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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.

The Fire That Consumes

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Here is a link to a very interesting book and class series on the doctrine of conditional immortality. It is delivered by Edward Fudge who is the author of the book The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. Many are questioning the traditional doctrine of hell and this guy tears it to pieces. I don’t see how anyone could read this book and walk away believing the traditional view of hell.

The Fire That Consumes

Written by freeinchrist

October 5, 2009 at 8:00 am