelicals would affirm in broad strokes something like the narrative of “Creation-Fall-Atonement on the Cross-Heaven for believers-Eternal Conscious Torment for non-believers”.
    That is the gospel I grew up with as a mainstream evangelical. That is the gospel I continue to hear from most mainstream evangelicals these days – and not just the Neo-Reformed folks, but from “big-tent” evangelicals too. So have we got it wrong? Is this or is this not the gospel y’all affirm? If not, how would you redefine it to avoid the critiques Brian raises against it? If so, why not just own it, despite whatever unpleasant implications follow from it? You might not like the mirror Brian is holding up to you all, but why shoot the messenger?

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Scot: Don’t understand your review.
    Haven’t read the book, wasn’t planning to, but definitely will now after reading your review.
    You write that what McLaren is writing is nothing but 18th/19th German theologian thinking dressed up as new and fresh.
    Now I’m not trained as a theologian or bible scholar or church historian, but it seems to me that part of his premise (if in same vein as Cox), is that stage is set for another transformation of Christian “orthodoxies”.
    1. Jewish Messianic Sect – and then where Paul sets that the Torah is not to be kept
    2. Ecumenical councils – where doctrine and creeds “officialized”
    3. Rise of Christendom – split of East/West, Anselm, etc.…
    4. Reformation – dawn of the Age of Gutenburg, reformers desire to go back to more pure, pristine age, but actually bring new “orthodoxies”
    5. Liberal Christianity – the rise of modern biblical scholarship
    6. ANKoC – the Age of Internet, not saying McLaren deserves any more than a nod for his marketing, but anyone would be extremely myopic to say that such cultural and social transformation uncorked from a 24/7 globally connected world (like happened in Age of Gutenburg)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “I read this book carefully, and I found nothing new. It may be new for Brian, but it’s a rehash of ideas that grew into fruition with Adolf von Harnack and now find iterations in folks like Harvey Cox and Marcus Borg. For me, Brian’s new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it’s not old enough.”
    You know… I’ve spent the past few years at a moderate-to-liberal mainline Protestant institution, and to be honest Brian’s approach, while “liberal” compared to conservative evangelicalism, barely even registers as “liberal” compared to some of the theologies I’ve encountered here. Brian’s theology is NOT merely a rehash of classic liberal theologies. Compared to what I’ve encountered of both evangelical and liberal theology, what Brian does in the book does strike me as a genuine “third way” (unlike other recent attempts at a “third way” I could mention, which ended up being not much different than the same old way).
    At the same time, if Brian is finally willing to listen to some “liberal” theologians and learn from them as well, so what? I find the theological arrogance of those who think they can just write off the mainstream of Protestant theology in the past century as merely “liberal” astounding. (And yes, there is just as much arrogance among liberal theologians who completely write off evangelical theology – though of course “the other side does it too” is never a valid counter-argument, and thus is rather irrelevant to my point here.)

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Scot,
    You stated things clearly, courageously, and convincingly in the article. I trust Brian will take it to heart. He has some wonderful gifts that the Body of Christ, even the most “conservative,” could benefit from.
    Best,
    Dave

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    The “god” offered by Brian McLaren in ANKofC is nonsense. Brian, in his book, is creating a “conceptual idol” the size of Nebuchadnezzar’s in Babylon. His pathetic rendering of evangelicalism nauseates and his pablum Jesus is tasteless.

  • http://alexlsilva.blogspot.com Alex

    Scot, I have not read the book, but had a question for you which I posted in the CT comments section. Here it is in case you are not following the comments there: You mention that the history of religions school was shown to be inadquate. Can you briefly point to some references which show this to be the case? What specific authors or arguments have shown it to be inadequate? I actually like your argument in that particular paragraph in the CT article, I’m just wondering what the other argument is.

  • nathan

    i’m currrently reading the book now.
    my primary concern about the book is what I believe to be a basic misunderstanding by Brian about the particularly “Christian” take on Platonism.
    The Christian theological witness distinguished itself within the GR context by explicitly AFFIRMING the material world, the body, etc.
    That being said, he makes it sound like Platonism was basically essentially “gnostic” and that’s a mischaracterization of Platonic thought.
    Further, it’s ironic to read someone kind of trash Plotinus/Neo-Platonic thought and then to evoke categories of “beauty” and heavy pneumatology in their theory of Scripture.
    Beyond that you can draw a straight line through the current resurgence of interest in “spiritual formation/disciplines/mystical emphases” back to the Neo-Platonic thought of Plotinus.
    I think that his Theos vs. Elohim construct is more about making his own narrative coherent to himself and us…but it’s deeply problematic in light of the historic development of the Christian tradition.
    One other thought…
    I would also agree with an earlier commenter that to simply categorize Brian’s thought as a re-tread of “liberal” thought really doesn’t account for who he is either or reflect the streams are today that evangelicals call “liberal”.

  • Scot McKnight

    Alex, sorry didn’t see that question:
    I recommend Horton Harris, The Tubingen School: A Historical and Theological Investigation of the School of F.C. Baur.

  • nathan

    @ john frye,
    You may disagree with his proposals, but his “rendering” accurately reflects the reality that many of us experienced and have lived through.
    It accurately reflects the incoherence that every single one of my unchurched friends see in the views of popularized evangelicalism.
    It seems Brian may be describing a stream of evangelicalism that you’ve had the fortune to NOT be wounded by.
    All this highlights another critique of Brian’s work:
    It deploys the broad brush a bit too easily.

  • Eric

    @ Mike 21 (or anybody who has read the book),
    I haven’t read the book but isn’t McLaren’s critique of the Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative based almost entirely on it being a reworked Greek/Roman philosophical narrative? As far as I can tell, almost everybody agrees that Brian is wrong in linking these two. Does McLaren’s critique of the Creation/Fall/Redemption narrative consist of anything else besides its supposed link to Platonic/Aristotelean thought?

  • Karl

    Nathan (#29),
    I think your comment probably has more than a grain of truth in it. Many of us who feel like Brian and others in the emerging church set up straw men caricatures and then slay them with a flourish, tend to forget that those caricatures DO exist in actuality, out there on the ground in many places. Probably more so 15-30 years ago, but even still today in many places.
    However, the objection still remains for me. Someone like Brian owes it to his readers to not only take on the “worst of” evangelicalism, but also (and I would argue, primarily) to engage with evangelicalism’s best. His writing should take into account and be in dialogue with the thought, writing, faith and practice of people like Scot McKnight, John Stackhouse, Alister McGrath, John Stott et al. It’s one thing to take pot shots from the vantage point of his newly acquired knowledge in history, theology and the social sciences at a Mark Driscoll or the typical, average conservative evangelical. But Brian doesn’t hold himself out as being THEIR peer. He wants to be a thinker, a guide. So his work should be in dialogue with some of evangelicalism’s best guides, not just offering caricatures of their beliefs that they themselves would never own.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Nathan #29,
    I think Brian McLaren makes insightful criticisms of Christian fundamentalism (in which he may have been wounded…who knows?), so I am not so concerned about that. What Brian is now offering as a “new kind” of Christianity is pure McLarenism…his own little cult faith.

  • http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/ Andy

    I’m currently reading the book, which, doesn’t offer anything particularly surprising if you’ve really listened to Brian’s message in his previous books. After reading Scot’s review, I have come to a conclusion. I hope this is not taken the wrong way, because as Scot said above, this isn’t about “liking Brian” or even “liking Scot” for that matter. Whether I agree with everything written is besides the point that I love the Jesus Creed Blog, and have heard Scot speak and enjoyed his message quite a bit.
    That being said, in my opinion and from what I read, Scot will discount anything that brings orthodoxy into question and will defend it against dissenters as respectfully as he can. Brian seems to be in a camp asking serious questions, even about the validity or importance of particular orthodox beliefs. It seems like one camp is simply accusing the other of some sort of misguided idolatry. One could argue that Brian makes a god of questioning and deconstructing. Another could assume that Scot makes a god out of orthodoxy.
    Respectfully though, through what I read (of course I don’t really know), it seems as though Brian understands Scot’s desire to protect and defend his orthodox beliefs. But, in the safety net of orthodoxy that Scot and others rest in, I believe they may be unwilling or just simply afraid to really engage with the questions that Brian is asking. For them, there’s too much at stake to bringing accepted “truths” into question or even doubt. For Brian and others, there’s too much at stake not to rethink, refresh, and renew what’s so clearly broken.
    http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/

  • Ted

    I just finished reading this book and have more respect for Brian than ever before. No more cat and mouse game of being coy about what he believes. This helps the conversation move on as there is honesty on Brian’s part about his intention and desire to create a new Christianity.
    Though I found the book to be poorly grounded in Biblical interpretation and filled with gross caricatures of those holding opposing views it’s nice to have Brian put his cards on the table.
    And for the sake of integrity and humility there are many in the emerging/emergent camp and its leaders who all owe DA Carson a huge apology for all the shots that were taken at him for forecasting this years ago. Turns out he was right on the money with McLaren’s theological trajectory.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net/goodbye-emergent-why-im-taking-the-theology-of-the-emerging-church-to-task jeremy bouma

    Hi Scot,
    Thanks for this bold, courageous article. As many here know, a few weeks ago I said “Goodbye Emergent” (post linked above) because of my frustrations with the theology bubbling up out of Emergent. As I wrote earlier, what I’ve come to realize is that while Emergent may believe it is believing differently—and consequently believe it is offering the world a different Christianity that is more believable than the current form—in reality the emerging church simply believes otherly; the form of Christianity that this version of Christianity pushes is neither innovative nor different: it is a form of Christianity other-than the versions that currently exist but mirror those that have already existed.
    The Christian faith that Brian McLaren and others in Emergent believe “feels alive, sustainable, and meaningful in our day” is really forms of faith from other days. They combine other forms of faith that both the Communion of Saints and Spirit of God have deemed foreign to the Holy Scriptures, Rule of Faith, and gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the history of Christ’s Bride, the Church.
    I am nearly finished with Brian’s book and there is NOTHING fair about his portrayal of conservative Christianity. Similarly there is little to do with the bible or historic Christian orthodoxy in the new version of Christianity he pushes. His portrayal of the Biblical narrative is Christless, centering squarely on Abraham (which fits nicely with his view of the abrahamic faiths as encapsulated in the nonprofit http://www.abrahamicalliance.org/ on which he sits as Board member). His view of Jesus in no way affirms that He is God, instead reducing Him to a revelation of the “character of God.” His view of the Holy Scripture is not divine revelation, but purely human conversations in which people simple talk about their understanding of God and progressively, courageously “trade-up’ (his words not mine) their understanding of God for even better images. His conversation is a CLASSIC rhetorical Red Herring, in which he attempts to divert an honest, needed conversation on homosexual practice to the sin problems in heterosexuality. And on and on…
    What is FASCINATING is that this book is in fact PURE McLarenism: he gives ZERO scholarship to support his wild readings of the scripture and the places he does attempt biblical interpretation he is exegeting out his ass (see his hatchet job of the book of Romans, Ch. 15).
    This book is truly a line in the sand that will determine where people are in their understanding of the nature of salvation and commitment to the historic Rule of Faith, which is why I want to tackle it question by question in my own theological assessment series beginning Friday (not a blog plug…just say!) I’m tired of people being hoodwinked by the “different” theology being pushed by people like Brian and the hoodwinkers getting a pass, especially from those inside. Their version of Christianity isn’t different. It is other. We’ve seen this before, and I think something should be done about it, which is why I and others are finally saying, “Enough is enough.”
    Enough Brian. Enough already.
    -jeremy

  • nathan

    @ Karl,
    I absolutely agree.
    @ John,
    Fair enough. But that’s still dealing with his construction, i.e. his proposals for a way forward.
    And, yes, it would probably be better for him to use the term “fundamentalism” rather than evangelicalism, but I’ve met more than a few folks that would use the term “evangelical” to describe the very outlook he describes.
    That being said, I’ve already stated (1) his reading of philosophy and the Christian use of it is off the mark, and (2) he paints too broad a brush of evangelicalism.

  • Scot McKnight

    One and all, I’d like to point to something I’m seeing on this blog today: Brian’s book is divisive. That is, people will say “I agree” or “I disagree.” David Fitch posted on this very thing, saying this book is a missional line-in-the-sand; I agree with David completely:
    http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/mclaren’s-new-kind-of-christianity-there’s-a-parting-of-the-ways-here-–-and-that’s-alright-–-towards-a-new-missional-nicaea-someday/
    And on the orthodoxy point… well, I”m a Protestant and I will be giving a paper at Wheaton soon on why I think evangelicals would benefit from some creed-recitation, not the least of which reasons is that it would not as easily lead to the radical sola scriptura (nuda scriptura) view we see so much of today. But I do think Creeds need to submit to Scripture. (One more point: I framed this blog with the word orthodoxy in the title and I’ve not changed on that one.)

  • nathan

    @ Jeremy,
    I’ve read your posts at your blog, find them to be insightful, etc.
    But “Nothing fair”? Really?
    I would agree with you about some of his engagement with Scripture, but his refutation of “Driscoll-ism” re: Revelation was pretty engaging and didn’t seem to do violence to the text–even if i don’t agree with him completely.
    On a side note:
    I genuinely wonder why Driscoll’s view of Jesus doesn’t engender the same kind of ire about “pablum” etc. and/or concern about “re-making Jesus into his own personality”?

  • http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/ Andy

    Somewhat help me out here…
    Doesn’t God transcend what we believe to be true? Those little boxes closed up tightly with layers of bubble-wrap and duct tape labelled “orthodoxy” – does God fit into those very well?
    I’m sure many of you will brush these questions off as plain silliness because you’re all such awesome self-proclaimed theologians – but can anyone honestly answer for me why your defending something like christian orthodoxy to the extent of denying that God’s truth could lie anywhere else?

  • dopderbeck

    I haven’t read the whole book — only some portions of it on Amazon preview. I appreciated your review Scot.
    I tried to read the sections on eschatology, and in that regard I’m not sure what the review is driving at.
    What I see from what I’ve read here is McLaren emulating Moltmann with perhaps a bit of influence from process thought. Reading this chapter was like reading a distillation of Moltmann’s “Theology of Hope” and “The Crucified God.” I will not defend process thought at all (it has nothing, IMHO, to do with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), and I would only very selectively defend Moltmann (his theology of the Trinity is lacking in some important ways).
    HOWEVER: IMHO, the general trajectory of this sort of “participatory” eschatology is exactly what motivates the “missional” theology movement and distinguishes it from Evangelical (premillennial) and Reformed (amillennial) theologies. It is also the sort of eschatology you will find in “evangelical” British Anglicanism, e.g. in N.T. Wright and Richard Bauckham (Bauckham of course has written several books on Moltmann’s theology), and in nearly any theology influenced by Karl Barth and/or George Lindbeck, including I’d daresay most American post-liberal theology.
    Read “The Missional Church” by Darryl Gruder of Princeton Seminary and you’ll see that all these themes are evident. THIS is how “missional” theology appropriates all the non-restrictivist eschatologies you’ve been blogging about, Scot — from the early Eastern apokatastasis to inclusivism to folks like Fudge. This sense of “participation in the Missio Dei” — with the Missio Dei defined broadly — is the way forward for post-conservative and post-liberal theology.
    Scot, what is heretical about this? McLaren is right about the eschatology many of us conservative evangelicals inherited: it is hopeless and dreary. The logical result of it is D.L. Moody’s “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” metaphor and/or Calvin’s dire pessimism about the tiny number of the elect.
    After two world wars, no one take seriously anymore the Old Princeton postmillennial version of hope. Participatory eschatology seems to offer hope — something the Christian faith is supposed to major in — without the 19th-century baggage and unrealistic triumphalism of postmillennialsm. And it seems to take seriously the challenges of thinking about and living out Christian faith in a scientific, pluralistic, globally connected age — which must differ in some ways from every age that has come before, including the apparently “Golden Age” of the Fifth Century.
    So where, specifically, is the heresy? I haven’t read the whole book yet. What am I missing? Are we at the cusp of yet another division: “missional theology” vs. “paleo-orthodoxy?”

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    Help me brother. Avoid the word heretic and I said nothing, did I?, about Brian’s chp on eschatology.

  • Scot McKnight

    Andy, thanks for that. I like your observations and I agree. God is bigger and better and more than anything we can say or articulate.

  • preachinjesus

    Scot,
    You were far more charitable than I would have been. Thank you for that measure of gracefulness.
    In his latest attempt at theological reformulation, Pastor McLaren has again shown in other texts, that there is nothing new or innovative about the Emergent foolishness. Over at theooze.tv his interviews are myopic and self-aggrandizing. This text is the proof of his narrow read and infantile response to evangelicalism. He robs God of His sovereignty, Christ of His efficacy, and the Bible of its authority.
    Again, you are far more gracious than I ever could be.
    BTW, I think I’m going to relabel your blog in my bookmarks Scot (Parenthetical Reference) McKnight because of the exorbitant use of the parenthesis in your review. j/k– ;-)
    peace, love, and keep Jesus First
    PJ

  • eric s

    for those who are not concerned about orthodoxy I wonder why should we be so arrogant as to think that our generation has finally been given the true revelation of God from the Spirit, but that the Spirit was absent in the church for the last 2000 years causing the church to form a faith that doesn’t resemble at all what Jesus would have wanted. Of course the church has had more than its share of problems and black eyes, but my guess is almost everyone that reads this blog came to know Jesus Christ in a flawed church. it can’t be all bad.

