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February 23, 2010

Comments

I just finished reading and reviewing Brian McClaren's book and I have to say I completely agree with you. While I had thought many of the earlier "conversations" posed by McClaren and others in the Emerging Church movement were useful dialogue for Christians, the shift in this book is far afield of Christian faith, the Bible, etc.

I don't know why people like McLaren and John Shelby Spong feel like they need to reinvent Christianity. If they don't like Christianity or they don't think it's true, why not just abandon it and call their religion something else? I might as well call myself a Buddhist, deny the four noble truths, make something else up to put in its place, and call it "Buddhism." I just don't get it.

Sometimes when I hear about Christian liberalism (I hear about it a lot), I think, If Jesus stood for what they think, he wouldn’t have been crucified.

I remember as a very young child seeing the merry-go-round for the first time and thinking, “That looks fun.” Then I rode one. How terribly disappointing it was for me. I came to the conclusion the reason they are so fancy and painted to the hilt is that once you’ve experienced it, that’s really the genuine attraction: the image of it all. But a real ride it’s not.

These fellas have created an image that does not deliver, much like the over-decorated merry-go-round of my yesteryear. But children still stand in awe and buy tickets.

It is the childish (not child-like) mind that gets affixed on pseudochristianity wrapped up in New Age ribbons and bows. Like the post said, there is nothing original about it.

The darker side of reality: There are among us those whose intent for the sake of evil is to prevent (as many as possible) God’s most precious creations from ever becoming His children, and, in turn, finding Heaven accessible. The only way to do that is to prevent them from seeing the Christ. And if that means dismantling Christianity so the parts of it that are uncomfortable are suddenly honeyed and palatable, then by all means redefine the faith and create a spiritual concoction that smells of lilacs and honeysuckle, but don’t tell them beneath the lie of misdirection and superficial feel-good diversions awaits a genuine spiritual version of anthrax.

I cannot claim to know if these charlatans are genuinely sinister in their intent, or if they are just very, very good at being wrong. What I do know is they should end their "sermons" with Orwell’s quip....caveat emptor.

"very good at being wrong. What I do know is they should end their "sermons" with Orwell’s quip....caveat emptor."


You are right, but it is a hard thing to do when the only one anyone will listen to is a sales pitch and McLaren is a consummate salesman. Try and package it as something other than a sales pitch and no one will hear it and it doesn't matter how right it is.

just a few questions and thoughts:
would it be threatening to the very fiber of how we live our lives in following christ if the bible is really more about themes, narratives and ideals than the detailed, fundamental reading of the text as literal?

when you think of how fallen each of us are, is it hard for you to grapple with ideas like how books of the bible were chosen to be included by men with various agendas and ideas hundreds of years after Christ?

could the biblical teaching still hold a huge part in directing christian thought even if it is viewed more as stories and narratives meant to illustrate God's lessons for us?


sure he has some straw men, that is nothing new. liberal and conservative theologians and teachers use them all of the time.

the tension between bible as narrative inspired by God vs bible as fundamental detailed and exacting instruction with no human influence whatsoever is a worthy topic.

So you are not going to comment on motives yet McClaren is obviously "mean-spirited"? Or, as David put it, McClaren's "intent [is] for the sake of evil"? Also, where exactly does McClaren claim objecitivity and transcendence from assumptions and such? As much as you try this is a relatively emotional response punctuated with stark and polarizing terms, none of which helps me see your own objectivity (however qualified). Also, your false dichotomy of "either the Bible is wholly inspired by God or it is a complete work of Man" is overused and illogical.

I've been reading Evangelical works on theology for years yet every time I try to discuss it critically I'm told again and again that I have it wrong (though often with implicit refusals to point out exactly where I got it wrong). It is no surprise that McClaren (among others) also get it wrong, especially since there are so many approaches to Christian theology, Evangelical and otherwise. Then there's also the differences in explication between the academic theologians and the popular writer, the latter of whom are used more often by the average lay member despite their being more imprecise and use vague metaphors that are prone to misunderstanding.

If there's nothing new in McClaren's works (though I find your use of descriptive terms of that work both illuminating and academically comical), there's certainly nothing new in your response, including your own (ever-so-common) mischaracterization of so-called postmodernism and Marxism. I think liz m's questions are a much more fruitful approach than your own charged critique.

Sam, I'd like to try to answer your question by illustration and also scripture:

If I wanted to buy something but didn't have the money, I wouldn't create a new type of money with their own picture on it. I would possibly create a counterfeit that would seem like the real thing to the person that wants to sell the item. If I gave the "new" money to the seller, I would be turned away. But if the counterfeit was convincing I might get what I want.

In Matthew 13:24-33, Jesus explains that the Kingdom will be infiltrated by the Enemy and that the weeds, the birds, and the yeast will work its way in - but there will be a harvest. I'm sure McLaren has his own interpretation of these illustrations that don't agree with traditional Christian doctrine.

Going back to the money illustration, most people don't take too much time in the U.S. trying to forge Sudanese Dinar because it isn't worth the time. Similarly, I think that's the reason you see so many people trying to create a new Christianity instead of a new Buddhism or Islam. Satan attacks the real thing and has no desire to divert people from one false religion to another.

