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April 25, 2008



This "if God is real, and He is good, and the Bible is His word, and that text has an intended meaning, the best possible result will come when we follow that word closely--shaping our ideas to it rather than it to our ideas," is a long string of conditionals. In this long train of "if," where do you think McLaren departs? Is that point perhaps worth some closer examination even if you cannot draw the same conclusions?

We must get our doctrines from scripture, I agree, but this does not mean that we ignore our own moral intuitions. Didn't Paul say that the law was 'written' on our hearts? While McLaren goes too far in the relativistic postmodern direction, we must not make the opposite error. Dispensational and Calvinistic doctrines are morally repungnant to many people for good reason.

Does this guy even believe in sin and judgment and hell at all? Why bother claiming the title 'Christian', when he's willfully distorting one of Christianity's basic teachings?

People who believe in hell:
Billy Graham
Corrie Ten Boom
Mother Teresa
St. Francis
John Paul II

People who don't believe in hell:
Vladimir Lenin
Josef Stalin
Adolf Hitler
Kim Jong Il
Fidel Castro

Of the two sets, who is the least violent?

I know that one can offer counterexamples for each set. But that's the point: MacLaren is a pontificating, irrational, ball of hot oozing gas.


Your point is well made, as usual. However, I'm pretty sure that Lenin, Stalin, & Hitler DO believe in Hell, now. 8^]


Man has always found God’s Truth repugnant (that is the word you used right?) and he always will. Although I wonder which truth we find most repugnant? Do you think it’s the idea of predestination? Perhaps we’d like it better if, in our sinful nature, we could freely choose to love God? Maybe it’s limited atonement that bothers us? Would the Bible be more comfortable if Christ didn’t have to go through all that suffering for His adopted children? Perhaps it’s total depravity that leaves a sick taste in our theological mouths? I suppose the Bible would be more appealing if it wasn’t for all that talk about the whole lot of us being wretched to the bone. Could it be irresistible grace that repulses us? It is less frustrating when we’re in control and when all things come to us in our own timing. Maybe it’s the idea of the perseverance of the saints that stinks? That pesky sovereignty of God, I know it’s always getting in the way of my plans.
The more “us” we add to the Bible, the less repugnant it will be. There’s no doubt about that. Maybe McLaren is right, we do need to rethink the Biblical teaching of a final judgment. While we’re at it, maybe we should even replace eternal suffering for the damned with annihilation, I mean simply not existing anymore is much less bothersome than what the Bible teaches about the reality of Hell.
God isn’t coming back to “dominate” us. He’s coming back to call all of His adopted sons and daughters back home and, yes, to judge us all. That’s an uncomfortable thought. I know that I constantly find my own disobedience repugnant in light of God’s perfection. The day of Christ’s return is closer than we think. As Christians, we aren’t doing anyone a favor by making the Bible’s message more comfortable. Those who are not yet saved are stuck dead in their sin, and it’s not because the Bible is repugnant, it’s because they cannot see. God is love, but somehow we tend to forget that He’s also more than love; He’s also just, as Amy reminds us of, and a just God, the Bible teaches, will one day punish those who have not put their faith in Christ as their Savior. That Truth shouldn’t lead us to into a discussion of how we understand what the Bible teaches about Christ’s return, it should drop us to our knees in pray for all of those who do not know Christ.

I apologize Alvin. It was Ron who used the word "repugnant," not you. Although my post is for everyone. Regardless, my apologies.

I have to ask why there isn't more of a fuss that Willow Creek continues to allow this man to stand in their pulpit and teach to hundreds of young people. He continues to be invited back...wow!

Steve, your comments seem a little heavy handed to me. I could be wrong, but there is a pretty big INHOUSE debate that has been going on about various points on the TULIP that you seemed to be using to make your points. I think McLaren is way off base on most of the points I've understood him to stand for, but don't lump his comments in with other debates please.

