The Bitter With the Sweet

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Easter is just around the corner and my heart is overflowing with appreciation for the death and resurrection of my Lord and Savior. Who Jesus is and what He did seems more precious to me now than ever. Once again, as I focus on the story of the cross, I am captivated by the wonder of it all.

For the first time in a few years, I decided this week  to dust off my copy of “The Passion of the Christ” and watch it once again—only to discover that the DVD was missing.  I had let it sit on the shelf too many years in a row.  So I went out and bought another copy so I could once again see how Jesus bought me.

I knew it would be hard to sit through. It is not an easy movie to watch.  The temptation is always there to give it a miss because of the graphic nature of some of the scenes.  (Isn’t that the point?) But I felt like this year, more than ever before, I needed to break up the unplowed ground of my heart and pray that God would give me a fresh revelation of my salvation.  This is one powerful movie. Even though you know what is coming, it still packs a punch, laying bare all kinds of emotions.

It really is the greatest story of all time. None of us could have thought this up—and if we tried it would have been way too sanitized and predictable. This is one of the things I like about the Biblical narrative throughout:  it tells the story warts and all, and does it in such a way that often goes counter with human reasoning.

The doctrine of the atonement continues to draw controversy. The most recent (and most outrageous) objection I have read  is  brought forward by Brian McLaren and his circle of friends in the Emergent movement. They have labeled the doctrine of substitutionary atonement as “cosmic child abuse.” After all, what kind of father would expose his son to such shame and torture just to have a way to vent His own anger? It almost sounds reasonable when put that way, but I fear this objection betrays a very weak understanding of both sin and the character of God as well as the situation at hand.

At this point I will hand the ball of to CS Lewis to offer what I consider to be one of the best-ever explanations of all three:

Now what was the sort of “hole” man had gotten himself into?  He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself.  In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.  Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of a “hole.”  This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance.  Now repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.  It means undergoing a kind of death.  In fact, it needs a good man to repent.  And here’s the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly.  The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it.  The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it.

Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off of if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.  If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back.  It cannot happen.  Very well, then, we must go through with it.  But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it.  Can we do it if God helps us?  Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us?  We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak.  He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.  When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.  Now if we had not fallen, that would all be plain sailing.  But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all – to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die.  Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all.  So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked.  God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.

But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us.  He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God.  You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man.  Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man.  That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

But suffer He did! As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook recently:

“It is an amazing thing for us as Christians that such a terrible, heart breaking event 2000 years ago became the most pivotal moment of all time – and so we celebrate. Thank you Jesus!”

It is a bitter-sweet celebration, to be sure. One must wonder what crushed Jesus the most: the betrayal of friends, the physical wounds on the whipping post and the cross, or the tears in his despairing mothers’ eyes?

One scene in The Passion that moved me to tears was the flashback scene of Jesus in the carpenter shop with Mary. When she insisted that he wash his hands before coming to dinner, he playfully splashed some water in her face then leaned over and gave her a quick but very loving kiss on her cheek. All the love that could possible be expressed between a son and his mother was expressed exquisitely in the space of just a few seconds. In this rendition, Jesus  had this memory of that encounter with his mother etched in His conscience— and He pulled it up when He really needed it for comfort. How often has that happened in my life and the life of countless others? When experiencing the bitter, the sweet is there to draw from.

Victor Frankl, author of the powerful book “Man’s Search for Meaning” that chronicles his experiences as a WWII concentration camp inmate at Auschwitz, touches upon this theme. He offers the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, family member, or even God, who would expect not to be disappointed.

An example of Frankl’s idea of finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering is found in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of Auschwitz :

… We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way  – an honorable way  – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory….”

In our Lord Jesus I see the perfect example of suffering-par-excellence. No one ever suffered like Jesus did.  Everything about His suffering was redemptive. His example is etched forever in the corporate consciousness of the church, and no doubt served as a “flashback” of inspiration to the countless souls like Polycarp and Joan of Arc who have faced martyrdom through the centuries.  One of my all time favorite verses is  Hebrews 12:1-3, which fits perfectly here:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.



