grace and truth

Our recent discussion about McLaren’s book reminded me of First Timothy 1, where Paul shows us how to balance both grace and truth.  He begins by telling Timothy to fight for truth, saying that he left him in Ephesus to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” which “promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith” (1:3-4).

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus seems particularly relevant today.  Paul lived and taught there more than two years (Acts 19:10), and yet he must have realized that his message wasn’t getting through to everyone.  He warned the elders that “savage wolves…from your own number…will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).  And despite Paul’s best efforts, the Bible ends with the sober warning that the church in Ephesus had “forsaken [its] first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Whether or not our efforts are successful, we must follow Paul’s orders to fight for truth in our Ephesus.  And yet we may lose something just for playing.  If we’re not careful we can become combative, cynical, and smugly superior to those who for whatever reason don’t embrace the truth that we know (this temptation exists for both sides).  Perhaps this is why the second half of First Timothy 1 drips with mercy and grace.  Paul twice says that he is “the worst of sinners,” a trophy of God’s patient mercy (1:12-17).

We need both grace and truth, for they are parallel rails that keep our faith on track.  They push on one another, as grace is the point of truth and the truth is that God is gracious.  But they also can pull away, as truth without grace makes for a fighting fundamentalism and grace without truth is a recipe for mushy, anything-goes liberalism.

Here is my initial thought on how to balance the two (and I welcome your respectful dialogue):  grace supplies the why and truth provides the how of what we believe. The grace of Christ is the reason why we defend the truth and the truth of Christ is how his grace saves us.  Without grace there is no point to truth and without truth there is no power in grace.

We must not soften either grace or truth to make room for the other, but we must maximize both so each can nourish the other.  Let’s follow the example of Paul as he followed the example of our Lord, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

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  1. Indeed, Mike. Hence Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians: “Speak the truth in love.”

  2. “the truth that we know”

    This is where I think humility is badly needed. Do we REALLY know beyond a shadow of a doubt, or do we only see in part:

    “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (from 1 Corinthians 13)

    Is it possible to rest in the tension of NOT having all the answers? Is it possible to say “this is how I have come to understand it”? Isn’t that what being “on a journey” is about? How can we expect to ever hear what the other is saying or what we may have to learn from them if we think we have all the “truth”?

    Maybe this is part of the balance we are looking for…

  3. Jeff S.:

    “Is it possible to rest in the tension of NOT having all the answers?”

    We may not have ALL of the answers, but do we have SOME of them? Yes, there is mystery in some areas, but there is clarity in others. Would you agree?

  4. I enjoyed reading your review and agree that we need to speak the truth in love. Grace and truth are needed. I was just in conversation with a friend who loves McLaren’s work, and who was supporting the view of preaching the kingdom come now and how we need to love our neighbors and work towards reconciliation. I had to remind him that these things are important, but the gospel is first about Christ’s work of penal substitution for us on the cross, and not about what we can do for Christ or for others. Reading your review was a good reminder to stand for orthodox doctrine, but to do so in love and with grace.

  5. I know in part, but what I know in part, I can truly know. I will never know all for only God Himself knows all. Just because I can not know all, does not mean I can not know anything. It is in that sense that I can rest in the tension and humility of not having all the answers. That is a far different thing then not having any answers at all. I do not claim to have all truth, but that does not mean I have no truth. It is here I take issue with both modern and post-modern epistimology… (Thank you Francis Schaffer..)

    We want and need to hold on firmly to both grace and truth in the fullness of thier extremities. That begs the question of what is “grace”? What is the content and context of “grace”?

    Mike, I think your initial thought is a good starting point. Our expressions of grace towards one another should be a reflection of the grace of Christ. Thus “the grace of Christ” becomes another concept begging for content and context. Can you talk about “the grace of Christ” without talking about a moral fall and sin? (Now we have to talk about what “fall” and “sin” means.)

    Bottom line, I afirm those concepts in terms of the definitions given them by historic Christian orthodoxy. We believe the Bible teaches that we are to be gracious to one another because Christ has been gracious to us, and His graciousness to us is based on what He Himself has done on our behalf, and not what we have done. The realization of our desperate moral lack (sin) and need destroys pride, and leaves us humbled and prostrate before the cross. Grace becomes grace in the context of justice. Without the context of justice, grace becomes just a warm fuzzy feeling of goodwill towards another based on what ever transiet mood I happen to be in at the time. In the context of justice, grace expressed horizontaly to one another is our being civil and respectfull towards one another even though neither one of us deserve it. Grace by definition is something undeserved.

    Peace….

  6. Matthew 7:6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

    There was a time when I questioned the silence of Jesus before Herod (Luke 23:9), however, now that I am older I see God in the flesh and His perfect wisdom and discernment. I trust that it is the Father who draws those to Himself (John 6:44). I do not believe that it is wrong to confront heresy with truth, however, if the other person does not have a teachable spirit (and not being a very open minded person myself), I have found the most loving thing for me to do is to keep silent.

