McLaren Interview

I just listened to a really good interview on this podcasting site called “bleeding purple.” Props to my friend Tracy Stewart for bringing it to my attention. It’s a very interesting conversation between the podcaster, Lief, and one of the leaders of the emergent conversation, Brian McLaren. They get into some stuff about the dominant view of Hell in our day and our view of God in light of this view. The conversation drifts into a little bit about relativism, deity of Christ…not very detailed but certainly thought provoking. I think the interviewer is a little fringe, but McLaren has some interesting things to say. I’d love to have some of you guys listen to these and discuss them w/me here.

The first interview isn’t that great, but you sort of need the last 15 minutes of it for the second part to make sense.

Part One
Part Two

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  • Wow, what a great discussion. A lot of things were discussed, from trying to understand God from a doctine of hell point of view to, as you mentioned, relativism. Is Jesus THE God in human form. I understand the dilema of trying to understand God from this point of view. To me it is like trying to rectify the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The problem for me is that when I try and think about such things or discuss it with friends we get to a point where we are trying to get our arms around God with our human limitations. I always get to a point where I’m trying to put God in this little box that fits for my inferior intellect.

  • I wasn’t quite sure but it seemed like McLaren was actually trying to talk the interviewer down from rejecting the “literal ontological divinity of Christ.” McLaren seemed to say that what Leif was reacting against wasn’t the divinity of Christ but all the ancillary stuff that goes along with that – at one point he says that “it’s this whole Hell package” or something to that effect. I was talking about this with my wife and realizing that if you didn’t grow up with the staunch calvinistic background like I did, it’s not that big of a stretch to make some of these moves that McLaren is making.

    I didn’t get the sense that he goes all the way to the “Moral Influence” theory. I’m not sure he would actually say there is nothing wrong with humanity, in other words he didn’t reject sin, he acknowledged it. But he is questioning what is the effect of sin. I thought the metaphor of two kids fighting was interesting. There was an interesting bit of logic when he talked about Christ’s death confirming that the KOG will come not through violence and coercion but through self sacrificial love and how our contemporary view of hell belies that view.

    two other interesting bits: one was the whole thing about infinite amount of punishment for a finite amount of sin, that was interesting. The second was about KOG language asking us to forgive and turn the other cheek, but the contemporary view of hell means that God is asking us to do something he himself is not willing to do. Those two things will have me thinking.

    I doubt if McLaren has read much R.C. Sproul’s work, but I read this book called “The last Days according to Jesus” or something like that. It interprets much of the Olivet discourse and other of the Gospel parables and Jesus’ sayings about judgment the same way McLaren was: they were not refering to the end of days, but the end of the Jewish age.

    At first listen, I don’t think I hear a problem with what he’s saying. I’m not sure I have honed in on what the fuss over his atonement theology is yet? Anyone else hear some atonement stuff we could mull over?

  • Maybe it is just me but I have a problem with his view regarding God telling us to turn the other cheek yet not being able to do what he is asking of us. God turns the other cheek every day with me. I as a imperfect human being I rebel against my creator daily which I believes wounds him deeply. My dilema is I also have a problem with modern day theory on Hell. To many main stream Christian denominations are worried about where everyone will end up. They are busy working on getting into heaven and condemning others to hell. I’ll have to listen again to see if I pick up on atonement theology.

  • Yeah, I had sort of a wierd visceral response to that. But the whole line of thinking about how we’ve made God into this sort of being who wants to kill us doesn’t fit w/my view of who he is either.

    My question is where is the New Testament on all of this? I feel woefully underfamiliar with the NT witness on Jesus. What have I been doing all my life?

  • I listened to that interview a few months ago and probably don’t remember enough to comment about it directly. However, I remember enjoying it.

    I also know that most of their conversation revolved around issues discussed in Mclaren’s “The Last Word and the Word After That”. In that book, Chapter 19 is (to me) a compelling survey of the gospels and all the references Jesus ever made to what is commonly understood to be hell. If you wanted to find out “where the NT is on all this”, reading that chapter in particular would at least give you an idea of where McLaren’s interpretation starts. (and I think it’s very interesting)

    Also, again without referring directly to the interview, what I gather from McLaren’s views (in his books and the interview), they seem to be much more in line C.S. Lewis’ as illustrated in “The Great Divorce”. In “The Last Word” there’s also chapter siting numerous passages from writers and thinkers of Christendom pointing to problems with our current, conventional view of hell.

    just my 2 cents.

  • Thanks Derek. That’s good to know, I’ve got the last word & the word after that coming in the mail – I’ll read 19 first. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Yeah, I get the impression he’s following Lewis in saying that some people give the perpetual “no” to Christ’s call; on and on into eternity they will want nothing to do with him. So, God has prepared a place for them where they can have what they want. I’m good w/that explanation for hell.

    Where it gets a little dicey is when you start talking about the non-exclusivity of Christ, especially when you couple that with a view of sin which says that there isn’t this penalty or guilt issue for us. McLaren described it w/the kids fighting analogy. We’ve made it so we think God wants to kill us for our sins, when their primary result is that they harm our relationships with other people. This feels like “Moral Influence” view of atonement. The problem isn’t guilt but rebellion and fear (which, interestingly is what Adam experienced…hmmm).

    Anyway, I think conservative folks enter into that dialogue saying “we know where that theory takes us.” (meaning classic Schleirmacher/Bultmann liberalism & a dying church). I’m not sure I think that because I think McLaren’s actually trying to work on a different model altogether. I wonder if it’s described more clearly in the “secret message of jesus” or not.

    Anyway, the exclusive nature of Christ is an interesting discussion and one that I’ve thought about a lot lately. Wesley would say each person will be responsible to God for their response to the portion of the truth about God which has been revealed to them. The rest we leave in the hands of God. I sort of like that approach.

