February 28, 2005

Brian McLaren's Call to Make Christ Our Lord

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 2:53 pm

I have been accused of being an emergent Christian, and since I don’t understand what that means, I don’t know whether to be offended or flattered. Hence, I’m reading A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren to learn about post-modern emergent Christian theology.

Early in the book, McLaren makes some statements that go to the heart of the Lordship of Jesus Christ (or lack thereof) among American Christians. Here are a couple excerpts, beginning with some statements that McLaren says could be made today (pages 79-80):

1. The more I study the Bible and reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I think most of Christianity as practiced today has very little to do with the real Jesus found there.

2. Often I don’t think Jesus would be caught dead as a Christian, were he physically here today.

3. Generally, I don’t think Christians would like Jesus if he showed up today as he did 2,000 years ago. In fact, I think we’d call him a heretic and plot to kill him, too.

He admits these statements are “exaggerations, dyspeptic and cranky”, but are “more widespread than you may realize.”

A few pages later, McLaren says (page 82):

I feel surrounded by Christians who very much like the idea of an American God and a middle-class Republican Jesus, first and foremost concerned about Our National Security and Our Way of Life. “The Lord is My Shepherd” becomes “The Lord Is Our President,” elected by use for our national interest, or “The Lord Is Our Secretary of Defense,” ready to sacrifice 10,000 lives of noncitizens elsewhere for the saftey of U.S. citizens here.

In Jesus’ day, “Caesar is Lord” was the political pledge of allegiance, required in a way not unlike “Heil Hitler” was required…in Nazi Germany. To call Jesus “Lord” meant that there is a power in Jesus more important than the power of the king of the greatest state in history. To say “Jesus is Lord” was then (and should be now!) a profoundly political statement — affirming the authority of a “powerless” Jewish rabbi with scarred feet over the power of Caesar himself with all his swords, spears, chariots, and crosses.

I still don’t know what emergent means, but I’m liking what I’ve read so far.

19 Comments

  1. […] inding it very thought-provoking. Here’s my second post with reactions to the book (here is my first) . At one point in the book, McLaren starts describing everything as post-something: […]

    Pingback by I am a Christian Too » Emerging into Post-Modern, -Protestant, -Liberal, -Conservative Christianity — March 9, 2005 @ 8:31 am

  2. I’d love to hear more. I “fear” I might be an emergent Christian too.

    Comment by Lars — February 28, 2005 @ 8:59 pm

  3. > ready to sacrifice 10,000 lives

    Anyone who quotes that number cannot be taken seriously. It’s a number with no basis in reality, and no purpose other than to inflame people.

    While I agree that there are plenty of Christians who are comfortable with a non-threatening Jesus, I have to think that cuts both ways: it means a Jesus who demands true faith in him, not simple “goodness” preached by too many on the left, and a willingness and desire to preach his Gospel. Complain about middle-class Jesus, but just as the Right has no monopoly on God, neither does the Left.

    Comment by JasonB — February 28, 2005 @ 10:04 pm

  4. Jason, the number is VERY firmly based. Check out IraqBodyCount.net and examine how they get their numbers. Its very reliable. You’re flat-out wrong in denouncing it as baseless. Anyone who quotes that number cannot be taken seriously. It’s a number with no basis in reality, and no purpose other than to inflame people.Way to be non-inflammatory yourself 😉 There have been other studies that have inflated the death toll in Iraq, but IraqBodyCount is not one of them, as they corroborate each death they record with multiple sources from acceptable media outlets. Currently, their minimum death count is over 16,000.

    Bob, I’m almost done with “A Generous Orthodoxy,” and I have absolutely loved it. There are a few minor points I disagree on which I disagree with McLaren, but overall, its wonderful. I am recommending it to all my Christian friends.

    Comment by forrest — March 1, 2005 @ 12:07 am

  5. Thanks for the heads up on McLaren’s book. It’s amazing how JasonB and others label Christians as Left or Right. Why should Christians allow the definitions that arise from their culture define them. Shouldn’t Christians be defined in other ways?
    I think Jesus’ religion pretty much defied a clear simple label, why shouldn’t ours?

    Comment by Longshot — March 1, 2005 @ 6:36 am

  6. Jason –

    Like Forrest, I’ve been trying to move beyond the left/right labels, since of course Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat (see my recent post on the topic). We all need to avoid putting God in our neat little boxes so he can’t challenge or threaten us, and instead trust and follow him wherever he leads us.

