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Not Everything Must Change

November 13, 2007

Brian McLaren is in Austin, Texas today at several locations throughout the city. The event is being sponsored by several churches in Austin. You can find more info at www.austinchange.org. I spent some time with him and others at Rudy’s for breakfast to participate in the ‘conversation’. Right now some of you are scared for my salvation and others might be wishing they were here as well. Don’t worry, I have not drank the McLaren Kool-Aid.

For some credibility on both sides of the issue:

  • For the McLaren crowd: I ran from God, the church and Christians most of my life. The church was the last place I found grace and truth. What I mostly saw growing up was inconsistent with what was said. I came to faith at 28 years old. My story is not the Baptist kid story. I spent time in both jail and prison and baiting Christians used to be sport for me.
  • For the reformed, missional crowd (of which I am): God in His mercy revealed my depravity to me, called me to His Son and saved me. All I offered was my rebellion. I was recently on staff at The Village Church and I am influenced by John Piper, John Stott, Mark Driscoll, Michael Goheen, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Rick McKinley and the likes. The sovereign grace and humble orthodoxy guys are a comfortable fit for me.

So, why was I there this morning? Whether some people like it or not, Brian McLaren is an influential voice in many peoples lives. Many in the younger generation are listening intently to his message. No matter where we stand on his opinions and writings it is critical that we interact with them. I wanted to move past critique from a spectator position and hear him in person, shake his hand and maybe chat with him. In addition to that I want to gain a position of credibility in addressing concerns I might have with others. Lastly, I came because some time ago I began asking the question, “What is my responsibility as a local pastor to the universal church in matters of doctrine and practice?” We can’t leave these questions and issues to mere academicians and theorists. Local pastors have to speak into these issues.

The first thing that surprised me was that those in attendance were much older than I was expecting! Sure there were some young folks, but the amount of gray hair in the room was a surprise. I suspect that the 6:30am start time and the aging Bohemian scene in Austin that is drawn to social issues was at play here.

Brian pretty much covered the first 10 chapters of his latest book, Everything Must Change. Tim Challies has a review of the book on his blog and on his truly wonderful website, Discerning Reader, and another perspective can be found with Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed who gives some thoughts on each chapter. Check out both sources if you want to get the idea without reading the whole book. (Although I do recommend reading the book so that you can speak from first hand experience).

After summarizing a few chapters at a time, we had smaller ‘conversations’ with those around us. In God’s mercy and providence I sat with R.C. and Tom, two older guys who were there for research mainly. It turns out that R.C. attends Hill Country NW and we are setting up a lunch in the near future to talk about our new church in Austin. Tom attends FBC Austin and is excited about the new church as well. Both of them spoke of great concern for their young adult children and that someone would provide a church that held on to orthodoxy as well as practiced good orthopraxy (Good doctrine and good practice).

OK, now for my two cents. Brian is a winsome fellow. He is easy to like and to respect. He is more intelligent and educated than I am so I approach this with humility and respect. But dang it, I just think he is wrong to dismiss core doctrines of the faith. Where he is correct is in pointing out that the church as a whole (primarily in America because that is my context) is missing out on the practice of their faith. Everywhere that Jesus went He made an impact. A huge impact. The church was given the mission to continue having an impact, to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to preach freedom to the oppressed, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked and to seek reconciliation between both God and man, and between man and man. It is not necessary to change core doctrine, as it’s ‘framing story’ (the term McLaren uses) is abundantly sufficient!

McLaren does a couple things (so far) in the book that bother me, things that I think he would be rightly disturbed by if they were done toward him (which they have been).

  1. Reductionism
    Many have undoubtedly (even me right now) reduced McLaren’s argument to far too simplistic terms. The differences are that I am not going to write a 360+ page book in order to refute each point, and secondly, reductionism toward a present day author and reductionism of the gospel are two entirely separate things of infinitely different magnitude.The gospel is far more complex in its nature and purpose than McLaren seems to allow. He would likely confess its complexity but not to the point of the gospel as atonement, imputation and the legal declarations of righteousness. The gospel is both 1) the good news that Christ came to save individual sinners and 2) the good news that the creation is being restored by those who are in the Kingdom of God. We collectively are the body of Christ and our message is the same as that of Christ. The whole message.
  2. Caricaturization
    McLaren (admittedly) creates opposing views of the Conventional View and the Emerging View. In almost every instance he presents that Conventional View in the starkest negative, reductionist light, while presenting the Emerging View in its best light. He does have one or two things buried in the Notes at the back of the book which help flesh out the Conventional View a bit, but the placement at the back of the book means many won’t read them. He also fails to acknowledge (so far anyway) that there are many who hold to orthodox core doctrines of the faith while preaching the Kingdom of God and its coming, and who feed the hungry, clothe the naked and who preach freedom to the oppressed. Rick McKinley being one who does so well.

