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Wow… just, wow. Thank you, Brian.

This could have been done via Twitter, but I am so thankful for this post by Brian McLaren today on Red Letter Christians [which I think can possibly be the future platform for furthering a “prog-evangelical” consensus, i.e., a “generous orthodoxy,” that David Fitch and Scot McKnight seem to want. ]that I thought I’d give it a slightly more thorough endorsement (for what it’s worth….)

 

The post’s primary purpose was to address Al Mohler’s critique of…  you guessed it, the heretic of the hour, our friend Rob.  Which is fitting, considering the number of consecutive weeks McLaren has spent at the top of that hit list.   He does a great job of defending his friend:

*He addresses the difference between either framing Bell as choosing heresy over historic Christian beliefs, vs. someone trying to understand the real “gospel” over what the gospel has been reduced to in the modern West. 

*He addresses the hermeneutical questions in play and explains them in plain language.

*He frames Bell as one trying to reconcile God’s love and justice, as opposed to holding them apart as dual, opposing characteristics of God (God divided against himself?)….in contrast to how Bell is being framed as not taking God’s justice seriously at all.

*And (Thank God) he challenges those who have blatantly accused Rob of placating and of being controversial for the purpose of increasing book sales.  (That’s out of line, imho.)

But on a selfish level, based on what I have said here in recent weeks, and also based upon my own discoveries in recent years as a self-described “post-evangelical” who did not grow up in the mainline church but have since joined myself to it…. I really appreciated this from McLaren (emphasis mine):

From childhood I was taught this liberal-mainline-decline narrative (and its counterpart — the conservative-Evangelical-growth narrative). I’m ashamed to say I never questioned it for years. But the narrative, like all prejudices, turns out to be terribly vulnerable — especially if you actually meet many of the people it purports to describe. Consider these possible rebuttals (some of which are quite popular among mainliners, some not):

  • Perhaps it wasn’t liberalism that killed mainline Protestantism. Perhaps it was institutionalism.
  • Perhaps it was an excessive concern among many mainline Protestant leaders to protect their “mainline” status of privilege and power.
  • Perhaps it was complicity with nationalism, a complicity that was exposed as faulty in the 20th Century by two world wars and Vietnam.
  • Perhaps it was liturgical and organizational rigidity.
  • Perhaps the fall of mainline Protestantism had more to do with complacency and a lack of visionary leadership than it did with a willingness to question traditional interpretations of Scripture.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t dead or even dying: perhaps mainline Protestants have entered a latency period from which a new generation of Christian faith is trying to be born. (And perhaps conservative Protestantism is about to enter that latency period too.)
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t failing at all, any more than the U.S. Postal Service is failing. (It’s actually doing more work than ever, with proportionately fewer resources than ever.) Perhaps it’s just that the times have changed, and First Class mail isn’t what it used to be, and mainline Protestants think they’re in the stamp-and-envelope business instead of the communication business.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants are in decline primarily because they haven’t been as good marketers as Evangelicals. Perhaps mainliners haven’t “pandered” to customer demands as well as Evangelicals. They haven’t adopted new technologies — first radio, then TV, then the internet — as savvily as Evangelicals have.
  • Perhaps mainline decline is related to higher college attendance rates — rates that, by the way, Evangelicals are now catching up to. Perhaps conservative Christianity will fare no better in holding young adults who get a college education than mainline Protestants were. Perhaps the graphs will end up in the same place, with just a 30- or 40-year lag.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants started to decline when they became prophetic — agreeing with Dr. King about the institutional evils of segregation and the Vietnam war. Perhaps being prophetic, which involves calling people forward to a better future, is inherently more costly and less popular than being conservative, which involves calling people back to a better past.
  • Perhaps Evangelicals started to grow when they filled in the same role mainline Protestants used to occupy: the civil religion of the United States.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism collapsed because of hypocrisy and disconnection from real-life issues, and perhaps Evangelicalism is edging ever-closer to a similar collapse.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism was the religion of the American countryside and small town, and it declined as rural and small-town populations declined. And perhaps Evangelicalism is the religion of the American suburbs, and its fate will rise and fall with suburban life.

 

These reasons (although he admits, as well as I, that only the future will tell us for sure) are precisely why I said what I said last week:  that the mainline church (should we even CALL it that anymore!?) is positioned to be a more desirable and stable future for the American church, and if they can embrace that role, they will outlast institutional Evangelicalism. 

