(This is an OLD one. I didn’t realize I had this one laying around in the “Draft” bin. Oh well. It’s a rant about Brian McLaren, so that’s always in season even if the subject material is about four years old.)
Fair is Fair.
Before you dig into the meat and potatoes of this theological dinner, perhaps an appetizer is in order. I can’t stand it when people quote me out of context, so I am not about to do that to the subject of this novella.
To understand the context of my rant you need to read some of Brian McLaren’s material for yourself. Go on, pop over to his blog and read his postings straight from the horse’s keyboard. The last thing I want is to be labeled a hate-monger because I select snippets of McLaren’s thoughts and words and then laid waste to them under the skewer of a sarcastic, judgmental pen.
To anyone who has has actually read the Bible through – cover to cover and in context – McLaren’s writings expose him to be a theologically shallow, intellectually vague, convolutingly-confusing shaman.
But enough about my opinion. Click this link to get an eyeful for yourself.
How’d you do? Was it a tasty read?
Okay, now let’s get out the A1.
It’s time to cut us up a nice, juicy slice of theological counterpoise to McLaren’s warmed-over, lovey-dovey oatmeal.
Christian? You Say You’re a Christian?
Anyone who has read anything here at NoMoreGreed knows that I often find myself conflicted in my walk as a Christian. I often find myself bumping up against gray boundaries as I go through my daily labors. How do I really love the sinner but not the sin? What is sin? Is sin defined by “hard” boundaries like murder, adultery, and theft or is sin defined by “soft” boundaries like lust, greed, and self-interest? Or is it a little of both. And if it is both, how am I loving to someone with whom I may strongly disagree over an excursion across one of those gray boundaries?
My age, if not my decades-old theological training at a Christian college, reminds me that the word “gray” is often just another way to say, “vague.” I also know that when I react to “vague” theology or squishy boundaries my reaction is just-as-often driven by emotion as it is intellect. How do I “feel” about a topic regardless of what the Scripture says on the subject? What about abortion in those narrow, infrequent cases where a mother’s life is in danger? What about abortion in cases of rape or incest? What about homosexuals in the church? How do I love the sinner but hate the sin when I am the greatest sinner of all?
Perhaps I ought to come clean for you right out of the chute? By now you might be wondering… “Is this guy a ‘conservative,’ a ‘liberal,’ or a nut job?”
I like to think I am a “conservative” Christian. I believe that God’s word is inspired and that it says what it says for some pretty simple reasons. I believe that it’s not up to me to understand every confusing passage of Scripture, but that a little mystery about the nature of the Creator of the universe is healthy. I believe that there are some clear B&W boundaries but that God gives us the Bible to help us navigate through the ones that aren’t.
What that word “conservative” means to me, however, is an entirely different thing than it might mean to some of my brothers and sisters who worship at a certain independent, fundamentalist Baptist church just around the corner from our house. I love these guys deeply, but I cringe every time I drive by that place and see their Montana-sized American flag in the front window. To my thinking, faith and citizenry do a sort of uneasy dance in this post-modern world. When our civil government and society honors God with our choices and actions, I believe God blesses us. When we dishonor God or – worse – disavow God with our greed-laced choices and actions, God scorns us.
Iraq? Bad choice.
Darfur? Slight redemption.
Universal health care? Another debate for another day.
Though it might seem irrelevant to the McLaren discussion, I think one question has significant import. We need to stop and ask ourselves a simple question to understand why guys like McLaren are being given pulpits from which to utter vague platitudes and convoluted theo-speak.
Is America a “Christian” country?
From my viewpoint, even if we once were – and that’s a big if – we aren’t any more. I don’t think we have been for a long, long time. And that opinion has a lot less to do with debates over abortion and homosexuality than it does with our attitude toward preemptive war and turning back the clock on regulation of the (har-dee-har-har) “free-for-all” market economy. (I’m a capitalist. I’m just a capitalist who realizes that capitalism left to its own devices = unregenerate greed.)
It is into this abyss of embarrassment over America’s slip from a holistic Christianity that guys like McLaren dive. Were the excesses of the Bush era not as grand or as ill-begotten as they were, perhaps the embarrassment that bred Brian McLaren and Rob Bell would not be as strong. As it is, though, when you wallow in filth you can expect someone to bring the fire hose over to clean you off.
