Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, Questions 8-9

“Can we find a better way of viewing the future?” and “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?”

These two questions feed one another, and for time’s sake I will take them together.  Brian’s “participatory eschatology” seems to be a version of postmillennialism.  He criticizes postmillennialism for its “triumphalistic determinism” but thinks that the kingdom will ultimately “spread its influence gradually” as we labor on its behalf.

More interesting is Brian’s vision of the end, which he calls “un-doomed.”  Unlike the traditional Christian view which asserts that God will determine the final destiny of the saved and the damned at the last judgment, Brian seems to hold to a universalism in which God’s grace does not relent until everyone ultimately is reconciled to him and to each other.

Brian says that the last judgment “is not merely retributive” but is “reconciling and restoring.”  It “will not involve God…pulling down our pants to check for circumcision or scanning our brains for certain beliefs….  No, God will examine the story of our lives for signs of Christlikeness—for a cup of cold water or a plate of hot food given to one in need, for an atom of mercy shown to one who has been unkind or unthoughtful…  These are the parts of a person’s life that will be deemed worthy of being saved, remembered, rewarded, and raised for a new beginning.  All the unloving, unjust, non-Christlike parts of our lives…will be burned away, counted as unworthy, condemned (which means acknowledged for what they are), and forgotten forever.”

It’s not clear whether Brian sees the afterlife as a series of chances to repent until everyone comes around or whether everyone immediately endures a fiery judgment which burns away their bad stuff and preserves whatever remains.  Either way, what’s left of us is ultimately reconciled, or perhaps absorbed into God (depending on whether Brian is a panentheist).

If everyone’s destiny is the same, then it follows that the last thing Brian thinks we should do is tell other religions that they are wrong.  He says that we should not “insult other religions” by desiring that “all other religions would be abolished and only our own remain.”  We must “learn to discover God in the other” in order to “discover a bigger ‘us,’ in which people of all faiths can be included.”  Evangelism would then “cease to be a matter of saving souls from a bad ending” but instead “would invite people into lifelong spiritual formation as disciples of Jesus, in a community dedicated (as we’ve seen) to teaching the most excellent way of love, whatever the new disciple’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.”  “This kind of evangelism would…[call] people to a way of life in a kingdom (or beautiful whole) that transcends and includes all religions.”

My initial thought is that it would be difficult to square this view with God’s command to Israel to destroy the idols of the false religions.  Brian would probably respond that this is an immature OT God who is inferior to Jesus.  But what about Jesus’ words in John 14:6?  Brian knows that he must address this verse, and he spends seven pages telling us that this verse does not mean what we think.  Apparently Jesus is not telling his disciples that he is the only way to the Father and everlasting life, but rather that none of them “can get to God or the kingdom of God on their own,” which is “not about the afterlife” but about how Jesus will live with them in a new way after his death.  I’m sorry if that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I found Brian’s argument convoluted and at more than seven pages, working a little too hard to be taken seriously.  Suffice to say that he thinks the traditional view of John 14:6 is a little too Greco and a little too Roman.

I think by now you can guess what I think of these chapters, so here’s an alternate experiment to try.  Take Brian’s beliefs about the afterlife and other religions and see if they can make sense of the book of Acts.  Look at what Paul said and did on his missionary journeys.  Is it remotely plausible that Paul held anything like Brian’s views?

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  1. I’m not one who invokes a free-will defense, but those who do have a solid critique against McLaren. While Jesus selflessly allowed himself to be crucified to show us that the world’s cycle of violence does not have to be so, universalism is inherently violent because it forces people against their will to submit to Christ’s lordship. McLaren cannot have his cake and eat it too.

  2. Mike thanks for writing all these posts, they have been very illuminating. I am honestly scratching my head though and feel like the lead is being buried.

    Does McLaren ever account for how he knows all these things? Where did he get all this revelation about God, Creation, The Fall, Sin, and end times? Honestly I am just puzzled by the indirect hubris (unless he provides a source for how he learned all these things about God) of Brian to advance these ideas without telling us why we should believe him.

  3. Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

    Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at a designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

    “The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

    Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

    “Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

    In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

    Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

    “It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to serve the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

    And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

    –A parable by Peter Rollins

  4. “Brian would probably respond that this is an immature OT God who is inferior to Jesus. But what about Jesus’ words in John 14:6?”

    It is precisely because of the fact that Judaism and paganism are religions of the principalities and powers [i.e. the immature OT ‘God’] (Colossians 2) that we can’t have a kingdom composed of all religion. How can there be agreement between Christ and the principalities and powers against whom our warfare is (Ephesians 6:12)? How can we re-incorporate the religions of the principalities and powers with their new moons and Sabbaths into Christianity when Jesus nailed their handwriting of ordinances which was against us to the cross (Col 2:14) and Paul warns us against worshiping these evil angels (Col 2:18)?

  5. No matter how you slice it, this type of “evangelism” is just looking to add Jesus (particularly his “way of love”) on to whatever existing worldview is held. We have to ask, how does this square with Jesus’ demands that following him requires self-denial? If we’re just adding Jesus on, then what cross are we taking up to follow him?

  6. Mike, It used to bug me when you would state that you weren’t worried about McLaren, but rather those influenced by his ideology – as if he knew the truth.

  7. Mike, I appreciate your sustained, detailed approach. For ease of access, I’ve collated links to your reviews, Challies’ review, and DeYoung’s reviews: http://bit.ly/cRfyfM

  8. After reading this book and comparing it with his previous works that it is clear that Brian McLaren is simply trying to revitalize the modernist liberalism that plagued American Christianity at the first half of the 20th Century.

    This is a prima facie case of why the Emergent movement has failed. Instead of responding to a “postmodern” (which I don’t think we are in) shift in society with a vigorous and original theological shift, the leaders of this movement have simply reached back to tired, old, discredited liberalism for their answers.

    McLaren’s points here sound much like something out of the playbook from certain thinkers of the early 20th century.

    Thanks for the posts!

  9. “Is it remotely plausible that Paul held anything like Brian’s views?”

    But this is precisely where McLaren has pulled the ladder up behind him. He’s already laid the foundation for this not being a problem in his views on how we should treat Scripture. Since it isn’t an authority and it’s just our community’s library, it’s not a problem that Paul doesn’t line up with McLaren.

    From McLaren’s view, Paul was just another step on the ladder of “revelation”, and we’ve just got more light these days. We’re further along the journey than Paul, and we shouldn’t be restricted by his views.

    Is it just me, or is it starting to resemble a Wonderland replete with Queens and Mad Hatters more with each passing book?

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