  7. Tim – as I learn more and more about early church history, especially post-313, I become more skeptical of the doctrines and creeds that came out of this politically-motivated environment. I am forced to wrestle with them and not simply assent to them. At the SAME time, I know that God can work with and through the bad/stupid choices of humans (thinking back when the Hebrew people HAD to have a king) and, so, I begin to except that there IS something “holy” that arises out of our history and embedded in the creeds and doctrines.

    The “clarity” for me becomes less about the “bullet point” set of doctrinal beliefs and more about the experience of God that transcends them. I connect to what Fr. Richard Rohr says in this regard:
    “The longer I have tried to follow Jesus, the more I can really say that I no longer believe in Jesus. I know Jesus. I know him because I have often taken his advice, taken his risks, and it always proves itself to be true!”

    We can argue all day long about what we believe theoretically in our heads, but it is in our LIVING OUT the life of Jesus that we come to know and understand his Truth. It is in the 5-sense (actually much deeper) experience of sharing a meal and a conversation with a homeless person that we meet the Truth.

  8. Jeff S. – You do understand that “meet the Truth” goes deeper than just doing good works? Works are the fruit of faith, without which it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)

  9. …and faith does not come from sharing a meal and conversation with a homeless person, but rather the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

  10. Jeff S.

    You sound strangely like the Jeff Straka who I engaged with on this blog and on zoecarnate. Could be wrong, but I have a hunch…

    Anyway, the issue comes down to what we, as Christians, refuse to leave open for interpretation. Although the mystery of Christ is unfathomable to the human mind, He has revealed the little pieces of revelation that our feeble wisdom can comprehend. He asks us to follow Him, to have Faith that He is the Son of God, and to believe that His death and resurrection is enough for us to be reconciled with God.

    Postmodern liberals say yes we should follow Him and yes He was the Son of God, but they take his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and throw that out the window. They seek to metaphor-ize lots of things in the process, in order to do this they ask for more liberal interpretations of the text, and constantly say there are so many “unknowables”.

    Oftentimes, people like myself who are not willing to change my understanding of the text simply because it is considered archaic or outdated are scoffed at. To counter the substitutionary atonement, postmodern liberals argue that Christ’s death could not have satisfied the “wrath of God” because God didn’t have any wrath. They argue that’s a silly way to describe an all powerful being (because in our postmodernism we are so refined that wrath is considered uncouth). They credit all of those passages about God killing people, being a warrior God, etc. as the unfortunate result of a violent ancient (Platonic) culture which was writing about God in the only way they knew how. If only they lived in our culturally enlightened context, they could describe God in an accurate way.

    There are so many other postmodern liberal “unknowables” that directly refute basic Christianity 101. “I am the Way the Truth and the Light, NO MAN comes to the Father except by me”, becomes a way for ancient Christians to have exclusivity. As many of your contemporaries say (if that’s really you Jeff Straka), there is God in the other, and who are we to say that only our path leads to God? They take a liberal interpretation of that text, but fail to recognize all of the indirect references the Bible makes commanding that Christ is the only way (i.e. if Christ weren’t the only way, he wouldn’t have commanded the Gospels to be preached; his disciples wouldn’t have been so willing to give their own lives for the cause; the entire OT wouldn’t have foreshadowed and prophesied his coming as the Savior).

    Ultimately, the postmodern liberal viewpoint comes down to an assertion that Scripture is not truly, wholly and fully inspired by God. Now be forewarned: many postmodern liberals go around saying “I believe in the Apostle’s Creed”, “I believe in the Trinity”, or “I believe in the inspiration of Scripture”, and then go on to explain a very convoluted set of beliefs that allow them to make such a statement, yet still deny the Gospel as it has been understood (and often misunderstood) for two thousand years. Truth is, if you are explaining away things like the wrath of God based on an assumption that the “cultural context” precluded ancient man from describing God properly, then you are saying (however indirectly it may be) that the Bible does not explain God well. The underlying assumption is that it fails at giving us the true picture. Thus at the heart of postmodern liberalism is the belief that although God may have had something to do with the Bible, man largely messed it up because of our fallibility.

    To which I say: Hogwash. If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can create the world in seven days, if He can give Joseph wisdom to interpret dreams and ultimately save the nation of Israel and Egypt, if he can take Moses (a weak, self-conscious, afraid old man) and turn him into the ultimate Alpha male to lead his people out of slavery, if He can send his Spirit upon Samson and give Him the strength to bring down entire buildings with his bare hands, if He can send His Spirit upon David to overcome his own human fear and battle Goliath (and thousands of other enemies)…if God can send His Spirit upon all of these people and the many others in the Bible that he has enabled to do amazing things for His glory, then He can send His Spirit upon people to write down EXACTLY what He wants us to know without fail. He is the God of the Universe. If He wants us to have his Words, we will have them.

