Last week, the Baptist Press ran a story about the address that Brian McLaren gave at a conference for youth ministers at Willow Creek Community Church. As you might expect, he said some things that grate against traditional evangelical priorities. Here’s an example:
“Some of us came from a religious tradition or a religious background where our main role was to recruit kids to go to heaven. And that’s a good thing. Mortality rates are still pretty high, and we all have to face that decision. But I’m here to challenge you to think bigger and deeper and in more layers and dimensions about your role.”
In this case, “thinking bigger” includes recasting traditional evangelical doctrines. Though McLaren’s address did not specifically say which doctrines need to be revised, his book Everything Must Change does. In the book he suggests the following:
“Many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular. . . Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly. . . This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we’ve said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.”
McLaren has it exactly backwards. Jesus’ “violent” return does not encourage believers to be violent in the present. On the contrary, it encourages them not be be violent in the present. At least that’s how the Bible presents it.
Faithful Christians refuse to take their own vengeance, not because all vengeance is wrong, but because the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:20). God has given all judgment to the Son (John 5:22), and one day the Son will return to settle all accounts (Rev 19:11-16). We don’t take our own revenge because we have confidence that the Son will take our revenge for us in the last day (Rom 12:19). Paul, for instance, encourages the persecuted Thessalonian believers by telling them that Jesus will one day return “to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess 1:6-10).
So McLaren is fighting against what the Bible presents as the foundational motivation for loving our enemiesâ€”our confidence that we don’t have to settle our own scores because God will do it for us. McLaren’s picture of a non-violent God isn’t just an academic error, it’s one that cuts the heart right out of biblical eschatology and hope.
In any case, here’s a link to the story about McLaren.
Here’s a link that has a response from Russell Moore to Brian McLaren.