  • http://www.cheriegate.org. William Cheriegate

    “The evolution of God”
    What an unfortunate subtitle to your critique Scot. Page 103 Brian clearly says “I am NOT saying that the Bible reveals a process of evolution within God’s actual character, as if God used to be rather adolescent, but has taken a turn for the better and is growing up nicely over the last few centuries.”
    The evolution (or maturing if the word throws you off) is the ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. Leading us to an evolving understanding of God across biblical history.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot,
    I’m focusing on these lines in your review:
    “Brian is not only poking evangelicals, he is also calling everything about Christian orthodoxy—from the ecumenical creeds through the Reformation and up to present-day evangelicalism—into question. Unfortunately, this book lacks the “generosity” of genuine orthodoxy and, frankly, I find little space in it for orthodoxy itself. . . . One thing about this book is clear: Orthodoxy is not central.”
    and: This leads me to the two major themes of the book, which shape the ten questions Brian addresses . . . the future (a kind of open-theism version of eschatology)
    As I mentioned to you when the review first came out, I’m grateful for the review. I think you are exactly right that portions of what was once called the “Emerging Church” are ending up rehashing 19th Century liberalism — and that needs to be called out (not because “liberal” is a bad word but because the resulting theology became sub-Christian).
    But reading the sections of the book I was able to read, the comments here, and the review again — interpreted through my own experiences, perhaps incorrectly — there is a suggestion here that there’s something not-orthodox about McLaren’s eschatology. William (#45) also picked up on this with the word “evolution of God” in the title, because for many of us that immediately signals process theology. So it seemed to me that you were suggesting McLaren had slid into process theology. And I am in some sense reacting to a tension because “missional” theology can slide towards process theology without a properly Trinitarian grounding.

  • Andy

    eric s @ 44 -
    I’m not saying anyone should not be “concerned about orthodoxy”, in fact I believe we very much should be. I am simply saying that we can make idols of our theology and creeds and orthodoxies. We’re all seeking truth, I just believe its possible we can make the things that are supposed to help us see more clearly (theology, creeds, orthodox beliefs) often times into being a pair of distorted shades that we see everything through.
    God is truth, not a creed.
    If you believe this is arrogance, I’m at a loss.
    http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/

  • Dave Corder

    “But to use Jesus against the God of Israel he worshiped and prayed to and loved and obeyed pits us against what Jesus himself is doing.”
    This takes us back beyond Borg, Cox, Harnack and Baur to Marcion, who thought that the God of Jesus was a different God than the God of Israel.

  • Joe

    thanks Scot for your post and for your review of Brian’s book. I read the book and agree with much of your review. I especially agree that his best work was on the grand narrative of the Bible and on the Bible as library, etc. I, too, like Brian McLaren as a person. I’ve read all of his books and articles, mostly with much appreciation and benefit. He has been a genuinely refreshing gift to me and my vocation/life. I’ve spent at least 30 hours (cumulative) with him in small group settings over the years. He’s always come across to me as a humble, intelligent, brother with a pastors heart.
    I would also say, however, that I was puzzled as I read this book – on several occasions – as to why he purposefully left things out (that he could have said – because I’ve heard him say them often) and at other times why he wrote things (apparently, intentionally) as sloppy as he did. I often had the thought, “this is ‘death by cop’” He certainly knows this will draw fire – and he seems to now want that fire. One example was his chapter on the various contradictory ways in which we read the Bible. He gave the impression that it’s all up for grabs when he knows good and well how a “redemptive movement hermeneutic” or a “central plot trajectory” or whatever you want to call it serves as a huge help in handling issues like slavery, polygamy, genocide, etc. He knows this, and I know he knows this, because he’s the one who taught it to me in his classes and seminars. He even outlines it in a diagram in his Generous Orthodoxy book. Oh well, I’ll keep watching, learning, listening, and praying. He will be in Denver this Saturday evening presenting his book. I’ll go see what he has to say.

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    Thanks. First, yes, I did say that about his eschatology and forgot that part. His eschatology stuff didn’t figure in for me in the review itself. I’d have to read that chp again before I weighed in.
    On orthodoxy… yes, many are writing about this. I don’t see Brian reading the Bible through the lens or with the conclusions that classical orthodoxy (and certainly not Protestant orthodoxy) affirms. I think that’s what I said. I don’t use the word heresy or heretic. I’m not saying, and perhaps this is too fine of a point for some, that he’s denied anything explicit about orthodoxy. What I am saying, though, is that his new kind of Christianity is not shaped by those concerns or emphases. He really does want to start all over again.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    “William (#45) also picked up on this with the word “evolution of God” in the title, because for many of us that immediately signals process theology.”
    I haven’t read through all the comments here but this caught my attention. I have read the book and I liked it very much. I’m working on a part by part discussion with his book on my blog.
    I wanted to point out that if by “evolution of God” you are suggesting that God evolves, that is not what Brian is saying at all. In fact, he is quite explicit that this is not what he means. What is “evolving,” if anything, is our understanding of God. So it is not God who changes but us. Which is, quite frankly, very orthodox.
    peace,
    Chad

  • eric s

    andy @47- i was more getting at what Scott mentioned in 50. If Brian and others want to start over, because the church has got it so wrong, it seems to me to diminish or dismiss anything the Spirit has done in forming the church. arrogance is the way it comes across to me. it’s like saying “we are the first ones to really understand what the Spirit is saying. I have a big problem with that.

  • Rob

    I wanted to point out that if by “evolution of God” you are suggesting that God evolves, that is not what Brian is saying at all. In fact, he is quite explicit that this is not what he means. What is “evolving,” if anything, is our understanding of God. So it is not God who changes but us. Which is, quite frankly, very orthodox.
    And see, to me that matters. Words matter, and if one reads “evolution of God”, then it can follow that Brian is pitting one God (OT) against another , more mature and evolved God (NT). But, if Brian is talking about our understandings of God changing, then can you still make the claim that he is pitting God against Himself?

  • Andy

    Scot @ 50 -
    Thanks for the clarification. I think we’ve clarified that there’s a lot at stake with starting all over. I’m not sure Brian would want to scrap everything. In fact his previous book, Finding Our Way Again, gives us a glimpse into the Brian that cares deeply about much of our religion’s historical practices and beliefs.
    Scot – This is not a leading question, I am just trying to learn -
    What exactly is your biggest concern with the idea of starting again through the lens of say pre-Ignatius christianity?

  • shane fuller

    I would love to hear Scott (or John Frye) respond to some of Mike Clawson’s ideas. I too agree that Brian’s caricature of modern evangelicalism seems pretty spot on. I believe that the average “pew warmer” would share a story that sounds pretty similar to Brian’s GR narrative. So coming from this regular hearing of the story of the Bible, Brian’s antidote doesn’t sound that far off. Help us understand what we are missing!

  • Eric

    “What exactly is your biggest concern with the idea of starting again through the lens of say pre-Ignatius christianity?”
    I won’t speak for Scott but the biggest problem I have with it is that it is impossible to do. People who think they are doing it are fooling themselves. See my comment #10.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Scot,
    Thanks for making David Fitch’s post known (comment #37). It helps put this current Jesus Creed discussion in a larger, forward-looking context. I think many who critique anything “emergent” miss the fact that there is a strong and stormy theological discussion (which McLaren’s book is fanning the flames) and a strong missional discussion which is offering amazingly creative, innovative ideas to contextualize and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. These get mixed up and I think Fitch is expectant that the clarifying of streams will help us all…at a new Nicea (which Bill Kinnon wants in Canada) :-)

  • http://nojrotsap.blogspot.com Jonathan Snyder

    Great review Scott, I must say that I disagree, though.
    Though I have not read the book (I greatly enjoyed “Generous Orthodoxy” and “Adventures in Missing the Point”), it sounds to me as though McLaren is really reaching back into the old faith of Marcion. The obvious dangers include anti-semitism, rejecting the Old Testament, and various dualisms. This diagnosis is not any more favorable than your conclusion in the review, but at least it is old.

  • Scot McKnight

    shane at #55,
    Brian says this narrative isn’t the narrative of some crack pots but of conventional Christianity. We can dice up what Brian means by “conventional” but here’s what I would say:
    Show me one reputable theologian who operates with this narrative. (Then I’ll ask for more, probably.)
    I don’t mean that you can find theologians who have those six elements in their theology, but who put their theology into that narrative and don’t have other factors involved.
    Eric,
    At one level, as a Bible guy and a NT specialist and one who is even more specialized in Jesus studies, we do this at one level all the time. Bible people challenge tradition through Scripture study. But, having said that, I affirm what the Church affirms because I believe God’s Spirit has guided these people. In my Blue Parakeet I argue for reading the Bible “with” but not “through” tradition/Tradition. Beside the fact that we can’t start all over again, we have an obligation to respect and dialogue with those who have gone before us.

  • Joey

    Scot,
    Rob and Chad Holtz make a very good point – a seemingly legitimate counter to your point:
    “Reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ is indeed the way to go. But to use Jesus against the God of Israel he worshiped and prayed to and loved and obeyed pits us against what Jesus himself is doing.”
    If McLaren isn’t actually pinning up the “god” of the NT vs. OT but rather our developing perspective of God your point becomes mute, or needs to be further clarified. What exactly was, “Jesus himself doing” that seems so counter to McLaren’s suggestion?

  • dopderbeck

    John (#57) — a new Nicea … hmmm… my friend the Catholic Priest would say, “we did that about 40 years ago at the Vatican and none of you guys showed up….”

  • Richard

    @ 56
    I here you and agree that we can’t “step into the same river twice.” But I’m not sure that invalidates the attempts to understand where our faith has developed from and the biases we’ve picked up along the way. In fact, I think it reinforces the need for us to be always reforming. Speaking of that…
    Am I nuts for seeing a link between Luther and McLaren on the grounds of each of them taking a stand on the basis of their conscience informed by Scripture? Luther’s opponents argued that you could only interpret Scripture in light of what the Papacy and the Catholic councils had determined. Luther disagreed after he had traced back his theology through Augustine to Paul to Jesus… That’s part of why he wrestled so much with what to throw out and what to keep, right? And now he’s a hero to us Protestants…

  • Richard

    @58 John
    John, you challenge my thinking on a lot of things but your comment here would have been more beneficial to the overall discussion if you’d actually engaged with anything Clawson put forward instead of just tossing out an ad hominem. Even if you think Clawson isn’t interested in dialogue, the rest of us are and would benefit if someone would engage with the counterpoints that have been raised.

  • Joey

    Scot,
    It might be argued that “conventional Christian” isn’t an attack on theology, but on teaching. Maybe no respected theologians teach these things but thousands of churches hear them every Sunday. It might not be fair to dismiss his claims because the educated elite doesn’t fit into his categories. If it is happening in the churches that is much more an affront that needs to be addressed and that might be what McLaren is doing.

  • Darren King

    Scot,
    You write: “In my Blue Parakeet I argue for reading the Bible “with” but not “through” tradition/Tradition. Beside the fact that we can’t start all over again, we have an obligation to respect and dialogue with those who have gone before us.”
    Again, I agree. But that’s a pretty wide open statement. Do you think Brian would disagree with it? I know I wouldn’t. The question is one of degree. How do we determine at one point our obligation to “respect and dialogue with those who have gone before us” has been sufficiently met? Perhaps you have that figured out in your head, but you’re certainly not stating it. And, at the same time, you’re criticizing those who follow the same general principle, but somehow go further than you’re willing to. That seems a case of having your cake and eating it too. No?
    Care to further clarify your position?

  • Eric

    Scot,
    I didn’t mean to suggest that tradition can’t be challenged. But I’m not sure what it would mean to “start again” at some earlier point, as Andy suggested. We can only challenge the past from the vantage point of our particular place. I like how Merold Westphal puts in his latest book (Whose Community? Which Interpretation?): “the prejudices we inherit from tradition are at once the conditions of possible experience and its limits.”

  • Richard

    Re: 66
    I agree with Joey here. Especially living in the Midwest, there are thousands of Christians (and non-Christians) who hear that message week in and week out.
    I read Jesus Creed wondering how it works on the streets. When we talk about dispensationalism, I’m confronted daily with people who are looking for the rapture and think Obama is the anti-Christ. I preached through Genesis using Walton’s framework from Ancient Near Eastern Thought and I had folks suggest that I visit the creation museum in Cincinnati because “they have some amazing displays that really make you think”. These paradigms might not be upheld by the educated theologians but they’re firmly held by the everyday, Jesus-loving people I serve and it directly undercuts leading them into knowing and following a God that cares about his Kingdom today.
    This isn’t an academic work, which is one reason I think that it doesn’t have notorious amounts of footnotes and discussion of nuances. McLaren is using broad brush strokes here and while we might prefer him to be finer, I have yet to hear anyone directly engage with my question from this morning- what is he saying that is so unorthodox? It seems that he’s not talking about process theology so we can safely set aside the Marcion comparisons at this point.

  • Rob

    @64 Richard, totally agree. I would love to see dialog instead of attacks.
    @66 Joey, that’s a great point re: teaching on Sundays vs. theological study. I too see that gap. I attend a fairly progressive seminary, so the discussions that we are having here around creeds, narratives, etc. are familiar to me. However, what I see being preached in churches, on Christian TV, and on Christian radio is a narrative very similar to what Brian is portraying. And, i’ll add, one that Scot and others have critiqued in some forms in the past. So, for one I don’t understand, as Doperback pointed out above, some of the criticism of parts of Brian’s theology that find a home in a “missional” narrative. Also, what do we do as theologians and academics to make more of these discussions part of the life of the church. I think alot of pew sitters don’t care, but these things matter and shape how one views God, the Bible, and the Kingdom.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Richard (#64) and Mike (#65),
    I did write a tacky comment (and Scot, it probably should be deleted–#58). It does not advance the conversation and is uncharitable toward Mike. I am sorry. I do get passionate when a “one man band” named Brian McLaren has the arrogance to write that what has been considered orthodox for millennia is just a Greco-Roman template placed over Israel’s faith. It sounds cool and trendy, but is theological *baloney.* If Brian is upset with fundamentalist evangelicalism or whatever he calls it, and if he has been “hurt” by it, let him get counseling, not magically create out of thin air a whole new kind of Christianity! Scot happens to point out that what Brian calls new has actually been around and relegated to the round file, and McLarenites hunker down to defend the indefensible, from a historical/theological standpoint.

  • Mike Clawson

    Scot (#60) – You said:
    “Show me one reputable theologian who operates with this narrative. (Then I’ll ask for more, probably.)
    I don’t mean that you can find theologians who have those six elements in their theology, but who put their theology into that narrative and don’t have other factors involved.”
    Three questions:
    1) If there aren’t actually any reputable theologians who operate with Brian’s conventional narrative, then how is that so many of us seem to have absorbed that narrative from our exposure to certain types of preaching and theology?
    2) Do these supposed “other factors” that “reputable theologians” bring in change the narrative that so many of us are familiar with in a way significant enough to avoid the problems Brian raises? If so, what are they?
    3) Also, if these “reputable theologians’” narrative is so significantly different, then why assume Brian was talking about their theology in the first place? If what he describes doesn’t actually reflect “reputable” evangelical theology, then why assume that that is who he was critiquing? Brian didn’t name names, and he didn’t even label what he was critiquing as specifically “evangelical,” so if what he describes doesn’t actually reflect your own theology, why not simply assume that he wasn’t talking about you?

  • Dan

    Scot – and others:
    When you wrote:
    “I like Brian, and I think Brian is a good man, and I think he said important things that we evangelicals need to hear, but what I think of Brian as a person is not the same as what I think of his latest book.”
    That is a critically important thing as you said it in all this. We should be able to love someone and enjoy them and all – but we can also have disagreements theologically. I believe Jesus cares how we respond to those we disagree with. Too much yucky attitudes, non-thoughtful critiques. There is a big difference between tearing at the person who is an image-bearer of God vs. critiquing the person’s thinking about certain issues with thoughtful thinking from people (like Scot) who truly are theologans and know history and a much broader understanding of theology and history than I know that I do.
    I think sometimes the tendency can be not to say something when we disagree because we like people. Which I don’t see exampled in the Bible. The New Testament gives examples, as well as Jesus, when they disagreed with someone – to say it. But we can share concerns or disagreements in thoughtful, loving ways. I want to be criticized personally – when done thoughtfully, not guilt by association, or a single quote or two taken from context or the normal ways so often criticizm happens on-line towards people.
    Anyway, I do hope we all can be sharing when we don’t agree – I know Scot is open to when people don’t agree with him on things. But may we demonstrate as much love as possible as we do. And thoughtfulness. And not generalities but specifics as we do – so there is good understanding of why we may disagree with someone.
    Just some thoughts before I head to a meeting here.

  • Mike Clawson

    So far I’m disappointed that no one seems interested in seriously responding to my questions. But at any rate what I see emerging in these comments are two contradictory claims (sometimes from the same person):
    1) Brian is arrogantly rejecting historic Christian orthodoxy.
    2) Brian has misrepresented historic Christian orthodoxy, and what he’s rejecting is really just some marginal form of extreme fundamentalism.
    So which is it?
    (And if it’s the latter, then why get offended that Brian is critiquing what y’all would agree deserves critique?)

