Friday, 5 March 2010

Discipleship starts with 10 Questions

Google Brian McClaren’s name, and you don’t have to read many of the 237,000 links that pop up to see that his work inspires, annoys, stimulates and challenges people all over the world. In an age when any Christian who thinks about the circumstances, opportunities and frustrations around our life knows damn well we need realism, a firm grasp of tradition as a springboard for fresh thinking and action, that is what he offers as a resource for mission.

Those whose anxiety or paranoia drive them take desperate refuge in conventionality and institutionalism will thus find him annoying, judging him to be less Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, whichever they are, than themselves. And, as is ever the case, from their own self-referential points of view they will be entirely correct. The truth is, in fact, he is engaged in the brave enterprise of pioneering how to be more of all three of those things than those who think tradition is a matter of increasingly shrill conformity to type rather than a living stream.

Brian Claren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity, Ten Questions that are transforming the Faith, gathers up and recapitulates the great themes he has been exploring for many years. In it, he prefers to talk about “discipleship,” a word he points out occurs 262 times in the Bible, rather than “Christianity,” a term unknown to Scripture, except for 3 instances of the noun “Christian”. For those who use labels as mapping pins instead of flick-knives or shibboleths, his challenge to the Pharisees is radically Protestant, generously Orthodox and profoundly Catholic.

It is radically Protestant because he centres his thesis, ruthlessly, on a historical rather than institutional Jesus. He points out how many take their concept of Jesus mediated through lenses supplied by the theoligical giants of the past, Luther, Aquinas, Augustine, and friends. That’s a choice you can make, but what makes those theologians themselves giants is their radical Christocentricity. Unless their work points you to Jesus, they are wasting your time. Which Jesus? Well, Jesus seen in the light of the tradition from which he came, within which the gospels are at pains to locate him, represented by the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Bible is, he suggests, best read as a narrative in its own terms, rather than a compendium of soundbites to reinforce a priori dogmas. Thus our shallow infatuation with the unchanging first Cause Greaco-Roman god of the philosophers who cannot do change is a poor substitute for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses who is ever in dialogue with his people, working through their lives in weal and woe, giving them compassion and hope, and weaving his love as a golden thread through the warp and weft of their story. This book begins with Scritpure and takes it utterly seriously as the living, active Word of God, constantly to judge and reform the Church. Its intent is to be more, not less, Evangelical than conventional Biblicism.

Thus, in Radical Protestant mode, this book throws down afresh Luther’s challenge from 1517:
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed... in the Name our Lord Jesus Christ: (1) Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance...
This traslates for McClaren as a suggestion that Jesus our Lord
“when he said Poenitentiam agite willed that the whole history of the Christian faith should be repentance, rethinking and quest.”
This idea is not less red-bloodedly Protestant and Christocentric than conventional Evangelicalism. It’s more of both, in spades.

The label “Orthodox” can being appropriated, ludicrously, as a synonym for “Conventional.” Real orthodoxy, even in the merely denominational sense of the term, is far from that. Although you may say Orthodox Christians have a funny way of showing this aspect of their faith, its first principle is to be is radically plugged into a living tradition, with a dynamic view of the Holy Spirit. Checkbox conformity to type is very much less than that.

This book expresses generous Orthodoxy, to use the title of another of Brian McClaren’s books, because it emphatically does not substitute modern thought for tradition — something it will be doubtless accused of doing by people who know very little about either. McClaren ain’t no Jack Spong. His working materials are the ancient creeds and practices of Christianity. These he uses as bricks with which to construct a building rather than smash windows or construct coshes. To continue the building metaphor, this is not a new building, but a tithe barn conversion in which the materials of the old structure have been lovingly taken down and cleaned to give them another 500 years of life, rather than disposed of.

Finally, this book is profoundly Catholic. Those who think Catholic is just a label for a denomination will disagree. For McClaren Catholic is the great mark of the Church in the creeds. Catholicity is not secured by trading in your brain at the door and doing what the Pope commands, a silly concept that the Pope himself rejects by his very Christocentricity, but by being baptised. Catholicity is an inherent mark of the Church, and the Church is not a club or an institution, but the whole company of Christ. McClaren’s book is radically and thoroughly trans-denominationalist in its Ecclesiolgy.