Forging Your Way Through the Chaos

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Driving in Mexico is really all about forging your way through the chaos. This is how I described it to some friends the other day as we went for a 10 minute drive to though downtown Chapala, encountering a wide variety of obstacles along the way that spiced up the ride. Multiple cars doing a dance through ill-defined intersections marked by battered signs (or no signs at all) on roads pocked with gargantuan pot holes when you least expect them. Drivers with “a better idea” of how they can get where they are trying to go. Fruit trucks going 2 miles per hour, blasting their vocal presentation and prices by loud speaker turned up to a few decibels higher than the maximum. Buses—those sharks of the road that have gone the route so many times NOTHING phases them—and their driving shows it!

I love it! I remember my first drive ever in Mexico City–1986. Our host was pastor Ezekiel Calderon, who had picked Stasia and I up at the airport (8 hours late!), and piled us, along with 6 month old daughter Brittany, and our huge load of luggage into his rickety station wagon. Off we went, on “Mr. Calderon’s wild ride” to a little suburb 90 minutes away. He drove like a desperate maniac. It seemed like a race for our lives at just about every intersection and turn-off. He apologized more than once at the close calls we encountered, but assured us he had everything under control. That night we had road nightmares.

One of my favorite Mexican memories came 7 years later. I was leading a group of 15 Australians on an outreach through Mexico. We flew into San Diego from Sydney, rented a couple of white Dodge Caravans, and drove from San Diego, through the border crossing at Nogales, Arizona all the way to Guadalajara for a week  then Mexico City for a week, and then back to San Diego. It was a blast. The Aussies were so much fun to be with, and none of them had ever seen anything like the roads of Mexico!

When we finally arrived in the outskirts of Mexico City, we encountered this massive intersection. It was something like a 7 way stop with a humongous open circle in the center. You couldn’t call it a roundabout because there was nothing in the center of the circle. This intersection seemed to invite all cars, any cars, to “take the dare” and try to cross.

No exaggeration: there were probably 100 cars converging  slowly through that intersection. Massive gridlock. We all creeped a few inches at a time as we forged through the chaos to get to the road we thought would get us where we wanted to go. I was driving one of the vans. Suddenly, out of nowhere in the bright sunlight, a shadow formed over the windshield that lasted a micro-second, giving way to a “thud” as a soaking wet airborne towel  plopped  onto the windshield’s passenger side. It was immediately followed by two skinny little brown guys—one on each side who planted themselves on the front fenders of our slow moving vehicle and proceeded to scrub the windshield clean, no questions asked—that is, until the job was done! We tipped them, and with a great big smile they were on their way the next vehicle. It was so congested in that intersection that the only way these little guys could get out was to wash their way out! (I later came to know first hand that these little window washers, found all over Mexico City, were street kids who live in vacant lots and sewer lines, sniffed glue all day, and washed windows for sheer survival. We had the opportunity to spend a week ministering to some of them later in the trip and in following years.)

Telling these stories reminds me of what it is like to follow God in the world we live in. We must be ready to forge our way through the chaos and rely on Him to get us through. We must cast our cares on Him and try not to take things too seriously. We must be ready for the little surprises along the way, where God will send angels into our path and we will be unaware of it at the time (Hebrews 13:2). We should ALWAYS buckle up with the armor of God  (Ephesians 6:13) and keep our eyes on the road before us (Hebrews 12:1-2)! And, like Keith Green used to say, “He’ll Take Care of the Rest!”

Nothing Like The Real Thing, Baby!

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When I have gone far too long taking myself too seriously and fighting dragons of fear and self doubt, I will often go to my trusty video shelf, pull out a Chris Farley movie, and invest a few sacred minutes filling my parched, melancholy soul with laughter. I love that guy. (He actually reminds me of a good friend of mine down under in Australia, but that’s a story for another day!)

Recently I viewed a clip of Farley that was filmed on “Saturday Night Live.” This clip was a parody of never-seen-before video takes of a coffee advertisement, where the MC approaches a man at a table in a restaurant (in this case, Farley) and informs him that the coffee he has been drinking is, in fact, freeze dried instant Colombian coffee, and not the real ground roast normally served at the restaurant. Once informed of this fact, it takes a few seconds for the smiling, happy Chris Farley to morph into a raging maniac who cries “Why you s___ of a b____!”  demolishing all the tables around him as he pursues the hapless interviewer who runs for his life.