To put Brian McLaren and his guru-esque love-in with world religions into perspective, I think you need to see him in light of a pseudo-Christian Bush-ian backlash. I think McLaren and other well-intentioned, so-called “evangelicals” got mighty tired of seeing Christianity and Republicanism going hand-in-hand.
So they rebelled. They started the “Emergent Conversation” (and I still have no idea what that means). Well intentioned, to be sure. McLaren, Bell, and others of their ilk decided it was time for someone to regain control over the Christian message and yank it clear of the spiraling vortex of greed and power-hunger that had become the Christo-Republican political machine.
It is now well documented (by Kevin Phillips and others) that Karl Rove (aka: “Bush’s Brain”) slickly leveraged the social power of conservative Christianity to further a singularly obsessive political power trip. Karl Rove is no devout Christian. Listen to the man sometime. What a schmuck. I watched the guy on Fox News one night (the only place where he gets a pulpit these days) and I just about choked on my orange juice. Let’s just say that if I wanted to point my kids in the direction of a Christ-like role model, Rove wouldn’t be the first guy on the list. Check the dictionary. Next to the word “arrogance” is a picture of Karl Rove.
I think Bush was (and probably still is) a genuinely compassionate, concerned guy. I think he also tries to be a Christian.
What he also was (and probably still is) is a genuinely ill-educated puppet who can be manipulated by anyone who knows how to appeal to his emotions.
Karl Rove figured that weakness out and worked it for all it was worth.
Rove just happened to be in the right place at the right time and latched onto just the kind of “awe shucks” rube that it took to grab power at 1600 PA Ave. in the waning years of the “can’t keep it in his pants” Clinton Presidency. We wanted honor in the White House after the filth and stain of Slick Willy and his favorite Intern. Rove just figured out how to leverage the passion points of homosexuality and abortion in ways that blinded historic Christianity to its obligations to be about much, much more than narrowly defined moralism.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, tapped into that pent-up disgust with America’s cowboy gun-slinger, every-man-or-woman-for-him-or-herself style and rode it to the White House. What Rove did to (or was it “for”?) “conservative” Christianity, Obama has done for post-modern agnostics and neo-evangelicals. Obama has so far done a pretty good job of swinging the social pendulum forcefully in the other direction and appeals to those for whom a loving embrace of one’s enemy is better than a slap in the face any day of the week.
This is where McLaren fits into the puzzle.
Brian McLaren and his bland-brand of theology are clearly a response to the Christians-for-Bush years now passing in our wake. Where Bush appealed to fans of Oswald Chambers – “The more I get bashed and trashed the more I must be doing for God” – McLaren appeals to a kinder, gentler brand of Christendom interested in sharing and caring, not hording and cavorting.
For people who seek a response to the likes of Rove-ian Christianity, McLaren is a god-send. (That ain’t a typo, friends.) McLaren’s particular brand of self-effacing, soft-spoken, peaceful inclusiveness appeals to people for whom the hard-edge of orthodox, salvation-focused Christianity is a little too visceral. Listen to McLaren for 15 minutes and you hear a guy who really works hard to be like Christ.
Listen to McLaren for 15 minutes and you hear a guy who really works hard to be like one side of Christ; the soft, warm, fuzzy, cuddly “love is a warm teddy bear” Christ.
I think if McLaren bumped into the “you brood of vipers!” Christ or the “turn over the tables of the money changers” Christ he might lose his dentures. That Christ, the one who said, “your momma and your papa may wind up hatin’ you because of me” would not be a Christ who McLaren could wrap his arms around. THAT Christ might be just a little to… what’s the word we’re looking for… divisive, yeah, that’s the word!… “Divisive,” for the likes of Brian McLaren.
I have never been a huge fan of McLaren for one central reason. He is probably the sloppiest theologian I’ve ever heard. No… The more I think of it, he’s actually pretty incomprehensible. Sloppy doesn’t do justice to his convoluted double-speak on his infrequent trips through the core of the Gospel.
Pop quiz time.
If Jesus once called the religious leaders of his own faith “vipers” because they had shackled the faithful to a morass of hyper-ritualized observances, how do you think Jesus might have reacted to the absurd morass of hyper-ritualized observances commonly found in Islam?
Didn’t think about that one, didya Brian Mc?
