Food for thought #6: A New Kind of Christianity
The God Question
McLaren starts out this section by—what seems to me—as apologies for God’s atrocities:
Now, I am in no way interested in excusing or defending divine smiting, genocidal conquest, or global quasi-geocidal flooding; I’m just saying that even if these are the crimes of Elohim/LORD, they are far less serious crimes than those of Theos. (p. 99)
Then McLaren starts in on explaining how God isn’t actually violent but since people see God as violent, they act out how they see God. (Conversely, if we all saw God as loving, we’d all be loving to one another.) He uses an analogy of math concepts revealed in textbooks during the course of a person’s schooling as an example of how humans understand God: at first we learn very basic concepts since we are so immature but then we learn very complex concepts because humans have matured in their understanding of God. And as icing on the cake, McLaren takes a cheap (and distasteful) potshot at Christians who eat meat, subscribe to a just-war theory, and use fossil fuels. (For someone who talks a lot about being humble and mild-mannered, his snark and disdain for Christians who think differently than him is quite apparent in this book. I’ll admit, however, I am guilty of the same toward him now.)
The more I read McLaren’s theories, the more I cringe. The God of the Bible is loving, merciful, gracious, and slow to anger. But the God of the Bible is also a just, righteous, and jealous God. He is not McLaren’s caricature of a bloodthirsty “Theos” but McLaren’s happy-go-lucky description of Elohim is neither the full picture. McLaren often attacks Christians in his book, painting them as fundamental extremists or right-wing Republicans. It’s like saying all Democrats are treehuggers. It’s tough to be open-minded to other people’s opinions or “new” ideas when they brand you with a scarlet letter just for identifying yourself with the same religious group. I am neither a fundamental extremist nor a right-wing Republican yet McLaren often makes me feel as though my view of the Bible makes me part of that group. He couldn’t be more wrong.
I’m easily getting tired of McLaren now. He worries that Christians will use the story of the flood (Noah) to justify genocide [insert eyeroll here] then comes up with this:
Yes, I find a character named God who sends a flood that destroys all humanity except for Noah’s family, but that’s trivial compared to a deity who tortures the greater part of humanity forever in infinite eternal conscious torment, three words that need to be read slowly and thoughtfully to feel their full import. (Endnote: For this reason, I would grimly prefer atheism to be true than for the Greco-Roman Theos narrative to be true. And for this reason, I joyfully celebrate the narrative centered in Jesus as a better alternative to both.) (p. 99, 272)
[insert facepalm here] The ironic thing about the “narrative centered in Jesus” was that Jesus is the one who introduced the concept of hell, or “eternal conscious torment,” as we know it today. What Bible is McLaren reading? (Is he reading one at all?)
McLaren’s zenith in Part III of this book comes when he says:
For Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God. (p.115)
Um, sooo, that whole “the Father and I are one” thing from John 10:30? Let’s just throw that out so McLaren can have his new kind of Christianity that puts Jesus ahead of anything we know of God from the Old Testament.
I’m nearly halfway through this book and McLaren has not offered anything interesting or anything new. This book frequently descends into intellectual drivel that offers no hope to the single working mother in the inner city or the blue collar worker in a factory. McLaren could go to either of these people and talk of his ontological view about the Greco-Roman god Theos or the traditional “constitutional” reading of the Bible and they would give him a blank stare. This is writing aimed at those who have attended an institution of higher learning, are well educated, are extremely literate, and wax philosophical. In other words, I must agree with John Piper when he claims this is directed at middle-class to upper middle-class white people.
I’m looking for practicality in McLaren’s book and it’s difficult to find. For all his talk about social justice, I’ve yet to see how his new kind of Christianity will radically transform people’s approach to that issue. I’ve got 140 more pages to read but it isn’t looking good. Little practicality; mostly philosophy. (Although I would at least like to get to the part where he talks about “fundasexuality.” That, in the least, should be interesting.)