    Do you think we can make that leap? Can we say followers of other world religions are following God. Here’s a good question, when a Muslim prays, does he pray to YHWH? Is Allah another name for YHWH?

  • Here is an incredible article about universalism. It just taught me that I’ve mistakenly linked Exclusivism and Universalism and it’s possible to hold an exclusive view while still being a universalist.

    The more I read on this subject (and the emergent conversation as well) the more I’m convinced I wish I had 12 hours a day to just read. I bet I could go that way for 10 years and still not know enough to have anything original to add to the conversation.

  • Bill

    Tim, that article on Universalism is exactly that: “incredible.” I don’t know the author from Adam (pardon the pun). I can see he’s got a PhD in Phil, and admits that he doesn’t write very much on theology. Still, he does teach courses in Philosophy at Yale, which is no small potatoes. And he studied at Wheaton and Calvin. Seems like he’s forgotten a lot of his theology coursework, though, knowing those schools’ reputations for “staunch Calvinism.”

    His take on the very first proof text for universalism in the NT (1Cor 15:22) is disputed by none other than (pardon my Calvinism), Charles Hodge himself (Princeton head of the department of NT exegesis c1840-1872) who says, in direct contradiction about 1Cor 15:22 the following:

    “That the word ‘all’ in the latter part of this verse is to be restricted to all believers (or rather, to all the people of Christ, as infants are included) is plain.”

    and again, just a little bit further…

    “Unless therefore, the Bible teaches that all men are in Christ, and that all through him partake of eternal life, the passage must be restricted to his own people…The context and analogy of scripture require us to understand this to mean, as all who are in Adam are condemned, so all who are in Christ are justified. No historical Christian church has ever held that all men indiscriminately are justified. ‘For whom God justifies them he also glorifies,’ Rom. 8, 30.”

    Either our author from Yale is right, or Hodge is right about the meaning of this passage. But one thing is certain, they can’t both be right.

    Certainly, citing the Romans 8 passage at the end of Hodge’s commentary on this verse, a Universalist view of 1Cor 15:22 would appear to render the Romans 8 verse meaningless.

    So, I’d agree with you, that that article on universalism, despite the guy’s ‘street cred’ is in fact, “INcredible.”

    With regard to the interview with McLaren, I also agree with you that the interviewer is much further out on the fringe than even McLaren is, and it does appear at times as if McLaren is attempting to reign him in a bit.

    Still, just listening to Brian on this interview, it’s amazing how awfully distorted his views are about his critics, and how piecemeal is his theology. He begins by decrying “Westminster Confession types” as his stiffest critics (btw, I might bring to mind that K10 itself cites the WCF in its current statement of faith as a foundational document, available in the foyer on any given Sunday), but then encourages a typically Reformed/Calvinist escatalogical position such as Preterism (Jesus’ Matt 24 predictions as fulfilled AD67-70) but without explicitly naming it as such. Is he for Reformed escatalogical views, or agin’ ’em?

    Like much of Pomo-Christianity, it’s often a jumble of feel-good philosophy/psychology masquerading as ‘a generous orthodoxy,’ when it’s really more like therapeutic spiritual smorgasbord than anything close to ‘orthodox.’

    I also think McLaren is doing exactly what he decries his critics for when he glibly dismisses what he terms ‘selective literalism.’ I know plenty of Reformed folks who deserve the characatured view of McLaren and his ilk. They do themselves no favors in how they comport themselves in ‘dialogue’ with their theological opponents. However, one thing that I do know is, even among so-called “fundamentalists,” this trait is way overblown.

    Reading the scriptures and discerning where the bible is being literal and where it’s using parabolic or metaphorical speech isn’t rocket science. Would that McLaren & company simply quit trying to allegoricize Jesus’ own words where he says, in Mark 9:48, “where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched,” making reference to Is 66:24).

    I know it’s uncomfortable for us to deal with. I agree completely with McLaren when he says that these questions of hell bring up natural questions about God’s goodness. But it seems to me that we set ourselves in judgment of God himself when we set up standards (i.e. philosophical arguments) that put an ethical boundary on the _ground_ of all ethics, that is, God. Our own discomfort and inadequate understanding become the rubric by which God is deemed unjust. That lacks humility, in my humble opinion. I’m more than a little unsettled by the quickness for leaders in the contemporary church to abandon what G.K. Chesterton termed, “the democracy of the dead.”

    I’ll close this epistle with words from an ancient church pastor, John Chrysostom on Mark 9.

    “Yes, I know a chill comes over you on hearing these things. But what am I to do? For this is God’s own command…Ordained as we have been to the ministry of the word, we must cause our hearers discomfort when it is necessary for them to hear. We do this not arbitrarily but under command.” – Homilies on First Corinthians (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)

  • Great post Bill. You hammered that guy pretty good and you make some really good points. You are right to point out the more traditional interpretation of those verses.

    Although I am not ready to throw my lot in with the universalists, I do think he’s recommending an interesting reading of those texts. I’m not surprised that Hodge would have gone on record in the 19th century w/the interpretation you commended. You could trot out a slew of scholastics who would agree…heck I may agree. I still think it’s an interesting reading of those verses. I appreciate your point of view and I’m mulling over some of your thoughts.

    BTW, do you have the Ancient Christian Commentaries? I’m trying to buy that series up book by book…so expensive! I just finished my NT set of the New Interpreters Bible Commentary, they came in the mail yesterday. I love the way big new leather bound books smell! Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to start buying them on CD in the first place. Then I could take the smell of leather w/me wherever I go!!!

    Back to your post:
    I could be wrong, but I don’t think McLaren is espousing pure Preterism, I think he is in the “Moderate Preterism” camp…which is honestly where I’ve been since the late 90s when I read that book by RC Sprouls, who is, by the way, a 5 point Calvinist.

