Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: The Jesus Question

The two chapters which McLaren devotes to this question are based on a couple of quotes from sources he doesn't identify, though in the footnotes he does give a YouTube web address for one of them.

The first one is from someone he only calls "one of my most loyal and dedicated critics". This person said...

In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fight with a tattoo down His leag, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.

McLaren, of course, finds this appalling. He tries to compare this to how the character Ricky Bobby sees Jesus in "Talladega Nights", p 121. He then brings out one of his favorite weapons--the Scare Tactic. "So, in successfully rejecting an insipt "hippie, diaper, halo Christ," we may unintentionally protect and uphold the white supremacist Jesus, the colonial Jesus, the Euorcentric Jesus, the Republican or Democrat Jesus, the capitalist or communist Jesus..." p 122. The paragraph and his various Jesus' goes on longer, I really don't want to give them all, I hope that's enough.

McLaren does reference the place in Revelation 19:11-16 where the other person gets the idea of Jesus, but he says this like sci-fi stories. "For example, when we read or watch Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, The Matrix, or Wall-E, we don't think the writers and filmmakers are trying to predict the future. No we understand they are really talking aobut the present, and they are doing so in hopes of changing the future." p 123

Which means that how McLaren interprets this passage is to say that the correct interpretation is rather the opposite of how it looks. "Rather, this image fo Jesus as a conqueror reassures believers that the peaceable Jesus who entered Jerusalem on a donkey that day wasn't actually weak and defeated; he was in fact every bit as powerful as a Caesar on a steed..." p 124

"Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God's anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refuse to honor him, growling "I'll be back". It asserts, instead, that God's anointed liberator is the one we beat up, who promises mercy to those who strike him...The suffering, serving one who bled on a cross--not the one with a commitment to make others suffer and bleed--is the King of kings and Lord of lords." p 126

Here's the second quote that McLaren responds to.

The only reason Jesus came was to save people from hell...Jesus had no social agenda...[He didn't come to eliminate poverty or slavery or]...fix something in somebody's life for the little moment they live on this earth.

"For him, Jesus is not the one who saves from poverty, captivity, blindness, and oppression, even though these are Jesus' very words (borrowed from Isaiah) to describe his mission. I think you'll agree, my faithful critic's statement can only make sense, first, if we interepre Jesus within the confines of the Greco-Roman six-line narrative; second, if we predetermine to read the Bible as a constitution; and third, if we construct and solidify our understanding of God before seeking to understand Jesus, rather then letting Jesus serve as the Word-made-flesh revelation of God's character" p 128.

Over the next several pages, McLaren does an interesting exercise, comparing Jesus in John to events and people in the OT books of Moses, doing so in order to support his view Jesus as an earthly liberator.

"But even these few examples, selected from so many more, make it clear that Jesus, contrary to my loyal critic's assertion, did not come merely to "save souls from hell." No, he came to launch a new Genesis, to lead a new Exodus, and to announce, embody, and inaugurate a new kingdom as the Prince of Peace(Isa. 9:6). Seen in this light, Jesus and his message have everything to do with poverty, slavery, and a "social agenda"." p 135

My thoughts on this.

McLaren may well be right that sci-fi is most often not interested in trying to predict the future (though I suppose Jules Verne could complicate things a bit, like writing about submarines before there were such things). But equating biblical prophecy to sci-fi just won't work, and is a rather childish attempt to negate the importance of prophecy. They are two different things.

Also, McLaren shows an amazing lack of historical context, in his dismissing of the return of Jesu in judgment. Here are some excerpts from very early church leaders, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, and what they wrote about Christ's return.

“So that you ought rather to desist from the love of strife, and repent before the great day of judgment come, wherein all those of your tribes who have pierced this Christ shall mourn as I have shown has been declared by the Scriptures. And I have explained that the Lord swore, ‘after the order of Melchizedek,’ and what this prediction means; and the prophecy of Isaiah which says, ‘His burial is taken away from the midst,’ I have already said, referred to the future burying and rising again of Christ; and I have frequently remarked that this very Christ is the Judge of all the living and the dead. And Nathan likewise, speaking to David about Him, thus continued: ‘I will be His Father, and He shall be my Son; and my mercy shall I not take away from Him, as I did from them that went before Him; and I will establish Him in my house, and in His kingdom for ever.’ And Ezekiel says, ‘There shall be no other prince in the house but He.’ For He is the chosen Priest and eternal King, the Christ, inasmuch as He is the Son of God;
Justin Martyr, dialogue with Trypho, ch 118

For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonored and suffering Man; but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils.
Justin Martyr, First Apology of Justin, ch 52

If the Father, then, does not exercise judgment, [it follows] that judgment does not belong to Him, or that He consents to all those actions which take place; and if He does not judge, all persons will be equal, and accounted in the same condition. The advent of Christ will therefore be without an object, yea, absurd, inasmuch as [in that case] He exercises no judicial power. For “He came to divide a man against his father, and the daughter against the mother, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law;” and when two are in one bed, to take the one, and to leave the other; and of two women grinding at the mill, to take one and leave the other: [also] at the time of the end, to order the reapers to collect first the tares together, and bind them in bundles, and burn them with unquenchable fire, but to gather up the wheat into the barn; and to call the lambs into the kingdom prepared for them, but to send the goats into everlasting fire, which has been prepared by His Father for the devil and his angels. And why is this? Has the Word come for the ruin and for the resurrection of many? For the ruin, certainly, of those who do not believe Him, to whom also He has threatened a greater damnation in the judgment-day than that of Sodom and Gomorrah; but for the resurrection of believers, and those who do the will of His Father in heaven. If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving, since, as those who believe do His will agreeably to their own choice, and as, [also] agreeably to their own choice, the disobedient do not consent to His doctrine; it is manifest that His Father has made all in a like condition, each person having a choice of his own, and a free understanding; and that He has regard to all things, and exercises a providence over all, “making His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sending rain upon the just and unjust.”
Irenaeus, Against Heretics, Book 5 Chapter 27

