Brian McLaren Strikes Again

Pastor Brian McLaren responds to the responses to his response to “the homosexual question” that he wrote about last week. This newest essay extends to three times as long as his original piece, but it can be summed up as follows: McLaren still doesn’t have a position on whether homosexuality is a sin, and most of those who responded to his original piece are not very nice. We shouldn’t discuss the homosexual question until conservatives learn how to be nice to people they disagree with.

You can go read the entire McLaren essay on Christianity Today’s leadership blog at the following link: “Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 4: McLaren’s Response.” There is plenty to comment on in this new piece, and I will offer some critical observations here.

McLaren writes:

Many readers seem to assume that by quoting verses from Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians, they have solved the problem.

I think the issue here is that we are not agreed as to what the “problem” is. McLaren seems to think that the main “problem” is that conservatives aren’t “pastoral” in the way that they respond to homosexuals. But his definition of “pastoral” seems to be something along the lines of being in touch with other people’s woundedness—a definition far short of the biblical ideal (Acts 20:28-31).

But for many of us, we define the main “problem” far differently than does McLaren. Yes, we could all be nicer, but it doesn’t help anyone if Christians are nice without also being truthful. We don’t have a Gospel for homosexuals to believe in if we cannot call them simultaneously to repentance from their sin. This goes not just for how we address homosexuals, but for how we address any sinner. And if we cannot say to them that God desires to save them from their sin (including homosexuality) then the Gospel becomes a truncated perversion of the message that the Bible calls us to preach. If at least part of the “problem” includes whether or not to call homosexuality sin, then yes “quoting from Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians” does provide a solution.

McLaren also writes:

We have become aware of as-yet unanswered scholarly questions, such as questions about the precise meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai in Paul’s writings, and we wonder why these words were used in place of paiderasste, the meaning of which would be much clearer if Paul’s intent were to address behavior more like what we would call homosexuality.

Here we need to make a technical note. The words malakoi and arsenokoitai appear in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and scholars do dispute their meaning. But paiderastês actually denotes a more specific activity—the practice of older men having homosexual relations with young boys. Contrary to McLaren’s claim, therefore, pederasty is not “the behavior more like what we would call homosexuality.” Most of us use the term homosexuality to refer to all same-sex sexual activity and orientation. This sentence doesn’t adequately reflect what is going on in scholarly discussions, and it betrays more misunderstanding on his part than it does careful attention to a subtle debate.

McLaren also makes this unbelievable statement:

These questions are all the more challenging for some of us when we realize that the Leviticus texts themselves, if taken literally, call for the death penalty. Nobody (I don’t think?) takes that literally, nor do we take many of the other 611 Mosaic proscriptions literally. Why take these selected verses literally, and only partially so?

Here, McLaren employs an old liberal saw that in one fell swoop relativizes the entire Old Testament law! Now I know there are huge hermeneutical debates about how the OT law relates to us as NT believers, but this statement from McLaren makes it look as if he thinks Evangelicals have no answers to these kinds of questions. All this remark really does is give ammunition to those who would like to treat the Bible as an irrelevant book.

McLaren also claims that some of the responders have said things about him that aren’t true: “we only wish they could extend the same grace and not assume or assert things about us that aren’t true.” One thing about McLaren that is true is that he continues to stay mum on the morality of homosexuality. Contrary to his claim at the end of the article that he still hasn’t taken a position, McLaren needs to know that not taking a position is a position.

For this reason, his non-stance on homosexuality more resembles that of one who is “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) than it does a pastor who would faithfully lead his flock.

Here are the Relevant Articles on CT’s Leadership Blog:

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 4: McLaren’s Response

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 3: A Prologue and Rant by Mark Driscoll

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 2: A Blogger’s Response

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response

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Should We Baptize the Babies?

I would like to direct your attention to an interesting discussion taking place on the Reformation21 Blog. Various reformed theologians and personalities contribute to this blog, and the format is somewhat of a conversation among the various contributors.

Yesterday, the lone Baptist contributor, Justin Taylor, asked the paedo-baptists the following question: “According to covenant theology, what is the difference between the baby of a Presbyterian and the baby of a Baptist? . . . what privileges and benefits would [a Baptist baby] lack?”

To my mind, this is the million-dollar question that my Presbyterian brothers cannot answer sufficiently. Rick Philips attempted a response today, but I think he hit way wide of the mark. Allow me to elaborate on my disagreement as I comment on excerpts from Philips’s response:

We baptize our babies not to bring them into covenant relationship with God but because of their covenant relationship with God . . . Since baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the church, we apply it to our children. We do not believe that by birth our children possess eternal life, but we do believe that by virtue of being our children, they are in covenant with God

This statement gets to the heart of the difference between Baptists and Paedo-baptists. Unlike paedo-baptists, Baptists believe that the New Covenant is “not like” the old Covenant. In the New Covenant all covenant members will have the law written on their heart and will have their sins forgiven (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13). Unregenerate children do not participate in these new covenant privileges (the law on their heart and the forgiveness of sins), even though their Christian parents may be nurturing them in the instruction of the Gospel.

