I received my copy of the September issue of Christianity Today this past weekend which contains the article “McLaren Emerging” by Scot McKnight. McKnight is the Karl A Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago, IL. McKnight by his own claims is part of the emerging church (something I wrote on in February of 2007 Five Streams of the Emerging Church or Has the Church Sprung a Leak?). McKnight raises some good questions about McLaren and in the closing paragraph of the article writes:
All in all, I am hoping that McLaren’s works will lead to a massive conversation on the meaning of one word, gospel.(p 66)
His ending comments circle back to his opening paragraph:
Emergent is no longer just emerging. Is has in many respects emerged. Though some things remain unclear, what you see is what it is and, more importantly, what you see is also where it is going. Where it is going is in the direction of gospel expansion. Is emergent “evangelical”? (p. 59)
McKnight gives the three predominant answers of “By all means!” (that would be by emergents themselves), “Well, yes on some level” (this group he terms “moderates”) and finally “No, of course not,” (this would be conservative and fundamental Evangelicals).
This issue is important for two reasons. First, with no clear understanding of what the gospel is there can be no clear presentation of the gospel in any meaningful way. Second, as McKnight notes, emerging is impacting even “… megachurches like WiIlow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church.” (p 60) Each of these in turn impacts thousands of churches which are part of their new denominations (which they euphemistically call “associations”). McKnight correctly points out that McLaren has abandoned the gospel as he understood is from the Plymouth Brethren and now:
…reads Jesus, to cop the words of Marcus Borg, “again for the first time.” What McLaren discovered was Jesus’ thoroughly social vision and he believes that most people – especially the conservative evangelical group in which he was nurtured – buried the kingdom vision of Jesus and distorted the gospel. (p 60)
McKnight is correct. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, McLaren has abandoned any plain, natural reading and understanding of Scripture as most people would understand it, and adopted Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar’s view of Jesus as a social radical not as God in the flesh to redeem mankind from sin and separation from God by His sacrificial death, burial and resurrection in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The outworking of McLaren’s McGospel make’s no demands on its followers which might result in being uncomfortable or perhaps even suffering as a result. McLaren’s comments in Beyond Business-as-Usual Christianity are quite instructive on this issue. When asked:
… in your book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy.’ You said, in part, that making disciples doesn’t necessarily “equal making adherents to the Christian religion.”
He is fairly clear on this point:
It becomes dangerous and impossible for people who want to follow Jesus in their lives to identify as Christians. Very often if you’re in a Muslim country, and you identify as a Christian, you’re set up for exclusion and bad treatment. In some cases, worse.
How does this square with such statements as:
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for (N)theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. (Matthew 5:10-11)
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
For McLaren the cross is not the power of God for salvation but, as McKnight notes:
…a life of denying the use of violence (which is, according to McLaren, the message of the cross)
I am not all together sure that we need to hope that “McLaren’s works will lead to a massive conversation on the meaning of one word, gospel” but rather an affirmation and proclamation of what the Apostle Paul clearly stated the gospel is:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that (K)He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
The gospel, it seems to me, is clear, the one Paul preached brought about salvation to the individuals who heard and believed. It was he death, burial and physical resurrection of Christ as affirmed by many witnesses. It is not only the one he proclaimed here but outlined in Romans 10:9-15:
that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “(O)WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
If McKnight is correct that McLaren has arrived where the emerging church and those such as Willow Creek and Saddleback, who are incorporating emerging views into what they are doing, is headed, and I believe he is, we don’t really need “a massive conversation on the meaning of one word, gospel,” we need evangelicals leaders to publically state that Brian McLaren is a false teacher of the highest order and reaffirm the gospel which Paul proclaimed. I am inclined to doubt this will happen because it doesn’t market as well as the McLaren’s McGospel.