Saving the Planet One Left Wing Position at a Time (XIII)
Old Brian McLaren wants us to follow what he and Jackson Browne call “The Rebel Jesus.” Given his penchant for those halcyon hippy days, it isn’t too much of a stretch for old Bri to think of Jesus as Che Guevara without the beret. To Bri’s mind, Jesus was a rebel; a revolutionary. It’s more than just a little ironic that these were the precise words used of Jesus; some of us lived through those days. Christianity had, to the minds of some pastors, fallen on hard times and something was needed to—pardon the pun—resurrect it. Equally ironically, a number of those concerned pastors, wearing their earth toned turtlenecks and suede shoes didn’t believe in a literal resurrection, but that is another story for another time.
Fast forward to the early 21st century and there’s old Bri, wearing his earth tones and Birkenstocks introducing us to Jesus the Revolutionary. You kind of halfway expect to see this rebel Jesus out in the streets of Berkeley demonstrating against the Marine Corps and carrying a sign that reads, “Draft beer, not men!” In fact, chapter 27 of his latest book is entitled “On the Side of the Rebel Jesus.” Cool. Hip. Bri is upset with “happy Christians” who are oblivious and who are out for little more in life than “The arrogant pursuit of wealth and the careless plundering of creation.” Okay, we’re all opposed to the arrogant pursuit of wealth and the careless plundering of creation. Bri cites Jackson Browne, who “can’t help being cynical even about holiday charity. The seasonal giving of gifts among relatives contrasts with the locks and guns with which people guard their personal assets the rest of the year.”
I think I get it: ole Bri and Jackson Browne are opposed to the Second Amendment. Key to Bri’s argument then is: Which Jesus? When you’re striving to get the amahoro flowing, this is a crucial question. If you’re not certain what amahoro actually is, then clearly you’re not one of the thoughtful people that Bri hangs with. In Bri’s world, you cannot simply ask the question: which Jesus? You must be in a packed room of young adults in Buenos Aires, Argentina. You know intuitively that this is going to be something quite profound. Bri informs us that his is the Jesus pitted against the suicide machine—you no doubt remember this from the gospel accounts—drawn from the canonical gospels. In other words, Bri is a strict biblicist. He continues, “Far from being an esoteric and speculative distraction, our beliefs about the end toward which things are moving profoundly and practically shape our present behavior. This is especially true in regard to violence and war, and is one of the reasons many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly.”
Let’s pause here for a moment before we proceed in this discussion. First, it is noteworthy how certain Bri is that his position is correct and this from a member of the emergent chit-chat that constantly pounds the “uncertainty” drum. We cannot know; no meta-narratives—except the ones that suit my needs and purposes. Funny. Bri sounds like he really knows that what he’s saying is true. He is contradicting the heart of the postmodern rebellion. What is that? David Wells aptly puts it this way: “It turned away from meaning that is fixed and universal and turned toward meaning that is private and subjective. It shifted from absolute moral norms to those that are simply private. Is the “conventional” view of hell wrong? Inaccurate? How do we know? Really, if meaning is private and subjective, why do we care? Is the conventional view of hell itself evil? Sinful?
I do want to point out the obvious: old Bri is a rank, lousy theologian. The man cannot differentiate between biblical sovereignty and “forceful domination.” A Bible Works word search using the ESV doesn’t show any results for the word “torture” in the Bible. This might wash with a packed room filled with young Buenos Aires adults trying not to step in the amahoro, but it doesn’t cut the mustard. There are several reasons why. First, as I have noted on more than one occasion, Bri loathes the word “sin.” In the first 200 pages of his latest book it is not found in his words. Finally, when he does use it, he is thoroughly apologetic.
Second, the Achilles’ heel of his latest book is that he falls into the postmodern trap of speaking of evil but not sin. This is an important distinction to understand. To Bri, the current status of the United States (suicide machine) is evil. Well, you might ask, why doesn’t he just say the United States is sinful or acting sinfully? According to this own pomo principles he realizes that he can’t. Why not? It’s all part and parcel of the “private-subjective-relative” scheme of things. Bri is leery of standards, even the Bible, although he talks about the Bible from time to time. Once we begin to parse his words and sentences more carefully than, say, a room full of pomos in Buenos Aires high on amahoro, we understand that since Bri has all but kicked sin out of the picture, he cannot reintroduce it arbitrarily. Sin, you see, is different from evil in many ways. Evil, in the pomo scheme of things, “has become purely privatized.” That is to say, evil is what is “bad” for me. In Bri’s world, it is illegitimate to impose my private, subjective views on anyone else. So this begs the question: Why did Bri write his latest book—or any book for that matter—in such a rational, certain manner?
The problem, of course, is that if you deem something as evil (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot) there would need to be some standard of right and wrong that would act in an absolute fashion so that you could verify your statement. Again, Wells is very helpful here. He states, “Evil is badness at a deep level, one that we intuitively feel demands reparations and penalties because if offends against an inviolable norm. It is always wrong. It is not only wrong to me. It is wrong everywhere.” Obviously, Bri and the emergents cannot and will not go there—explicitly. Just like the rest of mankind, however, they borrow capital from true Christianity when it’s convenient. So what is the decided difference between pomo evil and biblical sin? “Evil is simply badness. Sin, though, is altogether more serious because it sets up human badness in relation to God.” This explanation is the “center” of traditional Christianity.
But have you noticed that postmodernism and the emergents love to talk about the lost “center” or, to use Rob and Kristen Bell’s way of putting it, the Bible is still the center, it’s just a different center. A cogent person might wait patiently for an explanation of what it means that the Bible is a different center. Don’t hold your breath, because Rob and his bride have had ample opportunity to explain what they mean and no explanation is forthcoming. Let the amahoro flow! Bri jettisoned the “center” long ago. What he and the emergent sillies fail to grasp is that “In the absence of a compelling external authority that enables us to draw the line confidently between right and wrong, true and false, we are left to fumble about with only our feelings to guide us.” Consistency is not the long suit of the emergents, but their views trump everything and everybody. When it’s convenient for their purposes, they are as certain as the traditionalist or foundationalist they criticize. Otherwise, why would they attempt to convince us that their view is the correct one?
In a very real sense, Bri’s books are simply his worldview and in the emergent claptrap, worldviews are as different as the people who construct and hold them. By his own standards, Bri’s book must devolve to this: there can be no comprehensive purpose to life or any truth that is absolute and applicable to all in the same way—Buenos Aires notwithstanding. Bri’s musings are ultimately no better, truer, or more helpful than any other so why bother to write; to attempt to convince? Besides, how can Bri’s Birkenstock and Starbucks world equate contextually with a bunch of young adults in Buenos Aires? He’s an old dude.
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 227.
 Ibid., 228.
 Ibid., 141ff.
 Just to cut to the chase, it means “peace.” Consider yourself enlightened.
 McLaren, EMC, 143.
 Ibid., 144.
 David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 107. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 109.
 Paraphrased from Well, TCBP, 110.
Labels: Emergent Church