Carrying The Right Lesson Forward

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“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus…”

This month as I watched the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” I finally got the answer to a question my 10 year old daughter has asked me countless times: “Daddy, what if you could go back in time and be any one you wanted to be?”

I have decided that if I had that opportunity, I would like to be the man who helped Jesus carry his cross on the Via Dolorosa. Can you imagine? What an honor and privilege that would be!

Knowing that opportunity will never come my way, I was encouraged to come across a classic sermon by one of my all-time favorite preachers, Leonard Fox.  This is a man who back in 1976 spoke prophetic words over my life as a part of the presbytery at my convocation in Bible College and whose sermons always challenged me to the core.

The sermon is on Galatians  6:17 where Paul writes:

“I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

Fox points out that Webster defines “mark,” among other things, as:

1) recognition of ownership

2) The outer sign of something that is stamped in written I the character of the person.

So when Paul writes “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,”  he is proclaiming Christ’s lordship in his life and testifying to the transforming power of God’s grace in his character.

These marks– distinctive traits– were first manifested in the life of our Savior…then the apostles….then passed on to us all who  are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Rom. 8:32) They are the distinguishing characteristics of all disciples of Jesus.

According to Fox, here are 8 distinctive marks of Jesus:

1. Forgiveness of injuries (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do…” Also Col. 3:13; I john 2:6)

2. No self pity (“Don’t weep for me” …Luke 23:28)

3. Joy in spite of difficulties…(“Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”…Heb 12:1-4)

4. Calm receptivity…(“I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence”…John 8:38)

5. Courage (Jesus had courage in the face of growing opposition and certain crucifixion–Isa 40:31)

6. The power to take it…unbeatable (“obedient to death…therefore God exalted him.” Phil 2:8-9)

7. He cared deeply…every man’s hunger was His own (“he had compassion on them” Matt. 9:36)

8. He gave himself (“he suffered death, so that … he might taste death for everyone” Heb 2:9).

While only one man was chosen to help Jesus carry His cross on that fateful day 2000 years ago, today the invitation is open to us all:

” Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

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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:

SUBSTITUTIONARY DEATH OF JESUS:

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.)

GOD GIVES GOVERNMENT THE SWORD FOR A REASON:

“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.”

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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.

The Darth Vader Effect

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Brian McLaren is good writer and has a real knack for creating word pictures. In my view, he is “more crafty than any of the writers of the field” of revisionist theology. Over the past several years he has asked lots of intriguing questions that cut to the heart of the Christian faith, stirring things up and encouraging a conversation. Up until now he has been reserved about giving clear answers or laying all his cards on the table, a “conservative” approach that has worked well for him in that it has given him a broad appeal.

This book is a game changer. With “A New Kind of Christianity,” McLaren has opted to lay his cards on the table and has lain bare, in essence, his own version of “systematic theology.” There is no longer a shroud of mystery hanging over what he believes, which for some is a good thing but for many others is a bad thing. Reading this book is a lot like Luke Skywalker removing the mask of Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi.” Hard core left leaning liberals will resonate with the words “I am your father!” while hopeful middle-of-the-road evangelicals who have looked to him as a promising agent of measured change will most likely turn away in horror at what they see behind the mask.

A New Kind of Christianity was written to answer 10 crucial questions:
1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2. How should the Bible be understood?
3. Is God violent?
4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?
5. What is the Gospel?
6. What do we do about the church?
7. Can we find a way to address sexuality without arguing about it?
8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9. How should followers of Jesus relate to other religions?
10. How can we translate our quest into action?

While there is not room to address all the answers McLaren gives, I will touch upon a few points that stood out to me. First, I was a bit taken back by the introduction where after giving his story in a very good light (his style makes you really want to give him a hug) McLaren dives into a full scale meta-narrative as point-by-point he throws the church of the past 2000 years under the bus and represents it in a bad light. Never mind that his assertions may be inaccurate. He makes his point by using his version of the hated meta-narrative. I found that ironic, given that he and others in the Emergent movement have spoken so strongly against the use of meta-narrative.

Second, McLaren takes aim at the Creation-Fall-Redemption story line traditionally held by the church. He thinks it is a product of Platonic thought rather than scripture. Interestingly enough, at least 3 books have been written USING the C-F-R narrative to REFUTE Platonic thought (Al Wolters (Creation Regained) Neal Plantinga, (Engaging God’s World), and Mike Wittmer (Heaven is a Place on Earth).

