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Some Thoughts On “A New Kind Of Christianity”

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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.

More On “Curses”

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When we ate of the knowledge of good and evil, certain “curses” were the result. We need to realize that these were not really punishments but were the natural result of not living in connection with God. The curse of Satan was handled by Jesus Christ and Him alone. We do not have to do anything to rid the world of this curse and can do nothing. The woman was made to have pain in childbirth. We need to realize that God didn’t just come up with this to punish her, this is a natural result of her leaving the care of God. Childbirth naturally should involve pain. A person’s body just can’t go through that without a considerable amount to pain. Although I do not believe their were any children born in the garden, I do believe that their painless childbirth would have been a miracle had it occurred. I believe it to be a property of the tree of Life or just the closeness with God that would have made her free of pain. When she left God, the pain would be natural because God would be there to stop it. We need to realize that this is her fault and not blame it on God. When the text says “your desire will be for you husband but he will rule over you” we should not read this as a good thing or a thing that God desired. God did not want the man to rule over the women, he wanted him to love her. God is saying that the woman will want the relationship that she used to have with the man but that he would use this to rule over her. This is bad. The man’s curse is similar in that the working of the ground should have been hard in the garden but God made it easy. When he left God, his work got difficult.

It is important that we see part of the role of the church to get rid of these curses. The relationship between the husband and wife needs to be restored. The pain in childbirth needs to be alleviated (through medical breakthroughs and other care) and the work of the ground needs to be eased (through technology as well as through giving to those that don’t have). This is a huge part of the role of Christianity in the world.

We should, also, not see God removing them from the garden as an act of punishment, but an act of love. The Scriptures plainly say that God restricted them from the garden so that they could not eat of the tree of life and live forever with the knowledge of good and evil. If God had let them eat of it, we would all live forever in our messed up condition. We would have no escape from the pain and sadness caused by the knowledge of good and evil. We would be trapped in our sin-sick lives and have no escape. We must realize that God did this because He loves us. We must remember that God wanted us to have the garden (that is why He created it for us) but loved us enough to take it away from us when it could have caused us harm.

Written by freeinchrist

December 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

A Thought On Helping

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When God saw that the man was alone in the garden, He made a woman from the man. Many become confused when they read that the woman was made as a “suitable helper”. Many have mistakenly taken this to mean that the woman was in some way lesser than the man or held a lesser role. The Hebrew word for “helper” in this passage is used in the rest of the Old Testament to refer most often to God being the “helper” of people. We need to realize that this term does not refer to a hierarchy but refers to a function. When a woman is helping a man she is his “helper” and when God helps a man God is his “helper”. There is no rank implied in the word.

Written by freeinchrist

November 28, 2009 at 8:00 am

The Knowledge Of Good And Evil

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For the first 20 years or so of my Christian life, I didn’t understand what was so bad about the “knowledge of good and evil”. I knew that this property of the tree made it evil while the tree of life was good. I also knew that whatever the knowledge of good and evil was, humans weren’t supposed to have it. But what is it?

When we ate of this tree we got something that we could never get back. We got the ability to be judges. Some may say that this isn’t so bad, but if you think about it, I think you will concur that we do not have what it takes to be judges. You see, it takes perfection to be a judge. The knowledge of good and evil is this thing that makes us put one thing in one category and another in another. It makes us put one person in the “good” category and someone else in the “evil” category. You may ask “is this so bad, clearly God does it”? That is right; God does know the difference between good and evil but with one key difference. He knows the difference accurately. You see, God is perfect so He judges what is good and evil against Himself and thus judges perfectly. The sins of the world are really caused by our inability to be able to judge between good and evil. We go to war because we decide who is evil and who is good (but can both sides be right?). We try to get things for ourselves instead of for our neighbor because we consider ourselves better than them. We don’t love our brothers and sisters because we don’t think they deserve it and we think that we do. All of these things are because of the knowledge that we were never supposed to have. God was supposed to be the one to decide what/who is good and what/who is evil. He is supposed to be the judge because He judges righteously. If we could learn to remove all judgment we would live righteously.

Written by freeinchrist

November 24, 2009 at 8:00 am

Genesis: One Flesh

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I would now like to make a few comments on the passage that states “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh”.

“for this reason” — The reason is in the preceding verse “…for she was taken out of man”. The man was spiritually whole but was alone and this was not good. Because of this, God took a part of the man and made the woman. Now, for the man and the woman to be whole they must be made “one flesh” again.

This has a connection to the Trinity. God is one but also Three as man is one but also two.

