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Posts Tagged ‘Brian McLaren’


I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming thing at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated to the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

9781433530036_1024xWell, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles. On the ground you see the trees, but from the air you see the forest.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

Chandler’s main point is that many churches are not explicit about the gospel. They mention Jesus a lot, but they are not clear about the content of the gospel. People aren’t hearing about God’s glory, their sin and Christ’s redemptive and reconciling work. His premise is that churches need to explicitly preach the gospel, to consistently show these things from the Scriptures lest we lapse into the common moralistic therapeutic deism that fills so many churches today. They are to make it explicit instead of assumed.

“We carry an insidious prosperity gospel around in our dark, little, entitled hearts.”

So, he starts with God’s glory and sovereignty so we know who we are dealing with in the gospel. There is a focus on God’s incomprehensibility, as well as His revelation of Himself to us in the Scriptures. In terms of His omniscience, he hits both the macro (God’s transcendent knowledge) and the micro (God’s immanent knowledge). He explains the folly of us trying to play God’s counselor with a story of his 4 year-old daughter claiming they are lost on a trip to San Antonio. We easily, and arrogantly, forget that God’s knowledge far exceeds ours and that He could benefit from our help. The gospel is God’s plan for our salvation. We don’t and can’t improve it. His work in our lives is the result of His wisdom- it is the absolute best way for Him to accomplish His purposes in our lives.

In this context, he alludes to what John Gerstner called the problem of good. We question all the time about the difficulties and afflictions we experience as though the Judge of all the earth has failed to do right. We don’t question why good things happen to such pathetic sinners as ourselves. We are not amazed at both common and saving grace. Spiritually, we are part of the moocher class. We’ve become the Occupy Heaven group. We want it be to all about us, not God. But God is passionately committed to His glory. Unlike us, God is no idolator!

Yet, here I found some factual errors. Are there not editors who are supposed to catch these things. I challenge anyone to find “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Show me! It is in the Westminster Standards, but it’s the first answer of the Shorter Catechism (slightly different from the first answer of the Larger Catechism). I don’t know why this stuff irritates me so. But this is a simple fact to check, but some guy new to the Confession will look in vain and conclude that either Chandler is lying or the reader himself is an idiot. Things like this undermine one’s credibility. Been there when I haven’t done enough fact checking for a sermon illustration.

Which leads us to our sinfulness. Chandler is a bit too reductionistic here. It calls all of it idolatry, the quest to worship something other than God. Oh, we are idolators! All idolatry is sin, but all sin is not necessarily idolatry. A minor point.

He balances the kindness and severity of God. Our tendency is to default to one or the other. Liberals the former and fundamentalists the latter. He doesn’t mention Rob Bell here (he alludes to Bell’s first book later), but that is part of the background. God is ruthlessly severe toward sin. The Bible contains both promises and warnings, or in covenantal terms- blessings and curses. While he continually affirms the horrible reality of hell, there are times when he is less than clear. The particular issue that is unclear is whether or not God is present in hell. His presence (if He’s not, He’s not omnipresent) is what makes it hell. He is present to execute justice, the curses of the covenant. Hell is intensely personal, not just some impersonal and bland place apart from God.  Perhaps I’m being overly charitable. “There is a chasm between us and presence of God that manifests the withdrawal of God’s presence and goodness from the reality of hell.” Such a concept is a theological impossibility, like the pseudo-tasks people ponder. Can God create a place where He isn’t present? Nope.

“Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” Thomas Watson

The gospel makes no sense apart from the reality of sin’s punishment. God’s love, rightly understood, does not rule out God’s wrath. He protects His glory, and those He loves, from all that seek to destroy them. That is what love does- it hates evil and loves good.

He then moves into the redeeming, reconciling work of Christ which is the answer to God’s goodness meeting our sinfulness. He rightly wants to keep the cross central to Christianity. He focuses on the one controversial area- the penal satisfaction. Here he alludes to Chalke and McLaren’s claim of it as child abuse. I applaud him for this.

But there are passages in the chapter whose meaning is uncertain. For instance, what law did the high priest write (pp. 56)? He seems to deny that the Father forsook the Son by referring to Psalm 22 which starts with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He says “God does not turn his back on Jesus, ever.” Odd to me. He seems to confuse the ontological Trinity with Christ as our Redeemer who became sin for us (2 Cor. 5).

