[UPDATE: Scot McKnight is beginning a series on this which looks a good deal more balanced. He makes clear that the title “Everything must change” is, in context, about the gospel: Jesus’ Kingdom message is so radical it demands that everything must change to accommodate it. I await with interest the other parts in this series.]
Tim Challies has posted up a review of Brian McLaren’s new book “Everything Must Change”. It’s got me a little riled…
For those of you who haven’t come across Tim Challies, he is the writer of Challies.com, which is purportedly the most read Christian blog on the internet. Which says something terrible about Christian blogdom. Tim writes a lot of book reviews, which seem to mostly consist of giving a brief summary and then loudly declaring every theological hole he can find with a magnifying glass. Its not an approach that endears him to me.
Challies.com is not a blog I read regularly, but I do pop along now and then, simply because this is what a large proportion of Christian blog-readers are feeding on, and I think its useful to keep track of such things. Maybe I should stop.
Brian McLaren, for those who don’t know, is writer of A Generous Orthodoxy (a book with one of the longest subtitles in non-academic literature), one of the founders of Emergent, and is considered by those outside of the emerging church to be one of its foremost leaders and writers. I’m going to confess right away that I haven’t read a Brian McLaren book yet (although I want to, just so I know what the fuss is about), so I have no way of pretending to be remotely authorities on what he thinks. So this post is going to be one of those badly-researched, ill thought out rants that the internet is famous for. Sorry.
According to the Tim Challies review, Everything Must Change seems to be an attempt to widen the scope of Christian thinking to include a response to the profound socio-political and economic issues of our world. It is a suggestion that maybe the message of Jesus included a response to those oppressed by political regimes, or trapped in poverty and hunger. i.e. “What are the global crises and how can Jesus provide a revolution of hope?”
McLaren seems to argue a need for a new “framing story” or understanding of how our faith encounters the problems of the world. As a radical polemicist, McLaren overemphasises his new way of thinking and exaggerates the issues he sees with ‘traditional’ Christian thinking. Challies quotes a McLaren reframing of the Magnificat which shows his issues with this way of thinking:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one He is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated”
McLaren states that the reality is:
“Mary celebrates that God is going to upset the dominance hierarchies typical of empire so that the nation of Israel can experience the fulfillment of its original promise.”
Challies deplores this approach, in fact McLaren’s whole way of thinking, writing off the entire book as a completely false gospel. I’m not going to go through all the details of this battle, but Challies’ closing remarks are telling:
“It seems increasingly clear that the new kind of Christian McLaren seeks is no kind of Christian at all. The church on the other side of his reinvention is a church devoid of the glorious gospel of Christ’s atoning death. It is a church utterly stripped of its power because it is a church stripped of the gospel message. McLaren’s new gospel is a social gospel, a liberal gospel and, in fact, no gospel at all.”
I want to make clear that, from the quotes I’ve read in this review, I don’t entirely agree with McLaren’s viewpoint or theology. But I can see validity to the point of the book, which is to widen our viewpoint away from the idea of a solely personal gospel. I take great umbrage to the comment “a social gospel [is] …no gospel at all”. A solely social gospel is deficient, but then so is a gospel based entirely on substitutionary atonement.
Jesus’ message was a holistic one, for all levels of community and society. It was a gospel of hope and transformation for the whole world. Yes, it was a defeat of sin and death through the cross. But it was also a radical new way of living; a reissue of the Genesis message that we are all, equally, ‘made in the image of God’; and an instigation of a community of transformation that was intended to express “God is Love” to the whole world.
I have issues with the way McLaren seems to talk here, in the same way that I have had with Steve Chalke. But those who try to push us into new ways of thinking often settle on provocative means of doing so, simply because they are the most affective in the short term. If someone gets your blood up, you at least have to ask yourself why!
Can somebody tell me, does the Reformed tradition have any understanding a Kingdom theology? Do they have any concept of what Jesus was saying (before His death and resurrection!) when he declared “the Kingdom of God is at hand!”? Do they have any answer to verses like Micah 6:8 and James 1:27?
Of course Jesus came to deal with the ‘problem of evil’. He came to ‘reconcile man to God’. But he also came to bring comfort to the poor. Read his mission statement, and tell me if, somewhere in amongst all the rhetoric, McLaren might not have a valid point.
Rant over. I’m off to find another book reviewer.