    You know this is a good example of how McLaren generally gets hammered. If he used the word “preterism” in his interview, some would criticize him for using intellectual language as a rhetorical device to make himself appear smart & gain influence. If he doesn’t use the word, people criticize him for trying to hide what he really believes or even to steal others thoughts and pass them off as their own. I’m not a McLaren apologist, I’m just trying to see it from his POV.

    Preterism is fringe, but moderate Preterism isn’t. It’s a fairly common view and is much more prolific outside of America where most evangelicalism has this revivalist mentality to it. I’d encourage you to pick up that book by RC Sproul – “the Last Days According to Jesus.” I can’t believe I’m recommending a book from Sproul, but there you go.

    It has been difficult for me, but little by little I’m trying to be open to the idea that my readings of scripture are not always correct. I’ve learned a lot lately about all of the different takes there are on Romans 8:29-30. There is a sense in which you can understand that verse as saying God chooses some to go to heaven and some to hell…deal with it – the whole Calvinist crowd is staunch here. But this brings along with it the concepts of limited atonement or the non-universality of the grace of God. It also bring the irresistability of that grace, both of which I believe are flawed concepts precisely because they go against scripture.

    There is also a sense in which you can understand that verse as saying God has known what he was doing since the very beginning. He called all of humanity to himself and taught them what they should be like. Some hear his voice, some don’t. (read Eugene Peterson’s translation of it). This interpretation brings along with it the danger of thinking that it is somehow our work which makes us part of the Kingdom and runs the risk of not attributing our status as children of God as the work of Christ from start to finish.

    This argument is the argument of old from the reformation era. I do not believe it is the salient issue in this guy’s interpretation of 1 Cor 15:22; Col 1:20; and Rom 5:18-19. I really don’t think it will be an issue for the church moving forward. I’m not saying I think he’s right, but I think it’s good to listen to other readings and let them challenge our deeply held assumptions.

    Yours is an interesting take on “Pomo-Christianty” – I’m not sure I share it, but I hear it and I’m listening to it.

    You know where this all is hitting me? I’ve long thought there is a distinctive American brand of Christianity which has bordered on breaking continuity with historic Christianity. I’m speaking, in large part, from my experience with Southern Baptists growing up and with the literally 500+ churches I’ve done ministry with and in over the past 10 years of Satellite Soul. Much of the theology and practice which this cross-section of the church is built on is not rationally honest about the text. Much of what they hold to as sacred has a cultural basis, not a biblical one, but it has been branded as having a biblical one. [see Ken Freeman is nuts for an example] My pursuit of theology is really to find out for myself – to spend lots of time reflecting on other ideas.

    I spend quite a bit of my time now reading theology. My hope is to engage in the conversations going on because I want to work wholeheartedly to help the Church move forward.

    You’ve got me thinking, though. I read a really good post the other day about the emergent crowd…I’ll see if I can track it down and post it.

    Thanks for your ideas and for the well thought out engagement of the topic. I’m going to read and think a little more about it. Keep posting because I appreciate your thoughts.

  • Bill

    Tim, per your request, I’m posting again. Can you tell I’m a night owl yet?

    I’ll get the easy, pleasant stuff out of the way first. Yes, I have been subscribed to the ACCS for several years now, and have about 15 volumes so far. It’s easier to get them that way; less monetarily painful. They’re still not a substitute for having the actual ancient commentaries, but then you’d be talking about expensive, let alone inaccessible due to my not knowing Latin, Hebrew, Greek (or German, Italian, Spanish, etc.) But for what it’s worth, you’re welcome to borrow what I’ve got. I think it’s pretty well split between OT and NT right now. Now, on to more “hellish” matters…

    YOu sez: “Although I am not ready to throw my lot in with the universalists…”

    Now you’ve got me curious…when *might* you be? ;0/
    You sez: “I do think he’s recommending an interesting reading of those texts.”

    I suppose any discussion of final judgment “interests” me…and you, and…

    You sez: “I’m not surprised that Hodge would have gone on record in the 19th century w/the interpretation you commended.”

    Somehow, I get the sense that you’re intimating that the century or so between Hodge’s time and ours (a mere drop in the bucket in the context of the literal millennia of exegesis of the scriptures by both Jewish and Christian scholars throughout the world is significant to the point that his “19th Century” reading is invalid. Am I wrong here?

    Really, what Hodge and his contemporaries, both before and after (I’m thinking of Edwards & Baxter for examples, even Wesley) were often responding to were similar viewpoints then being expressed in the forms of arguably “Christian” movements such as Unitarian Universalism which espouses many of the same “interesting ideas.” So they weren’t unaware of alternate “readings” of the texts. They simply believed that they were reaffirming the clear (here’s a fine $3 word: perspicuous) teaching of our Lord in such places like Matthew 25:46, for instance:

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    I mentioned Preterism not to dispute it’s value in any way, but simply to point out that, as you cite Sproul as your influence toward a Preterist view, the doctrine is typically associated with a Reformed theological position (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    My beef with McLaren’s tack is that he dogs “WCF types” but then borrows from their theology. That just strikes me as disingenuous…inauthentic, to borrow an ‘emergent’ bugaboo. Turnabout’s fair play, so they say. My guess, and it’s only a guess here, is that true Preterists, moderate or wholehearted, probably would assert it as part of a system, into which I doubt McLaren’s positions on other matters theological would fit.

    McLaren seems not to have suffered much from lack of influence, especially these days, despite not using fancy theological terms to win friends and influence people. He seems rather to be pretty safe from obscurity, or ineffectiveness.

    I _was_ aware of Sproul’s Preterist viewpoint, so it’s no surprise to me. I don’t think it’s as fringe as you’ve made it out to be, though. It’s actually probably much more common inside American churches, just not in revivalist ones. I’ve got a couple of Sproul’s books. The one you mention isn’t one of them, though. I may have to check it out.

    Anyone who’s trying to be an honest reader of the Word will struggle from time to time with alternate interpretations of scripture. Naturally, the struggles are the hardest in those areas of doctrine we have been historically bound to. Hell, or some softer doctrine of the final judgment is probably the most universally difficult one for any believer, no matter what his or her tradition.

