Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: theology

Wisdom’s Bastard Children

We criticize folks from other religions and denominations and wordviews when they have our favourite beliefs wrong.

When those people live better than us and the rest of our tribe, we mourn that they look like they understand things better than us.

But, in some direly important ways, they do understand better than us.

Because wisdom is justified by all her children.

A New Kind of Christian(ity) – Part 2

There were a lot of things that I hadn’t considered about the Jesus life before reading these books.

First, and perhaps most foundational, I was convinced that our way of looking at the Bible is wrong. McLaren argues that the Bible is not a constitution, answer-book, love letter from God or instruction book for life. And he’s right. It’s a divinely-inspired library of God’s dealings with man. To view it as a constitution is dishonest and, it seems to me, just as bad as the way liberal scholars view it as a dead scholastic work.

Second, I was convinced that his model of Christian education is far better than the models we have been working with so far. Our models focus on knowledge as paramount. Jesus’ school focused on living with and following Jesus. On doing things, not just learning things. If you have A New Kind of Christian you can check out his view of seminary starting on pg. 232.

I was convinced that, generally, instead of looking straight at Jesus in the Bible, we look a Jesus first through the lens of Paul. And we look at Paul through the lens of Augustine. And we look at Augustine through the lens of Aquinas. And we look at Aquinas through the lens of Luther or Erasmus, depending on where our denomination lies. And down the line until we get to whatever preacher is our hero today. And I was convinced that this was a very, very bad thing.

In short, I do not call these writings dangerous. I call them helpful. I call them insightful. I call them off-base here and there, but not dangerous. Not damning. Not worth calling someone a son of the devil.

Would I recommend the books? To some people. Not all. The problem with books by famous people is that there will always be a large group of people who only pick up a book in order to discredit it. They have the attitude that says “I am going to put down this book with the same beliefs I had when I picked it up.” So I could not, with a clear conscience, recommend these books to people who think this way. It would be a waste. It would do nothing but create more bad feelings. And the Christian community has enough bad feelings already. But for anyone else, for anyone with a mind to learn and a heart to move forward in their understanding of Jesus, for those people I say “Don’t be afraid of these books. They won’t hurt you. Use your mind as you read them. Take profit from the things you judge as true. Toss out the things you judge as false. Don’t be distracted by the things that don’t matter. You’re clever enough to do that. You don’t need to be afraid of being put under an evil magic spell.”

I get that a lot of folks will disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m betting the coming comment discussion will be informative for everyone.

It’s funny, though. One of the accusations that people who don’t hate McLaren and the Emergent conversation get is that they are trying too hard to be politically correct. But, in the circles I have grown up in and still live in, the most politically incorrect thing I can do mention these books without condemning them.

A New Kind of Christian(ity) – Part 1

I’ve put this off for a while.

When I arrived back in Canada two years ago, my conservative circles were abuzz with a new heretic. When I left it was people like Gregory Boyd and Clark Pinnock. Suddenly there was a new kid on the block: Brian McLaren. And instead of talking about Open Theism, everyone was talking about Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church. I, of course, had no clue about any of it, so I kept my mouth shut.

It was Al Mohler who got me interested. He posted a video of him and a few buddies spending an hour talking about McLaren. They called him harsh things. “The slyest snake in the garden and the son of his father the devil” is the one that sticks in my head. And let’s be honest, folks, after an intro like that I felt I had no choice but to buy his book!

I got A New Kind of Christian. I read it. My heart sank. It’s a novel about a confused pastor who has eye-opening talks with a university professor. McLaren uses the plot to test and showcase the way he’s looking at where Christianity is going. My heart sank, not because it was full of filth and heresy. But because it’s the kind of novel I could have written myself. Trite characters and shallow plot lines and all.

So I found out the book that earned McLaren the title ‘son of the devil’ was not actually A New Kind of Christian but A New Kind of Christianity. “Ah ha!” I thought. “He wasn’t much of a devil back in 2001, but now, with the new book in 2010, he must have crossed the line!

But, while there were certainly less things McLaren was able to convince me of in the new book, I still found him insightful. Profound where he was right, and insightful in at least pointing out the problem where he was wrong.

A great deal of what was in those books I already held to.

I had already been convinced that Jesus’ mission was much, much more than the simple fire escape for people who prayed the sinner’s prayer. It was to set in motion the redemption of the entire created order. Too long have we settled for getting ‘saved’ and living the rest of our days separated from outsiders in our ivory towers. The world is busted and it’s our job to fix it, from top to bottom, here and now.