Jason,

Oh please! There are many kinds of Buddhism and Islam, many of which one or another group will consider a "forgery". The only reason you don't see it is because you aren't familiar enough with them. The Secret is a severely bastardized form of Buddhism, as are many forms of New Age thought (at least in those elements that are actually "taken" from Buddhism). Christianity is *far* from the only religion that is "forged".

Kevin,
Are you a Buddhist?

[OT] My comment to Dave Hawkins: No doubt that the reason you found the merry-go-round to not be as exciting as you imagined is probably that it didn't include a genuine old-fashioned Wurlitzer military band organ to play that great music that goes with merry-go-rounds! The band organ is what makes a merry-go-round!

Kevin:

I think you're missing Melinda's point. It's not to craft a series of paragraph in which you can mine for offense and then dismiss the entire essay once you find your "money quote." That's what my books are for. :-)

What Melinda is suggesting is that Brian McLaren is just blowing smoke. He really doesn't know anything. He thinks he knows something. But he really doesn't. He doesn't know the development of Christian theology, and he has no real idea why people think differently than him on matters as wide-ranging as abortion, homosexuality, and ecclesiology. For he has the magic three words that answer all the questions: race, class, gender. And the problems are power, consumerism, and inequality. (Apparently, the ad man at HarperOne--who was paid a handsome sum to sell his product for us to consume--never got the pomo memo).

Look Kevin, it's clear that you are way, way smarter than all of us here. Many of us have not mastered the untethered jargon of critical theory. It takes a special sort of gifted person to plumb the depths of such profundity. Sadly, I am not one of them.

Like many Christians throughout the ages, I am trapped in a logocentric, theological and moral tradition (in the MacIntyrian sense) in which I am confident that I can find solace in the awesome providence of the Divine Plan. This makes me and my brothers, well, realistic and hopeful at the same time. We, for example, help the poor, love our neighbors, and visit the sick because we see in them our Master. We don't do it because it's wrong that they have less stuff than other people, for that would be consumerist of us (and oddly enough, McLarenian).

Our heroes are St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas. We read Chesterton, Lewis, Anscombe, Plantinga, and the Bible.

I know that make us naive, stupid, and not with it. And who knows, you may someday find yourself in a world with a Slavic Pope viewing the collapse of a murderous empire (whose intellectual sycophants dominated the academic world, much like McLaren's philosophical heroes do today) whose dictator once chided the Vatican for not having any platoons to command against the dictator's impressive military might. It could happen.

There should be a merry go round that plays "Gary Owen." That would change everything.

"Look Kevin, it's clear that you are way, way smarter than all of us here. Many of us have not mastered the untethered jargon of critical theory. It takes a special sort of gifted person to plumb the depths of such profundity."

Brilliant!! The best way to deal with skeptic know-it-alls like Kevin is to expose their rhetoric to ridicule.

C.S. Lewis way back in the 50s had already pegged the academic types who threw around coterie jargon and pretended to be wise, when in fact they were fools.

Mike,
LOL. I was too young and too materialistic to have an appreciation for the Wurlitzer. However, I have developed it since. :)


Kevin,

Thank you for the first hand example of misrepresentation.

I wrote: "I cannot claim to know if these charlatans are genuinely sinister in their intent, or if they are just very, very good at being wrong."

You elected to ignore the first five words there. Then proceeded to misquote with this: "Or, as David put it, McClaren's "intent [is] for the sake of evil"

You took some liberties with the text here(even juxtaposing different paragraphs) to serve your personal agenda of refuting the points in the original text.

...pretty much the same kind of thing McLaren does with Scripture.

liz m,

>>"would it be threatening to the very fiber of how we live our lives in following christ if the bible is really more about themes, narratives and ideals than the detailed, fundamental reading of the text as literal?"

That would depend upon the individual and whether or not his/her Christianity is authentic. If you like McLaren, then hardly at all...(Hey, McLaren = McChristian.) :D

But,

How sincerely could a Christian trust a "christ" whose resurrection story carried the same weight as Aesop's Fables?


>>"when you think of how fallen each of us are, is it hard for you to grapple with ideas like how books of the bible were chosen to be included by men with various agendas and ideas hundreds of years after Christ?"

The Bible can only be one of two things:

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5473


>>"could the biblical teaching still hold a huge part in directing christian thought even if it is viewed more as stories and narratives meant to illustrate God's lessons for us?"

This seems like a re-wording of your first question.

P.S. - A "literal" Bible interpretation is different from taking it at face-value...this may help:

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5125

There are a variety of resources here to assist with this.

Mr. Beckwith,

Nice.

Francis,

I'm not dismissing Melissa's essay, but I find it interesting that she chides McClaren for misrepresenting Christianity when, e.g., she is misrepresenting so-called postmodernism and Marxist thought (at least Marxist thought beyond the very broad strokes that one finds in an introductory class on philosophy). Heck, I'm even willing to just limit that to postmodernism as I have studied it significantly more than I have Marxism and could present a much strong case for the former than the latter.

