Control the Story, Control the World

galileo.jpgHalf a millennium ago, the predominant cosmology viewed the earth as the center of the solar system. Geocentrism was the story of the day. An Italian researcher named Galileo told a different story. He argued for heliocentrism; the data proved that the sun, not earth, was the center of the solar system. But that didn’t fit the story line.

So the stewards of the story–at that time, the Catholic Church–condemned Galileo to spend the last years of his life under house arrest. Thank you, Inquisition. Never mind that his view fit the facts. It didn’t fit the story so it was false and he had to be punished.

230px-scopes_trial.jpgIn 1925, the State of Tennessee passed a law that prohibited the teaching of any theory of human origins contrary to divine creation. Here’s the law:

“… that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

The Creation Story was the prevailing story (this is not a blog about creationism v. evolutionism, so don’t try to turn it into one–it’s about the story… stick with me). The ACLU wanted to challenge that story. It asked a gym teacher named John Scopes, who filled in as a sub for a science teacher, to teach evolution (I’m not making this up–checkout Wikipedia).

He did. The Scopes-Monkey Trial was the result. Scopes was placed on trial for breaking the law. His story didn’t match the prevailing story, so he had to pay. The jury found him guilty and the judge fined him $100. Scopes never paid because the Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the fine on a technicality while upholding the law.

Later, in a different case, the US Supreme Court overturned all laws that banned the teaching of evolution. The Story got changed.

evolution.jpegToday, the story is reversed. Evolution is the dominant story and the teaching of creationism, special creation, or Intelligent Design, is banned. A teacher would be fined, fired, or sued for teaching these things. The anti-religious forces are equally virulent about enforcing their story (okay… metanarrative for my postmodern, emergent friends).

Today’s dominant story assumes that all roads lead to God, there are no ethical absolutes, truth is what you make it. The pressure of Political Correctness, while different in its externals, is no different from the Inquisition in its virulence at enforcing the story. Deviate from the story line, and you don’t get to teach in the University, you don’t get to speak in the media, you don’t get promoted in government sinecures. Stick to the story line or else. Why won’t the democratic candidates appear on Fox News? Because Fox News tells a different story. They must be frozen out. It’s a new Inquisition.

Control the story, control the world.

Make no mistake: the cultural and political fight in America today is over who gets to control the story. No wonder our country is so polarized!

But my interest here isn’t political. It’s biblical.

I submit that the Emergent theologians are deliberately attempting to change the historic, biblical, evangelical STORY.

salvation.jpegThat story told of a Savior, born of the Virgin Mary–the seed of the woman, the seed of David, the Son of God. He alone redeemed us from our sins through his vicarious atonement. He alone shed his blood and died to bring us back to God. Faith alone in Christ alone is the only instrument by which men and women are saved, and we as God’s redeemed people have a privilege and obligation to go to the four corners of earth to proclaim this message. There is no other way to God except through hearing of and believing in Jesus.

That story motivated millions of missionaries to leave the comforts of home and spread around the world. It motivated tens of millions of Christians to pay for and pray for those missionaries. It motivated the worldwide movement of building hospitals and water treatment plants and third world development and social good and orphanages. Not because the SOCIAL needs were an end in themselves, but because they paved the way for the Gospel–the propositional truth, the factual, biblical information about Jesus, the obtainment of which is an indispensable prerequisite for salvation.

family.jpegMoreover, that old, old story–the one carried by evangelicals for centuries–weaves a social ethic into the fabric of society. It calls for stable marriages and families. It calls for a sexual ethic of male/female monogamy within the bonds marriage. It calls for the sanctity of life. It calls for personal responsibility and freedom.

The Emergent Theology is fighting tooth and nail to change that story. Whether they’re right or wrong, shouldn’t they be required to make an air-tight case before they get to effect such a sea change on the church? Shouldn’t today’s Christians be more discerning?

The whole topic makes me sad, mad, and scared. I’m not here to criticize books or teachers. I’m a positive person. But I’m also a pastor and a follower of Jesus, and when his story gets distorted, I have to speak up.

