Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A heretic by any other name (4)...

Brian McLaren's problem with the Bible (which he loves, by the way) is that so much of it is just plain wrong. Among the many things that the Bible gets wrong is what it says about God. Don't misunderstand. The Bible records some things about God that are true (i.e. the things Brian likes). But the Bible leads us seriously astray in much of what it declares. Thankfully, Brian McLaren is here to help us discern the difference.

Is God violent?

Brian begins this section by admitting that he has a big problem. It helped his new kind of Christianity to assert that the Bible is our cultural library rather than authoritative constitution, but he still has to wrestle with the fact that this library contains many bloody books. In Brian’s words, he needs a way to deal with the numerous “violent images, cruel images, [and] un-Christlike images” of God that are found in the Bible.

Most troubling is the God who appears in the Noah narrative. Brian complains that “a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?”

Brian solves his problem by misusing the concept of progressive revelation. Everyone recognizes that God reveals more of himself as the Scripture narrative progresses. In the Old Testament God told the Israelites that he was one (Deut. 6:4), and then at the incarnation and Pentecost he revealed that he was also two and then three. But note that God’s future revelation expands rather than contradicts what came before. New Testament Christians still believe that God is one, as much as any OT Jew, but they now confess that God’s oneness also makes room for three persons.

Conversely, Brian asserts that future “revelations” supplant and correct earlier passages of Scripture. So while he cannot “defend the view of God in the Noah story as morally acceptable, ethically satisfying, and theologically mature,” he concedes that this early, immature view of God was at least a step up from the stories of God told by other religions of its day.

I put the term “revelation” in quotation marks above because Brian seems to think that the God we find in Scripture is merely what humans at the time thought of him. He writes: “when we ask why God appears so violent in some passages of the Bible, we can suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent and genocidal in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience. The fact that those disturbing descriptions are found in the Bible doesn’t mean that we are stuck with them….”

Read the entire post HERE.


Ryan H. said...

McClaren can keep his toothless, inoffensive God, and I'll keep my "uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious" God. He's more interesting.

Todd Pruitt said...

Well put Ryan!

Mike said...

I am not sure McLaren would say that the Bible was "wrong" per se (although I have not read his new book). It is just that the Bible describes man's view of God as he understood him at the time of the writing. It is God in the context of a premodern understanding...if that is progressive revelation I don't have a problem with that. Luther thought his indigestion was due to "demonic activity"...by today's standards some might consider that wrong or backwards but I look at it (and the Bible) differently. The Bible simply describes God in the understanding of the day...it is descriptive not prescriptive.

If this is true of the entire Bible what are we left with? (which I believe gets to your point about the things that Brian likes). This is what we are left to struggle with...but swallowing the Bible as a whole infallible document while creating a theology or interpretation to get us past the problems is not the answer. It leaves us without integrity...we can't live that way...or at least I can't

Todd Pruitt said...


Then don't "live that way."

And by the way McLaren does indeed say the Bible is wrong - a lot.

But that is what you are saying as well. Your understanding of progressive revelation is off. What you are describing is the typically liberal view that the Scriptures are merely a human document that God helped with here and there.

Of course the Bible's descriptions of Who God is and what He is like is "descriptive" and not "prescriptive." When the Bible describes God is being...descriptive. So I'm not sure what your point is.

You make a foolish error when you say that the Bible describes God "in the understanding of the day." How do you back that up Mike? What is your source of authority that supports your point?

Mike said...

In response to your question..."What is your source of authority that supports your point?"

This seems like an a priori argument to me...all writers write from a perspective (historical, personal, political etc.) whether it is the Bible or Shakespeare. Is it that far-fetched to think that these writers were somehow uninfluenced by the cultural norms/thoughts/mores around them?

Biblical writers wrote what they observed in the context in which they observed it. Is it wrong that they thought the earth was flat or rested on pillars? This is not just biblical poetic language but reflected the thinking of premodern man. So if McLaren thinks that is "wrong" so be it. I don't see it that way because I view it more from a literary POV. If that is a "liberal" view of scripture, so what? I not too concerned with labels any more...passed that.

Switching gears here...but I think the bigger issue that comes to mind with all these polemics is the realization that this is not motivated by "defending God" or "contending for the gospel" but is something more insidious...internal...that I am not sure people like Mohler, Carson, MacArthur even realize....I think a lot of these discussions and contentions are motivated by something that no one wants to admit to...


Todd Pruitt said...


First of all there is no evidence that the biblical writers believed that the sky was held up by pillars. Read, among others, Greg Beale's work on biblical cosmology.

Second, of course all writers write from a particular POV. Your problem is that you don't believe God had anything to do with the composition of the Bible. The Bible claims to be the very word of God. You don't believe that. I get it.

My question to you was what is YOUR source of authority. You seem to be unable to deal with that question.

Also, your psychoanalysis of Mohler and others is quaint I suppose. It's without any merit but a cute try I guess.

Harley A. said...