If Jesus said something along the lines of, “Don’t go around announcing to the world that you’re fasting” and then Brian McLaren goes around and announces to the world that he’s fasting, what do you think that warm-n-fuzzy, cute-as-a-teddy-bear Jesus might say to old BDM?
Brian McLaren washes all these stumbling blocks away with one word.
The Bible is about Love. The Gospel is about Love. The word “Love” almost always gets a place of reverence in Brian McLaren’s thinking even to the point where the “judgmental” passages of Scripture get overlooked.
Problem is, McLaren misses the point of the SUPREME LOVE spoken about in the Bible.
In the Bible, a person’s works are not a mere act of generic love for humanity. They are the EVIDENCE of the SUPREME act of love carried out at the cross!
In the Bible, it is equally loving to rebuke and correct a brother as it is to accept rebuke and correction in turn.
In the Bible, it is loving for Paul to correct numerous churches for borderline heresy, drawing them back to core theological tenets upon which the early church (and the historical church up until recent years) has been based. When teachers started watering down the core of the Gospel message, making it more palatable to the ears of those who found the Gospel a little too stark, he tells Timothy to stay true to sound doctrine!
And that, my friends, is why Brian McLaren is celebrating Ramadan.
Huh? How’d you get to this conclusion after all that, Pearlie?
As Charles Stanley would say, “Now listen…!”
BDM doesn’t know what to do about the fact that Heaven might exclude people like good, decent Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists.
BDM doesn’t know what to do about the fact that Jesus said that people might not like us very much if we proclaim the one, true Gospel and the notion that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me.”
BDM doesn’t know what to do about the fact that there are a lot of perfectly pleasant and loving homosexuals out there who get specific mention in the Bible and not always in a particularly complimentary way.
So Brian McLaren needed to come up with a solution. The Bible Brian McLaren read was a little too sharply delineated for his taste, so he came up with ways to make it more palatable.
“Hey, the Bible talks about fasting! Muslim’s fast! Maybe we should just join the Muslims in celebrating Ramadan and it will make us all seem like we’re headed to the same God!”
Uhh… Brian… I think we still have a problem with that whole, “Nobody comes to the Father but through Me” line.
The danger in McLaren celebrating Ramadan is not that he’s fasting and then going directly against the Scriptures by announcing his act to the world.
The danger in McLaren celebrating Ramadan is not in him blogging about his prayer time, even though the Bible also warns against us proclaiming our prayers for the rest of the world to hear.
The danger in McLaren celebrating Ramadan is in the tacit support it gives to Muslims to believe that their devaluing of the God-Head in Christ Jesus is legitimate.
The danger in McLaren celebrating Ramadan is that in ways both big and small he is chipping away gradually at a healthy respect for God’s holy anger when we bow to the idols and rituals of other world religions.
Perhaps what bothers me most about McLaren is that instead of putting his time and energy into proclaiming the saving message of the Cross, the ONE saving moment in time when individual sins were carried away for eternity and eternal life was offered to those who would believe in JESUS – not Allah, or Muhammed, Buddha, or whomever – he spends all his time trying to show the world how Christianity is just one more option among many options.
I am left to ask a hard question.
Why did Jesus DIE if it wasn’t to be the one, true way to eternal life?
As Brian McLaren celebrates Ramadan, I encourage the entire Christian community to show him that he no longer represents core, orthodox faith. I encourage all of you to draw the boundary around him and pay no further heed to his writings. It’s time to stop buying his books and time to start treating him as the universalist that he has become. Brian is no longer any more a Christian than I am a Swede.
(Although I have to tell ya, I just love those little horsemeatballs over at Ikea.)
Enough already with the “I’m so open minded everyone else’s ideas are irrelevant,” Brian. Come back to Christ. Get over your embarrassment about the shanghai the Republicans pulled on Christianity and just get true to the core of the Gospel.
Jesus died for my sins. I have a message of salvation to share. I do my acts of service not out of some fear that I won’t usher in the Kingdom of Heaven (as the Emergent movement says) but because God calls me to care for the widows, the orphans, and the infirm.
You want a real challenge, Brian?
The challenge isn’t in somehow making Christianity less offensive to other faiths. The challenge is in somehow making the TRUTH of Christianity more penetrating to people of other faiths. We are to “go make disciples of all nations,” Brian.
Go get busy, brother!
(John 14:5-12) in which are found the following words:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are
making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
(1 Timothy 6:3-4)
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.
(2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.