This book’s Catholicism is a spirit, temper and extension inherent in baptism, not an institutional mechanism for exclusion. It is not based on Roman Imperialism, but the Holy Spirit, enabling us to embrace the whole work of Christ in other people’s lives for what it is. True Catholic instinct for him is not measured or secured by what the Italians call romanità, but by capacity for extension and comprehension in the sprit of Edwin Markham’s famous tag:
He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in
Some will think this book less Catholic than their own attachment to the RC denomination, and if that’s what catholicity is they wil be right from their own point of view. Most readers will find it, in a broader sense, more Catholic.

Ten questions? Here goes...
  1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?

  2. How should the Bible be understood?

  3. Is God violent?

  4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?

  5. What is the Gospel?

  6. What do we do about the Church?

  7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?

  8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

  9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

  10. How can we translate our quest into action?
You may find his answers disturbing, but I challenge any who care about following Jesus today not to profit from asking these questions. However you answer them, they supply an agenda for anyone wanting to follow Jesus honestly and authentically. Read this Book.

19 comments:

Chris H said...

Has this book been released yet? Seems available only on pre-order or via the US.

Anyways, it does look a challenging book.

Peter O said...

I quite enjoyed the provocation in some of McClaren's earlier work, but the bits of this I've had time to study leaves me a bit cold. I would really love to be generous to McClaren (as he is to others), but I do think there is a trajectory in his most recent works that is walking slowly away from a clear Nicene basis to the faith.

If I'm brutally honest, he raises questions that he doesn't really engage with in any sufficient depth to give a clear coherent answer. Take for example the issues around omniscience and omnipotence that you yourself highlight in your post. I don't think I've ever seen McClaren engage with the likes of Weinandy's "Does God Suffer", which interacts with the Moltmannesque Suffering God in the light of the Patristic doctrine of God.

In some senses he is absolutely right that some Protestants' view of Scripture is too rigid to really appreciate the text. For myself, I moved beyond this naivety a while ago, but that journey led me to a far more Catholic (with a big C) view of Scripture and an appreciation of the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church over 2000 years illuminating the Word (in both its senses). If that makes me less of a Sola Scriptura and more of a Suprema Scriptura man (I can't do Latin, so that's the Ordinariate stuffed for me then...) then so be it, but I recognise that I have simply replaced one form of authority for another (which I think is the genius of the 17th Century journey of Anglicanism giving us the best of both worlds).

If I'm honest I can't see that journey in McClaren and some others, though I might just be blinded by my objectivising mind! McClaren to me seems to be slowly setting out into a Sea of Faith with too few anchors and marker buoys, leading him to ask the right questions but perhaps not provide the right answers.

St said...

Thank you. More prompted than ever to actually read the book than listen to the conversation on the blogosphere.

Si Hollett said...

Despite the name, "A New kind of Christianity" (which suggests that McLaren thinks the old is bad), there's nothing new under the sun - and the same goes here. The spirit of great heretical heritage of Marcion (Bad OT god, good NT Jesus - oddly though, McLarenism does the opposite thing to the canon - get rid of the 'Greek', keep the 'Hebrew') and Pelagius (denial of the Fall). You really do have to have a generous orthodoxy (from the Greek right-thinking - if you force us to not think of the denomination when it comes to Catholic, why do the opposite when it comes to Orthodox) to count McLaren as orthodox.

You also cannot claim McLaren as being radically Protestant simply because he protests - he denies everything that the Reformation considered important - Scripture to be taken on it's own terms (McLaren imposes this 'anti-Plato' hermeneutic), salvation by faith alone (McLaren refuses (p204) to even countenance a faith+works Roman Catholicism - it's works alone for him) and what Luther saw as the key point of the reformation - the bondage of the will. McLaren, far from dealing with the historical Jesus, as revealed in the gospels, deals with an institutionalised Jesus - a new institution, granted, but it's the Jesus of post-modern trendy-Liberalism. He is, of course, right to condemn not going back to the historical Jesus.