    Comment by Bob — March 1, 2005 @ 9:04 am

  7. Actually, the “Lancet” study, which estimates 100,000 deaths (an increase of roughly 50k/yr), was done in a quite reliable fashion as well. It’s a simple extrapolation of the overall mortality rate of Iraqis, comparing the period prior to the US invasion (when Saddam had purportedly mass murderd tens of thousands of his own countrymen), and after the US invasion. Correlation, of course, does not prove causality. The Lancet study doesn’t accuse Donald Rumsfeld of personally lining up ordinary Iraqi citizens, and putting a bullet in the head of 100,000 of them. But the data are reliable in proving that the overall quality of life in Iraq has declined significantly for the average Iraqi, and one of the side effects is an increased mortality rate, and decreased average lifespan. That’s reason enough to dispute the claim that we’re over there to “rescue” the Iraqi people from an evil genocidal tyrant. The facts of the Lancet study are that we did not improve conditions over there for the average Iraqi. That’s all. I don’t think it’s possible to ever get an accurate count of “innocent civilians” killed. The insurgents accomplished that by taking the necessary, but immoral course of disguising themselves as civilians, making that distinction, sadly, impossible. (As a moral people, it is our duty to try to make that distinction as best we can, anyway. In my opinion, we’ve stopped trying. We stopped trying the week after 9/11 when some rednecks murdered a Sikh gas-station attendant because he was wearing a turban).

    Though, I can’t help being happy that these folks finally got to vote in a free election – ESPECIALLY since the white-collar criminal and Iranian Spy Ahmed Chalabi (the person originally chosen by the neocon PNAC goons as the puppet PM) seems to be out of the running now.
    I worry about the path of women’s rights, and religious tolerance in Iraq, and how it’s destiny seems cemented as a client-state of Iran. But the election was a very good thing.

    And back on topic – of course, the labels of Left/Right are nothing more than tools used by those who seek power, to divide us.

    Comment by Osama_Been_Forgotten — March 1, 2005 @ 10:15 am

  8. The insurgents accomplished that by taking the necessary, but immoral course of disguising themselves as civilians

    While I agree with the rest of your comment, I have to say that I don’t think an immoral act is ever necessary. It may be effective, but never necessary. We can always choose another path.

    Comment by Bob — March 1, 2005 @ 12:31 pm

  9. Two of Brian’s other books, A New Kind of Christian and The Story We Find Ourselves In, are wonderful. They have given me hope for transcending the present liberal/conservative categories.

    Comment by Steve A. — March 1, 2005 @ 3:58 pm

  10. > I think Jesus’ religion pretty much defied a clear simple label, why shouldn’t ours?

    I agree completely, but I don’t think the quotes above subscribe to that philosophy. It’s pretty clear to me reading it that those who support Bush politically are nothing more than supporters of mass murder who proclaim Bush as Jesus. I don’t understand how that helps us transcend labels.

    Comment by JasonB — March 1, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

  11. I have to say that I don’t think an immoral act is ever necessary.
    Yeah, that didn’t sound good, but the verbage was pouring out, and I decided to economize.
    Yes – the tactic is *necessary* from the point of view of waging an effective campaign of assymetrical warfare. If they instead just lined up on the battlefield, of course we’d mow em down with B-52’s.

    Ultimately, they made the choice to either fight as effectively as possible given the technological and financial assymetry, or to essentially surrender. It was an immoral choice. In their minds, weighed against an even more immoral choice of surrendering to the infidels – I guess it depends on one’s point of view. My point of view is that it’s immoral – but I understand WHY they felt they had to make this choice. Collective Punishment is against the Geneva Conventions. It’s designed to protect innocent civillians. Abuse of a legal loophole designed to protect innocent civillians is pretty low. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in their position. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to do anything that brought more danger and harm to my freinds and neighbors. On the other hand, if I felt that surrendering would, in the long run, bring MORE harm to my friends and neighbors. . .

    Comment by Osama_Been_Forgotten — March 2, 2005 @ 11:13 am

  12. It’s pretty clear to me reading it that those who support Bush politically are nothing more than supporters of mass murder who proclaim Bush as Jesus. I don’t understand how that helps us transcend labels.