This is how I feel the more I ponder Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity.  I am supposed to now believe that for 2000 years—and especially for the last 500 years, we have had it all wrong. We have been drinking from the cup of God’s grace, reclining at the table of His goodness, enjoying His Word, and worshiping in His sweet presence for all these years, only to now be told that our experience of God’s kingdom is an artificial freeze-dried form of Christianity that is more a product of the Greco-Roman world than anything else.  We’ve been worshiping the wrong Jesus, reading and quoting the wrong Bible, presenting the wrong Gospel, believing in the wrong kind of salvation, We were wrong to believe in absolute truth, and arrogant to think that Jesus is the only way to God.

According to Brian McLaren, we are supposed to believe we have been “set up” by Apostles, church fathers, and great Christians throughout the ages, many who died as martyrs for the faith! What are supposed to believe that what we have been experiencing all these years was false comfort based on a false religion!

And we are supposed to smile into the camera and not be upset about it!

Reading NKoC makes me  feel like getting up from the table and crying “HERETIC!!” at the top of my lungs, turning some tables over and pelting McLaren with a banana cream pie right between the eyes, as depicted in the Farley video clip.

But I will contain myself, pour a cup of fresh ground Colombian coffee, crack open my study Bible, and take another tour through the Psalms, Romans, maybe Hebrews, the Gospel of Luke—-the fact is, it is all so good I don’t know where I will end up today! Hungry, I will feast at the table prepared for me. And I will sleep well tonight humming “there’s nothing like the real thing baby!”

The Apostle Paul is McLaren’s Worst Nightmare

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The image of Jesus is easy to manipulate, and liberal theologians throughout church history have made this their goal.  The “gentle Jesus meek and mild” motif fits in well with the zoned out image of Buddha, the softer gods of Hinduism and even the sensibilities of post-modern man–so McLaren holds to this “new kind of Jesus” because it fits his utopian vision of a world where all religions stand in a circle together and sing “kum-ba-ya”.

But there is no way to give Paul a face lift. His theology is too clear, too dogmatic, seemingly too sexist,  too rigid and too war-like in places.

Let’s look at some of Paul’s work that drives theological liberals crazy:


For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor. 5:21

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?   Romans 8:32

Brian McLaren leads the charge in challenging the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, which has been tagged as “cosmic child abuse. ”  (I tag this effort as LIBERAL THEOLOGY ABUSE.)


“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Rom. 13:3-4

Now there’s a thought!—government actually doing something to secure our freedom instead of constricting it! I realize that there are those “pacifist” Christians among us who believe we should try and pacify our enemies instead of resist them and they probably would have loved Chamberlain and hated Churchill had they lived through WW II. But had pacifism has its way then, we would all be doing the goose step right now burning incense to statues of Hitler. (For those who think Hitler should have been obeyed by Germans because of the above verse, remember, the qualifying characteristic of the ‘God ordained’ government would be  that it is “not a terror to good works, but to evil.”)

…McLaren, the liberal that he is, is a pacifist, and casts Jesus as a pacifist. But what are we to make of  Revelation 19:11-16?

“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He £had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in £fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”

GOD’S WRATH, HELL AND JUDGMENT: Here Paul and the other Apostles are pretty explicit. Below I have listed a simple New Testament search I made of the word “wrath” as a case in point:

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Luke 3:7

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

John 3:36

He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Romans 1:18

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Romans 2:5

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,

Romans 2:8

but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,

Romans 3:5

But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.)

Romans 5:9

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

Romans 9:22

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,

Romans 12:19

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 13:4

For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Romans 13:5

Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

2 Corinthians 12:20

For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults;

Ephesians 2:3

among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Ephesians 5:6

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Colossians 3:6

Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,

1 Thessalonians 1:10

and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 2:16

forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Revelation 6:16

and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

Revelation 6:17

For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Revelation 11:18

The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,

And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,

And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,

And those who fear Your name, small and great,

And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Revelation 12:12

Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

Revelation 14:8

And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

Revelation 14:10

he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Revelation 14:19

So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

Revelation 15:1

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.

