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Response to Challies Post on Boldness and McLaren

I met Tim Challis on Monday at Paul Martin’s paper presentation. I have ran across his blog a few times, and have no added him to my read list, but there was one post that stood out to me that I would like to comment on. Please though, before reading this post, read his entire post here instead of just looking a few quotes and then read on.

In speaking of a song he was singing with the word ‘bold’ in it:

To be honest, I heard little of the rest of the song. I was just overwhelmed by that one word: bold. I was moved almost to tears. No, let’s be honest. I was moved to tears by that simple word. I stopped singing and just thanked and praised God for the boldness He gives. I stopped and thanked Jesus for the boldness He won for me through His sacrifice. It was a blessed moment.

In speaking of the emergent church and Brian McLaren

Throughout the evening, boldness was absent. The faith of the emergents, the postmodern faith, is a faith that is devoid of boldness before God. It is timid, angry, tentative, questioning. It is not a faith of assurance and boldness. It emphasizes the unknowability of God more than what God has revealed to us about Himself. The faith McLaren commends is a faith that always questions, always doubts.

I found this post quite interesting for a number of reasons.

1. This whole idea of the word ‘bold’ is a bit disturbing. While McLaren may dart the question, and he may answer questions with even more questions (which Jesus certainly did) I don’t think that you can make the accusation that he isn’t bold. And on that matter, lump the entire emergent movement under the lack-of-boldness heading. I think the fact that their literature is almost uncountable by now and that you would have a hard time reading everything that they are saying, because they are saying so much would say that they are quite confident in speaking out and being heard. Maybe bold isn’t the word that you should use. For instance, if we take Paul Martin’s paper where he quotes Carla Rolfe’s question “Is the written word of God, for you, in your life as a believer, the final authority in all matters of your faith, and practice?” To you I have the understanding that a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be the bold answer. But I guess, if that is boldness where does that really get anyone? If he answers yes, then you are in agreement and you can be friends? Or you can continue the conversation? If he answers no, then you think he is a heretic and you end the conversation? I’m not sure how having a bold answer on someone’s theological system accomplishes anything. I think McLaren’s tactics here on answering questions is quite ingenious in that it he conceals his personal preference in hopes that he might push you the questioner to seek deeper for your own answer instead of just feeding it to you. Unless of course there is underlying agenda’s in the question, which my guess would be many of the people that ask him questions have, and they are usually the ones that get ticked off. I think most good teachers in university have this down pretty good. Even the verse Tim quoted was about approaching God with boldness, not other people with theological statements. The second verse he quoted was speaking of God’s ‘unsearchable judgements’ and his ‘paths beyond tracing out’ and his unknowing ‘of the mind of the Lord.’ All statements which to me seem to speak of quite a bit of mystery and uncertainty. The verses seem to work against his point, not for it.

2. I also find it odd that Tim and a bunch of his commenters on that post (94 comments, that’s a lot of talking) would be all up in arms about him not having a bible or praying during the session. The Resonate Echo event is supposed to be set up as an informal discussion time with a thinker that we think has something to say that will challenge us. Does this mean that every time he has a discussion he needs to pray first and make sure he has his bible there in front of him for him to be ‘invoking’ God’s presence in his discussion? Technically it is not supposed to be a question an answer time, but a discussion, though I admit, it wasn’t too much of a conversation. If we are honestly going to judge his entire ministry by this one instance of him not having his bible in front of him then I think we are doing ourselves quite a large disfavour. Anyone can see from his books that he refers to scripture quite a lot. His entire new book is based on Scripture (whether you agree with his interpretations or not). I think this is a poor and weak argument and it quite typical of a modern mind to simply point to the lack of bible in his hands and make such a wide judgement of it. I was judged like this all the time in church, I was looked down upon because of how little I would raise my hands or how many times I would bring my bible to church with me). Is this really a a good test for his respect for the Bible? When I asked a question to Mclaren, the first thing he said was to practice spiritual disciplines, praying, meditation, scripture reading, fasting etc. He is obviously not against it.

3. Sometimes I think that the lack of boldness in one person really frustrates the boldness of another. For some reason, bold people (not all) love to be in each other’s faces fighting statement after statement back and forth at each other. When someone isn’t bold back, or gives them no reason to react with his answers (even if it is because they don’t really answer the question), it frustrates them because it’s almost as they want something to disagree with. The only thing that Tim really pointed out that he didn’t like about McLaren was his lack of boldness. Of course he did point out his minute use of scripture which is troubling because of what I listed above and also because we simply can’t list verses to answer every question. Jesus used scripture yes, but he used story, questions and parables to get across his points also many times. Could it be that the lack of boldness is an issue simply because it doesn’t give anyone anything to disagree about except the lack of boldness itself?

7 Comments

  • I posted these thoughts this afternoon on my blog.

    “Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal Himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”
    Frederick Buechner

    Personally I find myself in the same place as Buechner. I have doubts and I have questions. I am resigned to the reality that I do not and will not have all of the answers, and yet I have faith. That is the mystery of the Christian journey.

    And so I will boldly proclaim that my life is hidden with Christ, that I am a citizen of a new kingdom, that in Christ alone I am made at-one with God through his atonement, but I wont go around claiming ownership of Gods truth and mastery of every answer.

    I may have more questions than answers but I have enough faith to walk me through it. For now that is enough.

  • Some good thoughts, Nathan.

