Tuesday, December 30, 2008

God of Wrath or God of Love?

I have been shaken to the core of my eschatology through the book “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren. McLaren deconstructs evangelical Christianity and I can’t argue with his conclusions. I can sum it up with saying that he does a good job of relating evangelical Christianity with the doctrine of the Empire instead of the gospel of the Kingdom. He reminds the reader of the Jewish (oppressed by the Romans) context of Jesus’ ministry. However, it does change how we interpret certain parables and miracles. For example, the feeding of the 5,000 was Jewish and there were 12 baskets left over. The feeding of the 4,000 was Gentile and there were 7 baskets left over. The 12 baskets for the 12 tribes and the 7 baskets refer to the 7 Canaanite nations displaced by Israel. It happens right after Matthew refers to the Syro-Phoenician woman as a Canaanite. It is the only reference to Canaanites in the entire NT. They were displaced by the Jews and the use of Canaanite means that God was no longer punishing, or calling for a separation of, the Jews and the Canaanites. The parable of the unjust steward finally makes sense when we see the steward as a minion of a landlord with sharecroppers who have lost their land due to the taxation system of the Romans. The land barons augment the oppression by making an almost feudal system. All of a sudden Jesus praises a steward for giving justice and appeasing the oppressive landlord at the same time. I never understood that parable before and could never justify the lying until I saw it in this context.

That brings me to eschatology and the “shaken to the core” statement. I have always been suspicious of the wrath and anger of God in Revelation, but have been afraid to mention it because “if any one adds to this book….” Here was my dilemma: If the wrath of God against humanity was satisfied on the cross, against Himself as the incarnate God, then why is there more wrath at the end of the current human existence? McLaren verbalized my fear in bold language when he says: “the cross then, is a fake-out and God really is a God of wrath.” I guess he verbalized a fear that I have. The fear being that I can’t reconcile Revelation with the rest of the Bible. (I have no problem reconciling the destruction of Canaan with the NT when I recognize how evil the Canaanites were. God was making an example out of them after He gave up on convincing them to repent.) Why Revelation? Why this second judgment? Wasn’t the cross enough? Isn’t the unfairness of the cross, the Innocent One dying for everyone else the most pure form of justice? Somewhere justice wasn’t going to be fair, so God took the unfairness oh Himself. What love! But then Revelation shows God getting revenge for it. I had this dilemma.

Then I understood it from the perspective of the oppressed. I am not buying into all of McLaren’s explanation that Jewish Apocalyptic literature was merely a Jewish liberation theology technique designed to give hope to the Jewish people in the form of a coming judgment against the Imperialists and their collaborators. (A point he makes in the book “The Last Word, and the Word After That.”) In that book, he deconstructs the doctrine of hell. And I did change my theology of hell after reading it. My theology of hell, as you know is: “Hell is the divine act of Love by the righteous judge of all the earth on behalf of the oppressed.” Hell is important. Without hell, the oppressors go free. That could be mercy, but it isn’t love on behalf of the oppressed. Sure, they can, and have to forgive. But the loving parent gives justice to all of his or her children. Brian alludes to his belief that Jewish apocalyptic literature is merely oppressed people seeking hope, I tend to believe that Daniel and Revelation are supernatural visions from God. All that aside, I am still relived to have an answer to my dilemma. The answer comes in Revelation 19. This chapter takes place after all 21 judgments are meted out. In the chapter, the saints of God and the oppressed are praising God for giving them justice. It changes the whole book from Angry God to God of Justice (who loves the oppressed). It certainly explains the soteriology of Lazarus and the statement by Jesus about the rich man who was in torment: “You had your leisure on earth; he now has his in heaven.” (Lazarus never answered an altar call -it appears he was saved merely because he was poor.). It explains Luke’s telling of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor (without the words “in spirit”), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