With that said, you will notice that I limited my comments to things that I am pretty certain of, namely four things: first, that Melissa, contrary to her claim, reads intentions into McClaren by calling his treatises "mean spirited", as if he has a chip on his shoulder and this is why he writes what he does. Second, that McClaren probably doesn't claim in *any* of his works that he is completely objective and doesn't have any assumptions and so on, contrary to Melissa's caricature (see the rather polemically stated paragraph 7). Third, that Melissa is misrepresenting postmodernism, which is a *much* broader 'school' (if it can be called that) such that simply citing the law of non-contradiction is wholly inadequate (a common mistake within Evangelical interpretations of that 'movement' [if it can be called that]). Fourth, that even someone who has tried to understand "Evangelical" theology (but who do we take as an authority? which interpretations? which theologies?) can have many misunderstandings of it, such that McClaren could be very well intentioned but ignorant. I'm willing to admit what I'm ignorant about (and there's a lot out there that I'm ignorant about), but I wouldn't include any of the above on that, which is why I restricted my remarks to them.

Let me end by saying that I don't think I'm smarter than everyone else (here or elsewhere; I may be better studied on this or that matter, but that doesn't make me smarter than everyone else) and I really don't know what I've done to you or others here to get such a snarky response (are things ok in your life? I usually get snarky when I'm having a bad day). But I'd be glad to get specific critiques of any of the four points that I mentioned in my first post rather than a mean spirited ( ;o) ) free-for-all like I've gotten so far.

David,

Sorry if I misrepresented your claim. I stand corrected and will remain with my single citation from Melinda.

P.S. Oops, I also called Melinda "Melissa" in my response to Frank. Mea culpa again.

P.P.S. Oops, sorry for being all know-it-all and academic for using Latin in the P.S. My bad... :oP

I really don't know what all of the hub-bub is about. Before his latest book McLaren already made comments like (I paraphrase) "substitutionary atonement doesn't make sense to me, it's like if someone does something to harm me and then I go home and kick my dog".
Or "we shouldn't try to convert Buddhists and Muslims to Christianity we should just try to make them better Buddhists and Muslims".
McLaren doesn't believe in hell or sin so what does Jesus save us from? He's just another post modern liberal who cherry picks parts of the Bible to make up a new faith. He's an apostate so get over this guy and throw his book into the trash heap.

J.Gresham Machen once said that "You can have any philosophy you want just don't call it Christianity".

Kevin,

I wouldn't take it personally. You'll find that on this blog when there's a bit of "Emergent" blood in the water (especially McLaren's) the sharks begin to circle fairly quickly and a frenzy ensues.

MijkV

Les,

I'm sure that Pope Pius XI would've said the same thing to J. Gresham Machen.

Along those same lines, I'm not sure how to understand "apostate" in a sectarian protestant tradition. If we belong to this tradition, we've all been apostates at some point in time (traditionally speaking).

Better to think of life as a series of hills and valleys that follow the seasons, rather than being bound to a wheel. The seasons follow each other in succession, giving a rhythm to our lives, but each successive spring is different. Likewise for summer, fall, and winter. Some of us traverse more hills and valleys than others, but for all of us, there is something new to be discovered in each successive season.

MijkV,
You'll notice that with the EC (emergent church) there's a lot of "I feel that" or "I believe that we should---" and you'll hear very little "go to verse such and such and it says---".

So MijkV, do you think that Luther and Calvin based their rediscovery of the Gospel on what they felt or what gave them liver shivers?
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God". And "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding".

Les,

I come from a Baptist tradition that prizes expository preaching, systematic theology and proof texting. Despite this, they became one of the most fragmented sectarian protestant traditions in my area, with many denominations. These weren't disagreements about how to cut up the communion bread either. They were pretty much anathematizing each other over doctrinal issues that related to the Gospel. Now that's just my neck of the woods.

To suggest that some theologians base their opinions on an objective reading of the text (I'm going to guess MacArthur, right?) while others simply emote their theology (Emergent, of course) is a naive evaluation of what is going on here.

And by the way, "liver shivers" did actually factor into Luther's “rediscovery of the Gospel.” Read one of his biographies.

Melinda wrote, "The rest of us are blind to this because we’re stuck in the Greco-Roman narrative, while McLaren never suggests that his view is his own narrative."

It appears to me (and she came around to say this a paragraph or so later herself, in a way) that McLaren cannot see how he is stuck in a late 20th-century liberal narrative.

Just as it is risky to view one's own part of the world as having discovered the final truth that answers all, it's risky to view one's own stage in history as having done so. It's strangely modernist, really, for one who is otherwise so postmodern. He seemintly accepts the grand metanarrative of progress, and concludes that the present is later than the past it is therefore better than all things past. It is an astonishingly uncritical, non-self-reflective view of our times.

liz m, you asked a lot of questions. Most of them are the wrong ones for the discussion. For instance,

would it be threatening to the very fiber of how we live our lives in following christ if the bible is really more about themes, narratives and ideals than the detailed, fundamental reading of the text as literal?
First, Christians readily accept that the Bible is about themes, narratives and ideals. But the question is, what reality do those themes, narratives and ideals tap into, and how do we know that reality is really real? If I were to discover that the Bible were filled with themes, narratives, and ideals that bear no relation to anything whatsoever, then yes, it would threaten the fiber of how I live my life. Especially since one of those narratives is that of Christ dying on the cross in real history, to rescue real people like me from real sin. A mere narrative without the real historical fact behind it would be nothing more than nice words, bootless, toothless, effete, and worthless with respect to my real needs.

Kevin, you wrote,

Also, your false dichotomy of "either the Bible is wholly inspired by God or it is a complete work of Man" is overused and illogical.