McLaren essentially says that if we believe in this coming of Christ in judgment, then we negate all the things He taught about forgiveness. The truth is, no, we don't; rather, he is the one who has to make what Jesus and others say about His second coming mean something else.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall the gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
Matt. 25:31-32

Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
Rev 1:7

And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophecied, saying, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgement upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which theyhave ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
Jude 14-15
these scriptures found in the book "What the Bible Teaches" by R. A. Torrey

McLaren seems to have almost no concept of justice, outside of what he considers "social justice". He can only seem to see Christ return in judgment as revenge, not as justice, just as he can only see hell as torture, not justice.

I can't help but find it off-putting that McLaren doesn't say who said the quotes he gives, or really when and where. I'm pretty sure that the first quote is from Mark Driscoll, I think I've heard him say that or similar. The second I'm not sure of, and when I looked up the YouTube address he gives in the end notes, it wasn't there. As such, looking up those quotes and checking the contexts is much more difficult. I would especially like to see the context for the latter.

Since he goes on for several pages concerning how Jesus is like Moses, going into it in detail is probably beyond what I'd care to do right now. There may be some points of interest, but as with most things with McLaren, I doubt either his claim, or his interpretation of it. Some of the parallels are rather weak, I think. "Just as Moses was initially rejected by his brothers (Exod 2:14), so Jesus was initially rejected", p 131. But such rejection was and is hardly uncommon. One could find rejection with almost any prophet. "In Exodus, God's presence was associated with the tabernacle, a sacred tent, and John says, "The Word became flesh and lived [made his dwelling, tented or tabernacled] among us" (1:14)" Unless there is some relation between the word John uses that is interpreted "dwelt", then this parallel isn't really saying much.

One thing I want to bring up is his attempt to re-interpret the concept of a Promised Land. "As we considered earlier, the narrative beings with the longing for a literal homeland...Gradually, the idea of a promised land morphs from a geographic reality into a social one: "a land flowing with milk and honey" becomes a society in which justice flows like water." pp 132-133.

One must be careful of saying too much here, but the practical outcome of such thinking should be clear--if there is now no geographical Promised Land, it does away with any divine right the Jews may have to the land of Israel, which plays into the Left's ideas about Israel and Palestine. I don't want to go so far as to charge anti-Semitism against McLaren, but just as he likes to play scare tactics about the ideas of others, so I think we can think of all-too-really-horrible outcomes that could come from his ideas.

Earlier, I pointed out where McLaren seems to show a streak of anti-supernaturalism when he wrote about the Nile turning to blood in Exodus, saying instead it was a red tide. He does it again, in regards to the prophecy in Isaiah 40:1-5, which speaks of "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills;".

"Obviously, the prophet isn't predicting a literal tectonic shift in which Jerusalem rises further above sea level and Mt. Everest sinks, but rather a time when God's wisdom draws nations up to the higher level of relating, so disputes are settled nonviolently, wisely, peacefully..." p 134.

Umm...no, it's not "obvious" that this is only metaphorical language. The God I know and love and serve is the One who made the world, the One who made the waters into literal blood, the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea so that Israel could flee, and it is not beyond His power to literally fulfill this prophecy. Unlike McLaren's new-agey view of mankind going to a higher level, I think this prophecy will be literally fulfilled, that the Lord will Himself judge and arbitrate, and not the UN or any other man-made organization or institution. Certainly not anything McLaren is associated with.

This 'new-agey'-ness shows through a time or two more.

"Jesus evokes Moses directly in his conversation with Nicodemus, saying that the Son of Man (a complex term drawn from Daniel 7:13-14, which I believe suggests a new generation or genesis of humanity) will be lifted up as Moses lifted up a bronze serpent in the wilderness (Num 21:9)." p 132.

Jesus claiming to be the Son of Man "suggests a new generation or genesis of humanity"? What??? Is McLaren claiming that "a new generation or genesis of humanity" must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent? And how new-agey does "a new generation or genesis of humanity" sound?

He makes much of how the world 'hell' doesn't appear in John, "(John, it should be noted, never mentions hell, a highly significant fact)" p 130. But this quote has a footnote, which shows the shenanigans. "Since we aren't assuming the six-line narrative, it would be an unwarranted conclusion to equate words found in John like "condemnation," "death," and "perish" with the word "hell," which is never found in John." p 275.

Claiming there is no hell because John doesn't mention the word is like claiming there is no love because Ruth doesn't use the word, or there is no God because Esther doesn't mention God. It's a weak argument, emblematic of desperation, a thin straw a drowning man will grasp at with unthinking hope that it will keep him afloat.

Finally, you'll find very little about the crucifixion in this part of the book. I've found one mention it it of that event, "If you don't want to worship a guy you can beat up, then I might humbly suggest you reconsider Caesar and the Greco-Roman narrative. It sounds like "Christ and him crucified" is not for you. At least not yet". The one real mention of the crucified Christ in these chapters is little more than a cheap shot.

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