I wish I had been wrong. I wish I had overstated the case. I wish this were a retraction post.
After calling Brian McLaren a “wolf-shepherd” in a previous post, I felt bad that I had dismissed him after just reading one excerpt of his new book. After all, I was just going off of what other people said. So I bought the book (on the fantastic Kindle app for the iPhone), and read it this past week.
It’s one of the saddest books I have ever read. Because, like Rob Bell, McLaren is a guy who it is difficult to dislike. He’s just so nice. He seems to be very self-critical (in a healthy way) and looking to ensure that his motives are pure.
But to be honest, either he has never actually listened to our side of the argument (“our side” being those who hold to verbal plenary inerrancy) or he’s not interested in what we have to say, or both.
Here’s the thing: he addresses something in this book that desperately needs addressing in the conservative evangelical church. We have earned the label of bigoted religious snobs. We have confused capitalism with the kingdom of God. We have abused the Scriptures, and then used those abused Scriptures to abuse and subjugate others. We have targeted sins like homosexuality and witchcraft, while ignoring sins like racism and gluttony and greed. All of these things are true.
And that’s about where my agreement with McLaren ends.
But like nailing jello to a wall, it is really tough to have a level-headed conversation with the guy, because in the book he’s already set the stage for how I am most likely to “attack” his position. He’s in essence set the terms of engagement, and set them in his favor. But here’s my three nails into the jello:
- He has a “trajectory theology” that is impossible to support biblically (though he tries).
- He is guilty of the worst kind of chronological snobbery.
- Throughout the book he attacks a straw man, with no indication that he believes we on the other side of the argument have even considered the questions he raises.
I’ll address each of these issues in separate posts, because this one is already getting longer than I’d like.
The final thing I’d like to highlight about McLaren and his “new kind of Christianity” is that it is not new in the least. Since the earliest days of Christianity there have been folks who said that the key to understanding the Bible was to see it in this “new” light of knowledge. They too would take scriptures and wrest them from clear meaning to indicate that the point is to gain a transcendent knowledge, and then to pass that knowledge onto others. These folks were already around during the writing of the Scriptures. They were called “Gnostics” taken from the greek word for “knowledge.” So while it might be new to some readers, the idea of special knowledge leading to transcendence is simply the same old heresy being repeated in a new context.
What do you think? (Melissa, I’m surprised you haven’t weighed in yet…)