    The whole thrust of the Reformation derives from the disputes between Luther and the Catholic Church, precisely on the matter of justification; how we are saved. My question, if Universalism is to be commended to the Church, what then are we saved FROM?

    The discussion about the “violence” of God in biblical mentions of His judgment, in light of the emergent ‘conversation’ just seems to me to be pushing the problem around, not dealing with it. I mean, you don’t get rid of the problem of violence by doing away with the doctrine of eternal punishment. You just run into it again at the Cross. And I haven’t (yet) heard any of the prominent Emergent leaders decrying the Cross…yet. I don’t know how long it will be before that happens.

    Same thing holds for the problem of God’s justice even if you were to grant that the eternal state of the “lost” were simply annihilation. So, God doesn’t eternally punish people. Then how is sin dealt with? How is God then just?

    I’m not suggesting that this matter hasn’t been discussed ad infinitum in philosophy departments and seminaries for a long time. So I’m sure my speculations are nothing new under the sun. However, what I *am* suggesting is, there are good arguments for believing that the doctrine of eternal punishment is sound, just, valuable and defensible. I will grant, however, that there are respected theologians, such as John Stott and T.F. Torrance, to name just two, who have dealt with this issue and come to at least a modified version of the doctrine. Thank god for Matthew 12:31!

    I think the thing that disturbs me so greatly about this, is that we (i.e. our generation) seem eager to chuck the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. I mean, if you seriously doubt the doctrine of the Creed at the end, what’s to stop you from doubting the doctrines at its beginning? And there’s already a number of “Christian” denominations that are well-established that we could wander off to today. The aforementioned Unitarian Universalists are one, Unity School of “Christianity,” is another, Christian Science, etc are others. This is not to mention the myriad established world religions like Buddhism and Baha’ism that would be sufficient for this.

    John Piper (a truly Reformed 20th century Baptist preacher) has several good articles, one with some ‘interesting’ comments from Dorothy Sayers in it about the doctrine of Hell, and others. You can go to, go to the Sermon archive pages and search on “Hell” and you’ll find it and about 5 or 6 other articles and sermons on the topic, any of which will provide a spirited defence, and gracious presentation of the traditional POV, rooted in the Gospel. Here’s an excerpt from the Piper’s article, in which he juxtaposes Clark Pinnock, a modern Open Theist/Annihilationist theologian with Sayers:

    “I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life. . . . It’s time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment.” (Clark Pinnock and Delwin Brown, Theological Crossfire: An Evangelical/Liberal Dialogue [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990], pp. 226-227)

    Dorothy Sayers, who died in 1957, speaks a necessary antidote to this kind of abandonment of truth.

    ‘There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the “cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell,” or “the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms.” . . .
    But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not ” mediaeval”: it is Christ’s. It is not a device of “mediaeval priestcraft” for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ’s deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from “mediaeval superstition,” but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. . . . It confronts us in the oldest and least “edited” of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists [gospels] through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.’ (Dorothy Sayers, A Matter of Eternity, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973], p. 86)

    Piper: I would only add: There are many other things which, if abandoned, will also mean the eventual repudiation of Christ. It is not out of antiquarian allegiance that we love the truth – even the hard ones. It is out of love to Christ – and love to the people that only the Christ of truth can save.”


    If you’d like a much deeper discussion of postmodernism/modernism and can deal with “the weeds,” as my boss likes to term complexity, you could do worse than to visit and then look for the 7/31/05 first hour with Mike Horton discussing the Emergent movement from a critical perspective. It is a good counterpoint to the Bleeding Purple Podcast discussion. ( If you’re an impatient type, or you’re allergic to weeds, dive in at about the 35 minute mark.)

    You’ll get no argument from me that much of modern American evangelicalism has made a break from the historical church. However, I think of the Emergent movement right alongside the megachurch/church growth movements as fellow travelers on that road. Horton, on that interview I just referenced, makes a statement to the effect of, ‘Starbucks church is no better for your soul than Wal-Mart church.’ They’re just different.

    At the end of the day, the doctrine of hell/eternal punishment is not one that I enjoy dwelling on. However, there is some value in pondering it deeply. I don’t think you’ll go crazy like McLaren suggests. It could have that effect I suppose, particularly if you don’t allow for your own finitude. It is something we do well to spend some time seriously considering. In all the discussion, whatever your viewpoint, one thing is clear. To hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord,” is far better than any alternative. I pray we strive toward that end, working out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” Anything less than Heaven would be Hell by any other name, no matter its duration. For that reason, among others, I’d caution too eagerly leaving the traditional understanding without seriously engaging contemporaries who still hold to it to see what they have to say for it.

    For myself, I spend way too much of my time reading theology and philosophy. Obviously, it’s one of my passions. I literally _ pay_ to do it, as easily as I drop change for my bikes.

    The emergent love affair with the postmodern project makes me tremble. Having been at one time a phil major, who still keeps his nose in the material as he can, I am suspect, as a Christian believer, of any philosophical project with so many enemies of the Church at its helm. Postmodernism isn’t known for its friendliness to the Church, or truth. Still, Derrida is dead. Whether he likes it or not, that’s a fact I can hang my hat on; that, and that you never need more than four pennies.

    Grace & peace,

  • Hey Bill, nice post. There is so much there – 1944 words by my count. I’m going to try to engage some of your thoughts and hopefullly you’ll write back. I like what you are saying.

    First off on the universalism question – I wasn’t saying I’m on my way to unversalism…my theology seems a bit elastic these days and I’m used to entertaining anything until I fully understand it. I forget how wierd that makes me sound sometimes… But I think it’s healthy for a spirit-filled interpretive community (like a church or a seminary or even a blog or the academy) to be open to readings which challenge our traditional understandings of scripture. I don’t dismiss things that challenge my understanding out of hand. I don’t indiscriminately accept them either. I just try to read and listen and hold them in view while I let the Spirit work on me. Over time I’ve found that God moves me where he wants me. That’s where I was coming from.

