Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Here's my Problem with Brian McLaren and the Emerging Church

(I have made some edits to this post that will hopefully help clarify some of what I am saying here. LEK 3/26/2010)

I agree with a great deal of what Brian says about the Gospel in this video. Brian McLaren: Q5 – The Gospel Question | :: TheOoze.TV :: Emerging Church Video Podcast But I have so many problems with the beginning point and that Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are his actual point of reference, but rarely overtly stated as such. This starting point then requires newness and rethinking. Brian McLaren's "New Christianity" ends up being either a fairly placid form of orthodoxy or a rehashed form of social Gospel and classic Christian liberalism (in its early stages perhaps). Much of the edginess and sense of excitement of the Emergent Church and Brian McLaren is due the keeping of the backdrop of the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy and specifically the Fundamentalist answer to that controversy as the only form of Christianity. The Tradition is still read through the lenses of American Evangelicalism. Granted for McLaren especially and many in the Emergent Church that is their biographical and existential starting point. Even so, frankly through this constant unstated referent, and the use of "Christianity" in away that really means Evangelical or Fundamentalist, the Emergent church excludes me, who comes to all these questions without ever having seen American Evangelicalism as definitive "Christianity".

In terms of this video, I wasn't taught mainly that the Gospel was about going to heaven. (And BTW while I appreciate the spatial metaphors of up and down, to continue to emphasize them and seem to use them exclusively just reinforces my sense of how McLaren is still stuck on a very small stage, and attempting to rewrite script and call it an original and new work.) Granted I was familiar with this opinion and many in the churches I grew up in believed the Gospel was about going to heaven, but it wasn't the teaching of the church or Christianity it was simply the opinion of some. Also, it is true that I have come to believe that the form of Christianity I was raised with had spotty resistance to Fundamentalist and American Evangelical Christianity, so that by now perhaps many Covenanters would think that this itself is the teaching of the Evangelical Covenant church or at least has been part of its tradition, even though it was imported as we assimilated into the American landscape.

So,Brian McLaren wants to redefine Christianity give us something new. But when he talks about what he is redefining what he is redefining isn't "Christianity" (whatever that may be) but Fundamentalism or simply American Evangelicalism, which has never really been my faith tradition. "Pietist Lutheran" Christianity was what I was raised on though no one used that label. This form of Christianity had a great deal of emphasis on how the Gospel had "this worldly" consequences and effect on the life lived. Now it wasn't a very political sense of the effect the Gospel should have in fact it was probably quite apolitical. But it wasn't escapist, and Romans was always seen as a robust and complex theological work, not well suited tot theological reductions of the Romans road, or any other quick summary. So when McLaren attempts to re-frame Romans as about the problem of Reconciliation, I respond with this is simply another form of reduction that mimics the reduction of Romans that McLaren is critiquing.

I can affirm the criticism of the reduction of the Gospel to "upward mobility", even against using Romans exclusively or primarily as the definition of the Gospel, but in my reading of the Gospel I find something exceedingly more complex than McLaren's interpretation of Romans and the Gospel, something not so easily molded into Reconciliation and inclusiveness. Something beyond exclusion and inclusion: something far more challenging. It's easy to talk about a new kind of Christianity when your old kind was itself a new kind of Christianity, that denied its newnes, and as such had a very narrow focus. The Gospel is expansive refuses reduction, can't be made into either a social Gospel- a Gospel of this world alone- nor an escapist Gospel of heading to heaven. In part because the Gospel is the story of God redeeming and transforming humanity and all creation because we failed, and continue to fail. (And I think McLaren would want to agree with this.) To accept the Gospel is to accept that we can't make the world better and to enter into the realm where God is transforming the world. That world is heaven, its not a location, the metaphor of up should read as transcendentally immanent (Up means God has perfect view/knowledge of the world, and a separateness from its corruption), especially when we recognize as Mclaren does in the video that Heaven and earth are being joined, Heaven is coming down to earth- Heaven is being fused with earth. But we can refuse this event this transformation. We can choose our solutions. We can still try to make our selves right and just outside of this realm of God's transforming work. To the extent that we do that we exclude ourselves from God's transforming and redeeming work accomplished by Christ on the Cross. This has been what Paul preached what the Church has taught, there is no need for a new kind of Christianity simply an acceptance of what God has done and is doing, a work that is always already new and ancient at the same time. The Fundamentalist and American Evangelical reduction of the Gospel simply has been a refusal to enter into that work in its full reality, it is not nor has it ever been Christianity in its fullness.