Friday, June 06, 2008

How "Everything Must Change"


A Pastor Reports on Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" Tour

By Pastor Jeffrey Whittaker

In light of the preceding observations, one can understand why the preponderance of Scripture quoted by Brian McLaren comes from those places which deal with the ethical and humane treatment of one’s fellow man, and those dealing with social justice and caring for the poor. These passages, then, are synthesized and represented as prerequisites for salvation. On page 208 of Everything Must Change, he writes:

"The way of the kingdom of God calls people to a higher concern than self - or national interest: namely, concern for the common good. And for Jesus, achieving the bottom line of profit and financial success without concern for the common good qualifies one uniquely—not for the heaven of the Fortune 500—but for hell.

"With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:19) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined for perdition, or to those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their 'personal Savior.' Rather, hell—literal or figurative—is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day. As Jesus also makes clear in the story of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37)…. [bold added]

Even more revealing statements which help us understand where McLaren is coming from on this vital issue are contained in an interview with Leif Hansen; the transcript of which is available online. [1] Listen to this disturbing exchange:

Hansen: They [traditional Christians] want to know that there’s going to be some kind of, so to speak, hell to pay. Some sort of judgment. I think part of the problem that you and I both react to is that an infinite amount of punishment for a finite being and a finite amount of sin, there’s something that seems to question God’s just and loving nature.

Yeah, it’s very true. And I think that creates a rational problem. And is that rationally sensible? Would it be—Does it make sense for a good being to create creatures who will experience infinite torture, infinite time, infinite—you know, never be numbed in their consciousness? I mean, how would you even create a universe where that sort of thing could happen? It just sounds—It really raises some questions about the goodness of God. And that, to me, is the deepest issue. You know, John said in First John, God is light and in God there is no darkness at all. And I -- what I have to believe is that very few of us actually believe that. We all have the suspicion that there is a dark side to God. And that God isn’t truly, truly good. And I’m sure there’s all kinds of psycho pathology in that and everything else for all of us. But I think this is, in large part, why, what is so wonderful and magnetic about Jesus, is that Jesus, I think, reveals to us a God who is all light and there is no darkness at all there.

(Author’s note: Do you see here how the very fact that God is holy, just, and perfect is turned into an accusation against Him? Also, note that the problem is now with an unjust God instead of a sinful human race.)

Hansen: I see that, too, Brian. But I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this in the letter that I sent you. But there are some places where either I need that hermeneutic of love as I’m reading him (John). Or His editors screwed up what he said. Or something. But there is a few places. The one that always comes to my mind as an example is where he uses imagery that feels and sounds sort of violent and dark. And to me, sort of threatening. Even though it’s a parable, the example would be the servants that get cut up into tiny pieces. I’m like, what the hell is with that Jesus? Why? If you want me to have a sense that you and that God can be trusted and ultimately care for me, I know it can hurt following you also. But why would you use an image like that?

(Author’s note: Hansen’s subtle turn of phrase does away with Biblical inerrancy and Divine inspiration when making his scoffing reference to the Apostle John’s “editors screwing up.” Instead of bowing before God’s Holy Word with humility and repentance, he, as well as the majority of emergent advocates, simply changes the rules.)

McLaren: Let’s use that example. Can we talk about that for a couple minutes? Because, first of all, wouldn’t that be great for a biblical literalist to be as literal about that as they want to be about some of the other parables Jesus told. So that we have the picture now, not only are you in literal flame, but you are cut up into pieces. So there’s however many pieces of you. I guess it’s sort of a, yeah, it’s a shish-kabob, exactly. So I think and we’re laughing. These things shouldn’t be laughed about. But, you know, I just think that’s a great example of how we have this selective literalism that’s just so stunning.

(Author’s note: There’s the scoffing again.)

Later on in the interview we hear:

Hansen: But again, I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass. But does the explosion come from God or does it come from God knowing how humanity, how we will reap what we sow?

This is, one of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.

Hansen: Oh, Brian, that was just so beautifully said. I was tempted to get on my soap box there and you know—Because as you and I know there are so many illustrations and examples that you could give that show why the traditional view of hell completely falls in the face of—It’s just antithetical to the cross. But the way you put it there, I love that. It’s false advertising. And here, Jesus is saying, turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Forgive seven times seventy. Return violence with self-sacrificial love. But if we believe the traditional view of hell, it’s like, well, do that for a short amount of time. Because eventually, God’s going to get them.