    Therefore, postmodern liberals can choose to leave everything open for interpretation. But in the end, whether we’ve led people astray with false teaching, whether we’ve believed God is who He says He is, or whether we’ve made up some comfy alternative that is palatable to today’s society, we will all face God. Are you going to believe Him, and have faith that the God of this world is exactly who He says He is? Or are you going to trust interpretations by Brian McLaren and the postmodern liberal front (who wish to compensate for thousands of years of Christian hypocrisy and violence by creating a new kind of Christianity that is world-friendly, all-religion-friendly, all-belief-friendly)? You make the choice.

    In the end, we will only answer to One!

  11. Yooper: Yes, I agree that Truth goes deeper than just “good works”, but I would disagree with your second conclusion. Faith – by which I mean a trusting transformation – absolutely CAN come by our self-sacrificial serving of others. I have seen it happen, and it has happened to me. But then – and this I am seeing as the “missing link” for those you may be calling “liberals” – you need the Scripture and a Community to make sense of it all.

    So, I would say that you can believe with your head all you want, but are you LIVING IT OUT? I like Pete Rollins’ thoughts on “denying the resurrection” (I guess he was at Calvin College and debated Wittmer?):
    “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

    However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”
    http://peterrollins.net/blog/?p=136

  12. David:🙂

  13. This is a fairly ridiculous back and forth Jeff, and you are distracting from the real issue at hand. First you made a claim that we don’t really *know* the truth, but only have glimpses of it. This reeks of postmodernity and we are well aware of what this eventually leads to.

    When questioned on that, you told us how you do not derive your faith out of a bullet point set of doctrines, thereby setting up a great straw man argument. In saying that, you implied that those of us who said that there ARE truths that cannot be questioned, are deriving our faith out of a bullet point set of doctrines, thereby implying that we are consumed with doctrine and that do not care about living like Jesus, only what we believe about Him.

    We never said those things! We only said that your claim, “Do we REALLY know [truth] beyond a shadow of a doubt”, was incorrect. We never brought up living like Jesus because that was not the issue of debate. The issue of debate (which YOU brought up) was whether or not there was truth that we could absolutely KNOW! If the issue of debate was: which is more important, belief about Jesus or living like Him?, then the rest of your comments would have been appropriate. But that’s not what we were discussing, and the only reason we got there was because of your straw man.

    What you’ve done is distracted us from the real issue of whether or not there is truth that we can or cannot know (which you brought up in the first place). I’m starting to become more and more convinced that you are indeed Jeff Straka because this is the same type of argumentative strategy he used.

  14. Jeff S,

    I’m not sure if you’ve done that straw man business on purpose or not. I cannot tell one way or the other, so I apologize for implying that you are purposefully using that as an argumentative strategy.

    Whether you are doing it on purpose or not is not my fight. I do recognize it, and am seeking to correct it, but I did not mean to assassinate your character in the process.

    David

  15. Ya know, I was doing my best to be honest with were I am coming from and to offer a different perspective in the conversation. I am a 52 year-old non-professional lay person that has left the institutional church and the faith I was raised on (but not the Jesus and the Church) and am trying to figure out this journey I’m on. When I was involved with the post on McLaren’s book, I did my best to maintain my composure but I admittedly lost it as the judging comments started to fly. I did MY fair share of judgmental, snarky comments to be sure, and I did apologize to Dr. Wittmer for that.

    So on THIS post, I was attempting to redeem myself and be as forthright and honest as possible while NOT using language that would be deemed judgmental. I was simply pushing back a bit by raising questions I honestly had (re-read my first comment in this post) which is what typically takes place in a learning experience and then relaying what MY OWN personal experience is.

    But I am beginning to sense that there may not be as much grace as Dr. Wittmer was hoping for in this conversation, and I certainly don’t want to be a participant on THAT path again.

  16. Jeff, I won’t argue that denying self has an impact on how we may feel about ourselves, however, what do you base your definition of faith or “trusting transformation” upon? We do not disagree on whether or not a Christian should do good works, however, the issue is that faith precedes works…and faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It comes down to the issue of beliefs/faith and its source, and not works as often claimed to be the dividing issue. Do you not have a source for your beliefs? If not, why not?

  17. I guess I would describe the “trusting transformation” as a “warmed heart” sensation that many Christians describe as their “mountain top” experience when they come to Christ. It has happened to me, and I have witnessed it in others as they serve “the least of these” out on the streets when they suddenly “see Jesus” in the eyes of other. It often will move them to unexplained and uncontrolled tears. I was part of a small group (people both in and out of church) that served hot breakfast to homeless people living in the woods and I can tell you every one of us was transformed by this experience. Our group then would read and study the Bible together (the entire Torah and the Gospels in a year!) and it was THERE that we were able to connect our “transformation experience” with the teachings of the Bible. The Word became more alive and real than it ever had before. The Bible AND our experience became the “source of our beliefs” as we discovered why our hearts ached in the same way God’s heart ached for the marginalized and the oppressed.

