I think I need to take a little break from the blog. I really just don’t have anything to write. My life feels like its so preoccupied with other things and I’m not sure if this blog is really effective any way. I have sorta lost my passion for it. Not study or teaching, just blogging. I hope to be back by the middle of June but I’m not sure (I also hope to finish the series on “Free In Christ” but just can’t make myself work on it).
I think I need to try to live the life that I’ve been talking about for awhile. Maybe then I’ll have something more to share.
Chapter 10 of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ” is about false teachers (or what we in the church of Christ call them anyway).
We have a tendency to think that any person who is wrong on any point of doctrine is a false teacher. Cecil Hook didn’t think so and neither do I.
You see, false teacher describes the person’s character and not what they are teaching. If a person is false than they are a false teacher (even if what they are teaching is true). Cecil gives 6 examples in the book of people who were false teachers. These were not people who made honest mistakes, they were people with false motives and evil intent. These were false teachers.
Cecil also gives examples of people who were sincerely wrong about things but were not false teachers. The one that comes to my mind is Apollos. We are specifically told that Apollos taught the Gospel incorrectly until corrected by Priscilla and Aquilla but the idea that he was a false teacher is absurd. Apollos was mistaken, but not false in the sense that the Scriptures seem to indicate would qualify one as a “false teacher” (there are many other examples given in the book for your review).
We have thrown around the term “false teacher” for far too long at innocent brothers and sisters who had Christ-like hearts. Sure, some of their theology has been mistaken but they were not false teachers and should never be treated badly for trying to truly understand the Scriptures.
Remember, this book is available for free at Freedom’s Ring
I recently read Brian Mclaren’s newest book “A New Kind of Christianity” and wanted to say a few things about it. This is far from a full review. After having a bad taste in my mouth after reading “Everything Must Change”, I was very hesitant to start this book (I also thought that “Secret Message of Jesus” was highly overrated but have enjoyed Brian’s previous books) but since my local library had a copy of it I thought “why not?”
The main point of this post is to simply ask: “Why can’t this guy just come out and say what he believes in”?
Any person who has read his books can guess that he believes the following things (or pretty close):
1. Hell is not eternal conscious torment.
2. Adam and Eve (and Job) should be interpreted allegorically.
3. Christians are called to a way of peace (it seems that he may be a pacifist but I won’t label him)
4. Christians are called to care for the environment and we are in an ecological crises
5. Homosexuality is not the same thing that is depicted in Scripture
6. The Bible should be viewed as a narrative not a constitution
7. Current readings of Revelation (and other eschatological verses) are being misread
(this wouldn’t be an exhaustive list of his beliefs but I think its a good start)
So, why can’t he just come out and say this stuff. If you have read the book (or really any of his others), you know that it is full of “what if…” and “maybe…” and a general refusal to actually say anything. If he believes these things, he should be presenting his beliefs and trying to prove them (and yes, I know that that is a very modern thing to say but at some point, some of us are going to need this).
Take the first one (eternal conscious torment). Where Brian Mclaren fails to convince (or even try to convince) anyone that eternal conscious torment is false, Edward Fudge in “The Fire That Consumes” does this quite well and in a way that could cause someone to change their position (and has helped many). Fudge provides the evidence and makes a strong case for what he calls “conditional immortality”. I don’t doubt that the modern context brought about the false interpretation of eternal conscious torment (which seems to be what Brian is saying) but I do doubt that anyone will change positions by reading that Brian questions it.
Number two. I have heard many say that Adam, Eve, and Job (and some other areas of Scripture) should be interpreted allegorically. Job is far easier to believe on this point because of internal evidence. The characters talk in poetry, God makes a deal with Satan, the clear “moral” of the story, and the difficulty of putting Job into a place in history (I find the argument that Job lived between Adam and Noah unconvincing). Simply put, it would make little difference whether Job was an allegory. The story means the same thing even if it didn’t happen.
