Deep Church 6

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

While I’ve read both chapters, I don’t see how I can meaningfully post about both.  Each one has loads to consider, so we’ll do one today and the next sometime soon.

Maybe chapter six should have been called conversations with Brian McLaren about the nature of the Gospel.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Belcher has chosen to spend so much time talking about him.  McLaren is rightly (and wrongly) seen as the representative of the Emerging Church.

So keeping in the spirit of the chapter, I’ll give you my take on McLaren.  I’ve read a couple books by him, both of which I have found thought provoking.  And there is no doubt that he is “emerging” in the truest sense of the word.  One very much gets the sense when reading his books that this is a guy in process, and that we are sitting in – so to speak – as he sorts things out.  Of course, this can either be seen as refreshing or maddening.  Just depends on how you look at it.

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a one day conference for church leaders.  And everything I found present in his writing was true in person as well.  First of all, he’s brilliant.  I don’t agree with him on all the positions he takes.  There are a number of things about his content and style that don’t sit quite right with me.  But the list of people I’ve encountered who are able to synthesize huge amounts of information from a wide range of disciplines…  history, philosophy, politics, economics, theology…  is very, very short.

He is also winsome.  You just sort of like the guy.  I could have done without the Gregorian chanting.  Or some of the kookier theories he’d formulated about “story spaces.”  But he is a far cry from the demonized portrait that some might paint of him.

Is he wrong about some things?  I think so.  Occasionally, I feel like his way of knowing (look at me trying to avoid the word “epistemology”) flows more out of philosophical constructs than a deeply rooted biblical story.  I am certain that he wouldn’t appreciate that assessment.  He would say of me that my agenda and worldview is shaped by a certain philosophical commitment that pushes me to understand the Scriptures a certain way.  I would respond in kind.  And away we would go.  Do I think he skirts too close to universalism?  Yes.  Do I think he downplays the Atonement and the individual’s response to work of Christ?  Yes.  Do I think that he is trying to work out a thoroughly Christ-centered and Christ-honoring way of being human?  YES.  In short, he’s worth listening to, but take him with a grain of salt.  My sense is Belcher feels the same.

So back to the conversation at hand…  the Gospel.  Specifically, the Deep Gospel.  I’ll be brief.  I agree completely that the evangelical church in recent history has been too narrowly focused on the individual salvation experience.  I also agree that a more holistic understanding of Kingdom of God needs to be taught and embraced in churches today.  And yes, there is always the danger that we will swing too far the other way of making the gospel entirely social and going the way of protestant liberalism.

That said, I don’t agree entirely with where Belcher lands with respect to atonement theory.  He cites Richard Mouw as saying that while the various theories all hold some truth, they aren’t all equally valid.  Mouw says that it is a matter of priority.  Which is primary or most important?  He and Belcher believe that the Christus Victor understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, while true, is dependent on a thoroughly penal substitutionary view of atonement.  I was unconvinced and would actually argue that it is the other way around.  Anyway, as you can see, I’ve been reduced to theological hair-splitting.

I don’t think that the feedback is going to be overwhelming.  The conversation about worship has potential to be more lively.  But here’s your chance to say what you appreciate about McLaren…  or don’t.  Or we could talk about how your understanding of the “gospel” has changed over time.

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