  18. Jeff – Amen that Christ led you to Himself in that way. That is a great story!

    Amen, also, that I think we’ve reached a pretty big point here: Some may not come to Christ that way. In fact, many have and will (in the future) come to Christ simply by hearing that they are dead in their sins, and that they are hopelessly lost without Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. In that moment they will not have an opportunity to have experiences. They will only have the truth presented before them by missionaries, friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors.

    In those instances (past, present and future), their salvation is just as real as yours and mine! Amen that the truth can actually set us free!

    Being that as it may, you can see why many people are very, very concerned about postmodern liberals going out and twisting Scripture (along with the basic tenets of Christianity). Because, for those unreached people who still have yet to hear the Gospel, it is imperative that they hear the TRUE Gospel and not a man-made version.

    Do you agree?

    As for your sense that there might not be as much grace here, I am fairly certain I’m probably the only one on this blog that is making you feel that way. Where you feel that I’ve assassinated your character, please forgive me. Where I’ve been snarky, please forgive me. I admit, in my last long post, I picked apart your arguments with some fervor (and frustration). But I realized after I published the comment that I owed you an apology for assuming your arguments ran in that course on purpose.

    I still disagree with you, I see a large amount of fault in your arguments, and I stand by my analysis of them, but that in no way entitles me to be a jerk about it.

    David

  19. I don’t think there are realistically TOO many people that I would call “unreached” in this country. MOST have been exposed to some version of the gospel directly or through the media (positively or negatively). And I would say most people that connect to the emergent movement are de-churched people – folks that the belief structure they were raised with no longer makes sense. I am one of these. If it wasn’t for the emergent conversation, I would have given up on Christianity all together. And it is the very definition of The Gospel that most wrestle with, a definition formed by people such as Augustine, the early church, Calvin – all human, none perfect. What I am trying to do on my journey is discover what true Good News IS by removing all the layers put on. If that makes me a “postmodern liberal” so be it. I’m just trying to make sense of a religion that was no longer making sense to me (and a whole lot of others). But through all this questioning and wrestling, I cling to the God/Christ that I have experienced and the God/Christ that I feel present in my life – NO set of doctrines or statements of faith can undo that.

  20. It’s sad that the church really doesn’t act like the church; when I see videos of pastors screaming that “Obama is the devil” from the pulpit and then telling people to “get the hell out of my church” when they disagree with him; when I witness the judgmental stares of holier-than-thou Christians towards other church members. Those realities and the many like them are what has made out modern culture numb to the Gospel. But that’s an important distinction: It is not the Truth of the Gospel that has failed. It is the people of the Gospel that have failed. (I sound like you now!).

    Just think about how many times ancient Israel turned their backs on God. Remember Ezekiel who tried to wake the Israelites, who refused to ACT like God’s people, from their stupor. The message wasn’t: Go back to the drawing board and rework this “God stuff”, the message was: “When a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.” (Ezekiel, 18:27)

    The de-churched folks that I meet today have gotten where they are because of their disillusionment with Christianity. It no longer makes sense to them because they see the hypocrisy of “Christian people” acting one way on a Friday night, and acting the completely opposite way within the church walls the following Sunday morning.

    That DOES mean that there is a problem. But it’s with us, and not with the truth.

    Now I suppose you could come back and say that the reason there’s a problem with US is that we’ve put our trust in the wrong truth, and that once we have the right truth to believe in, then we’ll start acting the right way. I would say that’s wishful thinking. We are men and we muck things up regularly. We will always muck things up, because we are naturally selfish and sinful.

    All of that to say going back to the drawing board and trying to piecemeal together what the truth really should have been is not the answer. God is God,. He is who He says He is. It’s our inability to follow through as His people that has been the issue…since day one!

  21. Also, I had this crazy thought last night and I thought I’d share it with you. It goes something like this:

    The challenge of removing all of the “layers” that have supposedly been laid atop Christianity is that in doing so, you are operating out of a postmodern “layer”. How do you remove that?

    What I mean by that is this: The only reason why the current train of thought requires that we “remove all of the layers that have been added onto Christianity” is because postmodernism is all about removing the “meta-narratives”, etc. So in de-layering Christianity, you are indeed adding another proverbial layer onto it: the “postmodern layer” which happens to come in the form of subtraction!

    Kind of tricky. I hope that makes sense. If not, think about it this way. What if in the next 200 years, society realizes that meta-narratives truly do matter, (for whatever reason). Then it will be the train-of-thought during that post-postmodern period to remove the layer of the 21st century (the layer that McLaren is adding on top of Christianity…the layer of “subtracting all of the layers).

