Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (III)

Jesus and Global Problems

I’m discovering that once you go emergent, you are dealing with big issues; not necessarily biblical issues, but big, important issues. Once you start tackling these big issues, you rarely have time for insignificant matters such as sin, holiness, and personal salvation. Of course, it all makes sense if you stop and think about it. How could I possibly be all that concerned about my sin and redemption—especially since the Bible is so unclear about it—when there are global problems demanding my time and attention?

While concerned emergents are drinking tofu milkshakes, eating organic turnips (have you ever wondered what inorganic food might look like?), charging up the batteries on their Prius, being genuine and transparent by drinking beer, and going to trendy art exhibits, the rest of us are letting the planet go to pot. Thankfully, there are some who really care. Enter Brian McLaren; Mr. Birkenstock. In his latest book Everything Must Change he has given us a kind of Christian ethics that really isn’t all that Christian and mostly hangs in the air without any foundation. Genuine, authentic Bri is much too suave and chic to mimic the rest of Christianity. He has slipped the surly bonds of being an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, a stuffy traditionalist, a crusading religious imperialist (what?), or an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic and has become a “new kind of Christian.” [1] He invites people to join this worn-out journey that’s been done a gazillion times before.

You will have to look long and hard to find fresh, authentic, challenging, and adventurous Bri[2][3] fanatically waving the Bible. In fact, you won’t even find him waving the Bible. In fact,…well, you get it, don’t you? Anyway, Bri’s book wants to answer two key questions: First, what are the biggest problems in the world? Second, what does Jesus have to say about these global problems?[4] So this is not going to be one of those “fundy” reads where people are flying in an airplane and suddenly part of the passengers are missing, leaving their clothes behind (apparently we’re all going to be naked in heaven), while the other hapless passengers are simply left behind. Nope. This is going to be a book “For people who share a commitment to ethics or faith or both…”[5] Do you qualify? Most would, I think, fit into this definition.

Most people have some kind of commitment to ethics. They don’t want the dolphins hurt; they desire to have the manatees protected; they would like to witness the imprisonment of most of the employees of big business; they would like to tell you how, when, and where free men and women can protect themselves against someone trying to take their life; and they are all for free speech—unless you happen to disagree with them and then the First Amendment flies out of the window. That sometimes happens with a “living” document. Just ask Al Gore. In addition, they have views on the war, but the wealthy among them have armed body guards; they also expect you to call 9-1-1, while your family is being attacked in your home. The Christians among them want you to pray while your wife is being raped by an intruder rather than being a good shot and killing him. So, in a nutshell, yes, most people are ethical, even if they are non-believers and have no foundation whatsoever for ethics. Francis Schaeffer said it best: They have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.

Apparently, in Bri’s way of doing ethics, it really doesn’t matter all that much. He, personally, is “a follower of God in the way of Jesus,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Old authentic Bri really does tell it like it is though. Why, he believes that Jesus was unique, brilliant, and wise (among many other things).[6] The Transparent One doesn’t bother to delineate what those many things are, but who would when he’s out to save the planet? As specific as old Bri is about who Jesus is, I’m surprised that anyone would read another page of this ethics book that is so jam-packed with fanatical Bible-waving fundamentalism. If you really want to cheese off the non-Christian world, then the next time you go out evangelizing just say that Jesus was unique, brilliant, and wise—among many other things. Talk about placing a stumbling block in the path of the non-believer. Whew! Wow! Heavy stuff, Bri!

Bri also knows how to start important friendships very quickly. Claude Nikondeha from Burundi in East Africa visited Bri in Washington, D.C. Burundi is the third poorest country in the world. By their last cup of coffee their friendship had started.[7] Claude was paying for the coffee. The third poorest country does have Starbucks. He invited Bri to Burundi even though the U.S. State Department strongly urged Americans not to visit there because it was too dangerous.[8] Nevertheless, tough guy Bri felt he should go anyway.[9] So he polluted the planet with the exhaust of jet fuel from D.C. to Schipol in Amsterdam. Then he caught another hop to Nairobi and yet another to Bujumbura. Here’s the summary of the matter: “I was forty-eight years old, and if I was ever going to do something about poverty and injustice, it seemed like high time for me to get more firsthand experience.”[10]

Question: What did he do about poverty and injustice? Answer: Nothing. What has he done since except write a loopy book that purports to be written by a Christian pastor but is oddly bereft of Scripture? Did he have to travel to Burundi to witness poverty and injustice? He was probably pretty close to it in D.C., but it wouldn’t have made for such a compassionate story to have stayed at home, especially if you want to write a book about global problems.

At the end of this chapter—each chapter actually—there are “Group Dialogue Questions.” The gnome who interviewed Bri found these exciting and challenging questions, which, when you stop and think about it, makes sense to a fifty-year-old man who wears swim goggles in a forest that’s covered in snow. Both Bri and the gnome are too intelligent and concerned, so there are questions to help us on our global journey. Let me give you a sampling and, for no extra change, I’ll even share my marginal notes with you.

Question 1: “How do you respond to the author’s two preoccupying questions?”[11] Marginal note: He’s a nut case. “Have you ever heard others ask them?” Marginal note: Yes. Jim Wallis, who did about as poorly as Bri and is a left-wing conspirator, although Wallis seems less ashamed about being a Christian.

Question 2: “Have you heard debates about the causes of poverty?”[12] Marginal note: How many are there? As you read on, you’ll discover that Bri loves a good victim when it comes to poverty.

Question 3: “How do you think most Christians today respond to the issue of poverty?”[13] Marginal note: Is there a survey out? Clearly this is a loaded question and I’m not certain that even old Bri can answer this one definitively, authoritatively, but he can certainly answer it authentically. Therefore, let me try the same approach.

