Brian McLaren’s latest book A New Kind of Christianity is set to hit stores this week. I’ve been reading the online preview of this little book of liberal heresy and I am thanking Brian for finally coming right out and explaining what he believes. Not surprisingly, what he believes is precisely what I and a host of others have been saying he believes for years. The only difference is that McLaren, rather than being whimsical, coy and conversational has instead decided to be clear and unequivocal about his postmodern liberal heresies. Ironically, even though Emergents and postmoderns bristle at the thought of systematic theology, McLaren’s new book could easily be described as the closest thing to an Emergent "systematic theology".
The errors, heresies, eisigesis and outright Bible twisting that McLaren engages in while putting forward his beliefs are breathtaking to behold and any careful reader of the scriptures will easily see that McLaren has long ago abandoned the historic Christian faith and is instead a member of a postmodern liberal heretical cult with christian-ish terminology which attacks, impugns and denies the authority and inerrancy of scripture and the Biblical gospel itself.
This post will be the first in a series of posts that will document McLaren’s heresies and Biblically answer and rebut McLaren’s serious heresies and false doctrine.
One of the things McLaren attempts to do in his latest book is resuscitate the tired, old, liberal tactic of redefining the gospel by trying to drive a wedge between the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ. This same tactic was employed by McLaren’s modernist liberal forebears and has already been soundly debunked and discredited by J. Gresham Machen in his 1921 classic The Origins of Paul’s Religion.
Here’s McLaren’s postmodern attempt at this modernist liberal tactic. Said McLaren:
Like a lot of Protestants, for many years i “knew” what the gospel was. I “knew” that the gospel was the message of “justification by grace through faith,” distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics, but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, especially his magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans. If Catholics were called “Roman Catholics” because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called “Roman Protestants,” because Paul’s Roman letter served as our theological headquarters. As its avid students, we “knew” without question what it was about. To my embarrassment, though, about fifteen years ago I stopped knowing a lot of what I previously knew. A lunchtime meeting in a Chinese restaurant unconvinced and untaught me. My lunch mate was a well-know Evangelical theologian who quite rudely upset years of theological certainty with one provocative statement: “Most Evangelicals haven’t got the foggiest notion of what the gospel really is.” He then asked me how I would define the gospel, and I answered as any good Romans Protestant would, quoting Romans. He followed up with this simple but annoying rhetorical question: “You’re quoting Paul. Shouldn’t you let Jesus define the gospel?” When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, “What was the gospel according to Jesus?” A little humiliated, I mumbled something akin to “You tell me,” and he replied, “For Jesus, the gospel was very clear. The Kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus, right?” I again mumbled something, maybe “I guess so.” Seeing my lack of conviction, he added “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?” (A New Kind of Christianity, pp. 138-139)
This quote leads one to ask the obvious question, “How does McLaren define Jesus’ ‘gospel’ of the Kingdom of God?” Answer:
The Kingdom of God is at hand [means] God’s new benevolent society is already among us...the phrase shimmers and glows in relation to the dominant social reality of Jesus time: the kingdom-oriented term “Christ” means “liberating king,” the one who will free God’s people from oppression, confront and humble their oppressors, and then lead both into a better day. (p. 139)
McLaren’s strategy is very easy to spot. His goal is to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul in order to create the impression that each had a different ‘gospel’ that they were preaching. Since Jesus is greater than Paul, people will then ignore, impugn and belittle the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ’s work alone that Paul taught through the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name and instead adopt McLaren's new and novel gospel that is never explicitly taught by either Jesus, Paul or any of the Apostles but is instead a postmodern liberalized gospel that is akin to Marxist Hegelian Liberation Theology.
Pitting Jesus Against Paul Is A Subtle & Deadly Attack Against God’s Word Itself
Anyone who pits Jesus against the Apostle Paul is in reality attacking God’s Word. Christians must not chop the Bible up and teach either in principle or practice that some portions of the Bible are more authoritative or more true than others. Although to the unsuspecting Christian it may sound very pious and reverent to claim that Jesus’ words carry more weight that the Apostle Paul’s, the fact is that anyone who is trying to pit Jesus against Paul is purposefully and deceitfully attacking God’s Word in order to deceive you and teach you false doctrine by cutting you off from the entire council of the word of God.
Scripture couldn’t be clearer, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
ALL SCRIPTURE is God Breathed. No where in scripture do we read that some scriptures are more “God breathed” than other scriptures nor are we ever told that some passages can be ignored because they are less inspired than other passages. Pitting Jesus against Paul tacitly implies that Paul’s Epistles are less inspired and less authoritative than Jesus’ words recorded in the gospel narratives. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus is the one true God and if we truly believe what is recorded in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 then we must also believe that Jesus is the one who breathed out the very words that the Apostle Paul penned in his epistles. Paul didn’t record his mere opinions about the gospel and sound doctrine, he wrote inspired and authoritative scriptures which bear the imprimatur of the Kingdom of God. This fact is even born out by the Apostle Peter. Said Peter:
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:14–18)
Peter clearly believed Paul’s letters to be the inspired Word of God and warned against the ignorant, unstable and lawless false teachers who were twisting Paul’s words to their own destruction. In fact, it is clear from Peter’s second epistle that he did not share McLaren’s view of Paul’s letters and the gospel that Paul preached. Instead, it is painfully clear that Peter was warning us against men like Brian McLaren.
