So Brian McLaren came to the long-since-apostate "church" Mayflower Congregational UCC this past Friday for a lecture and book signing to promote his new volume of postmodern philosophy and pluralism.
Like the good subversive I am, I was in attendance along with two other brothers, street evangelists themselves.
McLaren fed us a typical presentation, truth mixed with error, wit and head-shakingly stupid assertions, jokes and backhanded insults against the backwoods fundy background against which he is reacting. Virtually nothing that would cause a semi-educated evangelical to take pause and say "Hmm, he's got a great point there that calls the Bible's divine source into question". But he certainly seemed to think that he was doing just that, and of course all the extreme lefties in attendance lapped it up and begged for more. It was sad and in its own way kind of pathetic.
After an approximately 65 minute lecture, McLaren invited questions. I hesitated at the back, not wanting to ask the first question, but nobody else was getting up, so I decided to man up and go for it.
Here are my two questions, which McLaren did not answer.
McLaren commends me for the "huge step forward" that my polite question represented. That's exactly what I mean - the man's entire schtick is targeted at the lowest and least defensible subgroup within modern Christianity. He is reacting against foam-flecked KJV-only types who enforce skirt lengths on their women and strive to keep themselves, not unstained by, but untouched by the world. Yet that's not where the most cogent critiques of his theology have come from. Where is his response to those? McLaren is frozen in time; he still apparently thinks it's 2002, that nobody has responded to his material.
McLaren assures us that he respects the Bible even more than any human tradition but the interpretations he'd been given didn't fit the Bible itself. He then redefines my question away from "by what authority do you redefine Christianity and set up your own version that is contradictory to what the Scripture teaches?" to "by what authority do I break away from the traditions I was taught?" That is of course not at all what I asked him, but:
1) he is doubtless very uncomfortable (and most probably unskilled at) engaging on the level of Scriptural exegesis.
2) he is still playing to his audience - hopeless lefties who think they're 1000% superior to gap-toothed, ignunt backwoods fundies.
Thus it serves his purposes much better to answer a question of his own choosing, rather than the one I asked.
McLaren - "None of us reads an uninterpreted Bible."
This is simply false, and even taking what he meant to say, it is entirely unhelpful and thus a deception and a waste of everyone's time.
1) The interpretation doesn't happen before we read. We do read an uninterpreted Bible, and as we're reading we interpret it. What does it even mean to have an "interpreted text"? Text is that which we interpret; it is the object of the action of interpretation. So McLaren's explanation begins very sloppy.
2) If he meant "we all have to interpret the Bible", well, of course he is right. We all interpret everything we read and hear, including his own speaking right at that moment. So if he wants to cast doubt on the accessibility of the original meaning of the source document just because we all unavoidably interpret it as we read it, the same critique can be leveled against his talking as he's saying it. This approach merely leads to absurdity and the loss of meaning in all communication. Deconstructionism is a universal acid that also happens to consume itself.
3) The question should instead be: Which interpretation is true? But there's no room in McLaren's worldview for that. That's why he didn't answer the question.
McLaren: "When you study enough church history, you also come to realise that we have been wrong a lot of times, and the version of the faith that we inherited has already involved many people who have encouraged us at many points in our past to say that the tradition is wrong and that we needed to make a change. So the question is: Are we done with that process? Have we fixed everything so that it's reached a perfect state?"
This is just a load of more obfuscation and poor reading of history.
1) When you study enough church history, you also see heaps of martyrs who died rather than give up their confession of the Gospel of Jesus or the Scripture, yet McLaren has done so for much less - the temptation of being well-thought-of by the world and among his heretical clique, and for NY Times bestsellers.
2) Scripture has authority by virtue of its having been breathed out by God. Church history is merely a record of what happened. It is descriptive, a record. Jesus' commands in the Bible are prescriptive and authoritative.
3) We have not misunderstood what Jesus said. It's not a question of traditions; McLaren acts like he's a new thinker, putting traditions to the test that nobody has thought to test before. But we think about them all the time! Sure, there are people who don't, but what about the many of us who do? McLaren conveniently ignores us. He is open-minded and tolerant enough to pretend like we don't exist; he'd much prefer to pick on easier targets.