A big problem with McLaren and many of those like him is the internal inconsistency of their position. How can you assert that something is “un-Christlike” when you’ve destroyed any epistemological warrant to measure anything against Christ-likeness? If one is to accept McLaren’s position, then one would have to question what Christ was really like – I mean, were the disciples not trying to paint a rosier picture of the man than he really was to justify their newly created religion? Why should we be like Jesus? Why is McLaren allowed to indulge himself in borrowing from one part of the Bible to tear down another? Why doesn’t he say that Christ couldn’t have really been God or represented God’s heart, because He wasn’t violent enough to square with the OT view of God (as most liberals conceive)? How does he arrive at any concept of who God is beyond his own whims?

I’m sure he can feels he can demonstrate why that’s an okay model for him, but, at the end of the day, either the Bible can be trusted as the infallible truth or it is all suspect like any other writing. Any middle ground leads you inevitably to the latter…

For instruction to those who would hold to McLaren’s nonsense. Christ came 2,000 years ago to atone for sin and save that which was lost – a mission of mercy if you will. He has unfinished business. He will come again – and when He does, he’ll remind you way more of the OT version than the NT (to put into simplistic terms).

Mike said...

Doubt is there...you have it, I have it, they have it.

As far as my source of authority it is me and my thoughts/observations (I am honest about that)...but I would posit that to accept the mantle of a christian worldview is no different. When it comes down to it, it is chosen by the individual based upon his/her own thoughts and observations. Even if one takes a reformed view (ie. God chooses us) we still choose. I wish christians would admit that.

Todd Pruitt said...

Admit what? That we choose to submit to a particular source of authority? Is that a new discovery?

I appreciate your honesty that you see yourself as your highest source of authority. But please don't lump in with yourself those of us who submit to God's Word as the ultimate authority. There is a radical difference. Sorry you don't seem to see that.

I fear for you Mike (truly) and I plead with you to repent of your deliberate and stubborn unbelief. It is a grievous sin for which you will be held accountable before God.

Mike said...

I appreciate the concern...really I do, I take it as well-meaning, but I think I have become immune to fear propositions.

What I truly fear is the following:
What if I am not kind to my fellow man?
What if I do not live with integrity?
What if I do not love boldly?
What if I do not keep my promises? What if I turn a cold shoulder to those in need?
What if I am a poor steward of what I have?
What if I don't forgive?
What if I stop caring about anyone but myself?

These are my fears...not divine retribution...or judgment about what others think I should or should not believe.

Todd Pruitt said...


Why do you fear not doing those things? If there is no Divine retribution to fear, no hell to avoid, no judgment to dread then why fear not living up to any standard? You have already said that you are your source of authority. Why don't you let yourself off the hook? Why not rather decide to fear not having enough sensual pleasure in the short time you have in this life?

What happens if you do not live up to the standard you have set? I suppose the things you have listed are your laws for morality. I assume, like me, your life has not been an unbroken stream of faithfulness to those noble goals (of course, who's to say what is noble and what is not?). Anyway, knowing that you have failed to do the things you fear not doing, what do you do? What will be the consequences?

Mike said...

What will be the consequences? The consequences are that I do not live up to standards that are important to me. Why don't I let myself off the hook? Because there are earthly consequences to living a life of abandon to every whim of sensual feeling. If I don't quite live up to my standards that is no reason to abandon them. I can still have standards without beliving in biblical infallibility...in fact one can have high moral standards without believing in God at all.

Todd Pruitt said...

Why are those standards important to you?

Harley A. said...

Better yet, where do you get those standards ?

Mike said...

The standards are important to me because I have internalized them into what I think is important and right. These standards reflect how I want to define myself.

The greatest influence on my standards come from the Bible...however what the Bible teaches is filtered through a grid of my own. Christians do this as well whether they realize it or not.

I think there is this underlying assumption that if we give up the idea of traditional biblical interpretation then we fall into a morass of moral relativism. I know that is the fear. However I have not given up the biblical standards that I think are important. I know that does not fit the expectation when one abandons biblical infallibility (as you suggest) but I would not be commenting here if I fit the paradigm.

Harley A. said...

So, Mike is the measure of all things, then ? Pretty gutsy call. You have more faith in yourself than I do in myself.

And, of course, all filter things through their own grid. Christians know that their grid is flawed, though. We believe that the Bible is the standard even though we are not able to rightly divide it all the time.

Todd Pruitt said...


I want you to hear this as a gentle rebuke - Your decision to make yourself the measure of truth is a dangerous and damnable sin. It is the original sin. It is the sin of being a law unto yourself.

Harley is absolutely right. We all see things through a particular grid. Christians admit that without any problem. The difference is that we struggle to make the Bible the standard by which we measure all things. We know that so long as we are south of heaven we will do this imperfectly but that is why we continue to labor in our studies of God's Word within the context of the covenant community of God's people.

Again, I plead with you to abandon your stubborn unbelief. Read Hebrews 10:26-39 and Romans 1:18ff.