Contrary to Philips, for Baptists baptism signifies much more than what he alleges. Philips says that Baptists hold baptism to be “an outward sign of an inward change.” This statement is partly accurate, but actually leaves the Baptist position open to caricature. I have often been told by paedo-baptist brothers, “You believe that baptism signifies your faith, but we believe it signifies God’s promise.” They seem to imply in this that Baptists think baptism signifies what a person does for God, while Presbyterians believe it signifies what God has done for us in the Gospel. This is an effective rhetorical device and has caused many a reformed Baptist to blush for holding a position that seemingly contradicts the sovereignty of God in salvation. But our own historic Baptist creeds demonstrate that this is not an accurate description of our position.

Our best creeds explain Baptism as signifying no less than two things: (1) what God has done for His people in the Gospel, and (2) the believer’s participation in the Gospel. For instance, chapter 29 of the London Baptist Confession says that baptism is “a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection.” In other words, Baptism signifies in the first instance Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf (what God has done for us) and our participation in what Christ has done for us (see also “The Abstract of Principles”). For Baptists, this is the most faithful way to understand texts like Romans 6:1ff where Christ’s work on our behalf and our participation in it are both signified in baptism: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). [There is much more to be said here, but I will leave it at that for the sake of space].

To my mind, Philips never adequately answered Justin’s question. Philips writes:

So what is the cash value of infant baptism for us, which we think Baptist babies are denied? We believe that the Baptist approach fails to recognize the place of children in the church, with very real privileges and obligations.

What Philips fails to do is to answer what these “privileges and obligations” consist of. Certainly it is much more than the ability to say the Lord’s prayer, which he says only baptized infants can do with any theological integrity. Both kinds of children are brought up having the Gospel preached to them, so what benefit does the baptized baby have? I would still like to know.

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Mark Driscoll Takes a Whack at McLaren Too

Well, if you thought Doug Wilson’s firebombing of McLaren was severe (see previous post), you haven’t seen anything yet. The cussing pastor Mark Driscoll is also outraged at McLaren’s non-stance on homosexuality. The lambaste appears on the same blog that hosted McLaren’s original essay.

“A Rant by Mark Driscoll” – Out of Ur

I cannot endorse the coarseness of Driscoll’s response, but it is significant because it represents a division between two Emergent leaders over this very pressing issue.

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Doug Wilson’s Firebombing of Brian McLaren

There are a lot of things that Doug Wilson and I don’t agree on (not the least of which is our interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s letters). But I have to say that he is one the most effective rhetoricians that I have ever read. His loquacious pyrotechnics rank right up there with the rhetorical hand-grenades that Martin Luther used to hurl at his opponents with great effect.

Doug Wilson pulls no punches in his recent critique of Pastor Brian McLaren’s inability to define homosexuality as sin (click here to see McLaren’s article). In a few short paragraphs, Wilson mounts a withering assault on McLaren’s tortured argument and then finishes him off with a wallop:

If you don’t know what to think about homosexuality, then get out of the ministry. If you can’t read the big E on the eye chart, then why should the rest of us follow you into the ditch? Now homosexuality is not the most important issue in the Bible, not by a long shot. But it is, thank God, one of the clearest. And if it is not clear to McLaren, or by his account, to most of the leaders of the emerging movement, then the time has come to look for another calling, and I hear UPS is looking for reliable drivers.

If someone were to ask me whether the Bible teaches that Jesus went to Capernaum, I would say yes, it does. I would not be in agony over the question. It is not the most important question, but it is clear. If someone were to ask if the apostle Paul taught that homosexual behavior (both male and female forms) is the dead end result of idolatry, I would say yes again. No agony in the exegesis whatever. There is only agony if you are lusting after respect from the world, which they will not give to you unless you are busy making plenty of room for their lusts. And that is what the emergent movement is doing — this is really all about sex. And, conveniently enough, this has the added benefit of making room for evangelical lusts. Son of a gun. All that agony paid off. . . (source).

The emergent folks who read Wilson’s critique will immediately write him off as having committed the unforgivable sin of being not-nice. Nevertheless, the frustration demonstrated in Wilson’s piece is one that is shared by many of us conservatives who can’t figure out why some of the Emergent folk always seem to be learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

The sting of Wilson’s rebuke is not just the rhetoric, it’s the truth of the charge. I hope some will have the ears to hear it.

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Review of “Where Is Boasting?”