McLaren’s attack against the scripture’s is further made evident through his derogatory phrase “Roman Protestants”. What is being impugned and maligned by McLaren is not the city of Rome but the very Word of God recorded for us in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans as if holding to the Gospel that is outlined in Paul’s Epistle is a form of unfaithfulness to God and the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. By coining and using the derogatory phrase “Roman Protestants” McLaren has unequivocally demonstrated his disdain for God’s Word recorded in Paul’s epistles but even more he’s demonstrated his disdain for the Biblical gospel that was recovered during the Protestant Reformation.
Sound Hermeneutical Principles
In order to properly understand the Bible and the different genres of the documents that are contained in it one must understand that the Bible records human history that is theologically interpreted. For example, the historical biographies about Jesus’ life all tell us that He was crucified like a common criminal under Pontius Pilate. Plenty of people were crucified by Pilate that’s a historical fact. But the theological interpretation of the historical event of Christ’s crucifixion is what informs us about what couldn’t be seen through the five senses of those witnessing Jesus crucifixion, namely that Jesus death was a sacrifice for the sins of the world that propitiated God’s wrath. (Romans 3:21-25)
Edward John Carnell outlines sound hermeneutical principles in his book The Case for Orthodox Theology. Carnell gives us simple foundational rules for properly understanding the Bible and these rules stand in sharp contrast to McLaren’s attempt to pit Jesus against Paul. Along with understanding that the Old Testament must be interpreted by the New Testament, we also learn that the Gospel narratives must be interpreted by the Epistles, not the other way around.
The Gospels record the historic events of our redemption—the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. But by themselves historic events are not sufficient We need an authoritative word that tells us the true significance of those events.
If a man thinks he can look at a historic event and out of his own head interpret what that event means, he puts himself in the place of God. Take the historic fact of the resurrection for example. It is not for us to presume what the resurrection means. The Epistles spell out to us what it means, and he who goes beyond what is interpreted in the Epistles is fabricating a doctrine out of his own head—or passing on what someone has fabricated out of his head. Neither is it the prerogative of the church to interpret any of the events of redemptive history. God sent apostles for that purpose, and we must not add or take away from their word.
We need to go to the Epistles to correctly interpret the events recorded in the Gospels. The church often fails to follow this fundamental principle. She often tries to justify some practice or custom by drawing some "spiritual" lesson from the life, death or resurrection of Christ, but this is a human rather than a divine interpretation of the gospel. "He that hath an ear, let him hear."
By pitting Jesus against Paul, Brian McLaren is rejecting the theological interpretation of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection recorded for us by Paul through the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. By silencing Paul, McLaren is instead trying to smuggle in his own false gospel that Jesus was supposedly announcing the presence of His new ‘benevolent society’. But, no where in the epistles do any of the men who were eyewitnesses to Jesus life, teaching and resurrection interpret Jesus’ mission as establishing a ‘benevolent society’ that sets people free from oppressive political regimes. In order to establish his new and novel postmodern ‘gospel’ McLaren must first silence Paul and the other apostles and that in fact is exactly what McLaren is attempting to do.
Jesus Gave Paul the Gospel That He Proclaimed and Jesus Approved of the Gospel that Paul Preached
Modernist and postmodernist liberals purposefully suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18) that Paul received the gospel he preached from Jesus Christ himself. Said Paul:
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11–13)
In other words, Paul’s gospel was not contradictory to Jesus’ gospel. Paul’s gospel was the very gospel that Jesus Himself instructed the Apostle Paul to preach and proclaim. This is further borne out by the fact that Jesus appeared to the Apostle Paul in Corinth and encouraged him to keep preaching the gospel that He gave him.
“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” (Acts 18:8–11)
It’s hard to imagine that Jesus Christ didn’t approved of Paul’s gospel or that it was substantially different from and contrary to the gospel that Jesus preached during His earthly ministry since Jesus himself told Paul to keep on preaching what he was preaching.
Further proof that Paul’s gospel was not different than the Gospel that Jesus wanted proclaimed is the fact that the Apostle Paul traveled to Jerusalem and laid out his gospel to those who had been discipled directly by Jesus and they did not add anything to Paul’s gospel. Said Paul:
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.” (Galatians 2:1–6)
In light of all this evidence, it is clear that the gospel that Paul preached and proclaimed is the exact Gospel that Jesus Christ personally wanted to be preached and proclaimed.
What was the content of Paul's gospel? Its summarized for us in 1 Cor. 15:1-8 which states:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:1–8)
This gospel that Paul preached and recorded for us in the epistles, that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit fits perfectly with the message Jesus instructed the disciples to preach just before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Said Jesus:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46–47)
No where in the New Testament do we hear either Jesus or his disciples proclaiming the pressence of a benevolent society that has come to set those free who are being oppressed by Caesar and other political oppressors like him. Instead, Jesus came to set us free from our real enemies and our real oppressors, namely: sin, death and the devil.
Brian McLaren, by attacking and impugning the gospel that Paul proclaimed, defended and recorded for us in his epistles is in fact attacking none other than Jesus Christ himself because Jesus was the one who gave Paul the gospel that Paul proclaimed. The reason McLaren is attacking the gospel given to Paul by Jesus is clear. McLaren wants to overthrow the Biblical gospel and replace it with a false gospel of his own liking. But Paul’s words of warning to those who would do such a thing ring out against Brian McLaren and his postmodern liberal emergent cult members:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6–9)
 A fantastic summary of the hermeneutical principles in Carnell's book The Case for Orthodoxy can be found in volume 12 article 2 of Present Truth Magazine. I quoted from this article in this blog post.