You wake up in the morning and the first thing you see on your Iphone is a notification saying that Brian McLaren has responded to your review of his new book. What? I must say that it is an honor that Brian would take time to engage with some of the questions posed in my review about his theology, hermeneutics, and personal journey. I also want to acknowledge, in humility, that I am a third year Bible college student and Dr. McLaren is far more educated on these matters than me. So please understand that this is not a debate- rather a life giving dialogue- between two generations of Christians who desire to see a more united, generous, Christ-like Christianity. We disagree on some very significant areas of our theology- and yet, after having the honor to talk with Brian McLaren, I became aware that he was not the demonic heretic, as many in my evangelical world have called him (literally, I just received this warning bulletin from a conservative Christian watchdog group warning me about the dangers of Brian McLaren ), but rather, one of the most gentle, loving, and honest Christian teachers I have ever encountered. Once again, please understand, that I am not somehow saying I agree and affirm everything Brian is saying or has said- if anybody ever agreed with everything anyone said (save Jesus alone), we'd think that person to have some problems. But I do believe that Brian is a brother. I do believe that he is serving Christ and doing his best to be a diligent and honest Christian thinker. And as I said before, I do believe his new book has a lot of needed insight for all Christians on the issues of Christian identities in a multi-faith world.
So with that said. Much of my initial review of the book was based off the actual manuscript itself, but another significant portion was based on our interview with Brian for the (Re)vangelical Podcast. For the sake of this discussion, I have decided to release a "teaser" of that interview where Brian discusses "dealing with the violent passages" in depth, and also affirms the Orthodox Creeds of Christianity. (some of you are thinking "that's random" and others of my more conservative evangelical friends probably are thinking that I made that part up...) So, before you continue reading this review, I encourage you to listen to this 10 min clip of Brian McLaren, brought to you by The (Re)vangelical Podcast: Clip Available HERE.
My Response to Brians Responce:
First, thank you Brian for your gracious response! It was a great honor to finally meet you after corresponding for some time and am thankful for your willingness to dialog about these important issues.
The first thing I want to address is what your response to what I wrote about you moving "further down the line to liberalism" in point 4 of your post:
"I'm sure you're paraphrasing something I actually said here, but I'm quite certain I didn't use the term "liberalism." That's just not the way I talk. I see so many problems with "the old liberalism" (as I understand it - i.e. shrinking Christian faith to fit within the constraints of Enlightenment modernity and/or European colonialism). I certainly don't think I'm using "old liberal methods" in this book, any more than I'm using "old conservative methods." I think the way I'm approaching the text in this book would be better described as post-liberal and post-conservative ...
I can imagine saying this book goes farther down the road than I've been before - it does. But it would be a big mistake if people assumed that's the old, tired road of old, tired liberalism... I hope and pray this book represents a promising new path - one that welcomes and challenges both conservatives and liberals who might consider exploring it. If old conservatives call it liberal and old liberals call it conservative, I guess that's not real surprising."
For the record, I do want to apologize. You are correct in that you never said anything about conservative or liberals. I guess that's just the tendency that I (and most Evangelicals) have to label things. As I said in the original review, I don't think this book is incredibly "liberal" or "far gone" from a conservative perspective. In fact, I actually think this seems to be one of your most palatable books for your conservative audience, even though you do have some ideologies that, for now, will simply remain off limits to most Evangelicals. So I just wanted to begin with that statement.
Now back to point 3 of your post. You address my concern that you are unable to reconcile a God who is loving and wrathful. I appreciate and hear your response. The whole theme of Wild Goose this past year was "Retribution vs. Restoration". And I heartily agree that it seems to me that most of God's judgement in Scripture is restoritive. God is radically in the business of making all things new, recreating broken messes, and bringing life to the dry bones in the valley of death. However, I find that, like most issues, this is not a black and white issue. It's not one or the other. There is benefit to both restoration and retribution. And I don't feel that you have acknowledged that completely.
Hear me- I want to believe that all of God's wrath is restorative. I really do! But my commitment to the Bible stops me in my tracks and points me to places like Revelation 14:11 where it says, "And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast..." or Jude 12 & 13 where it says "These men are those who are... wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever."
Now, in our interview, and indeed, multiple times in the book, you teach about "Two traditions", the peace tradition of the prophets and the sacrificial wrath tradition of the priests. You conclude that Jesus sides with the "Peace" tradition- to which I agree. But I don't think that means Jesus was against the wrath tradition. We have so many examples of Jesus doing and saying things that we're not very comfortable with. Jesus, of course, prohibits his disciples from engaging in war and violence- but that is completely different from God engaging in retribution. I just don't think we can possibly get around the fact that God does condemn and offer retribution to those who have not submitted their lives to the Lordship of Christ. Even though we really want to.
Oh- and for the record. In my original post I used the word "bloodthirsty" to describe the retributive view. That was a poor choice. Just saying!
In point 2 of your response, you argue that you are not calling us to simply disregard violent passages, but rather to acknowledge them and the harm they have done in history. Granted. I believe we all need to spend a lot more time reflecting on how we have abused and misused the Bible as Christians in history to do horrendous and unChrist-like things. But, once again, that simply doesn't mean that because these verses have been abused, we need to disregard them, which is, it seems, what you are arguing that Paul and Jesus did. By siding with "Peace" they disregarded "Wrath". I think that's what you mean? Right?
I do find your references to Law and Gospel very compelling, I must admit. We are taught in the New Testament that the Law was useful, but the Gospel now fulfills and does what the law could not. Applying that to retribution vs. restoration is indeed fresh and incredibly thrilling to think about. But my question still remains- even in the New Testament, don't we still see the "Priestly" tradition lived out? What do we do with the book of Revelations retributive scenes of God's wrath or Peters references to condemnation and judgement? It seems that, while peace, grace, restoration, and love prevail as the prominent themes of the Gospel, wrath and retribution still have a place in the Gospel tradition.
And lastly- in your first point, you respond to my critique that you perhaps were "eisegeteing" (a word only a Bible college student would attempt to use :P) in your chapter on Reformulating theology.
Your response is a good one. In my correspondence with Dr. N.T. Wright over the past year, he has continually spoken of the same type of reformulation of our theology by freeing it from the syncretism of Roman philosophy, and it is indeed a very compelling argument. As I said in my original review, I don't really disagree with your conclusions about deeper Christology, empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and Harmony from the trinity- in fact, I think most of your conclusions and applications are brilliant. Thank you for clearing that up for me- I can see now that you, in fact, weren't eisegeteing at all!
Brian, I really appreciate your work and your willingness to engage in dialogue. Without open discussions between people of positions that are "supposed" to be enemies (according to mere mans ideas, certainly not God's) there can never be understanding, unity, or hope for the Church of Jesus.
Many blessings on you!
Grace & Peace: