Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (III)
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.”  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 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? 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…” 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). 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. 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. Nevertheless, tough guy Bri felt he should go anyway. 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.”
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?” 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?” 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?” 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.”
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. 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.” 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.” 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.” 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 9Marks.com 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. 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.
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 2.
 This is the way he describes himself and the “new kind of Christian” on p. 3.
 McLaren, EMC, 11.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 12. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), p. 347.
 McLaren, EMC, 17.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 18-19.
 Ibid., 19.
Labels: Emergent Church