McLaren claims Christ-centredness, but he throws out Jesus' teaching on Hell, Jesus judging the world in Revelation, and a huge chunk of Jesus' parables, that talk about some sort of separation, some sort of judgement on Jesus' part. McLaren's Jesus is an idol - there's no clear mention of his divinity and he's turned into some 'hug a hoody' meek and mild type. Yes, Jesus is meek and mild and gracious, but that's not all he is.

There's no outsiders in the Kingdom of McLaren's god, yet Jesus mentions those that would be thrown out for not wearing the right clothes (Matt 22:12-14) and those that don't come (Matt 22:1-10), those that don't know him get rejected (Matt 9:21-23). There's clearly an outsider-insider thing to the Kingdom that the historical Jesus has, but the institutional Jesus of McLaren doesn't have.

McLaren isn't catholic because he doesn't seem to hold to the creeds - in fact denying parts - he denies that Jesus will come again to judge the living and dead (194-195). He makes no clear statement of Jesus' divinity. The very title of the book "a NEW kind of Christianity" suggests that he thinks that all around the world, for at least 1500 years since Augustine, if not the 2000 since Paul, we've got it wrong. I can't think of anything less catholic than saying the worldwide-church, for thousands of years, has been wrong.

McLaren has a lot of good challenges for the Church (especially on the Kingdom of God and justice issues), but other people are saying those things from inside the Body of Christ, having not throwing out the baby Jesus out with the bathwater and then going and beating him up, making him the outsider for thinking that there's such a thing as outsiders.

I strongly and earnestly pray that you can discern God's truth and that you can carry out your role as overseer, of shepherd, and not tempt or lead your flocks into danger by telling them to go see that wolf in sheep's clothing.

I'm sorry if this seems harsh, but McLaren's 'circle that takes me in' doesn't - it casts me out - he's declared me a heretic with this book, and worse still - my Lord and Saviour.

O.D. said...

McClaren has all the warm fuzzys of the liberal church and none of the substance of our faith. His writings are more excuses as to why and how liberal theology makes scripture irrelevant. It is neither hot nor cold. It is the desired permission for those who "feel" they need to do their own thing and still get to label it Christianity. It is an excuse to free them from the clear guidance in scripture because it doesn't fit the way they want things. It makes them uncomfortable.

God's Word is full of warnings against this stuff. I fear the consequences of those who take this stuff for "gospel."

Si Hollett, I have to agree with you.

This is all about the Word according to McClaren and NOT the Will or our Sovreign God.

Man fell from God's Will a long time ago. Over time we have been given the means to regain a relationship with Him. The totality of the Scriptures provides clarity and a connection to understand and obey our Father--to be molded in Jesus' character.

McClaren and his ilk prefer to guide us into controlling God's will as determined by what makes us feel good and comfortable. It leaves out the consequences of doing our own thing.

Personally... When I get to Heaven I want my Saviour to say, "I know you! Great job down there. Come on in. This place is great!"--Matthew 7:13-23

ROBERTA said...

at a time when i was wrestling with the notion of walking away from the evangelical church, i had a short conversation with a teacher during a class break who really listened to my story. that person was brian mcclaren. that was 6 years ago and i can still recall the conversation and the acceptance brian extended. it was a gift.

whatever you want to say about his views on the church, you must know that this is a human being who fully engages with whomever is standing in front of him - with kindness and grace.

and the church could surely use much more of that.

nothinghypothetical said...

How can anyone be set free who does not first admit to being a slave? How can God lift the man who exalts himself? Even Pelagius admitted that we were sick.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I got a copy from the US, but the book was released as hardback in the UK on 18 February.

St, I think this is a book to read on something of the Gamaliel principle. He may not have all the right answers, but I think his questions do point up the places we fail to connect with many people, so even if we don't like his answers we can still come up with better ones of our own. I am also very open to other suggested critical questions from anyone else's experience of mission...