    Do you see how McLaren is simply adding his own culture-context-layer to the interpretation of Christianity? The only reason he’s doing so is because our today’s American society is postmodern. If it wasn’t, we’d have some other sort of trend that would be pulling us in another direction. The goal for every Christian is to NOT be swayed by the ever changing Zeitgeists of society, but rather stick to the Truth of the Gospel while recognizing that Chris is in the process of revealing Himself to us (although that will never defy what He has previously revealed, only fulfill it beyond what we could imagine).

    Usually, at this point, someone will bring up Martin Luther and say that he did the very thing McLaren is doing. To which we would all say: nonsense. Martin Luther saw that Scripture (very LITERALLY) said something different than what the Catholic Church was preaching. It wasn’t about some type of new interpretation of the Scripture, it was about using literal Scripture in it’s rawest form, to refute the very essence of what the Catholic Church was preaching.

    Anyway, I know that was a bit of rambling, but there ya go.

    David

  22. I think we ALL see things through our environmental context – there is no way around that and I don’t think it is necessarily wrong. I think that explains why there are so many different ways that people might interpret the exact same scripture. Heck, I’ve read the same passage at different times of my life and it has meant different (and usually deeper) things to me as I get older. I think that is what makes the Bible a Living, Breathing organism, and not a dead piece of literature.

    But in addition to the ways WE’VE interpreted the scripture, we have these layers on top of OUR lens. I visualize it as layers and layers of paint, that over time, starts to peal. For example, the doctrine of Original Sin just wasn’t squaring up with me in relation to what I see in the world and what science tells us. And as I looked at the “chipping paint”, I noticed several layers of “paint”. The church I was part of, a PCUSA, interpreted the scripture through Calvin, who interpreted it through Luther, who was influenced by Augustine (and others). Each of these was influence by their environment/culture and as you read the history of this, you can’t help but begin to wonder if some of these layers are hiding the real message of the Bible. And, being an inquisitive sort, I just could no longer accept the standard catechism answers. Here is an excerpt from a historical book I’m reading on Augustine’s doctrine on the Fall (Adam, Eve and the Serpent):

    “Some historians suggest that such beliefs validate the Church’s authority, for if the human condition is a disease, Catholic Christianity, acting as the Good Physician, offers the spiritual medication and the discipline that alone can cure it. No doubt Augustine’s views did serve the imperial church and the Christian state, as I have tried to show in the preceding chapter. For what Augustine says, in simplest terms, is this: human beings cannot be trusted to govern themselves, because our very nature—indeed all of nature—has become corrupt as a result of Adam’s sin. In the late fourth century and the fifth century, Christianity was no longer a suspect and persecuted movement; now it was the religion of emperors obligated to govern a vast and diffuse population. Under these circumstances, as we have seen, Augustine’s theory of human depravity—and, correspondingly, the political means to control it—replaced the previous ideology of human freedom.”

    And what Luther did was see that this “political church machine” was misusing its power to keep people tied to them and keep their coffers lined (feed the machine). I think Luther saw that the church was using ITS convenient interpretation of the Bible from the side of the political machine to support its position. Luther started to read it from the side of the PEOPLE and found a very different message. So power and control corrupted the church at the time of Luther, and you can start to see (next layer down) how it got derailed when the church got in bed with the Empire during Augustine’s time.

    So my question is: why WOULDN’T I want to look at this history and question the formation of some of these doctrines formed under a heavy church-empire context? Why SHOULD I blindly accept what the catechism says?

  23. Wow. That’s a pretty cool level of insight. I’m looking forward to contemplating your question in further detail.

    What immediately comes to mind, however, is that simply looking at the layers and understanding how certain doctrines came about is INDEED helpful. Learning from our own church history will certainly prevent us from repeating our mistakes. But that does not seem to be what postmodern liberalism is trying to do. What I’ve seen from postmodern liberalism is an intent to poke holes in the foundations of the Christian faith in order to justify the dispensation of any modern-day understandings of it that remain rested upon that faulty foundation.

    Sadly, I believe this point of view fails to take into consideration the “journey” that the church has been on, and the manner in which God has used that journey for His ultimate glory! The body of Christ has made egregious errors along the way (and here I mainly refer to the Roman Catholic hold on Christianity that led the world into a salvation-by-works mentality for many years). Naturally, in the midst of that and other departures from the truth along the way, the body of Christ has undergone refinement. But that in no way precludes God’s ability to work in and through the church, and bring glory to Himself in the process.

    Considering our tumultuous church history, I think it is absolutely necessary to look at doctrines and so-called-truths and consider them. I would add, that in a very holistic way, that is EXACTLY what has happened throughout history. I might even dare call it a kind of God-directed Truth darwinism. Hang with me here.

