Friday, February 1, 2008

mclaren interview in charlotte paper

Getting away from the trend of dealing only with what was on the bleeding edge of two or more years ago, this interview of McLaren took place only a few days ago. There are interesting ideas in it, good bad and indifferent. Dealing with the whole interview is more then I care to do for now, but there will be excerpts.

On that note, let us be off...

Q. You say that many Christians should start by replacing the idea of getting themselves and others "saved" so they can go to heaven -- the evacuation plan, I think you call with -- with this idea of getting out there, in the here and now, and healing the hurts of the world. So when Jesus said, "As the father sent me, so I sent you," he was talking not really about conversions but about tackling the world's crises -- Is that right?

Actually, I would put the two together. If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It's like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium) altogether.

A better image would be: What Jesus is asking us to do is go into the stands and recruit some people to come on the field and join us to play. The recruiting of new disciples is really connected to wanting to make a difference in the world.

I really have no problem with McLaren's ideas here, except insofar as he seems to think that he's in any way being original or that he thinks he discovered something that no one else has been teaching.

For example, in the fundamentalist church I was in for most of my youth and which had the school which I attended for middle and high school, was very much into evangelism--door-to-door visitations, Sunday School bus ministry, support for missions and some Christians colleges and universities.

Perhaps their teachings and ideas were not without fault, but then whose is. I'm not exactly a big fan of some of those ideas now, and have given many of them thought and have decided otherwise on, for example, acceptable styles of music and dress codes. At the same time, a lot of the basics they taught me I have not rejected, and while I would find returning to such a church not a happy thought, I still consider them to be family.

The point is, they were not ones who told people to "get out of the game", to make use of McLaren's analogy. If anything, they were eager for people to get in the game, and always pushing for their people to do so. Some may say that in ways they pushed too hard sometimes, but the push was there.

Q. You've said that the "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?" model is too simplistic. How would those people who get out of the stands proceed?

What I want to say is that we have to listen to Jesus' teaching. If "What Would Jesus Do?" means "How can we live our lives in a way that's pleasing to Jesus?" then I think that's a great question.

The problem is, we have to account for the differences between the first century and the 21st century. So if Jesus went from one place to another, he would walk and take a donkey. We take a bus or a plane, maybe.

Then we have to deal with other differences in context. For example, Jesus lived in a monarchy; we live in a democracy. So, Jesus never voted. But I think if he were here, he would vote. And Jesus never really talked about elections, because there weren't any. But if he were here today, he might talk about that.

This...puzzles me. Really, I mean, how many people really think that when the WWJD is used, we mean we should speak Arabic and Hebrew, wear clothes of that period and region, and only walk or ride donkeys?

My point is that McLaren isn't really saying anything. Even the book the WWJD idea came from, In His Steps, didn't argue for such a position. When the characters asked "What would Jesus do?", they meant how they should live in a biblical and Christian way in their own day and time. This isn't a point of debate, and why he brings it up like this is puzzling.

Q. Have we domesticated Jesus because we don't like the sting of his real message? Loving your enemies, for example. The title of Peter Gomes' new book is "The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus."

I think this is exactly right. It's not that individuals intentionally try to domesticate Jesus. It's that we have centuries and centuries of traditions and traditional ways of reading the Bible that keep us from seeing certain things.

The net result is that the Jesus in a lot of our churches has a lot of bad things to say about other people's sins but not about our own. And he challenges other people to change, but kind of pats us on the back.

I don't know, this is another puzzling one. Not completely, I must admit, but still a bit.

There are two things that I think about concerning his answer. One is that I've not seen a church which is as simple as he makes it seem. Most churches I've known are concerned about things in their own people, and are not only berating those on the outside. They don't have quite the "domesticated Jesus" as he may think.

The second is, are McLaren himself and the other EC people not falling into something similar? Let us say that there are some churches which overemphasize conversion (if that's possible), doesn't McLaren come close to underemphasizing what he calls 'social justice'?

Just from my own observations of the movement, things for example I've listened to from Emergent Village, I think it is quite in danger of constructing its own little Jesus who looks on them favorably and thinks that others aren't quite right.

Q. Up in Washington, Sen. Charles Grassley is investigating some evangelists who are preaching the "prosperity gospel." What's your take on the prosperity gospel and on whether the government should be looking at religion?

There is the issue of whether the government should be involved. My first thought when I hear that is that, if the government does need to be involved, it says that we Christians haven't done a good enough job of addressing this issue ourselves.

At the very least, instead of complaining about the government, we should get a wake-up call that we're letting an awful lot of shabby stuff go on in the name of Christ.

I...really have no problem with this. I think he makes some very good points here. It is a great shame that these shysters have been tolerated for as long as they have, that they still have been prosperous by spouting empty promises and bad theology. Those things should have been dealt with long before they got to where they are now.

Just this morning, I had the television on and there was a commercial from a credit card company. And here was the line in the commercial: "I want it all. I want it all. I want it now." Then the credit card company's motto is: "Chase what matters." So, getting it all and getting it now is what really matters.

I haven't seen this commercial, so can't really comment on it. I wonder, however, what about all of the other commercials out there? For example, the ones about investing and saving. The ones for charities. The ones for good churches.

Yes, there have been ads with at best questionable messages--the old Andre Agassi "Image is Everything" ones, for example. Maybe the one he mentions is one, maybe not. But singling out one commercial does not a trend make.

Perhaps he is right that we are a people of 'instant gratification'. Whether its something new or not is something else. After all, impatients is a pretty common human failing. It may have looked different in the past, but I would guess that it was there.