Peter, I think you've got two good critical points here. It's a modelling exercise rather than a penetrating analytic work of Christology — a manifesto rather than deep theology. However I didn't see any evidence in this book particularly of anything outside the range of Nicene faith. Please say if you spot something, because if we lose touch with Jesus at the centre of what we're doing, or replace the Christ of the gospels with someone we've constructed around our own needs we're in very deep trouble. I took much of his argument as a plea to take off our Roman/Hellensitic spectacles and see Jesus in his own context. I've not seen McClaren engage with Moltmann's depth either, and not in this book.

I have to say my reading of what he's gt to say were very much formed by my own training, being of the last generation who did the medieval Cambridge tripos, where you bashed your way word by word through text in original languages, and it seemd that was all you did (1 year on Genesis, one on Judges and Deuteronomy, one on second Isaiah and Psalms). So I am very much formed by the text, and may have been over-generous in seeing Brian more so than he is. he takes a “literary“ approach to Sctipture as a whole, which doesn't seem to me widely divergent from the Canonic (Brevard Childs) approach.

I can mark a very similar journey with Scripture to the one you describe, and,I suspect like your own, it was a journey I took for Scriptural reasons.

Si, You seem to me to be accusing him of a whole ragbag of rather half thought out things here; including "McClarenism" which I would have thought he is bound to exhibit. But I gather you're no McClaren fan. I can't believe you're seriously trying to say that Plato is necessary to receive Scripture, let alone to be found in the text in any serious quantity (there are bits of the Wisdom literature which are, of course, Hellenistic). He doesn't deny the fall; simply read Genesis as most people did in the Early Church, and the Orthodox still largely do (not having the Latin juridical tradition).

His views on hell are not yours, but more or less identical to the ones held by C. S. Lewis in the Great Divorce. They aren't, as far as I can see "Liberal" in any technical sense (unless you are using "Liberal" as a bogeyman term of abuse). Rather they arise from a conviction that God will actually achieve his declared purpose in the end and be all in all (as in Romans). I think you would get much further if you stopped accusing people of "heresy" willy-nilly, learnt a bit about a few of the terms you throw around so freely, and actually read the book — or not, since I suspect it would really annoy you. But I'd still be interested to know whether you think he's asking the right questions, and if not which questions you think we need to think through if we are to enagge in mission today?

Si Hollett said...

Bishop Alan - I don't mention Plato at all. It's this kind of straw bogey men that McLaren sets up that pollutes the water and has made it difficult to converse with him. (funnily, I read a review by a Plato expert that says that, ironically, the book has a large amount of Platonic thought in it). Many Godly Christian leaders gave him the benefit of the doubt, and put him in a generous orthodoxy, but this new book not only makes it clear that you really do have to be generous, but also now redraws his circle to make it that Jesus himself is misguided about what salvation and who God is. While McLaren won't use the word, as he's chained to the post-modern idea that the word is a swear, an error of salvic importance is a heresy.

The early church, and the Orthodox church can get stuff wrong (just as the Catholic church can get stuff wrong and different Protestant denominations get stuff wrong). As far as I can see there are outsiders to the Kingdom that don't get drawn in, but banished. CS Lewis knew his views on Hell (and Heaven and Purgatory) were not mainstream at all, hence why The Great Divorce is fictional, to enable him to express his views (and The Last Battle has a different view of judgement and hell and heaven - which is actually Lewis'? Could both be thinking exercises?). Surely we should turn, not to tradition, but Scripture - I can't see where McLaren gets his view from, especially if we employ his "Jesus of the Gospels good and Paul not so good" hermeneutic.

Taking this from elsewhere:
"In their book 20th-Century Theology, Grenz and Olson, no rabid fundamentalists they, describe classic liberalism in five points:
1. Liberals believe doctrine needs to develop to meet the needs of contemporary thought.
2. Liberals emphasize the need to reconstruct traditional beliefs and reject the authority of tradition
and church hierarchy.
3. Liberals focus on the practical and ethical dimensions of Christianity.
4. Liberals seek to base theology on something other than the absolute authority of the Bible.
5. Liberals drift toward divine immanence at the expense of transcendence.

McLaren fits each of these points like a glove." I shouldn't throw around the 'L' word like McLaren throws around 'Fundamentalist', but if it's true.

