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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, January 03, 2008

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

Amahoro-Hungry

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3]

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.”[4] 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.”[5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.”[8] I waited expectantly. “We talked in particular about the metaphor Jesus used again and again to convey his essential message: the kingdom of God.”[9] 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…”[10] 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.[11]

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.”[12]

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.[13] 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?”[14] 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.”[15] 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.”[16] 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.”[17] If Jesus was correct? That’s helpful.

But just so you know what kind of psycho-babble we’re dealing with here listen up! “I think we all felt that this imagining had to be a shared project for us. Because—again, I think we all felt this—the message of the kingdom of God had been nearly invisible to all of us, even as we—descendants of the colonial evangelizers and the evangelized—had spoken and sung and preached and prayed the name of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, for so many Sundays, so many years.”[18]

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.”[19] 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.”[20] 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?”[21] 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)?



[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 18-19.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ibid., 20-21.

[4] Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), pp. 387-388.

[5] Ibid., 396.

[6] McLaren, EMC, 20.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 21.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, (H. de Jongste [trans.] & Raymond Zorn [ed.]), (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1969).

[12] Ibid., 186.

[13] McLaren, EMC, 21.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 22.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 23.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

22 Comments:

Blogger Bill Honsberger said...

How fun! This seems like what Howard Zinn would read like if he pretended to be a Christian... Just like Bri...
Bill

10:22 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Ron,

I appreciate your full run-down of Brian McLaren. I don't know if you've seen Christianity Today's response to the same book. Obviously, being their friendly heretic in Leadership Journal, they don't want to offend him too much, but they were critical.

I remember being assigned to read Ridderbos in Seminary. Thank God Simon Kistemaker only made us read excerpts of The Coming of the Kingdom! Thick reading. Probably too thick for Bri.

What Bri is missing is the "not yet" of the Kingdom isn't "already" here. But making that mistake has been one of those simple errors of theological liberalism since the end of the First World War.

I was wary of Bri when I had to read his Church on the Other Side, for my D.Min class at RTS Orlando. It was one of those "sift to try to learn something" books. I didn't get much with all the sifting.

As Ed Stetzer says www.edstetzer.com the Emergent Church is (sadly) going to be the future of the mainline church. Why won't God let them just die?! Ah, the "why's" of God's "dreams" going unfulfilled! LOL!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Jim W said...

Randy, you just don't get it at all, do you? Everything Brian et al "preaches" is works. Brian sees fixing all the wrongs in the world as the means of salvation. He likes Jesus' words/methods better than, say, Budda's words/methods (for whatever reason). That is what it comes down to.
Brian is a left-over flower child of the '60s. "Peace, man". That's all he is. He's nothing but a "nice" Dennis Hopper. He has no concept of the radical change that will/must accompany someone who truly complies with ALL of Christ's words, not just the ones that give us warm fuzzies and make us feel good about ourselves. Remember the "born again" concept? Remember "repent"? Those are the only ways anyone will receive salvation, not through any works. That is the problem with Brian-he preaches works.
As far as redistributing our wealth, again why are you so hard-headed about this simple concept? The early church voluntarily gave up all they had. No central authority commanded them or forced them to. Of course, then you have to read on. Other church groups wound up gathering (voluntarily) to help out the Jerusalem church, because they no longer had the means to support themselves. They had given up everything. This is the difference-they gave voluntarily. No one forced them to. No one took and then gave as that authority saw fit, the people gave as they saw the need. Huge difference between what our government (and what you and Brian would like to force on everyone) and what the church actually did and is what Dr. Gleason would prefer, as do I (and most other rational, non-socialist types).

7:43 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Jim,
No, Randy doesn't get it and barring a special work of the Holy Spirit, he won't.