To me, the biggest change in story is the theme of UNIVERSALISM of teachers like Brian McLaren and Spencer Burke. It is incipient universalism: all roads lead to God. People need not hear of Christ and they can be saved. I quote McLaren’s exposition of John 14:6: [for the whole article, click here, and then click on John 14:6]…

This is the verse that is frequently quoted to defend an idea
called the “exclusivity of Christ,” namely, that all who
do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as
their personal savior will burn forever in hell. That
phrase raises concerns for me, because based on
the Scriptures, I believe Jesus primarily came
not to proclaim a way out of hell for some af-
ter death, but rather a way into a better life for
all before death. His message was not about
going to heaven after history, but about the
kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.
His goal – made clear in word and deed, day
after day during his three years of public minis-
try – was not to constrict but rather to expand the
dimensions of who could be welcomed into the king-
dom of God, of who could be accepted in the people of
God. So my understanding of Jesus’ essential message tells me
that “exclusivity of” should generally precede “the Pharisees” or “the judgmental” or “the hypocrites,” and never “Christ.”

In typical fashion, his point is not succinctly stated anywhere. In fact, this entire article was a chapter extirpated from a recent book. I suspect it’s because the publisher didn’t want to go down the universalistic highway.


  1. Disdain for the historic Christian storyline: “all who do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as their personal savior will burn forever in hell.” There’s something about the way he put that that misrepresents the HEART of the Christian truth.
  2. His denial of any certainty about an afterlife: “His message was not about
    going to heaven after history, but about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.”
    Again, whether he’s right or wrong, is he not trying to change the story? Haven’t Christians for two thousand years taught that Jesus’ message was precisely about going to heaven after history? If historic Christianity seems far away, who moved?
  3. His denial that the claim of Christ is an exclusive claim, the word exclusive can never be applied to Christ. This is flat out unbiblical.

Ditto for “The Ooze” and author, former pastor, Spencer Burke, whose book, A Heretic’s Guide to Heaven, has been ably reviewed by theologian Scot McKnight.

Here are McKnight’s closing comments after a devastating but loving critique:

Is Spencer a “heretic”? He says he is, and I see no reason to think he believes in the Trinity from reading this book. That’s what heresy means to me. Denial of God’s personhood flies in the face of everything orthodox. To say that you believe in the creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit and deny “person” is to deny the Trinitarian concept of God.

Is Spencer a “Christian”? He says he is. What is a Christian? Is it not one who finds redemption through faith in Christ, the one who died and who was raised? If so, I see nothing in this book that makes me think that God’s grace comes to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Grace seems to be what each person is “born into” in Spencer’s theses in this book. That means that I see no reason in this book to think Spencer believes in the gospel as the NT defines gospel (grace as the gift of God through Christ by faith).

I don’t know McLaren or Burke personally. I’m sure they’re likeable. I’m not trying to be bellicose or pick a fight. It aches my heart to write this stuff. God tells me to “earnestly contend for the faith” and that’s what I’m doing. I respectfully disagree with where the Emergent Theology is leading the church. I lovingly take issue. Their message is not true to the clear teachings of God’s Word.

As I read Brian and other emergent theologians, what I hear is what we used to call “the social gospel” tinged with “theological liberalism.” It’s nothing new. It’s an old story that flourished in the 1930-1970’s… and then faded away. It faded away because its churches shrank and died. Why?

missionaries.jpegBecause when they undercut the gospel’s urgency, they undercut their reason for being. Why bend every effort and give your life to a cause less than life and death? If all roads lead to God, why build a hospital in the jungles of Africa or a church in Chicago?

I distinguish the emerging church from the Emergent Theology. The former is helpful–ensuring that we package the timeless truths of the faith for a new generation. The latter might turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

We preach a stable metanarrative.

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3, NKJV.

“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,” Ephesians 4:14, NKJV.