  • Richard

    @69 John, you’re a good man. I might disagree with you on a lot but I’ve learned and been sharpened by you and your zeal. Thanks for your example and your passion for true discipleship, including contrition and humility when we err. Btw, loved the post on your site regarding recovering the book of Revelation also.
    “Scot happens to point out that what Brian calls new has actually been around and relegated to the round file, and McLarenites hunker down to defend the indefensible, from a historical/theological standpoint”
    I think that’s exactly what this thread is wrestling with right now. In my experience of today’s conversation, we’ve been trying to better understand what Scot was getting at in his critique and wondering if that critique was a fair representation of what Brian is saying. If Scot is accurate (and we’re understanding him accurately) then I would agree that Brian is doing something indefensible within the Christian faith. But I’m not convinced that Scot’s critique was accurate in this case and I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    re; whether or not God is actually “evolving”…
    Brian says, and I quote: I am not saying that the Bible reveals a process of evolution within God’s actual character, as if God used to be rather adolescent, but has taken a turn for the better and is growing up nicely over the last few centuries. I am saying that human beings can’t do better than their very best at any given moment to communicate about God as they understand God, and that Scripture faithfully revals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. (pg. 103).
    So to restate it again: Those who are claiming Brian believes is the “evolution of God” are flat wrong.

  • Scot McKnight

    Mike, I have no idea why you suggest Brian’s talking about me. Never crossed my mind.
    Well, if Brian is discussing conventional theology and not crack pots, then I want to know whose theology he is talking about. I don’t recognize that narrative in anything I’ve read or heard — ever. And I’ve sat under some pretty serious hell-fire sermons. The strongest defenders of penal substitution may make some outlandish comments about hell and judgment, but their narrative is not the one I see in Brian.
    So, for me Mike, this is a big one: do you know anyone who really adheres to this narrative as the way they put the Bible together?
    #2: Yes, if one brings in that the God who does exhibit justifiable wrath/judgment is one of mercy and grace and love and who longs for covenant love and who creates covenant and forgives relentlessly, then one finds that the entire narrative is warped.
    #3: When Brian talks about conventional, I assume he’s talking broadly about orthodoxy and about Protestantism and about evangelical theology; I don’t think he’s talking about Protestant liberalism.
    Mike, how much of this do you think is shaped by one fundamental concern: hell or even its flip side, universalism? Is it possible to believe in hell (defined properly of course) and not have this narrative in your view?

  • http://www.cheriegate.org William Cheriegate

    “And Jesus talks more about Abba and hell than does the rest of the Bible combined.”
    When Jesus speaks of judgment, condemnation, death, are you equating this with “hell”, the eternal conscious torturing area on the other side of “heaven” ?
    I’m recalling your 2002 article Facing the Tsunami (http://www.presence.tv/cms/f-tsunami.shtml):
    ” I think Jesus’ vision of the future did not extend beyond A.D. 70 and that, in predicting the “end” of the Jewish nation’s privileges in its destruction, Jesus attached teachings about the general resurrection, the final banquet, and the great judgment. In other words, he saw everything taking place, in an indeterminate sense, at A.D. 70. ”
    Thanks.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad, I didn’t pick the subtitle, but Brian sees evolution (not development; two different terms in technical discussions) in the language about God and sees some descriptions of God in the Bible (he mentions Noah) as in need of a “trade-up.”

  • Scot McKnight

    William, Jesus’ own eschatological framework was connected to 70AD. Not all happened then; I make this clear in my A New Vision for Israel. I do believe in hell, but I reserve the right to think that how hell is actually manifested is not entirely clear and I don’t accept that the NT teaches endless torture. If it is endless, it is just. I recently wrote a chp about this for my next book.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Scot -
    But you agree, don’t you, that even that is a very different thing from saying God “evolves.” Even in the story of Noah, Brian is not saying that God “learned” something in this episode and has reworked his theology. What is evolving and growing over time is human capacity to know God and understand God’s ways. Which, I am sure all of us here would agree, is something we hopefully do (Does the Spirit still not “lead”?) There was a time when Christians thought slavery was perfectly Godly. Today, we won’t find many who make such a claim. God did not change God’s mind about slavery, but rather, we humans changed. That is, essentially, what Brian is talking about.

  • JMorrow

    I’ve only read snippets of the book, but maybe those who have done a more thorough reading can help me with this question:
    Does McLaren do a thorough treatment of the cultural contextualization of the Christian faith?
    It seems his focus is solely on the GR tradition, which although I clearly see its limitations, I also have some sympathy for as one of many necessary cultural translations of the faith once given. But for every translation there are things that will fit into our cultural paradigms and those things that simply cannot. We must deal with both. I see orthodoxy as that which for the imperative of the faith cannot afford to be lost, and ultimately will refuse to be lost in translation.
    Dopderdeck (#40) mentioned eschatology and the influence of 19th century liberal theology, and I would add its 20th century variations, on McLaren’s thought. Having come out of a liberal mainline milieu I see plenty to question there. But does he give these theologies the same critical examination he does with the GR? Maybe this has been covered more explicitly in his work, “A Generous Orthodoxy”
    But if that equanimity of critique is not in this book, I wonder what is the ultimate value except to move the ball forward however modestly about how we talk about a postmodern faith. This “talk” is nothing new. What would be new, or at least some fresh air, is a talk about how orthopraxy challenges our prevailing orthodoxies. I’d like to see more people write about how their Christian practices in community life (sacrements, outreach, evangelism, mission) is changing both the way they talk about orthodoxy and what questions they are or are NOT busy with. Speaking of cultural translation I’d like to see the visibility of ethnic minority and immigrant churches theological and ecclesiological approach to orthodoxy.
    Lastly, as to the ‘evolution theory’, how would Jewish theologians, rabbis and practice respond to the trajectory Brian gives? Does this treat fairly another tradition which has through the ages probed much of the same literature and stories Christians now do?

  • http://faithinireland.wordpress.com Patrick

    “Brian has wearied of evangelicalism and in turn evangelicals have wearied of Brian”
    Scot, this describes my attitude to Brian’s writings over the last couple of years. Somewhere along the line it felt like he had nothing much constructive to say any more and in fact had become destructive. Those who teach and wield influence have a heavy responsibility. Ideally there is accountability locally but these days a guy who sells shedloads of books and provokes controversy doing so can have huge influence with little accountability. This whole discussion ironically is a very Protestant / evangelical one – the authority and influence wielded by the lone charismatic individual.
    I’m not at all questioning Brian’s sincerity. But I guess in listening to him and reading his stuff, I switched off because I didn’t see that care and concern for the church mixed with a serious engagement with Scripture and theology along with a sense of responsibility to use his influence to ‘build up the body’. Sure we need prophets, but prophets who have a deep love and care for what they are criticising.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad, there’s much going on here, not the least of which is that this is a writing day for me and I’m so engrossed in that that I forget some of what is written in the comments.
    I’m not sure I’m denying that Brian’s theory of “evolution” of God in the Bible is anything other than the image of God in the Bible evolving. If I say that, it’s a lack of clarity. Brian clearly sees images of God in the Bible that are “immature” and he wants to dwell on and develop the more mature ones.

  • Ben Wheaton

    I would like to offer a response to two of the questions which have been asked here, by Mike Clawson and Chad Holtz.
    Mike asked what it was, exactly, that people found specifically unorthodox about McLaren. (Correct me if I’m wrong). I would say that, first and foremost, McLaren’s denial of any kind of historical Fall is an obvious departure from what has been considered crucial to the faith. His interpretation of Genesis as indicating a “coming of age” story is a perfect example of liberal theology at its worst. Without the Fall, you have no Christianity.
    Chad challenged those who state that Brian believes God evolved with the fact that Brian only says that our understanding of God evolved. But I don’t see this as a meaningful distinction. If the God whom Moses met on Mt. Sinai did not reveal himself truthfully to Moses, then we have a problem. To be sure, God did not reveal all of his plans to Moses, but he did reveal to him his essential character. This character includes tremendous wrath at sin, resulting in such things as the complete extermination of the Canaanites. In other words, God may not have revealed himself fully to Moses, but he did reveal himself truthfully. The same God who ordered the extermination of Jericho also stated “love your enemies;” there is not contradiction, just a complementary revelation of who God is.

  • http://alexlsilva.blogspot.com Alex

    Scot, thanks the book recommendation about F.C. Baur.
    William Cheriegate, I think you make an important clarification regarding what McLaren is and isn’t saying and I think Scot was clear about this in his CT article as well. Namely, McLaren is emphatically not saying that God evolved, but that mankind’s understanding of God has evolved. I have no qualms with that opinion and to misinterpret McLaren on this point and criticize him on this point is a shame. But I prefer Barth’s view on our understanding of God (or at least my interpretation of his view from his Roman’s commentary). For Barth, the frontier of mankind is religion, and yet, even at that frontier, we still fall short. So no evolution of our understanding can take place that would ever truly matter in the slightest. The only thing that has changed our situation vis a vis God has been Revelation, namely in Jesus Christ.
    In other words I’m saying that both McLaren and his detractors have it wrong. I’m thinking Barth would say the same.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Lastly, as to the ‘evolution theory’, how would Jewish theologians, rabbis and practice respond to the trajectory Brian gives?
    JMorrow – hey there :)
    Great question. First, let me just stress that when speaking of “evolution” Brian is not speaking of God but us (I just want to be clear on that…again).
    I have the great pleasure of learning from a rabbi each Tuesday at Duke Divinity as we read rabbinic stories together and discuss the wisdom found there. I will remember to ask him tomorrow when I see him but based on what I know so far, I would say they would find Brian’s thesis perfectly natural. There is a reason Woody Allen joked, “Get two Jews in a room and you will have 3 opinions.” That isn’t a joke but reality. The Jewish mind is happy to live in the question and, as I told this rabbi last week, they were “postmodern” loooong before we Gentiles found the term and made it cool.
    The reason Woody Allen’s joke is true is because as rabbi’s listen to the stories of the past they recognize that the questions asked in these stories are better than any answers given. The way to move forward is found in the interaction of the story with present reality and what answer is best for today in this context may not be the best one back then in that context.
    So, yeah, I would think our Jewish brothers and sisters would be very open to the idea of us evolving over time, finding fresh ways to live in the story that once before were not options.
    Does that make sense?

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Alex,
    Anyone who cites Barth is a friend of mine :)
    I am not sure that your conclusion is fully warranted. On page 116 in this book, McLaren writes: “Some will claim I’m dishonoring the Scriptures by saying these things, but in fact, I’m trying to properly honor Jesus as the Word of God to which the words of Scripture bear witness.”
    Guess what I wrote down in my margin here? “Barth.”
    McLaren is very Christocentric in his theology (like Barth) and I don’t think he would disagree that our knowledge of God is apart from specific revelation (in fact, he claims that his revelation is made most fully known in the Incarnation).

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Scot, re 82
    All four of my kids are home now and my ability to follow is directly proportional to the noise level here.
    To make it simple, do you think McLaren is saying that God evolves? Has God matured over the last few thousand years?
    thanks

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad, I’ll whisper this so you can hear it: No, I don’t think Brian says that.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Ben Wheaton,
    No one is asserting that God was not “truthful” at any given time. What is being said, however, is the ways that truth gets worked out and appropriated will look different over time.
    I guess an easy way to cut to the chase is by asking this question: Do you think our knowledge of God (and by extension, knowledge of how we ought to live) was perfect as early as Sinai? If so, why do we need Jesus?

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Scot, thanks. I heard that loud and clear :)
    And I’m glad.

  • Rob

    Ben, is denying the “factual” history of the Fall the same as denying there is sin in the world? I think we need to be careful about how we read those ancient stories. They are true, but true doesn’t have to equal factual, which we moderns sometimes hold out as the test for truthfulness. I would also offer that EO folks see the Fall differently than Western theologians do. Does that make them un-orthodox?

  • JMorrow

    Hey Chad,
    Good to chat with you again here. I like the Woody Allen joke, and from what I’ve experienced of jewish exegesis that is absolutely true. I’m wondering even more now about what McLaren says in the book, if anything at all, about evolutional shifts between the Tanakh, Inter-testimal and New Testament texts. That area is full of landmines, Marcionite and others, especially given presnt-day connotations of the word evolution (second is better than first, etc.) I think the word contextualization (though perhaps a few more syllables than I’d like) might better describe these changes in God images throughout Scripture. God in the garden or at Sinai or through the prophets spoke uniquely to each person, community and situation. I think of Hosea 2, where God wants to woo Israel back to the desert, suggesting that a purer relationship with God laid in the past, or at least outside of the context of a corrupt monarchical state.
    But I agree with you that we have to have a relationship between our context and the Story. But of course, our context is larger than just us. Our context includes the conversation partners, saints and communities that came before us, and horizontally others who are on the margins of our point of view, whether we understand them clearly or not.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    I would posit that the sort of question Ben asks about the Fall and about God’s wrath are evidence of just how entrenched the narrative really is which BM describes. As a pastor, I see it all the time amongst the average Christian. We may not be able to name a specific, reputable theologian who speaks like this but that is only because they have learned to nuance it in such ways that it masks the real problems. But the Christians on our pews are not so easily tricked. They know it. They can sense it. And when they articulate the faith they are doing so with out the fabrications and the nuance – it is bare bones stuff.
    So, I think BM is claiming that the dominant narrative is the one pulsing through the veins of our churches, irrespective of whether or not a “theologian” teaches it. The average Christian (heck, the average non-Christian) believes the story of our lives is we once were perfect, we fell, God hates this, sent Jesus, choose Jesus and go back to perfection or reject Jesus and slide further down to hell.
    So rather than find theologians who teach this just like that, why don’t we first find Christians in our pews who won’t articulate the narrative this way? My hunch is they are far and few between.

  • Darren King

    Chad, well put, my friend. I completely agree. And if we doubt the existence of this grass-roots narrative that Brian writes about, perhaps its because we’re spending more time in academia than we care to admit.

  • Chad Holtz

    JMorrow,
    Good to see you, too.
    No, he doesn’t get into the minutia of evolutionary thought between those particular texts, although he names a few themes (violence and slavery come to mind) in which evolution of thought has taken place. And while he does say we stand on the shoulders of all the saints that have gone before and have much to learn from them, I agree that perhaps more could be said about embodying a healthy respect (if not a desire to return to) for a more primitive faith (by primitive I mean those years closest to Jesus).
    He tries to walk a fine line, I think. While he wants to be Jesus-centered and return to primitive understanding of Christ, he also wants to say we progress (by the Spirit) in our understanding of God’s plan for creation and our part within it. Perhaps it can be argued that he doesn’t do a good enough job navigating between that tension, which is fair. But we should at least acknowledge, I think, that he sees that and is trying.

  • Jay

    Richard @62, “Am I nuts for seeing a link between Luther and McLaren on the grounds of each of them taking a stand on the basis of their conscience informed by Scripture? Luther’s opponents argued that you could only interpret Scripture in light of what the Papacy and the Catholic councils had determined. Luther disagreed after he had traced back his theology through Augustine to Paul to Jesus… That’s part of why he wrestled so much with what to throw out and what to keep, right? And now he’s a hero to us Protestants..” You’re not nuts, I have been thinking the same thing.

  • Scott Leonard

    Scot-thanks for speaking the truth in love in that review. I pray that many will benefit from words like yours and that there will be many pastors who will heed the warning and protect their flock from pastures containing poisonous offerings,

  • JMorrow

    Chad,
    Thanks for that clarification of what you are seeing in BM’s book. You’re right that the tension between primitive faith and progressive faith is a difficult one to balance. But I wonder if there are yet other ways to situate ourselves to the Story. You’re at Duke, I wonder what someone like J. Kameron Carter would say about how the African American interpretive tradition has handled that tension. If you get a chance ask him! I guess that’s what I’m itching for in works with the visibility of BM, that vigorous digging around the Christian world for other options.

  • Chad Holtz

    JMorrow -
    I agree – there is much we can learn outside of our own Anglo/American contexts.
    Carter is awesome. I had him for theology and black intellectuals in religion. I’m reading his book, “Race: A Theological Account” now. I will be happy to ask him but in the meantime I offer this as one of his driving tenants: All contextual theologies fail because they all seek to rise to the level of the dominant narrative. In other words, black liberation theology, for example, fails because it aspires to be the “white man” (and we mustn’t read “white” as white, necessarily). The way forward, he argues, is to not seek equality with the dominant orthodoxy that one is trying to subvert but to identify with the one who transcends orthodoxy – Jesus.
    To a degree, I find BM trying to do something similar.

  • Josh M

    Chad, you’ve made the argument before that it is not God evolving but our perception of God. If Brian is right in his conclusion that the flood narrative is essentially a primitive, violent, tribal perception of God, then please tell me what kind of truthful revelation is left that is being worked out here, incomplete in itself as it may be?