Randy,
Bri & I are light years apart in our theology. Remember: I've read his books as have others. I really cannot believe that you are so naive! You'll defend what Bri has "probably" read (not!), but don't seem to know that he rejoices in being non-theological.
Here's the contradiction: You cannot have read Ridderbos (who was my NT professor in Holland)and agree with Bri's summation of the Kingdom. Somehow, I'm sure that this is wasted on you though.
You really are tedious and I'm growing very weary of you. You and your silly platitudes are a waste of everyone's time.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Mr. Light said...

McLaren is light years apart from any truly Christian theology. He goes wrong right from the start. He is a "follower of God in the way of Jesus" which immediately implies there can be some other way of following God. Jesus is just a model (one of many) for social change, not a Savior or Lord. In the end for McLaren, following Jesus is just his preferred avenue for helping God make the world nicer. The salvation of sinners, the holiness of God, and the glory of Christ are not a part of his worldview. It's all about good works in the realms of politics, economics, and morality. The Gospel to him is just a synonym for socialism with a new age flavor.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:14 PM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

Hey Randy -

Is it "a more excellent way" to call someone a jerk, and then never apologize for it?

Glad to see you're practicing what you preach.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:48 PM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

Does that mean you would have chosen a different word to express the same sentiment? Making the outside of the cup clean but keeping the inside filthy doesn't belong to "a more excellent way," either, methinks.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:01 PM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

All I'm saying is that you talk the talk but you don't walk the walk. Yet you have the audacity to lecture the rest of us about love, giving others the benefit of the doubt, not judging, being tolerant, etc., etc., etc.

Frankly, when you are nice only to those whom you like, your words ring extremely hollow, and I think you should be called on the carpet for it, given your history of sanctimonious rantings on this blog. If you think a call to repentance is "being belittled," then so be it. Not much I can do for you there.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Jim W said...

Randy, you are great at quoting the Bible. Unfortunately, you never get around to applying what you quote to yourself. Maybe you do outside the blog world, but no one has ever seen anything resembling that in your writings. Long on talk, but short on application. Just like every liberal I've ever met or known. Treat everyone else with contempt while telling them how contemptable they are, take everyone elses things and give them away, claim you're the misunderstood one and cry when everyone calls you on it. Grow up, for Pete's sake!

3:31 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Here's the deal: When you make statements like the one asserting that you believe there is no contradiction between Ridderbos' and Bri's explanations of the Kingdom of God, you manifest your lack of discernment. That's like saying there is no difference between Ridderbos and N.T. Wright! I mean, that is one of the most absurd statements I've heard in a while!

3:51 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Stop whining because Wordsmith is calling you to account. Deal with it.

Difference between Ridderbos and N.T. Wright: Ridderbos is biblical & Wright is Roman Catholic in his view. McLaren is a Unitarian, and that's being kind.

You know, you guys pretend to "waffle" all the time, seeking the right position. At the end of the day, you line up with Wright and McLaren. For that reason, I am convinced that your theology is aberrant.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Randy says..

"but perhaps the biblical text is wrong on the stone thing too..."

This sounds exactly like "Did God really say...."

Those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture don't need to have a "conversation."

7:53 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
What would Jesus say?
As far as "judgment" is concerned, I suggest you read Ezek. 33. There's a big difference between judging and warning. I've been trying to warn you.
That thing with the Wordster really troubled you, didn't it? Man up and stop acting like a little girl in the schoolyard who missed her turn at jump rope.
BTW, once again you've avoided the N.T. Wright Ridderbos comparison. Do you agree or disagree with Wright on justification? A simple Yes or No will suffice.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

i call someone a jerk and you get all over my case... rattle tells me that my salvation is in peril and that's fine... what the hell?

The issue is your blatant hypocrisy, Randy, which has been pointed out to you many times. You harp and harp and harp about being loving and so forth, meanwhile displaying the very same attitude of contempt you supposely condemn.

You cannot be taken seriously.

7:39 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Ladies and gentlemen,

Randy has left the building. I repeat, Randy has left the building.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Another truckload of deleted comments. Oh well, I suppose it saves some cyberspace.

3:44 PM  

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