I don't think I'm accusing McLaren of heresy willy-nilly. It's not just his view on hell (or John Stott, etc would also be a heretic). It's his view of God, Jesus, the gospel, scripture, etc all added together. As Peter O said "there is a trajectory in his most recent works that is walking slowly away from a clear Nicene basis to the faith." I feel that, with this book, he crossed over the line.

Si Hollett said...

Addressing some other points.

McLaren is asking the questions that trendy post-modern types are asking (perhaps because he is one)? We do need to engage with them if we are (and we should) engaging in mission today. Then again, depends on where we are.

That said, I cannot consider them all to be discipleship questions - the ones that are are the ones we don't get asked often: the really important ones (1, 4, 5 - which are pretty much the same question phrased differently) don't get asked as much by outsiders, but these are the key discipleship questions that need to be answered, along with the ongoing "what has God taught/told you recently?" and "how does that change you and your life?" and "what are you struggling with?". Things like scripture and church questions are important too (for how can you be discipled without God's Word having authority, but rather pick-and-choose and his people?)

Twisting "discipleship starts with 10 questions" into "do we need to think them through if we are to engage in mission today?" is a bit cheeky, as you weren't asking me if I thought that McLaren was right to consider these 10 questions the start of discipleship - some are, some aren't. How the Church deals with sexuality is an important question, but it's definitely not one of ten questions foundational to discipleship - even when talking about today!

For instance, I helped a group of year 6 people, last year, look at Sodom and Gommorah (they were reading through the life of Abraham and this happened to be the next bit). They struggled with the passage, not because God was angry, but because God saved Lot (then they read on and wondered why on earth God saved Lot's daughters either). The answer was in the passage (because of God's promise to Abraham). For these few 10 and 11 year olds, the question "Is God loving and gracious to those who don't deserve it?" was far more important (and seemingly the question "do I deserve God's love?") than "Is God Violent?". God's violence isn't a barrier for them as it would be for others. For these children, the apologetic/discipleship questions they ask are different, the don't need to wrestle with the issue of God's violence, but rather struggle with the issue of God's grace.

As for the Fall, McLaren almost makes the Philip Pullman 'it was a good thing - we're mature now' type of argument when he calls it “a classic coming-of-age story, filled with ambivalence—a childhood lost, an adulthood gained” (51) and “the first stage of ascent as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond” (50). Even if McLaren holds to the Orthodox (big O) view of the Fall (well, more like "the Bending" - to use Lewis' space trilogy's phrase), then you still cannot call him Protestant with a big P (he protests, but isn't Protestant). I also can't see how you can claim that McLaren is following the historical Jesus, rather than the institutional Jesus, given his views on the Fall - how does McLaren deal with John 8:34 and 39-47, for instance? Or the diseased tree in Matt7:17-18? As I said - McLaren's Jesus is an institutional one, not the historical one - it just happens to not be the institutional Jesus of the RCC, or the many idols elsewhere in 'Christendom'.

Oh, and to correct my earlier post today, I did mention Plato, when I talked about McLaren's 'anti-Plato' hermeneutic. This, as you say Bishop Alan, wasn't me suggesting we should adopt Platonic thought. It's me saying he's not taking scripture on its own terms, that it's the Word of Christ, the sword of the Spirit. I see this 'anti-Plato' stuff as 'get rid of what I don't like'.

Brett Gray said...

Not sure about this typology of liberalism as expressed by Si, and borrowed from Grenz and Olson...

1. 'Liberals believe doctrine needs to develop to meet the needs of contemporary thought'... but what about those who believe that doctrine does develop (a patent truism from Church History) in conversation with new questions that emerge in new contexts? And that tradition is an ongoing faithful discussion, not a static given?
2. 'Liberals emphasize the need to reconstruct traditional beliefs and reject the authority of tradition
and church hierarchy.' That is protestantism. Are all protestants liberal?
3. 'Liberals focus on the practical and ethical dimensions of Christianity.' Inasmuch as you did it to them, you did it to me. Is Jesus a liberal?
4. 'Liberals seek to base theology on something other than the absolute authority of the Bible.' 'Authority' and how it is constructed is an interesting question. Authority is not a univocal concept and 'absolute' as an adjective adds nothing to the clarity of this statement except to say 'No, it's really, REALLY authoritive!' Which leaves 'authority' and how it operates still undefined.
5. 'Liberals drift toward divine immanence at the expense of transcendence.' So do some charismatics I know...