    The Church began with a bunch of Jews who spoke Greek and Hebrew. They preached the Gospel to other Greeks in its purest form, because they had first-hand knowledge of its truth. As it spread to the world at large, it became tainted with world views that did not belong (Paul’s letter to the Colossians is good indication that this started happening almost immediately). As the years past, more taint was added to the truth. The desert fathers came along and added all sorts of spiritual mysticism to Christianity. In the midst of this, it is certainly true that certain peoples adhered to the truth in its pure form and were not swayed by the “teachings of this world”. Sadly, a majority seemed to follow the taint.

    This led and grew into the Catholic Church (and other off-shooting interpretations of truth), which continued to add man-made traditions and theories on top of the Truth. God allowed the Truth to spread through the Catholic Church (in SPITE of the Catholic Church) during that time (as we can see by the many nations who otherwise would not have heard the Gospel). All while this led up to Luther, who, by God’s grace and power alone, was able to ignite a reformation.

    I see looking at the history and questioning the formation of our beliefs as a church as a good thing. I see blindly accepting what others tell you to believe as a bad thing. But ultimately, I see the only way to be TRULY informed about the things of God is to read Scripture as the final authority and ultimate revelation of God’s Truth. That is what Luther did, and that is how the entire reformation was started. Of course, the mucked-up-ness of his time most certainly provoked him to search Scripture for an answer. But all that matters is that his answer came from Scripture when the rest of the world wasn’t reading it! His answer did not from the suppositions of men and neither should ours.

    That is the beef with McLaren. His new kind of Christianity comes from this new kind of postmodern paradigm-shift that says Platonism is bad, dualism is bad, etc. Such a thought requires a re-filtering of the entire Bible through this man-made, enlightened theory. It seems to me that this is just another, more complex, man-made addition in the same line as the desert fathers, the Catholic traditions, and the abundance of other additions that have been added atop Christianity.

    McLaren calls for us to re-filter the Bible because he has a new insight. The only filter the Bible is supposed to be read through is this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16).

    His new filter is just like all of the other man-made additions that Christianity has been struggling to stay pure from for the past two thousand years.

  24. My understanding is there has always been periods where the church gradually “absorbed” pieces of the culture that surrounded it (sometimes intentionally, some times not) until some “prophets” pushed out to into the wilderness in a life of monasticism to try to reclaim the purer, more authentic faith they saw as being corrupted. The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) were examples of this both in pre and post 313 times. St. Basil in 356, St. Benedict around 500, St. Francis in the 12th century, would be examples of this. A very recent example of this would be Shane Claiborne’s “The Simple Way” – http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/

    (BTW – mysticism/contemplation has ALWAYS been part of the Christian faith – even Paul was a mystic! Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.)

    So I don’t really see this process of striving to jettison the distorted and searching for the real as strictly a “postmodern liberalism” action, but something that has gone on for the duration of Christianity.

    Though I can only speak to those in two emergent cohorts I am in community with, we do NOT blindly accept what Brian McLaren or Tony Jones or Doug Pagitt or Phillip Clayton or Marcus Borg or Richard Rohr or anyone ELSE has said. We put all these ideas out on the table to talk about in community, sometimes agreeing, some times disagreeing. We bring our own beliefs and ideas and put them out on the table and are free to pick them up again when we leave. This process is not new either.

    I would have to disagree with your assessment of McLaren’s book – I think he is trying to REMOVE some of these filters that have been added on. Nothing he says in it was new or shocking to me – I had come to many of the same conclusions through my own historical research. Have you actually read the book or have you only read the “filtered” sound-bite version through Wittmer’s lens? (I’m not being snarky – I really want to know!)

  25. Jeff, I’m on my way out the door. Two quick things:

    1. I have not read McLaren’s book. I have read enough of it through Wittmer and many others to know what he says however. I may have missed some of the logic and rhetoric, but I know what he is asking me to believe and I know I don’t believe it.

    2. Why do you say Paul was a mystic? I disagree.

    Looking forward to continuing this conversation with you tomorrow!

    G’night!

    David

  26. 1. Then you are viewing McLaren through the lens of another (and ones with agendas) and that is totally unfair to him AND to you. I know this is stereotyping, but it seems like many conservatives (political and religious) rely on their “leaders” to filter and frame their worldview and they rarely do the hard work of research on their own. Now, I understand if you don’t want to purchase a book that would give money to the author, but at least go to the library or borrow the book! I really can’t accept your criticism if you haven’t done your OWN homework. I will try to post a video of McLaren describing his view of the Bible and Authority so that you can at least hear that part first hand. You can critique THAT, if you like.

    2. Reread the definition: Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. As Saul travels to Damascus, he experiences the divine presence (The Christ): a light from heaven flashing around him and a voice addressing him (see Acts 9:3).

