Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (IV)
In our last installment we were told by McLaren that his friend, Claude had shocked the crowd gathered at a conference center near Bujumbura that he had only heard one sermon his entire life, even though he was the son of a pastor. What was the sermon that the PK heard? “You’re 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 in hell forever.” Clearly, Bri had been beaten over the head with this same sermon himself and still had the spiritual scars to show for it. If he had only known Jim Wallis earlier then both of them could have carped about how misunderstood they were and found a nice Unitarian congregation to join.
Claude is pretty keen and said to the gathering that clearly something was missing from that one-sided message. Really? You think? This guy, Claude, is pretty sharp. He lamented that “They didn’t tell us how the will of God could be done on earth.” I sometimes long for the days when the serfs could point to the castle and say, “They didn’t tell us…” At least the serfs had the advantage of knowing who they were. I’m guessing that Claude is referring to his dad and other leaders in his local congregation. Realistically, it’s quite possible that the preaching was so one-sided and one-dimensional that they didn’t get around to explaining what Scripture said about the will of God and how it could be done on earth. That’s sad, but I’m also guessing that Claude had a copy of the Bible that he could read, study, and meditate upon daily. You see, while there is certainly a huge culpability on what they didn’t get around to teaching, there is also a huge culpability on every Christian’s part to be reading the Word of God and putting it into practice (Phil. 4:9; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; Matt. 5-7).
Old authentic, genuine Bri anticipates what I’m alluding to and says, “‘Well,’ you might say, ‘some got it right.’ But you would have to agree: too few, and too late. Most were preoccupied with other matters—arguments about religious esoterica, fights over arcane biblical interpretations, fanciful escapes into theological speculation, heat and fury over drinking or gambling or playing cards or using tobacco, controversies over whether guitars and drums can be used in worship gatherings or whether only pianos and organs produce holy music, and other matters that—in comparison to racism, genocide, carelessness toward the poor and various minorities, exploitation of the environment, and unjust war—seem shamefully trivial, weapons of mass distraction.”
Well, there you have it. For a moment I was actually thinking that old Bri meant what he was saying and agreed with Claude that pastors were pounding the drum of “You’re a sinner and you are going to hell, but don’t worry because Bri doesn’t believe it exists anyway!” How in the world could a loving God send people who had been bludgeoned all their lives with religious esoterica and fights over arcane biblical interpretations to a place that didn’t exist in the first place? I’ll drink to that! (Peter and the disciples, by the way, were Presbyterians. In Acts 2:13 when they were accused of being filled with new wine, his response wasn’t that they didn’t drink, but rather that it was too early [2:15]. Apparently, it wasn’t five o’clock anywhere at that moment.)
But that’s not all! Bri waxes eloquent that in North America the church leaders didn’t teach the early colonists to treat the Native Peoples with love and respect. Well, this is a two-way street, isn’t it? In Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards we read, “The reality of the danger was brought home to Stockbridge one quiet Sunday morning in September, 1754. ‘Some Indians from Canada,’ writes Edwards, ‘doubtless instigated by the French, broke in upon us on the Sabbath, between meetings, and fell upon an English family and killed three of them; and about an hour later killed another man.” Yet, this and other incidents, did not dissuade Edwards from working with the Stockbridge Indians and for Murray to conclude, “We know enough of the record of the Stockbridge Indians in later years to have evidence that Edwards’ work among them was not in vain.”
North Americans and their pastors are a despicable lot. Not only did they oppress the Native Peoples, but they also did not oppose slavery with one voice, express outrage over the exploitation of factory workers or the second-class status of women, did not stand up for refugees and immigrants, and did not oppose white privilege, segregation, anti-Semitism, stereotyping of Muslims, and other forms of prejudice. I can’t image anyone wanting to live in North America since it has a track record like this. What in the world do you think makes people still want to come here and live? No other country in the history of the world has led such a checkered existence. I think Bri left out reparations. But with this historical revisionism under his belt Bri knew that he was on the scent of answers to his two simmering questions. I smell a different scent, but that’s another topic.
Revisiting the Essential Message of Jesus
I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall as Bri and the others at the conference center “talked in depth about the essential message of Jesus.” I waited expectantly. “We talked in particular about the metaphor Jesus used again and again to convey his essential message: the kingdom of God.” Okay. I’m waiting. Here comes the zinger: “We considered how this message of the kingdom—contrary to popular belief—was not focused on how to escape this world and its problems by going to heaven after death, but instead was focused on how God’s will could be done on earth, in history, during this life. We described God’s kingdom in terms of God’s dreams coming true for this earth…” Contrary to popular belief? I could have saved old Bri some consternation by recommending a few books by those stuffy traditionalists like Herman Ridderbos, Geerhardus Vos, and Herman Bavinck about the Kingdom of God that would have broadened his vistas a little and definitely increased his amahoro. Why we could have gone shopping to pick me up some new designer Kirkland jeans from Costco and then stopped by Starbucks for a hot chai tea latte and I could have told him that Ridderbos—otherwise known as Herman the Stuffy—had written a piece of religious esoterica that quibbled over the biblical interpretations of German higher critical scholars on the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven and never even mentioned God’s dreams once.
