If there is one thing that I aspire to in my writing, it is clarity. I want to think clear thoughts, and I want to write clear words. With clarity comes a better glimpse of the truth. Language has such a power to communicate the truth of our existence, but it also has an unmatched power to blind us from the same truth. We build mighty walls around our minds and hearts with empty words mortared by ignorance. And, unfortunately, we are guilty of building the same walls around those with whom we interact. When we resort to jargon (words used by a particular group that have little meaning to outsiders) we put up more walls. Jargon is in direct conflict with the truth found in Christianity. Only a fool, or a young child would build walls just to break them down and build them again. Jargon is an enemy of truth and therefore in direct opposition to the message found in the bible.
“There are two people who provide the entire world with quotations: Names and Anonymous.”
I wrote that quote. Is it true, or is it clever? Does it matter? It seems to me that most of the quotes that we use come from famous individuals. Regular people say all kinds of great things throughout their lives, but who cares? You have to make a name for yourself, or the quote has to be so incredible that people forget your name and you become Mr. Anonymous. So the next time you see a quote, ask yourself if it’s truly insightful, or if it is something you could have said at a party.
I love movies, but more and more I see the advantage of books. How many times have you heard someone say, “The book was better than the movie”? In almost all cases the book is more enjoyable than the movie. The Harry Potter series is perhaps the best modern example. Is there one person who truly appreciates the books who will then say that the movies are greater? To claim that the movies are better would undermine the foundation of the series, and prove to everyone that you don’t actually appreciate the story. Even though Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all-time, you would be hard pressed to find a fan who didn’t believe wholeheartedly that the books were far greater. The magic of books is found in the intimacy between author and reader. The author transports you to a place inside of your own mind where the both of you can go on a fantastic journey. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? Let’s value great books.
Though seeing, I was blind. Though hearing, I was deaf. Though feeling, I was numb.
The truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the living Word made flesh, the savior of mankind, is heard by many all of the time. This gospel of abundant eternal life is spoken by millions and heard by billions. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Have you ever considered the implications of Jesus Christ for yourself? I’ll never forget the time when it finally struck me as a freshman in college. All of those sermons, all of those prayers, all of those lifted hands and raised voices were not in vain. And they were not in vain because Jesus Christ actually did the things they said he did and actually was the one he said he was.
What a revelation that is, when you accept God by accepting the greatest gift of all, His only son.
What has God given us?
The greatest example of love. Death on a cross was supremely unfair for a sinless and good man. Yet Jesus endured this agony and shame. Who did he do it for? When you get to that place where you see that he did it for you, you are looking into the face of God. Jesus himself told his beloved disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
But this isn’t the whole picture. Jesus did this, not for good people who made some mistakes, or just for his friends, but for each of us who has turned to his or her own way. He did this for his enemies. You were his enemy. The Bible says, “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son” (Romans 5:10 emphasis my own).
If you don’t feel that you need God, you will not find Him. That is why Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”(Mark 10:25). And that is also why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). If you read through the gospels you will see the types of people that Jesus connected with. The downcast, the sick, the needy, the hungry, the humble. The satisfied have no need. But the needy will certainly be satisfied.
Over the past few weeks, I have been commenting on Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity. In it he claims that Jesus is not the only path to God, and to claim as such is religious arrogance. This is a fatal flaw. And for a Christian to claim that Jesus Christ is anything short of the only hope for all humanity is not loving. It appears humble and loving to not claim such an exclusive truth in the presence of those who do not believe it, but this is not the reality.
When you accept Jesus Christ, you quickly recognize that your life has changed. You view yourself and those around you differently. You start to recognize the sin that has been keeping you a slave and stunting your ability to love. Over time, you learn to trust God with more of your life because you realize that the parts that you’ve already given to Him have been redeemed and enable you to live better and love more freely.
Now if someone were to come up to you and ask, “Do you believe that the only way to heaven is by believing in Jesus?” What would you really be saying if you said, “I don’t know” or “It’s not my place to say.” ?
To walk with Christ, to allow him into your heart and self, is really the process of coming to life. A true Christian recognizes that the Kingdom of Heaven is being made manifest through him or her and only through Jesus. Because it is the process of lifting Christ higher than yourself (an act of love) that in turn lifts you higher. The truth of your own salvation is evident now in this life.
To accept Jesus, is to accept your identity in him. You are no longer separated from him. Jesus said, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21)
To deny that Jesus is the only path to life is to deny what Jesus said, deny what Jesus accomplished, and most definitely to deny the truth of the life you have once you’ve accepted him.