    What I was meaning w/Hodges and those guys is that they were working from a well formed enlightenment hermeneutic, one which was built for the era of modernity and the theological/philosophical underpinnings of the day. These are no longer the underpinnings of our day. In a post modern world there will be different hermeneutics at work. If we do not recognize this and work to build a post-modern hermeneutic but retain the expectation that we shoudl remain evangelical, then we must do what D.A. Carson suggests, which is “world-view evangelism.” Essentially, he says we need to convert people back to a modernist point of view, then to the gospel. This is the great mistake of the inquisition and countless other misguided missionary efforts.

    As far as a new hermeneutic is concerned, I think it’s sort of like the reinterpretations of OT texts that we find in the NT. Now, this doesn’t mean we throw out the work of modernity – I would never say a previous era’s work is ‘invalid.’ I trust the Spirit at work in every generation. There work is important and we embrace it and learn from it. But some of what it produces will need to be worked out for a new era. [the pagitt post has great stuff on this] This is nothing to fear, in fact it is essential and has been done in the church within in every new era – especially in the transitional times like the one we live in. (Nicene fathers, Chalcedon, Medieval, Reformation, Enlightenment, Romantic, etc.) And in our era, as with all previous eras, there are those who will resist this with all their might. But when the culture shifts, there is little to be done to stop it – somebodies got to embrace the new ideas and work it out again. I think that’s what emergent strains of thought are attempting to do. What do you think?

    I would say you are right about Stott – I would challenge you a little on Torrance. I’m pretty sure he’s always held that there could be a “further” opportunity, that God may well welcome the American Indian who cries out to him – sort of followed Barth on that stuff – especially where it concerned the Jews. He was not a universalist per se, he just allowed there are some things about “no man comes unto the father but by me” that we just don’t understand and might not need to. My understanding of T.F. was that he left it all to the grace of God, (see The Mediation of Christ). Either way, these guys work was really great – I’ve read quite a bit of each on atonement. (Torrance writes the longest sentences ever written! I counted one sentence at 110+ words once).

    I have a hard time listening to Piper…I can’t stand that guy. He’s soooooo arrogant I just want to put a pie in his face.

    Overall I would try to push back against one characterization you made. I can’t speak for others, but I really don’t see McLaren throwing the baby out with the bath water. I just think he’s recognizing it is possible there are new ways to perceive and understand the text. Sometimes this will mean doctrinal changes. But doctrine is not permanent nor has it ever been; it has always been flexible since the beginning of the church. Clearly some doctrines aren’t up for grabs with most people. (trinity, etc.). Just because some people think there might be a better way to understand hell doesn’t mean they want to do away with it. I don’t see McLaren or the emergent guys doing that. I could be wrong but I think he is trying to let the texts speak to us without the filter of the enlightenment clouding our reading. This will really grind against those who are sold on a reformation/enlightenment agenda – it just will. There is no way around that and I don’t think McLaren ever “dogs” them. I’ve met the guy several times, heard him speak several times, read so much of what he’s written…not trying to stump for him, it’s just not what he’s like.

    Have you listened to the pagitt stuff yet? You should really listen to that sermon. I should have posted it first then the McLaren stuff. I woudl really like your take on it.

    Also, if anyone I know would be excited about the “before the music dies” movie, it would be you. You are the only true punk rocker I know. You are rock and roll man!

  • Bill

    Tim, thanks for the encouragement. I spent a good deal of time on the two posts, as you can imagine. However, you’ve got me wondering, if you like what I’m saying, what, specifically is it that you “like?” I’ve yet to get any real engagement at that level from you.

    RE: the Universalism comment I made: that was an attempt at humor, actually. I was playing off what you said when you wrote that you’re “not ready to throw [your] lot in with the universalists.” I’m sorry if you didn’t catch the reference to your statement. However, my concern for your position is all too real, especially given your position in leadership at K10 (1Tim 4:16).

    RE: Modernist v. Postmodernist hermeneutics – Your assertion that modernism is no longer the “underpinning” of our day” strikes me as a curiously modern statement; a truth claim.

    So-called enlightenment/modernist (i.e. correspondence) truth claims are difficult to discount, since they are the underpinnings of reality, whether it’s 2000 years ago, or 2000 years hence.

    RE: “As far as a new hermeneutic is concerned, I think it’s sort of like the reinterpretations of OT texts that we find in the NT. Now, this doesn’t mean we throw out the work of modernity – I would never say a previous era’s work is ‘invalid.’”

    I gotta ask you, what specific “reinterpretations of OT texts” are you thinking of when you say this? How about an example so we can really discuss this substantially. You don’t give me anything to go on except your word that these animals exist. Maybe they do, but I’m at a loss as to how to deal with such an assertion, since there’s no substance to really with which to engage.

    As for the last part of that quote, you seem to most certainly say a previous era’s work is invalid. Granted, you don’t use the word invalid. The word you do use is, ‘mistake.’ I see that as a distinction without a difference. Would you care to clarify for me?

    RE: the Pagitt stuff – haven’t yet had a chance to check it out. I’ve heard of him. I’ll make a point of going out to give it a listen; d/l it onto my ever-more-stuffed iPod.


    “But when the culture shifts, there is little to be done to stop it – somebodies got to embrace the new ideas and work it out again. I think that’s what emergent strains of thought are attempting to do. What do you think?”