Revelation 15:7

Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.

Revelation 16:1

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the £bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”

Revelation 16:19

Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.

Revelation 18:3

For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”

Revelation 19:15

Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”


That’s a pretty long list of verses on the wrath of God from a casual search. What about hell? I am not one to dwell on hell, and I am not the one who spoke of it more than anybody in scripture—that would be JESUS—but I will say that the best explanation I have heard of the hell issue was made by CS Lewis who wrote:

“If we don’t say to God ‘Thy will be done’ in this life, He will say to us “thy will be done’ in eternity.”

Hell is a place where people who don’t choose to love God go. It’s their choice. Like Keith Green pointed out, these people would be MISERABLE in heaven, where God will be worshiped, enjoyed and glorified forever.

Debunking The Two Layer Approach to Truth

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Jesus addresses the problem of leaders in his day who were leading people astray with warped ideas of the kingdom of God. He called them

“…blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”  (Matthew 6:23:24)

For all the negative talk about dualisms in his “A New Kind of Christianity,”  Brian McLaren, the would-be Martin Luther who is really a liberal-in-evangelical-clothing,  “swallows the camel” by accepting the upper storey/lower storey dichotomy of truth. Nancy Pearcey, in her excellent book, Total Truth, sums it up well:

“The crucial flaw in liberalism is that it adapts the two layer concept of truth. It accepts a naturalistic account of science and history in the lower storey, while relegating theology to the upper storey, where it is reduced to personal non-cognitive experience. This explains why liberal theologians insist that scripture is full of mistakes. After all, naturalistic science and history have decreed that miracles and other supernatural events are impossible. Convinced that they must accommodate to naturalism, liberals either deny the supernatural elements in scripture or else translate them into naturalistic terms…After accepting naturalism in the lower storey liberal theology then tries to rebuild and new form of Christianity strictly in the upper storey, cut off from any roots in nature or history.”  (Nancy Pearcey, The Total Truth)

This explains why McLaren pulls out all the stops with his wildly enthusiastic suggestions that we scrap Christianity as we know it and start over with a more postmodern-friendly layout. Why not? It’s all one big game anyway, according to this view of truth. The upper story, where myth and values and faith can thrive, has room for whatever  people  want to believe. It has no connection with objective reality. The lower, ground level floor of real, verifiable world truth has been given to Darwinism and Naturalism. The upper floor, where Christianity and other world religions live, is an academic diversion—cute, but irrelevant.

McLaren’s whipping post is Modernism, and he alleges that the evangelical church, by and large, is Modernist to the core. Interestingly enough, however, he employs one of the most modernistic mainstays possible—evolution—to make his point of the development of God through the centuries. The idea that the God of the Bible evolved from the days of Noah until Christ presupposes that scripture is a product of man’s understanding and not the REVELATION OF GOD to man. I find it a troubling assertion, to say the least.

This is Brian McLaren’s world–and he calls Christians everywhere to throw off the bonds of the past and join him in a bold new experiment to re-make Christianity–construct a new God and  new Jesus and forge ahead with a new understanding of the kingdom of God. The God who answers by fire  has been relegated to the camp-fire around which all religions gather and sing “kum-ba-ya” into the night. The Redeemer Jesus who rides on the white horse to bring justice to the nations is relegated to a poor martyr whose death didn’t really save anybody in particular. The everlasting kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate has been relegated to a “now only” cheap liberal movement bent on satisfying left-wing fantasies.

What to do? I believe that the only way to address McLaren and the Emergent, postmodern stream of the church is to put truth, ALL truth, on the ground floor. Let’s eliminate this ridiculous upper storey distinction altogether. The clear proclamation of a Biblical Christian world-view, which begins with God and His revelation (in nature and scripture) as a reference point for life, is the way forward.

Truth and the Postmodern Mindset

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The key to understanding the Emergent movement is found in the post-modernism mindset, since Emergents like McLaren and others are obsessed with being relevant to “pomos.”  While there are many “modern” people still walking the earth (those over 45 or so), they are, to Emergent writers and leaders, a dying breed who are the closest thing to the enemy that peace-loving Emergents have in this world.