The apostle Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This man walked with Jesus and he was willing to give his entire life to the point of death for him. In the same way, the other apostles held to their faith unto death. They didn’t die for their “religion” of Christianity. That’s not worth dieing for because it’s not worth living for. They died for Jesus Christ.
Consider the implications.
My original plan was to continue on this track of instructing you in the ways of Brian McLaren’s beliefs without infusing my own direct criticism. For two reasons, I have decided to change course. The first, I feel that the descriptions are becoming bland and drawn out. If anyone has decided to follow these posts, I feel a certain obligation to keep them interested. The second, I can no longer hold back my strong desires and convictions regarding McLaren’s dangerous* theology. Perhaps this is somewhat a sign of my own weakness, this inability to lift up an argument that so grinds against my core beliefs. Or, maybe these strong convictions I feel for the truth that I believe are coming from some place far purer. Whatever the case, from this point on, it’s going to be an intense ride.
I had planned to write on McLaren’s character, Theos. So I will use Theos as my “jumping off” point.
Theos is the name of the character that McLaren gives to the God of the Old Testament when He does something that McLaren finds “morally unacceptable”. His chief example is the flood story. He writes, “A god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to an unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship” (109).
Now, McLaren argues that his Theos is actually, “the Greco-Roman god” and not “Jewish Elohim” (42). Theos is the perfect, Platonic god who must destroy anything that isn’t also perfect (42). He goes on to say, “Elohim, unlike Theos, doesn’t pronounce this world perfect, (or imperfect), but rather “good” (47). He then goes on to say, regarding the fall in the Garden of Eden, “Elohim’s story, it seems to me, unfolds as a kind of compassionate coming- of- age story” (49).
McLaren has divided God. The parts that he views as morally unacceptable and unworthy of praise (The flood in Genesis, the various times he commands the Hebrews to kill people, sending people to hell) are at best, immature and undeveloped views of God, and at worst, misreadings stemming from our Greco-Roman heritage. The parts that he accepts (social justice, love, compassion, patience, grace) are really, “more mature and nuanced understandings” (102).
Here is another quote that McLaren uses to justify his position:
As human capacity grows to concieve of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment. If we read the Bible as a cultural library rather than as a constitution, and if we don’t impose a Greco-Roman plotline on the biblical narrative, we are free to learn from that evolutionary process- and, we might even add, to participate in it (103)
To break McLaren’s argument down…
Mankind’s understanding of God has evolved over time and will continue to evolve. Recognizing this evolution allows us to see that the doctrines of eternal damnation and original sin actually do not fit God’s character. Only because of the Greco-Roman influence and mankind’s early immature understanding do we have a God who cannot tolerate sin, obliterates most of humanity, and sends many to eternal conscious torment in hell. The true God doesn’t send anyone to hell because of their sin. The true God understands that people aren’t perfect and he just wants to help them through it.
As I see it, the things that do not sit well with him are cast out as false. In this way, he is giving himself a greater authority than the Bible, the word of God. This is why I called it a Biblical Buffet in the title. He is choosing what to take and what to cast aside. He has found a way to justify his beliefs, and he has no shame in calling it “a more mature understanding”.
The quote that comes to my mind at this time is “They create a desolation and call it peace”, which comes from ancient Rome and is about ancient Rome. McLaren is creating a desolation, but he is calling it good. He is calling it, God.
But what about Jesus? McLaren claims that both the Old and New testaments point to Him. He has entire chapters devoted to Him. My next post will be about this critical topic. I am sure it will also be the most interesting.
* McLaren’s theology is dangerous because it greatly reduces the evil of sin and our need for salvation. The true gospel at once identifies humanity as hopelessly broken and sinful, while offering the gift of grace and life through Jesus Christ. It identifies the need and then meets the need. If God Himself came to live and die and resurrect for our salvation, our need for His sacrifice is certainly greater than McLaren is admitting as I will explain in my next post.
- Perfect Eden
- Fall from Grace into Sin/Imperfection
- Condemnation (The world as we know it)
- Hell (Eternal Conscious Torment)
God created a perfect, or ideal world in the beginning. Then mankind chose to sin, which resulted in a fall from grace that infected all of humanity with “original sin”. The world is defined by this state of sin and condemnation and would have continued as such if not for the salvation provided by Christ. Those who accept him go to heaven. But those who do not, go to eternal conscious torment. McLaren asks, “Could this be the story of a sorting and shipping process, the purpose of which is to deliver souls into their appropriate eternal bin?” (35).