Steve or Amy (whichever the case may be),

I find your response to be rooted in generalities about the psychology of homo sapiens. What I wanted was detail and specifics. I am not familiar with McLaren. In general, I try to give the benefit of the doubt to people I am not familiar with. By now I hope you see that I have not tipped my hand either way in favor or in opposition of McLaren. And as relates to you, I will try to do the same, although seemingly slipping a word in my mouth so as to have a charged response against me does not help.

What I was looking for were specifics about where you believe the two of you disagree. Is it the issue of God's existence or beneficense; or the relationship of the Bible text to these issues involving the end times? Where do the two of you part ways? First? Most?

What, might I ask, is the eschatology to which you hold?

Dennis & Alvin,
My apologies to you both. My comments were more sarcastic then "heavy handed.” However, they were also in response to what McLaren seems to believe is needed in the church today, that is, the construction of a new Biblical narrative (possibly that's an interest of some of you here. I don't know, I am completely new to this blog. In fact this is the only post I have read). However, please forgive my sarcastic tone. I didn’t mean to give the impression that I was attacking you Alvin. Your comments were simply representative of the position of a few, who choose to offend some, in an effort to offend no one.
To answer Alvin, I am amil., but I don’t think defending that eschatological belief is at the heart of McLauren’s comments. It’s clear that McLaren is interested in ridding Christianity of its understanding of Hell, a final judgment, eternal suffering and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Why? Well that’s the point that the “repugnant” remark inspired and that I was trying to convey. It’s because those points of Christian doctrine make others uncomfortable. That’s his point about suggesting a need to “rethink” the second coming of Christ, he’s saying we need to rethink this idea of Hell and eternal suffering because others may be offended and take their frustrations out in a violent way (or am I missing something?).
He also stated at the Willow Conference that (I’m paraphrasing here), “ … youth workers need to recognize that a shift is occurring (from modern to postmodern thinking) and that they need to become agents of recruiting people to consider devoting their entire lives to living not just for themselves but to working as agents of the Kingdom of God, joining with Christ in His good news of the Kingdom of God." What’s wrong with that you might ask, well in context of McLaren’s other comments, it’s clear that he’s saying, “The message of Christianity needs to move from Christ died on the cross as a substitute for everyone” to “Jesus taught to love your neighbor as yourself, so take this message to the world.” I pray you see how misguided such a position is.
I don’t know the heart of McLaren and so I cannot tell you, point by point, where I part company with him. However, I read my Bible and I clearly see the literal reality of a loving God and an eternity in Heaven for all of His adopted children; I also see the literal reality of Hell and eternal suffering. The message of the Bible is that Jesus died in our place, taking on our sin and conquering death, so that we may experience an eternity in Heaven. It says that He is THE way (not a way). It says He is a SAVIOR (not just a wise teacher). It says be concerned with ETERNAL things (not worldly things).
My concern not where I part company with McLaren eschatologically (we can discuss that if you’d like, but as I stated, I think doing so misses McLaren’s point), but rather with his stated interest in stripping Christianity of anything that offends for the sake of inclusivity. The Bible teaches that God demands obedience, regardless of how many Muslims, Atheists, or whomever becomes offended by that message.
Are these comments rooted in the “generalities about the psychology of homo sapiens”? I’ll let Amy’s comments answer that question, “God is real, and He is good, and the Bible is His word, and that text has an intended meaning." For the Christian, those statements aren’t “a long string of conditionals,” we believe in them as God’s Truth (not a truth based on our weak desire for someone to save us from the reality of death), which is of course why the name of Christ continues to offend in our day.

"The day of Christ’s return is closer than we think."

I had to read that a couple of times, and then it hit me. I assume you're saying this because you think it's true. So it sounds like you're saying you think Jesus is coming sooner than you think he's coming, which doesn't make sense. I know this doesn't really contribute to the conversation, but I thought it was funny.

Eschatology as we've been taught it should be up for debate. I, for one, lean toward preterism as I believe the issue of Christ's second coming is ambiguous in the Bible.

