A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 8: The Future Question
Welcome: You’re reading Part 10 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, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9). 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)?”
A New Kind of Eschatology?
I mentioned in Post 9 that I open each chapter of Brian’s book with the hope that Brian might represent with sincerely and without extreme stereotypes those with whom he disagrees. Once again I was disappointed because once again Brian regales his readers with tales from the dark side of eschatology. It’s the same old record, hitting the same old scratch, and playing the same old note again and again.
In Brian’s caricature, typical eschatology views are “pitiful and laughable” (p. 192). Brian’s stereotyped proponents say that since the world is about to end, we don’t care about the environment, we don’t give a rip about global poverty, we’re not concerned about justice for non-Jews, and we refuse to waste energy on peacemaking. Such disingenuous caricatures hardly serve the purpose of inviting conversation or of explaining why a new kind of eschatology is even necessary.
For most Evangelicals, eschatology is much more than the Left Behind series. Eschatology is about our final destiny and what difference our eternal destiny makes in our current lives and ministries. Biblical eschatology has both individual and social/corporate applications. For instance, I teach A Christ-Centered TEAM Approach to Intercultural Ministry. We discuss the point that since for all eternity we will worship, fellowship, and minister together interculturally (Revelation 7:9-10), therefore, we should purposefully, intentionally, and proactively work toward intercultural ministry, multicultural relationships, and multiethnic churches today.
Living in Light of Eternity Future
Brian states that the old kind of eschatology makes us “like gerbils on a wheel” (p. 194). Whatever that old kind of eschatology is, I’m with Brian in rejecting it. When teaching on Life’s Seven Ultimate Questions, which I addressed in Part 3, I discuss how reading the end of the story makes all the difference in how we respond to present suffering and how we overcome besetting sins.
In the end, God “wins.” Good triumphs over evil. Justice triumphs over injustice. Beauty triumphs over chaos. Light triumphs over darkness. Grace triumphs over sin. The biblical answer to the question of ultimate destiny ought to impact drastically how we live today—our future destiny impacts our present reality. That’s no gerbil on a wheel. That’s a biblical counseling perspective that leads to personal and corporate spiritual formation.
Living in Light of Brian’s Eschatology
Brian labels his view “improvisational eschatology” (p. 196). When we ask, “What does the future hold?” Brian says the answer depends. “It depends on you and me” (p. 196). For Brian, this is encouraging. For me, it’s terrifying.
So, do I create my eschatology out of fear? No. I follow a biblical eschatology that leads to sure hope. So, does non-improvisational eschatology leave out any God-human relationship and interworking? Not in the least. We cooperate, submit to, and participate in the sovereign, affectionate work God is doing. We do so joyfully and confidently knowing that God is in control and He cares. This biblical eschatology inspires. It produces anticipation. It offers hope.
As a pastor, counselor, professor, and spiritual friend, I wonder what hope one can offer someone with an “it-depends-eschatology.” I think of my dear mother-in-law who lost her husband of 60 years. It’s a sure-hope-eschatology not an it-depends-eschatology that motivates her day-by-day.
Living in Brian’s Future
Honestly, I’m unclear what Brian’s vision of the future looks like. I’m unsure what eternity or heaven, or the new heaven and the new earth look like. I know it’s not the caricature he paints of those who disagree with him—“a Platonic state of Greco-Roman perfection” (p. 198). It’s more like Randy Alcorn’s Heaven. It’s a new heaven and a new earth—a real place with real purpose, real relationships, and real growth.
Biblical, sure-hope-eschatology motivates and empowers us to live a story worth telling forever. It produces a future vision that leads to a current Christ-centered passion.
Because sure-hope-eschatology believes that choices on earth really matter and have eternal ramifications, it leads to lifestyle evangelism—living and sharing the sure hope of eternal life through faith in Christ alone. It is unlike Brian’s “undoomed future” of universal salvation which diminishes the choices we make today and dulls motivation for living and sharing Christ.
The Rest of the Story
In my next post, I respond to Brian’s answer to the pluralism question. He asks, “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?”
Join the Conversation
What biblical view of the future gives you purpose today and hope forever?