Saturday, March 20, 2010

ankoc: the narrative question

In an attempt to every-now-and-then deal more seriously with the contents of McLaren "A New Kind of Christianity", I will do what will likely be a series of posts about it.. The book is helpful, at least in this, in that McLaren has divided the content of it into a set of questions. The first, which will be what this is about, is The Narrative Question. I intent to give a broad overview of his points, reference bits as it may be helpful, respond, and so let the sparks fly from there.

Btw this serious in no way invalidates the use of humor, even mocking, which is itself effective. Just ask Elijah how much fun it was to rip the priests of Baal.

He begins by giving what he considers what we consider to be the basic story line of the Bible--Eden, the Fall, Condemnation (or history), Salvation, with a branching off from Salvation to either Heaven or Hell. He claims that this is not the real story of the Bible, but rather a construction based on the influence of Greco-Roman philosophy some time in the early church. He contends that we get this view by looking back on Jesus through the views of those who came after Him--Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and so on, but that it would look differently if we started with Adam and worked up to Jesus.

He posits that the early church created a Greco-Roman god names Theos, kind of like Zeus, who is the god of this Greco-Roman version of Christianity. This Theos is a god who doesn't like change, doesn't like matter, doesn't like story. This Theos likes unchanging perfection, likes spirit, likes it when things are in a perfect state. This Theos has replaced the Jewish Yahweh in the minds of Western Christians.

In reading the Bible in the way he recommends, from Adam forwards, McLaren claims to see a much different story. Eden is a not a perfect place, but one that is good or very good. It is not a place of static perfection, but of good things that change, and he even brings in the word "evolution". But McLaren plainly states that "It is patently obvious to me that these stories aren't intended to be taken literally...", so the story of Eden is not about a good place God created, but the first few chapters of Genesis are for him a coming-of-age story for humanity.

What this means is that the Fall, where man ate the fruit and sinned, has a different meaning to McLaren. "Rather, it is the first stage of ascent as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond". The Fall, then, becomes an ascent, and the stories become an overview of mankind's socio-economic ascent.

From this point, McLaren's politics take over. God likes Abel's more "primitive" life as a herder over Cain's more "advanced" life as a farmer, because it's "not as morally compromised as settle farm life, with it's fenced-in privately owned lands, accumulation of possessions, violent seizure and defense, and related moral entanglements". So, McLaren's god does not like farmers, because they own the land they use to farm with. God punishes Cain by making him a hunter-gatherer. He goes on from there for a while, through Noah and Abraham and Joseph.

With Exodus, he finally tells us that the Bible story has what he calls "three dimensions". The first is "liberation", told through God liberating the oppressed Israelites in Egypt. The second is "internal liberation", which is about personal sins, which is God's dealings with Israel in the wilderness. The third is what he calls "the peaceable kingdom", which seems to take up the rest of the Old Testament. He claims that it reaches a sort of apex with King David, but fizzles out, and the dream changes, and becomes about a time. The prophets, like Isaiah and Joel, speak of coming time when God would set things right with the world--no war, wolves and lambs frolicking together, God will pour out His spirit on all flesh. But we can't interpret these things literally, but rather through the paradigm of his politics--wolves living with lambs means religious pluralism and ecumenism as Christians accept Judaism and Islam as fellow-travelers on the road to god. People keeping their vitality up to and beyond age 100 is about passing Obamacare. Men and women prophesying and knowledge of the Lord filling the would be about "....a deep kind of universal and egalitarian spirituality", which strikes me as being rather New-Agey.

Several things come to mind from all of this.

First, I've no idea where he gets the idea that Christians never view Jesus through the lens of the Old Testament. It's patent nonsense for him to insinuate it. It has been a common contention that the Old Testament points toward Christ; for example, Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac, which God himself commanded and interrupted, points to God's sacrifice of His own son Jesus, a sacrifice God did not interrupt.The Psalmists and Prophets spoke of Christ.

