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A New Kind of Gospel

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By Virgil - Posted on 08 April 2010

by Eric Rauch
François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, is credited with the famous saying about man creating God in his own image. He worded it this way: "If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor." Many variations of this quotation have been used by various authors over the years to communicate the idea that man has a natural predisposition—the Bible calls it sin—to think of himself as the center of the universe. It was pointed out to me in a sermon I heard in my early days of becoming a Christian that man employs two methods of making more of himself than he ought. The first is fairly obvious: man makes much of himself. But the second is less obvious and more difficult to deal with: man makes little of God.

While it should be quickly stated that what generally happens is something of a combination of these two methods, it is nevertheless a fact that man has a difficult time being truly honest and forthright with himself about his position in the hierarchy of life. Saint Augustine understood this point well and expressed it quite clearly in his Confessions as part of his answer to the question of where (and what) evil comes from.[1]) Man is a creature by definition; he is not autonomous. Man was created by the Creator and therefore is dependent upon the Creator in order to properly understand himself. Sin arises when man begins to determine reality for himself, rather than listening to the Words of the Creator. When God delivered Adam's death sentence in the Garden, He prefaced it with these words: "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'" (Genesis 3:17). Adam elevated himself to the position of judge; choosing to listen to the voice of his wife, rather than to the voice of God.

In the New Testament, Paul picks up on this idea and warns his readers to not be deceived as was Eve (2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:14). In 1 Timothy Paul is implicitly making the case for the woman's position within the creational hierarchy: "A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Interestingly, part of the judgment that God placed on Eve in the Garden was that she would "desire for [her] husband, but he will rule over [her]" (Gen. 3:16). A woman's sinful tendency is to desire to rule over her husband, yet she is commanded to submit to him. Likewise, a man's tendency, like Adam, is to allow his wife to rule over him ("because you have listened to the voice of your wife..."). To complicate matters, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that Eve was deceived, not Adam. Eve was passive in her sin, but Adam was active. Adam willfully disobeyed his position in the hierarchy and chose to heed the voice of his wife. Both sinned, yet Adam received the greater judgment.

This is probably nothing new to most readers and if you have been following the earlier articles in this series, you may be wondering what this short lesson in creational hierarchy has to do with Brian McLaren and his new book, A New Kind of Christianity. The reason is quite simple really: the apostle Paul chose to illustrate apostasy from the true faith with a backwards-looking allusion to the Adam and Eve event. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul writes:

I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that. I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Paul is warning the Corinthian church that they are too passive in their faith. He reveals to them that they are too permissive and too willing to listen to anyone who happens to come along and tell them something about Jesus. He is cautioning them about being easily misled—easily deceived—just as Eve was by the serpent. Paul is saying that the Corinthians have a propensity to try and get along with every one. They don't like making waves; they want everybody to have their own version of Jesus and retain their autonomy too. In other words, Paul accuses the Corinthians of being theologically spineless: "For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face" (11:19-20). Unfortunately, much of modern evangelicalism has become like the Corinthians: unwilling to rock the boat of theological political-correctness so that everyone can find a seat in the all-inclusive, ecumenical ship of fools. It is this very situation of evangelical niceness and non-confrontation that Brian McLaren is taking advantage of and using to smuggle his liberal political views into the church.

In the fifth question of his "ten questions that are transforming the faith," McLaren takes up the question of "what is the gospel?". I actually expected to have far more of a problem with how McLaren answered this question than I actually did, but once again, McLaren hides much of his true agenda in the footnotes, safely out of the notice of most casual readers. In the first chapter of this two-chapter section, McLaren makes the observation that "the kingdom of God is not some distant reality to wait for someday, Jesus proclaims; the kingdom is at hand, within reach, near, here, now (Mark 1:15)." I couldn't agree more. In fact, I really agree with what he write a few sentences later: "No wonder Jesus called people to repent: if the kingdom is at hand, we need to adjust our way of life and join in the joyful, painful mission of reconciliation right now, ASAP!" (p. 140). I almost couldn't help shouting at the book as I read this sentence: "Amen, Brian. Welcome to biblical Christianity. Ain't it grand?" McLaren writes this in his book as if this should be some amazing revelation (and I suppose it probably is to many who have shut their eyes and ears to the truth and to the demands placed on God's people throughout the entire Bible), but I would hope it doesn't come as too much of a surprise to readers of this website. I think the biblical view is summed up very well by 19th century German theologian, Johann Christoph Blumhardt, who often said that a person must be "twice converted, first from the natural to the spiritual life, and then from the spiritual to the natural."[2] What Blumhardt is saying is that a Christian has the privilege and obligation, once he is given the proper perspective (i.e., his true place in the hierarchy) by God, to make a difference in the world around him. McLaren may be surprised to find out that Christians even two hundred years ago (not to mention two thousand) understood this basic fact.

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