Over time, McLaren decided to reject this biblical narrative. He realized that “nobody in the Hebrew Scriptures ever talked about original sin, total depravity, the Fall, or eternal conscious torment in hell” (37). But where did these concepts come from? McLaren claims to have come to an answer during a talk with a friend.
‘What we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught! That’s the descent into Plato’s cave of illusion and the ascent into philosophical enlightenment.’ Some time after that, in a conversation with another friend, I realized it was also the social and political narrative of the Roman Empire, and so I began calling it the Greco-Roman Narrative (37).
I am now going to take a shot at describing Plato and Aristotle. If you’re reading this and you know more about philosophy, I apologize. Please feel free to correct me or add on to what I’m saying.
Plato taught that the material world was not the ultimate reality. The ultimate reality was above this, and existed as an eternal and unchanging Truth. All of the things we see and experience are only illusions or shadows. In this way, the ever changing material world is less real and true than the unchanging immaterial Reality. At best, the material can point to this higher truth.
Aristotle was Plato’s student and he challenged this position. Aristotle believed that the material world was the true reality and all of these “higher” concepts were merely human constructs developed to define the material world. The physical chair is more real than the concept of chair.
McLaren suggests that this argument between the two philosophers was adopted by the Greeks and later the Romans, helping to form the Greco-Roman culture (38).
The problem, as McLaren understands it, is that Western Christians adopted these concepts and reframed the biblical data to fit them. McLaren states, “I believe the Christian religion in the West, as it habitually read the Bible backwards through the lens of later Christians, largely lost track of the frontward storyline…within which Jesus emerged. It unwittingly traded its true heritage through Jesus from Judaism for an alien heritage drawn from Greek philosophy and Roman politics” (41).
Looking at the six line narrative in this light, it now breaks down like this:
- Platonic Ideal/ Being
- Fall into the Cave of Illusion
- Aristotelian Real/ Becoming
- Platonic Ideal
- Greek Hades
McLaren believes that if you read the Bible frontward, from the Hebrew Scriptures leading up to Jesus, you will see a very different story and even a different Jesus. But Christians have been reading it backward. He writes, “When we look backwards to Jesus in this way, we aren’t directly seeing Jesus. We’re seeing Paul’s view of Jesus, and then Augustine’s view of Paul’s view of Jesus..and so on” (36).
To sum up, McLaren believes that the storyline of the bible that has been accepted by most Christians throughout most of our history is severely tainted by Greco-Roman thought. In a later post I will describe how McLaren suggests we read and understand the storyline of the Bible. But in my next post, I will discuss the character of Theos, which is the name given by McLaren to the false God that came out of this false Greco-Roman narrative.
The Bible is many things to many people. It is also not many things to many people. In my own experience, I have encountered Christians who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. I have also encountered Christians who don’t know what they believe about it. Perhaps it is mostly true and good, but some of it doesn’t sit right. Wherever you stand, it is important to know that your position matters for you and for those around you. That applies to those who believe it to be the word of God and those who reject it completely.
I took a college course called “Bible as Literature”, which attempted to study it as a written work divorced from religion. By that I mean, we analyzed its structure and cultural significance, not its spiritual significance, and certainly not as a work inspired by God. The main textbook for this course, Understanding the Bible, has this to say under the caption, What is the Bible?
Known as the Good Book, as if it were a single volume, the Bible is in fact a collection of many individual books written over a period of 1,100 years. Derived from the Greek biblia, the word bible means “little books,” denoting its nature as an anthology or library of diverse compositions, ranging from the poetry and narrative to law and prophecy.
Divided into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Bible’s two distinct parts represent its origins in two different religious communities during different historical periods… The Old Testament was written by and for the Jewish community of faith…The early Christian movement produced a series of documents- Gospels, letters, and sermons- that were eventually collected to form the New Testament (Stephen Harris 2)
Harris then goes on to describe the divisions within the scriptures.
The Torah- Which is the first 5 books of the Bible containing God’s Law.
The Prophets- Describes God’s role in history and many prophecies concerning the future.
The Writings- The Psalms (Poetry and songs), Proverbs (Wisdom), Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations.
The Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These detail the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts of the Apostles- Details the work of the early Christian church immediately following the resurrection of Christ.
Paul’s Letters- Paul the apostle wrote a number of letters (Romans, Corinthians, Colosians etc) describing the new Christian faith.