Many "doctrines" the Protestant (especially American) church has taken for granted (the significance of modern-day Israel, the rapture, the second coming, etc.) should all be re-examined, or rather, continually examined. They are all fraught with problems.


I thought Amy was pretty clear that MacLaren was overtly revising his view of the final judgment based on pragmatic ethics rather than Biblical exegesis. Hence Ron's point about the law in our hearts acting as a kind of warning system against theological claims.

I agree with you that the moral implications of certain Calvinist claims seem rather repugnant at face value. However, this must lead us to find the correct Biblical model of salvation, and therefore either confirm or rationally counter the moral problems we see in a Calvinist soteriology. We cannot base our understanding on a moral sense apart from a thorough and accurate understanding of Scripture.

Clearly this is what Amy highlights as MacLaren's error. If the Bible actually does teach something (eternal Hell, or the believer's participation in salvation and hence eternal moral justification or condemnation), then we ultimately submit our moral knowledge to God's and call Him right and ourselves mistaken. (Then we can explain Biblically why Calvinism is erroneous without appealing to derived morality.)

While MacLaren is trumpeting issues of divine justice, he's actually confronting divine authority.

Hi Sage,

You seem to live up to your name as one who is wise. Your interpretation of the original post is probably correct. If McLaren is basing his view on something other than the Bible, then the rest probably follows. So, again, we have another "if."
Is McLaren basing his view on something other than Biblical exegesis?

This question could be addressed by some additional quotation by McLaren. That is, by some additional context. The best that I could do for understanding the original post and getting some additional context was to follow the links. I did that and found nothing objectionable in the preview pages of his new book "Everything Must Change" and I found that David Roach's Article "SBTS prof: McLaren 'Serpent-sensitive'" includes the following line "He [McLaren] did not specifically deny hell or the second coming at the conference." From this, I gather that something very subtle is being proposed by McLaren.

If not for McLaren's emerging church leader status, why couldn't this be treated like JP Moreland's comments on "overcommitment" to the Bible?

That McLaren is approaching his view by some moral sense of his own (and who else's could he really employ?) doesn't particularly bother me. Everything in some fashion is subject to interpretation. The catch is whether he can reconcile or harmonize his view to scripture. No one approaches scripture without first having a moral sense however vague that moral sense may be.

BTW, who really believes that God will ultimately have his way by forceful domination? I hope this is not the offensive part because McLaren states it as a hypothetical; other people should be offended but not the sensible sorts who know there is more to it than that. Certainly the Savior must liberate his people and this would require that oppressors be deposed, but from then onward it is not Might Is Right, but rather genuine transformation of being that ultimately leads to a mutual will governing all in peace.

As a closing note to this post, I am all for rethinking ideas, concepts, and doctrines. It is better to do so intentionally than to realize later that you were just nominally representing a status quo.

>>MacLaren was overtly revising his view of the final judgment based on pragmatic ethics rather than Biblical exegesis.

Yes, thank you, Sage--that was exactly my point. And because he's doing this, we know he departs from the list I gave in one or more points.

Alvin, I appreciate your desire to give McLaren the benefit of the doubt. As for his exact views, McLaren is often difficult to pin down. He doesn't come out and say what he thinks explicitly. His approach is to take these things on slowly so he doesn't scare people away, but it's pretty clear where he's heading, including denying hell and judgment, denying that Jesus died to atone for our sins on the cross, etc. Depending on the audience, he's more or less open about this. As a rule, he doesn't work his way to his theological views through the Bible, but instead gives other reasons why we should change our beliefs.

I think you can get a better idea of what McLaren thinks through a two-part post I wrote:

Part One

Part Two

In those posts, I quote an interview McLaren did for a podcast, and there are links to a transcript of the entire interview, if you want to read the whole thing in context. That's a great place for you to start getting to know McLaren and what he believes and teaches.

