Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Melinda Penner (of Stand to Reason) on Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity

Here are some excerpts:

This is the one book I’m very glad Brian McLaren has written because he’s finally clear about what he believes and what he thinks Christianity should be. He’s quite explicit that it’s Christianity he recommends change; he’s not simply reporting to us what he believes. He’s suggesting A New Kind of Christianity for all of us. His project is transformation of the faith. Alas, he fails because his conclusions aren’t new; they’re quite familiar 20th century Christian liberalism. Finally we have clarity on what McLaren believes, what he thinks Christianity is or should be, and that we’re all talking about what we believe is the true and correct expression of the faith, not just our private beliefs....
McLaren tells us that historic Christianity has imposed a Greco-Roman narrative on the Bible, leading to all of the errors of doctrine and practice, which have plagued the church for at least 1500 years. He reduces traditional Christian doctrine to a six-part diagram that has been imposed on the Bible: Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Hell/Damnation or Salvation and Heaven. This, he tells us, has been imported from the culture and distorted our understanding of the Bible. McLaren offers no argument for this claim, he simply tells a good story of how he thinks this happened.


He makes what he appears to think is a significant observation: Jesus never wrote anything. He implies that what Jesus taught carries more authority than what was written, ignoring the doctrine of inspiration that Jesus, the Word of God, did superintend the writing of Genesis through Revelation. Of course, this conveniently leaves McLaren free to cherry pick what he thinks is authentic Jesus teaching and create a Jesus of his own choosing.


The rest of us are blind to this because we’re stuck in the Greco-Roman narrative, while McLaren never suggests that his view is his own narrative. No, it is presented as the true and real view. So apparently while the rest of us are skewed by a false narrative, McLaren is objective, free of presuppositions, humble, and so in a position of being able to read the Bible as it should be read. He falls into the same trap postmodernism itself suffers from: It’s self-refuting. While claiming that we’re all subject to narratives that obscure our understanding of reality and truth, postmodernism itself is a claim of reality and truth. So after asserting that a Greco-Roman narrative has obscured Christian’s reading of the Bible for millennia, McLaren claims to have the clear perspective and recommends we adopt it. All the while, McLaren’s reading of the Bible and Christianity reads like a liberal-Marxist manifesto. He asserts the worst motives on Christians as a whole, suggesting we ask “Whom does our current approach favor or empower?”, yet he apparently is free of bad motives. My point isn’t to accuse McLaren of bad motives. I don’t know what his motives are and I don’t care. They probably are just what he claims. I’m concerned with what he says, not why he’s doing it. I bring this up because it’s another example of McLaren smearing Christianity with the broadest and dirtiest brush possible, and yet he’s above it all. He doesn’t have access to the motives of other Christians, yet he claims what they are and uses that to disparage what we believe and boot-strap his own view. It’s an illegitimate tactic. And it’s another one typical of postmodernism and Marxism, which imposes struggle for power as an overarching narrative on what the rest of us understand to be a search for truth....
McLaren tells us that historic Christianity has imposed a Greco-Roman narrative on the Bible, leading to all of the errors of doctrine and practice, which have plagued the church for at least 1500 years. He reduces traditional Christian doctrine to a six-part diagram that has been imposed on the Bible: Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Hell/Damnation or Salvation and Heaven. This, he tells us, has been imported from the culture and distorted our understanding of the Bible. McLaren offers no argument for this claim, he simply tells a good story of how he thinks this happened.
He makes what he appears to think is a significant observation: Jesus never wrote anything. He implies that what Jesus taught carries more authority than what was written, ignoring the doctrine of inspiration that Jesus, the Word of God, did superintend the writing of Genesis through Revelation. Of course, this conveniently leaves McLaren free to cherry pick what he thinks is authentic Jesus teaching and create a Jesus of his own choosing.
The rest of us are blind to this because we’re stuck in the Greco-Roman narrative, while McLaren never suggests that his view is his own narrative. No, it is presented as the true and real view. So apparently while the rest of us are skewed by a false narrative, McLaren is objective, free of presuppositions, humble, and so in a position of being able to read the Bible as it should be read. He falls into the same trap postmodernism itself suffers from: It’s self-refuting. While claiming that we’re all subject to narratives that obscure our understanding of reality and truth, postmodernism itself is a claim of reality and truth. So after asserting that a Greco-Roman narrative has obscured Christian’s reading of the Bible for millennia, McLaren claims to have the clear perspective and recommends we adopt it. All the while, McLaren’s reading of the Bible and Christianity reads like a liberal-Marxist manifesto. He asserts the worst motives on Christians as a whole, suggesting we ask “Whom does our current approach favor or empower?”, yet he apparently is free of bad motives. My point isn’t to accuse McLaren of bad motives. I don’t know what his motives are and I don’t care. They probably are just what he claims. I’m concerned with what he says, not why he’s doing it. I bring this up because it’s another example of McLaren smearing Christianity with the broadest and dirtiest brush possible, and yet he’s above it all. He doesn’t have access to the motives of other Christians, yet he claims what they are and uses that to disparage what we believe and boot-strap his own view. It’s an illegitimate tactic. And it’s another one typical of postmodernism and Marxism, which imposes struggle for power as an overarching narrative on what the rest of us understand to be a search for truth.
Read the whole thing here. Melinda, writing as a Protestant, critiques McLaren's apparent misunderstanding of sola scriptura. Although Catholics do not share that Protestant understanding of Scripture (though we too believe that it is the Word of God), we are with Melinda and other Protestants in rejecting McLaren's uncharitable and mistaken understanding of Church History.


For the record, I agree with Melinda that McLaren does not understand sola scriptura. But as a Catholic, I see something else about McLaren's discarding of biblical authority. Let me explain. If one is going to reject sola scriptura, as McLaren apparently has done, one needs to give some account of the continuity of the Christian Church and its doctrines. Catholic and Orthodox believers offer such an account. (See, for example, this section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) McLaren, however, from what I can gather, wants to reject that continuity as illegitimate. So, his rejection of sola scriptura is a means to an end, and that end is the rejection of the great Catholic creeds of the Early Church as well as its moral theology. So, although I do not share Melinda's view of sola scriptura, I do believe, as I have written elsewhere, "if Evangelicalism is to survive, it has to grow up and not `emerge.' It needs the wisdom of David Wells’s The Courage to Be Protestant rather than the beatnik aphorisms of Donald Miller’s Oprah-fied narrative, Blue Like Jazz. It needs more Augustine and less Pelagius, and a theological and pastoral leadership that understands that it is not above its pay grade to suggest to its people that a purpose-driven life requires a purpose-driven death."
Melinda recommends other reviews of McLaren's book, one by Tim Challies and the other by Kevin DeYoung, two Reformed writers. (The Rev. Young is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan)

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