    Here’s what I think. I think it’s our duty to engage “new” ideas, and deal with them according to truth. “Embrace” is not a word I’d agree with at all. Certainly, if an idea is tried and found wanting, the last thing we should do is embrace it. Here, I don’t think the scripture could be clearer, ‘prove all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1Thes 5:21). It sounds so…well, modern. G.K. Chesterton put it another way. He said:

    “…I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

    My point about Torrance was that he is a respected, undeniably Christian theologian, who is neither Universalist, nor enamored with Limited Atonement. He is what is sometimes termed, an accessibilist, meaning he believes in the atonement through Christ’s vicarious death on the cross, but that one may receive salvation thru some acceptance of God based on His general, as opposed to specific self-revelation

    RE: this comment – “I have a hard time listening to Piper…I can’t stand that guy. He’s soooooo arrogant I just want to put a pie in his face.”

    Do you have some particular sermon or teaching that just makes you boil over with vitriol like this? Because, I gotta tell you, Tim, reading that makes me wonder if we’re talking about the same man. All I can say about him here is I’ve never heard or read of him wanting to ‘put a pie’ in someone’s face.

    I’ve read literally hundreds of pages of his sermons, and occasionally caught the man on the radio. What I perceive in him is the opposite of arrogance. Strangely enough, he’s also on a sabbatical right now, recovering from cancer surgery. We’re also enjoying studying his “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ” right now in our small group. Maybe you should give him another chance. He’s on at 11am CST on KCCV 92.3fm M-F. Perhaps you might like him in a box, with a fox, perhaps you’d like him on a train, in the rain, or on a boat, with a goat….;0)


    “But doctrine is not permanent nor has it ever been; it has always been flexible since the beginning of the church. Clearly some doctrines aren’t up for grabs with most people. (trinity, etc.).”

    Which of the creedal doctrines (say just for giggles, The Nicene & Apostles’) have been ‘flexible?’ And what’s that mean, anyway? Can we, as a church, at least come to agreement with our elders on the great Creedal statements? Talk about becoming disconnected with the historic Church…surely you must be able to see now why I said earlier that I view the Emergent Church Movement, and the Church Growth Movement as symptoms of that very problem in the American (and generally Western) churches that you made mention of in one of your earlier posts.

    You also keep bringing up the concept of the Enlightenment, especially when you mention the Reformation. I hope I don’t have to remind you that the Reformation took place a good 200-300 years prior to the Enlightenment, and that the Enlightenment itself has it’s roots sunk deep in the soil, much like the Postmodern project, of many avowedly anti-Christian philosphers, not to mention several Christian philosophers who espoused a radical skepticism as methodological basis for their work. In many respects, the Enlightenment was a project directly aimed against the foundations & institutions of the Church. So I’m not sure you’re on solid ground in linking the two movements so closely.

    Just like you’ve been asking me if I’ve listened to the Pagitt and Purple Podcast Eater files, have *you* given Horton a shake and tuned in to that discussion yet? Because he deals with this issue a bit in the first hour. He also has met and spoken on multiple occasions with McLaren, and has a similar estimation of his winsome ways. He simply disagrees with him…a lot. But obviously, just because someone has bad ideas (and I’m not broad-brushing here and saying everything in McLaren’s, or the Emergent Church movement is worthless) doesn’t make them a bad person.

    Looking forward to continuing the ‘conversation.’

    Grace & peace,

  • Bill,

    Ok, I’m going to take a stab at all of your direct questions. You must forgive me because this is rambling stuff I’ve written but I’m trying to engage your thoughts.

    Are you asking if I’m a Universalist? If that is your question, no I’m not. As far as universalism goes, I’m simply trying to study and listen to the other points of view on the texts that are in play in the issue – learning how to entertain their thoughts. Right now if I had to characterize my POV, I’d say I throw my lot in with Wesley on this issue. I’d be open to the idea that God holds each person accountable for their response to the part of the story they have heard – but I have no idea how that might work. I leave it all to Jesus to sort out. But that doesn’t mean I disengage and ignore it. I’m interested in the subject and continue to read and study. Does that engage your question? If not feel free to clarify.

    OK, I don’t know where to start on the next section so I’ll just dive it, forgive me if I don’t respond to everything, cause there is a bunch there.

    Enlightenment/Modernist truth claims were most certainly not the underpinnings of Torah for 1st century Jews. I know not of one scholar who would agree w/that statement. They are merely one epistemological approach among many today, one that is very quickly being turned away from by most philosophers and theologians. It’s as though the era has done its work for us and we turn our attention to a new era with new epistemologies now, all the while keeping in view what the past has taught us AND how the past has taught us incorrectly.

    A simple OT/NT move would be Jesus reinterpretation of Isaiah when he read the scroll in the Temple. He reads the text and then reinterprets it for them saying he is the fulfillment. The fulfillment he proposed is radically different than the typical Jewish understanding of it. Another I ran into this morning is the idea of “vine.” Mentioned often in the Psalms and other OT writings the “vine” stands for Israel (ps 80). Jesus reinterprets this in John 15 saying “I am the vine.” Paul reinterprets all of it saying Gentiles are “grafted in” to the vine through Christ, (a scandal to many Christians & Jews of the day). The more compelling reinterpretations would be the way Paul redressed things in order to approach a Hellenistic society. I can’t do justice to these because I just simply don’t know the proofs well enough, but I’m studying it right now. N.T. Wright work in this realm a lot and that’s where I’m starting. [the pagitt post gets into some of this as well] Jesus continually engaged the Torah and reinterpreted stuff, not always by word but he often worked with its symbolism – reinterpreting it.

    I’m not invalidating work of previous eras just because I acknowledge where it is mistaken. Just because there are mistakes in grammar in the Septuagint doesn’t mean we throw it out. There are real problems with a few of the interpretive leaps made by the translators of the NIV in my opinion, but I use that translation nearly every day and it’s often my translation of choice. I really think it’s possible to hold ideas from more than one era at once, while forging ahead according to the newer hermeneutic or epistemology of the time. For example, I don’t think the world is flat, so I’m a modern thinker right? But I believe in miracles, so I can’t be a modernist, right? But I’m both? Can’t I hold both of those ideas? There will be mistakes of interpretation in every era which are caused by the prevailing philosophies of the day. What makes the gospel amazing is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in spite of our mistakes to see that the story continues to be told in ways that are understandable in every era. You have a point, though. Mistakes could seem to invalidate, I’ll have to work on another word. Maybe progression or, dare I say, emerging?