I have no argument with Brian McLaren’s right to preach and teach as he wills. I just wish he’d come out and say: “I’m changing traditional theology. I’m disagreeing with traditional evangelical theology. I’m arguing against historic orthodoxy. I’m changing the story.” Maybe Brian is right and the church has been wrong all along. Maybe we’ve gotten the story wrong, and Brian is bringing a needed corrective. I just wish he’d say it straight up. Admit it. Tell us: 2000 years (or the last 200 years) of orthodoxy have been mostly WRONG and I’m here to CORRECT IT.

I’d have a lot more respect for him if he’d do that.

niceancouncil.jpegThe evangelical, orthodox faith has 2,000 years of linguistics, research, debate and refinement under its belt. It has followed proper hermeneutics to reach its conclusions. It makes its case from Scripture. It humbly submits to the authority of the Word of God, rightly interpreted. It has stood the test of time and weathered the storms of history. Emergent theology has no such foundations. It is a novelty, an innovation. In theological circles, those words are not compliments.

To try to change the story is an act of subversion.  Tweak it at the edges; draw a few illustrative stick figures.  Debate the less important plotlines.  But don’t alter the story;  don’t change its contours.

The church has never been called to enforce the story in the world.  We “enforce” it within the church, through simple instruction and yes, debate.  We draw boundaries. We contend earnestly for the once-for-all faith.

But we don’t enforce the story in the world.  We simply tell it to the world and live as part of its narrative even when the world thinks we’re crazy.

It’s God’s story. Through it, He exercises dominion. It’s His story. We don’t get to change it. We are called to preserve it and to hand it to the next generation unmolested.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Romans 1:16, NKJV.


25 thoughts on “Control the Story, Control the World

  1. Can I say that I agree with you 100%?
    I grew up in a home that was (and is) Unitarian Universalist. “There is truth in all ways of thinking”
    And yet when I became a Christian in 1976 I became an outcast within my own “accepting” family not allowed to speak of my faith in Jesus.

  2. I just came across this blog and found your post interesting. It seems as if you are trying to control the story the same way you claim McClaren is trying to do. Perhaps in classic Christendom we are preserving a story that is false and has been false for centuries.
    I do agree with you that McClaren should come out and just say that he disagrees with traditional evangelical theology, but just because he doesn’t hold to tradional orthodoxy doesn’t mean that he is in error.
    It sounds more like you are contending for the creeds and doctrines past down through church history and not necessarily the faith.
    The Christian movement has always been a movement of the Spirit and the move towards fixed traditions and doctines has always imposed a limit on the intrusion of the Spirit.
    Wouldn’t you agree that it is our staunch doctines that have in a way kept heaven from invading earth. The problem seems to be that men have always lived by creeds, traditions, formulas, and receipes because they are much easier to follow than a life of faith.
    The church institution is not willing to endorse deviant interpretative behavior of its history or the scripture, which probably means that Jesus would have been no more welcome among the church fathers than he was among member of the purity party in his own day.

    In conclusion, I think it is important to remember that weather our focus is on escaping earth to go to heaven, or to live in such a way as to have heaven come into history, we must never forget that ‘the kingdom of God is inside you (Luke 17:21)

  3. This blog entry brings up a lot of ideas within me. I’ll likely ramble a little here. I may not stick to the topic of your blog, but that’s just “Rambling Donny” I guess.

    Before I continue I’d like to state that I accept Jesus Christ as my savior, as my salvation, as the one who paid the price for my sins and lived a perfect life which takes the place of my imperfect life.

    That being said, I am a little annoyed when people focus on heaven so much. It’s almost as if some people feel that our life here on earth is just a “waiting period”. I personally enjoy living life here, and would love it if more Christians focused on bringing heaven to earth, rather than focusing on what gets them into heaven.

    I feel like heaven will take care of itself. I really like being here. And I totally agree with a statement that Rob Bell makes in his book “Velvet Elvis”. He states, “ALL truth is GOD’s truth”. I agree with that 100%. ALL truth IS God’s truth. If it is TRUE, it is from God.

    I think the traditions of the church sometimes DO hold heaven back from invading earth, as the commenter right before this comment addresses a bit. Is there a place for tradition? Sure. Can I respect it? Absolutely. But it is my personal opinion that “tradition” doesn’t need to dictate the present or the future. How boring it would be to keep living life the same way for the remainder of human history (future).

