Recently I was asked to chime into the discussion concerning some views and beliefs of Brian McLaren. He is called by some people, an Evangelical leader. Maybe I have gotten old. Maybe I am just too “old school” to understand certain things about what is called “post modern Christianity” or the “emergent church”. But to me, what I read and saw was not what I would consider views and beliefs that fit into the broad definition of Evangelical, of whom I have been a part for going on 34 years.
In an interview done by Glass House Theology, Brian was asked some questions that caught my attention. Primarily the question asked of him concerning his views on atonement. Here is an excerpt from that interview.
Q: In your book, “A New Kind Of Christianity,” you describe how, while a pastor, people would come to you and ask “good questions” that eventually unraveled your set doctrines. Can you tell us one that stuck with you and how it informed your reassembled beliefs? How did you make sense of this “unraveling?” Why was it OK that your belief structure evolved?
Brian goes on to explain how he had a church member ask him a question that he didn’t know how to answer. The question was……
How could God punish an innocent person? Doesn’t that make God unjust? How can two wrongs – human sin plus God’s unjust punishment of an innocent man – produce a right? I’m not trying to be difficult – it’s just that this sounds highly implausible and morally suspect to me.”
The church member was questioning how the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross could have been morally right. The question is a good question coming from a thinking person. On the surface it kind of seems like God is being unjust. However Brian’s conclusions and where he has gone from his “research” is not sound or solid. He goes on to state.
When he left, I pulled all of my books on atonement off the shelf and dug in, trying to find a good response. I quickly realized that the answers they offered to my friend’s question didn’t satisfy me either. I wish I could say that his question prompted me to rethink my atonement theology starting that day, but it took a comment from one of my mentors a while later to really do that. He said, “If your only theory of atonement is penal substitution, you’d better do some rethinking.” That was a huge blow to me, because my entire theology centered on penal substitutionary atonement. I had been led to believe that without penal substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus was worthless and the Christian faith a waste of time.
Now just to make things clear, the big college words of “penal substitutionary atonement” mean Christ paid for the penalty for our sins. Now I don’t subscribe to the belief that it has to be one type of atonement or another and in fact, I have written about what atonement means in my article “In Christ Alone; The definition of atonement“. However, substitutionary atonement is one of the types of atonement spoken about in the Bible.
What Brian forgets or chooses to ignore is that Jesus was not “just a man” but was fully God and fully man. When He went to the cross, He did so willingly and as fully God paying the penalty for us. That is not the definition of injustice, but in fact is the model for justice.
Brian later goes on to state that he remained thoroughly Evangelical but then redefines what an Evangelical is.
Of course this was scary to me. But I remained thoroughly Evangelical in the sense that I continually “searched the Scriptures to see if these things were so.”
That is not the definition of Evangelicalism but is a halfhearted attempt to equate himself with the Bereans in the book of Acts. (Acts 17:11)
It seems to me, although I neither claim to be a theologian or an apologist, is that Brian has just gone down the same old path that others in the past have done. He has renamed a version of liberal theology or neo-orthodoxy and called it “Generous Orthodoxy”, rather than fully think through Evangelical theology when it causes you to be uncomfortable or unpopular. Personally I would stay away from his “New kind of Christianity” because it is not new, but just a rehashed and renamed theology that has already failed in the past. Remember what the writer of Ecclesiastes says.
That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.
This article about Brian McLaren was first published on my website TabersTruths.com.