There are more unclear statements, like ” the plan known about within the Godhead since the beginning.” This plan was not merely known by God, but made by God. Yet later he affirms that the Cross was God’s idea. The editors should be noticing these things. In one place there is a sentence that makes no sense.

“The other goat, the scapegoat, is vanquished into the wilderness, carrying away the sins of Israel.”

Vanquished makes no sense. It means “to conquer or subdue by force; to defeat; to overcome.” Banished is the word they are looking for in this context.

“No, the invitation is bound up in the gospel message itself. The explicit gospel, by virtue of its own gravity, invites belief by demanding it.”

He ends with the response for which the gospel calls. He has a very good section here that talks about our focus on faithfulness instead of fruitfulness. The problem is that we look for fruitfulness. But Isaiah 6 and the Parable of the Sower indicate that fruitfulness are not guaranteed. Often the gospel hardens people. That God’s word does not return void does not mean everyone (or anyone) will convert. Mentioning this in a small group 21 years ago got me in lots of trouble with a pastor who didn’t want to start the Calvinism conversation yet. Faithful preaching is the goal, and there is no guarantee of the results. All pastors struggle with this. I see relative fruitlessness at times and wonder if I’m being faithful. Not a bad question to ask- am I being faithful. But faithfulness is not determined by the presence or lack of fruitfulness. The Spirit works according to the purposes of God, not according to ours.

“One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. … The power in the gospel is not the dynamic presentation of the preacher or the winsomeness of the witness, although the Spirit does empower and use those things too.”

Chandler, with Wilson, make some much needed corrections for the church in the first section of The Explicit Gospel. In that sense, this is a book that should be read. But it is not a perfect book. So far there are errors of fact, theological faux pas and some very fuzzy thoughts. These don’t undo the positives of the book, but they do make it harder to read. And that is unfortunate.

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I finished reading Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul Miller just before heading off to New York for a week.  Paul is the son of C. John (Jack) Miller, and has a ministry, See Jesus,  that offers 2 helpful small group programs.  The Person of Jesus is based on this book, and PrayerLife.  Both are interactive studies that come from a strong grace-orientation.  But, back to the book.

One of the things I found interesting was the variety of endorsements.  It does my heart good to see Tremper Longman, Steve Brown, Jerry Bridges, Dan Allender and Joni Eareckson Tada endorsing the book.  Max Lucado … not someone whose opinion really matters to me.  Brian McLaren … interesting choice.  Glad he endorsed it, it may mean he’s keeping his toe within the bounds of historic Christianity.

That last sentence is indicative of why a guy like me needs to read this book.  It reveals just how little I love like Jesus.  I can see why Brian McLaren would like most of the book- but he probably struggled with the last few chapters.  You’ll see why.

Paul’s 2 main premises is that Jesus alone shows us what true love looks like in action, and that we can only love well because we have been loved perfectly (including thru his penal substitutionary atonement- which is something McLaren has discounted publicly).  To bring us along, Paul uses numerous incidents from Jesus’ life to show us the richness of variety in his love, and the many barriers we have to showing love to others.  So this book is often convicting as our judgmentalism, self-righteousness, legalism and more are put on display as violating the 2 great commandments upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang.

But the emphasis is positive- love shows compassion, speaks the truth, depends on God and is energized by faith.  Miller weaves those biblical accounts from the life of Jesus with personal stories (he is not the hero of any of them), and some great quotes by various figures from history.  So you will find that it is an easy book to read, even if it hits you hard at times.

But it is not a self-help, try harder book.  The book ends with a section on how love moves from life to death.  It is about the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and how our lives are intended to follow that same track.  He is our model as well as our Substitute (see 1 Peter for plenty of that tension).  As a result, the book challenges those of us who err toward Phariseeism AND those who err toward a more “liberal” view of Jesus that maximizes his Incarnation while rejecting his finished work.  Miller does a great job of maintaining that tension of a suffering Savior whose love is rich and varied, perfectly suitable for the differing needs of its object.   So the book is biblical, accessible and applicable.  I heartily put my name up there with the other endorsees (even McLaren).  See, God’s using it in my life too.

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It is hard to believe it is Saturday.  Life has slowed down tremendously since we hopped on that plane Tues. morning.  The big rush to de-clutter the house was done.  We were packed and gone.