    The way I see it, the Creation is AMAZING. Mind blowing! And a God who created it must be even MORE mind blowing than what he created. The Creator HAS to be more complex than the Creation. Sometimes Christianity seems so narrow and NOT mind blowing, but maybe that’s just me. I think there is SO MUCH MORE to God than many of us want to accept or believe.

    As for belief in Christ as The Way to salvation: that is my belief, and I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision on who does or does not make it into heaven when this life is over. As Rob Bell says, “God has spoken, and the rest is commentary”. I’m glad God decides and not Donny or any religious leader or any organization.

    I sometimes wonder if we truly understand what He (God) really said. I wonder if we truly understand context. I look for the answer to those questions as much as I can, but am often frustrated by a lack of answers. I’m not the type to just blindly accept canned answers, either. I need convincing evidence. Just as a new idea needs to prove itself in order to replace an old idea, even so the proof used for old ideas has to stand up to new technology and new scientific evidences.

    If the Bible and science are in conflict, I believe we’ve either interpreted scientific evidence incorrectly, or interpreted the Bible incorrectly. God IS science, and the Bible will never conflict science. If it does, something is wrong.

    I like to read Christian-related books. I do a lot of that. Some of the writers who stimulate my mind the most also seem to have at least an idea here or there that seems a little off. For that reason I take the meat and spit out the bones. I know that ALL truth is God’s truth, and if He can use a donkey to deliver a message, He can use just about anyone. I seriously doubt any of us, even with 2,000 years of knowledge behind us, can get it 100% right. If that were the case, if 2,000 years resulted in conclusive, irrefutable evidence, there wouldn’t be so many different denominations. All of us would agree. None of us would disagree.

    But maybe, just maybe, that’s the way God wanted it to be? Maybe we’re SUPPOSED to wrestle with our faith, just as the earliest Christians did. Maybe the process of wrestling with what we believe sharpens us and keeps our focus on Him.

  4. Oops… on that second to last paragraph, the sentence near the end should say “there WOULDN”T be so many different denominations”.

  5. Donny, I agree with much of what you’ve said and appreciate reading your thoughts.

    That being said, what if, as Bill indicates, the perspective on Heaven being defended here is more than just a church tradition. What if it’s also a Biblical perspective?:

    “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

    -Hebrews 11:13-16-

  6. V,
    Good verse. I think we are mixing up what heaven is and what the city of God is. Both of course are under the Kingdom of God (kinda like how the British Empire was over many lands, countries, and cities), but the city of God seems to not necessarily be the heaven of heavens. In fact, in Rev 21 the church is that city. Check it out. WE, God’s people are the city of God.

    Also, I love some of the things you said Donny. You seem like a very passionate guy, something this world needs more of. I’ve found in my goings that people that are consumed and radiate with the things of God usually are because of their day to day conversations with Him. Traditions are helpful only if they are preceded by relationship. If they (traditions) are the forerunner to one’s spiritual life, then they (the person) become one that is likened to the old wine with old wineskins.


  7. “As I read Brian…”

    I was wondering which specific books you have read? I have only read 5-6 myself…

    It seems like you and I have very different understandings of what exactly McLaren says.

    I just wish he’d say it straight up. Admit it. Tell us: 2000 years (or the last 200 years) of orthodoxy have been mostly WRONG and I’m here to CORRECT IT.

    It seems he does say this (200 years, not 2000…) and that he is not afraid to say that the story evangelicals tell is most assuredly not the story the first Christians found themselves in… which I would agree with after what little historical reading I have done.

    I love this

  8. After reading several of his books, I had the opportunity to spend some time speaking with Brian McLaren personally about some of his theology, especially as it relates to foreign missions. Although he truly is a nice guy, I worry a great deal about where he’s leading the sheep.

    One thing that I’ve not seen mentioned much in this discussion is just how much Jesus actually did talk about hell. While I certainly appreciate the “corrective” that Christians are not simply passing time to get to heaven, Jesus certainly seemed to have a lot to say about the eternal destiny of our souls.

