Thursday, June 28, 2012

A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed: The Authority Question - Part 2

Author and Emergent leader, Brian McLaren, returns with the second question in his book, "The Authority Question" offering his suggestions and how the New Kind of Christian approaches the Bible. McLaren begins by pointing out the many abuses committed by Christians as the result of misguided and abusive hermeneutics.

First, there is the "scientific mess" (68) where Christians (primarily Fundamentalists) have rejected many scientific breakthroughs because they might contradict the Bible. Specifically, McLaren identifies the Galileo incident, Charles Darwin and evolution, psychology and psychiatry, growing ecological crises', the rotation of the earth, and other scientific issues. McLaren argues that Fundamentalists have simply rejected various scientific arguments based on the assumption that the Bible offers scientific answers that are right.

The second problem relates to ethics. McLaren notes that Christians have used the Bible to defend atrocities like slavery, segregation, and torture. McLaren spends most of his time laying out how Christians defended slavery in centuries past thus forcing many people to reject the Bible as a pro-slavery book.

The third problem relates to peace. Christians are too ready to defend preemptive and unjust wars. Furthermore, many Christians use the Bible as a club in which to beat over the head of persons to disagree with them. Heretics and sinners especially receive the blunt of the blows from preachers, pastors, radio personalities, and Christians alike who want to force their beliefs on other people.

With these three issues taken together, McLaren calls for Christians to rethink how they read, interpret, and interact with the Bible. The author then offers a contrast between the old way of reading the Bible and a new way. The old way of reading the Bible is likened to a Constitution. A good constitutional lawyer, judge, Supreme Court Justice, politician, and President will read and interpret the Constitution as it is. What the Constitution and law says is how things will go.

By reading the Bible this way, Christians have pointed out particular texts to justify hate. Christians has defended and promoted slavery as God given, they have perpetuated Antisemitism, and are currently engaged in chauvinism, homophobia, "environmental plundering," (76) and other injustices throughout the world. By seeing the Bible as a book of right and wrongs, ethical and unethical, many over the centuries have done awful things and believed awful things that are unjustifiable.

The new approach to the Bible is likened to a library. At a library, one searches for a given subject and finds an entire list of available books on the topic. Regarding the "biblical library" McLaren writes:

The biblical library, similarly, is a carefully selected group of ancient documents of paramount importnae for people who want to understand belong to the community of people who seek God, and in particular, the God of Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and Jesus. -81

The idea is that in a Constitution, everything is internally consistent and can be interpreted line by line. A library, on the other hand, is full of tension. Full of conversation. At the end of the day, McLaren is pushing for Christians to interpret the Bible more as a conversation than a constitution or as a book containing "freeze-dried theology" (taken from a different McLaren book).

The best example of the Bible's inner conversation McLaren gives comes from the Book of Job. If the Bible is a conversation and thus not a book giving us exact history, science, geography, etc., then it is unnecessary to read a book as historical and accurate. As a result, McLaren does not take the characters or events as literal. For example, McLaren considers "the Satan" to be the byproduct of "Zoroastrian religion who was borrowed from Babylonian culture and maintained in Judaism by some 'liberal' Jews we known as the Pharisees." He goes on to note that "the more conservative Jews, the Sadducees, never accepted the Satan as a legitimate Jewish belief." (88)

We all know the basic premise of Job and I will not summarize it here. McLaren's point is that the middle of Job is hogwash. If we were to approach Job as a constitution, then we have to take what Job's four friends say as literally true. Yet if we take them literally true, then how do we reconcile them with how "God" contradicts them at the end?

McLaren looks at Job as a story detailing conversations regarding the problem of evil and suffering between characters. But remember, these are only characters in a story. None of them are real, including God. When God shows up and speaks or when a prophet declares, "thus says the LORD," it is not necessarily actually God speaking, but another character named God who brings to the conversation their perspective. This means that in the story of Job none of the characters actually answer the question of human suffering and evil. Rather, the characters present their ideas and the author of the narrative of Job is seeking to further the conversation among its readers.

The problem with this approach are numerous. The problem of evil and suffering affects us all and by giving his readers no hope, what comfort is there to get out of Job. Or for that matter, the Bible? Where there are no answers, oftentimes there is no hope. If the book of Job is nothing more than a conversation between characters, than the security in knowing that God is sovereign or that there is purpose and meaning in our suffering is gone. Instead of offering his readers hope, McLaren feeds his readers despair unless the readers of Job (engaged in the ongoing conversation) accept the notion that any answer is a good answer.