Whose false dichotomy was that? Hint: if it is some other person's false dichotomy, we ought to be able to find where they wrote it. If we can't find where you quoted it from, then maybe it's your own false representation of a dichotomy. The verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture is a more thoughtful and thought-through doctrine than the way you caricature it here. And even if not for that, it's not terribly good form to misquote somebody in order to refute them, is it?

You also wrote,

Melissa, contrary to her claim, reads intentions into McClaren by calling his treatises "mean spirited", as if he has a chip on his shoulder and this is why he writes what he does.
Have you read McLaren? (Only one c in his name, by the way.) Do you have any basis by which to judge her conclusion incorrect? Have you noticed that she supported her point, illustrating it with a number of arguably mean-spirited things that he said? By the way, she can quite legitimately call his approach and conclusions mean-spirited without speculating on why he has employed them; approaches and conclusions are not the same as motives.

Further from you:

Second, that McClaren probably doesn't claim in *any* of his works that he is completely objective and doesn't have any assumptions and so on, contrary to Melissa's caricature (see the rather polemically stated paragraph 7).

Please see my second and third paragraph in my previous comment. The problem is not that he is not fully objective; no one is. The problem is that he has so reified 20th century ideals as the ideals for all ages, and he can't see how unobjective that position is. Objectivity is aided by taking a larger view. His is very small, historically speaking.

And,

Fourth, that even someone who has tried to understand "Evangelical" theology (but who do we take as an authority? which interpretations? which theologies?) can have many misunderstandings of it, such that McClaren could be very well intentioned but ignorant.
There is an agreed body of central Evangelical doctrine that McLaren flouts. You didn't know that? (Note: Kevin and I have had long conversations on another blog, which is why I feel free to show surprise at this.)

Regarding the use of "postmodernism:" I agree, postmodernism certainly isn't all about the law of noncontradiction, though some of it is. If Melissa had represented postmodernism as being all about that, she would have been wrong. I don't see where she did that, though. Let me quote you more fully:

Third, that Melissa is misrepresenting postmodernism, which is a *much* broader 'school' (if it can be called that) such that simply citing the law of non-contradiction is wholly inadequate (a common mistake within Evangelical interpretations of that 'movement' [if it can be called that]).
She didn't cite it, and you have even here shown that you are prepared to dispute some other opinion than the one presented by the person you say you are disputing.

This instance, in particular, strikes me as dishonest.

MijkV,
You know I think my dog likes liver shivers.

"Note: Kevin and I have had long conversations on another blog, which is why I feel free to show surprise at this"

Could you let me (and us) know which blog this is? I'd like to follow along.

Thanks for your thoughtful contributions Thomas :)

The mere fact that men like McClaren get a hearing in evangelicalism indicates how compromised western Christianity has become. The man is humble, nice, affable, and an open heretic.

The "conversation" has become a clandestine greenhouse for heresy. To address some things is to give them some credibility, unless we still believe the earth may be flat.

The other blog is my Thinking Christian blog, Richard, http://www.thinkingchristian.net. Thank you for asking.

Kevin is one of a group of us involved in a current conversation on the post, http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2010/01/jesus-christ-offers-tiger-woods-something-tiger-woods-badly-needs/

One further thought for liz m:

You asked about the effect on our lives and feelings if we were to discover some different perspectives on the Bible. Your question (yesterday at 1:32 pm) implied that we have chosen our positions based on their impact on your lives and on our feelings. I can't speak for all, but I know this is true for many believers: we have chosen our positions primarily because we think they are true.

We believe the Bible because we think it is believable: intellectually believable, that is; for intellectual believability in the end is the only kind that makes sense. Emotional believability is fragile, as you have hinted. Intellectual believability, based on long and thorough study, stands up strong.

That long and thorough testing is based on a full-orbed view of the Bible's wisdom, its resonance with experience, its historical accuracy (testable by the normal means of testing history), its philosophical solidity, and yes, also its positive impact on our lives and on our experience, which contributes to its believability just as a scientific hypothesis is supported by an experiment that comes out as predicted.

It seems to me that in the conversation/narrative/dialogue of McLaren and Bell and others of this ilk the "black hats" are always on the Bible-believing Christians ,while the "white hats" are all other religious groups.Is this just ignorant bias or are they deliberate "trojan horses?"

"McLaren tells us that historic Christianity has imposed a Greco-Roman narrative on the Bible, leading to all of the errors of doctrine and practice, which have plagued the church for at least 1500 years" (Melinda)

I tend to agree with McLaren on this point as I study more deeply into Jewish theology and the history of the time surrounding Jesus and the early church.

I mean, in all sincere honesty - one has to look at why Judaism and Christianity are so diverse in their belief sets and yet claim to come from the same foundation (ie: OT).

Not to mention the gospels and Acts are fairly clear that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish folk from Galilee that likely followed Judaism (even Luke's age 12 story of Jesus reveals this).

So one has to ask - how is it that Christianity and Judaism believe abstractly different things about almost every single doctrine?

McLaren is onto something that I hope more Christians dive into - the roots of our faith in Judaism.

Societyvs,

The question isn't whether culture plays into the interpretation of Christianity. The question is whether culture has been purposely infiltrated by God for that very purpose. In other words, if you study 2d Temple Judaism and Christianity, it seems clear that the "Graeco-Roman" narrative was brought about by God "at the appointed time." I would also charge that it's based in a supernatural system rather than in a philosophically naturalistic one. Hence, the real presuppositions of which we ought to be wary are our own.