  9. Hi All,
    I’m sorry I got so far behind on comments.
    A) I got pretty sick and wiped out.
    B) We lost our electricity for 2 days, and that kept me hopping.

    So… Here are some brief comments…

    Alan… thanks. I’m glad you moved away from the Unitarian/Universalist movement.

    Jon… I think we’re coming from different positions. I unabashedly align with the historic Christian faith, as described in what are called “ecumenical creeds” (meaning universally received by all major Christians) but then continually clarified and refined in later confessions. I openly maintain the “old old story” of Christianity as it aligns with Scripture and has been told by those called evangelicals. I don’t seek to “control” anybody, except those who would use the title evangelical and try to make it mean something it never meant before.

    Donny… Always great to hear from you. I owe you a phone call; I’ve been a little busy. As to heaven… There are two ways of focusing no heaven. One, the unhealthy way, is an obsession with heaven in order to escape earth–a spiritualized escapism. Two, the healthy way, a recognition that our heavenly status gives meaning to and defines our entirely earthly life, and that we should therefore “lay up treasures in heaven” as Jesus taught and “set our mind on things above, where Jesus sits at the right hand of God” as Paul taught. It is a complete mistake for Christians to focus on earth directly. We have always been more beneficial to society as a whole when we care for people’s ultimate status. As to truly understanding what the Bible says… We teach a doctrine called “the Perspicuity of Scripture.” It means that the Bible is clear in its teachings, especially in core matters. Jesus, Moses, the prophets, and the apostles fully expected their hearers/readers to understand what they say. The variety of opinion comes most often on secondary (non-salvific) issues, or because of faulty modes of interpretation. The body of interpretation on the evangelical side os massive and should not be dismissed lightly and without compelling biblical evidence.

    V… thanks, always good to hear from “the committee.”

    Steve… good to hear from you again too. Most of my opinions flow from A Generous Orthodoxy which I found screamingly frustrating. We believe in a certain word, clear an unambiguous in its major themes. If McLaren finds that we’re telling the wrong story, why does he try to pass himself off as an evangelical? Why not start a fourth wave theological movement? I’m frustrated with him for not being forthright about his non-evangelical theology; I’m frustrated with evangelicalism as a whole for being so damn wishy-washy on its theology and letting its moorings slide; and uncritically inviting McLaren to speak at major conferences so he can spread his confusion. I disagree with the guy. I don’t hate him. I don’t want bad things to happen to him. I disagree with him.

    JB… very cool that you spoke with him. Thanks for sharing your insights. Hope all is well with you and your family and ministry.

    Happy New Year to All
    Peace out.

  10. Hey Bill,

    Thanks for the response. My thoughts on the doctrine of “the Perspicuity of Scripture”:

    When looking for meaning and context I don’t think I question the actual words of Biblical authors as much as I question those who have translated them into English. Your sermon on Genesis 38 is a perfect example to demonstrate what I mean.

    In that passage, the customs of the time aren’t spelled out, and it is therefore impossible for a casual reader to truly comprehend what is going on in the story. You did an amazing job of teaching the context of the time, cultural traditions of the time, etc. BUT that makes me wonder how many other verses are misunderstood by English speakers.

    Heck, sometimes I can’t even understand ENGLISH writings from earlier last century, let alone Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic writings from thousands of years ago. I realize you have full confidence in those who translated scripture, but you also have the advantage of extensive scholastic study and a PhD behind your name. Many of us do not have a clue where to begin our search for context and culture.

    Since these books were written to those who lived at the same time the authors walked the earth, I have no doubts the intended audiences fully comprehended what was being said. What I question is whether or not those of us alive today, speaking a different language in a vastly different cultural environment, really understand the intended message.

    I simply want to understand what was meant. 🙂

  11. Donny,
    Thanks for the props! Now I don’t owe you a phone call, I owe you lunch.

    You might be interested in knowing that the background information I preached in that Gen 38 sermon is all right there in the Bible. The laws called “Levirate marriage” are spelled out in Deut 25:5-10.

