NPR—Jesus, Reconsidered: Book Sparks Evangelical Debate

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Who is Brian McLaren, and what has he done to make these people so angry?

It turns out that McLaren is considered one of the country's most influential evangelicals, and his new book, A New Kind of Christianity, takes aim at some core doctrinal beliefs. McLaren is rethinking Jesus' mission on Earth, and even the purpose of the crucifixion.

"The view of the cross that I was given growing up, in a sense, has a God who needs blood in order to be appeased," McLaren says. "If this God doesn't see blood, God can't forgive."

McLaren believes that version of God is a misreading of the Bible.

"God revealed in Christ crucified shows us a vision of God that identifies with the victim rather than the perpetrator, identifies with the one suffering rather than the one inflicting suffering," he says.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesEvangelicals* TheologyChristology

Posted March 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. William P. Sulik wrote:

I really liked the following line from a review of this book:

But I want to turn the following comment from McLaren back on him: “Sociologists sometimes say that groups can exist without a god, but no group can exist without a devil.” Brian’s devil is Western evangelicalism, which he caricatures often, and his poking is relentless enough to make me say that he needs to write a book that simply states in positive terms what he thinks without using evangelicalism as his foil.

March 27, 5:25 pm | [comment link]
2. Bill C wrote:

I really liked what Dan Martins had to say about the ‘Fall’ in a letter he wrote on the HoB/D listserv a couple of days ago.  It was in response to a post by Ann fontaine and it has been folloed by several letter by Bruce Garned and Thomas Woodward.  Kendall can you get that and post it.  It has real relevance to this.

March 27, 5:43 pm | [comment link]
3. Bishop Daniel Martins wrote:

Kendall would have to ask my permission, but I don’t have t ask anybody. Here’s what I posted yesterday to a small listserv I participate in:
Some of you who follow HoB/D may have noticed a discussion of the theological notion of the Fall. Somebody mentioned Down’s Syndrome as an example of something that is a sign of the Fall (as a sort of rhetorical avatar of homosexual orientation, in response to the RC notion of “intrinsic disorder”). It sparked a bit of a firestorm… . I thought such theological muddle-headedness merited some response, which I share herewith:

I think we’re perhaps talking past each other through an imprecise definition of terms. Yes, humankind is created in the image of God, and all of creation was deemed by God as “very good.” This much we get from Genesis, and is, as far as I can tell uncontested. Yet, the witness of Holy Scripture (largely through texts attributed to St Paul, but not exclusively) and the tradition of Christian worship and theology (of which St Augustine is one of the primary explicators, but not the only one) is that sin, evil, and death entered “the world” (i.e. not just human nature, but the entire created order). The manner in which evil was introduced is shrouded in mythical narrative and symbol (of which Genesis 3 is the primary text, but there is also the narrative from Jewish mythology [picked up by early Christian writers] of “Lucifer’s” rebellion against God and that “fallen” angel then being the impetus behind the serpent in Genesis). But the upshot of it all is the notion that the “very good” creation is nonetheless distorted, bent, out of balance, off kilter. This distortion (which is well-described by Lewis both in Mere Christianity and in his “space trilogy”) affects every person, and makes us all both victims and perpetrators (in varying proportions in different people). This is what is meant by the “Fall.” Because of the Fall, children get leukemia. Because of the Fall, young women get raped and murdered while jogging in a park. Because of the Fall, tectonic plates shift and buildings collapse in Haiti. (Yes, geologists have another explanation, which is absolutely true, and not at all in opposition to the theological notion of the Fall.) It is never God’s will that a child get leukemia. It is never God’s will that a young woman get raped and murdered. It is never God’s will that natural disasters destroy human life and property. These things are all a result of the Fall and are what God means to redeem, and the instrumental means of that redemption is what we’re celebrating next week. To say that any element of human experience (such as Down’s Syndrome) is a sign of the Fall is in no way to judge or condemn persons who are touched by that experience. Quite the opposite, in fact: It is a witness to God’s redemptive purposes. The fact that Down’s Syndrome children are so often a fount of love is a testimony to God’s redemptive activity. God NEVER wills Down’s Syndrome. God did not invent Down’s Syndrome. God never “sends” a Down’s Syndrome child into a family. But God the Opportunist is eminently capable of piggy-backing on what is by any measure a tragedy, a sign of the Fall, and hijacking that tragedy to be a means of grace and a sign of redemption. That, in fact, IS the gospel. That is the distilled essence of the Good News, and sharing that news IS the mission of the Church, because it is God’s own mission.