"In other words, if you study 2d Temple Judaism and Christianity, it seems clear that the "Graeco-Roman" narrative was brought about by God "at the appointed time."" (Hodge)

But where do you get this idea God changed from Jewish background to a Greco-Roman one at 'this appointed time'? How can we know this is also not a huge assumption to keep the system we have stable?

It seems clear to me, in researching and reading on this topic, that Gentiles re-interperted the faith in ways that felt 'right' in their culture. They did not seem to seek the understanding of the Jewish roots of Christianity...and here is my simple proof.

Is it not true that Peter, James and John are seen in Jerusalem in Acts 15 hanging out with (participating with) Pharisee's? Read that chapter and see for yourself - Luke records this to be so. So we can see that the original disciples stayed true to Judaism in many regards (even in their ruling to Paul in that chapter). We don't really have good reasons to believe they abandoned Judaism...not according to that chapter anyways (or Acts for that matter).

However, Paul was not an apostle - any claims that he was is mis-guided. Paul was a missionary of sorts - given the blessing by the originals to work in Gentile communities...since they all felt God was accepting them 'as is' (they did not need to convert to Judaism more or less). That's the gist of Paul's ministry (even according to Acts). And that is what Paul did.

However, this does not mean the Gentile community is ever given the lee-way to change interpretation on many issues that are steeped in 1st Century Judaism - which happened after the originals were gone (the actual eyewitnesses to Jesus).

Ideologies changed and new things were added to the original's stories. Messiah became a much bigger concept in Gentile communities; 'son of God' is interpreted differently; Jesus' gospel accounts are seen in new lights not really intended by the originals (who saw a 'holy man of God' not 'a God'); faith and works has a new take; atonement becomes a discussion; the law is abandonded altogether; etc.

Eventually, and this is odd, we find strong beliefs of anti-semitism by the 5th century and the intentional usurption of the OT texts to reflect what Gentiles now see as their heritage (although it is as plain as day it is not).

Anyone that takes the time to read Jewish people on this subject and the history of that time will be in for an eye-opener on how we split so far from Judaism.

"I would also charge that it's based in a supernatural system rather than in a philosophically naturalistic one. Hence, the real presuppositions of which we ought to be wary are our own" (Hodge)

That's of no real concern to me, you, your pastor, or anyone...we make due with the information humanly available to us and to suggest otherwise is to suggest into a realm even you do not have master of (ie: the spiritual realm). So let's keep it honest and work from the ground level - we'll get to the sky later.

Hi Societyvs,
Why do you say that expansion of the idea of what the Son of Man meant and who the Messiah was was due to Gentile influence?
Isn't it more likely that it was due to what Saul the Pharisee and the other Judaic Apostles saw in actual history from the Messiah?
Where in Greek lore did it say that the blessings promised Abraham would extend to all nations, or that the annointed One would be called God or that He would have an eternal throne, etc?

Also, Societyvs,
Do your recognize that the Hebraic/Judaic conception of God and of belief evolved over the millennia? Did they view Elohim/YHWH in the exactly the same way throughout their history or did He progressively reveal HImself more and more fully?
If God did not change anything in His relationship to the Jews in the era circa Jesus' appearance why did Judaism itself change from a sacrificial, Temple-centric belief system? And which Judaism did the Christian interpreters betray? Were they obligated to stick to the interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes (if they existed), or to that of some other interpreter?

Claims that Paul was an apostle come straight from the NT letters. The book of Hebrews explains how Christ fulfilled the Jewish law and instituted a new way of entering relationship and fellowship with God. Elsewhere in Acts and the NT letters, the process by which the re-interpretation of religion (from OT to NT, not from Hebrew to Greek) is clearly set forth for your and my inspection. None of it was done under the table; it is all explained both in terms of theology and the social processes by which it took place.

So your belief that the Gentiles "re-interpreted the faith in ways that felt right" is at best irrelevant. Even if it were true that the Gentiles did that work of re-interpretation, we would still have plenty of first-century material with which to assess the way they did it (both socially and theologically).

Here's another way I could say the same. Suppose they did this re-interpretation. Or suppose they didn't. The question either way is, do we have reason to trust what we have today by way of results? Since the whole thing has been transparently laid out for us, we have the tools to make that assessment. The record shows that we can trust the outcome: the new covenant in Christ is consistent with the OT where it needs to be, and it is new where his life, death, and resurrection necessarily make it new.

So even if one were hypothetically to grant that this re-interpretation were done, we would still have every reason to accept the quality of the outcome.

Not that I fully accept your supposition. Yes, Christ and Paul opened the door theologically for Gentiles to join the covenant people. Yes, this certainly had cultural implications, and the Gospel had (and still has) room for diverse cultural manifestations. But that space is inside of the Gospel. The Gospel was large enough for it, without having to be, as you suggest, forcibly wrested out of Hebraism and forcibly infused with Hellenism.

The Gospel speaks to culture and influences culture. Culture influences how we live out the Gospel. But culture did not create the Gospel we now have.

Societyvs, I think you would be interested in reading this book written by a Jewish Rabbi.

He explains how, from a Jewish perspective and coming from his extensive knowledge of what the implications would be from Jesus' words to the Jewish people at that time, Jesus' claims about Himself and His divinity are clear throughout the gospels--even more so than we who come from a different culture realize.