I had already been convinced that there is far too much demonizing in the church. We pull facts from the Bible, arbitrarily set certain ones up as foundational and verbally condemn to hell the people who question them.

I had already been convinced that people can disagree with things that the fundamentalist world calls foundational and still be vibrant, life-filled followers of Jesus. I may disagree with folks who believe in evolution or disbelieve in an eternal hell. But they can still follow Jesus and be a part of the kingdom of God just as much as a more orthodox person. And it’s not just because they have a case for their views (and they do have a case). It’s because those things are not the things Jesus came to die and live for.

I had already been convinced that the true Jesus life was something higher than our churches and theologies and arguments and preachings. McLaren was able to express it much better than I could. And so I’m thankful for that.

In two days the second half of this review will be up. It’s already written, I just didn’t like the idea of a thousand-word blog post. My views on these books become more controversial in the next post. So if you’re hoping to comment, maybe waiting until the next installment is a good idea.

Don’t [think/read/watch] this!

Okay, so I’m cruising around the net and I come across this video (I tried to embed it but it didn’t take…)

I thought to myself, ‘Ah! Mohler! I’ve heard of him. He’s a Southern Baptist and he did that Together For The Gospel thing I’ve heard good things about, so I’ll watch this video!’

Watch it if you want, but it’s a very painful hour long. I made it about 15 minutes before I had to turn it off.

It’s a panel discussion, which sounds cool. All eyes are up front. What deep issue are they talking about? What encouraging truth are they opening their minds and mouths to grant to us?

Brian McLaren is serpentine child of the devil and going to hell (35:49). He’s written a book that’s disgusting and laughably silly (13:42).

Now, I’ve heard of this McLaren guy before. I don’t really know anything about him (other than that he’s very, very baaaaad). So when I come across a video like this my first reaction is, ‘Wow. I need to read this book they’re ripping apart!’

I had heard of the book. I think Driscoll said bad things about it. So I bought it. Don’t tell anyone, but it seems like a decent book (go check it out). It’s a novel, and the worst criticism I could come up with (and I tried really hard to criticize it) was that the characters were two-dimensional and I was pretty sure the author wrote himself as the sly Jamaican (but who wouldn’t want to be a sly Jamaican, really?)

It was so decent, I thought, that I couldn’t understand why there was such a to-do about it. So I checked out the video again.

It turns out, the video is about ‘A New Kind Of Christianity.’ I, unfortunately, bought ‘A New Kind Of Christian.’ Tee hee. Oops. Wrong book. So I actually don’t know a thing about the book they are criticizing (yet).

So I guess I shouldn’t really be saying anything. I guess the book they are talking about could very well be just as evil as they say it is. And maybe it is worth filling an hour over.

Now, I understand that people feel the need to debate. Of course! Why not? If a famous guy writes a book and you disagree with it, you ought to talk about that. But why do we need to be such jerks about it? Why fill a church for a hour to talk about it? And, most importantly, why oh why can’t you actually deal with his claims instead of calling him liberal and post-modern and all the other buzzwords that we associate with ‘bad?’ When McLaren calls the Flood genocide (15:39), why can’t you explain that it wasn’t (if it wasn’t)? When you say that his book is against the Bible (33:25) can you tell me how it is against the Bible? Or maybe I should just take your word for it.

I like book reviews. I go by them all the time. But I can’t go by this one because I feel like they are spending most of their time mocking the book (and its writer/readers) instead of deconstructing it. It was as if they were hired to judge a new piece of technology and, instead of talking about the in and outs of it, they just called it stupid with different adjectives for an hour.

But, again, I haven’t read the thing (nor have I finished the video. An hour of criticism takes a lot out of you). So I shouldn’t be saying anything at all, should I?

Of course, most people (like me) who criticize the Emergent Conversation haven’t read any books written by people who are actually part of that conversation. Most people (like me) have just listened to Mohler and Driscoll and come to accept what they think about the movement. Does anyone else find this a little dishonest?

It reminds me about when I was in KLBC and I attacked The Prayer of Jabez without reading it. Sorry Bruce, I shouldn’t have done that. And McLaren, I’ll read your stuff before I say anything bad about you. And even after I read it, I’ll try to be nice.