Brian McLaren’s Theology :: By Trent Thornton

I’ have no shortage of problems with the Emerging Church. While I can’t say they don’t have a few legitimate criticisms of modern evangelicalism, the majority of their theology is largely foreign to orthodox Christianity.

I believe that to be true in a very general sense of the Emerging movement but true in particular of Brian McLaren, one of their primary leaders — if I can use the L-word when speaking about a denomination so notoriously allergic to authority.

He has written books and made statements which leave many a conservative believer (myself included) confused as to which religion he thinks he has embraced. While I would encourage anyone to consider Christ in any decision they make, I can’t really say I understand why he would advocate that Christians should evangelize while simultaneously encouraging, say, Jews, Hindus or Muslims to stay within their current tradition.

And make no mistake about it, he has done just that.

McLaren has made others even more alarming claims. The emphasis Christians place on the traditional Christian doctrines of hell and the second coming of Jesus inhibits believers from living effective lives of service in this world, according to speaker and author Brian McLaren. He states:

“Some of us came from a religious tradition or a religious background where our main role was to recruit kids to go to heaven. And that’s a good thing. Mortality rates are still pretty high, and we all have to face that decision. But I’m here to challenge you to think bigger and deeper and in more layers and dimensions about your role.”

While I’m all for helping out those who need it and being charitable and engaging the world in Christian service, ours is ultimately a higher calling. And that’s not just Trent’s opinion, y’all.

“Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

You can love your families, friends, church and all that, but placing those things above (or, really, even equal to) your relationship with the Lord is losing track of your priorities. Period, end of story. This is something even the most devout Christian does at times, but it’s to be recognized for what it is. It’s certainly not to be codified into official church policy!

By going to the cross, McLaren argued in his book that Jesus committed an act similar to the Chinese student at Tiananmen Square in the late 1980s — he placed himself in harm’s way to demonstrate the injustice of a society that would harm a peaceful and godly man.

scarcely know where to start with that. Jesus’ acceptance of the cross had nothing to do with making a political statement and everything to do with sacrificing Himself for the mankind’s sin. The alternative would be a hell-bound destiny for all of mankind… although hell is another doctrine McLaren thinks Christians ought to downplay. But what about Scripture?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).

Everybody knows at least the first part of that one though. What else is there?

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22-23).

This is part of a much larger discourse taught by Jesus Himself about the perils of hell. As a matter of fact, Jesus talked more about hell and how terrible it is than He did about heaven!

McLaren didn’t confine his remarks to the doctrine of hell though. He branched out into the Second Coming as well.

The orthodox understanding that Jesus will return at a future date and forcefully conquer all His enemies also needs rethinking, according to McLaren.

“This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we’ve said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly,” McLaren wrote.

Why McLaren thinks he can argue with the Scripture is beyond me. Nevertheless, biblical teachings concerning the Second Coming are clear, consistent and, above all, a message of hope. I would add that the majority of the violence he finds so detestable is primarily carried out by people acting of their own free will. God will, according to the Scripture, throw some plagues down but it’s to serve to get peoples’ attention. Primarily the (admittedly huge) body count comes from bad decisions on the part of mankind. As for what the Bible says about the Second Coming and how Christians are to view it…

[The grace of God that brings salvation] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:12-14).

Still, McLaren had more to say about the Second Coming.

The book of Revelation does not actually teach that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, he wrote, but that a new way of living is possible within this universe if humans will follow Jesus’ example.

Strong claims, all. What does the Bible have to say?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Let’s recap, shall we? Not only will there absolutely be a new heaven and a new earth but Christians will be heirs to a LOT more than “a new way of living.” GOD HIMSELF WILL LIVE WITH US. This isn’t a new lifestyle or getting a couple of new roommates, the Almighty Himself will live among His redeemed people. From a Christian point of view, with the understanding of the alienation from and enmity towards God we have now because of the fall, that’s completely astounding!

Now then, I will not presume to judge McLaren’s heart. But I can and absolutely will judge his words, and based on that I will say that he has absolutely no business in any kind of leadership position whatsoever in teaching God’s word. None. Period. What he’s preaching is not a “different point of view” on the Gospel, it is, in my opinion, a completely different gospel. Jesus is not a rebel who died for His convictions, He’s the Son of God who died to take away man’s sins and then returned from the dead on the third day.

The New Testament undeniably teaches a Second Coming with great power and glory that Christians should not only eagerly anticipate but keep an active watch for. It is commanded, not just “encouraged”. And when all has been fulfilled according to God’s Word, not only will there be a new heaven and a new earth but believers will be transformed and redeemed, their sin nature eradicated and they will live in eternal communion with no less than God Himself.

I’m not a seminary graduate, I just know how to read. There’s no special insight here. That McLaren has the attentive following he does reminds me of something else the New Testament teaches.

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (Timothy 4:3-4).

All Scripture is quoted form the New International Version of the Bible (NIV).