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Josh M-
    I guess that depends. First, I suppose we need to determine whether we are thinking of the Noah material as historical fact or mythic story (or a bit of both). I would gravitate to the latter over the former. So what does the story teach? That our actions have consequences – often deadly ones. How we live in the world matters. That creation is held together by Elohim, and should Elohim ever withdraw his hand chaos would ensue. Or, as McLaren speculates, perhaps the moral here is that geocide doesn’t actually work, as evidenced by the quick downward spiral Noah’s sons take. The flood hardly made way for a new Eden but gave way to Babel.

  • Josh M

    Chad – whether Elohim withdraws his hand or causes the flood directly doesn’t make a big difference since He both WILLS it either way. Brian says that such a God is “hardly worth of belief, much less worship” (p.109). He calls this type of deity portrayed in that particular narrative “uncreative, overreactive, utterly capricious regarding life”.
    Do you concur with Brian or not?

  • RJS

    Scot,
    Wow – this post hit a nerve, it beats Intelligent Design, Women in Ministry, and Pesky Calvinists hands down… for comments anyway.
    I have not read this book – but I remember the long discussion we had about McLaren’s book “Everything Must Change.” The real concern there from my point of view was not an evolving understanding of God – or how we read scripture – but McLaren’s view of the Gospel. This was essentially – if I remember right – that Jesus provided an example that we follow in bring about the kingdom of God. I am truncating a many comment discussion – so this may not be fair to all the nuance, but this is troubling. While I agree with much (but not all) of his ideas about the consequence of the gospel – this view of the gospel itself is woefully inadequate. No doubt this gets to your comment about atonement (p. 3 of the article).
    What is the gospel – the good news – in McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity?”

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    At first I thought it was humorous satire equating Brian McLaren with Martin Luther as if Brian in our time is what Martin Luther was in his. Are you kidding me?! We have an abundance of materials showing Martin Luther wrestling with the texts of Scripture. To date we have no serious exegetical, theological offerings from Brian McLaren. We have trumped versions of what Brian considers to be Western (imperialistic) evangelicalism and we have his own innovation about an alleged Greco-Roman template overlaid on emerging Christianity. All we have are fabrications and McLaren’s counters to them; we do not have what anyone would call theology. While McLaren does not “name names” as someone commented, all you need to do is follow the http://www.youtube.com links (are those real footnotes?) to discover, viola!, John McArthur.

  • Josh

    What I heard Brian saying is that the gospel is essentially God’s peaceable kingdom established through the power of love.

  • cas

    Wow, 100+ posts and nary a woman’s voice to be heard. Not that you’ll be hearing mine beyond this little observation.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Josh M,
    Yes, I agree with him (as far as he is going with this argument, which may not be as far as you are going).
    I think it would be helpful to remember that for the Jewish mind, NOTHING happens apart from God (life, death, light, dark, even war or peace). God is the force behind all of this, good or bad (If the same author of Genesis were writing today they would no doubt sound like Pat Robertson who declared Haiti’s earthquake was a judgment of God due to their pact with satan). Yet most of us recoil, rightly so, at Pat’s prognostication.

  • Josh M

    See, Chad, this is exactly the point – we recoil! We recoil at the thought that the God who is love and who has laid down his own life rather than condemning sinners could have anything to do with violence, period. But that’s not what the narrative says. Not at the beginning, middle or end. It is OUR understanding of love that sees an irreconcilable contradiction here and so we try and harmonize the whole thing by claiming an evolution of perception.
    Fact is: Giving and taking life is God’s prerogative at the beginning, middle and end. This has nothing to do with a Greco-Roman lenses and dualisms we have difficulties shedding. This has all to do with what WE find acceptable or not. And if we find it unacceptable, we say: not worthy to honor and worship!
    This is my greatest disappointment with Brian and many emergents: what attracted me most in the beginning was that here were people who did not want to put God in a box.
    Now they’ve created a new one: it’s called: “My acceptable image of God”.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments. I will say this. I very much appreciated McLaren’s earlier books. But beginning with “Everything Must Change,” I have rarely experienced more disappointment in public figure than I have with McLaren.
    I’ve been in the the PCUSA since college 27 years ago. From a Mainline Christianity point of view, the theology he writes is anything but emerging. It is retread of Mainline 20th Century Mainline theology. Evangelicals wanting to emerge to some new way who think McLaren et al are new, just bypass Emergent and enroll in almost any seminary of the Mainline denominations. McLaren is saying little that hasn’t been the ongoing topic of these institutions for years.
    His incessant binary argumentation … setting up caricatures and straw men as foils … is wearisome. On social analysis he has thoroughly embraced neo-Malthusianism and esoteric fields like ecological economics. I don’t know him personally but his written demeanor has become every bit as moralistic and condescending as the strident Evangelcials he protests.
    In short, I don’t know that I really have much interest in reading any more of his work. That it has come to this is a deep disappointment to me.

  • Richard

    @ 102 Josh M
    Not what I learned in Sunday school but in studying the flood passage, I am captivated by the Hebrew lingo connection with the word we translate as “rainbow” which will be a “sign” to God. In the Hebrew, that’s a word that is linked to the word for “war bow.” It’s almost as if the creator God is acknowledging that no amount of violence/genocide will root out the evil that is corrupting his good creation by laying down his “war bow”. It will take the one who comes in love and peace and transforms and overcomes through his truth and justice (namely Jesus).
    @ 104 John
    We also have an abundance of materials demonstrating Brian wrestling with Scripture- not everyone likes his conclusions but not everyone liked Luther’s either. I’m not suggesting Brian’s name will go down in history like Luther’s has (it’d be nice to avoid a major split followed by bloodshed) but I still think the comparison fits in those terms at this point.

  • Dave

    Scot, please don’t delete this one!
    I have several issues with this whole thing.
    1. The difference between academia and people on the ground. Depending on where you live the context is totally different. Just take a look at http://www.baptistbanner.org/ to see what we are dealing with in Virginia.
    2. Does “good” theology mean anything if it is not what is on the ground? I personally believe that Scot’s review smacks of ivory tower but if that is his intent then it is fine. It seems to me that Scot is reviewing whether Brian conclusively proved his theological stance. I don’t think that is the intent.
    3. Giving benefit of the doubt. I personally don’t believe that Brian needs to have everything tied up. The accusations made are a big part of the benefit.
    4. Was it a good book? I mean, was it entertaining and controversial and thought provoking?
    Which brings me to my last point
    5. Who is the audience for Brian’s book? I don’t think it is us. Instead, it is all those poor people who are thinking that Yaweh reminds them of their abusive father and they should OBEY!
    Based on this thread, I think Brian did good!
    Dave

  • Josh M

    Let me also make a comment about Brian’s way of handling Paul’s theology of salvation by grace in comparison to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom. He suggests that we have misread Romans entirely if we believe that Paul is trying to explain the gospel here. It’s all just a way of “handling the mess” that the radical newness of the inclusion of Gentiles has created.
    What Brian fails to mention is that Paul elsewhere goes to great lengths to explain EXACTLY what the gospel is (that he himself has been preaching all along) in continuity to what he received from the Jesus tradition – a statement of belief that is still entirely focussed on Christ, his sacrificial death and his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

  • Darren King

    Josh,
    If we had no mechanism for understanding the earthquake in Haiti maybe the debate would be more pressing. But we do. Its called plate tectonics. But in previous periods, people had no such knowledge, so they had no choice but to attribute earthquakes to God. And there’s an evolving understand for you – the one Brian is getting at I suppose. No, God doesn’t change. But our understanding of who he is, does. And sometimes that changing understanding comes via the process of elimination; i.e. now that we understand plate tectonics, we no longer need to make God the causal route.
    So its not just about making our image of God more palatable, its also about that view evolving as other means, such as scientific understanding, helps us better understand our world, our universe, etc.

  • Glen

    Chad (#93), I think you nail it. I think McLaren’s summary of the basic plotline is way over the top, but when you boil it down I still think it’s a pretty accurate description of what the average North American evangelical churchgoer believes.
    I’m surprised that no one’s yet pointed out that McLaren himself seems to recognize that he’s overstating it. He doesn’t claim that anyone teaches it in the manner he portrays it; he claims that when you strip away the happy face that gets put on it, this is what you’re left with. From page 44:
    “This is – more or less, and put baldly – the “good news” taught by much of the Western Christian religion…. True, it is seldom put this crudely. True, its defenders will quarrel with various details here, because their version, no doubt, tries to avoid being this starkly dismal. But even those who quarrel have to admit that this version, or something very close to it, keeps popping up in church history – if not in their backyard, then in somebody else’s.”
    As someone who worked the past 11 years for one of North America’s most prominent evangelical parachurch organizations, I can affirm that this is the story we told. Obviously not McLaren’s crude, barbaric rendering of it, but I can’t quibble with the basic outline.

  • Richard

    @ Dave 111
    Thanks for sharing that link.
    We are planning an area wide “revival” event with other area churches. When I brought up having an emphasis on reconciliation between races and repentance for bigotry (living in an all white community), I was asked what that had to do with the gospel by two of the pastors operating from exactly the salvation framework on that page. It’s not that it’s not true, it’s that it’s not true enough.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Josh M,
    You wrote:
    “We recoil at the thought that the God who is love and who has laid down his own life rather than condemning sinners could have anything to do with violence, period. But that’s not what the narrative says.”
    I’m trying to reconcile those two sentences. How do you?
    One thing Brian (and myself) is insistent upon is that Jesus Christ gives us the lens through which to read and interpret Scripture (the early church thought so, too). So, Jesus, who is God in flesh and who said if we see him we see the Father, said, “Love your enemies” or “turn the other cheek” or “I have other sheep not of this fold” or “those who live by the sword die by the sword,” and who by his very life, death and resurrection subverted any story that suggests God’s reign comes through coercion or violence is the lens through which we read backwards, yes?
    In your own words Jesus has nothing to do with violence. Yet these stories that you bring up talk of violence and we should take them at face value? Did Christ misrepresent the Father?

  • RJS

    cas,
    I beat you to it by 3 comments … but it is an interesting observation.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Richard (#110),
    “We also have an abundance of materials demonstrating Brian wrestling with Scripture-” Really? I have read almost all of Brian’s books and many of the early ones were wonderfully stimulating and helpful. I’ve yet to see any competent exegetical material from McLaren. And I am not saying everyone needs to be a competent, exegetical theologian. I am saying that anyone who assumes to give us a new/novel(?) (see Michael Kruse’s comment #109) version of the Christian faith ought to be a competent, exegetical theologian. So, I think it is very valid at this point to say that we are debating “McLarenianism,” not *any* form of orthodox Christianity.

  • Josh M

    Thank you, Darren. No argument there. If the flood account is nothing but a reflection of a human struggle to come to terms with a local disaster, then that’s certainly one possible way of looking at it. But even if you were to interpret it differently, there’s no way you can see this leading automatically to the kind of remarks Pat Robertson made in his ignorance. But this is the kind of argumentation that Brian uses throughout the book: if God could indeed wipe out entire nations, what could prevent us from thinking He might not want to do it again? – and thereby justify with Scripture another holocaust or Ruandan genocide.
    Again, I’m disappointed because this is the same kind of slippery slope argument that fundamentalists are using to this day to “protect” us from harmful theology.

  • Josh M

    Chad, you asked
    “I’m trying to reconcile those two sentences. How do you?”
    Im struggling to reconcile them just as much as everyone else. A partial answer (not entirely satisfying of course) is that there’s a difference between the creator and his right to enforce justice any way He sees fit and our own responsibility to overcome evil through good and non-violence. Note that even Paul in the context of these very commands speaks about “leaving room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:14-21)
    “Did Christ misrepresent the Father?”
    No. He never did. Nor will he ever. Like I said, it is OUR understanding of love that sees a misrepresentation here, not the narrative itself.

  • Josh M

    Chad, you asked,
    “I’m trying to reconcile those two sentences. How do you?”
    I’m struggling to reconcile them just as much as everyone else does. One partial answer (although not entirely satisfying) is: we cannot pull down God to our own level. Paul, for example, saw no inconsistency with asking us to bless our persecutors and overcome evil with good, and at the same time leave room for God’s wrath – in the middle of that very exhortation!
    “Did Christ misrepresent the Father?”
    Never. It’s our perception that sees an irreconcilable contradiction and therefore a misrepresentation here. The problem is with us and our cutural lense of “love”.

  • Josh M

    Sorry, it looked like # 120 was lost so I tried to restate it from memory.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad,
    You don’t have to ask me to be convinced about violence and Jesus, but we need at least to deal with something else: the Jesus of non-violence, and I agree that is the best reading of the Sermon on the Mount, is the same Jesus who saw God at work in judging Jerusalem (Mark 13 parallels). I suspect it is the word “violence” that gets us messed up here and it’s one word that no one today wants pinned on them. But judgment for Jesus is not that kind of prohibited violence. There are lots of comments today and I’m not sure I’ve kept them all in mind… so have I understood what you are saying?
    Glen,
    Fair enough, but I see a problem: crude is right and barbaric too. But those who told that barbaric story didn’t just tell the barbaric parts; they also had grace and love swarming it. Right?
    And Brian says this is the conventional story of the Church. I find that very problematic. What Brian takes away with one hand he sometimes pushes hard with the other. I’ve heard him say he was being “playful” and I’ve heard him say this is indeed the conventional narrative. What are we to believe?
    One more point: the average Catholic has all kinds of funny ideas about Mary and how we pray and what role she plays. Do we narrative the conventional Catholic story through their eyes or through the Catechism?

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad,
    You don’t have to ask me to be convinced about violence and Jesus, but we need at least to deal with something else: the Jesus of non-violence, and I agree that is the best reading of the Sermon on the Mount, is the same Jesus who saw God at work in judging Jerusalem (Mark 13 parallels). I suspect it is the word “violence” that gets us messed up here and it’s one word that no one today wants pinned on them. But judgment for Jesus is not that kind of prohibited violence. There are lots of comments today and I’m not sure I’ve kept them all in mind… so have I understood what you are saying?
    Glen,
    Fair enough, but I see a problem: crude is right and barbaric too. But those who told that barbaric story didn’t just tell the barbaric parts; they also had grace and love swarming it. Right?
    And Brian says this is the conventional story of the Church. I find that very problematic. What Brian takes away with one hand he sometimes pushes hard with the other. I’ve heard him say he was being “playful” and I’ve heard him say this is indeed the conventional narrative. What are we to believe?
    One more point: the average Catholic has all kinds of funny ideas about Mary and how we pray and what role she plays. Do we narrative the conventional Catholic story through their eyes or through the Catechism?

  • Seminarian Steve

    Brain, has been on a journey of following Jesus. What would Jesus say to Brian now?
    Would he be any harder on Brian for the issues that Scot brought up then he would be on Mark Driscoll caricaturing him as the “Ultimate Fighting Jesus”? Would Jesus see them both as his disciples? (I use this example because both are present day leaders of movements that have advocated for deeply questionable orthodoxy).
    Perhaps the emerging earthquake that has continued to penetrate the Great Tradition is opening the door for the incarnate theologian, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords to have the last word…
    May God have mercy on us as we work out our faith and orthodoxy, and may we represent our resurrected Lord in our beliefs, in our worship, and in our blog comments throughout.

  • Glen

    You’re right, those who tell the “barbaric story” (not my words) certainly emphasize grace and love. For one thing, you have to do so to get any kind of hearing for it. My reading is that McLaren is saying that when you get underneath the skin of the conventional 6-point narrative, there is something barbaric about it. Whether we agree or disagree, it certainly strikes a lot of non-Christians that way.

  • Dana Ames

    cas and RJS, I thought it when reading at about comment #50 or so…
    If Brian is doing anything, it’s getting people to talk about this stuff. I appreciate Michael Kruse’s remarks. I also agree with those who describe what is taught by evangelicals “on the ground”, away from academia. From what those folks are quoting from the book (haven’t read it nor do I plan to, as I no longer have a dog in this fight), Brian has his finger on something that is true possibly painful to look at, at least about the question of whether the God of the bible is truly good, and how we try to explain what we believe about that.
    Josh @108, you said: “It is OUR understanding of love that sees an irreconcilable contradiction here and so we try and harmonize the whole thing by claiming an evolution of perception.” I think the point is not to “harmonize the whole thing”, but to get to who this god, Whose Name we so glibly throw around, in fact is. That is the whole point of N.T. Wright’s magnum opus on Christian Origins. I would say that the God whose full revelation is Jesus Christ must be **at least** as good and loving as our understanding of goodness and love. As for Paul’s understanding of “God’s wrath”, well, that just might not be the same thing as our understanding of “wrath”.
    I have no academic or linguistic creds with which to back up my assertions. I’ve been exploring some of the writings from the first few hundred years of the church. EOrthodoxy doesn’t view the Fathers as “infallible and inerrant”, and some of the Fathers disagree about specifics, but one thing is consistent: in love God condescends to our condition, in humility Jesus becomes human and rescues us from death and sin, and in grace the Spirit comes to actually dwell in us. God is good and loves mankind. Such love and humility and grace are not consistent with a god who is the ultimate cause of any harm or evil. This realization first made me move away from evangelicalism years ago, before I ever had any notions about becoming Orthodox.
    Here is a quote from St Isaac the Syrian, 8th century. I stand with him. How ironic that we would probably be labeled “not orthodox”.
    “As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God’s use of justice cannot counterbalance his mercy…Do not call God just, for his justice is not manifest in the things concerning you…Where, then, is God’s justice?…’He is good,” (Christ) says, ‘to the evil and impious.’”
    Dana

  • Josh M

    Dana, you said,
    ” I would say that the God whose full revelation is Jesus Christ must be **at least** as good and loving as our understanding of goodness and love. As for Paul’s understanding of “God’s wrath”, well, that just might not be the same thing as our understanding of “wrath”.”
    Point taken. I see His wrath as one of the ways His love and goodness is expressed and achieves its ultimate goals.
    My suspicion is that the thought of judgment itself (as far as its negative aspect of exclusion is concerned) is in the mind of many something that does NOT exceed our own understanding of goodness and love. Now what do you with that? Can and does God judge in ways which he forbids us ourselves or not?