Simon J. Gathercole. Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 311pp. $32.00.

Simon J. Gathercole fires a salvo into the ongoing battle over Paul’s doctrine of Justification and the new perspective on Paul. In Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5, Gathercole contends with the growing consensus among Pauline scholars that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic religion of merit, but a gracious dispensation of covenantal election. This work represents Gathercole’s Ph.D. dissertation which he wrote under the supervision of James D. G. Dunn, with whom Gathercole is in decided disagreement.

Gathercole argues that E. P. Sanders’ scheme of “getting in” and “staying in” has very little eschatology (p. 23). That is, Jewish soteriology was based not merely on divine election (à la covenantal nomism), but also on final salvation by works (à la eschatological judgment). According to Gathercole, new perspective scholars have overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Gathercole attempts to show that the evidence of second-Temple Jewish literature paints a different picture.

Gathercole traces the theme of “boasting” in second-Temple Jewish texts (Part 1) and in Paul’s argument in Romans 1-5 (Part 2). He shows that “boasting” in Paul and the Jewish literature refers to “confidence of vindication in the final judgment” (p. 23). Such “boasting” relies on obedience to the totality of Jewish law as the condition of and basis for final vindication in the final judgment. For Gathercole, salvation in Judaism, contrary to new perspective scholarship, does rely on works of obedience.

Gathercole’s work is important because it challenges one of the central claims of New Perspective proponents. They have alleged that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not legalistic because “legal works” were not viewed as the basis for “getting into” a right relationship with God. “Legal works” were merely a means of “staying in” that right relationship.

Gathercole has shown that second-Temple Judaism did indeed hold to a final salvation for the righteous on the basis of works (p. 266). In other words, New Perspective scholars have emphasized the gracious character of Israel’s election at the expense of the legal works that are required for one to stand at the final judgment.

In many ways, what Gathercole has done is to balance the scales a little bit. He shows that there has been somewhat of a false antithesis between election and legalism in descriptions of first century Judaism. For Gathercole, Jewish soteriology is based both on divine election and on eschatological salvation by works (p. 33). Any description of Judaism that fails to emphasize both is not being faithful to the sources.

Some reviewers of Gathercole’s work allege that New Perspective scholars have always given eschatological salvation by works its proper place in describing Jewish soteriology. But this reviewer disagrees with that assessment. New Perspective proponents rarely if ever give proper weight to the indications that Judaism was in some sense legalistic. Gathercole offers a needed course correction in this respect.

This is a valuable book and a must read for anyone who is interested in getting outside of the echo-chamber that is modern Pauline scholarship. Gathercole has made his point—rather, the sources have made their point, and every New Testament scholar would do well to hear them.

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Review of “Blue Like Jazz”

Shane Walker at 9Marks ministries has reviewed Donald Miller’s popular book Blue Like Jazz. What can I say? The review is devastating and gets at the heart of all that’s wrong with the postmodern ethos in certain sectors of the Emergent church movement. Here’s a teaser from the review:

Don wants to invite the reader to authentic Christian spirituality, but he’s not really sure what it looks like. He can only report back what he’s experienced—and it’s been a confusing trip. This means that some of his readers will walk away even more confused, but more resolved to get another tattoo, another piercing, grow those dreads, attend another anarchist protest, or say another profanity. They will learn that watching South Park is not so bad, having crushes on lesbian pop stars is cool, and that smoking pot is an ambiguous moral question. Taken in isolation these are petty sins, but as a lifestyle they draw people away from Christ by confusing who he is and inhibiting the joyful freedom experienced in obedience to him. . .

Likely, right now someone in your church is reading Blue Like Jazz or some similar book. It will resonate with them in style and content—it is cool and Christian. And it is extremely unhelpful. The only antidote seems to be twofold. The first is to reintroduce young Christians to the biblical Jesus: the person who died an agonizing death for their sins, who will tread the winepress of the wrath of God, and who listens to their prayers. The second is to begin the battle against the cool. The godly must begin to prove in the pulpit, in writing, and in their lives that Christianity is the deadly enemy of the cool. And the cool is the Western postmodern entertainment driven culture that has tutored our children and ourselves for the last fifty years.

You need to go read the rest of the review. You can find it here: “Review of Blue Like Jazz.”

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Review of “The Face of New Testament Studies”

Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne, eds. The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 544pp. $34.99.

Eminent New Testament scholars Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne have edited an important volume that introduces the various sub-disciplines of New Testament studies. In The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research, various luminaries of the scholarly guild have contributed essays that give an overview of their respective disciplines and that introduce some of the important voices in those disciplines.