However, the question of imperialism and current eschatology comes to play here as well. I think from reading Brian McLaren that he resists current eschatology because it isn’t green. I am not a tree hugger. But I concur. As a registered theologian for over 30 years, I have always wondered just what would happen if Jesus didn’t return in my lifetime. I mean we all expect it and hope for it. But honestly, so did Paul and Peter. So did those who died in concentration camps in Germany. So did Christians during the reign of Communism in the USSR. So did the Huguenots during the mini-ice age when it snowed in July and they were being oppressed. Realistically, we could be wrong and I don’t think any sincere Bible scholar disagrees. Brian’s problem then is this: If we believe this is the final generation, then a PASSION for caring for the earth is not important and that could have terrible ramifications for our children. As a matter of fact, if the earth falls under the manifold problems of pollution, then perhaps the plagues in Revelation have the impudence to happen, (And, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy). Brian’s point is that we should care. I would say that even if we believe that it will happen, we must live like it won’t happen. The book of Genesis makes it clear that God entrusted the earth to us to care for, not exploit.

But that isn’t the imperialistic problem with current eschatology. The symbol of the cross was pretty significant to any Jewish person. The Empire of Rome made it clear that if you did not accept their peace, then you would be tortured into submission. If God is a God of wrath who will torture and burn his enemies, then Empires who use torture are partners with God in the way they treat the people they have conquered. McLaren’s point is that we have justified aspects of our warfare based on this incorrect eschatology. Amen. That is the difference between the good news of the Kingdom of God and the doctrine of the Empire. God has called Christians to another way of living. Jesus said it like this: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”


Anonymous said...

You might read Dan Boone's Book, "Answers for Chicken Little". It is a summary of the sermon series he taught at College Church when we were still attending.
At one point he points out, to paraphrase, that we (in our generation in the US) are pretty arrogant to think that this book was somehow written for us. He takes it then to the context of the people to whom John said it was written.

Sorry, I do not remember my account credentials, so this is published as anonymous.

Revnerd said...

Perhaps I am not reading your "musings" close enough. What I am seeing is that you are saying that you have a problem with God's wrath, since the cross satisfied God's wrath against humanity? I have no problem with reconciling the two. We often quote John 3:16, about God so loved, and that is so true, and so precious. But we often overlook verse 18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." The word translated condemned means "to try, condemn, to punish", and already "even now". Another translation I have read(I can't find it right now), says "the wrath of God abides on them". The cross will not remove God's wrath for those who reject him. To believe that God would ingnore the sins of those who reject his Son transforms God from holy and just, to a doddering old grandpa, who winks at children who hate him.
Thanks for your thoughts
Randy Johnson
Dallas Center IA

Revnerd said...


Your post reminded me of why I don't read any of McLaren's stuff any more.

I read Jesus' words in Matthew 25:41 which tell me that the "the eternal fire" is "prepared for ?the devil and his angels" and I conclude that the only reason human souls end up there is because they reject God's love as demonstrated on the cross, thereby uniting themselves with Satan, and inherit his eternal "kingdom," just as we inherit the kingdom of the One with whom we have united.? I know it's rather simplistic, but I like it that way.

Just a thought.

David Ulm

Mt Zion Road, Lebanon PA

Anonymous said...

Phil, I can see the point if it is that God is still a God of justice, and for that reason, evil must be punished. But if it means that God just winks and says OK and that everyone was forgiven at the cross, then I pass. (I know that is not what you are saying). But I have to lean toward David and Randy's opinions on this one. I no longer read McLaren either. Each book he writes seems to go a step further to try to deconstruct orthodox Christianity. And sometimes he comes across as being the only one who knows the real meaning of Scripture. And I am uncomfortable with his saying that we should never be certain about anything. We still have to contend for the "faith delievered once for all to the saints." (Jude 3) That's just my two cents worth.

Ray Hileman, Miami, Florida

Revnerd said...

Good discussion. Thanks for the responses and the loving way they were put.

As I mentioned, God is not a God of love without hell. Hell is (IMHO) "the loving response of a just God on behalf of every victim." Those who deny hell entirely state that no loving God could ever send anyone to hell because that degree of punishment is unjust. (The theory being that if, in the cosmic scale of justice say for example 1 murder=1,000,000 years in hell, eventually the sum of punishment would greatly outweigh the degree of suffering). But if we understand hell as eternal seperation from God (and love), then we see God as a God of love and not a God of wrath.

