Southern Baptist Seminary Professors Attack Emergent Church Book by Brian McLaren

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Perilous Times

Southern Baptist Seminary Professors Attack Emergent Church Book by Brian McLaren    

  
By Bob Allen   
Friday, March 26, 2010

Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity" is published by HarperOne.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- Brian McLaren, a leader in the emerging-church movement who roiled evangelical waters in 2004 with his book A Generous Orthodoxy, is at it again.

In his previous book, McLaren argued that instead of focusing on differences with others, Christians should celebrate strengths of many traditions and communicate a "generous orthodoxy" that is driven by love and defined by "missional" intent.

Critics say McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity, goes even further, denying fundamentals of the Christian faith. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., recently devoted an entire hour-long chapel service to a panel discussion panning the book.

"It's rare that we take just one book like this and take it on as a cause for our conversation, but there seems to be some urgency to discuss this, because there is a sense in which this book, if anything, does deliver on its title," said seminary President Albert Mohler. "It is a new kind of Christianity. He obviously, as author, means to imply something that is new and improved."

Mohler, who was also critical of A Generous Orthodoxy, described McLaren's new book as a "straightforward rejection ... of the Christian meta-narrative."

"It is a new kind of Christianity that is no Christianity at all," added Jim Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology. "It is a wholesale rejection of the gospel."

While new in that it approaches theology from a postmodern perspective, the panelists said McLaren's book in many ways merely rehashes ideas from theological liberalism, a 19th-century movement that attempted to accommodate modern thinking and developments into the Christian faith. The Southern Baptist Convention roundly rejected that notion in the late 20th century, purging seminaries of professors perceived to be "liberals" and replacing them with "inerrantist" faculty members adopting a more fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.
Bruce Ware

"I would suggest the title of this book ought to be An Old Kind of Apostasy rather than A New Kind of Christianity," quipped Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology. "I have known Brian McLaren for many years as a wolf in sheep's clothing, but I think in this book he took the sheep's clothing off."

McLaren, an author, speaker, pastor well known for innovation and activism, wrote March 26 on his blog that the Southern Seminary panel "does a great job of reflecting the views of SBTS." He said a March 26 story on National Public Radio "does a much better job of conveying my actual views by including a lengthy excerpt from the book."

McLaren told NPR he is rethinking many of Christianity's core doctrines, including the purpose of Christ's resurrection.

"The view of the Cross that I was given growing up, in a sense, has a God who needs blood in order to be appeased," McLaren said. "If this God doesn't see blood, God can't forgive."

McLaren said the idea that Christ died as a substitute for sinners -- a view known in theology books as penal substitutionary atonement -- isn't the only way to understand the Cross.
Brian McLaren

"God revealed in Christ crucified shows us a vision of God that identifies with the victim rather than the perpetrator, identifies with the one suffering rather than the one inflicting suffering," he said.

Similarly, McLaren said, the notion that Christians are going to heaven and everyone else is doomed might have rung true for earlier generations, but it is harder to swallow in today's pluralistic society.

"A young evangelical, Roman Catholic [or] mainline Protestant growing up in America today, if he goes to college, his roommate might be Hindu," he said. "His roommate might be Muslim. His roommate might be Buddhist or atheist. So, suddenly the 'other' is sleeping across the room."

Hamilton said McLaren's view grows out of a rejection of a literalistic interpretation of the Bible and viewing the various books of the Old and New Testaments as a progressive revelation instead of every part being equally true.
Jim Hamilton

"Once he rejects the Creator and embraces evolution, now human beings are no longer morally obligated to this God," Hamilton said. "And this God shows a careless disregard for human life when he visits any kind of judgment against human beings, because there hasn't been this Fall and they aren't morally obligated to begin with, so there's really no need for a cross or an atonement."

"It is a point-by-point rejection of the whole narrative," Hamilton said, "and then what he proposes in its place doesn't need Christianity."

Mohler said reading the book twice, to be sure he fully understood what McLaren was saying, "was an exercise I really needed to go through."

"I cannot , however, celebrate that the book exists, because I fear for those who do not know the story," he continued. "They don't know the gospel, and this is exactly what Paul warns against. It is a false gospel."

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Bob AllenThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.
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