Monday, May 30, 2005

McLaren Pt. 1: A Series of Unfortunate Literary Events

If you're the sort of person who hates criticism and wishes we could just forget about all this debating and arguing and just hold hands and sing campy, quasi-spiritual ditties, then you should stop reading this blog immediately. If you'd much rather read about inter-faith prayer services, cathartic support groups with lots of crying, and people who realize how petty their ideological differences really are, then you will not like this blog. But if you like a good sword fight or tales of knights vanquishing evil sorceresses, or stories of people who stand up for the right and the true even if it means the guillotine, then press on, gentle reader.

Firstly, I'm genuinely torn. I really enjoyed McLaren's book. As someone in vocational ministry who is at a point in his career similar to that of the fictional protagonist, many of the pages of McLaren's book were deeply affirming and therapeutic. As a work of fiction, it seemed like a well-crafted and creative narrative, but I'm no writer.

On the other proverbial hand, there were problems that no amount of existential empathy could overcome. From McLaren's gross over-generalizations about history, to his naive endorsement of so-called "post-modern" philosophers, to his inability to distinguish between serious historical movements and cultural fads, I was troubled by his message. Even more troubling was the wonderful, whimsical packaging in which this philosophical miscarriage was packaged.

I've decided to begin with comments concerning McLaren's hermeneutics, or Bible interpretation.

Problem #1 -- The "Grid of Decency"

Neo, the post-modern progressive in A New Kind of Christian, is addressing the debate over "literalism" in biblical interpretation. He wants to argue that evangelicals don't take the Bible quite so literally as we claim. After all, he says, "evangelicals don't say that that people who disobey their parents should be stoned . . . they don't practice polygamy, even though David and Solomon did. They don't recommend dashing the infants of their enemies against the stones, as one of the Psalms celebrated. No, they have a grid of decency that keeps them from applying the Bible literally in these situations." (Emphasis mine)

This is so misguided and preposterous that I am honestly surprised to see it issuing from McLaren's pen. Is he serious? This is not nit-picking either, because this idea is indicative of his entire approach to theological thought, and foundational to justifying certain modifications in church practice and belief.

To put it simply, the reason we don't stone disobedient children has nothing to do with "decency." It's not as if we are more decent that Moses or Joshua. There are hermeneutical principles that guide our interpretation and applicaiton of this passage. For instance, we no longer practice a majority of the Old Covenant rituals and laws because we are no longer under the Old Covenant. It would be like an American citizen paying taxes to the King of England. We didn't stop these practices because we developed a dislike for them. How we feel about God's commands is completely irrelevant to their moral authority and binding nature.

Secondly, failing to apply certain Old Testament laws has absolutely nothing to do with reading them literally. This is such a crazy assertion as to hardly be worth addressing. I can read those laws literally (how else could they be taken?) and still understand that they are not legally binding on a child of the New Covenant. I don't have to allegorize the laws or turn them into metaphors or poetry to escape from their obligation.

So, McLaren has revealed either a deep ignorance of or a rather arrogant, unjustified dismissal of hermeneutical wisdom. Our application of the Scriptures is not arbitrary. There are good reasons, other than culturally-relative tastes and mores, for our interpretations.

Part 2 to follow soon.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I am allergic to "postmodernism." "Postmodernism" gives me indigestion. "Postmodernism" causes cancer. Stop "postmodernism!" God hates "postmodernism." Make love, not "postmodernism!" "Postmodernism" is raping the planet.

Just had to get that out, in an irrational, stream-of-consciousness, expressionist, deconstructionist, existential, post-modern sort of way.

I am often deeply troubled by "postmodernism." I mean, is it one word, or two? Should I use a hyphen? Should it be capitalized, or in quotes? Is it OK to refer to "it" as "pomo" or "PM?" How can I sleep at night with these questions running through my head? There are no answers!

I am comforted, however, when I hear others affirming my concern. That way, I know that insanity is still a few months off. William Lane Craig, for whom I have great respect, in a recent interview has this to say about PM and today's students:

"Frankly, I don’t confront many students who are postmodernists. For all the faddish talk, I think it’s a myth. Students aren’t generally relativistic and pluralistic, except when it comes to ethics and religion. But that’s not postmodernism, that’s modernism. That’s old-style verificationism, which says things that are verifiable through the five senses are factual, but everything else is just a matter of taste (including ethics and religion). I think it’s a deceit of our age to say that modernism is dead."

"…I think today’s student is also suffering information overload. There can be an intellectual futility when there is too much information to take on board. The easiest path to take becomes the one that says, ‘There can’t be any answers because I don’t know how to push forward through all of this information”."

This is related to another recent post of mine concerning the dangers of information overload.

So for all of you who affirm orthodox Christianity, beware "postmodernism." "Postmodernism" killed the cat. Look before you "postmoderism." "Postmodernism" at your own risk. According to the Surgeon General, "postmodernism" may be harmful to your health, and should not be taken while operating heavy machinery. Patients who took "postmodernism" experienced nausea, constipation and certain sexual side-effects.

(Kudos to Joe Carter at evangelical outpost for these links and inspiration. Check it out.)
(Also, visit the Postmodern Generator, which creates meaningless essays with random PM buzz-phrases. It's a hoot.)
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Postmodernism and Truth

Here's a great essay on truth critiquing the post modern view espoused by Brian McLaren, et al.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hoplites and Ephesians 6

This is just too interesting to not write about.

Recently, I heard an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-17 by Liam Atchison that blew me away. Bringing his expertise in history (he teaches a class in ancient greek history at Kansas State University) to bear on this rather familiar passage, he has pointed out that many of us have fundamentally misunderstood the concept of the "armor of God."

We typically imagine this as an individual matter -- protecting ourselves from the personal attacks of the enemy. But Atchison suggests that the word for "full armor" that Paul uses, "panhoplian," would have conjured up images of the Hoplite soldiers in the minds of 1st century Greek readers. The striking thing about the Hoplites is that they could not function as individuals, but only in tight formation where each warrior's shield covered half of their own body and half of the warrior next to them, forming an interlocking system of protection. This made them almost invincible in battle. (I should mention that Atchison strengthens his case by noting how this passage is located in the context of instructions about household codes and how we are to relate with others.)

The application that Atchison draws from this is that in order to appropriate the "full armor of God," we must do it in groups! We must live and fight alongside other believers, rather than as isolated individuals. Alone, we are quite vulnerable. I realized that if this is true, I may be in danger, because I really don't have the kind of tight relationships Paul is encouraging here. I have tended to fight alone in recent years. (Check out Abe's related post here.)

Now, Atchison could be wrong. The prominence of the Hoplites was a good 500 years before Paul, but the image may still have been a familiar one. Also, the term "panhoplan" could have been a generic one for armor. But what if he's right?

(The photograph is one I took at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during my recent trip. There was an accompanying placard that described Hoplite soldiers.)
Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Little Worm in the Big Apple

Well, I've been absent from my blog for a few days due to a trip to New York City. I have seen LOTS and can't wait to blog incessantly when I get home. Overall, I've really enjoyed being here. More later.