The operative word in the posting isn't really about orthodoxy, it is about God being a God of love or a God of wrath. Can He be both? Maybe. Maybe not. I can accept that sincere Bible scholoars could reconcile the two extremes, and it might have to do with what you mean by "wrath." My post is born out of desire to maintain solid Biblical theology -from the perspective of inerrancy- and reconcile some really difficult texts.

I confess this "fear" I have had about Revelation has been more recent. And let m be clear, I am now free from it. It sprung out of the understanding that God's anger against sin was satisfied on the cross. God's anger was satisfied against all sin on the cross, making it possible for those who trust in the atonement to be saved.

Let me be clear (and orthodox): It was GOD'S anger is satisfied. Every single sin was paid for, not just the ones of those who believe. The gift is on the table, unbelievers may never appropriate that gift for themselves, but the payment is paid. They still have to "cash the check" but the payment is there.

I no longer have this fear of inconsitency in my theology when I understand that Revelation is not about God's anger agaist sin, but God's justice on behalf of the oppressed. He isn't really satisfying the anger of those who are oppressed, because He commands them to forgive. But He is giving the justice that is due. That is an expression of His love.

As I mentioned, I don't like the path that McLaren gets to in his conclusions, but for the most part, I like where he ends up. His path comes from the left and I don't understand that since it is obvious that he was trained on the right. It appears to me, and this again is only my (not so humble) opinion that after being hurt by the meanness he experienced by those who are supposed to be known by their love for each other, he rejected the right, went left, and came to a center point. He is what I call a "sincere liberal." (btw, my experience is that some of those who claim to be "really loving" and therefore "on the left" can be meaner still)

What really bothers me in "Everything Must Change" is the way he appears to deconstruct the atonement. But then he doesn't. It almost reminds me of our paper on human sexuality that does a bogus bible study on the validity of homosexuality, and then -thanks to amendments on conference floor- the word "not" is added before the phrase "acceptable lifestyle." The paper alludes to one thing, but concludes with something different -leaving us with a quandry. I can only guess that he wants to deconstruct some of the way we view the importance of "line in the sand" doctrinal statements so that we are be reminded to preach the gospel "with gentleness and respect." Again, not liking how he gets there, most often, I like where he ends up. As we fought modernity and social Darwininsm, truth was tantamount so the harder we preached truth, the more faithful we seemed to be. But, our orthodoxy replaced Christian love and we got mean (the Spirit of Christ was not evident to the world around us and post-modernism was born). The post-modern is not looking for absolute truth, but they are looking for Jesus. And Jesus will reveal to them that He is "The Way, The Truth and The Life."

So here is a question about evangelism to post-moderns: Do we have to convince the post-modern that they must accept the concept of absolute truth in order to be saved? Or, can we introduce them Jesus, the Savior who will forgive and heal their sins (brokeness) and let Jesus reveal His absolute truth to them? I am banking on the latter and sincerly respect and love my brothers and sisters on this list who are passionate about the former answer.


Anonymous said...

That's an excellent clarification, Phil, and I can come alongside you there.. I also agree that some liberals can be pretty mean-spirited and close-minded. And I would be with you on the last question, too. Jesus can change them after he saves them. This is also true of homosexuality or any other sin.. The goal is to get them to Jesus. He is the One who makes them new creatures. This is pretty much why the love doesn't come through among many (including me too often). We try to clean the fish before we catch them.


Anonymous said...


I haven't ready anything by MaLaren, so I won't comment on what I know nothing about. I thought your last paragraph was interesting, though, when you
spoke about introducing "post-moderns" to Jesus, the Savior, & then let Him reveal His absolute truth to them.

