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Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

LifeWay Advertises New McLaren Book

Four months after my wife and I moved out of the dump in which we were living, we have been found by all the mail-order catalogs and advertisements that we previously left behind. Just today we received in the mail the new LifeWay Christian Stores' circular for Mother's Day. Of course it is filled with a bunch of junk gift items like embroidered pillows that say "FAITH," "HOPE," and "LOVE," along with all the new Christian CD's and books that they can pack into 40 pages. Around p. 30, I noticed that smashed between Dan Miller's 48 Days to the Work You Love and You Matter More Than You Think by Dr. Leslie Parrott was Brian McLaren's new book, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything. The book description given on Amazon.com says the following:

Brian McLaren, one of TIME magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," is back, this time to lead readers on a journey that will prove to be as unsettling and groundshaking as it is thrilling and life-changing. Unafraid of controversy or the uncomfortable gray areas of life, McLaren's quest is to find the essential message of Jesus' life-even if it overturns our conventional ideas, priorities, and practices."


"Through the years, I have frequently had an uncomfortable feeling:" writes McLaren, "that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the images of Jesus in the church" Out of that nagging discomfort arose this book, promising to be McLaren's most revolutionary to date. He writes, "I'd like to share my search with you, and invite you to be a part of it. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I'll let you in on this: the farther I go on this search, the more inspired, moved,
challenged, shocked, and motivated I become about the secret message of Jesus."

Now, I must admit that I haven't read the book, but given his previous works such as Generous Orthodoxy and Adventures in Missing the Point (with Tony Campolo), along with the three book series that began with A New Kind of Christian, I would say that it is a bit early for LifeWay to be advertising the book. Selling this book in LifeWay is really not a problem for me and neither is purchasing the book (which I plan to do), but I think LifeWay, being a Southern Baptist entity should be careful about what they advertise and thus should take seriously their role in shaping the hearts and minds of not only Southern Baptists, but millions of other Christians. Advertising the book in their circular with a very favorable description is, to most readers, at least an approval, if not a outright endorsement. The description found next to the book reads:
In a book that will keep you on your toes, Brian D. McLaren searches for the true Jesus of the New Testament, even if this Jesus doesn't match who is portrayed in today's churches. Join McLaren in his search for the secret message of Jesus.
So far I have found McLaren to be the one on the adventure of missing the point of Christianity. If his latest book is like the others, then I think LifeWay has made a grave mistake here in advertising a book that does not accord with the theology of our great denomination, whose history is rooted in the historical-grammatical hermeneutical method, along with the belief in substitutionary atonement -- two things that McLaren seems to reject. I do plan on reading it in upcoming days, so look for my review to be up in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here is a review by Matt Adair that I think is worth reading.

You mentioned that Brian has missed the point. What is the point that Brian is missing?

Curious, Tim

Well Tim, thanks for asking . . .

1) I think he places ministry over against the message of Christ. The cheif message of Christ is redemption through his substitutionary atoning grace by means of faith in Him alone. McLaren often puts ministry above that message. He won't answer questions about his beliefs because he has stated that he doesn't want to alienate people, yet this was the very thing Christ was unafraid of. I think so often because we see Jesus dealing with religious types we assume that with non-religious or non-Jewish (or even non-Pharisaical) people he was nice and loving all the time. But this was not the case. He basically called one woman a dog, called many others to repent, and even seriously offended a major Roman leader (Pilate). John the Baptist's ministry was similar. So was Paul's and Peter's. They cared more about the message than whether they offended another person, though I don't think they intentionally tried to do so.

2) McLaren seems to confuse a social gospel with the Gospel of Christ. And though I agree with his emphasis on taking care of the poor and underprivilaged, I think he seems to make this the highest calling of the Christian life, but it seems that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Glorifying God means making much of Him, whether that ben through social ministry or through sanctification, which is the means of drawing close to God and become more like Christ. Social ministry is not enough -- we must be holy, as Christ is holy.

So Tim I see McLaren missing some key ingredients in the Christian life. I appreciate the emphasis he places on the poor, as I said, and I am all for reaching out to those who are outcasts, but many of the postmoderns that he reaches out to are far from this group and his unwillingness to speak on sin (the reason for the atoning work of Christ) to this group is problematic to me. I hope you see my points. Let me know how you see it.

Thanks for the link to the review. It was helpful. I have heard McLaren's name batted around but didn't know much about him. In fact, from what I had read, I had a less than good impression of him.

But according to what the reviewer had to say, I may like McLaren more than I'd have thought (probably for some of the same reasons that you dislike his teachings, Daniel).