I found it interesting that McLaren threw his full support behind Barack Obama in the presidential election in 2008 and expressed his distaste for McCain with these words:

“My top reason for supporting Barack Obama for president centers in the narrative I believe he frames his life and work by, in contrast to the narrative John McCain frames his life and work by… Does anyone doubt that Senator McCain lives by a warrior narrative? This is the most consistent theme in his campaign. For him the world is clearly divided into us and them.

We are good; they are evil. We are right; they are wrong. We are about safety; they are about danger.

This dualistic and fearful narrative is deeply rooted in McCain’s generation. They were formed in the simple, binary context of Axis and Allies, and then Communists and Free World. When Communism collapsed, a new antagonist conveniently presented itself (preempting the expected “peace dividend” and keeping the famed “military-industrial complex” well funded). This new war became what McCain calls “the transcendent challenge of the 21st century,” the clash of the West with fundamentalist Islam. McCain’s word “transcendent” is significant. It suggests a kind of holy war mentality, because for McCain, these us-them dualisms are absolute and therefore of a cosmic, metaphysical, even spiritual nature. The dualistic us-them mindset, I believe, is bogus and dangerous.”

On a personal aside—I feel McLaren’s cold shoulder. Being 53 and committed in mind and heart to the triumph of good over evil in this life and the next, I don’t fit into McLaren’s mold. I am not ideal stock from which to build his new Emergent kingdom. At least not until I change my ways, become a pacifist, embrace his New Christianity and jump on board with the left wing liberal agenda he fervently pushes on his followers. Until then, I belong to the one class of people that McLaren and Emergent revisionists don’t welcome to the conversation, those who believe in objective, propositional truth.

Enough of me–let’s talk about post-modernism. The highly respected evangelical theologian D.A. Carson calls it “the bastard child of modernism” because, while it vehemently attacks modernism and what it stands for, it shares with modernism one distinct trait that makes it a “chip off the old block,” namely, an epistemology that begins with self out works outward to define everything else.

The pre-modern Christians didn’t have this impediment. They believed that in a personal infinite God “Who is there and is not silent,” (to quote Schaeffer). They believed that God had revealed Himself in scripture (special revelation) and nature (general revelation.) In this revelation, everything else found its reference point.

This all changed when a Frenchman by the name of Rene Descartes (cerca 1596-1650) declared “I think, therefore I am,” opening the door to the modern mind-set.

As the philosopher who best exemplifies modern rationalism, Descartes was in fact a devout Catholic who believed in God. He grew up in a culture fueled by the Enlightenment and marked by rapid change (much like we are experiencing today) and wanted to come up with a way to rationally answer skeptics in his day. Catholics and Protestants were struggling over the question of what constituted religious truth. The new scientific world was also in turmoil and its picture of the physical world was rapidly changing through the likes of people like Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others. From Descarte forward philosophy approached truth by starting with man and moving outward—in direct contrast to the God-first approach held by the Apostles and pre-modern Christians.

As one can imagine, things began to devolve from that point on. Left to himself, man is a poor custodian of reality. By clinging to this absurd approach to epistemology, both modernism, and now postmodernism, are doomed to failure. The writer of  Hebrews gave a proposition we would all be wise to heed:

“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”   Hebrews 11:3,6

Francis Schaeffer addresses this far better than I could ever hope to in an excellent 6 minute video clip which you can access by clicking the following link:

Fundamentalism, Liberalism and A Socrates One-liner

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The release of Brian McLaren’s new book “A New Kind of Christianity” last week was a wake up call for me, as it no doubt was for many who like me feel like something sacred was being assaulted as “Darth Vader” took off his mask (see my previous post). Many of us put our objections on our blogs, on and elsewhere, in the form of “book reviews.” Yet in reading these reviews I saw more than  passive analysis. I saw passion, conviction and  in some cases frustration. Many of the most frustrated writers were those who in the past have held back from really taking a stand on McLaren’s Emergent trajectory. In recent years and months it seemed like he was headed in the wrong direction, but dog-gone-it he was being so nice about it, and was so postured toward openness and change– the attitude was one of letting the conversation take it course.

