Friday, February 26, 2010

McKnight on McLaren

Scot McKnight weighs in on Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity and finds nothing new.
Brian believes in an old saw—namely, the Constantinian Fall of the Church, the event and era in which the Greco-Roman narrative was developed. In short, this narrative teaches that humans were created in a Platonic, ideal, and perfect world in Eden; then the Fall occurred, which tumbled humans into the Aristotelian and real world of becoming (which is bad). Out of this becoming world, one can either escape or be saved into the Platonic-ideal heaven, or choose eternal perdition in a Greek form of Hades. Brian will later call this the "Greco-Roman soul-sort narrative," by which he means that life in the here and now is about sorting out the saved from the damned. McLaren's soul-sort narrative is a caricature of a narrative that no responsible thinker really believes or teaches in the bald, insensitive, and barbaric ways described in this book. It's a caricature of Romans 5.

The Greco-Roman narrative is directed and determined by a god whom McLaren calls "Theos," who is not that distinct from the Greek Zeus or the Roman Jupiter. Theos is much different from the Hebrew Elohim, the Lord of Genesis 1-12. How? This Theos loves spirit, state, and being, and hates matter, story, and becoming, since, once again, the latter involve change, and the only way to change or move from perfection is downward into decay. "As soon as something drops out of the state of perfection, Theos is possessed by a pure and irresistible urge to destroy it (or make it suffer)," Brian claims. Theos is "perfectly furious" about humans telling stories, because that is "something that should never happen in the world of Theos." There's more: "Theos stands above, holding his thunderbolts ready to strike, ready to melt the whole damned thing down to primal lava, ready to set it all on fire to purge all that is imperfect, so only perfect purified being remains."

This is, according to Brian, "conventional Christian theology."

The Theos-driven narrative is one in which salvation is equivalent to atonement. Justification and redemption and salvation happen "when Theos finds a way to forgive this fallen, dropout, broken, detestable creation for its descent from perfect holy being into pathetic detestable becoming." Because humans are immortal and partake in Theos's essential nature, the damned must suffer eternally while the saved experience God's joy forever.

I kid you not—this is how Brian sums up conventional theology. "This is," he says, "the 'good news' taught by much of Western Christian religion (not all of it, thank God), the religion in which I was raised, in which I have done my life's work, of which I am a part today."