Here's one quote from that interview about why he isn't jumping into explaining openly what he thinks, as I mentioned above:

"There is a whole package [in a theological system]. And the package [you're objecting to] ultimately is this hell package. And here's what I would say: I think the deeper problem here is a problem of the larger narrative. And I think there's another way of seeing the narrative where a lot of these problems disappear....I've been struggling with this for, you know, fifteen years. I've really been struggling with this stuff. And so I feel like, piece by piece you get a different vision. But you can't rush it. And the other narrative is so deeply ingrained."

So he's not explicitly saying, "I don't believe in hell." But you can see from that quote that he thinks a system that includes hell is problematic, and there's another way of seeing things that doesn't include hell, but since so many people believe in it, it's going to be difficult to change their minds, so he has to be subtle and move slowly in order to not set off any alarms. I would much prefer openness because it would make it easier to engage his ideas and determine their merit.


You wrote, "The catch is whether he can reconcile or harmonize his view to scripture."

I think this places the cart before the horse. The proper motive for reading Scripture is not to see whether we can justify our views using the Bible, but to learn what the Scriptures say and what they mean. Exegesis might involve threads of history, archeology, cosmology, genetics, logic, etc., but ultimately it comes down to a forthright and earnest reading to get the best sense of what the author meant.

If our subjectivity obscures our understanding of what the writings mean (no more so than reading the daily news stories), then the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth. I think the problem is not that Scripture is obscure, but that people are unwilling to submit to its actual meaning.


Many thanks. I asked for substance and you delivered.

"I think the problem is not that Scripture is obscure, but that people are unwilling to submit to its actual meaning."

No, the problem is that Scripture is obscure. Many people believe they know the "actual meaning" of Scripture. This includes many PhD's, both Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. They will fight for their positions, but that doesn't mean we are any closer to the "actual" meaning, whatever that is. Meanings take on different forms when filtered through culture and experience. I have no doubt there is an "intended" meaning in Scripture, and the best we can do is have reasons for our positions, agree to disagree when necessary, and move on.


Without a concrete example, I'm not sure the scope of your position. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin (for example). This is not open to interpretation.

Lack of agreement does not establish a lack of what I call an actual meaning, nor a lack of textual clarity. I think today's Bible is almost universally clear and straightforward, and that it only becomes obscure when we divert our will from affirming what it says. (The only exceptions are the rare instances where manuscript evidence prohibits a coherent rendering of the original.)

We don't lack the mental capacity to get the point of the text. The obscuring happens due to the hardening of our hearts, not the clouding of our reading abilities.

"The obscuring happens due to the hardening of our hearts, not the clouding of our reading abilities."

I disagree. There are a number of subjects, from eschatology, to salvation, to tithing, to the afterlife, and on, that many learned people disagree on and I would not say their hearts are hardened. If the Bible were perfectly clear on every subject, we would be one unified church. We are not, precisely because the meaning is unclear and people interpret Scripture differently. That doesn't mean a precise meaning does not exist; it's just that the authors are not here for us to ask them what they meant.

We can all ask God what a passage means and arrive at a different answer. Therefore, the human element is critical to understanding the precise meaning. Sometimes we might get it right, but we'll never be 100% sure as regards to every subject of Scripture.


Let me have another stab at it (I see now the coherence of Scripture is a bit of a can of worms).

There are figurative and idiomatic references that are not crystal clear (e.g., Revelation), being obscured by the passing millennia.
There are passages that seem open to different interpretations (both due to variances in textual evidence and the mere wording of the text). There are subjective factors that impede our understanding - the sinful nature, bad reasoning / faulty synthesis / unwarranted conclusions, and personal preferences and prejudices (where we spin things to our advantage). Most in-house theological differences fall into the latter two categories of error or presupposition.

The only subjective factor I do not see affecting the understanding of Scripture is personal experience. You had said, "Meanings take on different forms when filtered through culture and experience." This is (in my view) overstated with regard to Scripture. Prior experience is only one factor in determining the meaning of a text; it is not the primary one, and plays only an occasional supporting role (less so than historical background). Really the overwhelming factor is simply grammar, syntax, and context - linguistic units arranged in specific relations to convey meaning. I see meaning residing in the text, not in the reader.

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