I think 'Liberal' in this conversation is in danger of becoming a weasel word, signifying nothing except a potentially malign other that I don't have to listen to.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Si, I get what you're saying. You think McLaren has got it all wrong, and because you care about faith this matters very much to you.

As you, and the 39 articles, say people and churches can err; which is why we need to articulate what is on our hearts and minds, and test it against scripture. But this is no simple business with some of the subjects you take in your comment. Both views of hell are actually Lewis; and the Last Battle one may not be exactly as you read it (if we follow Michael Ward's reading of that text seriously). I'd forgotten about John Stott, but you're right, he, no liberal, does take the end of Romans very seriously.

I am personally as unimpressed with people name calling at "Liberals" as I am about them doing this at "Fundamentalists," to the point that whenever I hear either word these days I switch off, unless someone has used it of themselves. Neither word occurs in Scripture, thank God. Its just playground name-calling, and unworthy of the people who do it. Please think what you actually want to say, not just yah-booing people whose thought you're trying to rubbish.

Peter (whose precision of thought and graciousness I greatly admire, even if I dont' share all his conclusions) did question this trajectory, and I asked him for some evidence that this book was incompatible with the Nicene creed. I haven't seen any in the book itself, but I may have missed something, and would be grateful to know if I have.

I see you don't like trendy post modern types. Well, they probably don't like you. So what? Please try adn resist ad hominem arguments and name calling. Cliched words reveal cliched thought. Try and engage with the point itself, in a spirit of appreciative enquiry. If, having done this, you find some theological error, it means something. If you just play yah-booh games, it doesn't.

Your work with year 6's sunds really interesting, and very much the kind of dialogue that helps people clarify their response to the text. I know people do have their own discileship questions, which is why I asked. Many people, however, are disturbed by some of the more primitive elements in OT narratives, especially in the light of the (misguided IMHO) but popula r secularist narrative that says faith is violent and makes people violent. We need to engage with this question, but not with everybody.

The theology of "O Felix Culpa" is a bit top shelf, but, if I may say so, has been is close to the core to Western theology and liturgy for the past sixteen hundred years.

He's Protestant in the clasic sense that he sets the Christ of history (as he sees it) before the Christ he has received from tradition. That method is certainly Protestant, whether his conclusions are right or wrong. I'm not sure about this bit of his argument, and I agree with you it begs questions about whether he's got the historical Jesus right, but it is the classic Protestant approach to the subject.

You'd have to ask McLaren how he interprets various texts he doesn't use in his text. I wouldn't know that.

And yes, you did mention Platonic spectacles, rightly, because McLaren did, and there is a rich discussion to be had about nominalism and realism in the way we formulate faith, that has been live since at least the thirteenth century. I am reluctant to rule entirely in favour of realism, though Aquinas does occupy the central (if not definitive) place in Westerm Christian thinking.

(sorry I needed to delete and repost because half a sentence got deleted in the original!)

Si Hollett said...

Dear Bishop Alan, I don't think you get what I'm saying:

I don't think McLaren has got it all wrong - just that he has a fundamentally flawed view of who God is, who Jesus is, and what the Gospel is. There's some good there, but definitely not enough to get the fan-boy praising you give of his book. It's a book that has got an awful lot wrong. I am really, genuinely, concerned that you don't spot the bad bits - it's in your job description as Bishop. You also (until your most recent blog post, where you hint at it) ignored that McLaren uses 'clichéd labels' all the time. You really don't like me for using them and keep on bringing me up on that - why did it take so long to finally (and not openly and clearly) make that criticism of McLaren.

I don't think you have properly read my post - as I said, we do need to engage with the question of 'Is God violent?' but that not everyone has a problem when the answer comes back as 'yes, sometimes, but always justly' - for them discipleship starts with different questions. The question of 'Is God violent?' is important, but not always necessary for discipleship - it's not always a struggle for people - that was my point.

