Monday, May 12, 2008

Brian McLaren...Again

Brian McLaren is interviewed in USA Today. One should notice that he does not challenge the idea that he has given up "absolute truth." Are these absolute truths, Mr. McLaren?

1. There are no absolute truths.
2. Torturing the innocent merely for pleasure is always wrong.
3. There is one Mediator between God and humans: Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
4. One should always love God and one's neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39).
5. There is One God (Deuteronomy 6:4).

McLaren also dodges the question as to whether he is "liberal." If we use the classic theological terms for the rejection of biblical authority as true and knowable, he is most definitely a liberal. Without the basis of biblical authority (which is not modernist, but premodern and, in fact, perennial), anything can happen morally and theologically, which is exactly what we find with McLaren.

1. People can be redeemed through nonChristian religions.
2. He refuses to deem homosexual conduct as unbiblical and unhealthy.
3. He downplays the significance of personal salvation.

One of the symptoms of a diseased movement is that incompetents get promoted as experts and visionaries. These are hard words, but true, nonetheless. I reviewed McLaren's A New Kind of Christian some years ago in The Christian Research Journal. See also Jeremy Green's review of A Generous Orthodoxy in Denver Journal.

For book length critiques of "the emerging church," see D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church and R. Scott Smith, Truth and a New Kind of Christian.

21 comments:

Sarah Scott said...

Dr. Groothuis,

Well put, and thanks for posting the interview. I thought it was interesting that McLaren criticized the more traditional (for lack of a better word) evangelicals for "not doing any theological rethinking at all", and for staying with the theology they inherited. While this may be true, in the mind of Mr. Everything Must Change, it is unlikely that the crime is merely "not rethinking", but rather, is much more likely to be a lack of change for mere change's sake. Why must an inherited theology be necessarily false? If it is false, it is not simply because it was passed down. Further, "Creative thinking" has usurped seeking and submitting to Biblical truth. There is a difference between reforming to the Scriptures and forming something else entirely (despite the ironic distaste for "form" itself!). Sadly, freestyle theology is in, and Biblical truth is out.

Doug Groothuis said...

SS:

I agree. The motto should be "a reformed church always reforming," but never outside of Sola Scriptura. For McLaren and his ilk, it is more Sola Cultura (as Os Guinness has quipped).

Jeff S. said...

Yes, interesting how a question concerning absolute truths turns into an answer about molesting Priests and warmongers. Nice red herring.

Peter Malik said...

Also, McLaren's "Don't count conversions, but conversations," which has practically become the modus operandi of the emergent social gospel is a great threat to the present day Christianity. I would say, it is dangerous. This sort of "evangelism" absolutely lacks "the Pauline evangelistic intentionality": "To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" (1Cor 9:21-23). How can any Bible believing (and perhaps I should say Bible reading) Christian reconcile this statement with McLaren's postchristian blur?

Dr. Alim O. Regdee said...

I find this quote ("incompetents get promoted as experts and visionaries") ironic.

Doug Groothuis said...

Jeff and Peter:

Good points. McLaren is illogical, emotive, and manipulative--good postmodern qualities, but vices according to Christianity of a biblical sort.

We should aim for genuine conversations that lead to conversions. And we should check for the fruit indicating real conversion and repentance.

Dr. Alim O. Regdee said...

Correction: I find this quote ("incompetents [sic] get promoted as experts and visionaries") ironic.

Dr. Alim O. Regdee said...

"And we should check for the fruit indicating real conversion and repentance." I disagree: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are only for the Future Kingdom! We should not pander to emotives--we must be curmudgeons. We need to fight society! One dictionary listed curmudgeon as f*cking *sshole--that's just the world's definitions. Thank you for fighting TRUTH like another good southern brother.

Heath Countryman said...

Sarah,

Your comment misrepresented McLaren's comments on traditional evangelicals. You said he "criticized" them for "not doing any theological rethinking at all" which he clearly did not.

To quote him from the interview, he said, "Among evangelicals you have people who are not doing any theological rethinking at all. The theology that they inherited, they're staying with 100%. They're trying to do sort of methodological innovation (in styles of worship). And my personal feeling is that's great. Those'll be steps in a good direction... I'm not a purist about anything. I think it's all good. We're all trying to stumble along and take some steps in the right direction. Others of us are asking theological questions and that's always messy."

Explain to me how that is a criticism?

Heath Countryman said...

BTW, just for the record, I am not a McLaren supporter and I agree with Doug that there certainly are absolute truths. I am just not a fan of "heresy hunting," especially when it leads to misrepresentations. So that is what prompted my comment to Sarah.

Sarah Scott said...

