A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 5: The Gospel Question
Welcome: You’re reading Part 7 of my blog series responding to Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity (read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6). 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 Gospel of Brian
Brian’s trek toward his new kind of Christianity began fifteen years ago when he repented of his belief that the Gospel was about justification by grace through faith (p. 138). He now proclaims that the Gospel is not about solving the problem of the Fall and original sin (p. 139), or about avoiding hell and ascending to heaven after death (p. 139). It is the “good news” of the liberating king who sets God’s people free from oppression (p. 138). The Gospel is helping the poor and the downtrodden, healing the planet, and stopping war (p. 140). The Gospel is the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is the “peace revolution, new love economy, sacred ecosystem, beloved community or society, dream, dance, and movement” (p. 277).
Mike Witter summarizes these two chapters well in his post What Is the Gospel?
“How does Brian think salvation happens? He dismisses penal substitution and justification by grace through faith, but doesn’t offer anything in their place. All that’s left, although he doesn’t spell this out, is that we are saved by following the example of Jesus the liberator, who came to show us how to love our neighbor. Brian’s understanding of sin is insufficiently developed, which leads to a corresponding weakness in his explanation of salvation. He needs to clearly explain what sin is, why everyone has it, and how Jesus saves us from that sin.”
The Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul—The Gospel of Jesus
The biblical Gospel can be summarized by four vital components—each central to salvation and to sanctification: justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption.
*Justification offers us forgiveness and cleansing for our sin—Christ’s solution for the penalty of sin—new pardon.
*Reconciliation offers us the way back to God from our state of rebellious relational alienation—Christ’s solution for the partition caused by sin—new peace.
*Regeneration offers us a new nature (as new creations) from our state of total depravity—Christ’s solution for the pollution of sin—new purity.
*Redemption offers us new freedom from enslavement to sin—Christ’s solution to sin’s prison—new power.
For all of Brian’s talk of hope and peace, if there was no original sin, then there’s no need for salvation. Omitting original sin doesn’t bring hope; it results in despair.
Biblical counseling and spiritual formation are Christ-centered and Gospel-Centered. They seek to anwser the age-old question, “How can we change?” I’m unclear what Brian’s answer to that question is. Perhaps it’s that Christ’s example so motivates us that we naturally change.
As any sinner (i.e., all of us) can tell you, change is not natural. It is supernatural. How do people change? We change because we have already been changed—by Christ, through salvation.
Perhaps Brian mistakenly concludes that “the old kind of Christianity” sees salvation as only focused on justification. As vital and absolutely essential as justification is, our complete salvation through Christ equally involves reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption. Without these four “gowns of salvation” we are powerless to change (see Soul Physicians, pages 337-424 for practical teaching on our salvation in Christ).
Brian believes that we can’t get a coherent doctrine of anthropology, sin, and sanctification from Romans (p. 276). Think about those three categories—they’re Creation, Fall, and Redemption. They’re the categories of people, problems, and solutions. To use the systematic theology concepts, they’re anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology.
They’re each central to biblical counseling and spiritual formation. True biblical psychology is the study of the soul—the nature of human nature (people), the study of what went wrong with the soul—sin (problems), and the study of how God in Christ conquers our spiritual problem—salvation/sanctification (solutions). (See Soul Physicians, 425-499 for how to apply our salvation to our progressive sanctification—growth in grace). Brian’s gospel robs biblical counseling and spiritual formation—robs us blind and leaves us blind.
In the spirit of conversation, I’d ask, Brian, how do people change? Without justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption, Brian, how do you help people to follow Christ’s example? Where do people find the power to live Christlike lives? What is your model of growth in grace? What is your process for progressive sanctification?
The Rest of the Story
In our next blog post, we respond to Brian’s answer to the church question. “What do we do about the church?”
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How do people change?