4) It's funny that he lectures me, a Reformed Baptist, about the times in history when men have decided to make a change away from previous traditions. A Reformed Baptist - too credobaptist and iconoclastic for the original Reformed faith (ie, Calvinistic Presbyterianism), too Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura for Rome, and too Calvinistic for the majority of American Baptists. McLaren has no idea whom he's dealing with.
5) Of course we have not reached a perfect state. The answer is Semper Reformanda. The answer is not to scrap the Gospel and the Scripture and embrace postmodernistic swiping at the worst of our opponents.
McLaren: "I think that's what I've been doing tonight. I actually think I've been preaching repentance. I'm asking us to rethink the ideas we've had about other people."
But it should go without saying that he has clearly redefined what repentance and the forgiveness of sins means. Listen on and you'll hear McLaren expound on how forgiveness is mostly horizontal, between people. He never mentioned anything about the wrath of God or sinners judged guilty before a holy God.
Hear the hiss: "God is willing to forgive your sins, but that involves you forgiving each other and breaking out of the cycle."
That is the exact opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is Law. "Forgive and you'll be forgiven." It depends on your forgiveness.
Of course, McLaren doesn't believe God is angry at sin and sinners, rejects any notion of eternal punishment, thus raising the obvious question: Why should I break the cycle of violence? But here God's favor is dependent on what you do. It's the same old false Gospel that Rome, Salt Lake City, the WatchTower, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and countless other false religions teach - meet God halfway/achieve a good enough life and you'll earn His favor.
Yet the good news of Jesus is that we are lost in sin and Jesus' sacrifice atones for our great sin, completely, totally, and once for all.
After the event, my friends and I handed out some pamphlets, whose text I reproduce below.
After most everyone was gone, I walked up to McLaren and told him to repent.
His response: "Do you feel better?"
Once again, his prejudice shines through. He thinks I'm barely containing my rage, that all my traditions and dearly-held beliefs are crashing down around me, and that my only response is to lash out and vent. Yet that's not even close to the truth. He is an entirely dishonest man; he is in a position to know better but either will not acknowledge or will not learn about the intelligent and Bible-centered critiques of his teachings. My conviction that Brian McLaren is a servant of the devil is merely reinforced after Friday.
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative religious leaders. Brian's Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World), the subject of this evening’s book tour lecture, is his 10th (depending on how you count them) book on spirituality and religion.
The spirit and message Brian is bringing fits in well at Mayflower UCC, as Mayflower, like Brian, makes it a point to cast off any connection or allegiance to the identity of Jesus as Jesus Himself carefully crafted it in the New Testament.
Jesus said such things as, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18) and “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34). Brian labels the willing self-sacrifice of the generous, loving God incarnate as “cosmic child abuse”.
Brian informs us, in his A Generous Orthodoxy, that "To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall...That, to me, is orthodoxy -- a way of seeing and seeking, a way of living, a way of thinking and loving and learning that helps what we believe become more true over time, more resonant with the infinite glory that is God" and that “The achievement of 'right thinking' therefore recedes, happily, further beyond our grasp the more we pursue it.”
Logic informs us that Brian’s statement, despite affirming that he is not claiming to have the truth captured, expresses a statement Brian believes is true and that he believes is indeed right thinking. If they were untrue, wrong thinking, would he have bothered to affirm those statements? This is known as self-refutation, hardly a commendable practice for someone who claims to be educating us about how God really is.
Brian contends that "Jesus comes then not to condemn (to bring the consequences we deserve) but to save by shining the light on our evil, by naming our evil as evil so we can repent and escape a chain of bad actions and bad consequences to forgiveness, and so we can learn from Jesus the master teacher to live more wisely in the future.”
Jesus indicated exactly why He had come in John 3:17-21 – “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:35-36 continue: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
This is but a small sampling of the seriously grave and irreconcilable discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and Brian McLaren’s teachings, on which he will be further expounding tonight. Please consider yourself invited to turn your critical eye toward what Brian has said and will say, and to consider why anyone would prefer to listen to Brian McLaren over Jesus Himself. They cannot both be right.
Because Jesus thought that, “you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24) and because His original message was, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), we all have one solution for the sin problem Jesus thought we had. Repent of your sin. “Believe in Him whom (God) has sent”, as Jesus said in John 6:29. Moses, Buddha, Mohammed – all died and remained in their tombs. Brian McLaren, like you, will die and remain in his tomb. Only Jesus has risen, defeating death. In whom will you put your trust?