My response would be, Certainly!" After all, isn't that the tarting point for everyone? Jesus reached out to each of us just where we were, & His Spirit moved in our hearts, drawing us to Him. Once we received Him & trusted in His sacrifice for our sin, we became members of God's family & that's when the process of anctification begins. It's during that lifetime process of becoming more like Jesus that He brings, in His timing, those things He would
have us to know, be convinced of, repent of, etc., & then by His Spirit, works within us to bring us to the place He wants us to be.

Regardless of where we came from -- what backgrounds, what sins in our past, what ungodliness was in our lives -- receiving Jesus was the starting point & it was His power that then began to bring change. So I would wholeheartedly agree -- introduce people to Jesus & then let Him work His life-changing power in them.

God bless, & Happy New Year everyone.
Doug Wantz

Anonymous said...

Hello all,

Someone gave me a book by Philip Newell for Christmas since I was in Scotland this summer. Some of it I can go right along with, but then there's a chapter where he says Celtic Christianity does not accept the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and I went cold. Is this a Gnostic error or just a new heresy? Any light on this from any of you out there?

Charlene Rauch
Indian Creek, Pennsylvania

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil,

I'm just responding to your request for our take on your blog. In general, as with Ray, I probably relate well to David and Randy's responses to your blog.

To this point, I haven't gotten involved in coben discussions related to the whole emergent church line of thought. However, when it comes to this particular line of McClaren's thinking, it's a bit of deja vu for me. . .It somehow starts to sound like a cousin to our old friend, liberation theology, with it's social allegorizing and eroding of foundational NT truth (maybe I just don't get it, but that's my opinion at this point).

I openly admit that I don't spend a lot of time reading either McClaren or liberation theology. I'm glad that you noted that some of what he (McClaren) writes troubles you (most of the little I have heard hasn't thrilled me). I hope that if you spend a lot of time with McClaren, that you might also spend some time with Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck and their book, Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be). I heard them speak at a conference I attended, and had a chance to meet and talk with them afterward. My impression is that they have tried to understand the movement and what it is reacting to, while concisely pointing to what has kept them from jumping on the bandwagon.

But, back to your blog. I guess I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what you meant when you wrote:

The answer comes in Revelation 19. This chapter takes place after all 21 judgments are meted out. In the chapter, the saints of God and the oppressed are praising God for giving them justice. It changes the whole book from Angry God to God of Justice (who loves the oppressed). It certainly explains the soteriology of Lazarus and the statement by Jesus about the rich man who was in torment: "You had your leisure on earth; he now has his in heaven." (Lazarus never answered an altar call -it appears he was saved merely because he was poor.). It explains Luke's telling of the beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor (without the words "in spirit"), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

I guess it's the last three sentences in particular. I wholly subscribe to the fact that God shows over and over again in Scripture how important the poor and oppressed are to Him. My question is whether you are suggesting that economic poorness and being the recipient of oppression are salvific (bringing salvation to anyone in that state). Maybe I'm way off, but I tend to go literal the first time around, and that's how it sounded when you noted that:

It certainly explains the soteriology. . .

If, by chance, that's what is meant, how would that correlate with the biblical concept of the necessity of justification by faith (I could list all the references we're familiar with, but Randy's offering of John 3:16-18 would suffice)?

Submitted in grace (iron sharpens iron),

Michael Rath
Drayton Plains congregation
Michigan District

Revnerd said...


I guess that is what troubles me as well. First off, emergent gets lumped in with missional. Missional is where I am at. The idea being that orthodoxy did not actually produce an wholesale practice of Christianity. I think the best biblical description would be Matthew 7:22 when Jesus said "depart from me I never knew you..." Yet those people he was talking to preached His name, cast out demons, healed the sick. It seems to me, and I may be wrong, but it appears that these people have genuine power from the Holy Spirit. They are orthodox Christians. Yet orthodoxy is not orthopraxy (Christian practice). Unless orthodoxy directly translates into the transformation promised by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ that Jesus said would identify Christians, it is as empty as the teaching of the Pharisees.

