Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: The Narrative Question

As promised, here's the first post in a ten-week series on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." I got the book a few weeks back as part of The Ooze's Viral Bloggers program, last week I participated in a conference call with Brian, and I started reading the book this week.

The subtitle of the book is "Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith," and I'll deal with a different question each week.

In Question #1, the Narrative Question, Brian gets right down to business, re-framing the whole biblical narrative and, therefore, denying the Fall. He believes that the message of the bible has been hijacked by what he calls a "Greco-Roman" narrative. In this hijacked narrative, Creation was a "perfect," Platonic state of being which then fell into an Aristotelian "becoming." This was not acceptable to Theos. (Brian uses the Greek name for God to emphasize the Greco-Roman narrative.) Theos simply cannot deal with this messiness, this assault on perfection, and so he punishes with eternal damnation whoever does not re-achieve the Platonic "perfection" again through Jesus.

This is the negative, the deconstruction of what so many of us have come to believe. He tells the story from a different perspective, this time calling God by his Hebrew name, Elohim, and taking a completely different approach. It's complicated, and it's fascinating, and I don't know what I think about it yet.

Many will think that this (denying the Fall) is enough to simply call McLaren a heretic and be done with him. But I have to admit that he is simply asking questions that I myself have asked in my heart and soul but have never been bold enough to voice. I remember stumbling across this next passage a few years ago in a book called Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. They quote Catholic theologian Walter Imbiorski, who wrote about "God's Twenty-Thousand Year Pout":
You see, part of the difficulty is that most of us are caught up emotionally in what I would call Anselmian Salvation Theology, which goes something like this. God created the world. Adam and Eve sinned. God got pretty damn sore, goes into a 10,000 year pout, slams the gates of heaven and throws the scoundrels out. So he’s up there pouting and about 5,000 years go by and the Son comes up and gives him the elbow and says: “Hey Dad, now is the time to forgive those people down there.” God says “No. I don’t like them, they offended my divine majesty, they stay out. Let’s make another galaxy instead!” Five thousand more years go by and the Son comes up and says: “Aw come on, Dad, let’s forgive them! Look I tell you what I’m going to do. If you will love them again, I’ll go down there and become one of them, then you’ll have to love them because I’ll be one of them.” God looks at the Son and says: “Don’t bank on it. That doesn’t turn me on too much at all.” So the Son replies, “All right, God-Father, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll raise the ante. I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse! I’ll not only go down there and become one of them, I’ll suffer for them, real blood – you know how that turns you on, Dad! How about it?” And God says: “Now you’re talking. But it’s got to be real torture and real blood – no God-tricks you understand. You’ve got to really suffer. And if you’ll do that then I’ll forgive them. But if they stray off the straight and narrow just that much – ZAP – I’m going to send them to hell so fast their heads will swim.” And that is what we have been calling the “good news” of the gospel.
OK, I will admit that's very crass. Even those who believe something pretty close to this would never say that God doesn't love his fallen creation. But sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that really all we're trying to do in our defense of hell and Penal Substitutionary Atonement is just that... defend it. Because we have an aversion to it. There's something in us that makes it really hard to justify an all-powerful, all-loving God who sends people to an eternal conscious torment in hell. And a good and loving Father who would torture his Son in our place. In anyone's place.

At least I think it's hard. Add to that a predestination/double-predestination deal where God is creating people to go to hell, people who never have a choice... and well, that's where I just can't go anymore.

But I digress. Brian talks about this narrative being foreign to the bible, something imposed on it from without. He says that the grand story of the bible has to be about more than God sorting all of humanity into two bins in the end. Is that really what it's all about?

So. If Brian is right and there was no fall from grace, no original sin, then what's the point of Jesus? What, exactly, is salvation? I'm very interested to keep reading and see what I think as we go.

Here's the video. Below the video, I'm going to post links to several interesting reviews, conversations and articles.

Study questions for "The Narrative Question" here.

Here's Bill Kinnon's critique.

And Brian's response.

Here are a few posts from Mike Morrell on the book's aftermath and McLaren's orthodox responses.

Here another perspective on the book and its positive impact.

Here's a humble and gracious response by McLaren to Scot McKnight's critique of his "Are You a Fundamentalist" quiz.

Remember, my friends, this is a dialogue. Personally, I love it. It is refreshing and interesting, and it's challenging me to seek and love Jesus with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.


Scott Lyons said...

Matt, if you get some time, read The River of Fire, by Kalomiros, an Orthodox priest. You'll find it interesting. From what you shared, some of McLaren's first chapter may parallel it at points (though Kalomiros does not distinguish between Greek and Hebrew understandings, but only gives the opinion of the Church and the early Fathers).

Kalomiros is too harsh on Western theology at the beginning of the article, but the Orthodox view he lays out on the goodness of God and how that relates to hell and our sin is quite beautiful. And I think true.

Kabul Kid said...

Since I was on vacation and therefore avoiding the internet for the most part, I didn't comment on this earlier. Bravo to McLaren for making no bones that he's attempting to redefine the entire message of the denying the Fall, the central tenet for the rest of the text, he definitely opens with a bang. If no fall, then why Jesus? If no fall, no Jesus, then what's the point? Quoting from your post: "There's something in us that makes it really hard to justify an all-powerful, all-loving God who sends people to an eternal conscious torment in hell. And a good and loving Father who would torture his Son in our place. In anyone's place." God sends no one anywhere. As creatures of free will, we decide the issue of our eternal abode. Why would God force someone to be with Him in Heaven for eternity when they've made it blatantly clear that they want nothing to do with Him? Hell is the consequence of that choice. Interesting dialogue... off to read/comment on chapter 2.

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