Response to Kevin Deyoung

I wrote an email to Kevin Deyoung after reading this article:

I have no idea if he'll ever read it or respond to it, so I thought I'd post it as a musing for the day.

I wanted to offer some thoughts after reading both a PDF you wrote regarding Brian McLaren's book "A new kind of Christianity" and your book "Why we're not Emergent".

I think that first off, McLaren's book is not so much an attempt to create serious caricatures as it is an attempt to get people to look at their own circles from the outside-in. For example, Republican Christianity is the kind of Christianity that demands a follower of Christ to vote a certain way because of some key topics related to morality, which have little to do with the ability of a political party to not otherwise run a country into the ground. The fact is that the US will not turn into Sodom and Gomorrah because of Gay marriage, but it argumentatively could because of our nation's men's severe addiction to pornography.

Republican Christianity (at it's core) is not dissimilar to Christianity that might demand people vote Democrat, or independent. The point is that demanding people vote a certain way as a rule of thumb doesn't produce or encourage critical thinking or even fairness and does a disservice to the wider political system and country since it polarizes people into one of two categories (right or left). The unfortunate part is that people can become so allied with a certain political party that they become blind to the other side, and to blatant shortcoming in their own party. These are the people McLaren speaks to here: the people who stand on either side of the polarization of America.

McLaren's argument about conscious faith in Jesus has more to do with Christian persecution of 'unbelievers' throughout history and really nothing do with actual faith since the two are mutually exclusive (faith in the name of Jesus + murder = ?). The fruit of the conscious faith perspective throughout history has been persecution of unbelievers. To be fair, many Christians today are kind and generous to the people they know and love, and even strangers. But, how are they with their enemies, the people who cross them, or the people with whom they passionately disagree? What is that fruit? While the violence may have stopped (in some ways), I do personally know a number of conservative Christians who are vocal about their distaste for Muslims, Native Americans, and African Americans who live in ghettos. If we are to truly live the way of Christ, when it comes to people of different cultures, races and faiths, shouldn't we be reaching out to find common ground instead of dividing into 'us' and 'them' camps? Once we do find that place where God's truth is working in their lives, the door can open for meaningful relationship, dialog and I believe eventual repentance of what is against God. Bringing the gospel to people of other faiths and cultures is not about information transfer regarding Jesus. They need to know Jesus in a cultural, societal and inter-relational way (example: the book "Bruchko").

McLaren's synopsis on the exclusivist mindset is both a commentary on history and a challenge to see the gospel as an outsider (i.e. as the people on the fringes, much like the people Jesus ministered to throughout the fringe of Judea) rather than as insiders (like Pharisees or Sadducees). Or, from the mindset of the opressed rather than the opressors, the poor, rather than the rich. This is a deliberate, painstaking mind-shift. When we read the gospel as insiders and forget where we came from as essentially gentile idolaters, it becomes incredibly easy to thumb down the people who don't yet 'get it', even though we have no way of knowing what god is actually doing in their lives (usually because we haven't bothered to find out or stick around long enough to find out). It's also much easier to thumb people down if we grew up in the church, and were never encouraged to critically reflect on our traditions or understanding of the bible message.

So with regard to "literal" readings of Genesis - one problem is that someone, at some point, failed to tell everyone that tense in Ancient Hebrew is contextual, and the events described in Genesis 1 are written in the perfect present form. This means that our rendition of past tense is really a "best guess" based on the structure of English, but isn't necessarily the most accurate. Also, modern literal readings of Genesis 1 make the assumption that enlightenment science is the key to unlocking the true meaning of the text, when in fact the meaning of the text is stated clearly in Deuteronomy as establishing a model for a cycle of living life that is coherent with our identity as being made in the image of God. Genesis also establishes the nature of God as spirit, creator, and supreme and effectively dispels all other gods as either mere humans or mere physical elements or forces which the one true God created. ALL of this has been lost in the ridiculous battle over Genesis, which is really a battle over hermeneutics and not a battle of actual Truth. It has turned into a near nightmare that is distracting Christians so much that when someone comes along with an alternate understanding of Genesis, it could actually cost fellowship and even friendship under the false assumption of false teaching.

To be sure, false teaching in the New testament has to do with a teacher who claims to represent Christ, but who does not live the way of Christ. Our modern academic understanding of false teaching is probably closer to the philosophy trap that Paul warns us not to get into. McLaren claims to represent Christ, and from what I have seen, he surely at least desires to inspire people to seek Justice for the poor, orphaned and oppressed. He many not have an international ministry or something like that, but in his gift of writing, he constantly challenges Christians to live the way of Christ.

Perhaps certain parts of his book are a reaction in frustration to people and situations he has encountered. But honestly - the guy is encouraging people to help the poor, love their neighbors and love God. He is trying to pinpoint and free people from some of the things that may have been preventing them from doing it before. Christianity has, for many people, turned the gospel into a transaction (believe and be saved), and has largely forgotten about the space between believing and eternity other than academic pursuits in bible study and church ministry programs. The space between now and eternity is the space that McLaren is trying to figure out what to do with. The bible makes it very clear that our time now is important and has eternal implications, and that being saved by God's grace quite necessitates radical love on our behalf toward others. If the message the Church is bringing doesn't line up with this basic bible teaching, then I must bring into question the fullness of that Church's understanding of the Gospel. The tension is that love without faith has a high probability of being self-serving, but faith without love is dead. This is important, and through all the muck of McLaren's books, this is the point that I see glaring at me when I read them.


Copyright © 2013 Think Theos