I see your whole paragraph about ad hominem as one big ad hominem. I'm not playing 'yah-boo games', and if I am, by saying I am, you are as well. So for you to be right, you're not playing by your own rules. Perhaps if you try to engage with what I'm saying, rather than keep on going with the (surely clichéd statement) about clichéd labels, perhaps if you don't automatically assume I came to what McLaren says with a closed mind, and think he can do no right then we might get somewhere.

Testing what's on McLaren's heart and mind against Scripture I've found it very much wanting. Lewis' view on judgement and hell in the Last Battle affirms the "he will come again to judge the living and the dead", but in the Great Divorce Lewis' other view (and McLaren's similar, but different, view) denies parts of that creedal statement ('is there a judgement?', 'is it by God?' and with McLaren you have 'will he come again?'), or at least twists the words of it so it means something different to the people who wrote it (good ol' postmodernism - the Arians did that with the Nicean Creed as well!)

That said, I don't think McLaren a heretic because of just that view of hell - there are other things I've given above, such as actively attacking major core beliefs (though he makes little attempt at the foundations, so invents new ones).

The Catholic Church made appeals to the historical Jesus (though it was the institutional Jesus) in the counter reformation - it's just like the 'early church' justification (you use that a lot) in that it's pretty meaningless as everyone does it. Just as big-C Catholicism would mean holding to Catholic doctrines (eg on the Eucharist, on Salvation, on the Priesthood), big-P Protestantism has to mean holding to Protestant doctrines (especially the key doctrines of the Reformation - a big Fall, and thus a big grace, Scripture on it's own terms and as the highest authority, etc). I just can't see that McLaren holds any of them. Because McLaren won't take scripture on it's own terms, then I can't see how he uses Protestant methods either. The Reformers talked more of what scripture said, than the historical Jesus, because scripture is the word of Christ anyway, and reveals the real Jesus. McLaren doesn't do that, he puts his Jesus above Scripture - he cannot be considered Protestant, but rather someone who is a protester.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Brett, I'm rather with you here. If I wanted to know what "Liberalism" is, I'd start with someone who considered themselves a "Liberal" and explore with them what they meant by this. What is unhelpful and utimately fruitless is just to stick the label on someone who doesn't use it of themselves and then blame them for being what they never said they were in the first place!

Steve Hayes said...

I posted the 10 questions on my blog, and gave my answers, before reading the book, to see if my fews change after I read it. I also challenged others to do the same.

I also expressed some reservations about the questions, and some commenters also did -- as someone put it, he asks some of the wrong questrions and some of the right ones are badly worded.

So now there is a new challenge -- if McLaren asks the wrong questions, what are the right ones? What questions are people actually asking, and what ought we to be asking?

One answer, from an ex-Christians, to McLaren's question on the overarching message of the Bible was"Talking snakes and pregnant virgins". I would say that is failing to see the wood for the trees, but then "overarching" seems to be a peculiar piece of Christian in-group jargon. People who don't move in Christian circles have asked me if there really is such a word.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Steve. It's fascinating to see what people come up with on your blog. Thanks for doing this. I also warmed to your explaingn where you were coming from as a "genuine copperbottomed" Orthodox Liberal! What I think got my goat about the use of the term in this discussion was that anyone who had read the book would know that Brian McLaren carefully distinguishes between his view of the Bible and Classic Liberal hermeneutics.

Perhaps what he is trying to say is something that just can't be heard without a certain willingness to listen...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Steve. It's fascinating to see what people come up with on your blog. Thanks for doing this. I also warmed to your explaingn where you were coming from as a "genuine copperbottomed" Orthodox Liberal! What I think got my goat about the use of the term in this discussion was that anyone who had read the book would know that Brian McLaren carefully distinguishes between his view of the Bible and Classic Liberal hermeneutics.

Perhaps what he is trying to say is something that just can't be heard without a certain willingness to listen... Therefore he just gets every Horrid Heresy in the book pasted on him in a generalised (= accusatory) way (which, sadly, don't mean a thing to the rest of us.)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I have made some comments based on a part of this discussion at my own blog.

http://pluralistspeaks.blogspot.com/2010/03/regurgitating-on-liberal-religion.html

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