    I would suggest that the purpose of transcending labels is to pull down barriers between Christians of good faith. My understanding of Christ is that, first and foremost, he was tolerant and accepting of all people regardless of the “labels” imposed upon them by others, and that he judges people based on their acts, not on their affiliations.

    In other words, I don’t think Christ would be offended in the least by those who point out that many who claim to act in his name are promoting a myth that can best be described as an “American God and Republican Jesus”. Nor would he be offended by those who point out that a truly Christian nation would not shut down the last hospital in a town in was about to attack to avoid the dissemination of information concerning civilian casualties.

    I guess my point is that WWJD, despite its status as a cliché, really is the most important, and easiest, way for those who follow Christ to determine their own actions—and that there is nothing wrong with pointing out that the public perception of “Christianity” has been hijacked by those whose actions are inconceivable when considered under the WWJD criteria.

    Comment by p.lukasiak — March 2, 2005 @ 3:42 pm

  13. I understand why you think that your religion has been hijacked, and to some extent I would agree. I just want to leave this by saying that I think it’s important that, even though you and I might not see how Jesus would choose a certain course of action, it is very conceivable that someone else fully and legitimitly believes that Jesus would select that course of action.

    If we can accept that others within our faith tradition that we disagree with are nevertheless acting in good faith, then we can come together as one to discuss how we see Jesus and how best we can act to spread His message.

    Comment by JasonB — March 2, 2005 @ 4:35 pm

  14. I just want to leave this by saying that I think it’s important that, even though you and I might not see how Jesus would choose a certain course of action, it is very conceivable that someone else fully and legitimitly believes that Jesus would select that course of action.

    Here is my problem. Although I think it is obvious that Jesus would not have had a problem with gay marriage, the fact that he never discusses homosexuality allows me to accept that people who take a diametrically opposed view on the subject can be Christians acting in good faith. And there are many such issues where I can believe that someone is acting in “good faith” despite having completely opposite views from mine.

    But there are limits—there are clear and unambiguous “wrong” answers to the WWJD question on all sorts of issues, and I simply cannot accept the idea that one can be a Christian and believe, as many right wing Christians do, that George W. Bush is Christian acting in good faith. That, to me, is heresy. As far as I’m concerned, if Christ were here today, he would treat much of the Christian right the way he treated the moneychangers in the Temple.

    At what point does a Christian have the duty to stand up and say to someone who professes to be a Christian “You are misrepresenting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ?” Is it sufficient to simply follow Christ’s example and teachings in one’s own life, or is there a point at which one has a Christian duty to openly criticize others who profess to share the core beliefs of Christianity?

    Comment by p.lukasiak — March 2, 2005 @ 6:29 pm

  15. Perhaps instead of asking WWJD we ought to study WDJD (what did Jesus do) and WDJS (what did Jesus say) or WD’tJS (what didn’t Jesus say). The Gospels are given to us not for speculation but for clarity, i.e. “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, I tell you to love your enemies and pray for them.” “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you.” The problem is we too often read into the Gospels what we want Jesus to say rather than allowing the Gospels, and the words of Jesus, to speak to us.

    Comment by Tony — March 3, 2005 @ 9:43 am

  16. Bob wrote on 3/1: “I have to say that I don’t think an immoral act is ever necessary. It may be effective, but never necessary. We can always choose another path.”

    I don’t believe that it’s actually “effective”; or , one might ask: “Effective for whom?” If we are willing to shrug off the possibility that 100,000 lives are snuffed out, all for the sake of keeping our “way of life” safe, then our way of life is not LIFE at all, but complicit in mass death. That OTHER path is THE way. Jesus didn’t all it THE WAY to make some abstract analysis of what woulod be “safest” and most conveneinet, but THE WAY is the best and the alternative to the EASY way that seems to keep moving us down a path that wipes out millions in its wake. It has to stop. The ultimate EFFECTIVE path is toward the life ‘as it is in heaven’; IOW, the kingdom of God and the ethics of love for neighbor; ALL neighbors.

    Comment by Dale — March 4, 2005 @ 9:35 pm

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  19. Hi all. Interesting discussion. I recently had the chance to interview Brian McLaren for Precipice Magazine. I thought Brian had some very thought provoking things to say. You can read the interview, here:
    http://www.precipicemagazine.com/brian-mclaren-interview.htm

    Shalom,
    Darren.

    Comment by Darren King — August 2, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

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