Missional theology is emerging alongside emergent churches and they tend to get lumped together because they are asking the question: "where is this Christian love promised by the Holy Spirit?" Nobody knows what an emerging/missional church is going to look like. There is and are no models. This lack of definition is because it is primarily a reaction to the changes needed for evangelism in the post-christian world.

Here is where I differ a lot from emerging teachers. Emerging teachers state that the propositions of orthodoxy draw lines in the sand of who is in and who is out and consequently they lead to the lack of love that they are decrying. By lack of love, I don't mean lovingly calling sin as sin -with the gentleness and respect Peter told us to use. (1 Peter 3:15). The lack of love, is the lack of gentleness and respect that comes from preaching the propositions. I differ because I am not upset about the movement of orthodoxy throughout the height of the age of modernity. Those propositions ministered to an intellectual debate in our culture around the question "is God dead?" We "preached it true" in the public forum in order to convince the agnostic, or the atheist that faith in God was not illogical, irrational or superstitious. It was a necessary reaction to modernity. And for that, I applaud the efforts.

However, the world done gone and changed. We are a post-modern world. Spirituality, faith in God, etc. are no longer politically incorrect. The age of science and reason alone is over. People are hungry. If the Church continues the debate of modernity, it is not going to reach the post-modern person. The post-modern person is looking for a relationship with the Divine and they are looking for truly just religion. The one thing they are sick of is the injustice done in the name of religion. In America, the dominant religion is Christianity, so they are looking for just Christianity and are reacting more and more against injustice. Orthopraxis is trying to add the Biblical justice that should be the hallmark of evangelical Christianity. I believe that Rick Warren said, "there is a new reformation coming. The first reformation was a reformation of faith (orthodoxy) and the second reformation will be a reformation of deeds (orthopraxy).

The problem is, the propositions got in the way of orthopraxis. In the 40's and 50's my mother was taught "it is a sin to be unequally yoked, therefore, blacks and whites can't marry." Now we know that passage is dealing with believers and unbelievers, but the propositions were wrong and unjustly applied for political means. And we got afraid to challenge them. In the case of my mom, it got worse. She was also taught that black people were the result of the curse on Ham at Noah's time. Absolutely terrible. The Church supported slavery for many, many years. The post-modern person knows this and wonders: "If the church was wrong on racism, is it wrong on homosexuality as well?" Of course not, but that is a genuine and sincere question that we need to answer especially with "gentleness and respect" instead of preaching the propositions louder. And propositional preaching got worse and worse as we got more and more entrenched in the battle against modernity. It seemed to me that the preacher who could define sin in the strongest or narrowest terms, who had the guts to "take a stand" was the best, or appeared to be the best and most spiritual preacher. All of a sudden we get theologies competing with who can impress each other with the strongest stand. I am afraid the only people impressed were the believers. That message did not include the good news that God was in the world reconciling the world to Himself in Christ Jesus. We lost focus and the world changed and we didn't catch it.

So, the missional movement began to emerge to redirect us back to the central mission of God, to reconcile the world to Him through Jesus Christ.

But I haven't really answered your question about my view on soteriology. When I realized that I wasn't impressing the post-modern with my ability to articulate the propositions. When I realized that my ability to do that was not going to reach them, I changed my focus from doctrine to Christian practice, and from proposition to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Taking a stand for the propositions has become less important to me than inviting people into a saving, redeeming, loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I am not saying that anyone who isn't doing what I am doing is not inviting people into this relationship with God. I know they are. I am just saying that this is what God calls me to.

However, coming at theology from the lens of orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy, I am free to look at for example John 3:16-18 through the lens of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, or Luke's take on blessed are the poor (without the words "in spirit") instead of looking at the rich man and Lazarus through the lens of John 3:16. As I mentioned, I am coming at this from the perspective of a person who believes in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures. Our hermeneutic is to read the passage as it was written. The Holy Spirit had Luke intentionally leave out "in spirit" for a reason. I resist having to make one passage fit into the mold of my theology. My post tells of the freedom for me to broaden my perspective.