March 27, 6:05 pm | [comment link]
4. John A. wrote:

While I agree with conservative protestant explanations of the atonement the way the atonement is discussed with non-Christians bothers me and, to that extent, I agree with Brian McClaren but I would explain it differently without changing the underlying theology.

Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, uses legal covenant language to explain what Jesus did on the cross.  Although he uses relational language that is not his primary framework.  In contrast to his audience, ours does not care or know about covenants.  To them it makes much more sense to explain what Jesus did in terms of his relationship to us and to God.  Because God is just we need to be “redeemed” and in some sense God’s justice must be satisfied but without a personal explanation this is bewildering to most people today.

Jesus ALSO had to suffer and die because the people of his day demanded it and he had to show that God loves us so much he is willing to pay the ultimate price to restore our relationship to him.  It is arrogant to think that we modern westerners would be much more reasonable today.  Our idea of love is still so small and limited that if Jesus physically came into our midst today we would still shut him out or kill him.  Jesus (ie God) was willing willing to pay the price then and he is willing to pay it again now.

Every year many people willingly give their lives so that others, including us, can glorify God but would we have any faith in a God that asks for that deep a commitment without him showing at least the same commitment to us?  Jesus had to die to free us from our sin AND to show us how far we must go to obey the commandment to love God and follow him.

March 27, 8:55 pm | [comment link]
5. Br. Michael wrote:

Isn’t it curious that all this revisionist stuff comes out around Easter with NPR leading the charge?  This is nothing more than gussied up heresy.

The God of the OT is Jesus.  It would appear that Marcion is alive and well.

March 27, 9:29 pm | [comment link]
6. SHSilverthorne+ wrote:

“God revealed in Christ crucified shows us a vision of God that identifies with the victim rather than the perpetrator, identifies with the one suffering rather than the one inflicting suffering,”

And this is bold, new theology?  Isn’t this the same glittering half-truth we get every Good Friday in mainline denominations?  How has that been working for us?  He seems to be leaving us where old-school liberalism leaves us: with a sympathetic, but impotent God (talk about a contradiction in terms) who does nothing to transform broken, wayward humanity.  This may have seemed bold in Schleiermacher’s day, but is it today?

Yes, we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness.  But this sinless high priest, Jesus, is also our Saviour!  Any account of the cross that downplays this fact is no theology of the cross at all, but instead a theology of glory wrapped in pious half-truth.  Kyrie eleison.

A sinner saved by grace,


March 27, 9:43 pm | [comment link]
7. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Well, that whole Trinity bit is too much for some folks, you know.  It requires thought.  Those “I AM” statements were meant.  Justice was satisfied, propitiation was made.  The New Creation began in the New Adam hypostatically one with all humanity through time and space and into eternity.  That is why, even at the grave, we make our cry, “Alleluia, alleluia, Alleluia” - dead with Him, we are raised with Him and live in the very Life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

March 27, 9:44 pm | [comment link]
8. LuxRex wrote:

McLaren, along with all the self-identified “emergent” Church types, are rightly identified by Seattle’s Mark Driscoll (once identified as “emerging” himself) as post-modern liberals.  What the liberal Church was to Modernism, the emergent Church is to Post-Modernism…an attempt to win the skeptics by becoming one of them, nothing more, nothing less.
Emergent Christianity is nothing more than redressed old fashioned liberal Christianity—and if Brian McLaren is an evangelical, I’m a neanderthal.

March 28, 1:16 am | [comment link]
9. justice1 wrote:

MCLaren has become a spokesman for the Emergent movement, which is sadly considered “Evangelical” by many, and who’s words resonate with a lot of distressed and disillusioned Christian souls.  For example, a fellow at the seminary I attended had a sister who had outright denied the faith, and was terminal.  He struggled with the notion that she, a good person, would spend eternity in Hell, and eventually found a partner in McLaren and his theology of a God who would not send anyone to Hell, if such a place exists at all.

