Emergent Church, Religious Movements

Book Review:  A New Kind of Christianity – Brian McLaren

~ by Ryan Banman

So I picked up Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity – 10 Questions that are Transforming the Faith.

I just want to say that I’ve never been a fan of Mr. McLaren, or the Emergent Church.  I’ve always felt that, although they may not have been saying anything downright heretical, there was just something that wasn’t right about them.  What made it even worse was the way they have deceived so many.

Brian McLaren has been considered, by many, as the father of this movement.  He likes to think of himself as a new reformer like the reformers of old, leading the church out of apostasy and into truth.

A reformer, sure.  His reformation certainly isn’t going into the truth though but rather away from it.  For as long as I’ve heard of Mr. McLaren, all I’ve ever heard him do is bad mouth the Church, and the doctrines of the faith.  That is what this book is about.  In the past he was always a little more deceptive about what he was actually talking about.  You never really knew what he was trying to say.  Sure he sounds smart and profound, but you couldn’t nail down anything specific about what he believes.

In his new book however, he has finally come out and has let it be known what he believes about what the Bible teaches.  There is so much in “A New Kind of Christianity”, that it is hard to write a short review.  In order to not turn this into a book itself, I will just address two of the issues that he brings up.  The first is his “Authority Question”, and the other is, “The Gospel Question”.

On my blog, www.likeathessalonian.blogspot.com , I wrote several articles concerning eight doctrines of the faith and that if one willingly denies these after receiving full instruction on these, then their faith is in danger of being no faith at all.  I believe someone may, for a time (God only knows), deny or be confused or unsure of some of these essentials doctrines, but there is one of them that cannot be denied, and that is the gospel; the atonement of sins by the shedding of Jesus’ blood to save us from the wrath of God and reconciling us to Himself to eternal life, only if one will repent of their sinfulness and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ in faith and trust.   There cannot be any compromise on this.

So, back to Mr. McLaren.  This book too, like all other emergent people, is so extremely difficult to follow.  Brian makes most of his arguments from the ridiculous straw men that he creates and sets himself up as the profound liberator from the oppressors of thought.

For example: ”Paradigm and dogma can be defended and enforced with guns and prisons, bullets and bonfires, threats and humiliations, fatwas and excommunications (previously, there were several paragraphs describing several incidents where certain people rebelled against what was common thought and were ridiculed, or even killed).  But paradigms and dogma remain profoundly vulnerable when anomalies are present. They can be undone by something as simple as a question – a question about the divine right of kings, the origin of species (Brian really likes to question Genesis for some reason), the relation between matter and energy, how races can and should relate to one another, the motion of planets, and the standard operating procedures used by the church.” (pg 16)

Brian then describes the time in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany ( he then adds, “or so the story goes”, as if to question its validity as well).  (pg 16-17)

Then, “… now, nearly five hundred years later, Luther’s ninety-five, thesis have completed their job.  It’s time for another tipping point; it’s time, we might say, for a ninety-sixth thesis…So in homage to Martin Luther, this new statement, or ninety-sixth thesis, is humbly offered, in fear and trembling, to my fellow Christians of all denominations around the world:  It’s time for a new quest, launched by new questions, a quest across denominations around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.”(pg 18)

Mr. McLaren figures that he can try to hide the fact that he’s trying to create a new Christian religion by trying to say “we need not a new set of beliefs, but a new way of believing, not simply new answers to the same old questions, but a new set of questions.” (pg18)

This is such a fallacy.  What do you think this whole book is about?  Mr. McLaren is trying to provide new answers to the theological issues and a way to read into the Bible that which it doesn’t say.

The first two questions that Brian addresses are about the “The Narrative of the Bible and the Authority of the Scriptures”. (Ch 4-9)  Brian first questions the overall teachings of Scripture and he diagrams it with six lines;

He then questions if this “is ever explicitly taught in Scripture? Was it held in the first three centuries of Christian history…?  It dawned on me only gradually that the answer to each of these questions was no…We do not for a second say, ‘These six lines present the true shape of the biblical narrative, but we reject it.’ Rather, we stare at this narrative, scratch our heads, and with a bewildered look ask, ‘How in the world, how in God’s name, could anyone ever think this is the narrative of the Bible?’”

McLaren then goes on to try explain his revisionist theory, with not so much as any proof, or even logic, that this all happened because during the time of early Christianity the Roman Empire was ruled by a Greco/Roman mindset, influenced by Plato and Aristotle.  This then influenced the early Church as it was ruled by the Roman Empire.  So then, McLaren says, the six lined Biblical narrative looks like this:

I don’t know about you but, I really don’t even know anything about Plato or Aristotle.  When I read the Bible and I understand that in the beginning God created everything good, and then man fell from grace because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, as stated by Paul in his letter to the Roman Church, it’s because that is what it says.  I think it takes more effort for McLaren to come up with his twisted revisionist Church history, and follow it, then it does to take the word of God for what it is and says.