Furthermore, one cannot miss (and McLaren readily admits) that the four friends of Jobs are clearly wrong. If they are wrong, then their part of the conversation should be ignored. They offer the wrong answers to Job particular situation. At this point, McLaren points out that the friends are just quoting Deuteronomy and other biblical passages that suggests that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. But to make such an assertion misses the point. McLaren is trying to show tension within the Bible, but what he is showing is that the Bible is nothing more than a journal where ancient Semitic people wrote down their thoughts in various genres.

In addition, the assertion that God is just a character in the story is simply appalling. How can the Bible be described as the Word of God (which he uses frequently) if God is not in it or allows false idols to take His name? Furthermore, if God isn't present in the conversations, then we have no sense of right and wrong.

Think of the dangers this presents. McLaren is ready to accuse Christians of being pro-slavery and pro-preemptive war because of their constitutional reading of Scripture which determines right and wrong. But think of it on the other end. How can McLaren say that things like slavery, environmental abuse, homophobia, and chauvinism are wrong? If the Bible has been abuse by what Christians say is wrong, then surely such attacks allow persons to avoid what is right. How do we know that love, justice, mercy, and forgiveness are the right thing to do? Are they not virtues part of the conversation?

McLaren swims in postmodern relativism when it comes to not attacking things like homosexuality, but he forgets that the other end works the same. If we don't know what is wrong with certainly neither do we know what is right with certainty. Perhaps such discussions on love is part of the conversation and the reader is thus suppose to draw their own conclusions. Maybe what I take away from the story of Job is that what the Satan does is right (at least to me) and thus the Bible supports such action. Obviously, such a conclusion is wrong. But how do we know with a conversational hermeneutic. We are left guessing, thus making all conclusions valid.

McLaren has no hermeneutical foundation by which to interpret Scripture in a consistent matter. He hates the ideas of wrath and hell, but loves the Bible's teachings on love and forgiveness. How do we know that either is right or wrong? Are such concepts part of the conversation?

If McLaren is right then the real place of inspiration isn't within the text of Scripture, but within me. I become God's revelation. After all, God is just a character is the stories of Scripture. Clearly, McLaren is opening a door to liberalism. Though he raises some good issues (like the importance of understanding a texts genre plus the frequent abuse of Scripture throughout history) at the end of the day, he is encouraging his readers to embrace a hermeneutic of liberalism. The Emergent Church is not beyond such labels but fit perfectly within the parameters of liberalism.






Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed: The Narrative Question - Part 1
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Authority Question - Part 2 
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The God Question - Part 3
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Jesus Question - Part 4
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Gospel Question - Part 5 
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Church Question - Part 6
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Sex Question - Part 7
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Future Question - Part 8
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Pluralism Question - Part 9
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  The Where Do We Go From Here Now Question - Part 10
Theology - A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed: Some Final Thoughts - Part 11


Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 4
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 5
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 6
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 7
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 8  


For more on Erickson:
Blogizomai - Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Blogizomai - Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
Blogizomai - On Special Revelation: Dreams, Visions, Theophanies, and the Word of God 
Blogizomai - Is Hell Real?: The Difference Between Emergent Agnostic Doctrine & Orthodoxy
Blogizomai - Condemnation But No Justification: The Purpose of General Revelation
Blogizomai - The Reservoir & Conduit of Divine Truth: Carl FH Henry on Revelation
Blogizomai - Where is the Gospel? Charles Hodge & the Insufficiency of Natural Theology 
Blogizomai - Exegetical Theology or Theological Exegesis?: DeYoung on the Both/And


For more:
Blogizomai - Repost | "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes
Reviews - The Top 5 Essential Works of Theology of the Past 25 Years
Reviews - "Doctrine"
Reviews - "The Good News We Almost Forgot
Reviews - "Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris
Reviews - "Heresy"
Reviews - "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
Reviews - "The Theology of the Reformers"
Blogizomai - Repost | Schreiner on the Practice of Inaugurated Eschatology
Blogizomai - We Are All Theologians:  The Root of Everything We Are and Do
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
Blogizomai - The Meaning & Implications of the Resurrection
Blogizomai - Lewis on Practical Theology
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