Have I thought about poverty? Yes, I have. I’ve thought about it from various angles, but the most helpful—far and away—has been the biblical angle. In the Old Testament I discovered that God made provision for the poor and that the Lord made both poor and rich (cf. 1 Sam. 2:7). Both rich and poor are to heed the words of the Lord (Ps. 49:1-2) and that even the king of Israel could be poor and needy (Ps. 70:5; 86:1). I’ve considered how the Lord set up a system of gleaning that allowed the poor to find sustenance and even a process whereby the poor were given food that had been tithed to the Levites. Clearly, in a culture without refrigeration the poor had to learn to manage what they had been given. In both the Old as well as in the New Testaments the poor were present and we are told that those who are generous to the poor are blessed (Prov. 14:21); in fact, one who is generous to the poor lends to the Lord (Prov. 19:17).

Jesus reminds us that we will always have the poor among us (Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). I’ve also learned that riches and poverty both can lead a person astray (Prov. 30:7-9). The Bible has taught me that man can attempt to set up a system of wealth redistribution like old Bri would like to set up, but that it’s not the answer to the problem of poverty. Housing projects and handouts don’t solve the problem in the long run, they are only a temporary band-aid, at best. Individuals can do things to help from time to time, but a long term solution is needed. Do I give money to people at the exits in California who claim to be—and might very well be—homeless? No. Do I give money to people who walk up to me or ride up on a bike and ask me for change? No. Have I ever purchased a meal for someone who told me they were hungry? Yes, and I sat down with them while they ate it and talked with them. Am I moved when especially I see children in need? Sure, but I don’t think it’s primarily the government’s place to fund welfare programs that are abused just so we can throw money at a problem.

Africa and AIDS is a case in point. Old jet-setter Bri is concerned about AIDS. I am too; in both the heterosexual as well as in the homosexual community. To date, the U.S. has thrown over one billion dollars at the AIDS problem in Africa with little or nothing to show for it. You don’t rid poverty by taking money from American taxpayers to fund a welfare program and you don’t solve AIDS here and abroad by giving away sample packs of Enzyte or condoms at school. It doesn’t solve the problem for adults to say, “Well, they’re going to have sex anyway, so let’s give them condoms.” Gang-bangers and gang members are going to murder anyway so let’s give them guns.

We won’t solve the problems by waving a magic wand or writing a book, but we can make a dent in it if those who are “followers of God in the way of Jesus” start acting like it, and I’m suggesting—strongly—that neither Bri nor the Emergent church is acting like it. We won’t solve the problems associated with poverty until whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and others who are parents start acting like parents and those who are Christian parents start acting like Christian parents. The Church of Jesus Christ won’t have much—if anything—to say about poverty or any moral issue for that matter until the pastors stop acting like limp-wristed effeminates and start acting like biblical men: Not macho, but certain and decidedly masculine.

And these problems will not go away until the Church remembers why there are Deacons. Are we willing to sit by and let the State take care of us and others from womb to tomb? That is what Bri is suggesting. Have you looked at Europe lately? I’ve lived there and I’ve seen, first hand, the ravages of Socialism. The churches do little because the State has its citizens in its iron grip. If the welfare checks are late, people panic. How will they live? How will they subsist? Isn’t it amazing and scary that the State has that kind of power and control over lives? In Canada they build casinos so that those on welfare can gamble. But that’s the world; what’s happening in the Church? Can your Deacons truly help someone in need? How do you know if someone is in need? What are the steps in truly “helping” someone in need? Do you just throw money at it and hope it will go away or do you talk a good game, but in the final analysis have never really done anything to help the poor?

In writing about the influence of Reformed and Puritan Protestantism during colonial America, Sydney Ahlstrom wrote this: “…no institution plays a more prominent role in the molding of colonial culture than the church. Just as Protestant convictions were vitally related to the process of colonialization and a spur to economic growth, so the churches laid the foundations of the education system, and stimulated most of the creative intellectual endeavors, by nurturing the authors of most of the books and the faculties of most of the schools. The churches offered the best opportunities for architectural expression and inspired the most creative productions in poetry, philosophy, music, and history.”[14]

We could add to this that all schools, hospitals, and orphanages were started and maintained with Christian money. Bri’s solution, however, is not the churches getting serious about living by biblical principles, thereby becoming stuffy traditionalists, but by your “group” getting together and doing a little consciousness raising by watching Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, and Beat the Drum. In other words, let Hollywood give you the straight skinny on how things really are. Just what we need. Want to know about Iraq? Ask Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Rosie O’Donnell, or Tim Robbins. Want to know about Vietnam? Ask Hanoi Jane Fonda. Want to know about responsible marriage? Ask Brad Pitt, Britney Spears, or Elizabeth Taylor. Want to know about anything? Ask Kevin Costner. That’s a great idea because we all know that Hollywood is “neutral” on a host of issues like homosexual marriage, abortion, cohabitation, war, the death penalty, and a host of others. Way to go, Bri! Rather than directing those who are “followers of God according to Jesus” to the Bible, you suggest that they sit down and watch movies.

You need to know that Bri and his tribe have a lot of baggage. Not only did they not make it through the 1960s and 1970s without frying their brains on “bad trips,” but they just got hammered in church—much worse than anyone else. While in Burundi, Bri joined a group of amahoro-hungry leaders. Now for the unwashed masses, amahoro is not fast food from Burundi; it’s their word for “peace.” You probably remember everyone flashing the amahoro sign during the amahoro demonstrations where everyone wore an amahoro button. Anyway, Bri learned that you just don’t say the word to another person, but you keep repeating it until you feel it flowing between you.[15] With terrorists it might take a while.

His friend, Claude, was the son of a preacher. He addressed the crowd and told them that he had spent many years in church as a child. In all those years, he told them, he had only heard one sermon. Bri says that at this point “eyes got larger and people seemed curious, maybe confused.”[16] I thought he was going to say that they were all Presbyterians, but that wasn’t it. But Bri was really into this thing because “My two questions were sizzling beneath the surface of everything he said.”[17] The moment was electric.

What was the one sermon? “You are a sinner and you are going to hell. You need to repent and believe in Jesus. Jesus might come back today, and if he does and you are not ready, you will burn forever in hell.”[18] At that point everyone did become saved because the sermon was so short. Look, there are probably churches in the world where this type of thing happens week-in-week-out. If you live in Burundi and your dad’s the local pastor I suppose you’re stuck, but if you live somewhere else find another church!

In fact, if you’re unsure how to find another church, go to and you can download a list of the marks of a healthy church of Jesus Christ. By the way, just to save you the time, emergent churches will not be a choice. Oh, they’ll have similar consumerism as the mega-church and they’ll have spiffy graphics and cutting edge technology, but they really will leave you spiritually impoverished—and Bri has asked us to reflect on poverty.

Bri records that all present laughed at Claude’s example. They weren’t laughing at the idea of going to hell or the idea of believing in Jesus.[19] In Bri’s case, he’s not even sure about what the Bible says about hell even though he’s a follower of God according to Jesus and, ironically, Jesus says more about hell than anyone else in the Bible, but that’s a metanarrative for another time.

They all laughed, Bri tells us, because that was the only sermon they had heard too. Clearly, then, Bri and the other fifty-five amahoro-hungry people had attended so many amahoro marches and smoked so much dope that they couldn’t make a simple decision about finding a congregation where the Word of God was preached in an expository fashion, so they just stayed put. In defense of the Burundi folks, they might not have had much choice in the matter, but back in D.C. Bri surely could have found a better church. It seems that he was so busy thinking about poverty and the larger questions of life that he just completely forgot about common sense.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 2.

[2] This is the way he describes himself and the “new kind of Christian” on p. 3.

[3] McLaren, EMC, 11.

[4] Ibid., 12.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Ibid., 12. Italics mine.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 15.

[10] Ibid., 16.

[11] Ibid., 17.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p. 347.

[15] McLaren, EMC, 17.

[16] Ibid., 18.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 18-19.

[19] Ibid., 19.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (II)

God’s Dreams

I’m willing to wager that most Christians were not even aware that God has dreams. Bri has helped us out with the following challenge: “So people interested in being a new kind of Christian will inevitably begin to care more and more about this world, and they’ll want to better understand its most significant problems, and they’ll want to find out how they can fit in with God’s dreams actually coming true down here more often.”[1] At the risk of sounding like a fundamentalist Bible thumper, I’m going to do something that is foreign to Bri: I’m actually going to quote Scripture.

In Isaiah 55:10-11 we read the following: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Where Bri and the creative crew like to speak of God’s “dreams,” God prefers to speak about his sovereignty, his purpose, and his Word succeeding in what God plans for it to do.

Are you interested in being a “new kind of Christian”? Bri hopes so because if you are you will inevitably begin to care more and more about this world. Isn’t that neat? Bri believes in the inevitability of certain cause and effect relationships—not all; just some. You see, when it’s convenient to reject certainty—like penal substitutionary atonement and what Scripture says about homosexuality—Bri likes to latch on to that. At other times, however, he can say with certainty that if you become a new kind of Christian like the Emergent church describes then you will certainly become a tree hugger, a revolutionary (like Jesus), and an activist against global warming in Anchorage, Alaska.

That old Bri is one transparent guy. He confesses that when he began caring about “these things” (ostensibly helping the poor, homosexual marriage, the legitimacy of fossil fuels, and the proliferation of U.S. WMD [pp. 3-4]), he didn’t know where to begin.[2] For many of us, the Bible would have been a very acceptable place, but of course we’re forgetting that he’s not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, a stuffy traditionalist, a blasé nominalist, or an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic, but rather fresh, authentic, challenging, and adventurous.[3]

It is encouraging to know that even fresh, authentic, challenging, and adventurous people like Bri struggle like the remainder of us “lesser lights.” How did Bri extricate himself from his conundrum? Well, this will surprise you: he started reading books and talking to “knowledgeable” people.[4] That certainly was an insight for me. My problem is that I don’t know all that many “knowledgeable” people. Most of the people I know are angry, reactionary, stuffy, blasé, and crusading religious imperialists. So here’s what we’ve learn so far and we’re only on page 4: If you want to become one of the inevitable devotees to genuine Bri then you need to read books and talk to “knowledgeable” people, preferably those who are way out in left field like Bri does. As he proceeds Bri will inform us that there are certain books that aren’t really worthwhile reading but fresh, authentic, challenging, and adventurous guy that he is, he will supply us with the “preferred reading list.” Yep. He will also teach us that if the people he cites in his book in a favorable light are “knowledgeable,” then knowledgeable and George Soros are synonyms.

Framing Stories

We all know how postmoderns and emergents like “stories,” just not metanarratives. So adventurous Bri wants to paint a few word pictures for us so that we’ll be more cognizant of the “perfect storm of global crises that are brewing like an undetected hurricane out at sea.” In particular, he likes the metaphor of a suicide machine that co-opts the main mechanisms of our civilization and reprograms them to destroy the ones they should serve like 2001 A Space Odyssey, Matrix, and I, Robot. In his book Bri “suggests” that his image is true, which is a lot like him feeling he had discovered something worth sharing.[5]

So he’s going to lead us on a journey that is almost entirely bereft of Scripture—unless it’s twisted Scripture—based on his feelings and suggestions—oh, yes. And also based on his talks with “knowledgeable” people. This feeling journey will describe “four deep dysfunctions.” At first I thought he was talking about his theology, but then I read on and discovered that he was actually referring to “the prosperity crisis,” “the equity crisis,” “the security crisis,” and “the spirituality crisis.” Let’s break these exciting deep dysfunctions down into “stories” that those of us who are children of a lesser god can grasp.

The prosperity crisis is an “Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy, an economy that fails to respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in producing great wealth for about one-third of the world’s population.”[6] Watch out, folks, there’s a hidden agenda here as we shall see!

Second, is the equity crisis, which is inextricably tied to the prosperity crisis. This is “The growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor majority (leading them) to envy, resent, and even hate the rich minority—which in turn elicits fear and anger in the rich.”[7] This “crisis” explains at least two things: First, it explains why I envy, resent, and hate Alex Rodriguez; and second it explains why Barbra Streisand is so angry. Cindy Sheehan is still an enigma.

Third is the security crisis. This is “The danger of cataclysmic war arising from the intensifying resentment and fear among various groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.”[8] Without a doubt that is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Does authentic Bri actually expect us to believe that we’re in danger of a cataclysmic war from a tribe in Bora Bora that makes goat cheese by candlelight? What are they going to do? Invent an intercontinental mud clod that they hurl at us at Mach 4? Or, does Bri expect that the U.S. will bully some poor country like our history shows that we have done repeatedly? I mean, really, isn’t it patently clear that whenever disaster has struck we’ve been the last to help? Heck, America hardly ever helps anyone and it’s always looking to pick on some poor underdeveloped country. Yep. Bri’s right on the mark again.

Finally, there is the spirituality crisis. What might that be? It is “The failure of the world’s religions, especially its two largest religions, to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the three previous crisis.”[9] It’s difficult to provide a framing story capable of healing with C-4 strapped around you. Of course, Bri hasn’t stopped to consider the anomalies of expecting jihadists to heal anything. These are the folks that consider TV dangerous, but routinely carry live ammo in their robes and were amazed to find that cell phones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs. Yep, these are the folks we want to join forces with in eradicating the spiritual crisis facing us today.

What is a “framing story” anyway? Good of you to ask because Bri has the answer: “By framing story, I mean a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives.”[10] Moreover, “It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.”[11] In this sense, a good GPS might be what Bri has in mind apart from the nice voice telling me who I am. When you analyze his statement, a framing story could be just about anything or whatever you want to make it. There are any number of ideologies out there that offer direction, values, vision, and inspiration. How do you choose? How do you know? Does it matter which ideology you choose? Is Marxism on an equal par with Christianity? Are Islam and Christianity pretty much the same? What if your framing story is smuggling drugs into the country to make big bucks? What if it’s being a coyote that smuggles illegal aliens into the country? What if it’s jihad? In the course of the book authentic Bri never gets around to answering these questions.

But when you stop and reflect upon what he’s trying to achieve, you really do have to cut him some slack. As we shall see, he is setting out first to ask what the biggest problems in the world are[12] and what Jesus has to say about these global problems.[13] This is a good place to pause before we move on to listen to who Jesus is, because Bri is convinced—although he never tells us why—that Jesus was unique, brilliant, and wise.[14] That’s it? In a book that is suggesting that everything must change this is the best he can do? Put in other terms, Bri is a “follower of God in the way of Jesus,”[15] which begs the question if there can be other equally viable “followers of God” in the way of “fill-in-the-blank.” The answer is ostensibly Yes because we’re told that “Muslims revere Jesus as a great prophet”[16] and “even nonreligious people (16 percent) admire Jesus.”[17] This is some of the most nauseating drivel. All you have to do is to revere Jesus as a great prophet and you’re a follower of some god. Heck, even some raw pagans will acknowledge that Jesus was a prophet. What in the world does it mean to “admire” Jesus? Bri seems to neglect or overlook a small point between Scripture and the Koran. God forbids people to add to or take away from the words that he has revealed (cf. Deut. 4:1-2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19). To him, it’s all of a piece; it’s all the same as long as you are a follower of God. Bri is willing to put aside the burning questions of whether God’s revelation to man is infallibly and inerrantly true if he can get to the larger questions of the relationship of Jesus and the world’s top problems.[18] We’ll delve more deeply into this matter in coming issues. We’re heading towards the Age of Aquarius—or, did we already do that? Someone crank up the CD of Cat Stevens singing Peace Train.

Adventurous Bri believes that we can have a better “framing story” than we currently proclaim and Christians like him “can discover a fresh vision of our religion’s founder and his message, a potentially revolutionary vision that could change everything for us and the world we inhabit.”[19] Two things here: First, it could change everything, but then again it could change nothing. Bri’s not offering guarantees. Second, Bri takes us back to the 1960s and the “Jesus was a Revolutionary” motif. Jesus or Che Guevara—both were revolutionaries.

You would have thought that the Jesus the Revolutionary thing would have worn very thin by now, but Bri is willing to resurrect it for his purposes because there are enough mushy minds out there willing to jettison the “Jesus for the Unchurched” model for “Jesus the Revolutionary.” Here’s an angle authentic Bri might not have considered because he’s been so busy trashing stuffy traditionalists: Jesus was less of a revolutionary than he was a reformer. Back in the day, the Dutch statesman Groen van Prinsterer wrote an intriguing work with the translated title Unbelief and Revolution. Rather than embracing and reveling in the notion of revolution, Groen outlined how revolution was a product of the Enlightenment, especially that aspect that dispensed with the “God hypothesis.” The twin sister of revolution remains unbelief.

Yet fresh old Bri is convinced that we can rediscover what it can mean to call Jesus Savior and Lord “when we raise the question of what exactly he intended to save us from.”[20] This might come as a surprise for you especially since you probably thought you had a clue why Jesus came to save us. The problem is that you just have not been reading enough books and talking to “knowledgeable” people. We must move away from “The popular and domesticated Jesus, who has become little more than a chrome-plated hood ornament on the guzzling Hummer of Western civilization” Jesus and replace him “with a more radical, saving, and, I believe, real Jesus.”[21] I’m at a loss to know when precisely Jesus became popular or when he became a hood ornament on a Hummer, but if we stick with Bri he will introduce us to the real Jesus. Since I’ve read the book, let me briefly describe the real Jesus for you. He wears Birkenstocks and drinks a lot of Starbucks coffee. He’s big into flying all over the country on jet fuel guzzling jumbo jets. He likes Putumayo Mali, U2, Harp 46, and Carrie Newcomer. He does not like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, or Ann Coulter. He does like Tammy Bruce not because she’s conservative, but because she’s a lesbian. He is deeply concerned about the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a socialist who gets giddy when he talks about the redistribution of wealth. The real Jesus is in favor of universal health care and homosexual marriage. He loves Al Gore, is a pacifist, had no clue what the covenant of grace was all about, was a flaming Arminian if not a Pelagian, and tried to explain that he didn’t come so that people might just be saved but so that they’d leave their carbon footprint all over the planet as they rectified the global economy and global warming—or freezing. Whatever.

Let me close by giving you how horribly twisted McLaren is. He is an iron first in a velvet glove. According to his upbringing, he tells us, Mary’s Magnificat is all wrong. (Note to Emergents: Since your knowledge of Scripture is so impoverished I should warn you that Mary’s Magnificat has nothing to do with cars or her son as a hood ornament.) Here is what Bri believes most Christians believe Mary was saying:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies, for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one he is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated.”[22]

For anyone with a brain, this speaks volumes and it ought to incense you, but I’m sure that emergents with their twisted, tortured illogic will find a way to justify Bri and condemn the Church’s preferred theologians. The man is disgusting and his theology is worse. How certain of my colleagues in the PCA can find this even mildly amusing is beyond me, let alone how they can be moving in the emergent direction and think they’re still Presbyterians.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 4. Italics mine.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 2-3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 5, 4.

[6] Ibid., 5.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 6.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Ibid., 12.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 13.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 12.

[19] Ibid. Italics mine.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 103. Italics mine.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas 2007

From the Ron Gleason Family

Dear Friends and Family:

Greetings and blessings at Christmas time! (This Christmas letter has been primarily written by Sally with some annotations by Ron. Please note that Hans has a very strange haircut—Ron.)

Writing my yearly Christmas letter always reminds me of my negligence in communicating with the many dear people I care about who never hear from me except at Christmas. Although I often think about writing and keeping in touch, this annual tradition actually forces me to act and to thank you for how God has used you to teach us valuable lessons about life, about people, and especially about Him. We have not forgotten you. Thank you for enriching our lives.

The following are some of the highlights of 2007 for our family:

Congregational needs, events, and activities, lots of people, work and family, hospitality, speaking engagements, teaching, Bible studies, and counseling filled our time, not only in January but also every other month of this year. Ron has been pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church PCA for 12 years now. This congregation has been a joy! We also were blessed that the California fires didn’t come close to our house this time, but some PCA members in our Presbytery lost their homes. It has given our diaconal boards the opportunity to help in very tangible ways—Ron.

Other events included an opportunity I had to speak at a women’s conference for a local Korean Presbyterian church, Janneke’s winter formal, Hans’ acceptance into the Orange County Sheriff’s Police Academy (I now live with a Robocop. I’m getting him doughnuts for Christmas—Ron), and Nicky’s move into her own apartment with her good friend, Danielle.

In February, Ron, with his colleague Gary L.W. Johnson, focused on writing and editing a book on post-modernism and the church. It will be published, Lord willing, by Crossway in 2008. The title is Reforming or Conforming.

March began quite normal. I spoke at two women’s retreats. Nicky celebrated her birthday on March 20th, just like always (it has happened every year on the same date ever since she was born—Ron). However a few days later, everything normal changed. On March 23rd, we learned that my mom had peacefully passed away in her sleep. Though Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years, she was and always will be an irreplaceable light and love in our lives. We will all miss her.

In April, Ron was off to an annual church leadership conference, the Twin Lakes Fellowship, in Jackson, Mississippi. Ron always comes home from Twin Lakes refreshed and renewed. Later that month, I flew to Atlanta to participate in the Women’s Leadership Conference for the PCA. For the past two years, I have served as the West Coast representative for the national Women’s Advisory Sub-Committee of the PCA. I enjoy encouraging and helping women to grow in their understanding of reformed theology and their love of God’s Word.

Our friend J.D. Wetterling visited us in May. Nicky went apartment hunting again because Danielle got married. She moved into her own place in Costa Mesa and is now very near the law office where she works. The apartment is “uniquely Nicky” right down to the purple and sage walls (which look amazingly great!). (That’s a matter of opinion—Ron.)

Ron and church elder, Jim Dailey, traveled to Memphis, TN, in June for the PCA General Assembly. We also lived through the mess of installing porcelain tile floors in our home but the results are great. With the first book completed, Ron began another book at the request of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers. This time it is a biography of Dr. Herman Bavinck scheduled to be released in the summer of 2008. He was invited to co-edit the Festschrift for Dr. David Wells also.

Hans graduated from the Police Academy July 17th and officially became an Orange County Deputy Sheriff. We had a nice dinner celebration with his friends and supporters at our home first and then a few days later, his girlfriend’s family held a big barbecue for him. (It got a little out of hand at the end and the cops came and shut us down—Ron.) We moved Ron’s mom into a new assisted living facility. She is very happy there. We also had a wonderful visit with two dear Dutch friends, Arjan and Suus Knepper. What a joy it was to see them!

Ron and I celebrated our 40th anniversary on August 5. After a short weekend stay in a luxurious hotel where we were treated like royalty, we returned home for a garden champagne dinner celebration with the “California kids” on the actual day. In late August, our oldest granddaughter, Lorah, arrived in California. She is living with us while she attends Providence Christian College. What a treat for us! (That, too, is a matter of opinion. No, seriously, she’s a sweetheart—Ron.)

In September, we visited the “Canadian branch” of the family. We celebrated our anniversary again with Ronnie and Jennifer, Geoff and Lisa, and ten of our eleven grandchildren (Lorah was in California). We were all “sleep deprived” for a week but we loved every minute! (It was also a rule that any time we sat down to eat or drink we had to consume at least 10,000 calories—Ron.)

Ronnie is now General Manager of the vegetable farm and packing plant where he has worked for years. Geoff is the Communications director for a bank and is preparing to enter seminary in 2009. We also had time to visit good friends and to worship in our former congregation there. When we returned, Janneke went away to camp in the San Bernadino Mountains, a big event for her. Friends, Jim and Darlene Cossin, from seminary days and John and Margriet Van Amerongen, from Canada, visited with us.

The big family event in October was Nicky’s performance in a contemporary opera production, “Red, White, and Blue”, at the Hermosa Beach playhouse near Los Angeles. Ron and I took an overnight trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

In November, Janneke celebrated her 30th birthday with a bowling party, the family and some guests feasted on the Thanksgiving turkey, and Hans celebrated his 25th birthday. Ron spent the weekends in Memphis teaching a seminary level course, Ecclesiology and Sacraments, at Reformed Theological Seminary-Memphis. Geoff and Lisa told us they are expecting grandchild #12. WOW! What a blessing!

On December 1, Hans and Blanca celebrated their 25th birthdays together. But the big news for that night had to do with something more important than a birthday! Hans and Blanca Lyon, his girlfriend of four years, became engaged to be married!!! We’re thrilled! They’re planning a Fall 2008 wedding.

May the peace of God rule in your hearts and minds as you celebrate this beautiful season of the year and may the year 2008 be filled with blessings and spiritual riches that only He can give! (I’ll close with a photo of Sally and me at the Reagan Museum and Library—Ron.)


Ron and Sally Gleason

Janneke, Nicky, Hans, & Blanca

Hosanna, the family German Shepherd


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time

Return with You Now to Those Thrilling Days of the Hippy Generation

Some folks never extricated themselves from the nutty, chaotic days of the 1960s and early 1970s. A number fried their brains on drugs, some are still “tripping” and waxing eloquently about Woodstock and about how Vietnam was a “quagmire,” others (men) are still growing their ponytails and wearing their marijuana T-shirts, and still others have taken to flying all over the world, leaving a clear and discernible carbon footprint, to visit the poor. You see it’s okay to pollute the planet if you’re going to report on someone who lives in squalor, but not if you’re flying to visit Aunt Bea.

Brian McLaren has a new book out that purports to be a kind of “ethics” entitled Everything Must Change.[1] What a title! Everything Must Change and Everything Must Change. There is an air of inclusiveness as well as obligation tied up in this latest work by Mr. Birkenstock himself. The sub-title gives away the plot of the book: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. Apparently, Bri’s buddy, Jim Wallis didn’t do an adequate job of regaling us with left-wing politics (under the guise of “neutrality” on the subject) and sloppy biblical exegesis, so Bri is going to set the record straight.[2] Well, sort of set the record straight within the thought structures of the Emergent church movement, which isn’t all that helpful since they don’t believe you can ever have certainty.

When you stop and reflect on what they’re saying for a moment it is a self-destructive assertion, isn’t it? If there can be no certainty about right and wrong, why am I reading a book written by an Emergent? More importantly, why are they writing it? What’s the point? If we cannot know; if we cannot have certainty why spend so much time and ink outlining a program or points if it really doesn’t matter in the first place? The Emergent non-truth truths are about as funny as Jean-Paul Sartre spending 798 pages (in the English version) in Being and Nothingness explaining that man is an absurd passion? Just say that you think man is a cipher and be done with it. Most Emergent books could be quite short. All they would have to do is to repeat (drone on about) their mantra: we cannot know anything for certain.

Bri and the boys don’t really believe what they say in the practice, however. Otherwise, why would Bri take 327 pages (including endnotes) to tell us that we can never really know anything? For example, he makes a big deal out of global warming. Apparently, with Al Gore’s help, some things actually are knowable—that the earth’s temperature rose one degree over the last 100 years. Is it getting hot in here or is it just me? When I was born in 1945 that summer it was 80 degrees; the summer of 2007 it was 81 degrees and you could definitely feel the difference—like global warming. We just can’t know anything about the atonement or homosexuality.