He makes it very clear that the picture of Jesus in the gospels is the same picture painted throughout the NT. That is, he says that people are wrong to claim that the picture of Jesus was changed later for the Greeks by Paul or anybody else.

“Why do you say that expansion of the idea of what the Son of Man meant and who the Messiah was due to Gentile influence? Isn't it more likely that it was due to what Saul the Pharisee and the other Judaic Apostles…” (Daron)

I think the original ideas find their meaning in Judaism concepts and this was the intention of each writer – since they all had Judaism backgrounds (from Paul to all the disciples of Jesus).

However, after about 64 AD that influence is all but over – and by 88 AD when Christians can no longer hang around the synagogues it is completely cut-off.

Now they did not have extensive libraries on these Jewish subjects of contention so where exactly is the Gentile reader to interpret these in light of Jewish history? The synagogue likely held the only copies of the Torah available and the interpretations thereof. No access means interpretation is going to suffer.

One needs to remember they date these gospels in that exact time period from 70-125 AD. The further you go from that ‘break-up’ the more diverse the ideas get…namely with John’s gospel.

As for Paul’s letters they may not be saying what people have them saying in most current interpretations concerning Judaism. One needs to remember Paul never deconverted from Judaism – according to his own letters. He fully admits there are 2 strands of Christian: Jewish believers (Acts 15 crew) and Gentile converts (allowed by Acts 15 ruling)…he simply has beefs with what laws Gentiles need to follow (see also Acts 15 ruling). Paul is accurate in his letters about that stuff.

As for the ideas of the ‘son of man’ (from Daniel – OT) and the messiah idea (also OT based but also Mishnah/Talmud based) they are originally concepts from Judaism (concepts that still exist today that any of us can look into). The Gentiles see something quite different in the writing of the disciples than the disciples themselves saw – just based on any basic study of those terms in Judaism (which the disciples were and stayed).

The ‘son of man’ is not a connotation to ‘God’ in Judaism. The messiah does not carry the inherent quality of ‘godhood’ in it in Judaism. You can find Maimonides up until the 13th century affirming the belief in the messiah as a core principle of Judaism – yet not holding any belief this person is equal to God (no such idea exists in Judaism not really ever has). The virgin birth is fictitious – based on bad grammar concerning the term ‘alma’ in greek (different in the actual Hebrew this word). And the sages of the day in Judaism never made such connections to God having a child. Son of God as a term is used about Israel and judges in the OT (fact); later about rabbinic sages. That term did not necessarily have a literal quality attached to it and meant someone ‘close to God’ (specially with respect to the law).

We can trace these beliefs and ideas back to Judaism – that’s the great part of this. However, we can also look at varying Christian ideas on those Biblical topics and see where the differences are being made.

“Did they view Elohim/YHWH in the exactly the same way throughout their history or did He progressively reveal HImself more and more fully?” (Daron)

How can we be sure it a progressive revelation and not just humans becoming more in-tune with God? Maybe it was the human writers that changed their wording and not God. I admit times do change and our progressive revelation of what God is does change – I think we are all pretty in full admission of that. However, I also admit the human language was evolving at the same time and new concepts of explanation were being used – did God change…not likely…but our writing on Him did.

As for ‘progressive revelation’ (if anyone believes this) how come the revelation stops after John’s writing in 125 AD? Did God stop speaking or ‘revealing Himself’? This is an interesting topic – because this gives the gay people some agenda to proclaim there still is ‘progressive revelation’. I think progressive revelation just may be a fact or we are beginning to open our eyes more to the possibilities of God.

As for ‘progressive revelation’, nowhere in the 1000 years the beginning of the writing of those OT texts and another 2000 more on top of that of history did Judaism actually find a Triune God (fact). The language we use about God may change – but his actual Being/Substance does not.

“If God did not change anything in His relationship to the Jews in the era circa Jesus' appearance why did Judaism itself change from a sacrificial, Temple-centric belief system?” (Daron)

The temple was destroyed in the first war in 70 AD – I thought everyone knew this. No temple has existed since that period of time (as one example of why things changed). Secondly, during the temple period in Jesus’ life the Sadducee’s ran the temple – they died off in the first war…their view of the sacrificial system was basically over (died with them). Thirdly, after the temple was destroyed and the Pharisee’s started running synagogues (which became the main expression in Judaism) there was no temple anymore so they developed new ideas around the Torah and Prophets concerning sacrifice (ie: charity and repentance being great examples).

“And which Judaism did the Christian interpreters betray? Were they obligated to stick to the interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes (if they existed), or to that of some other interpreter?” (Daron)

Actually the early Christian movement (actual 12 disciples) would have made up a 4th category in early Judaism (close to the Pharisee’s views obviously).

There was however another oddity in Israel called the ‘men of God’…which most people say started with prophets like Elisha and Elijah and later culminated in the works of Honi and Hanina. These ‘men of God’ were miracle workers (ie: made the rain stop for instance) and were different than the rabbi’s of the time. Jesus may have also fallen into this category but also with a rabbinic background (so there might be a 5th category).

Nonetheless, Jesus seemed to be a little different than each area but seems quite Pharisee in interpretation (rabbinic). You can note in the gospels, for example, that Jesus never actually goes against what this group is teaching but the hypocrisy of their actions. Jesus is seen going against the Sadducee’s on the resurrection.