  • RJS

    Dave (#111),
    This isn’t an ivory tower discussion – the website you link is one of many, I’ve seen worse. That this view of the gospel exists isn’t up for debate. The question is – where do you go from there?
    The problem with McLaren’s direction isn’t that what he uses as his foil is unknown or nonexistent – but that his solution is known, is nothing new, has been tried, and eviscerates the gospel. Josh in 105 I think gave an answer to the question I posed in 103 – The gospel according to McLaren is God’s peaceable kingdom established through the power of love. This simply isn’t enough – it misses the power of the Biblical narrative and essentially reduces the work of God in Jesus to example igniting a spark of good in the human breast.
    It does no good to fight one old problem gospel with another old problem gospel.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    As I meandered through the comments here, it is apparent that a lot of folks in the emerging conversation choke on the exclusivity of (the Jewish) Jesus the Christ as the sole way to God. As a matter of fact, it seems the human race never “F”ell (Brian notes the obnoxious capital “F”) into cataclysmic sin, so we don’t need a Savior in any orthodox sense…just a good (martyr) role model. Second, some choke on real, dare I say negative, eternal judgment of *God* (wrath) against human beings. We need, therefore, to create a culturally relevant Christian faith without barbaric overtones even if those overtones are all over the sacred text. Do you who endorse and defend McLaren’s “new” Christianity really, really believe *any of this* is new?

  • Dana Ames

    Josh, I’m EOrthodox. My understanding of Orthodox teaching is that when Jesus returns, His Presence in all its infinite purity, goodness, love, holiness, oneness with the other Persons of the Trinity, and Uncreated Light will itself be The Judgment. As scripture says, “Who can stand at His appearing?” There’s no way our judgment can be that- no way. Has nothing to do with being “forbidden”. It is simply not within the realm of possibility for us created humans. That is why we pray, especially during Lent, “Yes, my Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not judge my brother, for you are good and love mankind.”
    Dana

  • Sue

    “It does no good to fight one old problem gospel with another old problem gospel.”
    That is the most quotable observation of this whole thread.
    There is a saying that “Only the very wise should teach the very young.” Perhaps only the very wise, and very well-equipped, and very thoroughly educated, and very carefully articulate, should attempt to try to reconstruct the inadequate gospel as it is understood by the average Evangelical in the pew.
    I have had a great deal of respect for Brian McLaren, and I believe he has done much to start a needed conversaion… but perhaps someone else would be better able to do the needed reconstruction.

  • Timothy

    I have read many posts. Here’s my suggestion. May we take one question from the book at a time? We see Brian’s response. We share our responses. We compare notes. We see the positives and the negatives. We listen, we listen, and we listen some more!

  • Josh M

    Dana,
    The EO perspective is still very much “the undiscovered country” for me, so thanks for enlightening me about this very different angle on judgment!
    What would an Eastern Orthodox say to RJS’ question what the gospel is and how would it square with Brian’s view?say to RJS’ question what the gospel is and how would it square with Brian’s view?

  • Joey

    Scot,
    “One more point: the average Catholic has all kinds of funny ideas about Mary and how we pray and what role she plays. Do we narrative the conventional Catholic story through their eyes or through the Catechism?”
    This is a really important question and a good parallel.
    Is a Catechism the standard by which we judge Roman Catholicism or is there something more important? I might argue that what Catholics actually do with their faith is a greater, albeit less qualitative, standard by which to judge.
    The same with the scripture narrative. What theologians write/say/teach/debate is only as helpful as it creates environments where people of faith can actually live it out. What is being taught in churches, and even more importantly what is being carried away by parishioners is crucial. If no respected theologians are teaching this then fine. But Brian seems to be more worried about what pastors are saying, what church goers are keeping in their hearts – these things are shaping their entire life of faith.
    I’m not saying Brian is right, I’m just saying that I don’t think he cares what theologians are saying as much as he’s worried about what is happening “on the ground”.

  • http://leewyatt.blogspot.com Lee Wyatt

    In the 18th century Frederick Schleiermacher wrote an influential book trying to defend religion against its “cultured despisers.” Brian McLaren’s book attempts to defend real Christianity against “despisers of culture.”
    Schleiermacher advocated an modern, evolutionary, subjectivist romanticism in his effort to support the faith againstits cultured despisers. McLaren advocates a postmodern, evolutionary, subjectivist romanticism in his effort to rebut those “despisers of culture” against whom he rails.
    Schleiermacher was a great and accomplished theologian. McLaren, not so much.
    Schleiermacher started or at least catalysed a new movement and direction in theology. McLaren . . . we’ll see.
    Schleiermacher had his insights and contributions but ultimately gave away crucial aspects of the gospel. McLAren has his occasional insights and creative ideas, but it seems to me that he too, at least in ANKC, gives away crucial aspects of the gospel.
    Does this parallel work? And if it does, what can we learn from it?
    Peace,
    Lee Wyatt

  • Richard

    Looks like it’s winding down. Great discussion Scot. Thanks for running this blog.

  • Dana Ames

    Josh,
    Here is a quote from Fr Thomas Hopko, dean emeritus of St Vladimir’s Seminary:
    “The central affirmation of the Christian Faith and the very essence of its gospel and life is that the Word of God became man as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel and the Lord and Savior of the world.”
    Now of course, that all must be unpacked (just like the Nic./Const. Creed). Though we hear plenty of scripture in our worship, it is the book of the four Gospels that is always kept on the altar. Jesus is central, and everything in scripture is seen to point to his incarnation, death and resurrection. You have to have all three in order to have “salvation”.
    A very good, readable resource is Fr Hopko’s series here:
    http://www.oca.org/OCorthfaith.asp?SID=2
    The sections are short, and you can jump in anywhere and read as much as you want.
    Dana

  • dopderbeck

    One thing that seems odd to me about some of the responses here — RJS, John Frye, Lee (#136) and others — and even about my own personal misgivings: why are we assuming that the “liberal” theological trend and what can be heard at the mainline seminaries today is all wrong?
    I mean, one of the points McLaren and many others have helped me see over the past ten years or so that I’ve been reading about this stuff: the fundamentalists were as wrong as the modernists. As much as the modernists damaged countless people who drifted out of churches that became irrelevant, the fundamentalists damaged countless people who found their worldview suicidal. I dunno, if I were to go to seminary full-time, Duke and PTS would be at the top of my list as possible options. I have no doubt I’d feel more comfortable at either of those places than at Southern Baptist.
    McLaren’s diagnosis in many ways is sound. The instinct to seek resources outside of fundamentalism is sound. The problem would be missing the “scarlet thread” that must run through it all: Trinity, incarnation, Resurrection, redemption.

  • Wolf N. Paul

    @61: Sorry to come so late to this discussion, but my (slightly tongue-in-cheek) replies to your Catholic priest friend would be, (a) “We were not invited, not on an even footing,” and “Well, what you did forty years ago hardly seems to have solved all problems either!”

  • Wolf N. Paul

    Scot,
    I am rather late to this conversation, but I have a comment which I think is important not just in this instance but in all such discussions of the works of prominent spokesmen.
    You write,

    I like Brian, and I think Brian is a good man, and I think he said important things that we evangelicals need to hear, but what I think of Brian as a person is not the same as what I think of his latest book: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith . So, I’d appreciate it if this review does not turn into a “I like Brian” or “I dislike Brian” contest. The issue is what he has written.

    Many of us don’t know Brian in person, nor most other high-profile writers and commentators on things spiritual and theological. For us it is impossible to separate “I like Brian” from “I don’t like (or appreciate, or agree with) what Brian has written.” And frankly, for many of us the distinction is moot, because however nice a guy Brian may be (and I don’t dispute that, you’re not the only one to point that out), given his prominence and visibility what he writes is much more important because it has the potential for leading people to the truth, or as I suspect at this stage, to lead them astray. I don’t think that it really matters whether someone is a false teacher out of malice or out of ignorance, the danger is the same.

  • Josh M

    Thanks Dana! Lots of good stuff there! I particularly liked the following comments regarding Christ’s atonement:
    “He “paid the price” rather, we might say, to Reality Itself. He “paid the price” to create the conditions in and through which man might receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by dying and rising again in Him to newness of life.”
    This comes much closer to my own understanding of the texts than other classic alternatives.
    I still have to read Scot’s own books on the topic of atonement.

  • http://www.utmgr.org/ Joel Shaffer

    I used to compare Brian McLaren with Walter Rauschenbusch. Both were evangelical progressive/liberals that embraced a more moral example view of the atonement had a progressive view of the kingdom of God. Even though I am pretty conservative in my theology and disagreed with Walter Rauschenbusch on many issues, I still hold him in high esteem. Perhaps it is because of his passion for justice for the poor and oppressed. Now after New Kind of Christianity, I can no longer put McLaren in the same category.
    Rauschenbusch looked to add the social gospel to historic Christianity. He wasn’t deconstructing it as McLaren has. Rauschenbusch, as a professor Christian History, respected the past enough not to butcher history like McLaren has with all of his negative caricatures of Western Christianity, which of course is the result of the constitution reading of the Bible and the Greco-Roman story-line. Rauschenbusch didn’t have to resort to the constant straw-man arguments to make his point as McLaren has.
    I may be wrong, but all of McLaren’s demonizing of the Christianity as it stand now will not make a longstanding prophetic impact such as Christianity and the Social Crisis did 100 years ago, but will rather resemble a progressive/liberal Christian that has used fundy-type tactics to make his point.

  • nathan

    I would agree with previous commenter that schools that stand squarely in the liberal tradition are NOT re-treading 19th c. liberalism.
    I graduated from one of them and McLaren would not be seen as some harbinger of new thought.
    In fact the little of his work that was noticed was met with real critical response.
    Caricaturing cuts both ways. It’s clearly a human problem.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #139 dopderbeck
    “… why are we assuming that the “liberal” theological trend and what can be heard at the mainline seminaries today is all wrong?”
    I don’t know that I would say these seminaries are all wrong. The issue for me is the characterization of McLaren’s stuff as some new fresh emerging discovery. If Mainline academia basically has it right, then why not just say the Mainliners have it right and come join us? Why all the “emerging” talk?
    My view is that both Evangelical and Mainline academia have been deeply shaped by differing aspects of modernism and something new is emerging. McLaren seems to be characterizing Mainline theology the new emerging way.

  • Debbie

    Scot,
    Thanks for the review. I have the book but not yet read it. As with other McLaren books, I will probably agree with some sections, disagree with other sections, and be left scratching my head at the rest. Agree or disagree (or remain confused!) McLaren’s books always get me thinking.

  • JMorrow

    Dopderdeck,
    As someone who has cut my teeth, during college and beyond, on the theology and spiritual nourishment (yes there is some!) of liberal mainline theologians I am ever sympathetic to the questions they have raised and the bravery with which they have attempted to address the concerns and even forward the transformation of modern life.
    That being said the reductionist, sometimes overly sanitized understandings of the Gospel many of those same circles have produced lack a certain power. They address some concerns, but leave many others unaddressed. They, like their fundamentalist counterparts, can frustrate with quick, easy and immitative solutions to the issues of social engagement. However, it’s important to know their contribution. What I don’t see in McLaren, because I don’t think he has it, is a thorough critique of the 19th/20th century mainline, progressive, social gospeler movement from the postmodern or cross-cultural point of view. I think there IS a critique to be had, but who will say it?
    McLaren’s chief concern, as Chad commented earlier, seems to be bridging the world of the primitive church (close to Jesus), with the postmodern world (close to him). This is also a preoccupation of mainline theology. But what of the history in between, not just denomination traditions? Can this simply and without cost be demoted in importance? Furthermore is the postmodern world only the North American/European majority experience? If so that’s a very limited point of view and mainline theology despite the presence of minority theologians is still living in that paradigm. My concern is that emerging church folks will simply move from the limits and convenience of Sola Scriptura to Sola Contexta (sp?) where only their social location or context matters and answering to the context of others (either culturally or historically) is simply optional. I don’t think it is.

  • Josh M

    JMorrow,
    I see neither an undifferentiated embrace of McLaren’s proposals amongst those whom you labelled “emerging church folks” nor a shift from scriptural authority to contextual relativism. If there’s anything that is being rejected, it is this idea of “Sola” itself, no matter what term you may want to add after that.
    The voices in the conversation are just as manifold as they’ve always been, and the release of ANKoC may have caused some polarizations but certainly not a new uniform opinion amongst those who consider themselves emerging.
    Maybe I misunderstood. Are you saying, this is not where it’s at (yet) but what may very well be the end result?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #147 JMorrow
    Good stuff! Thanks.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Dopderbeck (#139),
    Again, I am not one to be validated as a critic of Mainline liberalism, so I take your push back to heart. I have benefited from McLaren’s insightful criticisms of fundamentalism, so I am not so much concerned about his decontruction enterprise. I am concerned with his new mutant form of the faith, with his seeming dismissal of the orthodox biblical story (creation, fall, covenant, Christ, recreation, etc) as some Greco-Roman template over the “real” new kind of story which, BTW, ends up being the old liberal story. Who needs it?

  • Richard

    @150 John.
    My understanding of the comments here and on other blogs is that the orthodox biblical story you presented (creation, fall, covenant, Christ, recreation, etc) is not the one that Brian is taking on. The one he is taking on is the popular version (at least in N America and places influenced by our missions movement) that emphasizes going to a fluffy or fiery place when you die, not recreation. I think he’s taking on the very popular Left Behind framework that has become The “View of Christians” in American culture- at least to many inside and outside of the church.
    Here is NT Wright rebuffing the same escape narrative: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z50Jv-PXYb4. It’s interesting to note that Nightline presents dying and going to heaven as the narrative of Christianity.
    I would also recommend McLaren’s explanation of what he’s trying to do with the narrative:http://theooze.tv/brian-mclaren/brian-mclaren-q1-the-narrative-questio in ANKOFC and an older video about his understanding of the Kingdom of God: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NtgjNLNpao.
    I’m not sure it’s so different than what Rob Bell was pushing against in his sermon, “The Importance of Beginning in the Beginning” from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers and at Mars Hill in August.
    I’d be really interested in hearing your response after you get a chance to check those out. Also, I think it’s becoming obvious that Brian could have done a much better job articulating what “Christianity” he was opposing but I don’t think he was very interested in that this time around.

  • Richard

    @150 John.
    My understanding of the comments here and on other blogs is that the orthodox biblical story you presented (creation, fall, covenant, Christ, recreation, etc) is not the one that Brian is taking on. The one he is taking on is the popular version (at least in N America and places influenced by our missions movement) that emphasizes going to a fluffy or fiery place when you die, not recreation. I think he’s taking on the very popular Left Behind framework that has become The “View of Christians” in American culture- at least to many inside and outside of the church.
    Here is NT Wright rebuffing the same escape narrative: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z50Jv-PXYb4. It’s interesting to note that Nightline presents dying and going to heaven as the narrative of Christianity.
    I’m not sure it’s so different than what Rob Bell was pushing against in his sermon, “The Importance of Beginning in the Beginning” from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers and at Mars Hill in August.
    I’d also recommend Brian’s video on TheOoze hinting at what he’s attempting in the Narrative chapter as well as a video he put out two years ago regarding the Kingdom of Heaven which you can find on youtube.

  • Richard

    Re: 152 Shoot, sorry for what’s basically a double-post

  • Becki Nelson

    Jesus said “by their fruits you will know them”. What are the fruits of McLaren’s words/beliefs? What do they tell us about those beliefs? Is it too soon to tell? Are the fruits doctrines, “new” theology, proven character, intimacy/union with God, actions in relationships and daily living, or all the above?