    This is a quote from your post:

    [Here’s what I think. I think it’s our duty to engage “new” ideas, and deal with them according to truth. “Embrace” is not a word I’d agree with at all. Certainly, if an idea is tried and found wanting, the last thing we should do is embrace it. Here, I don’t think the scripture could be clearer, ‘prove all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1Thes 5:21). It sounds so…well, modern. G.K. Chesterton put it another way. He said:]

    I think we really agree on this, but let me explain my approach. The modern idea at play in your mind seems to be the idea of tolerance. We should “tolerate” other ideas and points of view but not embrace them. But I subscribe to the thought stream that tolerance is not the same as Christian charity or love. Love is an embracing – a posture of acceptance even though all may not be right. That doesn’t mean a validation, but a real engagement. Sometimes it will be necessary to say “I just can’t go there” in terms of doctrines or whatever, but we can still hold a posture of embracing while not subscribing to the belief systems ourselves and without trying to force someone to subscribe to our point of view. I can’t prove this out in a modernist fashion, but I believe it is possible and it’s what I strain for. You are right to quote the verse: “Prove all things; hold fast to what is good.” And what is good above all things? “Faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Theology w/out love makes no sense. Tolerance isn’t love. Love takes engagement, interaction, embracing, understanding…those sort of things – things the Pharisees would not embrace but we must. In order to do that we have to lose the “I’m right and you are wrong” mentality in order to be open to the future God has for us. This future will not look like the past.

    You are great on Torrance…I’d never heard the term accessiblist. Nice.

    Most of my dislike for Piper come from his sermons on Christian radio. I’ve listened to him many times. The hard-core Calvinism in his sermons just is too harsh for me to bear. I have met him twice where we were thrown together at conferences and had very strained interactions that were very invalidating for me. He was disrespectful toward the people who were hosting us and I wound up asking myself “who does this guy think he is?” Maybe I just caught him on a bad day and perhaps I’m too harsh when I speak about my opinion on him. I’m bad about that. But what I would say is that I don’t particularly want to be influenced by him. Even so I still catch him on Christian radio sometimes. I just argue with him out loud, all by myself in the car…further proof that I’m a raving lunatic.

    Every doctrine has been in flex at some point. Maybe not the entire bit of a doctrine but nuances of it, understandings of how it is applied. For instance: justification. Over the past 2-300 years many theologians have asserted one must “accept Jesus into their hearts to be saved.” Many people today believe that saying a prayer to accept Christ is the doorway into relationship with him. If you asked almost any pre-reformation theologian what is the doorway to a relationship with Christ, they would say baptism. Calvin said we are passive at the moment of justification and developed all kinds of doctrines like irresistible grace, unconditional election, limited atonement to support them. Wesley said we are active at the moment of justification and that it was all supported by the active grace of God such that justification was a cooperative act. All of those doctrines are central to the Christian belief system of many people and none of them work together. Which one is right? Are they both right, in what way and how? And if not, why? This is what I mean that doctrine is flexible – it is because we never have perfect understandings of it AND because all of our knowledge is subjective and exists in a certain time and place with all of the cultural and epistemological trappings of that day.

    To your question: Which of the creedal doctrines (say just for giggles, The Nicene & Apostles’) have been ‘flexible?’ I would say that we must always remain open to new possibilities and understandings of the text of the Bible. We must not quickly dispense of past interpretations but we must be open to the possibility that God may sometimes call us to do exactly that! We must not hold to Doctrine as though it is equal with Scripture and we must not hold to scripture as though it were equal with the Triune God, and we must not subvert the doctrine of the Holy Spirit by saying sola scriptura to the expense of the Body of Christ on earth, the church. I would hope we can trust the Holy Spirit inhabits the church of Christ in a way that were we marooned on a desert Island as a body of believers w/no copy of the scripture to be found, it would still be possible for us to follow after God.

    I don’t know of any religious historian who doesn’t agree that the reformation was an enlightenment project. I’d love to hear of one if you have one in mind.

    I haven’t listened to Horton, but I’ll carve out some time this week and give it a listen and take some notes. Maybe I’ll try and post on that as well.

    You rock, Bill – this is a really good conversation.

  • Tim, you and Bill are killing my productivity at work. This has been awesome to watch and read.

  • Bill

    Tim said: “Are you asking if I’m a Universalist?”

    No. I’ll take you at your word that you’re not one. I’ll say this a second time, but It’s now gotten way beyond any possibility for humor. You said, “I’m not ready to…” I made a (apparently feeble) attempt at having fun at this point, asking (facetiously), “When would you be [ready to throw your lot in with the Universalists]?

    RE: “Enlightenment/Modernist truth claims were most certainly not the underpinnings of Torah for 1st century Jews. I know not of one scholar who would agree w/that statement.”

    We could go round and round about epistemology, but the bottom line is, are you making a truth claim? You ‘most certainly’ seem to be to me. Who’s to say?

    Tim said: “I’m not invalidating work of previous eras just because I acknowledge where it is mistaken.”

    I never said you’re ‘invalidating work of previous eras.’ What I said is, you’re most certainly asserting that the work of previous eras is invalid. There is a difference in the two concepts. Calling something a ‘mistake’ is the same thing as saying it is invalid, especially in this context. When a logical argument has a ‘mistake’ in it, the premise in which it’s contained, is deemed ‘invalid,’ not to mention the argument.

    Tim said: “For example, I don’t think the world is flat, so I’m a modern thinker right?”

    Not necessisarily. Lots of postmoderns don’t believe the world is flat, either. It says nothing about your epistemology (how we know things, not believe things). However, what you _believe_ may or may not have anything to do with whether you’re a modernist or not.