To be a little more serious for a moment before I slide back into jocular mode I do want to warn modern Christianity that it is my settled conviction that Brian McLaren is a false teacher. What he says is, by and large, destructive, incorrect, and heterodox. He is not some poor misguided soul. He is a man on a mission; a man with an agenda and it is not a spiritually healthy one. This man is detrimental to your spiritual health. His exegesis of Scripture is either horribly sloppy or non-existent. Some of the statements I read in his new book—and we’ll look at them—either verge on blasphemous or cross the line. McLaren is dangerous and serious Christians should stay away from him and his books. I hope this will become increasingly obvious as I walk you through his latest book. So buckle up and let’s get into his latest work.

I trust my colleagues in the PCA and at our MNA headquarters, who think the Emergent church movement is funny and cute, will take time out from their busy schedules to read this book and discover for themselves how deleterious and seditious it really is. The time to inform PCA church members that this is not some cutesy little movement where stealing from the wealthy is somehow amusing (Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz) has past. The two PCA reviews I read found the Emergent church amusing and had nothing to say about how dangerous it is. In addition, it’s also past time to warn PCA members that if they are imbibing of emergent material they are harming their souls. Some have told the PCA how funny these guys are; now it’s time to step up to the plate and warn them about how dangerous this movement is. They might even upbraid those PCA churches that have gone to contemplative and breath prayer, prayer labyrinths, and votive candles.

Hope Happens

The above is the title of the introductory chapter in McLaren’s new book. Bri believes that if we’re going to get anywhere—I still can’t figure out why he’s concerned about this as an Emergent—he has to convince us of some things. First, we needed to be convinced that he’s not another “blah-blah-blah person ranting about how bad the world is and how guilty you should feel for taking up space in it.”[3] Having read the book from cover to cover I’m convinced that McLaren gets an “F” on this point.

Second, he has to convince us that he can help me understand some highly complex material and make it not only accessible but maybe even interesting and inspiring.[4] If he means by this quoting liberals and other pseudo-scientists like Al Gore and George Soros favorably then again he get an “F.”

Third, it’s his hope that when we’ve finished the book, we’ll not only understand the world and our place in it better, but we’ll also know how we can make a difference.[5] Right. That’s like watching Sesame Street and knowing more about baking by watching Cookie Monster. Clearly, Bri’s infantile charts helped little. Moreover, did you notice how Bri slipped up and stated that we would actually know—that’s his word—how we can make a difference. Bri is one funny guy!

Not only is he funny but he is also a very caring person. Why Brian cares about billions of people. How do I know that? Well, I really can’t know it, but you know what I mean. I know—sort of—because Bri tells me he does. Listen: “I care about the billions of people I’ve never met and never will meet, including people who might be called my nation’s enemies.”[6] It’s in vogue and chic to be a caring person these days. Why there are billions and billions of people out there that I can spend time embracing, loving, and caring about in my mind everyday. It’s takes a little while to contemplate billions of people, but if you break it down in bite-sized meditation—you know, a couple a million a day—then you can eventually get around to caring about everyone. I do take exception, however, to Bri caring about those who might be called his nation’s enemies. I think he ought to leave Barbra Streisand (Ms. B.S.), Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, and Cindy Sheehan out of this.

But there is more: Bri doesn’t stop at people he also cares for raccoons, gopher tortoises, red dragonflies, and woodland ferns as well. At this point, we’re trying to figure out—as much as we can without being certain and knowing—why everything must change. It probably would have come across as being a “Bible thumping fundamentalist” to have suggested that God gives us a “dominion mandate” in Genesis 1:26-28. But caring Bri is not that kind of “in-your-face; ram-the-Bible-down-your-throat” type of person, especially since he’s got so many other liberal friends that can ram their junk science and pacifist views down our throats and they’re just a footnote away.

Here’s Bri’s approach: “As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I’ve been involved in a profoundly interesting and enjoyable conversation for the last ten years or so. It’s a conversation about what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’—not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, not a stuffy traditionalist, not a blasé nominalist, not a wishy-washy liberal, not a New Agey religious hipster, not a religious imperialist, and not an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic—but something fresh and authentic and challenging and adventurous.”[7]

This is better than any self-help book you can buy at any Christian bookstore that doesn’t carry Christian theology books but carries this kind of drivel, glow in the dark portraits of Jesus, an assortment of coffee mugs, and breath-sweetening “testa-mints.” Why Bri has culled out everything nefarious, angry, reactionary, stuffy, blasé, wishy-washy, and overly enthused and for a mere $21.99 plus tax he will inform us how to reach this golden mean and that in a book printed on acid-free, environmentally friendly paper using approved green printing standards. It is an environmental excursion into excellence where we come to know being a stuffy traditionalist is definitely wrong. After reading the book I was a little disappointed that Bri never really addressed the issue of how to be a Bible-waving fanatic without becoming overly enthused. No doubt, he’ll treat that ethical dilemma in his next exciting and informative volume. We’re only left to ponder what a Bible-waving fanatic would look like who is not overly enthused.

Having informed us just how caring and balanced he truly is, Bri proceeds to tell us a little about what this book on how we cannot know anything with certainty is all about. He writes, “So this is a religious book, but in a worldly and unconventional and ultimately positive way, a way some nonreligious people would probably call ‘spiritual but not religious.’”[8] Got it? It’s a worldly religious book that is—in some vague, ethereal sense—spiritual but not religious, whatever those words mean. Man, I wish I could write with that kind of clarity!

Unconventional Questions

Bill Dahl, a freelance writer, recently held a mega-softball interview with McLaren about his new book. Bill is a funny, wacky, and zany guy. His picture at the end of the interview has Bill (who didn’t, by the way, make it out of the hippy era) in a snowy forest (he’s a gnome or wood nymph) wearing swim goggles and a breathing apparatus and a Korean War-esque pile cap. You can’t tell from the picture, but he is probably working on his ponytail.