    In most cases, there is no special training needed to access the background story. It just takes a broader exposure to the Bible.

    In those cases where the background is not explicit in the Bible, there are plenty of easy, readable commentaries written for lay people on every book in the Bible.

    Finally, God has given his church leaders with the spiritual gift of teaching. Our task is to dig out and equip the saints in God’s Word.

    None of this calls into doubt the perspicuity of Scripture.

    Your pal,

  12. Just call me a plain, simple, trusting person who actually believes the Holy Spirit is MY teacher!!! God’s Word is the power behind every, single one of us. Of course, this includes the indwelling HS to give us the enlighenment and discernment we need. I don’t doubt God can reach and teach each person with a heart to wanting to know and learn! The very Creation cries out His Person!

    I’m very thankful for the gifts He has given us, especially the teaching one since I’m pretty weak in that one!, because I can learn from the gifted teacher! I truly appreciate the ability and desire of the teacher to allow God to fill and use him/her to teach ME! Personally, I recommend the reading of the BIBLE first before trying to get information from another source. It does contain all we need for knowledge – that I believe from the bottom of my toes! It is the supreme among “Seeker-Friendly” resources!!!

    Also, in my experience (which is all that I have been blessed to experience), it seems today’s generation wants to know all the facts and be convinced of everything they question long before they take that step of faith and actually trust God is saying the Truth about what He requires to know Him. Too smart for their own britches, I like to say. Once New Life has been obtained, far more questions are answered and peace prevails for then we have the ability to understand some of God’s mind and plan. Before that happens, there is NO way we can understand what God has done for us.

    The Gospel Message is so clear and shouldn’t be confused EVER! The Story has been the same since forever – HIS Story! I so agree with Dr. G in his thoughts above. It makes me piping mad, too, when this Story is muddled and watered down into nothingness. These “false” teachers will be called to account for their actions. Paul had some pretty nasty things to say about them as well.

  13. I would really love to hear some of your thoughts on Wright. McLaren interests me, but I appreciate him for his contributions as a storyteller not so much as a source of information about Scripture and Church History. I do think, however, that some of the problems you have with McLaren, you would have to an even greater depth with Wright, however, Wright writes as a PhD historian, whereas McLaren is a popular author. McLaren wants to shake things up, I think it is a shame to dismiss him as preaching ‘liberal theology’ or ‘social gospel’ when that is something he clearly rejects, …but I don’t think he minds having people throw vitriol his way.

    I know we have gone down this road before, but I agree with McLaren that truth is a much more playful and trans-rational thing than we children of the Enlightenment have been led to believe.

    Wright on the other hand is attempting to speak out of the reality of what happened throughout the history of God’s people, specifically what happened to Jesus three days after His death, and the subsequent impact that had on the Jewish and Non-Jewish people in the world at that time. He is someone who takes very seriously the Bible’s words. His critiques of various contemporary understandings of Christian doctrine are rooted in the words of Paul and the other NT authors.

    I know you are a man with a full schedule, but you could easily find insight into Wright’s work here

    No rush or anything, but if you do get the chance, I would be really intrigued by your thoughts…

  14. In the original entry under Notice, you quote McLaren as saying that “His message was not about going to heaven after history, but about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history.” My question is, Are these mutually exclusive concepts? Aren’t we to work to establish the kingdom, while awaiting full redemption in heaven? I hope I’m not just being wishy-washy, letting everyone have their own way. We have to contend for the truth (and th faith). It seems as if McLaren is setting up a division that doesn’t need to be there. I haven’t read enough of him to know. I read this stuff about him, and I keep asking myself, Why (Brian) are you doing this?

  15. Matt,

    I’ve read a few books of McLaren, and it seems to me that he isn’t trying to make a distinction between the two, but instead giving some weight to the other side. He even talks about a theology of escapism that is prevelant in the Evangelical church. I think he believes in a literal heaven, but he is also calling the church into seeing the ‘kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God’

    I’m out

  16. Glad to see Steve and Matt again… Matt, I don’t know McLaren at all; heard him at a conference this summer and read one of his books (“The Secret Message of Jesus”). But, based on the fact that the spirit of his message is twins with Jim Wallis of Sojourners (a ‘christian’, way lefty, grass-roots political movement), and Wallis endorses McLaren’s book, I personally believe there may be more than just a little bit of political motivation that answers the ‘why’ behind what he’s doing.