Some things I have liked:

  1. The concept of framing stories is intriguing. At first I thought, “Why not just use ‘worldview’, and then I realized that ‘worldview’ seems to have more of a present/future thinking aspect, while framing story has a past/present/future aspect. Worldview does include the past as in 1) Who is God?, 2) Who is man? and 3) What is the problem, but it seems to be more forward focused in my mind. I like both terms, but they each have some negatives for me in terms of the primary users of the terms. In framing story I am hesitant to use it because of its direct association with the Emergent Church which I am not a part of. In ‘worldview’ because it seems to be primarily used by those who equate Christianity with Republican only issues and left behind proponents (although not exclusively by those camps). Words have meanings and they are associated with those who primarily use them. The issues are too complex to bring along the baggage that both camps bring with them. That being said, I do like the ‘framing stories’ term and ideas. I will just have to invent my own term I guess.
  2. His ‘suicidal system’
    Here is a summary of the suicidal system by Tim Challies at Discerning Reader.

    “According to McLaren, we live in a societal system consisting of three subsystems: the prosperity, equity and security systems. These are all guided by a framing narrative. The world was made in such a way that these should function in perfect harmony as they are guided by God’s framing story, but unfortunately they have become misaligned so they no longer function as they should. When the framing narrative is destructive, this system can go suicidal, ultimately self-destructing. This is society as we know it now—a society that is completely suicidal. And this is the problem Jesus came to address. Having thought long and hard about the world’s problems, McLaren says this: “Our plethora of critical global problems can be traced to four deep dysfunctions, the fourth of which is the lynchpin or leverage point through which we can reverse the first three.” These three crises are linked in a very tightly integrated system that functions as this “suicide machine.” The dysfunctions are:

    1. Prosperity Crisis – This is environmental breakdown caused by an unsustainable global economy that does not respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in creating great wealth for about one third of the world’s population.
    2. Equity Crisis – This is the growing gap between the ultra-rich and the very poor, the majority of whom are growing in resentment and envy as they consider the privilege of the rich. The rich, in turn, become fearful and angry as they seek to protect their wealth.
    3. Security Crisis – This is the danger of war arising from resentment between the groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.
    4. Spirituality Crisis – This is the failure of the world’s religions (especially Christianity and Islam, the world’s two largest) to provide a framing story that is capable of healing or at least reducing the previous three crises.

    I think McLaren’s suicide machine is a compact way to think about the complex issues at play today. It is interesting to note that numbers 1-3 all have to do with money and power. Read Part 2 of Everything Must Change for more information on the suicide system.

OK, I am at Flipnotics and my laptop battery is draining down so I have to finish this post. (Kristen at Flipnotics is cool, makes great coffee and is introducing me to the alt-country scene.)

I will be headed over to St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin at 2:00pm for another round of ‘conversations’ with Brian and the crew. I pray that I have been fair and respectful in my writings. If not, please respectfully let me know. If you agree or have something to contribute, I would love to hear it respectfully as well.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2007 3:52 pm

    Jacob –

    Kudos for going to listen to a different viewpoint on faith. There is value in discussing points where we disagree with others, and it is important that we learn to really listen to other viewpoints before we disagree. Too often people (Christians included) tend to start disagreeing (even if it is only internally) before they have really listened.

    Even more, kudos for holding true to traditional orthodoxy, while looking for ways to live it out faithfully. I have not read McLaren yet. One of these days I may break down and buy one of his books.

    I hope that one of these days you will post more of your personal story. It sounds like you have truly experienced grace.

    John
    john-simons.com

  2. November 14, 2007 3:02 pm

    Thanks for the info, Jacob. I hadnt planned on reading Everything Must Change, but now I dont have to! I found Tim Chailles review rather harsh, not as winsome as yours.

    I am reviewing McLaren’s forthcoming book on Spiritual Disciplines for Thomas Nelson publishers right now. This is an area I can really see him thriving. I like it so far.

    Much to learn from in the dialogical approach, though Keller has modeled that without sacrificing the reliability of the Gospels.

  3. November 14, 2007 3:57 pm

    John,
    Thanks for the kudos brother. I will probably share more of my personal story sometime in the near future. I will also be posting a link to my sermon from this past weekend which has part of the story.

    Jonathan,
    I am looking forward to your review of Spiritual Disciplines. And yes, Keller is amazing.

Trackbacks

  1. Not Everything Must Change (Part 2) « Under Grace In Austin

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