General Letters- Sermons and letters describing the Christian life.
Revelation: The apocalypse. Christ’s return and the Final Judgment of all Humanity.
Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, has his own beliefs about the Bible.
He views the Bible as, “A portable library of poems, prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sage sayings, quarrels, and so on” (McLaren 79). He does not view it as a legal constitution. He says, “Lawyers in the courtroom quote articles, sections, paragraphs, and subparagraphs to win their case, and we do the same with testaments, books, chapters, and verses” (79). He believes that if the Bible is read as a constitution, as a legal truth document, it naturally contradicts itself and can be used to justify basically anything, from slavery to murder.
He also views the Bible as a progressive understanding of God. That is, as mankind progressed in knowledge and experience they developed a clearer understanding of who God actual is.
We could trace the maturation process among biblical writers regarding God’s character. In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconcilliation, and peace; God’s grace gets the final word (101-102)
This is a radical (perhaps blasphemous) interpretation of scripture. But I would be doing McLaren a disservice if I didn’t also include what he says about Jesus, which is, “The supreme and ultimate revelation of God, with the Old and New Testaments pointing to him like dual spotlights” (118).
McLaren believes the Bible to be written by men who were inspired by God. But he does not believe it to be the innerant (perfect) word of God. It is not to be used as a means to prove a position or absolute truth. And it is not a tool to save people from hell (I will go into this further in a future post). It is an evolving understanding and relationship between God and humanity.
Before ending this post, I would like to include my own belief regarding the Bible. But first, let me attempt to lay out before you my plan for the rest of these posts. So far we’ve addressed that Brian McLaren is a leader within the Emergent Church movement. He has a view of the Bible that does not follow the long accepted view followed by most Christians. He understands the Bible, not as a legal document, but as a collection of writings illustrating mankind’s progress in understanding the character of God. This character is most clearly seen in the character of Jesus Christ. From here I would like to address McLaren’s claim that we have been reading the Bible falsely as a “Greco-Roman Six Line Narrative”. After that we will examine the character of God that McLaren calls, Theos. That’s as far ahead as I can see right now, but I do know that eventually we will tackle this Truth issue head on.
I believe that the Bible is used by God to teach us, correct us, and reveal Himself to us. I believe that it is divinely inspired because it contains the breath of life when read as a revelation of God, through His son, Jesus Christ. Accept, and fall in love with Jesus, and the Bible is a letter of love, truth, and promise addressed to you.
Coming Soon: The Greco-Roman Six Line Narrative
We live in an incredible time. Information travels in an instant all over the world. My tiny phone can access the internet and tell me when someone has sent me a message, or when a severe thunderstorm is on its way. Never have so many people lived at once on the earth. At once, so much progress and potential, and at the same time much confusion and doubt about where we’ve been and where we are going. Never has the question mark appeared larger over the great question, What is Truth?
I once sat in a lecture hall of over 150 students. The professor asked us, “Who here believes in an absolute truth? Who believes in a truth that never changes? Raise your hand if you do.” Before looking around, I raised my hand. Then I was startled by the sight of only 2 other hands. In an auditorium of so many people, so few raised their hands.
On another occasion I gave a speech in front of 12 of my fellow classmates. Before I began, I asked them if they believed in an absolute truth. Only my professor raised his hand. He had this odd look on his face that seemed to say, why am I the only one raising my hand?
We are fed so many conflicting viewpoints it’s no wonder we’re unwilling to embrace any one thing as truth.
What makes one political position more true than another?
What makes one religion more true than another?
What makes one personal account more true than another?
What makes one theory more true than another?
What makes one brand more true than another?
What makes my opinion more true than yours?
What makes my beliefs more true than yours?
Amidst all of these questions and unsettled souls, a movement has sprung up within Christianity. The Emergent movement has come as a response to our disillusionment with organized institutionalized religion. It emphasizes open dialogue instead of a message to be absorbed. It is accepting of all denominations within Christianity. And it discourages followers from making exclusive truth claims that would divide those inside and outside the faith.
An Emerging Church website, called Emergent Village has this to say regarding the values of the movement:
I read his most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, over the past month.
In a series of upcoming posts I will address a number of critical issues that came out of this reading. The things he says matter to those who call themselves Christians in this country. And I also believe they matter to those who do not. If anything, this should offer a unique insight into the heart of the Christian faith. If you’re interested, here you are.
Coming Soon- What is the Bible?