Another of McLaren’s straw man is to characterize those who do read the bible as it is as fear mongers who “stand and shout, ‘The Bible says!’,” therefore so as I tell you because I’m the interpreter.  He states that we hold the bible as a “constitution” from which we derive our rules by which we assert our authority over people.  He says that we do this the same way that early American slave owners did to justify slavery.  And we do this so when we “read the Bible as a constitution, the Bible has passages that can and have been used to justify, if not about everything, as awful lot of wildly different things.” (pg 79) “But very few Christians today, in my experience, have given a second thought to- much less repented of- this habitual, conventional way of reading and interpreting the bible that allowed slavery, anti-Semitism, apartheid, chauvinism, environmental plundering, prejudice against gay people, and other injustices to be legitimized and defended for so long.” (pg 76)

Another way that he assaults the authority of the Scriptures is that he portrays the whole bible as a parable rather than God’s infallible, inerrant, direct revelation of Himself.  McLaren denies the true historicity of the entire Bible, but rather describes it as a cultural story.  A story with so many voices and characters who may or may not be who the story says they are.  He uses the book of Job as his example.  He first states that “’the Satan’ was really a character from Zoroastrian religion who was borrowed from Babylonian culture and maintained in Judaism by some “liberal” Jews we know as the Pharisees.  (The more conservative Jews, the Sadducees, never accepted the Satan as a legitimate Jewish belief.)”

I wonder McLaren thinks about the time Jesus went to be tempted by the devil?  Or when He told the Sadducees that they were wrong (Luke 20:27-38),  or how the Bible so clearly mentions and speaks of the devil as a real being, the enemy of God and those who are His?

McLaren even states concerning when the bible says that God is speaking, “What about God’s voice?…Can we trust God’s voice to be God’s voice? Or is even “God” a character in the story too, not the actual God necessarily, but the imagined God, the author’s best sense of God, , the fictional character playing God for the sake of this dramatic work of art? This is a powerful and perhaps terrifying question.”(pg 94)

All this must be done if Brian McLaren is to start a new religion, and that is what he is doing.  This is the new unbiblical “Christianity” of our day.  McLaren has to deny the authority of the Scriptures because it is so clear within the Scriptures that everything he is doing is wrong.  He and the emergent church have offered up some good and true criticism which must and should be addressed, but never should we turn to them for help.  It would be like coming along side a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon for help in evangelism.  The Paul tells us to mark those who cause dissension and avoid them (Rom 16:17).

Now the greatest heresy McLaren spews out is his gospel.  According to McLaren he once thought the gospel was about “going to heaven after you die, which required believing the message of Paul’s letter to the Roman, which I understood to teach the theory of atonement called “penal substitution,” which was the basis for a formula for forgiveness of original sin called ‘justification by grace through faith’.”

Now McLaren believes the gospel to be about the “Kingdom of God on earth.”  “For Jesus the kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus.Right?”  “This good news wasn’t simply about a new way to solve the religious problem of ontological fall and original sin (problems, remember once more, that arise centuries later and within a different narrative altogether)…It was about God’s compassion and call to be reconciled with God and with one another-before death, on earth.  It was a summons to rethink everything and enter a life of retraining as disciples or learners of a new way of life, citizens of a new kingdom.”(pg 139)

To Brian McLaren this is the gospel.  This is often known as Kingdom now theology or Cristus Victor.  Meaning that God didn’t come to buy salvation for those who repent, but rather God is recreating the world now, and in Christ we can live victoriously and be nice and good to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Usually this is a very inclusive gospel to others of differing religions and those who live in sinful lifestyles (whether a gay, or straight relationship) so long as they are really really nice.

This is NOT the gospel.  Does God change lives and improve cultures? Of course He does.  What’s usually implied by those who hold this view is that the Church doesn’t do enough to make poverty go away, or that the Church talks about theology too much.

I reject this accusation and so should you.  For one thing, no one, I repeat NO ONE does more for the poor and oppressed than the Church.  No one should ever attempt to make you feel guilty for not doing enough, or for not doing what they are doing.  You do what God has lead you to do, and do as much as God has lead you to do.

Also, to even consider the idea of separating true and right theology from the daily diet of Christian living to  only focus on being nice to people and make this a nicer more comfortable place for them to go to hell from is more godly and evil than they realize.  If this is the way you might think, I would consider your faith right now.

Usually people think this way when they do not consider God as high and holy as He is.  Usually they like to only focus on God’s love.  God is love yes, but the holy angels don’t stand before the throne of God proclaiming love, love, love is the Lord God, but rather holy, holy, holy is the Lord God…(Rev 4:8)  We cannot continue to separate the attributes of God one from another, or consider one greater over another.  If the Church wants to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must worship God in all truth and spirit.

If the gospel of Brian McLaren and friends is true, then I would like to know why God sent His Son, and why Jesus offered Himself to be crucified?  What was the point of His sacrifice? Wouldn’t it have been better for Jesus to come and live on this planet forever if this is the gospel?

Also, if the gospel is about the Kingdom coming now, brought here by the work of the followers of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, then wow, what’s taking so long?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit isn’t doing His job right.  Or as McLaren has pointed out several times in his book, scholars and Christians have been getting it all wrong for the last 2000 years, so maybe God’s plan now is to send Brian McLaren who has finally read the bible right after all this time.   Whew, it’s a good thing Brian is here, after 2000 years of living in this “Greco/Roman” mindset, without much help from the Holy Spirit to lead us out of it, hopefully Brian can finally lead us Christians to bring the Kingdom on earth.

I hope that anyone who has considered the emergent church as a movement of God, will finally open their eyes to the truth of their wickedness.  Paul said that if anyone presents a different gospel, then they are accursed!  Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself and bought us with His blood, to save us from the wrath of God.  The wrath of god is real, if it were not so than God’s mercy is not so relevant.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Rom 5:8-11)

Let us pray for Brian McLaren, that he would see the error of his ways and turn to Jesus Christ and the true gospel

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