    Tim said: “But I believe in miracles, so I can’t be a modernist, right?”

    Horton’s discussion directly addresses this in his comments about Descartes. You might want to rewind that part.

    Tim said: “This is a quote from your [Bill’s] post:

    [Here’s what I think. I think it’s our duty to engage “new” ideas, and deal with them according to truth. “Embrace” is not a word I’d agree with at all. Certainly, if an idea is tried and found wanting, the last thing we should do is embrace it. Here, I don’t think the scripture could be clearer, ‘prove all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1Thes 5:21).

    Tim said: “I think we really agree on this, but let me explain my approach.”

    I’m less convinced we’re in agreement about embracing/tolerating, or whatever. If I’d meant to say ‘tolerance,’ I would have used the word. When you use the word ‘embrace,’ particularly in this context (i.e. metaphorically), the image invoked, by connotation, is one of wrapping the arms around someone, and when used metaphorically here, wrapping your arms around an idea or concept. To use a metaphor successfully, there has to be some agreement on the meaning of the term you’re using metaphorically or else, as demonstrated here, communication breaks down. You’re redefining the common understanding of the word to mean something like standing with arms open wide, _ready_ to take something into your bosom, which is not the same as an embrace. It’s what goes on immediately prior to an embrace. And embrace is pretty well understood universally as acceptance. I’ll stick with ‘engage’ for ideas, and ‘embrace’ for people I love, and ideas I accept (or solid things to close my mind around, ala Chesterton). I’m not in love with postmodernism, and I don’t think it deserves love; certainly not unconditional love. We’re commanded to love our neighbors, not necessarily their ideas, and I don’t think my Christianity suffers for it.

    Tim said, “You are great on Torrance…I’d never heard the term accessiblist. Nice.”

    Thanks, but I can’t take credit for that term. It’s found near the back of a textbook by J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig called (I think), “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. I don’t own it, though.

    Tim said: “This is what I mean that doctrine is flexible – it is because we never have perfect understandings of it AND because all of our knowledge is subjective and exists in a certain time and place with all of the cultural and epistemological trappings of that day.”

    I’m pretty certain we’re closer than either one of us thinks on this point. You answered my question(s) on this issue as far as I’m concerned. I’m not convinced God will ever call us to chuck established doctrines of the Church, such as those worked out in the great creedal statements, though. It’s easy to forget that that’s exactly where this discussion began.

    One of the insightful points I found great value in when reading Daniel Taylor’s “The Myth of Certainty,” occurs when he’s discussing doubt and the role of community. He says something to the effect of how we need the community to believe _for_ us sometimes. I think that’s a wise approach. I think Taylor is more friendly to postmodernism than I’m ever going to be, but I agree with him. The posture of that idea appeals to me for similar reasons the general posture of EC leaders turns me off. It seems to default to trusting the wisdom of the Church (both modern and ancient), while EC thought seems to default to trust postmodern philosophers too easily, many of whom truly _are_ ‘hostile’ to the Church.

    I don’t see Horton’s concern for the Church’s protection as negatively (obviously) as you seem to. However, I will grant that when he made that comment, what came to mind was, “Mike, what about ‘the gates of Hell shall not prevail upon the Church?’” I see what he’s saying, but I thought it betrayed a certain impoverishment of trust.

    Tim said: “I don’t know of any religious historian who doesn’t agree that the reformation was an enlightenment project. I’d love to hear of one if you have one in mind.”

    Well, this fellow’s not part of our particular discussion so far, but his statements on ths subject certainly ‘disagree’ with that notion. If either is the product of the other, it’s the Enlightenment which is the product of the Reformation. This makes sense from a simple historical perspective, and per your request, see Paul Johnson’s “History of Christianity,” (pg. 337):

    “Indeed, [John] Locke’s life and philosophy illustrate the eventual power wielded by the liberal (and often persecuted) wings of all three main groups, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist – it was the coalescing of their experience, common sense and brain-power which produced the Enlightenment.”

    So, like I intimated before, they are linked, but the one is not the same as the other, and the chronology is undoubtedly the reverse of your assertion. If anything, the Enlightenment is a project derived from not by the Reformation.

    Thanks for giving Horton a hearing. (Seuss is Emergent in me).

  • great post Bill, one last comment really to agree with something you pointed out about God never calling us to chuch the established doctrines of the church. I know this makes me a heretic to some and a hero to others, but I really think we need to hold on to the creeds. I think there was something happening there which is important in a way which nothing we do now in terms of doctrinal statements can touch. The Apostle’s Creed, in all likelihood, predates the closing of the New Testament Canon. This is as old as the church itself. The Nicene Creed clearly follows it and makes a few more distinctions which are important. I agree with your statement insofar as it relates to the creeds. Past that I’m really pretty open to a conversation about just about any doctrine. I will listen and think and ask questions and my hope is greater understanding.


  • What a great discussion you two(+)! I’m happy to see that the interview with mclaren has sparked some wonderful, honest, thought-provoking discussions like yours (in quite a few surprising places.)

    I’ve often had a sense that the hell topic was on christians’ minds and hearts much more than what comes out in everyday conversations. Its a challenging topic that really shouldn’t be ignored. Thanks for not ignoring it!

    There are too many topics to try and address here, but I was wondering if per chance any of you have read the book:
    The Formation of Hell (Bernstein, Alan E. 1993). I really think that dealing with the historical development of these ideas (justice, afterlife, hell, etc) is a key place to start…give it a try.

    I used it when writing my 4 position paper dialogue on hell (the one that ultimately linked me with Mclaren and thus the podcast). I’d also love if either of you wanted to read and comment on my paper as well. Its been years since my writing it, and much would change, but I think it brings up some good points:
    The Final Forum

    In God’s perfect love, which casts out all fear and striving and anxiety,