Matt Adair's review said:
"Jesus sees the story of the Jewish people... as coming together in his time (Luke 4:18-19), a concept which McLaren illustrates in the hopes of creating a picture of Jesus far more revolutionary that the Jesus ‘whose main job was to die so my sins could be forgiven and I could go to heaven..."

And this is exactly where I and folk at my church are coming from: We think that the Church has spiritualized Jesus to the point of meaningless-ness, that God's message IS a radical kingdom message for our world. As it sounds like McLaren is saying.

I may have to check this book out.

I agree that Jesus had a message of a completely, radically different kingdom from those of the world, after all the Sermon on the Mount was a new way to view how one ought to act. And for many Christians this is a constant thorn in the side. But, essentially, without coming to Christ, repenting of sins, believing what Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 15, being reconciled through the tranformation wrought by the Spirit, and seeing the Bible as the source of knowledge on how to grow in holiness, the kingdom is unable to be brought about. McLaren seems to miss that the explicit message of Christ is "repent" before it is "the kingdom of God has come." Preaching repentence means preaching sin and calling men to repent. The message to Christians post-conversion is to act like Christ and embody the Sermon on the Mount. That is where I see the distinction.

The reason why I posted that particular review is because I think it is even-handed, he puts McLaren in a good light when he is right, but when McLaren misses the point of Christ's message of eternal life through faith in Him alone, Adair calls him on it. McLaren may be right on many points, but without faith it is impossible to please God. Lowering that essential point below that of Jesus "political" message is a travesty. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but McLaren is doing of good job of insuring just that for his Evangelical readers who will never be able to listen to him as well as they could if he reflected Orthodoxy more and attacked it less.

But I am glad you appreciated the post and I do hope you will read McLaren. He is someone that does deserve a hearing, even if you disagee with him. Have a great week Dan.

I've read two of McLaren's books and while I think he did a good job writing The Story We Find Ourselves In I found the way that he sterotyped traditional, orthodox, evangelical Christians to be pretty unhanded. I picture him responding by saying that he thinks the Crusades were pretty unhanded - this is afterall what McLaren and his cohorts have done time after time, paint all those who don't think inside his supposedly-outside-the-box box as dangerous villans who discredit "true Christianity."
The other book I read was his book on evangelism, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix, but I don't remember the title. I invite one and all to read this book and see how McLaren dances around the subject of sin. Better yet, get a highlighter and mark all the times you see the word "sin" occur. It stands in stark contrast to what Paul said about the gospel he delivered to the Corinthians: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

sorry about the bad editing. I omitted the title but then went back and added it in, hence the sloppiness.

Daniel,
Thanks for the link to my review. I hope it was helpful - my goal was to accurately summarize McLaren while responding to what he wrote in light of the totality of the Scriptures. Dan Trabue's comment was interesting for two reasons: one, because it captures the missional heart of Jesus; second, because I hope he read my analysis of McLaren's book, which is woefully inadequate in terms of helping us see the functional centrality of the cross in following after Jesus. My fear is that McLaren's minimalization of sin will leave many people thirsting for something that his vision of Jesus cannot deliver.

Blessings,
Matt

Matt,

Thanks for stopping by. Your review was helpful and probably the best one out there right now. I think you were very fair to McLaren and yet exposed the problem that all Evangelicals (especially those of the Reformed persuasion) have with him -- he's got more "generous" than "orthodoxy". Thanks for a thoughful review worth posting.

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for dropping a helpful comment over on my blog. The reason I'm posting here is because I didn't see an email of yours in your profile.

Respond here if you'd rather:
dogfreid@gmail.com

In Him,
Berny

Berny, I am glad you found my comments helpful and thanks for stopping by to let me know.

You said it! And thanks for clearing some questions up about McLaren. Like Dan, I've heard people praise him and rail against him without telling me what exactly he believed.

Hey I want to offer two completely random and unrelated things to ya while I'm thinking about them:

1. Dude you should definitely do an in-depth study of Leviticus. I think a lot of our "newfound understanding of holiness" isn't new at all. At least, it's got an incredible parallel or symbolic precursor in the Law.

2. I read that Steve Camp called NT Wright unregenerate. When are Calvinists going to call out their own when they are completely out of line? I call out McLaren for being a weenie, and I say that his weenieness is offensive to me (therefore he should stop being such a weenie). But Camp calling NT Wright unregenerate? Tom isn't a Christian? Whoa nelly, becase if Tom isn't, then I'm not, and neither, really, are most of the people I know.