Bill lobs this one up to the plate: “At the beginning of the book ( p.3) you write: ‘And not only am I often unsatisfied with conventional answers, but even worse, I’ve consistently been unsatisfied with conventional questions.’ One interpretation of this remark might be, ‘conventional questions produce conventional answers.’ Is it your position that a large proportion of professed Christians have succumbed to a convenient living out of their faith that is askew with the teachings and life of Christ?” Whoa! Tough one! How will caring balanced Bri handle such a difficult question? Let’s listen.

“Well, I think many people are doing their best to live out their faith in sync with the teachings and life of Christ, but it’s not easy to figure out what that means, especially in changing times. Some things are easy—like knowing you shouldn’t hate or commit adultery or kill. But pretty quickly, it gets complex—like knowing whether pre-emptive and hastily-launched wars fit under killing, for example. And that gets to what I mean about conventional questions. We have lots of religious arguments about the origin of the species, but far fewer dialogues about the extinction of species and what we can do to save species that we all agree are precious parts of God’s creation. We have lots of religious arguments about homosexuality, but far fewer conversations about the growing gap between rich and poor and what we can do about it. We argue about what to do about abortion, but we seem much less concerned about what to do about racial disharmony and political polarization and how we can be peacemakers and reconcilers. I’m not saying the common arguments are unimportant, only that less common questions deserve a lot more attention. I hope my book will help in that regard.”[9] (Italics mine.)

Or try this from the book: “Why do we need to have to have singular and firm opinions on the protection of the unborn, but not about how to help the poor people and how to avoid killing people labeled enemies who are already born?”[10] Now here’s the deal: In the answer that Bri gave to Bill the Gnome softball player and in the quote just cited—in fact throughout the book—he has precious little to say about abortion but lots and lots to say about the war and fossil fuels. Apparently, abortion is not all that big a deal for Bri because he rarely mentions it.

Of course the short answer to his many questions is that dealing with ethics isn’t an either/or proposition. In point of fact, many, many books have been written on every subject he listed—good books; biblical books. Apparently Bri isn’t aware of them. Moreover, “conventional answers” (read: those that are well thought out, biblical, but in opposition to what Bri thinks) are out. However, it might not hurt McLaren to pause and reflect upon many of the sound and solidly biblical writings that have given us biblically reasoned answers to questions such as abortion, homosexuality, war, pre-emptive strikes, fossil fuels, global warming (or freezing, depending on when you’re living), welfare, poverty, socialistic income redistribution, and a host of other ethical subjects. But if you don’t know and can’t know what does it matter anyway?

One of his pseudo-non-conventional questions goes like this: “Or why are we so concerned about the legitimacy of homosexual marriage but not about the legitimacy of fossil fuels or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (and in particular, our weapons as opposed to theirs)?”[11] I’m certain—as certain as I can be of course—that one of the reasons that we’re concerned about so-called homosexual marriage is because some of us are convinced that even given postmodern contextualization that God, in his self-revelation, says that homosexuality is an abomination. To Bri’s mind, God must be an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic, since he inspired it. Was Bri concerned about fossil fuels when he flew all over the world to speak about the dangers of global warming or did he travel across the ocean in an outrigger canoe? The proliferation of WMD? Ours? Bri must have been smoking something during the Cold War because it just was completely off his radar that the threat of nuclear destruction did not come from the U.S. side but from the former U.S.S.R. Moreover, it is true—relatively speaking—that not one person got shot fleeing West Germany for East Germany, but the converse is not true.

To date, I have not heard of the U.S. having rape chambers or decapitating anyone on Al Fox News, but I think we have some footage of that being done by the other side. Bri’s naiveté defies all logic. Why in the world is there reason to believe that I should be deeply concerned about the U.S. using nerve gas on anyone? There is very good reason, however, to believe that the Taliban or al Qaeda would not hesitate for a heartbeat to use it on us if they could. What Bri just doesn’t get is that they would murder him in a nano-second even though he’s cool and wears Birkenstocks. Why would they murder him? It would be because he’s an American.

But, old Bri reminds us that “Part of what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’ is to discover or rediscover what the essential message of Jesus is about.”[12] Is he sure? When will we know that we have discovered or rediscovered the essential message of Jesus? When did people know in the past? Did they know in the past? Has Bri been the sole discoverer of what others failed to understand?

But what the new kind of Christian—you know, like Bill Dahl—will want to do is to figure out how they can fit in with God’s dreams—those are his words, folks, not mine.[13] Yep, that’s what I’ve been about for a while: figuring out what “God’s dreams” might be and how I fit in. Most of you dullards probably didn’t even realize that God had hopes, dreams, and aspirations, so this will come as a real revelation to you—relatively speaking. So when you put your heads on your pillows tonight you can ponder what kinds of divine dreams God is having and why Bill Dahl is wearing swim goggles in the middle of the forest. Before you know it, the whole world will make sense to you and you’ll realize that you have become a new kind of Christian.

I seem to remember that in Isaiah (55:10-11) there are words to this effect: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I send it.” There is nothing here about God’s dreams, but for those who still believe that it’s God’s infallible and inerrant revelation and that God is sovereign this makes all the sense in the world. Because of the Word and the Holy Spirit, we may know this by faith.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).

[2] See Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, (San Francisco: Harper, 2005).

[3] McLaren, EMC, 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] Ibid., 2-3. Italics mine.

[8] Ibid., 3.

[9] A special thanks to Dr. John “Lips” Bumgardner for sending this interview to me.

[10] McLaren, EMC, 3.

[11] Ibid., 3-4. Italics his.

[12] Ibid., 4.

[13] Ibid.