A recent issue of Time magazine profiled a number of America’s most influential Evangelicals. Among those with acceptable conservative credentials included historian David Barton, constitutional attorney Jay Sekulow, and author Tim LaHaye.
However, one professional religionist quietly slipped onto the list promotes a severely watered down brand of Christianity more about accommodating the faith to trendy progressive causes rather than applying a Biblical perspective to the issues of the day. For whereas those profiled such as Barton, Sekulow, and LaHaye earned their places on the roster for their strong positions they have taken in regards to their respective areas of expertise, Brian McLaren’s claim to fame happens to be his spineless vacillation when confronted with matters requiring a distinctively Christian response proverbially separating the wheat from the chaff.
McLaren’s Time profile starts out detailing McLaren’s response to what this renowned cogitator thinks of gay marriage. To the inquiry he replied, “You know what, the thing that breaks my heart is there’s no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side.”
What does that have to do with anything? For the true man of God, there is nothing to agonize over when formulating a response to such a clear cut issue.
The Bible is quite plain; marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. What does a pastor have to apologize for? A church committee did not invent marriage.
Should we sugarcoat those passages and doctrines others don’t like? I’m not too fond of taxes. Does that mean I should throw a fit until the preacher gives up on expounding the passages of Scripture extolling us to pay our taxes?
Better yet, does this mean we should downplay the monogamous nature of marriage for fear of alienating the practitioners of polygamy? More importantly, should pastors gloss over texts explicating the divinity of Jesus for fear of upsetting Jews or Muslims with their competing versions of monotheism? Just how far is the neutered church willing to take this new sacrament of hypertolerance?
Maybe we ought to toss out orthodox doctrine, traditional values, and good old common sense to replace them with a catechism and liturgy making community the highest arbiter of standards and values. For whereas Rev. McLaren laments the obligation of upholding the clearly delineated injunctions of the Bible, he certainly has few qualms about promulgating a religious creed bearing a startling resemblance to contemporary postmodern communitarianism.
A number of McLaren’s underlying beliefs are expounded in an article in the Summer 2003 edition of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal titled “Emerging Values: The Next Generation Is Redefining Spiritual Formation, Community, And Mission”. McLaren suggests, instead of a traditional apologetic and systematic theology emphasizing the rational truths of the Christian faith, an approach focusing on feelings and outcomes.
McLaren predicts, “Christians in the emerging culture may look back to our doctrinal structures...as we look back on medieval cathedrals: possessing real beauty that should be preserved, but now largely vacant, not inhabited anymore or used much anymore, more tourist attraction than holy place.” He continues, “If Christianity isn’t the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system (‘the church of the last detail’) then what’s left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be ‘Christianity as a way of life’ or ‘Christianity as a path of spiritual formation’.”
In other words, clearly defined beliefs are a crock and a waste of time. McLaren says as much in the following: “I was giving, thanks to C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell, my best apologetics informed replies, and I wasn’t getting through. My Liar-Lunatic-Or-Lord arguments...and water tight belief system didn’t enhance the credibility of the Gospel...rather, they made the Gospel seem less credible, maybe even a little cheap and shallow.”
Interesting how Pastor McLaren enunciates his disapproval for propositional truth in the form of propositions. Note he did not relay the impression through extrasensory emotional transference or through some rambling narrative where the only conclusions are those the listeners draw for themselves in the finest traditions of the postmodernism McLaren has enthusiastically embraced.
While the fruits of the Christian faith are important as they are signs of a life well led in Jesus Christ, given the choice between feelings and proper beliefs, proper beliefs must take precedence over good feelings since feelings must arise from beliefs since proper beliefs won’t necessarily arise from good feelings.
McLaren’s tendency to elevate the ends of Christianity over the means is evident in regards to his attitude towards two popular movies --- “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Passion of Christ” ---- he reviewed in Sojourner’s Magazine. The review --- appearing in the rag renowned as a mouthpiece of the Religious Left --- hopes to convince readers as to which film is the more spiritually efficacious.
In a move reminiscent of the Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth and the like, McLaren aesthetically as well as ethically places ephemeral existential considerations over the concrete reality of historic fact. According to McLaren, “Hotel Rwanda” is actually a “more Christian” movie than “The Passion Of Christ”.
From what I have been able to gather since I have seen neither film, “Hotel Rwanda” is about an individual who tries to save lives during the African Massacres of the 1990’s whereas “The Passion Of Christ” is an attempt to cinematically depict the sufferings of the Messiah as He died upon the cross for the sins of those who would accept Him as Savior.
How can one movie possibly depicting Christian values be “more Christian” than another that actually --- despite legitimate criticisms raised by sensitive Protestants to certain Catholic elements within the picture --- is a reenactment of the events that brought Christianity into existence? For if Jesus did not die and rise from the dead, why should we even bother with good deeds to begin with?
As John Warwick Montgomery often jokes, who’s heard of a Unitarian leper colony? I Corinthians 5:19 says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” But then I don’t think the words of Scripture carry all that much weight with McLaren and his sect since emotions seem to take precedence.
Without fidelity to these fundamental events and creeds of the Christian faith as expressions of history as actual as the signing of Declaration of Independence or the Allies landing at Normandy, this world religion under consideration degenerates into an amorphous psychobabble that ends up lavishing undue power upon those in positions of authority and imbuing this world with a kingdom of God quality once reserved for heaven itself.
As beings existing amidst the flow of history, events such as the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and their depiction in the words of the Bible connect the individual directly with the Almighty. But when the temporal emphasis of the faith is altered from its primary concern of the individual and salvation to that of the group and its propagation, adherents are forced to placate a constantly expanding intermediary body standing between themselves and God if they desire to continue their status as upstanding members of the fellowship in question.