The Essene’s, well they get no mention one iota in the gospels and the closest we get to their actual existence is someone like John the Baptist (and even that is a stretch). So the Jesus was all know and love is actually along the lines of the Pharisee lineage from most accounts.

Strange thing about the Essene’s though – they used the Book of Enoch – a book that seems to have played prominently in the writings of Revelation and other letters.

"He makes it very clear that the picture of Jesus in the gospels is the same picture painted throughout the NT. That is, he says that people are wrong to claim that the picture of Jesus was changed later for the Greeks by Paul or anybody else." (Amy)

Thanks for the suggestion - the book by Jacob Neusner seems quite interesting. I will add this to the books I am already reading and am about to read. I just finished Geza Vermes on this exact same subject - who has initiated a new field of study in this arena titled 'the changing face of Jesus' published in 1999.

I noticed Neusner's book was 1993 - however I will check into this book and even give it a good read (if I can find it at the local library).

I, at this point in time, disagree with Jacob Neusner but I would have to read his book or learn more about the man to be certain...so I will check this out.

Hi Societyvs,

One needs to remember they date these gospels in that exact time period from 70-125 AD. The further you go from that ‘break-up’ the more diverse the ideas get…namely with John’s gospel.
You are making two errors here as I see them. The first is this late-dating of the books of the New Testament. These writings were created by the eyewitnesses and we have credible evidence that they go right back to the events. The second is to presume that the writings, because you assume they are from decades after Jesus' ministry, are somehow not the work of those who knew Him and are also wrong.
How and why are you a Christian if you believe this about the books?

One needs to remember Paul never deconverted from Judaism – according to his own letters. He fully admits there are 2 strands of Christian: Jewish believers (Acts 15 crew) and Gentile converts (allowed by Acts 15 ruling)…he simply has beefs with what laws Gentiles need to follow (see also Acts 15 ruling). Paul is accurate in his letters about that stuff.
Exactly. But what does the fact that he was a pharisee among pharisees and Jew of Jews say about our interpretation? Nobody has interpreted him as a gentile.
The Gentiles see something quite different in the writing of the disciples than the disciples themselves saw – just based on any basic study of those terms in Judaism (which the disciples were and stayed).
Did they? Please show how. Since Jesus applied the term to Himself and also showed how He was fulfilling the prophecies of the OT how is it significant and how does it argue that the later Greeks and not Jesus and His own disciples were the ones claiming His Divinity?
The virgin birth is fictitious – based on bad grammar concerning the term ‘alma’ in greek (different in the actual Hebrew this word).
No it's not. You should spend more time challenging your finding here. And Mary's virginity did not confer upon Jesus His divinity, it was merely a sign. Are you saying there wasnothing special about Jesus and there is no reason to have provided a sign of His birth?

Why does Isaiah call the Messiah Mighty God if the Gentiles were to be the ones who later invented this idea?

As for Jews and evolving thought: Did they always know God by the Name YHWH or was this revealed to them at an historic point? Did their view of the afterlife ever develop or is it today identical to what it was in the beginning? Did God always promise them a land of their own or did He specifically reveal this to one man at one time? Were they always allowed to eat meat?
(yes, I know that the lineage that later produced the Jewish race was not always designated as such, no need to point this out).
My point is, do you not recognize that even the Jews had an evolving idea of God and received revelations from Him in time? And do you realize that most of the time the populace had their ideas wrong, according to the Bible, as did the ruling priests and prophets? Why is it so strange to think that they were once again mistaken when God once again revealed Himself to them in their history?

"But where do you get this idea God changed from Jewish background to a Greco-Roman one at 'this appointed time'? How can we know this is also not a huge assumption to keep the system we have stable?"

I get it from Christ, who interprets eschatological judgment in Graeco-Roman terms, has a body-soul dichotomy that is not revealed in the OT, etc. The Lord interprets the OT through concepts that He placed within the culture. This is what Christianity has always believed. To state that all of Christianity is wrong in its interpretive presupps is to then pull it toward your own, which the Lord is never seen as adopting in His hermeneutic. Culture must always interpret text, and God knowing this, set the culture up for it.

Nesuner quotes at McGill university blog under heading 'Neusner: My Argument with the Pope' - http://mqup.typepad.com/mcgill_queens_university_/jacob_neusner_a_rabbi_talks_with_jesus/

"If I heard what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, for good and substantive reasons I would not have become one of his disciples...But, then, it also is hard to imagine hearing those words for the first time, as something surprising and demanding, not as mere cliches of culture" (Jacob Neusner)

"And that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent from the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah" (Neusner)

"Where Jesus diverges from the revelation by God to Moses at Mount Sinai that is the Torah, he is wrong, and Moses is right" (Nuesner)

It is pretty obvious, even from these few comments, Neusner can see the obvious divergence from Judaism that Christianity is. Neusner does not explain why this is - just that it is and he will not accept it.

But I will read it.

"I would also charge that it's based in a supernatural system rather than in a philosophically naturalistic one. Hence, the real presuppositions of which we ought to be wary are our own" (Hodge)

You: "That's of no real concern to me, you, your pastor, or anyone...we make due with the information humanly available to us and to suggest otherwise is to suggest into a realm even you do not have master of (ie: the spiritual realm). So let's keep it honest and work from the ground level - we'll get to the sky later."