  • Brian

    According to Brian’s blog, he plans on posting a response to the article in the next day or two. Fyi…

  • JMorrow

    Josh M,
    Thanks for the reply. I didn’t mean to imply there is no undifferentiated critique or diversity of opinion about BM’s work. I don’t think the emerging church is full of BM clones. My comments were more in a preventative rather than bemoaning spirit. Emerging Church folks, and I count myself among them, really need to find how to appropriately reconcile their own context (read social location here), with complementary, contrasting and competing contexts both presently in the world and from the past.
    For example alot of the theological moves BM makes are very resonant of historical liberal mainline theology. So his relationship to Jesus and the apostolic witness is mediated through that theology. What’s necessary is for him to own it and judiciously critique it. I have to do it to because that theological tradition also partly applies to me. That’s one point, but here’s another:
    In addition I have theological influences from the African American tradition of my elders, from the Catholic college I attended, from the West African and East Asian Christians I have worked with. Those 4 influences are not cut from the same cloth, but I have to reconcile them just the same.
    My feeling, and correct me if you think I’m wrong, is that many emerging folks might respond: ‘That’s great, you’ve got your context and I’ve got mine’.
    However I think its equally necessary, not just optional, for emerging folks to engage the cross-cultural/historical context around us. BM must contend with those influences I mentioned not just his own, and I with his. Without doing so we lose credibility as I see it. And while I can’t put my figure on why, much of the emerging/emergent conversation still sees this as optional or a nice add-on. There is no unmediated look at Jesus or the Apostolic witness, we cannot leapfrog past sister churches around the world or past the slums. We cannot leapfrog past histories rights and wrongs to somehow begin anew. What you are seeing in the emerging conversation in regards to this?

  • Rob

    John @150 -
    am concerned with his new mutant form of the faith, with his seeming dismissal of the orthodox biblical story (creation, fall, covenant, Christ, recreation, etc)
    It would be interesting if he is dismissing that, as his “The Story We Find Ourselves In” actually lays out that very same narrative story line of the Bible. Are you saying he no longer subscribes to that?

  • johnfouadhanna

    I am really late to this discussion. I also haven’t read the book.
    Based on Scot’s charitable review and others my understanding is McLaren posits the following: that the disobedience in the Garden was not a break, a rupture, a turning away from the God who made us but a step forward in our maturation; bad OT God vs. good NT God; “all we need is love”; that the story that the church has been telling the world for its entire history is false and we need to follow McLaren in telling a new one.
    How is this Christian? Do we think this “been there, done that” approach actually address the deeply entrenched individual and collective sin and suffering that plagues and claims us all? Is this really what we have to offer the world?
    One sociological point: as a veteran of the mainline PCUSA [where I currently serve], Michael Kruse has shown us that our approach can’t be to denounce what we consider “conservative,” while always bending over backwards to embrace what’s “liberal.” Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to me that this approach is motivated by love, but by something else.
    Also, as John Frye has articulated, the doctrine of election is very much central. I don’t mean that in a reformed vs. arminian order of salvation way. I mean it as it relates to the blessing to the many coming through the one chosen and precious.

  • Josh M

    JMorrow,
    Thanks for the clarification! What do I see happening? I guess a parting of ways between different streams rather than a serious effort to hold all of them together under one umbrella.
    There definitely is a particular stream which seems to promote the idea of leapfrogging past histories mainly for the reason to leave the baggage of those histories behind. There’s another stream who has the same concerns you are having. And then there are those who are just sick of all the talk and are more concerned about meaningful action than the theology that is (or isn’t) motivating that action.
    I personally regret the developing polarizations. Brian’s latest response to critics (which is another gross representation and caricature of what people are really thinking) is only fuelling that fire of division. Here a small excerpt from a blog post earlier today:
    “It’s been disturbing to me (just as I’m sure my book is to them) to read how some people are responding to the book in online reviews, saying, in effect, “Yeah, God is violent. The Bible says so. What’s the big deal? Men, women, children killed for the wrong-doing of others, or simply because they weren’t born into the right ethnic group, eternal conscious torment … what’s the big deal? God is God, so God can kill or torture anybody God wants to.”
    Sheesh. It makes my skin crawl to think what people, fueled by that understanding of God, might do in God’s name. Have done.”

  • Mike

    OK: 158 entries and counting here…only 13 entries on Eugene Peterson’s book…on Resurrection…hmm… :)

  • Josh M

    … meant to say “gross misrepresentation” of course!

  • Alan K

    I’m with you Mike (#160). With all due respect to Brian McLaren, we need Eugene’s books so much more.

  • Jeff Straka

    If I subscribe to the following Celtic Creed rather than the Nicene or Apostles Creed, am I still a “Christian”?
    We believe in God above us,
    maker and sustainer of all life,
    of sun and moon, of water and earth,
    of male and female.
    We believe in God beside us,
    Jesus Christ, the word made flesh,
    born of a woman, servant of the poor,
    tortured and nailed to a tree.
    A man of sorrows, he died forseaken.
    He descendend into the earth
    to the place of death.
    On the third day he rose from the tomb.
    He ascended into heaven,
    to be everywhere present,
    and His kingdom will come on earth.
    We believe in God within us,
    the Holy Spirit of Pentecostal fire,
    life-giving breath of the Church,
    Spirit of healing and forgiveness,
    source of resurrection and of eternal life.

  • Nick

    I haven’t read the book yet, it’s on order though!
    I heard Brian speak at a conference here in London at the weekend and a couple of things struck me:
    1) Brian is critiquing extremist American & American influenced Christianity and not ‘normal’ Christianity, at least not what we have in the UK. He is making exactly the same mistake as Richard Dawkins, albeit in a less angry way and coming to a different conclusion, but it’s still a mistake.
    2) The genuine issues that Brian is raising are being dealt with in a much more constructive manner by the likes of N T Wright, Rob Bell, and Scot.
    I get the impression that, to use a driving analogy, Brian has seen the car veering off of the road to the left and, rather than correcting the steering to get it back on the road, he has grabbed the wheel and wrenched it in the opposite direction!
    I don’t know, maybe it’s because the UK is in a different place to the US, but this just seems like an old critique and that Brian’s response just doesn’t meet the need…

  • JMorrow

    Josh M,
    Interesting quote, yet another example of the perils of hyperbole and strawmanning arguments.
    What kind of ministry work are you involved in or looking to do in the future? I think the latter two streams you mentioned (those with concern for history and greater context, and those who want meaningful action) need to be working in concert. That is part of the reason why I believe good theology, especially if its missional will only come out of reflecting on active encounters or experiences, and not merely reflections of reflections. Meaningful action will come from broadly engaged theology and vice versa.

  • Jeff Straka

    Just an observation on violence in the Bible:
    Perhaps the only book of the Bible where there is some speculation that it may have been written by a woman, the Book of Ruth seems to be pretty much free of any kind of violence. Hmmmm…
    (Also sad to notice, as someone else did earlier, the lack of female voices on this blog)

  • Helen

    Lack of female voices? Here’s one (but it probably won’t be very popular around here).
    I liked Brian’s book. I also appreciated Scot’s generosity in pointing out the parts of the book he liked. I didn’t expect him to like all of it.
    Scot, I didn’t think Brian’s description of the conventional narrative was as far off as you evidently think. I agree that Christians don’t tend to say it that way. But I think the issue is, not what do Christians say, but what do people hear? And I suspect many do hear pretty much what Brian describes, as starkly dismal as it is.
    I also question your dismissal of Brian’s theory that the Bible presents evolving views of God. I don’t think Brian claimed it was a neat progression, which means it’s not invalidated simply because some later authors have a less ‘mature’ view of God (based on Brian’s perspective) than some earlier ones. Nor is it invalidated by passages which present more ‘accurate’ (according to Brian) views of God side by side with less accurate ones. Because that’s exactly what I’d expect from someone with a partial understanding of God. They would sometimes hit the mark and sometimes miss it.
    Anyway, like I said I didn’t expect you to agree with all of what Brian said and I was delighted that you took time to delineate what you liked.

  • Josh M

    Joe, I totally agree. I’ll contact you at your blog – this goes beyond the particular discussion here.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    #109 – “Evangelicals wanting to emerge to some new way who think McLaren et al are new, just bypass Emergent and enroll in almost any seminary of the Mainline denominations. McLaren is saying little that hasn’t been the ongoing topic of these institutions for years.”
    Funny, but I did exactly that (currently attending a moderate-to-liberal mainline Presbyterian seminary) and I haven’t found what you claim to be the case at all. Here’s what I’ve observed during my time here:
    1) What Brian says is NOT merely a retread of classic liberal theology. Yes, he is engaging with liberal theology and not just rejecting it out of hand, but he’s not merely parroting it back wholesale.
    2) By comparison to a lot of the liberal theologies I’ve encountered here, Brian is still really rather conservative in many ways. After all he is still Trinitarian, affirms the creeds, believes in the divinity of Christ and the physical reality of the Resurrection, believes scripture to be Divinely inspired, believes in sin and the need for grace, etc. Around here those beliefs practically make one an “evangelical”.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Scot (#75) – sorry it’s taken me a while to respond. I had to finish reading my “liberal” theology and writing some papers on it for seminary here. ;)
    Anyhow, let me respond to a few things you said:
    “Mike, I have no idea why you suggest Brian’s talking about me. Never crossed my mind.”
    Sorry, I was using “you” generically. I just mean that if someone doesn’t think Brian’s “six-line narrative” matches their own theology, then they don’t really need to assume that Brian was intending to critique what they believe. He was obviously only critiquing those who do actually believe that. Which leads to your next comment…
    “Well, if Brian is discussing conventional theology and not crack pots, then I want to know whose theology he is talking about. I don’t recognize that narrative in anything I’ve read or heard — ever. And I’ve sat under some pretty serious hell-fire sermons. The strongest defenders of penal substitution may make some outlandish comments about hell and judgment, but their narrative is not the one I see in Brian.
    So, for me Mike, this is a big one: do you know anyone who really adheres to this narrative as the way they put the Bible together?”
    C’mon, really? You honestly don’t recognize the narrative of “Creation-Fall-Salvation to Heaven or Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell” in “ANYTHING” you’ve heard or read, ever? I find that hard to believe. As you know, I grew up just as conservative as you Scot, and I’m willing to own the fact that this really does in broad outline describe the theology I was taught and which I myself believed and promoted for the majority of my life. I don’t know, if you can’t honestly think of anyone else then maybe Brian was just talking about me and my old theology… though I suspect (as Chad and Glen and others have already pointed out) that many others would recognize this as their own former theology as well.
    And as for “reputable theologians”… what about all those who swear by Creation-Fall-Redemption? Mike Wittmer of GRTS, for instance, seems pretty sure that Brian was describing C-F-R, and condemns Brian as a heretic for rejecting it. (Yes, Wittmer disagrees with Brian that C-F-R originates with Plato, and claims that it’s actually biblical… but doesn’t that just strengthen the case that this narrative actually does exist among Christians?) So how is C-F-R substantially different from Brian’s 6-line narrative?
    I’m sorry, but claiming that this narrative doesn’t accurately represent large portions of evangelical belief seems just disingenuous to me. Maybe you don’t define your theology this way (in which case Brian wasn’t critiquing your theology), but many of us do or have. It is out there.
    Besides which, if you’re actually correct that Brian’s six-line narrative doesn’t reflect mainstream evangelical theology, then that means you’re wrong in your claim that Brian is in fact rejecting evangelicalism. You can’t have it both ways. Just sayin’…
    “#2: Yes, if one brings in that the God who does exhibit justifiable wrath/judgment is one of mercy and grace and love and who longs for covenant love and who creates covenant and forgives relentlessly, then one finds that the entire narrative is warped.”
    So how is what you just said any different than the narrative Brian actually advocates? Because what you “bring in” seems an awful lot like what Brian also “brings in” to replace the six-line narrative.
    “#3: When Brian talks about conventional, I assume he’s talking broadly about orthodoxy and about Protestantism and about evangelical theology; I don’t think he’s talking about Protestant liberalism.”
    Again, you can’t have it both ways. Either Brian’s six-line narrative reflects “orthodoxy” and “Protestantism” and “evangelical theology”, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t (as you claim), then you must be wrong in assuming that’s what he is critiquing (especially since Brian never actually explicitly equates his six-line narrative with any of those three words… something which I think is deliberate on his part. He’s intentionally trying NOT to paint with a broad brush.
    “Mike, how much of this do you think is shaped by one fundamental concern: hell or even its flip side, universalism? Is it possible to believe in hell (defined properly of course) and not have this narrative in your view?”
    I think that’s one major motivating concern for sure. It’s a major concern for me, and I’m pretty sure it is for Brian too. And yeah, I think that the belief in Hell as “Eternal Conscious Torment” is one really good reason for rejecting the six-line narrative, or C-F-R, or whatever. You’ve said that you personally do not believe in the ECT view of Hell, to which I would say then that you are not particularly “evangelical” on that point either. In almost every evangelical context I’ve ever been in ECT was a deal breaker. You either believe in that or you are outside the camp. Sure, you can try to “properly define” Hell some other way (and I do), but again, you have to then be honest and say that you’re thereby outside the mainstream of evangelical belief on the subject. (Not such a bad place to be IMHO.)

  • Scot McKnight

    Mike,
    Let’s cut to the chase and avoid the niceties. You’ve offered a clear and articulate response.
    First, had Brian described the CFR narrative as traditional theologians have described it, and today I spoke with Brian and I’m convinced he does think “conventional” means the broad sweep of RCC and traditional Prots and Evangelical, exactly as you put it, then I would be fine. But I believe he offers a brutal caricature that no one really holds in that form. Yes, hell and judgment are there but to brutalize that narrative of grace by running through the torment category fundamentally warps it.
    I’m not saying, Mike, that it hasn’t been warped. It has. We’ve both heard the warpings.
    But his description is not the conventional way it has been narrated. Take a good example: Can you show me this narrative in the most popular gospel presentation for evangelicals: John Stott’s Basic Christianity? What I’m saying, then, is that yes, those six elements are present but they are present in a different rendering and we’ve learned this from postmodernity: whoever narrates the story controls the glory and sets the terms. In my reading, that GRoman narrative does not adequately correspond to the way the conventional narrative is rendered.
    And on hell, I believe in it, but I believe there are variations on how hell can be justified. To call it a torture chamber or eternal torment ups the ante a bit and uses terms that, for all rhetorical purposes, is designed to bowdlerize it and not describe it fairly.
    I’m happy to ask this question Mike: Did Jesus believe in hell? We can talk about the meaning of “eternal” but it simply isn’t easy to dismiss that Jesus spoke of our life now having eternal consequences.

  • http://mildenhall.net/ Helen

    Scot, as best I remember ‘eternal torment’ is a fairly typical way for evangelicals to refer to hell. It’s straight from the book of Revelation, chapter 20, verse 10 “They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
    Here’s an excerpt from a sermon by Dr Ray Pritchard entitled “What Happens When We Die?”

    We may summarize the fate of the lost in four short statements:
    1. At the moment of death, the soul of the lost is sent to hell where it is in conscious torment. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus told of a rich man, who upon his death, went to hell and suffered in the flames of torment. It matters not whether you think this passage is literal or figurative. If you say it is literal, then it must be a terrible punishment. If it is figurative, the figure itself is so awful to consider, that the reality must be much worse.
    2. The punishment is eternal. Though this is debated in some circles today, Christians have united across the centuries in their belief that the Bible teaches an eternal punishment for those who do not know our Lord. Mark 9:43-48 speaks of the fire that is not quenched and the worm that does not die-a reference to the continuing existence of human personality in hell.

    And here’s the synopsis on Barnes and Noble’s site Erwin Lutzer’s book “One Minute After You Die” :

    Many people spend more time planning a trip to Europe than they do preparing for their eternal homes. We are bombarded with suggestions concerning what awaits us when we cross the line from life to death. Is it as Betty Eadie claims, an eternal existence of peaceful and loving acceptance? Or could it be as Shirley MacLaine insists, simply reincarnation – a transfer from one body to another? We need not play this guessing game, wondering what will greet us on the other side – the Bible tells us that we can know for sure. For some, it will be a beautiful existence of eternal bliss; for others, an everlasting experience of pain and torment. And there will ever be a great gulf fixed between the two. The only question that remains is . . .which side will you be on? In One Minute After You Die Dr. Lutzer clearly enunciates what the Bible has to say about the life beyond. With biblical descriptions of the splendor of heaven and the horrors of hell, he authoritatively dispels fears for those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ and presents the dread necessity for those who have yet to believe. Many who read it will be comforted; others will be disturbed; and everyone will be instructed. Each day is one step closer to eternity. Are you ready?

    Those were the last two pastors I sat under.

  • Chad Holtz

    Scot,
    I believe the point is that while Stott and other’s may dress it up pretty and offer more nuance, the average church goer today thinks that the story is this 6 line narrative. As Mike said, it’s what many of us grew up with knowing whether it was stated explicitly or not. Sometimes in order to shack the cobwebs off old, bad thinking one needs to overstate the case in stark terms (which Brian does and even admits he is doing it). But we don’t even need to talk about people in the church to see if this is true – it is true of non-churched people too! Take a poll of people who never or rarely ever attend church (a good time to do it might be Christmas Eve service or Easter) asking them what Christians believe. I would bet the ranch that 9 out of 10 (if not a perfect 10) will say something that looks just like this 6 line narrative. So while we can quibble amongst ourselves about what theologians really teach or not the thing we should be most concerned about is what the non-believing world perceives to be the Gospel. And if they think we are all espousing the 6 line narrative than we are doing something terribly wrong, don’t you think?
    I just finished my review of part III of the book about violence. I cited you and shared the problems I see with the CT review being so widely read and yet skewed on at least one important matter: the “evolving God” idea. I’d welcome your response to that.
    http://chadholtz.net/?p=1097

  • Scot McKnight

    Helen, no one disputes that many evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox believe that about hell. So did Dante. I do think we need to be careful with how we describe “torment” and equate it with “torture” and then start connecting it to a Zeus-like god, with lightning bolts.
    Now to a major issue here and that has to do with Brian’s narrative.
    I’ve tried to live by a principle of description, that when I describe what another is saying that I try to say so in a way that the person I’m describing would say, “yes, that’s what I believe.”
    Here’s what I’m saying: we need to find some who would say that the Greco-Roman narrative is how they would describe what they believe. At it’s worst, all “conventional” Christians would surround that narrative with the grace of God, the love of God shown in Christ, etc — and that must be a part of the narrative to be fair.
    Yes, I would agree; some have been so burned by things that they remember only those six elements in a narrative that they would now describe in those terms, but I’m willing to say they didn’t hear it that way when it was presented by its advocates.

