Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Emergent "Jesus Worldview"

Herescope has warned about a "biblical worldview" and a "Christian worldview" in previous posts because these terms are loaded with extra-biblical agendas and meanings, particularly dominionism. The other day we encountered the phrase "Jesus worldview" from none other than Brian McLaren of Emergent Church fame.

McLaren has recently written a new book with the Gnostic-sounding title The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything (W Publishing Group, 2006). In chapter 7 titled "The Demonstration of the Message," McLaren expounds upon his premise that Jesus communicated His message secretly through parables and signs and wonders. He states:

"The term we typically use for these phenomena is not signs and wonders but rather miracles. Yet too often these days, the word miracle unwittingly roots us in a worldview that is foreign to the world of Jesus. To understand how miracles worked as vehicles for Jesus' secret message, I think we're wiser to immerse ourselves in Jesus' worldview rather than drag him into ours.

"A worldview is a way of seeing. It's not just what we see, but how we see everything else. It's the lens through which we see -- a lens of assumptions, beliefs, images, metaphors, values, and ideas that we inherit and construct from our family, our teachers, our peers, our community, and our culture. As we go through life, many of us find it next to impossible even to want to question our inherited worldview, while others do exactly that: we rethink, we imagine other ways of seeing things, and we sometimes experience radical conversions out of one worldview and into another." (p. 51) [bold emphases added]

Like other worldview promoters, McLaren uses worldview as a mechanism to deconstruct the old Christianity and imagine a new version, which he claims is a "more nuanced and organic worldview" (p. 53) The deconstruction of the old worldview goes like this:

"Most of us in the modern West -- religious or irreligious -- have inherited a worldview that was formed largely in the seventeenth century. In this perspective, our world is best compared to a machine. God, if God exists, created the universe like a huge clock: the complex mechanism was designed and wound up in the beginning, was set in motion, and has been ticking away ever since, slowly winding down through a process called entropy. . . .

"In this worldview, miracles -- if they occur -- would involve interference from outside. God reaches in and fiddles with the gears of the clock, or God intervenes and pushes a billiard ball so its natural path is redirected. In this view, God is the outsider, natural causes create effects mechanistically and automatically unless God intervenes." (p. 52)

This particular discussion about machines and clocks would not mean much to lay evangelicals. But this actually has quite a bit to do with the history of the First Reformation -- a Reformation which not only challenged the existing status quo in Roman Catholicism, but also stood against the rising influence of Hermeticism and Gnosticism. Certain philosophers, scientists, mathemeticians and alchemists held to a hierarchical (occult) view of the universe, and particularly a conception of the universe as a vast machine. Great treatises on "systems" and "machines" were written by men during the past 500 years. According to the on-line Dictionary of the History of Ideas,

"The Cambridge Platonists notwithstanding, the 'new philosophers,' even when not under the spell of Cartesianism, were increasingly obliged to separate spirit from matter and finally to reduce God to the level of an impersonal First Cause. . . . Scientists like Newton did not ostracize God quite to the same extent. They hoped that somehow the study of the 'the Mechanism of the World' would lead them to 'the very first Cause' which -- Newton rather anxiously remarked -- 'certainly is not mechanical' . . . . In fact, however, not only did Newton reduce the Scale of Nature to a hierarchical system of particles within matter. . . but argued that the First Cause intervenes only when required to mend the clock-like machine of the universe. The implications of this argument did not escape Leibniz:

"Sir Isaac Newton, and his followers, have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion. Nay, the machine of God's making is so imperfect, according to these gentlemen, that he is obliged to clean it now and then by an extraordinary concourse, and even to mend it, as a clockmaker mends his work (The Leibniz-Clark Correspondence, ed., H.G. Alexander [1956], pp. 11-12)."

It is interesting that McLaren refers to this clock-like machine universe without attributing it directly to its sources. The Western worldview that he is busy debunking is not necessarily some old, dysfunctional Christian worldview. Why would McLaren do this? The answer may lie in what McLaren says next. In describing this new "Jesus worldview," McLaren says:

"But Jesus lived long before clocks, billiard tables, or complex machines of any kind. His worldview, his model of the universe, was very different -- more organic, less mechanistic. In many ways it was simpler, but in many ways it was grander, more alive, freer, subtler, and more dynamic. God was neither absent and outside the universe nor trapped inside it. Rather, God was connected to the universe, present with it, and intimately involved in it. So the universe was less like a machine and more like a family, less like a mechanism and more like a community. The very word kingdom suggests as much: Kings are relationally involved in their kingdoms. They are present, active, participatory, and engaged. They aren't simply part of the kingdom -- one part among many -- but neither are they apart from it." (pp. 52-53)

OOPS! We just ran into a bunch of gobbledygook! God isn't a machine. And His universe isn't a machine. Well, okay. . . . (But what about Creator?) And then we must take a gigantic leap to the family, the community and then voila! -- the KINGDOM! An "organic," "relational," "community of the world" type kingdom where we all must "open up to signs and wonders." McLaren states:

". . . I have become convinced that Jesus' worldview is better than ours. . . . the universe isn't a machine at all, it's more like a family, a community, or a kingdom. . . .

". . . God, the good King, is present -- working from the inside. The King is in the kingdom, and the kingdom is among us here and now. . . The incursion of the kingdom of God has begun. . . (p. 60)

It seems fairly apparent that this entire chapter of McLaren's book is intended to set the stage for a new "worldview" of the "kingdom" -- which is precisely what other worldview proponents are also working on from their various vantage points. Mysticism is a handy way to do this.

The Truth:

"Worldview" advocates love to selectively quote from Dr. Francis Schaeffer. In fact, he is often attributed by dominionists and leftist writers as the father of "worldview," i.e., "dominionism." However, a careful reading of his complete works, tells a much different story. Dr. Schaeffer, in Escape From Reason (Inter-Varsity, 1968), described the dilemma of science in our postmodern era (what Schaeffer termed "modern modern"):

"Early science was natural science in that it dealt with natural things, but it was not naturalistic, for, though it held to the uniformity of natural causes, it did not conceive of God and man as caught in the machinery. The early modern scientists held the conviction, first that God gave knowledge to men in the Bible -- knowledge concerning Himself and also concerning the universe and history -- and, second, that God and man were not part of the machinery and could affect the working of the machine of cause and effect. There was cause and effect, but in an open system. God could work into the cause and effect system, and people are not total prisoners in the machine. So there was not an autonomous situation in the 'lower story.'

"Science thus developed, a science which dealt with the real, natural world but which had not yet become naturalistic. . . .

"The early scientists believed in the uniformity of natural causes. What they did not believe in was the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. That little phrase makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy. It makes all the difference between what I call modern science and what I would call modern modern science. It is important to notice that this is not a failing of science as science, but rather that the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system has become the dominant philosophy among scientists."

The rest of Schaeffer's discussion on this point is relevant and interesting, but too lengthy to include in this blog post. Dr. Schaeffer predicted the rise of something like the emergent church -- a postmodern, irrational, illogical, immoral, irreverant and existential neo-orthodoxy that uses spiritual words that give an illusion of religion.

"And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:60-62)