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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

McLaren on Isaiah 61:1-4

After listening to a message by Brian McLaren, I decided to review his understanding of the text quoted. I ask you to please read my purpose and intent in this exercise before reading any further.

The first text McLaren turns to is Isaiah 61:1-4
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To grant those who mourn {in} Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.
McLaren's Emphasis

1. McLaren says this poem was written to people "standing on the ledge of dispair" to tell these oppressed captives that a better day is coming.

2. [Referring to verse 4] "The structures of your civilization will be renewed. The environment of your civilization. Like if it were today, maybe he'd say, 'The toxic waste dumps will be cleaned up. The places that have been paved over by concrete. The places where species are going extinct. Those will be renewed. The cities that are filled with urban blight. The cities that are filled with poverty and unemployment. God cares about them, and you will have a part in rebuilding them.'"

3. McLaren points out that, contrary to our expectation, Isaiah does not point them to thought of eternity for comfort, but the hope is found in a point in history. He does not comfort them that they will leave this earth, but rather that the "poor, broken hearted, captive, prisoners, all who mourn and grieve, and those in dispair are going to be helped."

4. In the midst of discussing this issue, McLaren makes the statement, "Most of us would rather go to heaven later rather than sooner...but that's another story."

Some observations

We are never told these oppressed, downtrodden people are Jews. Why does this matter? It matters because Israel was in captivity as an act of judgment by God. They were not innocent victims. They had rebelled against God and He disciplined them. Yet, we see His grace extended in that He pursues restoration. No mention of this theme at all.

2. Again, McLaren glosses over the importance of the promised land and of Jerusalem in particular. He makes no mention of covenants made to the people, nor that this is even God's chosen nation. Strangely, in a message that is intened to motivate compassion for people, McLaren seems to be more focused on the environment. There is a significance to the "Promised Land" (see Hebrews 3 & 4) that unfortunately seems ignored.

3. I'm not sure I even fully understand McLaren's point here. He is right that the text does not point them to heaven as their solace. But the text does point them to future events. In verse 4, it regularly says "they will" indicating these are future events. In fact, Jesus states that this passage was fulfilled by Him. (Which happens to be the next text we'll examine.) Any immediate fulfillment of this passage seems to be secondary to the fulfillment in Christ, thus pointing us to the future, not Isaiah's present conditions.

4. I do not want to be overly harsh on his sidebar statement, "Most of us would rather go to heaven later rather than sooner...but that's another story." Every pastor occasionaly makes a sideways statement he knows could become a full blown "rabbit trail" and therefore brings himself back to the point without further explanation. This very well could be such a case. However, I do wish he would have articulated that the Scriptures only exhort believers to look forward to the Lord's appearing. Perhaps his facial expression or gestures articulated that not wanting to be with Christ is not the God pleasing heart attitude.


McLaren encourages the people of Mar's Hill to be good stewards of creation. He also encourages them to not fall prey to "escapism," thinking so much about eternity that they do not look to impact the present. These are both good, Biblical concepts. However, it is questionable to say they are themes addressed here in Isaiah 61, and it can certainly be said they are not the main theme of the passage. To this point in the message, there has been no mention of sin, God's judgment, God's holiness, or even His grace in restoring a people who did not deserve it of themselves.


  • At 11:09 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    That is a very gracious review. You're a better man than me. I listened to the sermons twice, re-winding in several places to be certain I was hearing him correctly. I can't find the words, to express my analysis.

    McLaren missed the entire gem of Jesus' reading of Isaiah 61. The New Testament clearly records Jesus sitting down precisely before the ominous phrase, "And the day of vengeance for our God." Why did He sit down? Because THAT day, the day of vengeance, and the text which follows is not fulfilled in His first coming. That is confirmed by John 3:17. Accordingly, it was not fulfilled in their hearing. That is a day yet future, a future event expressly denied by Brian McLaren. The declining world situation, as in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot, will be in accordance with the second coming of the Son of Man. Jesus explicitly said so.

    Absolutely the church should be caring for the poor, the widows, and the broken, and I commend the heart of compassion that McLaren obviously has in that regard.

    But exegetically, Brian McLaren got out his crayons and drew the picture on the lid in spite of the puzzle pieces already in the box.

  • At 7:50 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    hey hey, be patient. we're not looking at luke 4 until tomorrow.

  • At 7:51 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    we're you listen to a cassette tape? or perhaps an 8-track? not sure if you can order the message on lp.

  • At 8:18 AM, Blogger BReformed said…

    It's an old fashioned term for pressing the << button in Windows Media Player... :)

  • At 3:03 PM, Blogger The Honus said…

    I'm not sure what's offensive or exegetically disastrous to say that Isaiah's prophecy portrays a message of hope for the here and now.

    As best I understood it, it's not that salvation is only for these things, but salvation is also for these things. The "setting right" of things that sin has disastrously ruined in our world.

    It's not that salvation is only about social justice, but it is also about social justice. There is hope for the hopeless in this life because the Messiah is coming.

    Why is it that when McLaren proclaims the power and value of the Gospel in the "here and now" he's blasted as a liberal without a clue on the Scriptures, and when Colson writes a book on this topic (How Now Shall We Live, chs 1-2; The Good Life) he's praised as a champion of the disadvantaged and mistreated? They are essentially making the same point: a Christian worldview makes an immediate difference in the lives of those in contact with it, and it should make a difference in our world at large.

    Just my thoughts. Confessing my subjectivity.

  • At 3:32 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    please stay with me for the whole ride, honus.

    i'm taking my time, but i'm hoping to be fair, accurate, loving and detailed. let me know if you sense i've missed the boat after i've laid out my whole case.

    as i stated in my last paragraph...i think mclaren's message (of social justice and environmentalism) is biblically justified, i'm just not sure it's found in the passage in isaiah...at least not the primary theme.

  • At 6:56 AM, Blogger The Honus said…

    where did I go? Do I get to ask questions at each stage of the process, or is the right to post at this point only reserved for those who don't like McLaren's crayolas? (Tongue firmly in cheek)

    I'm much more interested in the dialogue than anyone's passionate opinions about McLaren and the errors of his ways.

    Just trying to enjoy some give and take

  • At 8:01 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i didn't mean my comment as a statement begging you not to go...

    it was calling for all to be patient and allow me to slowly walk through my thoughts...then everyone can evalutate (and hold me accountable) as to whether i'm being objective.

    i too, want our "give and take" to be about the issues addressed.

  • At 8:16 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i guess what's more accurate to say, honus, is that I want you to comment THROUGHOUT the entire series...

    i was hoping you didn't feel like "you've seen enough" and then were going to leave me to myself.

    i think david's comment as to crayons was built out of mclaren's illustration with the puzzle. i'd encourage you to examine if his conclusions from the text are accurate. (even if he did jump the gun and go to the next text!)


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