  • Napman

    Alas this is late, but a hearty thank you Scot, for sticking to your guns. People who caricature the conventional evangelical presentation of the gospel, assuming there is such a thing,–much less the theological vision of the Catholic catechism or Catholic preaching, etc. as Brian does, is simply not being fair-minded. It is comical to me that since the book does not document who holds the GR views it criticizes, or even deigns to describe its supposed proponents with any precision,that the book’s defenders are reduced to saying that “they are out there” or “I have experienced it.” Well I grew up in the evangelical subculture of the midwest and do not recognize Brian’s portrayal as fair but rather as the “brutal caricature” it is.
    The fact that no real documentation is offered–no analysis of respected evangelical, Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, or Reformed voices, no reliance on studies of popular preaching or quotations of sermons from preachers in any of the supposed places his six point GR narrative dominated–makes the book perhaps more of a matter of taste than an actual effort to find truth. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but it should not surprise anyone that the New Kind of Christianity that Brian advocates is then more about taste and finding a doctrine and theology that fits a certain cultural understanding of the demands of our age,
    Brian does not seem to find much value in seeing gospel and God through the vision of the great champions of historic orthodoxy from the Great Tradition who have helped define the rule of faith from the beginning. It might seem a New Kind of Christianity might ideally replace this historical faith with something better. But Brian is not really criticizing these perspectives either, because remember, he never specifically identified his opponents! They are only his opponents if you, the dear reader, perceive them to be so. Or if you can check with Brian himself as Scot seems to have done.
    One last thought–it is quite possible that Brian is both distorting traditional orthodox statements of faith and rejecting them–the former tends to aid the latter when the distortion is the caricature that Brian uses to aid our enlightenment.

  • Mike Clawson

    Ben (#83) – You said:
    “Mike asked what it was, exactly, that people found specifically unorthodox about McLaren. (Correct me if I’m wrong). I would say that, first and foremost, McLaren’s denial of any kind of historical Fall is an obvious departure from what has been considered crucial to the faith. His interpretation of Genesis as indicating a “coming of age” story is a perfect example of liberal theology at its worst. Without the Fall, you have no Christianity.”
    “The Fall” is a doctrine that has evolved over time in Christian theology, most notably within the theology of Augustine. Note, for instance, how it is never mentioned in any of the great ecumencial creeds. Nor does the Eastern Church hold to the same sort of Augustinian view of the Fall that you would probably consider “crucial” to the faith.
    Nevertheless, if you are insistent on that term, I think it would be fair to say that Brian does in fact believe in a “Fall” of sorts. Yes, he describes the Genesis narrative as a “coming of age”, but also points out how this was in fact a kind of “descent into evil” (Brian’s words, see p. 51), or “fall” if you will. The difference, of course, is that this is a gradual fall, and one that involves the whole of humanity, as opposed an ontological Fall committed solely by Adam and Eve and then somehow transmitted (spiritually? biologically? “representatively”? – we don’t really know how) to the rest of us.
    I will also note the other main difference between Brian’s account of progressive descent into sin, and the conventional version of one-time ontological Fall, which is that Brian’s version is based solidly on the biblical narrative as it actually unfolds in Genesis, whereas the idea of an ontological Fall is not actually found in scripture, but is based largely on philosophical/theological speculation about what might have happened when Adam and Eve sinned. That being the case, it seems rather unfair and inaccurate for you to claim that “Without the Fall, you have no Christianity.”

  • Mike Clawson

    Scot (#171) – you’re right, Brian doesn’t much mention the themes of love and grace that are also present in the “conventional narrative.” However, I guess I’m failing to see how adding in these elements necessarily changes the basic outline of the six-line narrative or mitigates the problems with it. Yes, love and grace run all through it, but in the end we still have the vast majority of humanity going to Hell for all eternity (whether you want to call it “torture” or “torment” or whatever other term you prefer). That’s not a “warping” of conventional theology, it’s all part and parcel of it, and a part which we can’t easily avoid, no matter how much “love and grace” we pour over top of it.
    I do know that I’m not alone in thinking that it’d have been better for God not to have created humanity at all than to accept that as the final result. Nor am I alone in agreeing with Brian that if that is in fact what Christians believe God does, I’d really rather not believe in such a God. Honestly, if that really is the case, it’s hard to see how “love and grace” really change much at all in the overall narrative.
    As for my own views of Hell, those are rather irrelevant to the conversation here, since this is about Brian’s theology, not mine. However, if you’re curious, I’ve written about them here, though I should say that my views have changed even more in the past few years since I wrote that, and I’m even more convinced than ever (largely thanks to Barth) that whatever Hell is, it is necessarily a temporary state designed to produce repentance and reform, not punishment. In the end God’s grace and love will be victorious over all.
    And no, I don’t think a view like that can fit within the kinds of conventional evangelicalism that I’ve experienced. I don’t know what your views are, but if you’re messing with ECT then I doubt that yours really can either. (After all, look at how many evangelicals wanted to disown John Stott – who you keep claiming is so mainstream – for even suggesting annihilationism as an alternative to ECT.)

  • http://mildenhall.net/ Helen

    Thanks for the response, Scot.
    I think we look at Brian’s description a little differently. I understand why you’re saying it’s unfair to frame something differently than the advocates do. Certainly the advocates will put it in the best possible light.
    However, if I don’t experience it the way the advocates do, why would I use their framing – which doesn’t match my experience?
    Someone could tell me their coffee is the best in the world but if I taste it and it tastes bad to me, that’s what my experience is. No matter what they say. It wouldn’t make sense for me to say it tastes good.
    I think Brian (and many others) really do experience the conventional narrative differently from its advocates.

  • Dave

    Am I the one not seeing this correctly or does this website not follow the basic 6 line stance? There are hundreds of churches that follow these people.
    http://www.acswebnetworks.com/sbcvirginia/life_fulfilled
    Dave

  • Richard

    “Yet the point of he research I have presented is to clarify when the simple starting point becomes a substitute for Christian discipleship. Intentionally or not, we promote the idea to outsiders that being a Christ follower is primarily about the mere choice to convert. We do not portray it as an all-out, into-the-kingdom enlistment that dramatically influences all aspects of life. Perhaps you are thinking that you do describe it in these terms. Then why are so many millions of young people missing the point, failing to develop the basic elements of a biblical worldview. Our research shows that most of those who made a decision for Christ were no longer connected to a Christian church within a short period, usually eight to twelve weeks, after their initial decision. In a get-saved culture, too many of the conversions become either ‘aborted’ believers or casual Christians…” (Kinnaman 79)
    “One of the things I do when I meet people is ask them, ‘What is Christianity?’ Undoubtedly half will respond, ‘A relationship with Jesus.’ That is wrong. The gospel cannot be merely a private transaction… I even dislike using the words ‘accept Christ’ anymore-because its so much more than that. Christianity is a way of seeing all of life and reality through God’s eyes…” (Chuck Colson in Kinnaman 88)
    “In trying to communicate the gospel to the masses, the message was eventually reduced to a partial story: humans are sinful and need Jesus in order to go to heaven. This made Christianity lose some of its life because the full description of God’s activity- such as his creation, his plans for restoration, his sovereignty-was left out. It was ultimate reduction, ‘renounce your sins and place your hope in Jesus.’ This phrase is not wrong per se. But it is insufficient…” (Rick McKinley in Kinnaman 89)
    That’s all from UnChristian by David Kinnaman. It seems that there is a very popular, widespread perception of the Christian hope being about escaping this physical world and going somewhere else based on a privatized transaction via a one-time prayer. I agree with others that McLaren is engaging with a popular, if not academic, understanding of Christianity. If it’s a caricature, he wasn’t the first to paint it as such and it’s the caricature that many people think of when they hear the word, “Christian.”

  • Eric

    Mike,
    I beg of you to show where the modern holders of CFR suggest that “the vast majority of humanity going to Hell for all eternity.” I just haven’t seen it. Read anything by Wolters, Mouw, Spykman, Walsh or even Nancy Pearcey and you will find that their writings don’t talk about hell very much, let alone that they believe that hell is for the “vast majority of humanity”. Mouw’s discussion of God as a generous God rather than a stingy God directly denies that.
    I find the the 6 line narrative to be a distortion of CFR in a number of ways. We don’t mean anything like the Greek notion of “perfection” when we talk about a “good” creation. The “Platonic Ideal” is neither a good description of pre-fallen creation nor of heaven (and why does his six line narrative suggest that we go to heaven for eternity – every person I’ve ever met who holds to CFR believes the earth will be restored, not that we will go to heaven). In addition, the six line narrative that Mclaren puts forth is very individualistic. We have typically stressed that the CFR narrative is total – that is, the entire creation was created good, the entire creation fell, and that redemption applies to the entire fallen creation. THAT is the narrative, not the individualistic one that Mclaren talks about.
    I also find it odd, because the people I’m most familiar with who hold to CFR are usually critiqued for emphasizing creation and common grace over the fall and the antithesis.
    I haven’t determined whether Brian is trying to describe those of us who hold to CFR. If what Scot is saying is correct, then it seems like he probably is. If that is the case, I’m quite disgusted with his lack of generosity on this matter. I have to agree with Scot that when describing somebody else’s beliefs you should be careful to do it in such a way that the people you are describing would have no problem with. Only then should you go about critique.

  • Eric

    I should also say that I find it odd that CFR and creation-liberation-reconciliation are made out to be incompatible. If the Bible is more like a library than a constitution (and I agree that it is) then there are going to be multiple narratives running throughout the Bible and I see both of these narratives in it. For example, two of the church denominations that have typically held the CFR – the RCA and the CRC – have recently been looking at adding the Belhar Confession to their creeds and confessions.

  • Mike Clawson

    Eric (#181) – would it be fair to characterize the scholars you mention as “inclusivists” on the subject of Hell and salvation? Is that how they get away from the conclusion that most human beings will end up in Hell? If so, then they are right on the fringes of acceptable evangelical belief about Hell. For instance, at Wheaton, my alma mater, C.S. Lewis is practically worshiped as the 4th member of the Trinity, and yet most Wheaties thought that even he went a step too far in the last chapters of The Last Battle when he implied that someone could get into “heaven” without explicitly believing in “Aslan”.
    But at any rate, how many people condemned to Eternal Conscious Torment is acceptable? I mean, sure, I’ll grant that for Mouw, et al. it might not be the “majority” of humanity. So is just a few million, or a few hundred million okay? Does that make God appear more just? More loving? More gracious?

  • Eric

    Mike,
    I have no idea whether they would be inclusivists or not. I probably should have left that comment about Mouw out of my reply since people’s stances on hell was not really my concern in my reply and it totally sidetracked you. And whether they are considered evangelicals or not is of little concern to me, either.
    As for your questions about the population in heaven … I find them odd. And I would question any theology that thinks they are important questions.
    Here’s the point: You seem to think certain versions of hell make God appear unjust or unloving. I would agree. My question is: What does that have to do with CFR? The CFR narrative is not wedded to any view of hell. If a certain view of hell is problematic, lets discuss it. But it is totally counterproductive to try to dismiss CFR by linking it to a view of hell you don’t like.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Eric (#184) – I wasn’t the one who linked CFR to any of this. Mike Wittmer did that. I was simply citing him as one example of a “reputable theologian” who seemed to see his own (CFR) theology in what Brian was describing. If you say it’s not then I’d suggest that your difference is with Wittmer, not with me. I don’t really pay much attention to conservative Reformed theologians these days, so I don’t know a whole lot about the nuances of CFR, but apparently there are different versions of it out there. But again, if your particular theology doesn’t fit what Brian (or I) was talking about, then he wasn’t talking about your theology. I wish folks would stop getting so defensive or just assuming the worst.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    BTW, if anyone is interested, Brian has graciously offered to respond to a few of my own questions for him about his book over at my blog. I’ll be posting his replies over the next few days, and y’all are welcome to drop by and read them. You can find the first part here.

  • Eric

    Well I’m glad to hear that neither you nor Brian are trying to link the two.

  • Karl

    “I’ve tried to live by a principle of description, that when I describe what another is saying that I try to say so in a way that the person I’m describing would say, “yes, that’s what I believe.”
    Yes, thank you, and amen to that Scot (174). Again and again I feel like Brian and his defenders completely ignore this principle.
    Simply saying “well then, if it doesn’t describe you then it doesn’t apply to you, so why so defensive?” is also a cheap and disingenuous out, as far as I’m concerned. It is as if I authored a caricatured critique of “the Emerging narrative” or of the emerging church – perhaps without even naming the name Emergent but in terms that made it clear exactly what group I was talking about . . . and then responded to Mike C. and Brian’s objections by saying “well Mike and Brian, I happen to know emerging folks exactly like what I just described so I’m really only talking to them – you shouldn’t be bothered by it at all! Ignore the fact that anybody who actually reads the caricature will assume you DO believe all the crap that I just attributed to your ilk.”
    If they really are objecting to the “worst of” orthodox Christianity or only to its “warped” versions and not to the orthodox narrative itself, not to the Scot McKnights or John Stotts of the world, then they should write in a way that makes the distinction clear. Or, if their problem really IS with the entire orthodox narrative, then when they critique it, they should fairly represent it as its best and most thoughtful advocates would articulate it, rather than setting up a caricature to knock down.

  • Karl

    In order to avoid getting sidetracked with a debate about orthodoxy, I should have used the term “conventional narrative” instead of “orthodox narrative” in the last paragraph of 188 above.

  • Your Name

    Karl,
    At the risk of veering down a rabbit trail where the merits of the merits of a theological discussion are fought over as opposed to the issue itself, let me say this:
    If Brian was merely speaking of a charicature you would have a fair point. But he is not (as has been stated again and again). If you made a critque of emerging that was predominantly true yet one that did not describe me than the least I could do (and would do) is say something like, “You are right. That is true of a large segment people called emergents and it is probably something that people outside of emerging circles think as well. However, I do not believe that but instead blieve this (whatever “this” is) and we are trying to do something to correct this pervading perception.”
    Many of you seem to have your heads in the sand, however, and refuse to acknowledge that this 6 line narrative does indeed exist. It may not be stated in such stark terms (but again, Brian admits he is putting it baldly and for a reason) but it is there nonetheless.
    If you truly do not believe in a story line that goes, Perfection: Fall: Objects of Wrath: Jesus: Heaven/Hell after death (depending on what one does with Jesus) and if you do not believe the vast majority of Western Christians follow this story line, than why not tell us what story line you DO believe the vast majority of Christians are telling?
    That could be far more profitable, I think.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Oops. Not sure why my name didn’t show up on my comment above (190).
    Didn’t mean that to be anonymous.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chad,
    I haven’t been able to follow this thread closely the last two days with some speaking and writing and travelling, but one thing I think has to be clear:
    The 6 parts of the narrative are traditional.
    The framing of those six parts is a caricature. The terms are so stark — your term (with tips the hat toward a caricature, no?) — that no one who believes that six part framing narrative recognizes it as his or her own. The elements are framed in a different narrative.
    Again, let me ask again: John Stott uses these elements in his “narrative” but how does he frame that narrative? With a monster God or with a gracious God who is both holy and loving, and who judges? There’s a big difference, Chad, and it is important to recognize how it is that conventionals frame this narrative.

  • Chad Holtz

    Scot,
    You are right – Stott (and any number of other reputable theologians/pastors) would never put it the way Brian does.
    The term “stark,” however, is not mine but Brian’s. He writes:
    [after describing this narrative] This is- more or less, and put baldly – the “good news” taught by much of the Western Christian religion…the religion in which I was raised, in which I have done my life’s work, of which I am part today…True, it is seldom put this crudely. True, its defenders will quarrel with various details here, because their version, no doubt, tries to avoid being this starkly dismal…Much of Christian theology, I propose, seeks to save this story from being as barbarous and hideous as it wants to be (44).
    So, I am trying to be fair to Brian here and make it known, particularly to those who aren’t reading the book but only blogs, that what Brian is doing is not saying this is how it is taught from the pulpit but that when the story is stripped to bare bones it logically leads to this caricature.
    But the elephant in the room, in my humble opinion, is the notion that God, through Jesus, “opens to include all humanity” (45). It really boils down to the question: What do you think God’s ultimate plan for all of Creation is? As well as: What is God’s fundamental posture towards Creation? If a person is convinced that God will in the end exact a divine Final Solution, casting away all those who are an offense to him, than much of Christian theology is going to be aimed at trying to render a God who acts like Hitler look like a Saint. I know that is “stark” but that is the bare bones (and it is how the unchurched world views it, as well). However, when a person, such as myself, who was raised in the Nazarene church as a pastor’s kid, who bought this 6 line narrative for the first 30 years of my life, realizes that God may in fact have bigger plans than redeeming only the people who look and think like me, than suddenly McLaren’s “caricature” is not so crazy. How often I have looked back on my own faith and confess that, yes, that really is what I believed whether I said it like that or not.
    This is longer than I intended so I’ll stop here cause I said enough. I look forward to anyone’s thoughts.

