November 28, 2005

The Church in Emerging Culture 4

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

Brian McLaren‘s essay in The Church in Emerging Culture is very much like the books of his that I’ve read. He makes a number of good points, but on the whole it’s hard to pin down what he believes or what direction he would have the church take.

McLaren opens the essay by affirming that the message we preach never changes “if by message you mean the story that begins with ‘In the beginning, God created…'” (p. 191). Nevertheless, in the rest of the essay, McLaren wants to affirm, as well, that the message always changes in some way because it’s being addressed to a changing culture. Moreover, if our methods change, those changes are never limited to method; a change in method involves a change in message, too.

When McLaren talks about the gospel as a story, not as a collection of timeless moral principles, I’m with him. When he tells us that the gospel is “many versioned, many faceted, many layered, and Christ-centered,” I’m with him (though I agree with Horton that the variety in Scripture doesn’t allow us to pit, say, the theology of Paul against that of Matthew). When he says that the gospel is cumulative, starting with Genesis, I’m with him. When he says that the gospel isn’t just a report that we hear but is actually powerful, catalytic, and saving, I’m with him. When he rejects canned approaches (e.g., the sinner’s prayer, walking the aisle, etc.), I’m with him. And when he says that we all need to examine our methodologies to see if they’re distorting our message, I’m with him.

But when McLaren suggests that the message needs to change, I’m not with him. McLaren’s provides an example: his Jewish friend Sam, whose son was an Israeli soldier and stood up to his fellow soldiers who were tormenting a Palestinian and who ended up suffering for it. Is it possible, Sam asked, that Hitler could have prayed a prayer (e.g., “Jesus save me!”) and ended up in heaven after all the wicked things he did while his son, who suffered for the sake of someone else, could end up in hell simply because he didn’t trust in Jesus?

That’s a tough question, I grant. I suspect the question would make most of us uncomfortable if we were asked it to our faces, especially by someone we cared about. But what are our options? I don’t think McLaren wants to say that if Hitler did sincerely pray such a prayer he would still be punished because of the evil he did. But does McLaren want to say that someone who doesn’t trust in Jesus could still be saved because he was self-sacrificing?

In the end, McLaren says that he is still seeking, inviting people to join him in his search, and that he is less and less confidence that he can say “I have found.” Well, there’s some biblical truth in saying, with U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” None of us has attained to sinless perfection or to complete knowledge of Scripture.

But what’s the virtue of being a seeker if you never find anything, if you don’t land on anything and say, “Well, I’m not at the final goal yet, but I’ve found this I’m certain about this?” McLaren is very gracious, and in his concluding response to his interlocutors he indicates things he’s learned from all of them, but his essay leaves us with little more than an invitation to humility and a summons to keep seeking, which isn’t very helpful at all.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:57 pm | Discuss (0)

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