  27. Jeff,

    1. You and I have actually had this conversation already, but I understand the blogosphere is a hectic place. Here’s what I said the last time this came up:

    “I’ve learned about McLaren through a great many sources. Mostly, he’s popped up on the radar of many discernment ministries, which brought his name to my attention. (At that point, I tried my best to give him the benefit of the doubt, because some of those discernment ministries can get a little trigger happy). From there, I read for myself the parts of his books, his interviews, and other publicly available works that accurately illustrated and exposed the heart of his counter-Biblical teachings. I don’t have to read the entirety of his works to figure out that he’s a liar. If I can find the same heretical thought processes in a number of his works, (and if he hasn’t apologized or tried to rectify any of those works) then I can be sure what I’m dealing with. “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”

    After reading enough of his works, I discerned that he is, indeed, a liar. Then at that point, I came to people like Mike Wittmer who have the time and wherewithal to carefully scrutinize his work. This allows me to get a deeper understanding of the heresy and lies, and reflect in further detail.”

    2. I fail to see how the act of Christ appearing to Saul means that Saul is a mystic. God was very clearly going to use Saul for a purpose to further His Kingdom, and He chose Saul for a unique purpose: To lead the sharing of the Gospel throughout the nations. Saul was uniquely equipped to carry out this mission since he was notorious for being a brutal anti-Christian. What better person for Christ to choose to lead “the rebellion”. pursuing

    Taking Saul’s conversion experience and trying to fit that in the box of mysticism is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Paul was not “[pursuing] communion with or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight”, he was walking along a road in absolute denial of Jesus as Lord. It only happened that God, in his divine wisdom, chose Saul to be his instrument, and thus revealed His glory to him in order to inspire a conversion that would ultimately be used for

    You are justifying the pursuit of these “experiences” and “revelations” when that pursuit is never found as being a biblical practice. In the Bible, God is known to have revealed Himself to people as HE sees fit, in His timing and according to HIS will.

    Now the typical mystic response at this point is: What about prayer? Prayer is petition, repentance, praise and worship! Certainly God can (and does) reveal Truth to us in prayer. But prayer is not the pursuit of some kind of direct experience with God, it is a worshipful act of acknowledging and submitting that God is in heaven, we are on earth, and that ultimately He is in control of all things.

    Mysticism says we can know God better by seeking experiences with Him. God says, we can know Him better by reading His Word, obeying His commands, and reflecting on His precepts. He never commands us to “seek experiences” with Him, and in fact, the very pursuit you are talking about is extremely dangerous. The enemy is watching, like a prowling lion, waiting for people to devour. When a Christian tries to meditate, or “empty his mind” to experience God (a practice that is NOT biblical), the enemy is not going to sit back and allow such a spiritually vulnerable opportunity to pass.

    Remember, the enemy comes as an “angel of light”.

  28. Sorry for all the typos in that last post. It’s early.

  29. 1. You and I are in complete disagreement on McLaren then. I don’t see a lot of grace in calling him a liar and a heretic, but you can do what you see fit. Do I hang on every word he says and believe it hook, line and sinker? Absolutely not! But I connect to much of what he says. I go beyond him in my theology as well. I am gravitating to open theism and process-relational theology which is not mentioned in his book.

    2. I would NOT want to worship a God that does not want us to experience him. It seems quite clear that people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets were experiencing God in the everyday. The did not have (nor did they need) any “text” to study and reflect on. To say that these experiences have ceased since we now have a printed Bible seems to limit God. I had a direct mystical experience with God when I was laying on an operating table about to go in for quadruple heart by-pass surgery. I didn’t need a Bible or even prayer for that to happen – God came to ME. I was scared beyond being able to even THINK a prayer, yet God came to comfort me. I think you have a misguided view of what mysticism and mediation is because of what someone told you and not what you have openly studied on your own.

    Bottom line, I wish the name calling and judging would stop. The theology that I see you living out of no longer works for me, but I have not and will not call you a heretic or a nonchristian because your beliefs are different than mine. If you are experiencing God on your journey (or what ever word you might substitute), then your journey is working – praise God.

  30. Jeff,

    I call McLaren a liar because he says there are many paths to salvation, and says that the Gospel transcends and includes all religions. That directly contradicts the Gospel of the Bible which declares there is only one path to salvation and His name is Jesus Christ.

    You wish to accept what everybody says as valid and poignant. I am more concerned with deciphering truth from fiction.

    And I never said that God does not want us to experience Him. I said that the pursuit of an experience (as if the experience is the end goal) is a misguided pursuit and will lead to very dangerous things. God does indeed allow us to experience him (like your experience on the operating table, or my experience right before I came back to the faith), but we should not be SEEKING that experience. We should be seeking God, and if he chooses to allow us to experience him, then Amen!

    Please don’t mince my words. I’ve made it my goal to be extremely precise about what I say.

