McLaren gives a lengthy comment before opening chapter 1, and it's a fair enough comment. My main concern would be with parts of the comments after that. Luke 1 tells of the events that occurred concerning the priest Zecharias and Elizabeth and the announcement that they would be blessed with a son whom they were to name John.
It may help, in trying to understand animal sacrifices, to remember that the slaughter of animals was a daily experience in the ancient world; it was part of any meal that included meat. So perhaps we should think of the sacrifice of animals as, first and foremost, a special meal.
I was surprised, even rather offended, that the biblical sacrifices should be summed up, simplified even to an extreme, as being "first and foremost, a special meal".
In the "New Bible Dictionary, 2nd edition" by IVP, the entry for 'sacrifice and offering' take up roughly 11 pages. That's small-type, doubl-columned pages, with some charts. The entry gives six stages or act usually involved in the sacrifices: worshipper brings the offering; worshipper puts hands on the offering; worshipper kills the offered creature; priest spreads the animal's blood; some designated parts of the animal are burned; the remaining parts are eaten. There were also several different kinds or reasons for sacrificing, for peace or for the covering of sins or thanksgiving or others.
I find the simplifying of the sacrifices as being "first and foremost, a special meal" to be a gross oversimplication. To not even make mention of the primary reasons for some sacrifices, such as the covering for sins, is something I can't understand. Why not mention it? Isn't it one of the main messages of the Bible, that sacrifices of bulls and goats just wasn't enough, that it took Christ' sacrifice to fully pay for our sins?
The next if from the next comment.
Often in the biblical story, when people receive a message from God, after getting over the initial shock, they start askign questions. They push back; they doubt.
I think I can see some spin going on here, especially when McLaren seems to be saying the the people God spoke to would "push back", which seems to be saying they would stubbornly resist doing what God told them to do, perhaps even bargain at time.
Ok, let's say that there are examples of that. We can think, for example, of Moses when God came to him in the burning bush. Moses seemed to do all he could to talk God out of sending him, even to the point of ticking God off, and it didn't work. Eventually Moses went.
We could think of Abraham, who starting questioning God about when he would have the heir God promised to him. Abraham did try to take matters into his own hands at one point, which led to Ishmael and which led to problems. But even with that failing, God was faithful to him.
Perhaps with Abraham again, when he and God went back and forth concerning the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Was this a kind of bargainin? Maybe.
Perhaps of Moses again, when the Israelites had gone too far and God was ready to wipe them out, and Moses pled with him not do that. Moses' intercession was enough to lessen God's judgment, though there was still some judgment that they went through.
Perhaps Gideon, who still wasn't certain of God's words even after the angel visited. Perhaps he was wise, but at any rate he asked for two signs that God had indeed called him, and God gave him those signs.
But were these "pushing back"? Maybe Moses at the burning bush, though we can get the impression that God was losing patience with him towards the end of God's calling him. Did they doubt? Some might have, but does that make doubt a good thing? Gideon may have doubted, but instead of staying in those doubts, he tried to find out for certain Moses' doubts seem to have been more concerning his own abilities to do what God was calling him to do, but God was with him and helped him and sent some to help him.
I think these contrast with the current ideas of pushing back and doubting. They may have asked questions, but they did so looking for answers. They may have had doubts, but they didn't see the doubts as the end in themselves, but as things that must be resolved. When God had proven to Gideon that yes He really had called him, Gideon went and did what was asked of him. When God had finally cornered Moses and showed him that yes he is returning the Egypt, Moses stopped arguing and trying to make God's words meaning something he wanted them to mean, but he up and went.
At least with these two examples I've given (and I do encourage that you check and see that I'm not taking things out of context), what I'm seeing is a tendency to simplify to the point of misrepresenting. Zecharias was punished for his doubts, God took away his ability to speak until his son John was born, so for roughly nine months he was silent. Perhaps it was best; after all, his wife who was too old to have a child was probably more then able to fill the long silence he was put through :-)
Still, one would have a hard time from the events of Zecharias' angelic visitation seeing how his doubts were a good thing.
I'm not happy with the thoughts so far in these comments concerning Luke 1. Sacrifices are denigrated into meals, and doubts and "pushing back" are given to be good things without much being said about resolving doubts and pursuing answers.