And I have to say the doubts that lead me to begin wondering if we were on the right track came from my experience of so much unchristlike behavior from Christian leaders. It lead me to question if the system of faith that we experience is biblical. I started reading the Bible again with an open mind instead of reading it through the lenses of what I had been taught.

Hope this answer helps you understand what I am trying to say.


Anonymous said...

Brother Phil

I appreciate the time and thought that went into your response. It was helpful in clarifying some things that we agree on, while crystallizing for me our difference of perspective in others.

First of all, I'm sorry if I troubled you by lumping "missional" with "emergent" movements. I guess that I mentioned the "e" word because McClaren's book, conclusions (though not all of his methods in arriving at them), were the basis of your blog. . .even moving you to note that "In that book, he (McClaren) deconstructs the doctrine of hell. And I did change my theology of hell after reading it." Since you were referencing McClaren to us, and he is clearly emergent, and you find great benefit in reading him, I thought it only fair at the time to invite you to read DeYoung and Kluck's take on the emergent movement (since I have found great benefit there). As I noted, they have tried to understand the movement and what it is reacting to, while concisely pointing to what has kept them from jumping on the bandwagon. If you have no interest in their perspective, feel free to ignore the invitation to read "Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)."

Secondly, I agree with and fully subscribe to the importance of staying within the context of each passage, and the original intent of the biblical writer (you mentioned the rich man and Lazarus and Jesus statement about the poor in the Sermon on the Mount). In that light, to make it simpler, I guess that I won't reference any of the many scriptures mentioning justification by faith this time. I guess that what I'm still asking is whether being materially poor or being the subject of oppression is salvific in and of itself (either now or in history past). That is still my sincere question arising out of the conclusions stated of your blog.

Thirdly, it's only fair to admit that I also felt troubled to some degree by your response, in that it seemed to paint those who still place a significant value upon "orthodoxy" (I do) as either pharisaical and empty (per your reference and comments with Matthew 7:22*) or opposed to "orthopraxy" (deeds). (*. . .as you noted, "our hermeneutic is to read the passage as it was written. . .I resist having to make one passage fit into the mold of my theology. . ."). I guess that what troubled me was what might be construed as an unfair and inaccurate characterization of many in the evangelical community, and what seems to posit an either/or mandate (between orthodoxy and orthopraxy), which I'll address in a moment.

Let me assure you that on my end, you were preaching to the choir when you pointed to the injustices perpetuated by some in the church over the years, including the teaching that interracial marriages were forbidden by scripture, and that "blacks" were the result of a curse upon Ham / Canaan. I'm sure that we would agree that there are countless other instances of things that have erroneously been taught as "truth" in various churches at various times in history (and today is no exception!). My question at this point is: Why does genuine evangelical Christianity have to be painted with the broad brush of such unbiblical interpretations and applications as those you mentioned? And, why throw the baby of orthodoxy (which I don't believe has been "post-moderned" out of relevance) out with the bathwater?

Please let me clear something up. While I felt the freedom on this forum (an evangelical Christian network) to discuss some of the "theology" related to your blog piece (as you invited us to do), it doesn't follow that my idea of evangelism is to somehow whack those who don't know or follow Christ over the head with some big stick of dry, didactic theological pronouncements. Nor do I feel that discipleship should be a mere memorizing of "the right stuff." I don't think it's an either/or issue as you seemed to imply. I believe it is a both / and issue!

Jesus was full of "grace and truth" (John 1:14). Paul told Christians to "speak the truth in love." Now that's both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. . .And amazingly. . . miraculously . . . I have found that there are still teens, gen x'ers, gen y'ers, etc., who are interested. . .even excited about biblical truth IF it is evidenced through a caring person, and then spoken in love.

You noted that:

"When I realized that I wasn't impressing the post-modern with my ability to articulate the propositions. . .When I realized that my ability to do that was not going to reach them, I changed my focus from doctrine to Christian practice, and from proposition to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ."