Since then I’ve been doing some reading.  That has been hard for me lately.  I’ve had trouble concentrating.  There were far too many things going on, and I deperately needed a change of scenery- and weather.  I got both.  So my concentration has returned.  As you may have noticed, I read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian.  Dr. Nicole taught me to read those I don’t agree with (or other ivew points) so I can see their own arguments first hand lest someone mischaracterize them.  Glad I read it, and I still disagree with him.

In addition to starting to read Job, I’m reading Sinclair Ferguson’s book on Ruth, Faithful God.  It is really good.  As someone who is going through a difficult time, I need that reminder that God’s plan is not always evident until it has completely unfolded.  And that might be long after you’re gone.

It’s not all serious- I’m reading a Dean Koontz novel I picked off the bookshelf here.

I’ve been helping my brother-in-law get the website ready for his business.  I’ll also be helping to get their financial system integrated on the software.  My sister-in-law has too much going on the learn the system and get it all integrated herself.  Since the guys at Riedinger & Sons are heading off to Mississippi for a missions trip today, I’ll be able to work on this with no new invoices etc. 

The weather has been quite varied.  Plenty of sun, and plenty of rain too.  The tempuratures are mostly in the 60’s-70’s.  A very nice  change of pace allowing me to sit outside and read.  Sadly, no cigars to enjoy outside.  But my sister-in-law provided me with some Smithwick’s Irish Ale as a treat.  Quite nice.

I helped my other brother-in-law work on his new house today.  I was priming the dry wall in a few closets.  And tonight I’m cooking some Cajun Back Ribs.

I know some of you are more concerned about the kids.  They are having a blast.  CavGirl loves coming here and playing with her cousins.  It is the first time CavBoy has come to the Farm.  He might be feeling a bit left behind as she goes on adventures with her cousins.  But he’s getting more adventurous.  Both are playing long and hard, so naps and night time have been met with quickly nodding off to sleep.  Parenting has required less time and energy.

I got some great pictures of the humming birds.  At one point there were 5 vying for the feeder.  I couldn’t get the beautiful finch.  He was too skittish when I came near with the camera.  That and the territorial battle he was engaged in with another bird.  I don’t have the right software here, so posting any of them will have to wait.

I was disappointed to discover that my capo and picks were not in the guitar case where I thought I left them.  This greatly reduces what I can do with old vacation guitar while I’m up here.

Well, a beautiful sunny afternoon is calling my name.

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I’m continuing to work my way through McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian.  I would sum it up as increasingly frustrating.  Neo keeps getting further and further out there.  And the strawmen he argues against are increasingly obscure.

This is an incredible nit-pick, but World Cup soccer is played by national teams.  DC United wouldn’t play, much less win, that competition.  Yep, this is fiction but try to keep the connections to reality there to make it believable and in the spirit of being missional- being ignorant of such matters means you lose street cred.  Okay, off the box.

Neo’s sermon contains a section from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, one I have a particularly difficult time with.  But Neo uses it to teach truth, not illustrate truth.  This would be because the truth he’s trying to illustrate doesn’t exist.  Kind hearted muslims (or pick your religion) are not serving Jesus unknowingly.  In Scripture you find that people forsake their worthless idols to worship the true God.  That’s a bit different than what Neo is trying to encourage.

I’ll give McLaren the credit for reminding people that the church exists to expand the kingdom, benefiting the world.  How he and I understand that is a bit different.  Yes, some Christians reduce the gospel to personal salvation, ignoring the cosmic implications.  Is it possible to make too much of the cosmic implications?  Yes, if you minimize what Scripture maxamizes.  Scripture addresses the need for personal salvation far more than the cosmic implications of redemption.  Jesus and the Apostles do show a great deal of concern for the people’s fate.  His first “sermon”, “repent and believe for the kingdom is at hand.”  “Repent and believe” is conversion talk.  “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” is conversion talk, and the point of Peter’s very first sermon.  So this notion that “it’s none of your business who goes to hell” is not in step with Scripture.  If modern evangelicals are to be chastized for importing  modern notions onto the Scripture (and they are at times), so should McLaren be chastized for importing notions foreign to Scripture and deny notions prevalent in Scripture.  He also takes some Scripture completely out of context to make his point.  He mentions Jesus’ words to Peter as though we should not be concerned with anyone else’s eternal destiny.  But Peter is asking how John will die.  THAT is of no concern to Peter.

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On the right, where he doesnt want to be!

On the right, where he doesn't want to be!

Feeling quite behind the times, I borrowed a friend’s copy of A New Kind of Christian.  I have been unable to get to it the last few weeks.  It was as if I just didn’t have the mental energy.  Oddly, I was able to make some significant headway today on the plane and relaxing in the backyard.