Joe,

Two comments:
1. I agree about Leviticus. Yes, we can learn a great deal about holiness and especially about the cross and atonement through that book. It is sad that more Christians don't have a grasp of Judaism.
2. I don't know where you read about Camp, but send me a link. As for your comment on Calvinists I don't think it extends just to this group. Remember the whole Johnny Hunt debacle (and now the Ergun Caner one) with Calvinism. I didn't see any non-Calvinists coming to the rescue on that one. We all have people to whom we give the benefit of the doubt, and Steve Camp has definitely earned that. But if he did call Wright unregenerate, I would like to know on what basis he did so. I tend to think that Wright is saved, but wrong often, especially on his newly revealed statement that one can be saved and not believe in the resurrection (or apparently the deity of Christ, as his example of Marcus Borg as a Christian seems to indicate). That is unexcusable, but not damnable. The fact is N.T. Wright is continuing to drift further from orthodoxy and that is a problem (or maybe he's just more vocal about it now). Because of Dr. Stewart's relationship with him, and his book on the resurrection, I have to this point given him the benefit of the doubt myself. But this is too much. I hope you see this as problematic Joe, and at least understand the Calvinists' contentions about Wright.

DR: I was pretty open about my disgust with Caner's stupid comments. Both Caners, actually. I was open to condemn the morons who attacked Piper (mentioned in one of your prior posts). I'm an equal opportunity defender, when I see someone taking pot shots without valid arguments. You can read the comment by Camp here. It's about 3/4 the way down, or... it's on April 19th at 11:37 AM.

The deal is, I've presented two comments by Calvinist leaders (MacArthur and Camp both) who have been either wrong or out of line, and I haven't heard any Calvinists speaking out against them. I'm the first to go after legalists (and those who would overly tighten the circle of who is and who isn't a Christian), whether Calvinist or not. I've made my thoughts clear about McLaren's weenie-ness. I just think the questioning works both ways- if those of us who disagree have to answer a barrage of questions (emergents, etc.), then why is it ok for MacArthur or Camp to say STUPID stuff like they have?

Joe,

I am not sure how using yourself to defend my accusation that I didn't see anyone coming to the rescue on the Ergun Caner / Johnny Hunt nonsense really makes my point null and void, especially since I don't think you were looking for any average person to come out against Camp (and MacArthur - though I will get to that in a moment). I took your problems as you wanted a public figure to denounce this guy -- like a Phil Johnson or whoever else. I am wrong? And surely you read the rest of the comments where several people scolded Camp for his baseless accusation and then Camp's response and the evidence he offered to as to why he formed such an opinion. While I still don't agree with Camp, I think he makes a Biblical case for his statement based on Paul's words regarding those preaching another Gospel (since he concludes that Wright's possible rejection of justification by faith alone is actually the preaching of a different Gospel). Even though I conclude different things that Camp, I don't think he is trying to "overly tighten the circle of who is and who isn't a Christian" but rather expose the parameters set in the Bible and draw conclusions based on this in regards to how we should treat Wright (as regenerate or unregenerate). We all make conclusions on people's salvation based on their beliefs and what we understand in regards to Scripture. I am sure you agree with Camp that those that reject the bodily resurrection of Christ are unregenerate, but Camp is asking "what about those that not only give encouragement to those that do reject this doctrine, but also seem to reject salvation by faith alone?" Again, I think Camp is wrong, but I also think that Wright is on thin ice, which most of the commentators pointed out post-Camp's initial comment.

Now, as to MacArthur -- as I stated before, this position that you believe he is advocating, is one that many more than he believe to be true and indeed practice in their church. But as for MacArthur, I am unconvinced that he holds to such a position. In the context of who he was talking to it was a reasonable statement, especially if used in a hyperbolic sense. I encourage you to write MacArthur or Phil Johnson and ask them about this before you jump to the conclusion that this is indeed his position.

Again Joe, I think you see in Calvinists what is true about every other group of Christians -- quick to jump on those with whom they normally disagree, slow to call out those with whom they tend to agree. The fact that you see that more in Calvinists is likely due to the fact that you are especially sensitive to that issue. It is true that Calvinists are very concerned (to the point of extremity) with the preaching of the pure Gospel and the gleaning of proper doctrine from Scripture. It is then understandable that there would be some excess in their beliefs in this regard. But in an age of Christianity when people throw out the Gospel in favor of marketing and postmodern thought -- that might be the lesser of two evils.

I'm emailing you my comment because I'm done talking about it and I don't want a bunch of others commenting on what I say.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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