I would plead for the abandonment of neither, but the combination of both (as modeled by Jesus, who not only loved people and sought a relationship with them but, in the process, also spoke about heaven and hell and a host of other doctrinal and propositional truths). When you mention leading people to "a saving relationship with Jesus Christ," is that not propositioning them with the truth of the need to be saved through a relationship with Him, the Savior? IMHO, rather than changing our focus "from doctrine to Christian practice," (or for that matter, from practice to doctrine), both are essential to a loving, truthful, genuine New Testament Christianity.

I believe that the Holy Spirit can still move the hearts of people in 2009 with the truth "once and for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) . . . in love!

I know that I'm not saying anything new, and I'm not claiming to have it all right. . . This is just my honest response.
As you stated, I hope that this helps clear up what I was trying to say as well. I, too have found this discussion beneficial and have saved your blog and response, and this correspondence for future use in discussing these issues with others.

Finally, Phil, if you want to discuss anything further, feel free to give me a call (and I'll call you right back on my dime), as I have always enjoyed our conversations in the past.

In Christ,

Michael Rath
Drayton Plains congregation
Waterford, MI

Anonymous said...

About eight to ten years ago, I had read McClaren's first book and I
realized that what he was saying and questioning in many ways reflected my
own spiritual journey. I personally talked with him, spent time with him,
his wife, and his children, and became friends for several years with an
elder of his church. I attended worship there twice. I know that his
character and walk display deeply the love and grace of Jesus which he
teaches. I don't agree with everything he writes, but I always feel the
pendulum has to swing too widely before we find the moderate viewpoint. One
thing that totally amazed me about him is how available he is to people. I
have met many people who have stayed at his home for a few days, just for
discussion. In one seminar at his church that I attended, he did not do the
usual, I am the seminar leader and I will disappear during free times and
meals. Rather, he ate with us and went with us on every activity. That
humility and openness are what have convicted me that he is truly seeking
God and the Truth of Jesus.
Anyhow, I get tired of everyone looking at "emergent" with suspicion. They
are just trying to see what new things are emerging in the church.
Missional churches are trying, like the early Brethren, to see how to
re-create the primitive church (the church of Acts). Both groups love the
Anabaptists, so obviously we have a lot in common.
Justice is not the same as wrath. I think wrath burns when God's beloved
people are getting hurt. Even though I loved my sons equally, if one hurt
the other, even if it wasn't intentional, it was difficult to not experience
a bit of wrath. A stranger was even worse...I remember thinking about how
to kill a dog that bit my sister.
I also continue to struggle with issues about whether words like wrath,
discipline, punishment are descriptive or proscriptive. If I do things that
are sinful, they will harm both me and my relationship with God. We had a
rule that our very social son had to clean his room if he wanted to stay
overnight with a friend on the weekend. I think he felt I was angry when w
kept him home for a dirty room. If I remember, my actual emotions were
frustration and regret.
Marla Abe

Anonymous said...

Michael, I know you are writing to Phil, but I have a question for you. It seems clear that Jesus mentions hell, so we can't really abandon that place. John 3:17 ff says that God has already passed the judgment of condemned on the world, so it seems as if everyone is going to hell or partially in hell already if they don't know Jesus. I think in some senses
the Brethren are uncomfortable with this total condemnation of the world. I know I had to struggle a long time to accept how sinful I was in every part of me, except the parts that Jesus was redeeming and renewing through the
new heart I received and the Holy Spirit. Is this a viewpoint you agree with, or do you think there is another hell, that comes only after the judgment? Or what? (supper is called, so I am rushing now.)
Marla Abe

Okay, supper is done. I wanted to tell you I really appreciate your close study of various subjects. I prefer the word "orthodox" to "evangelical" now, since the public understanding of what is evangelical has been marred by the politically active evangelicals.
To me, orthodox means conforming to all the "basic" propositions of the Christian faith, like a belief in the Virgin Birth, Life, Death
and Resurrection of Jesus, His Second Coming, etc. I don't see it as Pharisaical, more as establishing the common ground upon which we talk.
If Phil feels like me, I think living in obedience matters greatly, more than understanding every doctrine. I have been reading about some of the
early church controversies and I continue to wonder why some of them had any importance in how we actually love and obey Jesus. I think Phil is just emphasizing obedience over correct belief (when it is narrowly interpreted.)
I have read some really cruel things done in the name of correct belief, even now. You obviously don't do that...as it is your love and caring that is giving you the right to share the good news with all ages. Your practice makes your message worth hearing. That comes through in your conversations here, too, brother. Thanks for your sharing. The old Brethren practice of interpreting scripture together can have a role again in internet conversations.
Blessings, Marla Abe

Revnerd said...