I am sympathetic to the concerns often raised by members of the emergent church movement.  I don’t often like their answers to the problems.  As I read Brian McLaren’s book, I experienced that same strange conflux of thoughts.

As I read the book I would be considered one of the modernist Christians McLaren is trying to ‘convert’.  I guess I feel like a non-Christian would feel when reading one of those poorly written novels intending to convert you to Christianity.  Not completely- I’m not angry with McLaren though I take exception with some of his conclusions.  Thus far anyway.

McLaren does point out that the extremes in popular American Christianity are problematic.  He comes off a bit reductionistic to me.  He does this by neglecting the good things that those modernistic American Christians have contributed to society.  He thinks we should do more than we preach- showing the gospel with our actions.  Yes, and many do this.  Many American evangelicals reach out to the poor and oppressed.  They are often very generous.  And it seems less than generous to ignore this in his gentle diatribe against enculturated modern Christians a.k.a. organized religion or the institutional church.

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Britain’s Radio 4 recently had an interview with Jeffrey John, a church leader there.  His comments concerning the atonement are similar to Stephen Chalke’s (and echoed by Brian McLaren here in the States).  Here’s what he said:

“The explanation I was given went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us, he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place . . . In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him. Well, I don’t know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive, as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster. Well, I haven’t changed my mind since. That explanation of the cross just doesn’t work, though sadly it’s one that’s still all too often preached. It just doesn’t make sense to talk about a nice Jesus down here, placating the wrath of a nasty, angry Father God in heaven . . . the wrath of God is no more than a human projection . . . The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it’s almost the opposite. It’s about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God, but by God . . . (more…)

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More from Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

Soon Mars Hill became a stench in their neighbors’ nostrils.  The congregation had outgrown the facility, so parking problems erupted.  The loud music on Sundays created additional issues with the neighbors.  An even bigger problem loomed- the 150 barrier.

I’ve seen this in effect in churches of which I was a member.  150 is a tough barrier to break, and it has something to do with how we are made.  There is a limit to the number of folks the average guy can relate to.  And that number is …. 150.  So in his attempt to overcome this obstacle, he went to 2 services (like many a pastor before him).  As many other congregations before had done, they resisted.

This is a familiar concept.  Churches want to grow- just not too much.  We want a village.  We don’t want a church like a city- a large community of multiple smaller communities (neighborhoods).  Driscoll tried to address this.  Yes, some pastors are ambitous.  But many long to see the advance of the gospel tangibly.  Church growth is not an evil thing, though it can be pursued for wrong reasons, and wrong means.

To artificially limit the growth of a church could be sinful.  It is placing our preferences above what God may choose to do.  I didn’t see Him asking the early church how they felt about Him adding 3,000 to their number in one day, or the continual growth thereafter.  They rejoiced!  And so should we.

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I finished DA Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  As always I find him thought-provoking and his analysis penetrating.  There will be a review of the book on the other page (along with Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes).

Here are Carson’s main complaints, which I cannot deny.

1. Their critique of modernism is superficial.  It is quite reductionistic.  There are problems with modernism, and they have distorted the church’s view of itself and its mission.  But it was not all bad.

2. Their analysis of postmodernism is superficial.  They focus on it effects, not one the fundamentally flawed theory of knowledge.  They push us into a false antithesis which undercuts the notion of truth.

3. Their most vocal spokespeople are doctrinally fuzzy at best, and heretical at worst (the last part is my assessment).  I’m thinking that if you deny the substitutionary atonement, you have missed the essence of Christianity.  You have substituted another religion in its place.  Sorta like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  McLaren, for one, has done this.

So, while I have great sympathies for the Emerging Church, I can’t buy into it.  I agree with many of their critiques of contemporary Christianity (though not all).  I share many of their longings for authentic community where lives are transformed and we aren’t afraid of the past.  But I can’t go all the way.  This makes me sad.  Not because I want to be all trendy.  But this hope for a more authentic church is currently mired in trendy worship, fuzzy/heretical teaching and is just as much captive to culture as the contemporary/modernist churches they despise.  It is the product more of their biases than biblical teaching.

[originally from my previous blog]

Update: Carson is primarily critiquing the Emergent Church which is the most radical of the Emerging Churches.  He is actually quite influential among what Mark Driscoll calls the Relevants.

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