Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Don't Think That is What Palm Sunday is All About

Although I have told myself to avoid all things Emergent (which is dead) there are moments when a brief comment cannot be resisted. Sunday - Palm Sunday - Brian McLaren, perhaps the leading voice of the now defunct Emergent movement, offered his understanding of this important "holiday." He begins by stating, Palm Sunday could be, and I believe should be, one of our most important holidays. I agree to a certain extent so long as Palm Sunday is always tied to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Does Jesus not enter the city in order to be crucified there? Do not the Gospel writers anticipate that? Matthew and Mark both foreshadow the cross following Peter's confession at Philippi. Afterward Jesus repeatedly tells His disciples that they are going to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) in order to die (Good Friday), but do not fear, the Son of Man (remember Daniel?) will rise from the dead (Resurrection Sunday).

But McLaren reads this event very differently. He understands this event as Jesus leading a peace march into Jerusalem - a public demonstration - that included a joyful celebration of peaceful protest and a public lamentation that his nation didn't know "what makes for peace. Oh, by the way, he explores this theme further in his upcoming book.

This, then, leads to the following:
What would happen if wherever Christians live, every year we made Palm Sunday the day for joyful public celebration of creative, nonviolent action and public lamentation for local, national, and global conflicts?
What sort of things should (progressive) Christians publicly lament and protest peacefully? His suggested list includes
  • Syria where a dictator perpetuates atrocities 
  • Egypt where a peaceful protest movement was co-opted by a military coup
  • Central African Republic where inter-tribal and inter-religious violence has reared its ugly ahead - echoing what happened in Rwanda twenty years ago
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Ukraine
  • Iran
  • Israel and Palestine - that they could live in peace with justice as neighbors - and that the occupation, colonization, and violence there would end
In America, McLaren suggest we lament and pray:
  • About violence in our cities
  • The persistent presence of racism that expresses itself in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways - including voter suppression, mass incarceration, and the ongoing "slow motion lynching" of our first African-American president.
  • We would lament the unchecked and often unacknowledged power of the military-industrial complex.
  • And most assuredly we would lament the use of torture by our own government
A few words about the latter list. Ascribing words like "lynching" to honest concern and policy difference with our very progressive and liberal President is not a peaceful way to protest. Such language encourages violence and vitriol - the very thing McLaren claims he is against. Furthermore, being that hardly any progressive or liberal (including McLaren) said anything publicly against vitriol directed daily toward former President George W. Bush and his administration (like the making of a movie on the assassination of Bush and the never-ending media rampage against him), I am hesitant to believe McLaren is concerned with "peace, love, and happiness" more than his preferred politics.

Nonetheless, McLaren concludes thus:
On Palm Sunday, Jesus wept for a city that did not know what makes for peace. Five days later, he became a victim of unjust arrest, torture, and finally execution in that city. May we who love and follow him join him today - joyfully celebrating "what makes for peace" and deeply lamenting all that undermines true, lasting, and just peace … for all.
He became a victim? I thought Jno one took his life away from Him, but He laid it down on His own initiative? I thought Jesus had the authority to take it up again (John 10:18). Either the crucifixion and resurrection explains the royal entry (and Christianity) or Good Friday becomes a cosmic accident that not even God in heaven anticipated.

This latter point is where McLaren has hinted at before and social gospel liberalism end up. A hundred years ago (in 1917), social gospel leader Walter Rauschenbusch wrote the following:
But what place does his death hold in this process of reconciliation?  No place apart from his life, his life-purpose, and the development and expression of his personality; a very great place as the effective completion of his life.  Men were coming into fellowship with the Father before his death happened. . . . Jesus labored to unite men with God without referring to his death.  If he had lived for thirty years longer, he would have formed a great society of those who shared his conception and religious realization of God, and this would have been that nucleus of a new humanity which would change the relation of God to humanity.  Indeed, we can conceive that in thirty years of additional life Jesus could have put the imprint of his mind much more clearly on the movement of Christianity, and protected it from the profound distortions to which it was subjected.  There would have been an ample element of prophetic suffering without physical death.  Death came by the wickedness of men. (A Theology for the Social Gospel, 266.  Earlier in the book, Rauschenbusch writes, “The atonement might actually have been frustrated if the life effort of Jesus had been successful, for if the Jews had accepted his spiritual leadership, they would not have killed him.” Ibid., 150.)
The classic type of social gospel currently perpetuated by the likes of McLaren fails to see that the woes of the world are not remedied by politics, policy, diplomacy, or legislation, but by the regenerative work of Christ by means of the bloody cross and resurrection. That is Christianity.

McLaren is right in saying that Jesus enters Jerusalem offering peace. But what kind of peace? In the days that follow the royal entry, the descendant of David overthrows the Temple, curses harmless fig trees, questions the integrity and theology of both Pharisees and Sadducees alike, demands Jews to pay taxes to oppressive Rome, and openly rebukes and damns the religious leaders. Peace He promised and peace He delivered, but not until He defeated death.

I encourage all Christians to pray for many of the things McLaren listed above. But ultimately, let us do the work of the gospel calling on men everywhere to repent. The King, after all, is coming again not on a humble donkey, but a white stallion.

For more:
Farewell Old Friend: Saying Goodbye to the Emergent Church
Thesis | Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology: From Cultural Accomodation to the Kindgom of God - Full Series
McLaren on Hell and Universalism . . . Again
Hades, Hell, and McLaren's Eisegesis
The Clarity of Ambiguity: The Erosion of the Perspicuity of Scripture in the Emergent Church - the Complete Series
Where to Begin?: 10 Emergent Must Reads 
"A New Kind of Christianity" - A 11 part review and critique of McLaren's book
Revelation and the Ambiguity of Justification: McLaren Adds to the Confusion
Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution?: A Review of the Evidence
Hamilton: McLaren and Whole Foods Stores
SBTS and McLaren: A Response to SBTS Panel Discussion
The Evolving God: McKnight's Critique of McLaren
The Future of the Emergent Church: McLaren Weighs In
Repost | Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like
Repost | Pinata Theology: Ignore the Issue and Swing at the Distraction - What Piper Has Taught Us About the Church
Emergent Panentheism: The Direction Towards Process Theology Continues
Will the Two Become One?: Emergents Turn to Process Theology
God's Many Names?: Emergent Pluralism in the Extreme
Theology Thursday | Don't Be Fooled: The Conversation Is Not Open To Everyone  
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