<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Emergent Church Leader Brian Mclaren's "Serious" Take On Sin<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By Jason Carlson
In my last column, "My Journey Into and Out of the Emergent Church", I described my personal, firsthand interactions with the Emergent organization and many of its leaders. In that column I described a number of erroneous positions and practices being embraced by the Emergent "conversation" that eventually forced me to disengage myself from any further participation with Emergent. Since posting that article, I have received numerous requests, via this website's feedback feature and also by personal e-mail, for me to elaborate on some of the points I made in my testimonial. Thus, in this article I would like to demonstrate the reality of at least three of the observed errors within Emergent that I listed in that previous posting, these are: 1) Emergent's proclivity towards openly questioning the validity and relevance of key historical biblical doctrines; 2) Emergent's tendency to embrace a reading of scripture that is heavily prejudiced towards a social gospel understanding; and 3) Emergent's lack of concern for biblical evangelism and saving lost souls.
In order to demonstrate the presence of these errors within Emergent, there is no better way than to quote the leading authority within the emergent church movement, who also happens to be one of the original founders of the Emergent organization, this person is Brian Mclaren. In a recent interview with a podcast called Bleeding Purple[i], Mclaren clearly demonstrates that the three errors I listed above are alive and well within his mind and thinking; and thus, by the extension of his influence, within the movement of Emergent. Consider the following statements by Mclaren (with my personal commentary interjected throughout)
"What is the problem with sin? What's so bad about sin? I take sin really seriously, but here's the problem, if I were to make this sort of analogy or parable. When I had little children, let's say my son Brett was beating up on his little brother Trevor What was the problem? Was the problem that I don't want my younger son to get hurt and I don't want my older son to be a bully? I want my older son to be a good person; I want my younger son to be a good person. I want them to have a great relationship. The problem of sin is what it does to my family, what it does to my boys, you know? That's the problem of sin. But what we've created is the problem of sin is that I'm so angry at my son Brett for beating up his younger brother I'm going to kill him. So now the problem we've got to solve is how to keep me from killing my son. Does that make sense?"
Well, no, it doesn't make sense, especially in light of what the scriptures teach about sin. Here we see a classic example of Emergent's proclivity towards questioning the validity and relevance of key historical biblical doctrines. Contrary to Mclaren's personal doctrine of sin, the Bible teaches that the real problem with sin is that humans are infected with a spiritual disease that has separated us from our holy God. In Romans 3:23 we read, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Furthermore, not only has sin separated us from our holy God, but also, if our sinfulness is left unchecked, it will lead to spiritual death, eternal separation from our holy God. Romans 6:23 states, "For the wages of sin is death " Mclaren, supposedly taking sin "really seriously", has turned sin into a matter of people not getting along with one another. Using his analogy, sin isn't an issue of his son's rebellion against a holy God and God's commands to love your brother (1 John 3:11); rather, the sin in this situation is the fact that his boys aren't being friendly to each other. What Mclaren has done with his definition of sin is he has ignored the spiritual offense against God's holy nature and will that has taken place, and instead, he has focused only upon the human consequences of his son's actions. The fact of the matter, and why sin truly is such a serious problem, is that sin is a moral offense against God's holy nature. And yes, sin does have many implications for our human relationships, but sin is not primarily a matter of whether or not people can get along with one another. Mclaren has invented his own doctrine of sin which simply is not found anywhere in scripture.
"Now it seems to me the entire Christian theology has shifted, so now the problem is, how can we keep me from killing Brett? I don't think that's the kind of God we serve. I think the problem is God wants his children to get along with each other. He wants them to be good people because he's good, see? And his vision for creation is that they'll love each other and enjoy each other and have a lot of fun together. So, sin is incredibly serious, but I think we've shifted why it's so important The problem is, why does sin matter to God? We have a vision that the real problem is God wants to kill us all and we've got to somehow solve that problem. And what that does, Leif, to me that is so significant is that it then minimizes the concern about injustice between human beings. That becomes a peripheral concern. But what if that's God's real concern from beginning to end, see?"
First of all, Mclaren assumes that Christian theology has "shifted" to what we know today as our orthodox understanding of sin- sin being a moral offense against God's holiness. However, no such "shift" has taken place. The Bible is very clear on what sin is and the Christian church has always understood what sin is. This so called "shift" in Christian theology is simply a figment of Mclaren's imagination, intended to mislead people into thinking that his "can't we all just get along" view of sin was at some time the true Christian understanding of sin. I think it's interesting that Mclaren cites no biblical support for his position, nor does he cite any evidence that his personal doctrine of sin was at one time the dominant view within the church so that this supposed "shift" in Christian theology could have ever taken place. If Mclaren's view of sin were truly God's "real concern from beginning to end" you'd think he'd be able to offer some better biblical and historical support for his position. However, Mclaren has to justify in some way Emergent's tendency to embrace a reading of scripture that is heavily prejudiced towards a social gospel understanding. So, instead of accepting the clear biblical teaching regarding the nature of sin as an offense against God's holiness, Mclaren has to invent a new definition of sin that will more fully justify Emergent's emphasis upon the gospel being primarily about God's concern over injustice between human beings.
"That kind of theology, that just wants to placate God I think that that theology was the perfect theology to enfranchise apartheid, colonialism, segregation in the United States, it enfranchises carelessness toward the poor, disregard for the rights of homosexuals, carelessness toward people with AIDS. It shifts all the attention from God's will being done on Earth to what happens to us after we die. And I think that is the kind of thing that would make God furious, if I can use that kind of language; and I think that's exactly why Jesus uses such strong language toward the Pharisees."
So, in other words, if you are a Christian who believes in the orthodox doctrines of sin (Romans 3:23) and humanity's need for a savior (Romans 6:23; 1 John 1:7 & 9), these biblical doctrines to which you hold are essentially to blame for all of the world's social ills. Did you know that? Did you know that if you're a Christian concerned with upholding the biblical doctrines of sin and salvation that you're supposed to be a global jerk? I'm certainly glad I found this interview with Mclaren. I'm going directly over to my church to demand that we Christians, concerned with the orthodox view of sin and salvation, stop supporting our community's food shelf, the Christian school project we're funding in Liberia Africa, the Latino congregation that meets in our church facility, and all of the other social justice projects we're involved in. From here on out I'm going to be a global jerk, but don't worry, at least I can still call people to repentance and salvation. After all, according to Mclaren, we Christians who maintain these biblical and traditional views of sin and salvation are only concerned with "what happens to us after we die."
This ridiculous caricature put forth by Mclaren is a classic example of how Emergent either ignores or disparages the biblical mandate to take the true gospel of salvation from sin to the lost souls of the world. For Emergent, the emphasis is virtually wholly upon a social gospel whereby the church seeks to make the world a better place. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for making the world a better place and reaching out to the poor and suffering, but all of the social justice projects in the world will not fix humanity's basic problem- our sinfulness which separates us from a holy God.
Obviously there are numerous theological errors within the above statements by Mclaren; I have barely scratched the surface of them in my commentary. If I had more time I would probably focus on Mclaren's false characterization of the traditional doctrines of sin and salvation as simply being attempts to "placate God", as if God was nothing more than a cosmic infant who just has to get his way. However, for now I have demonstrated enough to prove that Emergent errors in at least three areas, these are: 1) Emergent's proclivity towards openly questioning the validity and relevance of key historical biblical doctrines; 2) Emergent's tendency to embrace a reading of scripture that is heavily prejudiced towards a social gospel understanding; and 3) Emergent's lack of concern for biblical evangelism and saving lost souls.
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