  • Napman

    Chad #193
    “When the story is stripped to bare bones it logically leads to this caricature.”
    Ah but neither you nor Brian have shown how your stripping it bare is not itself producing the caricature. Strip any view you oppose of its components that might resist your criticisms and you have created a caricature–a caricature of your creation. That is why Brian cannot cite scholarly analysis, quote authorative texts, or sample representative preaching of his opponents. The views he attributes (apparently to Western orthodoxy in its Catholic and Protestant forms, per Scot) are his distortions of them. Any Christian view of God stripped of love, grace, forgiveness, faithfulness, etc. will be ugly and contrary to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Which is is precisely why Brian has so much trouble documenting people who actually believe and teach God and gospel the way he caricatures his opponents, It is why they are left unnamed and he fails to even give a precise description of who they are. It is hard to name or describe teachings and the teachers who author them when they find no historical expression outside the mind of their critic.
    If this is not so, I await Brian’s rigorous demonstration of how the narrative of the Christian West logically leads to his mental creation. Asserting it does not make it so. Only when it is “stripped bare” by its critic does it admit of the flaws Brian finds in it. Of course he must first distort his unnamed opponents’ views to make them amenable to his criticisms. In the end, Brian’s book is symptomatic of a certain cultural take on the viability of historic Christian claims in today’s age. Not a fair and accurate depiction of the Christianity he seems to feel called to supplant with a better way. For if it were fair and accurate he would not have so much trouble documenting or even naming the voices of his opponents. For if they were named he would then be more directly accountable for his rendering of opponents with an actual historical voice.
    Finally,the rise of the Christian faith in its broadly orthodox forms in the global South shows once more how the historic Christian faith translates quite well beyond the white American evangelical subculture. In fact the white American evangelical subcultural has always been a small part of the story of historic Christian faith. If Brian’s caricature of this narrative is not so adaptive, well, maybe we can be grateful that the faith of the church is not well represented in that caricature.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Napman,
    Did you read the book?
    Brian does not need to cite “scholarly analysis, quote authorative texts, or sample representative preaching,” for this to be true. As myself and several others have all testified, this is precisely what the story line is, as we experienced it, when all is said and done.
    As far as not naming Driscoll and MacArthur specifically in his book I guess that could be seen in different ways. If you are predisposed to dislike Brian and the book (or haven’t read it yourself) than I can see why someone would assign the sort of motives you have assigned. Since you appear to be someone who is big on citation I wonder if you can cite where Brian divulges these sinister motives? The other way to look at it (and the way I saw it) was that Brian was being charitable, not wishing this to become a Brian vs. Driscoll or Brian vs. MacArthur fight, thus losing many of his readers because they can’t see the forest for the trees. And his treatment of both was fair and true to their own words and beliefs (feel free to prove otherwise), serving to demonstrate two dominant forms of viewing Jesus that are alive and well today in America.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    A week or so ago I posted something on my blog about Christian universalism (what I said in #193 is the elephant in the room, here) and why, in the end, God truly is a God of love and grace (as well as holy and righteous judge) rather than a monster. My conclusion is that no matter how you dress it up, if the end result is a Father who excludes or exterminates you still end up with a monster.
    http://chadholtz.net/?p=1082

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    To illustrate Brian’s point, here is just one comment from an evangelical Christian responding to my statement that God is not violent. He writes:
    You are playing a word game with your own rules and to intimate that the God who destroyed all mankind in the flood in Genesis and Who will personally destroy millions upon millions at the end of the Age is not “violent” boarders on disingenuousness. (emphasis mine)
    As myself and Mike and others have repeatedly said, this is the general consensus among most Christians and non-Christians alike. And as Brian said, most of the energy of theology is spent in trying to make the above God seem loving and gracious. You can put a dress on me but I’d still make a pretty ugly woman.

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    God is who He is, and He must reveal Himself to be known. If all the narratives in Scripture that portray God as executing some form of violence are only metaphorical, and if those same Scriptures are inspired by God’s Spirit, then why would He metaphorically portray God as sometimes using violence?
    In the end, we are reduced to receiving revelation. All our conjectures about the unpleasantness of a God who may use some violence must still bow to the “unpleasantness” of Scripture.

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    But in the end, the “is God violent” discussion is insignificant compared to McLaren’s continuing suggestion that all religions are paths to eternal life. That is the issue distilled down to its redemptive core.

  • Mike Clawson

    Karl (#188) said: “”I’ve tried to live by a principle of description, that when I describe what another is saying that I try to say so in a way that the person I’m describing would say, “yes, that’s what I believe.”
    Yes, thank you, and amen to that Scot (174). Again and again I feel like Brian and his defenders completely ignore this principle.”

    And Scot (#192) said: “The terms are so stark — your term (with tips the hat toward a caricature, no?) — that no one who believes that six part framing narrative recognizes it as his or her own.”
    ————–
    I’ve said this before, but apparently no one was listening, or it got lost in the mix of everything else, so let me say it again very clearly:
    Yes, that six-line narrative is precisely what I believed for the first two thirds of my life. I recognize it as a fair and true summary of what I was taught, what I personally believed, and what I taught to others for a good portion of my life, both as a young person and even when I was a pastor myself. Yes, I would have also added in some things about love and grace too, but I would not have denied any of the rest of Brian’s description, and if someone had pushed me on it, I would have freely admitted to the “stark” and unpleasant parts too, the parts that Brian highlights.
    I know I’m not a “reputable theologian” and I’m no John Stott either (in fact, for all that Scot says that he’s THE representative evangelical theologian, I can’t say that I’ve ever even read him, and all I remember hearing about him around Wheaton was that he was rather controversial because of the annihilationism stuff), but I wasn’t entirely uninformed either. This was my theology. I’ll own it. I’ll claim it.
    So no, Brian’s description is NOT just a caricature. What he describes actually exists, and there are those of us who do recognize ourselves in it. If you don’t, fine. But then doesn’t that mean you’re actually agreeing with Brian, that this six-line narrative is false and needs to be corrected? This is why I don’t understand all this hostility towards Brian’s ideas. Maybe the reason you all don’t recognize your theology in what Brian was talking about, is because you’re already on the same side as Brian in opposing it.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Mike,
    The other possibility, of course, is that they do recognize it as part of their theology but are not willing or able to admit it. At least not yet. So the push back is a desperate attempt to convince others if not themselves that the story that has been told over and over again is not really as bad as it seems. It really is “good” news. Isn’t it?

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    “reputable theologian”
    Suspect words when spoken alone and very suspect when coupled together. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    That possibility occurred to me too Chad, but I want to be generous and take people at their word when they say that it honestly doesn’t describe their own theology.
    However, I am completely incredulous when they also try to claim that it doesn’t exist at all, even in the “extreme” form Brian presents it in. To me what Brian describes is so immediately and obviously recognizable that in my mind it should be beyond debate that it actually is out there in its basic form in many mainstream theologies. I’m finding it hard to believe that this is even a point of dispute.

  • Mike Clawson

    In response to Scot’s suggestion that we should only ever represent the views of others in ways that they themselves would affirm, I have to say that I think one of Brian’s strengths is his ability to cut through all the layers of justifications and rationalizations and really expose the not so attractive implications of many of our beliefs. Sometimes we need that – we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are really willing to affirm some of the things that certain theological systems compel us to – not try to gloss over them, or talk around them, but just flat out own up to what we really are saying. Brian, I think, simply holds up that mirror. Is it his fault if we don’t like what we see?
    I have the same experience reading Brian’s stuff as I do talking with my atheist friends. They too have a remarkable ability to cut through the crap and really get at the ugly heart of some of my theology – because of course, they have no reason to try and make excuses for it. They’re honest enough to say “Really? That’s what you really believe? Why would you want to believe in a God like that?” And they don’t let me get away with convoluted theological gymnastics that tries to soft-pedal things like Hell, divinely sanctioned genocide, patriarchy and misogyny, predestination, etc. They’re really good at seeing through all the BS and getting right down to it. I wish most Christians were better at that. I guess that’s why I appreciate Brian’s books so much: no more excuses.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Sorry to keep weighing in here, but along these same lines, I also just came across this post about a conversation between D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Tim Keller, and I really appreciated how they just came right out and admitted that their definition of the gospel really is primarily about telling people how to avoid going to Hell after they die (which they were explicit about defining as “endless suffering for those who did not believe in the gospel”), and that helping the poor, while important, was still not as crucial as (or even properly included in) “gospel ministry”. In light of the conversation here, it just seemed sort of ironic to me that they were willing to say that so bluntly and unapologetically.

  • Your Name

    Chad #195
    I certainly want to stipulate that Brian is a good man that has nothing but good intentions in this book. As somemone who found A Generous Orthodoxy a provocative and stimulating read, I do not wish to cast aspersions against Brian in any manner. I don’t think I accused Brian of dark motives nor do I wish to.
    I just believe that he created a caricature that is nothing like the dominant story of the Western Christian tradition. I also said that stripping the narrative of its components that resist this caricature is an unfair method of defining one’s unnamed opponents. If Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur stand in as the representative teachers of the Western Christian narrative then so be it. But Brian does not present the book in those terms. It is fair to ask why.
    As I have said, I think the book has its value as a barometer of a certain cultural take on the viability of historic Christian beliefs given the demands of our age. The degree to which the Biblical picture of God is one of violence and how that picture has been appropriated theologically by the Western Church are important questions that deserve attention. If you find his six points are an accurate stand-in for the Western Church’s narrative of God and gospel, so be it. I do not seek to cast aspersions on Brian in indicating that I do not. Nor do I believe it resonates with my evangelical upbringing in the Midwest.

  • Napman

    I certainly want to stipulate that Brian is a good man and that he has nothing but good intentions in this book. As somemone who found A Generous Orthodoxy a provocative and stimulating read, I do not wish to cast aspersions against Brian in any manner. I don’t think I accused Brian of dark motives nor do I wish to.
    I just believe that he created a caricature that is nothing like the dominant story of the Western Christian tradition. I also said that stripping the narrative of its components that resist this caricature is an unfair method of defining one’s unnamed opponents. If Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur stand in as the representative teachers of the Western Christian narrative then so be it. But Brian does not present the book in those terms. It is fair to ask why.
    As I have said, I think the book has its value as a barometer of a certain cultural take on the viability of historic Christian beliefs given the demands of our age. The degree to which the Biblical picture of God is one of violence and how that picture has been appropriated theologically by the Western Church are important questions that deserve attention. If you find his six points are an accurate stand-in for the Western Church’s narrative of God and gospel, so be it. I do not seek to cast aspersions on Brian in indicating that I do not. Nor do I believe it resonates with my evangelical upbringing in the Midwest.

  • Nate Gilmour

    In response to Mike’s post 204,I’m going to have to disagree, but that’s largely because the atheists in my own circles (most of whom are graduate students in the humanities and thus have a professional mandate to know some of the content of Christian confession, so I grant they’re not “garden variety” atheists) tend to avoid setting up straw men. They generally root their criticisms in the actual teachings of Christian traditions, they tend to shoot me or another Christian an email asking for clarification rather than making stuff up. Frankly, if one of them did start criticizing a way of seeing the world that bore only scant relation to my own, I’d be inclined to think they were talking about someone else and go about my business.
    I realize that there are scores of Internet atheists (and Internet anti-feminists and Internet anti-postmodernists) who don’t take the trouble to engage real life in its complexity, but I’m generally more impressed with folks who issue critiques of what’s actually been said and written rather than criticizing “implications.”
    For what it’s worth, if someone did confess something like McLaren’t “six-line narrative,” I’d be inclined to agree with ANKoC that such a person held some monstrous beliefs. But I just haven’t seen it, and that’s coming from someone who’s been teaching in churches for almost fifteen years now. Someone with all the time in the world could likely make a career of criticizing such hypothetical constructs, but with work to do and my children to enjoy, I’ll have to remain content going after what’s actually there. I’ll go ahead and put my hat in as someone who would prefer exchanges that listen to interlocutors openly rather than proceeding under the aegis of a hermeneutics of suspicion.

  • http://mildenhall.net/ Helen

    Nate, could you specify the aspects of Brian’s description of the six-line narrative, which are absent from the narrative as you would describe it, that make it monstrous?
    To me, hell as conscious eternal torment for all who do not believe is monstrous so, whether the description is at pains to say God is loving and faithful or not, I still find it monstrous.
    I suppose it would be much easier for me to understand why some of you think Brian’s description is so inappropriate, if I shared your view that he’d twisted something glorious into something monstrous. But to me he described something monstrous as monstrous, so, it wasn’t a big deal.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Nate,
    Did you bother to read the link Mike shared to a discussion between Piper, Carson and Keller?
    Here is a quote:
    I think—this is the way my old-fashioned fundamentalist, evangelistic Dad affected me—It’s very hard to give up on the gospel if you believe there is hell, that after this life, there is an endless suffering for those who did not believe in the gospel. And therefore, my take on the prioritization of these things is, as I say at Bethlehem, “We exist to relieve all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” And the “especially” there is a prioritization of time and intensity. If I succeed totally in relieving poverty in this age, and didn’t solve the eternal problem, I would prove in the end to be absolutely unloving and un-Christ-like.
    So, as far as safeguards go, continue an orthodox grasp on the eternality of the torment of conscious hell. If a person really believes that and preaches that way, then those who are starting to become enamored by a transforming way of doing Christianity that starts to minimize the gospel, they’re just not gonna like that. So if the Gospel Coalition can keep just saying these true, deep, powerful things at the center of the gospel, those who are leaning toward distortion or abandonment or minimization, they’re just not gonna get near this. I think that’s our calling.
    ———-
    It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

  • stan

    The Theos that Brian describes sounds an awful lot like the God of Westboro Baptist Church – the people you see running around the country with the “God hates f*gs” and “God hates the United States,” etc. signs.
    “What remains in the end? Theos, plus the perfected souls of the redeemed in heaven, plus everyone else suffering the absolute, “perfect” torment of eternal, unquenchable, pure, and unchanging hate from Theos, getting what they deserve for being part of the detestable human race.”
    p. 44.
    I grant that he goes on to mediate that comment somewhat, but he still argues that most attempts to differ from that description are cosmetic enhancement at best.

  • Gary

    A couple of ideas or observations….Dr. McKnight….I don’t know if you see yourself playing the role of Erasmus to McLaren’s Luther…and I don’t want to push the analogy too far….but I do sense that we are in a time where the changing of paradigms is very much like that which occurred during the reformation. Of course I’m not noticing this first. (Tickle, Webber, Caputo, Grenz, Olson and other’s have noticed and illuminated the idea well.) What I’m hopeful and thankful for is that you maintain a level of charity as you wade through these concepts and ideas. I know both of you meet in Chicago next week at Q to discuss the book. Please be encouraged to not fall into the type of dialogue that has plagued theological conversation, and political conversation in this country for the last 20-30 years. Please exemplify the love and grace that even James failed to demonstrate to Paul, and Paul struggled to find for Peter.
    The emerging move started primarily as a quest through conversation in relationship. As long as we keep talking, in relationship, we lessen the risk of the ugly arguments Christians have become unfortunately known for. It’s when the talking stops where things can get really violent. Epistemic humility is always good too. I sense you both desire that. Please try your best to reverse the ugliness that has plagued theological evolution since the beginning of the Church. (Acts 15, Phil 3:2, etc)
    It seems that the blog discussions above have centered on this desire for or defense of orthodoxy. Which is fine. But what I sense is missing is a clear understanding of the significance of praxis. My focus is in the field of Practical Theology. Therefore I’m concerned about theological belief, but equally concerned about what those beliefs translate into in terms of praxis.
    I know Scot has traveled and seen what Emerging Churches look like and how they embody or incarnate the gospel. The incarnation of the gospel, a theo-praxis, and not theo-logy, the intellectualization or rationalization of what the gospel is or isn’t, may better represent the focal point of McLaren’s works. It seems to me that Jesus places more emphasis on orthopraxy and orthopathy than orthodoxy during his ministry as well (perhaps this is my postmodern sensibilities shining through). But unless or until traditional evangelicals understand that postmodern evangelicals (and I think that is exactly what McLaren is) are more concerned about the results of belief than the creeds that state belief, there will continue to be a disconnect. We younger evangelicals have seen with pained eyes the results of perfect systems of belief that require no transformation of the heart. I have always viewed McLaren’s work, including this most recent one, as a call beyond belief and into true knowledge of God and his kingdom. I sense you desire that as well, but I also sense that your modernity requires you to make the gospel makes sense. Barth and Kierkegaard I think help us recognize that the divine is not illogical as much as it is uber-logical and therefore defies out attempts at mastery and certainty. Therefore it is in the praxis where we “know” what we are actually doing. (Dallas Willard’s last book makes this point much better than I have.
    Thanks for the venue. Look forward to hearing your dialog at Q.


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