Mike, Thanks for helping me clarify this. I wanted this kind of input on the blog. God bless.

In answer to your question about my soteriology: Jesus Christ died on the cross to save everyone. Everyone who places their trust in Him will be saved. I think we agree that the bible makes that clear that this is the only path to God.

Having said that, the Bible also says, "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will be saved." I believe that some of them will be orthordox in their understanding but not in their practice. I don't really see where you and I disagree except in the way that we are to react to those who may or may not appear as pure in our understanding of what orthodoxy is. 2 years ago, I wrote somewhere that if we didn't have this great push toward orthodoxy as a reaction to modernity, then we wouldn't have a proper basis for the orthopraxy that was supposed to result from all that orthodoxy. I see the hand of God at work and I agree with Rick Warren, this is another reformation, a reformation that in biblical balance adds deeds to faith. I think we agree.

The real emphasis, the real passion, the real care I have in brining this subject up is that I care about reaching the post-modern person. I care that the Church becomes all things to all men in order win them to Christ.

I am sorry if you got the feeling that I am saying that everyone else "whacks people in the head..." I didn't mean to imply that or make that accusation. I know it sounds scary in what I am saying, especially to guys like you and me (me a graduate of Fort Wayne Bible College/Huntington Seminary and you from Grace Seminary). It sounds scary that "standing for the truth" is not all it was cracked up to be. I was literally taught that if I "preached it true without apology, not caring how it felt but taking the stand based solely on God's Word, then people would automatically flock to the truth and get saved." Instead, what happened is that people started arguing more and more about what the truth really is. People left the church because I spoke in tongues. People left the church because I didn't preach more about tongues. People left the Church because I was at at one time or another pre, post, and mid-trib and it didn't fit with their eschatology. People left because I wasn't King James Only. Although as editor of Grass Roots newletter, people left because I told them they had to love homosexuals. Other people left I told them just how evil that sin was. People left because I didn't claim the victory enough by faith. Others left because I asked them to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to heal. That is when I began to understand that the propositions alone didn't produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

I simply just quit worrying about the propositions. If someone says they have faith, let them prove it by their works, not what they say (I read that somewhere). And maybe this is where we might disagree: I would not be upset, or try to argue with someone who said to me: "The story of the Rich man and Lazarus shows that God is predesposed to saving the poor." I wouldn't agree with them, but I wouldn't judge them by what they said (don't think I am saying I am judging you). I would discern them by what they did, not what they say. And, I got scripture for this perspective. Jesus said, "a certain man had two sons and he said to the one... ...which one did the will of the father?" It wasn't the one who said it right, it was the one who did it right. And that parable implies that it isn't saying it right that saves. But don't get upset without referring to my first paragraph in this post.

I guess it was my tone, but I want to apologize to you and to everyone who may have felt attacked, ridiculed or judged by my initial or follow up posts. It really was and is important to get feedback from you. My words at time fell to others like an attempt to be clever and that can be construed as caustic. I am not trying to be that way. I honestly want to (and love the way you are doing it) engage in a healthy dialogue.

I have noticed that things have gotten worse in the way people reaction since the election. I have brothers that I love dearly who are still pretty angry about the outcome of the election, and I notice that this anger can lead to feelings of attack in the way good people try to say things that are profoundly affecting them. But then, I think there is a fair amount of that brought on by the national Christian media. I see the national Christian media creating a form of fear or paranoia about the way we are going to be treated to a degree that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Of course, the attack on Rick Warren over the inaugural prayer proves the point).