Adam and Eve is a little trickier though. Most of the arguments stating that it didn’t happen are basically “it didn’t happen because it couldn’t have happened”. Most of these are by people that buy evolution and things like that. The internal evidence seems lacking. There are many details in the Adam and Eve story that would have to have allegorical meanings and I have never seen these meanings given. Many have said that Adam and Eve is an allegory, but none have offered an interpretation as far as I am aware (I have done quite a bit of research on this and found nobody in church history to interpret the allegorical meanings behind many of the specific details given in the story). It is not enough to say that a story is allegorical unless there is somebody that can interpret it (or at least a decent assumption that the original audience could, I’ve never heard one). An allegory that the original audience could not interpret is not an allegory, it’s a lie because it would be used to deceive the audience instead of enlighten them. If any of you know of a full explanation of the story, please send it to me because I honestly don’t know how to interpret it any way but historically.
I would agree that Christians are called to a way of peace but Brian needs to explain how this works. Does this include human governments or just the church? If it does include governments, then does the rest of Scripture apply to them as well? What is part of the “way of peace” and what isn’t? Is it only war and personal conflict or does it include the unborn (abortion), animals, the planet? We need more information (not just speculation).
I’m not sure how much Christians are called to care for the environment (and I get no help from the book because it doesn’t tell me what is covered and what isn’t or how to decide). Much like the green movement, Brian says that the church should care about the environment but won’t say what this entails. We need to be careful with these people because it seems they are too afraid to tell us how much we need to change to help the environment (or simply don’t know). I’m all for recycling and corporations finding cleaner ways to operate but I have to ask: “If all the things they are advocating for get done, what will they advocate for next”?. It almost seems (and I know I’m overstating) that they won’t be happy until I’m naked and living in a cave. Anything else that I do is sure to be bad for the environment and I just wish someone would make a list of what it would take to end the ecological “crises” so that we could do it and they would go away. This will never happen. I fear that the environmental issue is just something for people to get behind that requires little commitment from them but is very costly to others (corporations and governments specifically).
I also question if we are truly in an ecological crises. Brian seems to have bought the green thing hook, line, and sinker but really we know that global warming was overblown (maybe even a hoax) and the earth is actually doing pretty well. I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem but scientists aren’t even convinced among themselves that there is. Maybe we should wait for them to conclusively figure these things out before spending billions of dollars to fix something that might not even be broken. It may even be a case where people will have to keep being concerned about the environment to save face from the fact that there wasn’t really anything wrong with it in the first place. I think Christian writers and churches should be careful before they jump on this bandwagon and risk making themselves (and the church) look foolish.
I would agree with Brian that homosexuality is not the same thing that they were dealing with in Scripture. Having sexual relations with someone as part of a pagan ritual is quite different than being truly attracted to someone on the same sex and wishing to have a relationship with them. I don’t even pretend to understand why people are homosexual and I don’t really know what Brian is suggesting that we do about how this is affecting our society. You would think if this guy was going to write books about this stuff he might actually have some ideas. I just wonder how many years it is going to take for him to just come out and say “this is what I really think Jesus wants”.
Number six I have dealt with on this blog extensively and I do agree with Mclaren on this one.
And finally, we deal with eschatology. I do wonder if Brian Mclaren is actually a full preterist (I wouldn’ t blame him if he was hesitant to come out and say this because his publisher would probably drop him) and is trying to sneak people in the back door of realizing that biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. I am still undecided on the issue myself (if you haven’t read James Stuart Russell’s “The Parousia” you absolutely must and it will give you the best explanation on why full preterism is possible and should be considered). If he isn’t a full preterist, then I’m not sure what he is trying to say (it is possible that he is a partial preterist like N.T. Wright seems to be) but I wish he would come out and give a detailed interpretation of Revelation 20-22. I know it is not his style but I would love to see his take on it.
Sorry for the length of this post but reading Brian’s books really makes me think (they also frustrate me a good bit too). I know I’ve been a little hard on this book but I really am a fan of Brian Mclaren. I just wish he would be a little more clear about what he is talking about. I think after reading all the books he has written (and after reading many of the same authors that he apparently reads), I should have some idea what he is talking about but I don’t really feel like I do. Maybe next book.