There are a total of twenty-two essays, and they are divided into four parts: (1) Context of the New Testament, (2) New Testament Hermeneutics, (3) Jesus, and (4) Earliest Christianity. There are special sections for historical Jesus scholars, scholars on individual Gospels, generalists on the Synoptic Gospels, Pauline scholars, Petrine scholars and more. The book tries to give an introduction to all the major areas of specialty within the field of New Testament research.

The value of the book consists in its comprehensiveness. There is much more here than in a typical introduction to New Testament criticism. The weakness of the book is in its organization. Because the book is intended to give students an overview of the discipline, it would have been helpful if the essays could have been divided into parts that better represent the sub-disciplines (e.g., Greek Language, Historical Backgrounds, Synoptic Studies, Pauline Studies, etc.). The four part scheme adopted in this book does not adequately reflect the specialized fields of research on the New Testament.

On the whole, however, the essays themselves look to be very helpful to anyone looking for an update on and synopsis of the major trends of research. This volume would be a useful textbook for a course on New Testament criticism.

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NBC Cancels ‘West Wing’ After 7 Seasons

The AP is reporting that NBC is canceling the Emmy-winning “West Wing” after 7 seasons (source). For some of you, this announcement is no big deal. But I’ve been watching the “Left Wing” since its second season. It was a good decision to cancel the show because it has been in decline ever since its creators Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme left the show.

Now what am I going to do? Is there anything else on TV with a predictable liberal slant that will chafe me every time I turn it on? Oh, well. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something. 🙂

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Review of “Choosing a Bible” by Leland Ryken

Leland Ryken, Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005). 32pp. $3.99.

This little 32-page booklet is in many ways an extension and abstract of Leland Ryken’s earlier and more comprehensive work, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Crossway, 2002). The booklet consists of three chapters and an appendix. Chapter one asks and answers the question, “How Do Bible Translations Differ from Each Other?” Here Ryken introduces the distinction between dynamic equivalent and formal equivalent approaches to translation. Chapter two sets forth five negative effects of the dynamic equivalent approach. Chapter Three discusses ten reasons why “essentially literal” translations are trustworthy. The Appendix consists of a chart that places specific translations along a spectrum that has formal equivalence on the left side, dynamic equivalence in the middle, and paraphrase on the right side.

This little book’s value consists mainly in its succinct and clear presentation of the different sides of the translation debate. It would be very useful in a classroom of students who are just being introduced to the debate over what the proper method of Bible translation should be. In fact, Ryken’s exposition resembles the lectures that I give to my own hermeneutics students each semester on this subject. There are three basic approaches to translation (formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase) and each individual English translation of the scripture false somewhere on the spectrum between formal equivalence and paraphrase.

Another strength of this book is its thesis that the formal equivalence approach is the best and most faithful method of Bible Translation. Ryken’s thesis and the reasons he gives to support it are basically on target—formal equivalence preserves the full interpretive potential of the original, it reduces the frequency of having to correct a translation in preaching, etc.

The main weakness of the book is that it does not discuss the main issues with the depth that the main issues deserve. Certainly, this is due to the brevity and intended scope of the book. Nevertheless, this is a shortcoming that is worth pointing out. For instance, Ryken charges dynamic equivalent translations with “interpreting” the Biblical text rather than “translating” it. The main problem with this contention is that even formal equivalence translations like the NASB give more interpretive renderings at times. This is inevitable in any translation into English and absolutely cannot be avoided. Ryken does not acknowledge this fact.

Overall, this is a useful little volume, and I intend to use it in my courses. However, as the beginning student’s knowledge of the intricacies of translation increases, a more comprehensive treatment of the issues will be required.

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Has the Iraq War Compromised Evangelical Witness?

Charles Marsh argues that Evangelicals in the United States have undermined the credibility of their moral and evangelistic witness in the world by supporting the war in Iraq. The essay is titled “Wayward Christian Soldiers.” Marsh recently read sermons delivered in 2002-2003 by prominent evangelicals who supported the President’s decision to go to war.

What surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine . . . As a result, many ministers dismissed [just war] theory as no longer relevant . . . The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God’s will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.

I have no doubt that many of the sermons probably did lack serious moral reflection and failed to explain the Iraq war in light of the Just War tradition as it has developed over the years since Augustine. I also agree that it is likely that many evangelicals put a rubber stamp on whatever the President decides because of the fact that he is a Christian.

However, I disagree with Marsh’s analysis of why the preachers ignored Just War theory. Just War theory was ignored, not because the preachers knew that the Iraq War fails to meet the requirements of a just war, but because too many evangelical preachers don’t even know what Just War theory is. The fact of the matter is that many evangelicals gave up serious biblical and theological reflection a long time ago and have replaced it with vapid emoting.

There has been a compromise of Evangelical witness in America, and the problem largely resides in pulpiteers whose sermons have little to no connection to the Bible. Now there’s a compromise we should all be concerned about.

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