So the assumption of philosophic naturalism doesn't need any substantiation? You don't have master of the natural realm either, and neither will you by assuming the nature of reality by assuming your metaphysics, and you do this by assuming that philosophic naturalism is the default position from which all must argue. I think you've proven my point that when one strays from the belief that "culture" and the Spirit's direction guide the Church's interpretation by divine providence, religious atheism is the surest result.

"Now they did not have extensive libraries on these Jewish subjects of contention so where exactly is the Gentile reader to interpret these in light of Jewish history?"

I'm sorry, but this is just wrong. The early Church had the entire OT, apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, as well as the NT that contained the appropriate grid through which it all must be interpreted. I don't believe you've studied the issue that thoroughly if you believe this comment.

"I, at this point in time, disagree with Jacob Neusner but I would have to read his book or learn more about the man to be certain...so I will check this out."

I would pick Neusner over Vermes any day of the week. Neusner has both the vast amount of knowledge needed in detail and the understanding of appropriate methodology by which the texts and concepts ought to be judged synchronically.

"It is pretty obvious, even from these few comments, Neusner can see the obvious divergence from Judaism that Christianity is. Neusner does not explain why this is - just that it is and he will not accept it."

Well, of course, it diverges from later Judaism's interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. That's a given. The question is which has the right to interpret it? The Son of God and those He places as His apostles, or later rabbinic Judaism. That has to be established on the basis of belief and reason.

“How and why are you a Christian if you believe this about the books?” (Daron)

(a) This has nothing to do with my faith – let’s make that crystal clear

(b) This has everything to do with the best evidence available on the subject – via archaeology.

The best dating for these documents (and this is conservative at best) is:

•“Mark: c. 68–73, c 65-70
•Matthew: c. 70–100. c 80-85 Some conservative scholars argue for a pre-70 date, particularly those that do not accept Mark as the first gospel written.
•Luke: c. 80–100, with most arguing for somewhere around 85, c 80-85
•John: c 90-100, c. 90–110, the majority view is that it was written in stages, so there was no one date of composition. “ (Wikipedia – gospels)

This is based on a variety of studies under ‘higher criticism’ and you’ll be shocked to know most Christian leaders do not dispute these dates. How can they, there is no better evidence available at this moment in time.

“Exactly. But what does the fact that he was a pharisee among pharisees and Jew of Jews say about our interpretation?” (Daron)

It means Paul would not have changed the meanings to the terms in question. He would of understood them from the perspective of someone Jewish and this completely flies in the face of current interpretations of terms like a ‘virgin birth’, ‘son of God’, and ‘trinity’ to name a few.

“Did they? Please show how. Since Jesus applied the term to Himself and also showed how He was fulfilling the prophecies of the OT how is it significant and how does it argue that the later Greeks and not Jesus and His own disciples were the ones claiming His Divinity?” (Daron)

This is where we need to use some form of analysis on the gospel accounts. No doubt the synoptics (Matt/Mark/Luke) are pretty clear Jesus was fulfilling prophecies – no debate here from me. It’s John that changes the playing field. John forgoes a ‘virgin birth’ (which was likely an addition anyways) and changes his beginning to the beginning of time/creation…some liberty with the starting point if I do say so myself. John is really the only gospel pointing to claims of divinity and at the same time messing that up – as if confused on the issue.

“Are you saying there was nothing special about Jesus and there is no reason to have provided a sign of His birth?” (Daron)

All I am saying is there is no need for a virgin birth based on bad interpretation of Isaiah 7:14. Daron you should look into this – it was believed via this virgin birth that Jesus was able to be both divine and human at the same time – this gave him the ability to do this special thing. I am saying there is no need for this invention (which it is if you study the Hebrew on that word) to fulfill some prophecy that does not exist – namely the messiah would actually be God (something Judaism never believed – ever).

“Why does Isaiah call the Messiah Mighty God if the Gentiles were to be the ones who later invented this idea?” (Daron)

If you check that passage – it’s about Hezekiah – the term mighty God actually comes from a name in that passage. What’s crazy to me, if your claim is so evident, is how come the 1000’s of people that have studied Judaism and the texts of Isaiah (in Hebrew nonetheless) have not seen this same thing and just accepted your version of that passage? Puzzling really.

“Why is it so strange to think that they were once again mistaken when God once again revealed Himself to them in their history?” (Daron)

Because that makes the Jewish rabbi’s who have been studying those texts for 2600 years tantamount to imbeciles (if I were to believe you on this point). How could they miss such obvious things even someone that knows no Hebrew or has never studied the texts in their original language knows so precisely? It’s mind boggling to believe your claims about the ignorance Judaism might have about it’s own texts. I dare you to go and read some rabbi’s – pick any single one – then come back to me and if you think they are that ‘clueless’.

It is hard to read this as a valid critique with all the ad hominem attacks on Brian McLaren as a person. This post reads like some sort whacked out passive aggressive job. If you have real critique why not stay on the topic of the theology instead of personal attacks on Brian. If you read your own post you will see that almost every paragraph starts out with a sentence about Brian as a person and then moves on to his theology... which if one is imersed in right-wing conservatism would be as much a misrepresentation as much of you analysis of Biran as a person and his theology.

BTW One major flaw in you thesis... not all emerging are liberal.

I used to respect your views, but really as I read through them now, you seemed to lower your caliber of research and made much of it on the personal level. This is something Walter Martin taught one should not do.

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