    My guess is that McLaren has a fairly strong and developed theological system (didn’t say it was right), but refuses to just “dump it” on the listener. Instead, as you say, he tries to lead people to think through the issues. If so, that may be smart. Some allege this leads to wishy-washy people.

    I guess it doesn’t help that he’s thinking about some central issues and doesn’t always allow himself to be pinned down.

  • P.S. On Monday, at the reading of Paul Martin’s paper, we read Scripture for about three minutes and then closed our Bibles and never opened them again for the remaining 2+ hours. Yet I wouldn’t take that as an indication of that group’s view of Scripture. It was more the context of the meeting.

    I understand the criticism about McLaren not opening a Bible, but I think you’re right that most of that also had to do with the context of the meeting.

  • Nathan – it seems that you may be brushing with the broad strokes that Paul discussed when critiquing McLaren. A statement like this seems more than bit unfair: “If he answers yes, then you are in agreement and you can be friends? Or you can continue the conversation? If he answers no, then you think he is a heretic and you end the conversation?”

    I did not mean to criticize the fact that McLaren did not have a Bible in his hand when he sat at the front of Richview. Rather, I was commenting on the fact that, even in his answers, the Bible seemed to play a minimal role. Scripture was absent physically, but also foundationally.

    Now when I spoke of boldness, I did not necessarily mean that a person can give a big, forceful “YES” when asked a question about doctrine. Rather I was suggesting that McLaren values a faith that questions God more than one that arrives at firm, logical conclusions and is built upon that type of firm foundation. It seems that nothing is sacred to McLaren–he will question every doctrine, no matter how foundational to the faith. In as he does so, he drags along many others with him, causing them to question things that the Bible tells us are true and certain.

  • “Rather, I was commenting on the fact that, even in his answers, the Bible seemed to play a minimal role. Scripture was absent physically, but also foundationally.”

    I wonder if this is true. For instance, when he talked about the models of the atonement, that is at least one level removed from Scripture (at the level of systematic theology) yet it is very much based on Scripture. In other words, Scripture is foundational to that discussion even if it isn’t quoted.

    In other words, you can have a discussion in which the Biblical content is implicit. Whether it should be implicit or explicit is another issue, and probably worth talking about.

  • I apologize if I was maisunderstood by making broad strokes with that statement, that was not the intent whatsoever. That is why I put question marks at the end of each sentance, because those are possibilities, but the question marks were to show that I’m asking a question, not making a statement. Hopefully those questions can have someone direct me to as what the benefit of getting yes or no answers are on topics such as these.

    I find it interesting that you can say scripture was ‘absent foundationally.’ Not every question, let alone answer can find its routes in the Bible. If Paul is going to define emergent, he is not going to look to the Bible for his answer, he is going to look to emergent. If McLaren is going to explain the four stages of faith that he wrote about he is not going to point each one out in the bible, he is going to explain them and how they relate to us today. All of us assuming that since he was a pastor for many years and writes books on the bible that he is naturally using the bible as his foundation. All of us also using discernment and judging if he is doing it properly.

    It troubles me because saying that McLaren doesn’t use the bible foundationally is painting with a broad stroke in that you are failing to point to any specific examples when he ‘should’ have used the bible and he didn’t. All we know is that he didn’t use it by quoting verses.

    For the last point, I guess I’m just left asking why it is such a big deal to question the foundational doctrines. If they can be proven logically than shouldn’t we encourage people to understand the logic, and if they can’t and they can only be taken by faith, who are we really to tell people that they are taking the wrong things by faith and that our things that we take by faith are better. Where does the ‘better’ or ‘worse’ idea of what we put our faith in come from? We can’t question others questions and tell them they have no right in questioning those things.

  • I spend two hours studying the Bible every day- actual reading, preparation for Bible study and preaching, pouring through what scholars have to say (new and old). When my namesake Tim suggests that Brian is not biblical or rooted in the Bible I find myself in vehement disagreement.

    Examples:

    1. Brian’s new book, “The Secret Message of Jesus,” probes deeply into Jesus’ kingdom message, especially rooting it in our Lord’s Jewish context. The book situates Jesus’ message, medium, and strategy within the OT world and the Judaism of the day. Having said that, what Brian writes about is not the traditional, “biblical” faith that I grew up with. I find the entire book hitting the target in approachable language.

    2. In Brian’s book, “The Last Word and the Word after that” he deals with two interlocking issues- hell and the character of God. Once again, what Brian writes is profoundly rooted in the Bible. Do a word study on Gehenna, Sheol and other words translated “hell” into English. Explore the OT and first century background to these terms. You will find that Brian does a proper deconstruction of “hell,” meaning he has pealed away the centuries of cultural and historical soil covering the original archealogical meaning below.

    3. I worry about the danger of Tim’s faith that wants to be bold, firm, with all the answers. To me- that’s concrete. What can grow from concrete? Not much. I would hope, over against that, for a faith that is “good soil”- not that it is blown everywhere by the winds, but can be plowed and fertilized and watered, in order to produce the growth that God desires for us and for all creation.

    4. Please check out the 60 week Bible study from http://www.crossways.org [= Crossways] and the material coming from Bishop Tom Wright. Neither of those are “liberal” or “revisionist”- yet they both demonstrate the truth lack of biblical understanding of many so-called traditionalists or fundamentalists.

    I must say that I am profoundly saddened by Tim’s accuastion against Mclaren of a lack of boldness and biblical rootedness.

    Humbly,

    The other or second Timothy

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