Of course you can contend that there is no Fall in the Bible if you're going to redefine the Fall as an ascension. I've dealing here with the few chapters of the book that are associated with this Narrative Question so far, but if the best McLaren can do to disprove the biblical narrative he so obviously despises is to claim that the something like the Fall was actually an ascension, then only those who are already committed to believing him will continue to believe him. It seems even many who may have liked him in the past are finding his new work off-putting.

When I've heard people speak of the perfection of Eden, I've heard it referred to as "sinless perfection"--that it was perfect in the sense the man had not sinned, and the consequences of sin had not yet entered into the world, consequences like death. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say that Eden was a place where nothing changed.

Concerning his Theos, he does very little, if anything, to actually prove such a concept was ever created. He claims Greco-Romanism, adds a dose of his politics, and claims that almost right off the bat the church began getting the story of the Bible wrong. He makes claims about this Theos, tries to contrast it with Yahweh, and of course thinks Yahweh was much better than Theos. I'm still not convinced Theos isn't a strawman.

Some statements seemed rather incredible. On pages 40 and 41, he says about the Jews, "They (at their best) acknowledge the right of other nations to have their own languages and customs and even religions;...". When was Israel in the Bible ever so ecumenical? Is he really serious in saying that it didn't matter that the other nations are worshiping idols? That the God of Israel is completely ok in the Old Testament with Ba'al, Dagon, Asheroth, and the other gods of the nations around Israel?

On page 57, in dealing with Moses and the freeing of Israel from Egypt, he says that in regards to Pharoah's refusal to let God's people go, "God resonds with a firm but gentle consequence: a plague on the Nile River, which is the lifeblood of the civilization. Ironically, perhaps through a red tide, the Nile turn red like blood". Has McLaren adopted a materialistic view of the Bible? Is he now denying miracles? Does he think that the Egyptians were so stupid that they could not distinguish between a red tide and blood? A page later, in regards to the what happened with Moses and Egypt, "The so-called supernatural, in this way, seems remarkably natural".

Maybe the part that is most outrageous is when he tries to make the Fall, when man rebelled about God and ate the fruit God had forbidden them to eat, into a part of a mere "coming of age" story. Since this is the part that most brings into question his contentions, it's not surprising that McLaren tries to play it down, but his flippancy is distasteful to the extreme.The Bible treats that event very seriously, so for McLaren to treat it like the premise to all too many bad movies, or to try to spin it to fit his socio-economic politics, doesn't hold water. Consider the passages of Scripture...

For as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall many be made righteous.
Romans 5:19

Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed upon all man, for that all sinned
Romans 5:12
Verses taken from the book "What the Bible Teaches" by R.A. Torrey

The Bible does not brush aside this event with a flip of the wrist, but deals with it seriously, and sees its consequences through human history.

In regards to his take of the prophecies of a time when God will set things right with the world, let me reference someone else's words, because he says it rather well, I think. "The bottom line was that nothing like what Jesus said was going to happen was really going to happen, but that's okay, He didn't really mean that all that would happen, and besides, it really did happen, but it just wasn't anything like what He said would happen. So it's really all okay."

I can't say as I'm impressed so far.


William L. Anderson said...

Thanks for your posts about this new "challenge" to orthodoxy. At this point in time, Brian McLaren is reading whatever he wishes into the Gospel, and he is going to lead a lot of people over the cliff.

Standing for the Faith, and especially the historical Faith, is going to become increasingly unpopular. There are plenty of people in political power who believe that Christians must conform their theology to the latest political whims, and McLaren and Jim Wallis and others like them are the front men for the state.

I'm glad to read these accounts on the blogs, as Christianity Today decided to take a very mild approach to this outright heresy, and really did not go into the depths of just how far off the mark McLaren has gone. Thanks for your important contribution.

jazzact13 said...

Thank you. I'm glad you've found what I've written to be good and useful.