Yeah. And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive…. And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else. [all emphases above added]

Here is the literal “crux” of the matter indeed! According to Ephesians 1:7:

“In whom (Jesus Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

God “so loved the world” through Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross, because His Holy Character and Law could not co-exist with sin and rebellion. However, Brian McLaren has now redefined the cross to be only an example of political non-violence and self sacrifice, instead of the legal and cosmic act of justification for the entire human race that it was. This is why for McLaren there indeed is a hell, but not for those who refuse God’s gracious offer of personal salvation (a petty theological issue to be sure); but rather for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.

This entire line of reasoning is reminiscent of a geometry proof gone bad. If one begins with an incorrect statement, then the entire proof is corrupted and the conclusion will be skewed. For instance; if A = B (hell is not for those who reject Christ as Lord and Savior but for those who do not work for social and economic justice), and if B = C; (those who do spend their lives in this most noble enterprise will be in heaven, not because of personal faith in Christ’s finished work at Calvary, but by virtue of their humanistic compassion for their fellow man’s struggle with injustice). Therefore, (according the “transitory property” of geometric proofs) A = C (Heaven is for all who care for their fellow man’s economic and political condition regardless of whether or not they profess faith in Christ, or are the member of any other particular religion or belief system (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.)!

Allow me to say at this point, that I completely agree with the premise that we who claim a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus need to be regularly challenged to stay in the active ministry of giving of one’s time and resources, showing compassion to those in need. I would even go so far as to say that to neglect this duty is to sin against God and man. However, this “new atonement” goes beyond this, and completely does away with a significant portion of the New Testament which deals with personal faith in Christ Jesus as being the only door of true salvation and relationship with a Holy God!

Humanitarian outreach has always been an integral part of genuine Christian missions for centuries. Schools, hospitals, and orphanages have been built all over the world in the name of Jesus Christ and His glorious Gospel. Why are we now expected to believe that these “emergents” are doing something never before done in the history of the church? How incredibly vain! What of Robert Rakes and his Sunday Schools for the poor children of London? What of General William Booth and the Salvation Army with its twin mottos of “blood and fire,” and “soap and salvation”? In fact, Catherine Booth, the General’s dedicated partner in life and ministry proclaimed:

"Many do not recognize the fact as they ought, that Satan has got men fast asleep in sin and that it is his great device to keep them so. He does not care what we do if he can do that. We may sing songs about the sweet by and by, preach sermons and say prayers until doomsday, and he will never concern himself about us, if we don’t wake anybody up. But if we awake the sleeping sinner he will gnash on us with his teeth. This is our work—to wake people up."

What a fiery call to true compassionate Gospel ministry indeed! You will notice, though, that McLaren (as well as most emergent authors) omits any honorable references to these historic examples of Christ-centered compassion ministries, while at the same time deriding the “irrelevance” of Biblical and historical orthodoxy. Why? Because this argument has nothing to do with simply motivating Christians to compassionate service, but rather using social issues as a cover for deconstructing Biblical Christianity!

As an example of this dynamic, let us examine one of McLaren’s favorite theme passages of his tour. Matthew 25:31-46 specifically deals with the judgment of the sheep and the goats; which is meant to clearly demonstrate his “salvation through economic justice” argument. As I was meditating on this position though, I picked up my Bible (something I hadn’t been encouraged to do at this conference) and began to re-read the entire chapter. Beginning with Brian’s favorite section I read…

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

I paused and then returned to the beginning of the 25th chapter where I found the parable of the talents, a topic I’ve never seen mentioned in any of McLaren’s writings nor heard him teach on. Jesus makes these troubling remarks at the parable’s conclusion:

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed: 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29 For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

According to these verses, it would appear that the small-minded, wicked and slothful servant was being judged for not applying the basic principles of market economics and a strong work ethic. What was the Lord’s judgment in this case? Did He take the excessive profits of the servant with ten talents and lovingly redistribute his wealth to the unfortunate servant who buried his one talent in the ground (no doubt due to fear caused by years of abusive exploitation and colonialization)? Surprisingly, he instead took the one talent from the poor “have not” and gave it to the greedy, oppressive, capitalistic “have”!

If a serious Bible student would read these successive passages in their proper context (a principle of hermeneutics that is rare if not absent from the emergent discussion), one would easily perceive that the Lord was building a comprehensive ethic of hard work and faithfulness coupled with genuine compassion for the unfortunate poor, sick, and oppressed. However, neither passage was ever meant to be taken in isolation, thereby being abused in order to create a doctrine of justification that is totally foreign to the comprehensive teachings of the New Testament! If one accepts the premise that all earnest and sincere humans will ultimately find their place in God’s eternal Kingdom, the logical conclusion will be nothing short of humanistic universalism.

Part 5: The disturbing conclusion. . . . Stay tuned. . . . .

The Truth:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.... For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again." (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; 14-15)