Usually, this new loyalty is placed in the community and the pastor as the personification of this abstract authority that is not to be questioned and existing beyond many of the rules the remainder of us regular clods are expected to adhere to as less advanced members of the spiritual hierarchy.
It is not enough to live by the principles of the Bible by loving the Lord, taking care of one’s family, and otherwise staying out of trouble. Rather, one must confess the darkest recesses of one’s soul to the encounter group as it meanders about in ethical confusion as the facilitator guides them to a predetermined outcome not necessarily having anything whatsoever to do with the Bible or traditional Christian concerns.
Rev. McLaren shows his true colors regarding these matters in relation to environmental policy and philosophy as it serves as an excellent example of how McLaren’s aberrant theology will disrupt the life of the individual if his ideas gain influence among Christians and the broader culture.
Since the highest ethical good in McLaren’s worldview is the community, individual prerogatives and aspirations are seen as the bane and downfall of the natural world. McLaren in a Match 2004 Sojourner’s article titled “Consider the Turtles of the Field” chides that as a society we must move beyond concepts such as private ownership and free enterprise. Instead, those espousing so-called “kingdom values” must embrace the communal, hold property in common, and forsake the notion of “mine”.
Such revolutionary postures go beyond a concern about the greed and corruption endemic to the super rich such as multinational corporations, political figures, media personalities, and (dare we say) megachurch potentates. McLaren is far more interested in destroying the traditional American way of life.
Interestingly, this ecclesiastical milksop who won’t even take a stand one way or the other regarding sodomite matrimony characterizes the American nuclear family as a “waste of resources” and unworthy of the attention it receives in popular Evangelical thought. McLaren hopes extended families and “intentional households” (think glorified communes) will be the wave of the future.
One wonders if Pastor McLaren’s will be as keen on the share and share alike and the what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine outlook when the additional men he invites to reside at his compound have intentions on his wife? Or as most experiments in communalized domesticity end up, will Rev. McLaren be the only one permitted to relish the benefits of the community property if you catch my drift? Jonestown or Waco, anyone?
Refusing to confine his religious perceptions to the parameters of the texts and doctrines he finds stifling, Pastor McLaren refuses to realize that notions of property, privacy, and “mine” are not so much necessarily about greed as about establishing some kind of system that provides some degree of protection against the sin nature while allowing mankind the opportunity to enjoy what good remains in him as a creature made in God’s image. Rev. McLaren might not like the notion of private property, but it’s the only thing that prevents someone else from moving into his house when he is not there or permits him to seek legal recourse if someone bashes him in the head and snatches his car when stopped at a traffic light.
Through an examination of his environmental philosophy, one gets the impression that Rev. McLaren is not so much for nature as he is against the individual finding joy and purpose apart form considerable social control. It seems Rev. McLaren gets a bit of a kick getting into the business of others over which there is no Biblical mandate for doing so.
McLaren’s antipathy towards individual liberty is particularly evident in his opinion of the automobile and contemporary living arrangements. Of these foundational components of our material existence, McLaren writes, “The effects of caring will have to change our systems that depend on fossil fuels and...housing systems that maximize human impact through suburban sprawl [and] farming systems that violate rather than steward land.” Somehow I don’t imagine a bigshot like Rev. McLaren bicycles wherever he goes, lives in a thatched hut or in an inner city slum as most urban planners suggest, or nibbles on pine bark.
One wonders what this naive preacher is willing to give up. Apparently not quite as much as the rest of us not having reached his pinnacle of spiritual advancement must for the cause as has been characteristic of leftist revolutionary movements throughout history. For while the rest of us are to be ashamed for owning an automobile, dwelling in the suburbs, and having back decks instead of front porches (since these shelter the individual from the prying eyes of nosey neighbors operating under the mandate of “authentic community”), McLaren and his disciples have built their own little ecclesiastical fiefdom that can only be accessed by the very technologies this Luddite cleric rails against.
Living in the same “watershed” --- this being McLaren’s primary geographical identity --- as this theological crackpot, I have personally seen McLaren’s ivory tower (Cedar Ridge Community Church) and I can assure you it is sufficiently out in what use to be the countryside that he’s not going to draw the crowds he longs to fawn over him without considerable automobiling to this neighborhood of half-million dollar homes many sufficiently spaced far enough away from each other to prevent unwanted interaction between the occupants. But I guess gathering at the feet of this guru might qualify as one of those rare instances where use of the automobile might still be justified.
Nor does it seem to have stopped McLaren from trotting around the globe to spread his views and to indoctrinate others. But then again, when you think you are the best thing to hit religion since Jesus Christ, why should you let a little thing like a consistent environmental philosophy stand in your way?
One suspects what McLaren and his cronies really suffer from is good old-fashioned liberal guilt of a similar strain that wracked Phil Donahue when he’d wring his hands in despair that he had been fortunate enough to have been born an American. Yet instead of allowing such a realization to inspire a life of humility and non-ostentatiousness, when those of this attitude come to power they seek to assuage their own burdened souls by extracting the penance from the hides over whom they exercise authority.
The goal of the Emergent Church movement is liberation from what it classifies as the antiquated dogmas and traditions of Christianity. And while the church must always remain vigilant to ensure certain ecclesiastical accretions are not elevated to the level of revelation handed down from on high, what this movement under consideration seeks to replace accepted orthodoxy with is a religious paradigm that undermines individuality and imposes a reliance on community that conditions churchgoers to pliantly take their place in the emerging global order.
Copyright 2005 by Frederick Meekins
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