  31. I’m not sure where we this conversation can go then, I’m sorry to say (unless you want to talk about the weather!). I also don’t believe that Christianity is the only path to union with God. The Way of Jesus, that is to follow his path of kenosis, death and resurrection, certainly IS the path to God, but I see other faiths that follow this path as well, though using different words. And there really is no point in you quoting Bible verses to make your point, because I read the same exact ones (like John 14:6) and come to the opposite conclusion that you do. Remember that the Torah was referred to as “The Truth”, “The Way” and “The Life”.
    “Teach them the chuqiym (decrees) and the torot (plural form of torah – teachings) and make known to them the WAY they are to walk and the work they are to do.” (Exodus 18:20)
    “Your righteousness is a righteousness forever and your torah is TRUTH.” (Psalm 119:142)
    For it (Torah) is not an empty word for you, for it (Torah) is your LIFE and in this word you will live long of days in the land there which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)

    And for seeking experience:
    Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
    Mose experienced God in the burning bush because he was OPEN and AWARE. How many “burning bushes” do we pass each and every day but we do not see because we are so focused on our OWN life? I try to keep my eyes/ears OPEN and focused OUTSIDE of my own life (and empty my self-centered thought) so that I can experience the Living God in all things and all days, not just in church on Sunday morning.

  32. I’m currently shaking the proverbial dust off my proverbial sandals.

  33. And don’t let the door smack your “donkey” on the way out!🙂
    Seriously, though – it will be interesting to see what the church looks like in 10 years (I hope my heart holds out that long!) because, like it or not, change is coming. I am hopeful, however. If God can make some good come out of all the church has been through in each of the “adjustments” of men, he can make something good and beautiful out of THIS mess!

  34. The issue is to be the bride of Christ – not a harlot.

  35. “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.” – St. Augustine

  36. “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.” – St. Augustine

    “His church is certainly a whore. And she’s worse of a whore since him, since he ravished her.” – St. Rey Jacobs

  37. @rey, The LORD rebuke you! You are indeed bound in the gall of bitterness… What you write is emotional vomiting and hysterical ranting…. Shameful!

    Kyrie eleison!!!!!!!!!!!

  38. Since the very latter part of this conversation seems to be getting out of hand, I thought I’d take it in another direction.

    Jeff, you might be interested in Scot McKnight’s review of McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity.” He is slightly more generous towards McLaren than Dr. Wittmer (I’m not accusing Wittmer of a lack of generousity, rather that Scott began his review with a few positives about McLaren in previous books) but comes to many of the same conclusions that Mike did, in that his New Christianity is outside the realm of orthodoxy (page 4 in the review). You may want to check it out, since I read on this blog somewhere that you were looking forward to hearing what McKnight has to say about McLaren and his book…..

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/march/3.59.html

  39. Thanks, Joel, I will check it out! Many in the emergent circles respect the evangelical perspective of Scot. I’ve read (and enjoyed) several of his books, including The Jesus Creed, A Community Called Atonement, and The Blue Parakeet.

    I will say that I DO think it is OK to have a conversation about orthodoxy, and the history of the process in which they came to be accepted. I really don’t know how some of these early “church fathers” came to be viewed as perfect and infallible (I think only Jesus can qualify there).

  40. Another review of McLaren’s book:
    http://jonathanbrink.com/

  41. @Bill, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother” is an admission by the Catholic theologian Augustine himself that the Catholic church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in Revelation 17. And he did defile his mother the Catholic church and make here all the more a whore. She bore his incestuous child, the doctrine of inherited original sin. And then that child raped its mother too, and fathered the Lutherans and Calvinists, the daughter harlots of Revelation 17.

  42. Rey, you seem a bit uptight.🙂 All I know is that Jesus preferred hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors (Wall Street execs?) and other sinners.

  43. So Jesus prefers hanging out with the Whore of Babylon and her harlot daughters to the true church?

  44. Mike,

    Waiting for you to ban Rey. We’ve done our duty in outlining what we think, being precise about what we say, and backing it up with our convictions about why we believe so.

    Allowing Rey to stay on the blog does the rest of us a disservice.

    Thanks,

    David

  45. Jeff S – Thanks for the plug to my blog. I am up in the air about McLaren mainly because I don’t know enough about him yet. I going to see him speak in April so that should help. I tried reading Generous Orthodoxy but I couldn’t keep up. It was too heady for me. I have friend who are colleagues and friends with McLaren and they say great things but I hear bad things so I feel I should figure it out on my own.

    Either way Giod Bless

  46. I suppose this may be an argument from silence, but I do find it significant that we have no letter by Paul to the Bereans, correcting their mistaken notions. All we really know about them is that they “searched the Scriptures” to confirm that what the Apostles were teaching them was true. If they relied on the Scriptures so much, perhaps they did not need to be corrected.

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