“joined to his wife” — This is the Bible’s way of saying “have sex” and this is the foundational passage in dealing with all issues relating to sex and marriage. Proper application of this verse requires that if a man and women have sex then they are one flesh. This explains the lack of marriage ceremonies in the book of Genesis and explains what is truly wrong with other sexual practices.

For example, adultery is wrong because it is breaking the one flesh relationship that God has created. It tears the one man into two again. Remember “what God has joined together let no man separate”. It also explains why Jesus allows for divorce in cases of adultery (since the one flesh relationship has been broken through adultery then a divorce is just recognizing what is already true). If you think about it, you will see that most of the Bible’s wisdom about sex is related to this one flesh relationship.

This teaching about sex has not been taught in the church today because of a misinterpretation of the term “fornication” (or sexual immorality in some translations, the Greek porneo).  Nearly all have taught that “fornication” means “sex before marriage” but this is not the case.  “Sexual immorality” is a better translation because the term refers to any sexual action that is immoral (that the Scriptures define as immoral).  It is not its own thing, but a word that refers to all sexual sin.

The truth is, there is no such thing as sex before marriage.  Sex creates marriage.  Not the contractual part of marriage (or the legal part if there is one) but the spiritual part.  If we were teaching this accuratly maybe our society wouldn’t treat sex like a recreational sport and realize the spiritual significance of it.  More importantly, we need to be teaching this accuratly to our children in the Church so that they will have the wisdom they need to treat sex the way they need to treat it.  They need to see the importance of it.  They need to know that the one flesh relationship is created when they have sex with someone and that isn’t something to be fooled around with.

We have really dropped the ball on this one.  The truth on this subject must be known.  Many will disagree, but will have no leg to stand on when viewing the simplicity of biblical marriage and the sexual teaching of Scripture.

A Good Question

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[Experiential Baptism will start again tommorow.  I don’t want people to stop reading the blog if they are not interested in that particular topic so I will interupt the series from time to time]

Someone asked me this question the other day and I thought I would give it a shot.  I’m not sure I am 100% right on the answer but this is the answer I gave and I think it shines an interesting light on the subject.  The statement was:

“I don’t get how Eve eating a piece of fruit justifies God increasing pain in childbirth to all women for all time.  It just doesn’t make sense.”

I think this is a tough question but it does deserve the best answer I can give.  This is what I said to the person who asked:

I think maybe we were taught this whole thing about the curses backwards.  Traditionally, we are taught that God created people and Eve didn’t have pain in childbirth because this is the way she was created (to not have pain).  When she sinned, God cursed her with the pain in childbirth (and all women by representation [or original sin but I don’t take that view]) and that continues to this day.

The problem with this that it ignores one very important fact:  Most (maybe even all but I didn’t check) animals feel pain at childbirth even though they have never sinned.  If you have ever heard a cow (for example) giving birth you can hear how much pain the animal is in.  So, why does the animal feel pain in childbirth even though it never sinned? Animals were not given this curse.

It is because pain in childbirth is actually the NATURAL way childbirth happens.  When a child is born, the stretching and tearing of flesh should cause pain in the natural world.  Pain is the natural reaction.  If Eve could have had children (even though I don’t think she had time before the Fall) in the Garden her painless childbirth would have been a miracle, not the norm.  God would have had to (and clearly would have) protect her from the pain that would be natural to this process (as it is for the animals).  So, in actuality, the curse is actually just the natural result of Eve leaving the protection of God.  God wasn’t trying to be mean to her (or any other women), He was giving her her freedom with the pain that it would entail. When she had Cain, for example, God would not be present in the same way that He had been before to ease the pain and thus she would feel increased pain in childbirth.

The man’s curse, by the way, is the same.  Because they can no longer enter the Garden (to eat the tree of life and thus stay in a broken state forever), Adam will have to use the uncultivated ground outside of the Garden.  This will cause him to have to work much harder than he had previously worked because God would not miraculously cause the ground to grow like He had before.

Both cases are similiar.  Painless childbirth and painless work were both miracles that God provided to Adam and Eve when they were under His care, they were not the norm in the natural world.  When Adam and Eve left God, they left His special miracles behind and were thus “cursed”.  We bear these same “curses” (for more on this look at my post “Crushing the Curses”) because we are not yet back into the fellowship with God that Adam and Eve had in the Garden.

But we are closer, which is evidenced by the fact that both “curses” are being crushed by the kingdom of God more and more as time passes.  This is how the Kingdom works.  Like a mustard seed.  It slowly changes things over many years and someday we will no longer have these “curses” (whether we will see this on earth or not I do not know).

I hope I answered her question well.  What do you think?

Written by freeinchrist

June 10, 2009 at 8:00 am