Honestly, though, I don’t think Bri would have appreciated my suggestion because it cuts against his agenda. He wants to talk about global warming, how the Lone Ranger mistreated Tonto, misunderstanding Islam, the religion of peace (or pieces), and God’s dreams. Besides, Ridderbos takes fanciful escapes into theological speculation (isn’t it funny that Bri doesn’t think that God’s dreams constitutes speculation?) and discusses trivia like the relationship of the Kingdom of God to the Old Testament, John the Baptizer (he really wasn’t a Baptist. He drank too.), the concepts of presence and future as they applied to the Kingdom, the delay of judgment (Judgment? Judgment? What in the world could that possibly have to do with God’s dreams?), seeking the lost (what could that possibly mean to Bri?), and Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom. Silly old Ridderbos doesn’t know squat about God’s dreams and states that “At first sight the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven consists of two parts which together form an unbreakable unity. The first part is related to the gift, the salvation, given in the gospel; the other part is related to the demand, the command in which it is expressed.”
Whoa! Now I see what Bri’s getting at. When you’ve stated that the kingdom isn’t about getting to heaven, you certainly don’t want an old stuff-shirt like Ridderbos muddying the waters when you’re trying to tell painful stories of our past. What? Yep. Bri wants us all to feel badly about all the ill we did by proxy. Rather than working in the present, he wants us to ask, “How did the colonizers feel during the colonial times?” Profound. Well, there was a lot more feelings-oriented girly men talk as well as drawing on a chalkboard, and running down the “the gospel of avoiding hell.” That’s what enlightened, open-minded people do with their time. After a lot of this non-religious esoterica the non-stuffy tribe focused on “the core message of Jesus that focused on personal, social, and global transformation in this life.” Now wait a minute! I’m confused. What kind of personal transformation is Bri and the tribe suggesting? What must it look like?
Let’s say, for example, that a person is in a Christian congregation and is a practicing male or female homosexual. What kind of personal transformation should we be looking for in their lives as they help God dream his dreams? Is there any sense in which their lives—our lives—should be conformed to the revealed will of God? If so, what is that sense? Is it that we only change those things that don’t mean a lot to us, or do we take God’s Word as absolute truth? Do the texts about homosexuality have to be contextualized so that they’ll mean different things to different people; to different tribes? If they do have to be contextualized in that manner, how do we know which other texts need the same type of contextualization? For example, did Bultmann contextualize the kerugma for his generation by “demythologizing” it? How ever will we ever be able to make sense of Scripture within the boundaries of Bri’s hermeneutic? Heck, the Genuine One isn’t even certain that Jesus was correct. For him, “This message of Jesus could help us imagine what the world could be if Jesus was right in his proclamation of the kingdom of God.” If Jesus was correct? That’s helpful.
If It’s True, Then Everything Must Change
The next day—one can only dream about how exhausted they must have been from all the feeling and consciousness raising about the evangelizers and evangelized—Bri spotted a woman named Justine with her head on the table, sheltered in her arms, completely motionless. “At first I wondered if she was asleep or maybe sick.” A motionless woman might give that impression. Apparently, he ruled out that she was dead or was a Presbyterian who had had too much new wine. So Bri gets a translator and the motionless woman came to life and stated that she was shaken up but okay. Why was that? For the first time in her life, she saw what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. “If Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change. Everything must change.” There’s that pesky little “if” again. Bri and the tribe scrawl on a chalkboard and talk about feelings and dreams and now it’s all clear. At least it is for her, but Bri has a different take on what she was talking about, because, after all, when you’re an emergent, it really is about what the truth means to you; how you interpret it.
While Justine was rousing herself from her motionless “eureka experience,” Bri was busy spinning her words. He asked, “What could change if we applied the message of Jesus to the world’s greatest problems?” But there’s still a lot up in the air; up for grabs. Old non-traditional Bri has thrown around a number of words and concepts that he never bothered to explain, and we all know what “assume” means. For instance, he hasn’t yet taken the time to explain a few core concepts about the place of the Bible in helping us feel what the essential message of Jesus is. Is Jesus’ essential message propositionally true or not? If it is, is it absolutely binding on all people in all places and at all times? Why or why not? Where is the will of God to be found? What is the will of God? How do you know? Is it important to know or is feeling just as good? It seems that feeling might fit the bill since Bri and the tribe have felt so much thus far in the book.
Moreover, at one point he’s opposed to emphasizing personal salvation, but is big on personal transformation. Someone might ask what the difference is. Finally, and this is just for starters, Bri has not yet convinced us that Jesus is right and why he’s right, if he is. When Paul was writing to his friends Timothy and Titus and spoke to them about the importance of sound doctrine was he referring to personal salvation or was he more concerned about “the world’s greatest problems” or was he considering sin and the salvation of the lost one of the world’s greatest problems (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1)?
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 18-19.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 20-21.
 Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), pp. 387-388.
 Ibid., 396.
 McLaren, EMC, 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, (H. de Jongste [trans.] & Raymond Zorn [ed.]), (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1969).
 Ibid., 186.
 McLaren, EMC, 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 23.