It is interesting that the Emergent folks like McLaren feel so cozy with Jesus and Paul, both of whom speak of humanity divided and destined either to salvation or eternal destruction (sheep and goats, those being saved and those perishing [Mt 25:31-41; 2 Thess. 1:5-10 among many passages], and who’s ministries were lived out under the tyranny of Rome, in multicultural pluralistic cultures, and who advanced a sort of hard nosed evangelicalism, if you will, into the Greco-Roman world, without apologizing and explaining away the meaning of the language and metaphor they used to convey the Gospel.

McLaren’s version of things, winsome as it is, is only so because our culture and many parts of the Church therein, has lost a taste for the unadulterated truth, a truth that can hurt, and like John says in Revelation, calls for perseverance.

March 28, 8:49 am | [comment link]
10. Fr. Dale wrote:

Consider the core evangelical belief that only Christians are going to heaven and everyone else is doomed. That may have rung true for his grandparents’ generation, he says, but not now.

Actually, I think it goes back a tad further than that. This is my argument against Sola Scriptura. To despise the tradition of the church is to take the keel off the ship. TEC has done the same thing and is also cozy with McLaren.

March 28, 10:05 am | [comment link]
11. John A. wrote:

#9 “many parts of the Church therein, has lost a taste for the unadulterated truth, a truth that can hurt”

Agreed, but it is a different problem when there is a complete lack of understanding.  The challenge is to communicate the Gospel in a way that it can be understood.  Until people understand what is being communicated that is our problem.  After they understand what we are saying, whether people agree or believe is their problem.

March 28, 3:01 pm | [comment link]
12. Milton wrote:

“The view of the cross that I was given growing up, in a sense, has a God who needs blood in order to be appeased,” McLaren says. “If this God doesn’t see blood, God can’t forgive.”

At the first Passover the death angel, sent by God, had to see the lamb’s blood on the lintel of the door of the house to “pass over” that house, leaving the first-born of the house alive.

At the crucifixion of Jesus, the undivided Triune God shed His blood as the Son of God and the Son of Man, who said it was for the remission of sin.  This same God the Father saw the blood of God the Son on the wood of the cross.  In different places in the New Testament it is written that the Father raised Jesus from the dead, that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus rose from the dead.  All of them are true.

The Bible is God’s written word to humanity.  Brian McLaren speaks against God’s word.  Therefore, by the denotative meaning of blasphemy, Brian McLaren is a blasphemer and in dire need (as are we all) of the saving power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Lord, which he rejects.  Why anyone listens to such a blasphemer posing as a Christian teacher is beyond reason.

March 29, 10:54 am | [comment link]
13. J. Champlin wrote:

Sigh.  NPR; McClaren; Mohler; the tableaux is complete.  So somebody needs to stand up for Mohler, because he’s got a point:
[b"Did Jesus go to the cross as a mere victim? If so, then we have no Gospel, we have no hope of everlasting life,” Mohler says. “Did Jesus go merely as a political prisoner, executed because he had offended the regime? Well, if so, that’s a very interesting chapter of human history, but I’m not going to stake my life on it, much less my hope for eternity.”
The extent to which pop religious writers depend on straw men (and playing to people’s bad feelings about their memories of religion in childhood) is truly depressing.  BTW, in my experience, the “bad feelings” often turn out to be somewhat self-serving—a convenient dodge to avoid the church’s challenge to my well protected little ego.  Anyways, Mohler’s defense of evangelical theology has integrity A body could criticize some of the more rigid formulations of that theology and still engage the substance of it.  Instead McClaren sets up straw men by making a parody of evangelical belief—a vengeful, blood-thirsty God who’s sending everybody he doesn’t like to hell—in order to proclaim the brave new world of the emergent church.  The notion that the church much have nurtured people for hundreds of years in a holy way of life; that, relative to that way of life, my little problems “don’t amount to a hill of beans”; all that just gets lost.  In my judgment, the Episcopal Church ill serves its mission in its fascination with this stuff.

March 29, 12:14 pm | [comment link]
14. J. Champlin wrote:

Apologies for the many to anyone who tries to read #13.

March 29, 12:21 pm | [comment link]
15. J. Champlin wrote:

That was supposed to be “many typos”.  Time to quit.

March 29, 12:23 pm | [comment link]
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