    Wallis’ message (heard him speak once) was a mix of misinterpreted biblical prophecy quotes, anti-Bush/Dobson conspiracy theory, and political fanfare… it boiled down to a rally encouraging democrats to re-claim religion in order to confuse and/or outvote the fundamentalists (’cause the country can’t afford another republican election). He received a standing ovation. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would have my own theories about the network structure of their (seemingly quite organized, and effective) plan to go after the political, educational, philosophical, and spiritual arenas – all with fairly visible representatives- all with messages that have slightly different twists, but the same distinct ‘smell’. The gospel of getting the power away from what they perceive to be the diabolical (and sadly uneducated) current political administration.

  17. In most cases, there is no special training needed to access the background story. It just takes a broader exposure to the Bible.

    In those cases where the background is not explicit in the Bible, there are plenty of easy, readable commentaries written for lay people on every book in the Bible.

    That is good news! Makes me even more excited to be in the program I’m in, as I’ll hopefully learn all these things. I want to be able to teach others that sort of information, because there are many like me who want to know and understand. Yes, that may be being “too smart for our britches” but I’d have it no other way. The Bible has nothing to fear from such people as us who are like that. 😉 It is my opinion that as time goes on, there will only be more who want to know before believing. Unanswered questions are part of what made me turn my back on Christianity. I asked several different pastors from various denominations. Dr. G is the only pastor… the ONLY one… who has answered them (although I have read books since September 2006 that have answered some of my questions as well).

    I want to be prepared when I am asked the questions I used to ask. That already happens (even earlier today) and I know it will happen more frequently in the future.

  18. It is my opinion that as time goes on, there will only be more who want to know before believing.

    I humbly, couldn’t disagree more.

    The information-lead-to-decision mentality is on the way out IMHO. It seems people are sick of pat answers, and are perfectly okay with embracing the mysterious, unanswered questions. This also gets at one of the pet peeves people have around here in regards to McLaren. He often leaves questions unanswered, but, he is in good company on this one (read the gospel accounts looking for how Jesus answered peoples questions).

    I don’t think it is wrong or bad to answer questions, and I applaud you (Donny) for seeking more information (leaving questions unanswered out of sheer laziness is inexcusable), but I don’t think information is the primary resource for evangelism or spiritual growth. In my encounters with non-Christians, they are much more interested in how I live my life, the way I treat them, my willingness to be forthright with my own doubts and failures, and an honest dealing with the intellectual difficulties that come with a lfe of trusting God. Whether or not I can answer their questions comes in a distant second to whether or not I am warm, hospitable, honest, caring, etc.

    I think people will, more and more, refuse to believe the answers we give them, until they are confronted with the power of God manifest in our love for them…

  19. “I think people will, more and more, refuse to believe the answers we give them, until the are confronted with the power of God manifest in our love for them.” Amen, Anon. It’s that old “Walk the talk” thingy, isn’t it?

    And, Donny, I’m referring to unbelievers who think they need to know all the answers before believing in the Gospel Story. There is NO way I would think a search for more knowledge or Truth from the Bible is being too smart for your own britches. However, it humbles me to also know knowledge alone is quite ueseless without the wisdom which only comes from God. I’m so glad He can freely give some of that to me.

  20. I don’t think that it is fair to put ones ideas of how they “think” people come to recieve jesus.

    Everyone is different. Some have intellectual barriers up against christianity, others emotional.

    I personally know someone who won’t become a christian based on their beliefe that religion is only a crutch for the weak minded. Another person i know was sexually assaulted by a counselor at a christian youth camp.

    Before you “Whole Heartedly Dissagree” with something you should really think about it. Those are pretty strong words.