As Wittmer writes: “The Christian understanding of creation, fall, and redemption differs dramatically from Plato’s pagan version.
a. Creation: the Bible says the entire world, including its physical aspect, is good. Plato taught that the material world is evil (matter is the matter).
b. Fall: the Bible teaches that our problem is moral rebellion, with ontological consequences (such as death). Plato taught that our problem is ontological (we are trapped in bodies) and epistemological (we are ignorant of our true home).
c. Redemption: the Bible teaches that salvation is moral, with ontological consequences (e.g., resurrection). Plato taught that salvation occurred through education.
At every point in the story Christian orthodoxy contradicts Plato’s narrative. So how exactly does Brian think that our story came from Plato?”

Somehow I don’t think McLaren has done his homework here, which I find to be the case often. He seems to be quick to posit his ideas without really qualifying them. Seminary might have helped him out here–but he assures us that it is a good thing he never went to seminary, otherwise he would not have come to believe as he does. This is probably true.

Another red flag pops up with Brian’s take on Genesis 3. Denying the orthodox Christian view of the Fall, he explains that Genesis 3 in fact marks one more step up the ladder of ascent. More specifically, he believes it celebrates the era when mankind became farmers! How on earth he can look at the narrative of Genesis 3 and hold to this conclusion is beyond me. But on a more crucial note, with one fell swoop he eliminates the Fall of man! This collides head-on with the clear teaching of Paul in Romans chapter 5:

“…But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. ” Romans 5:8-12

Am I missing something here? Can anyone read Paul and conclude the Fall never happened?

Brian attempts to re-define the Apostle Paul into a kinder and gentler theologian who falls right in line with his (Brian’s) liberal motif of a kinder and gentler Jesus. In Brian’s view, Jesus is a glorified social activist–not the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world one person at a time. He writes that Paul is a “‘Jesus and the kingdom of God’ guy from first to last.” To which I say “DUH!”   I would agree, he is! But the crucial question is “Which Jesus and which kingdom?” The Jesus and kingdom depicted by the Apostle Paul or the Jesus and kingdom presented to us by Brian and his close circle of fellow revisionists?

We now know that McLaren does not believe there was a Fall, and that the third chapter of Genesis is a “coming of age” story. This explains why he also does not believe in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. He does not believe in hell (or heaven as a place we go when we die) and would rather be an atheist than believe in a violent God.

He prefers the earlier Hebrew God Elohim over the later Greek God Theos, again, because it is Greek. Never mind that the New Testament was written in Greek and that Paul, throughout his epistles, seemed very comfortable expounding themes that McLaren rejects outright. While I appreciate McLaren’s desire to center on Christ, he is wrong to suggest that Paul’s words are any less the Word of God than Christ’s words. And though he makes a valiant effort to present Paul as a “Jesus guy” who simply echoes what Jesus says about the kingdom of God, I am afraid much of what Paul wrote in his epistles flies in the face of McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity. This is and will continue to be a problem, especially for those of us who actually believe the Bible as the Word of God. In so many ways McLaren selects what he likes and condemns the rest to irrelevance. Beliefs held as truth by millions for the past 2000 years are now to be considered obsolete because they do not fit his post-modern vision for the church.

There is clear disdain in this book for the Greco-Roman influence on the church, which no doubt McLaren, had been there, would have made a good effort to correct. Because he and others like him weren’t there to free the church from Greek influence, we have a whole bunch of bad doctrines on the books. So we need to rip the contract up and start over. Which is where McLaren comes in. In this, the fullness of time, Brian McLaren  has come to resurrect a dying Christianity and give it a new image. One blogger noted that in some eerie sort of way, both the God and Jesus of McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity” bear his image. Interesting thought!

One of many suspect theologians who has won Brian’s admiration (and is mentioned in the book) is John Dominic Crossan, who told Time magazine that after the crucifixion, Jesus’ corpse was probably laid in a shallow grave, barely covered with dirt and eaten by wild dogs–and that the subsequent resurrection story was merely a result of wishful thinking.

Contrast this with what Paul said on Christ and the resurrection! It doesn’t add up. It is clear that the writings of Paul—which include half the New Testament— boldly contradict of all of Brian’s radical assertions. This problem will not go away. I fear that Brian has done a sketchy job of addressing this and a wide range of other issues in this book.

I would recommend this book to you if you are a liberal looking for ways to relate with the post-modern mind-set. If, like me, you are not looking to scuttle Christianity as we know it and take the fast track to liberalism, then this book will be a frustrating read.