Now that McLaren has come out in the open,  for many the conversation is over. They have heard enough. And not all of this “fed up” group would consider themselves “Fundamentalists,” that F-word that McLaren likes to drop once in awhile to scare his would-be critics. I decided to look the word up in Wikipedia, the authoritative definer of all that is definable in our world today, and here is what it says:

“Fundamentalist Christianity, also known as Christian fundamentalism or fundamentalist evangelicalism, is a movement that arose mainly within British and American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries among conservative evangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to liberal theology, actively asserted that the following ideas were fundamental to the Christian faith: the inerrancy of the Bible, Sola Scriptura, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent personal return of Jesus Christ. Some who hold these beliefs reject the label of “fundamentalism“, seeing it as a pejorative term for historic Christian doctrine.”

Wow. Well I guess I am a fundamentalist then, and so are a whole boatload of people whose reviews I read these past couple of weeks, whether they want to ‘fess up to it or not! We are those trying to hold the line against liberalism, sticking up for the orthodox doctrines of the church.  And while we would like to avoid some of the pictures the word “Fundamentalist” brings to mind in our culture (thanks to the liberal media), the fact is we believe and are willing to fight for the fundamentals of the faith.

As an exercise in contrast, I decided to come up with a Wikipedia-like definition of the revisionist Emergent movement led by McLaren, Pagitt and  Jones, which I will call McLarenism. So here goes…

“McLarenism, also known as Emergent or the revisionist stream of emerging evangelicalism, is a movement that arose mainly within British and American Protestantism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries among  levangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to modernist/conservative  theology, actively asserted that the following ideas were are not fundamental to the Christian faith: the inerrancy of the Bible, Sola Scriptura, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent personal return of Jesus Christ. Some who hold these beliefs reject the label of “liberal“, seeing it as a pejorative term for historic Christian doctrine.

Liberal is probably not McLaren’s favorite word in the English language. (We know Fundamentalist is most likely his least favorite word.) In fact, most left wingers don’t like the word liberal but would much rather take the tag of “progressive.” Doesn’t  that sound better? It kind of rolls off the tongue. The problem is the definition of “progress” that the left wing progressive has. The devil is in the definitions.

Let’s look at the political arena, for example. “Hope and change” are good progressive mantras that swept Obama into the White House–but the majority of people who voted for Obama–particularly the independents who ended up being the deciding factor– didn’t press for clarification before they jumped on the bandwagon.  (So much was based on sentiment and feeling–a very post-modern reaction.) So now that we see the “change” Obama has brought and are starting to sense a loss of real hope, the independents have had a change of heart.

Socrates said: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” He was right.

On the negative side, every cult I  ever studied majored in the art of taking Christian words and changing the meaning, so that when someone heard them use the word they thought the cult was Christian. They discovered later that the experience and end-result of involvement in that cult was a radical departure from Christianity.

On the positive side, it is always a healthy exercise to know what we believe in and why we believe in it–to define the terms of our existence as human beings  and Christians, to forge a clear, well defined and well articulated world view. Sadly, as I have observed the Emergent movement and its attempt to keep face with post-modern culture, I can’t help but think this is the fruit of youth ministries all over country not emphasizing Biblical Christian world view for all of life. Churches got lazy and looked for the easiest way to get crowds, stayed in a compartmentalized “safe zone” designed to offend the least and have the broadest appeal (instead of producing radical disciples) and took their eye off the ball. And because they never had a Biblical Christian world view of their own, there was nothing to keep thousands of young people  from drifting into a post-modern mindset. What we see happening now in the Emergent revisionist movement is some of those youth— who have an appetite for that which is “radical”–are being swept into a radical liberal agenda and being told it is a “New Kind of Christianity” and are falling for it hook, line and sinker.

There is hope—-real hope—-that our generation and the next generation will find its way without losing its way. I believe the key is to be found in a radical truth encounter fueled by a fresh emphasis on Biblical Christian world view. I will be unpacking this further in the next few posts.

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