I also appreciate him saying what professors began to show to me back during my Fuller days:  Contrary to how they portray themselves, the conservative evangelical church is actually quite secular/modern:

To more and more of us these days, conservative Evangelical/fundamentalist theology looks and sounds more and more like secular conservatism — economic and political — simply dressed up in religious language. If that’s the case, even if Dr. Mohler is right in every detail of his critique, he’d still be wise to apply the flip side of his warning to his own beloved community.

Yes, many of us are rejecting theologies that seem to dress up secular conservative ideology in “Sunday best.” But that doesn’t mean we want to put secular liberal ideology in robes and collars instead. Of course not. We’re seeking — imperfectly at every turn, no doubt — an incarnational theology, a theology that brings radical good news of great joy for all the people, good news that God loves the world and didn’t send Jesus to condemn it but to save it, good news that God’s wrath is not merely punitive but restorative, good news that the fire of God’s holiness is not bent on eternal torment but always works to purify and refine, good news that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more

Click on the button below to read the entire article: 

Red Letter Christians

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in future, theology

 

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Thoughts on Rob Bell (part two):

 

What are the Fullerites saying?

 

Fuller in Pasadena- a.k.a. “The Mothership.”

I’m certain that these past few weeks, numerous conversations have engulfed the Catalyst and the Garth regarding Bell, the Gospel Coalition, and hair products necessary for the perfect faux-hawk.  But I have to wonder, given the education that I know I received, from a evangelical-yet-ecumenical seminary, if current and former Fuller students (especially those who have been a part of the school since it began consciously shaping its image as a “Post-Evangelical” school, although it would never call itself that) are feeling the same thing I’ve been feeling about fellow alum Bell:  “What’s the big deal?”

[Just to add, Fuller is where I went to seminary, in case you didn’t know.  And I think it’s a good school.  There’s also lots of other great places to get a seminary education…. but because Fuller is so massive—the largest seminary system in the country by far—and because it is an evangelical school and this Rob Bell situation is causing the most ulcers amongst the evangelical crowd, I am very curious as to what Fuller alums are thinking about all of this.]

After all, we’re not experts, but we read Stanley Grenz.  We read Clark Pinnock.  Some of us (inc. myself) had the privilege of studying directly under the late, great Ray Anderson.  We (and so many others) ingested N.T. Wright.  We learned about Barth…. all of them are respected voices in the evangelical community; all of them have nuanced, if not opposing positions, on the idea of hell.  Shucks, I even remember reading Donald Bloesch, thinking “Dude, this guy sounds just like the theology I grew up with” and then finding out that HIS view of hell is of a “sanitarium…” i.e., exactly what people are accusing Bell’s view to be!  Even our esteemed president, Dr. Richard Mouw, who is far from a left-wing apologist, wrote a blot post demonstrating that Bell indeed falls within the evangelical camp.  My colleagues and I didn’t all agree with the varying perspectives out there— but at least we would talk about the issue without throwing stones at each other. 

The rhetorical tone in the evangelical world is becoming more polemical, in large part thanks to some increasingly hostile voices (see previous post).  But at the end of the day, this is really not about competing eschatologies  (ideas about the “end times”)… this is about competing soteriologies (ideas about salvation)… or really, the need for some evangelicals to insist that penal substitution (the idea that Jesus took on the punishment for humanity’s sin) is the only “orthodox” way to look at things.   But there again, I’m thankful for my (admittedly imperfect) Fuller education, in that we learned about Aulen, Pinnock, Joel Green (now a Fuller professor), Eastern voices, and others who demonstrated the full range of atonement metaphors in the Bible—and that we need them all for a complete picture.

[I do wonder if Bell would say that “penal substitution” has become a corrupted doctrine in Western theology… b/c that’s probably what I would say:  “Substitution” is a biblical concept; “penal substitution” is mostly a 17th-century Calvinist concept understood through modern legal imagery.]

In other words… I have to imagine that, at least those who graduated from the largest evangelical institution in the country, who might come down with all kinds of opinions about hell— are looking at this Rob Bell thing, and saying…. “What’s really the big deal?”  We’ve been having this fight for ages!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in theology

 

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