In this chapter of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ”, he talks about the church of Christ’s insistence that we have no creed but the Scriptures. Although this sounds good, we end up having an unwritten creed of all of our interpretations of the Scriptures that we bind on people and use against those who disagree with us.
Cecil than points out that when we baptized the convert, we only asked them one question:
“Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?” No inquiry was made of his convictions or practices relating to eating meats, the use of God’s name as a by-word, present-day demon possession and exorcism, praying for healing, killing in self-defense, midweek communion, or any other of the many issues listed in Chapter One which may relate to his faithful practice of the Christian life. Do the convictions and practices of such issues matter? Some, like days and meats (Romans 14) and circumcision (Gal. 5:6), do not. Some may be sinful, though their status is debated by sincere and studious disciples. Different convictions on debatable issues can be held without disrupting fellowship.
This is true. We never ask people what their beliefs on doctrine are before accepting them into the Church. We only ask if they believe in Jesus. This is right. Isn’t it strange that we let people into the Church who have no opinion on doctrine but think they can be kicked out for having a wrong opinion? Doesn’t make sense to me. The basis by which you enter the body (faith in Christ) is the way that you stay in the body.
Cecil than tackles an idea that has become common in church of Christ thought. This thought is that if two people disagree than one must be right and the other wrong or they must both be wrong. It is not possible that both of them are right. To the legalist, they cannot both be right but to Paul they could. In Romans 14 Paul clearly states that those who eat meat sacrificed to idols and those that don’t can both be accepted by God. He also applies this to keeping holy days. Both those that keep them and those that don’t can both be acceptable to God.
This shows that legalism and patternism were not what Jesus had in mind for the Church. If there were a pattern, you could not have this variation and have both parties be right, but this is exactly what Paul says is the case.
Next, Cecil talks about Jesus as our creed. This is one of the most important things that I have ever learned. We don’t actually follow the Bible, we follow Christ. The Bible teaches us about Christ so that we can follow Him. We don’t follow a legal code. We follow Jesus.
The last thing that Cecil mentions is the practice of giving incoming preachers a questionnaire to determine what their beliefs are but still insisting that we don’t use creeds. It is quite ridiculous when you think about it. Also, how are we ever supposed to learn anything new if the preachers we hire all say the same things. I am more than ok with feeling a little uncomfortable sometimes in order to learn something about God that I didn’t know before. The important thing, is that our teachers have faith in Christ and point the congregation to Him (and not to their own agenda). A good teacher does what the Bible does: points us to Jesus.
Here is a link that I found from New Wineskins to some video lectures from Edward Fudge. His work on eternal conscious torment has helped me tremendously and his GracEmail’s have been very helpful in progressing from traditional church of Christ positions to where I am now.
I’ve recently been thinking along these lines:
Isn’t legalism just a way of saying that loving God and others just isn’t good enough.
Let me explain. In most cases we all know what the right thing to do is. It is written in our hearts. We all know that using an instrument is not wrong, we know that women can speak in church, we know that we shouldn’t be mean to homosexuals, we all know there shouldn’t be any wars, and we all know loads of other things that we use legalism to justify ignoring. We use the Bible to justify doing what we know to be wrong but want to be right.
I guess some people want to limit the bounds of the family of God. They want women to be subservient. They want to hate homosexuals (and anyone else who doesn’t fit their definition of “normal”), they want to justify hating and killing their enemies and want to justify many other things as well.
Its a terrible shame when biblical interpretation is used to justify things that the Lord Jesus Christ would never approve of.
You can have your bible religion if you want it, but I want to follow Christ. We all know what is right because it is written on our hearts. Just had to get that off my chest
Just in case any of you haven’t heard.
There is a new free internet Christian book publisher called Transforming Publishing
They have a couple of great books that you can download for free or buy in hard copy and more to come as they find more authors. Check it out