Q. Today, many evangelicals are fascinated with the end of the world. There's the popularity of the "Left Behind" books. And talk about the Rapture. Their belief is: Things will get worse, we will have world crises. They say that's part of God's plan, to have Armageddon. Is that biblical or is that thinking part of the problem, in your opinion?

I write a good bit about this in the book. And on the tour, one of my talks will be devoted to this subject. I think this is an incredibly important subject.

What a lot of well-meaning, committed evangelical Christians don't realize is that the view of the end-times that they believe is biblical and the historic Christian view is actually a newcomer and an anomaly in Christian history. That view of the end-times was never, ever thought of in Christian history until the 1830s. Now, that doesn't make it wrong. But it does make it suspect.

A few months ago, I wrote a bit about something McLaren said concerning The Da Vinci Code, where he says that the Left Behind books may have caused more damage then the Code. I thought that was rather over-the-top of him--not that he disagreed with the views of the Left Behind books, but that he should portray them so badly.

I'm glad that he doesn't go so far here. Yes, he disagrees, but he doesn't vilify them. I do think that his information isn't completely correct, though.

Here are a few excerpts from an essay by Thomas Ice of the Pre-Trib Research Center, about the history of his views.


Expressions of imminency abound in the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Shepherd of Hermas all speak of imminency.4 Furthermore, The Shepherd of Hermas speaks of the pretribulational concept of escaping the tribulation.

You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and
because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.

Evidence of pretribulationism surfaces during the early medieval period in a sermon
some attribute to Ephraem the Syrian entitled Sermon on The Last Times, The
Antichrist, and The End of the World.6 The sermon was written some time between the
fourth and sixth century. The rapture statement reads as follows:
Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare
ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the
confusion, which overwhelms all the world? . . . For all the saints and elect of
God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the
Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of
our sins.

By the late 1500's and the early 1600’s, premillennialism began to return as a factor
within the mainstream church after more than a 1,000 year reign of amillennialism. With
the flowering of biblical interpretation during the late Reformation Period, premillennial
interpreters began to abound throughout Protestantism and so did the development of
sub-issues like the rapture.

As futurism began to replace historicism within premillennial circles in the 1820's, the
modern proponent of dispensational pretribulationism arrives on the scene. J.N. Darby
claims to have first understood his view of the rapture as the result of Bible study during
a convalescence from December 1826 until January 1827. He is the fountainhead for
the modern version of the doctrine.

The rapture was further spread through annual Bible conferences such as the
Niagara Bible Conference (1878-1909); turn of the century publications like The Truth
and Our Hope; popular books like Brookes' Maranatha, William Blackstone's Jesus Is
Coming, and The Scofield Reference Bible (1909). Many of the greatest Bible teachers
of the first-half of the twentieth century help spread the doctrine such as Arno
Gaebelein, C.I Scofield, A.J. Gordon, James M. Gray, R.A. Torrey, Harry Ironside, and
Lewis S. Chafer.

Q. How, then, do you read the Book of Revelation?
I was a college English professor. So, I have a background in literature. And one of the question I ask about a piece of literature is what genre is it in?
For example, if you watch "Star Trek," but think that you're watching "The Office" -- there's a difference between science fiction and situation comedy. There's different genres.
If someone reads Revelation and thinks that it's one genre when it's another, they're going to misread it.
It turns out that Revelation is a classic example of a genre of literature that existed in the Jewish world from about 100 B.C. to about 200 A.D. Modern scholars call it Jewish Apocalyptic. It turns out that Jewish Apocalyptic is not trying to predict the end of the world. But it uses bizarre imagery -- often dreamlike imagery -- to describe contemporary politics and to give people encouragement to be faithful in the midst of oppressive political regimes.
When you read the Book of Revelation in that way, it just comes alive. And instead of being a kind of strange code book that tells us that there's no hope and we should just expect things to get worse and worse, it becomes a call to courage and faithfulness against all odds. That, to me, is the best way to read Revelation.

For one thing, Revelation is not a book of "no hope". If anything, it is a very hopeful book. But it's message is not that man's should have hope in man, and certainly not in man's ability to make the world a better place, but our hope should be in Christ and in his return.

But in regards to his idea about the genre of the book, here is another essay from the PTRC, by a man named Woods. It's quite long, but here are some things he wrote about the genre.

By way of analogy, during my law school days my professors used to say that the United States Constitution is a “living and breathing document.” Such a genre categorization is popular among legal academics because it allows them to dispense with authorial intention and simultaneously gives them the literary license to read their own ideology into the text. Classifying Revelation as apocalyptic literature similarly allows the preterist to reach his theological conclusion of an A.D. 70 realization regardless of inconvenient textual details. However, the assumption that
Revelation is part of the apocalyptic category can be countered by noting that any similarities it has with these non-canonical works are outweighed by notable differences between the two.

Apocalyptic Genre
Pessimistic about the present
No epistolary framework
Limited admonitions for moral compliance
Messiah’s coming exclusively future
Does not call itself a prophecy
Traces history under the guise of prophecy
(vaticina ex eventu)
Primarily concerns a future generation (1
Enoch 1:2)

Not pseudonymous
Not pessimistic about the present
Epistolary framework
Repeated admonitions for moral compliance
Basis for Messiah’s future coming is His
past coming (Rev 5:9)
Calls itself a prophecy
Futuristic prediction
Concerns both the generation of the author
(2–3) and a future generation (4–22)

There are probably other things in the interview that I could have written about, and maybe will later. For now, this has been quite a long enough entry, so that will be all for it.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Would like to get anyone's opinion of an article titled "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers" which is on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site. Thanks. James