Alim,

Your 10th (or so) fake troll name is quite creative. Get over yourself, and go read blogs you agree with until you can learn to dialogue above the level of an angry second grader.

Heath,

Respectfully, I do not think I misrepresented McLaren at all. He uses this style of criticism frequently, where it is steeped in patronization rather than in explicit condemnation.

What do you make of the concluding sentence where he says "others of us are asking theological questions?" I believe it is a passive-agressive shot.

Heath Countryman said...

Actually I think he meant exactly that... That there is a large group of people who are asking (and attempting to answer) theological questions that do not easily fit into the traditional models espoused by fundamentalists. As far as him being patronizing, since I sould not hear the audio I can't say for sure. But taken at face value, I see nothing patronizing about that comment.

What is interesting to me is that McLaren is much more civil in his disagreements with traditionalists and fundsmentalists than they are towards him. He gives the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, to his opponents, whereas I have observed the opposite side engage in misreprensentation (for instance, he never suggested that "inherited theology be necessarily false") and personal insults (i.e. "Mr. Everything Must Change") rather than engage his ideas in discussion. For sure, healthy debate and dialogue happens from time to time, but it is rare, especcially in the blog world.

What I would like to suggest is that perhaps in your zeal to defend your position, you took shots at the man and not the message and argued against what you interpreted him to say rather than what he actually said.

Doug Groothuis said...

McLaren is not civil. Just read his exchange in Christianity Today with Duane Lipton from a few years ago. He is an angry ex-evangelical who still needs the fan base.

Tom said...

Doug,

I don't see that McLaren has denied 'absolute truth.' He might just be cautious about the significance of the modifier 'absolute.' Honestly, I've never understood what is meant by that. (The same goes with those who speak of "Truth with a capital 'T.'") I'm a realist about truth; I think a proposition is true if and only if corresponds to the facts. Now, if one holds this view of the nature of truth, what is it for a truth to be 'absolute'?

Like McLaren, I'd be reluctant to sign on to something I don't understand even if it is taken to be a criterion of orthodoxy by some.

Doug Groothuis said...

Tom:

You must know what absolute is in contrast with the relative or the general.

Absolute truths have no variations or exceptions or exemptions:

1. A=A.

2. Christ is the only way to
salvation; not one of many ways (Matthew 11:27; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5).

Relative truths. I feel hot; you feel cold, but we are in the same room. The feeling of hot or cold is relative. But the temperature in the room is not.

General truths: It is usually wrong to lie. But it may be necessary in rare cases in order to save a life.

Does this help?

Tom Hinkle said...

Doug,
You said: "McLaren IS not civil. Just read his exchange in Christianity Today with Duane Lipton FROM A FEW YEARS AGO." (emphases mine)

"Is" indicates present tense. "From a few years ago" indicates past tense. Does that follow that "once uncivil, always uncivil?"

I'm sure he gets a little tired of being attacked all the time. Nevertheless, he seemed pretty civil in the current interview. It is impossible that he's learned to be more "civil" over the years?

Peter Malik said...

Tom,
I think that even the presently discussed interview is full of (what I call) quiet arrogance towards those who opt for evangelical orthodoxy. If this is civil, then I we need to refine our dictionaries.

Tom said...

Doug,

It helps some. But it looks like 'true' on this view just means 'usually true' and only 'absolutely true' means what philosophers typically mean by 'true.' After all, standard logic recognizes only two truth values--true and false.

Tom Hinkle said...

Peter,
Give me a break, will you? Pot, kettle, black!

Doug Groothuis said...

Tom:

Right: given bivalence, a statement is either true or false; it is binary.

But the qualification has to do with the range of application or the nature of the claim.

Tom said...

Doug,

I agree. But I think the modifier 'absolute' when applied to 'truth' really isn't helpful and suggests that there are different ways a proposition can be true.

Take "Lying is wrong" for example. I think that sentence doesn't quite manage to express a proposition (at least taken out of context) because it isn't clear whether it means "Every instance of lying is wrong" or "In the vast majority of cases, lying is wrong." From what you said earlier, you understand it in the latter sense (and so do I).

Compare that with "Torturing small children for entertainment is wrong." I suspect we both think that this is wrong in every instance. So then the proposition we mean to pick out with that sentence is a universal generalization.

My point is that what it is to be true--i.e., what determines the truth value of the propositions "In the vast majority of cases, lying is wrong" and "Torturing small children for entertainment is wrong"--is the same in both cases. Each is true; it's not that one is absolutely true and the other is true-but-not-absolutely-true.

So, as you say, the distinction has to do with the nature of the proposition and not with the variety of truth. That's why I think that talk of "absolute truth" v. "truth" is misleading--it makes it seem as though there are different ways a proposition can be true.