    Donny, you keep on thinking, in fact it seems that growing in knowledge, wisdom and understanding is quite a key factor to our spiritual growth (not without love of course) but never-the-less, the church has confused having faith like a child with thinking like a child. Too bad, there are many, many exortations to grow in our minds towards the Lord.

    Bottom line is that God has created everything. So whether you come by boat, plain, train, horse back, or space shuttle …. just come….


  21. Again, why are we making a division where none needs to exist? Some people don’t want pat answers. Some do. It’s enough. I would much rather hear information that persuades me about the truth, than hold someone’s hand in a service that will try to emotionally move me. All I’m thinking about in those times is what the other person is thinking about my hand. But then I also know people who want to be shown that care before they believe and they think that presenting just information is cold and uncaring. This is why God gifts us in different ways. Bill G. won’t reach everyone, nor will Max Lucado. The megachurch campus won’t reach the people the small traditional church does reach. Both the teaching and the caring are important, but only the recipient knows which they need. In either setting, from any kind of presenter, it’s “by my Spirit, says the Lord.”

  22. Hey Bill,

    I love this post. I agree with your assessment of th McClaren quote; it looks like a lot of rhetoric and poor argument, seeing as how he critiques the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ, but overlooks or avoids the part of the verse he’s supposed to be explaining where Jesus says that he is the only way. He just doesn’t have an explanation for why Jesus says that he is the only way. The point for Universalism is poorly made here, made against some vague “exclusivism” and not offering a better interpretation of the verse. The point is much better argued by those who say that Jesus is still the only way, and is the only way because he is the deity figure of other religions.

    But what I wanted to ask you about is my own wrinkle in the problem of absolute truth. I’ve studied atheistic existentialism and agree with it that if there is no authority such as God, then there is no absolute truth, because there’s no outside standard to judge things on beyond each individual judging his own life. Therefore, as a Christian, I believe in absolute truth. The problem is with a liberal take that comes actually from Moderns such as Hume and Kant, saying that there is a barrier between us and truth and that is our perception. This influences Liberal theology towards a more relaxed set of boundaries, like what McClaren is talking about. So, within Christianity, which I as an Evangelical claim has God, the Word, and the Spirit to reveal truth to us, how is there such a lack of agreement? I mean, I agree with my Reformed Evangelical reading because I have thought it through and prayed about it, and if I don’t hold to some standard of truth, then I can’t critique other point of view for being wrong and all our choices are simply arbitrary and pleasure based. The best way I’ve come to deal with this is distinguish between diversity of expression, which can exist within the Church, and the need to draw the line of heresy to distinguish what is outside the church, and it seems like Christians should be able to reach a consensus on that, aided by the Scripture and the Spirit. I don’t know, does this question make sense, of how we have such fundamental lacks of agreement when we believe we have the source to objective, revealed truth?

  23. Hi Ryan,
    You raise very important issues.
    First, as to the nature of truth, or more precisely how we acquire truth (epistemology), it is crucial to understand that both empiricism and rationalism rest on an underlying epistemological method: faith. Empiricism trusts its own perceptions; rationalism its own postulates. In either case, the first link in the epistemological chain is faith. What I’m saying is that ALL knowledge comes through faith. This does not make the knowledge inferior; it just makes us all humble.
    If faith is part of every epistemological system, then the Christian is on solid ground. Because the ultimate mode of acquiring truth is revelation. Faith and Revelation fit hand in glove. That leads to the question of Source. What is the source of revelation? For the Evangelical, it is the Bible alone. For Catholics, the teaching magisterium of the church, which includes the Bible, but extends beyond it. I think a case can be made for Scripture Alone, and so I am an evangelical.
    The issues of competing interpretations take us into the realm of HERMENEUTICS. I think a case can be made for grammatical/historical hermeneutics, so I am an evangelical.
    You’re right in distinguishing between core doctrines and peripheral doctrines. The core doctrines have to do with sources of knowledge (biblioligy), the nature of God (he’s a trinity), of Christ (he’s divine and human in one person), and of salvation (faith alone in Christ alone). Beyond that, we can have a lot of variety… and historically Christians have been good with that.

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