A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 2: The Authority Question
Welcome: You’re reading “Part 4” of my blog series responding to Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity (read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here). Many have engaged Brian’s thinking by focusing on a systematic theology response (visit here for a boatload of links). My focus is on pastoral theology or practical theology. As a pastor, counselor, and professor who equips the church for biblical counseling and spiritual formation, I’m asking: “What difference does our response to each question make for how we care like Christ (biblical counseling) and for how we live like Christ (spiritual formation)?”
The Question of the Bible’s Sufficiency
Brian’s second question is the authority question. How should we understand the Bible? He’s asking, What is the Bible and what is it for? He feels a moral obligation to revisit how we view the Bible.
In defending his revisioning of Scripture, Brian again resorts to caricature. He speaks of preachers passionately decrying psychology because they see the only relevant biblical categories being disobedience and demon possession (p. 68). Well, many of us decry secular psychological assumptions that seek to understand the creature apart from the Creator. However, many of us have spent our lives developing a biblical psychology—a robust understanding of people, problems, and solutions derived from a Bible that we cherish as sufficient, authoritative, relevant, and profound. (See my Soul Physicians for one example.)
He says we’re steering our ship by wrestling with biblical passages in a simple “thou shalt not” way, and thus paralyzed in solving major life-and-death issues (p. 69). Well, many of us have been in the trenches wrestling with real people with real problem, thinking deeply with them about how God’s story intersects with their story. (See my Spiritual Friends for one example.)
Brian further claims that the Bible “offers us no clear categories for many of our most significant and vexing socioethical quandaries” (p. 68). Wow. Some of us talk about the sufficiency, authority, relevancy, and profundity of Scripture for biblical counseling and spiritual formation. Brian presents the insufficiency, incapacity, irrelevance, and shallowness of Scripture for life and ministry.
Read with confidence and applied with wisdom, the Bible offers us categories for thinking about everything we need for daily life and godly living (2 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 2:3-10). I’m baffled as I attempt to visualize a pastoral counseling session from Brian’s perspective of the Bible. In Spiritual Friends I offer 1,000s of sample “spiritual conversations” and “scriptural explorations” all based upon the sufficiency, authority, relevancy, and profundity of God’s Word. What would Brian offer (WWBO)?
WWBO: What Would Brian Offer?
Reading the three chapters in which Brian shares his view of Scripture, I felt like I was watching an episode of American Idol. If Simon Cowell was responding, he might have said, “Sorry, Brian, but that was a mess.” I could almost hear Randy Jackson saying, “Listen dude. Yo dawg. For me for you; I just didn’t get it. It was pitchy and karaoke.”
Brian’s Bible is filled with internal inconsistencies (p. 81) because his Bible is neither authoritative nor inspired (pp. 82-83). His Bible was never intended to provide answers to deep questions, but rather to stimulate conversations without any final direction (p. 92).
Why? Because for Brian the God of the Bible (using Job as an example) is “not the actual God necessarily, but the imagined God, the author’s best sense of God, the fictional character playing God for the sake of this dramatic work of art” (p. 94). Try telling that to the person in the midst of horrible life suffering. Try telling that to the person in need of empowered wisdom to break the chains of a besetting sin.
WWJS: What Would Jesus Say?
Brian sees the Bible through evolutionary lenses. In each generation, it was the current best attempt to conceptualize who God is, who we are, how we relate to God and to one another. We need to come to the Bible with more enlightened eyes, more evolved insight—according to Brian.
Brian also says that he wants us to return to the place where we look at the Bible through Jesus’ eyes. He says he is “a follower of Jesus and a devoted student of the Bible” (p. 83). Taking him at his word, I want us to ask together, “What would Jesus say?” Did Jesus see the Bible the way Brian sees it?
Jesus tells us that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In the midst of personal suffering, trials, and temptations, Jesus clung to and exhorted us to cling to the sufficient, authoritative, relevant, and profound Word of God.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). In the midst of a sermon on personal, social ethics Jesus related Old Testament truth to daily life, in so doing teaching us to trust in the sufficiency, authority, relevancy, and profundity of Scripture for life, ministry, and relationships today.
Clearly, we can all misinterpret and misapply Scripture. No one should claim that their interpretation or application is inspired or inerrant. However, that’s infinitely different from claiming that the Bible itself is not inspired or inerrant. That’s why we must interpret and apply the Bible humbly in community. Humbly—but with confidence that God’s Word provides the wisdom we need to love God and others. Without that humble confidence in the sufficiency, authority, relevancy, and profundity of Scripture we have no basis for biblical counseling and spiritual formation.
The Rest of the Story
In our next post, we explore the God question. Brian asks, “Is God violent?” We respond to his response—through the lens of biblical counseling and spiritual formation.
Join the Conversation
What view of and use of the Bible do you follow as you minister God’s Word to hurting and hardened, suffering and sinning people?