Welcome to Carnivorous Caribou

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

McLaren on Luke 4:16-21

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 evaluating before reading further.

First, McLaren directs the congregation to Isaiah 61:1-4. (You can read my review here.) Next, he turns the group to Luke 4:16-21.

McLaren's Emphasis

Technically, he does not "turn" the group there. He simply summarizes the passage, and actually tells them it is found in Luke 3 (We've all given the wrong reference before.) He concludes the Biblical narrative with, "Today, this day, those words are fulfilled in your hearing."

2. He explains that what Jesus was saying is that what happened in Isaiah's day is happening again today.

3. McLaren warns that we can tend to spiritualize the texts, assuming Jesus is talking about hearts rather than literally helping the poor and the oppressed. He contrasts the caricature of heaven (clouds and harps) with God's desire to rebuild cities in the here and now.

4. In illustrating this point. McLaren describes a boy who wishes to get out of cleaning his room by explaining entropy to his mother. The boy explains that entropy is a law of science and that God has established all of the laws of science. Therefore, attempting to reverse such a law would be rebelling against God. He suggests that some take this attitude when it comes to prophecy or even evaluating our current circumstances. Some look and claim that we shouldn't help the poor or clean up the environment because it's a helpless cause. However, McLaren says this passage shows us, "that God actually cares about this world. God has not abandoned creation. The law of entropy might be a law of physics, but there is a deeper law in the universe, it's the law of God's faithfulness. And that God does not abandon His creation, but that God cares about it being renewed, and restored, and rebuilt."

Some observations

While McLaren is able to summarize the details of Luke 4, I couldn't help but get the impression he was not very familiar with specific details. For one, he stated it was Luke 3 a couple of times. This would not be a major concern (again, we've all missed a reference before) except that he misses something else critical within the text. He tells the audience that Jesus quotes the passage in Isaiah 61 (verses 1-4 is what McLaren read aloud) however Jesus only quoted Isaiah 61:1-2. Why does this matter? Because McLaren spends a majority of his time in Luke 4 telling the audience how concerned Jesus is with cities and ruins, yet Jesus did not find it necessary to read that portion. Instead, Jesus concluded with "to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD." Jesus did not even bother reading the portion about cities and ruins, therefore it seems a stretch to say that was His main point when speaking to those in Nazareth.

2. To say that what Isaiah prophesied (and saw happen) in his day is happening again in Jesus' day seems to put Isaiah's and Jesus' ministry on the same plain. He does not take opportunity to share that Jesus was a greater fulfillment of the prophecy, nor that He had a greater mission than Isaiah.

3. I don't just struggle to see how the text makes McLaren's point, I actually struggle to see how it doesn't contradict his main point. He states that Jesus tells them the prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing and then goes out and actually performs these acts. McLaren warns us not to spiritualize this fulfillment, for Jesus says He will restore sight to the blind and we certainly see that literally fulfilled (thus making his case). However, I am not aware of Him creating release of the captives (actually, He left John the Baptist in prison to be beheaded), or to set free those who had been oppressed (I do not remember Him freeing a single slave and when His political motives were challenged He stated His kingdom is not of this world.) Again, Jesus mentions nothing of restoring cities and buildings, yet McLaren claims that was part of His mission too (even though He spoke of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and did nothing to prevent it). John 9 seems to be an important place to turn. Yes, Jesus cared abou the physical nature of things (we are not gnostics) and healed a man born blind. However, He seems to care even more about the man's soul, pursuing the man to reveal Himself as Lord to him.

4. I actually really liked McLaren's "clean your room" example. (I could hear myself trying that kind of approach as a child.) And he is quite right that we should not throw our hands up in dispair, refusing to influence the world. However, I was greatly disappointed to not hear the gospel articulated at this point. Entropy gave him a great opportunity. The law of entropy was not in effect when God said, "It is good," but became a law imposed upon a fallen world. This was a great door for McLaren to introduce the problem of sin. Sin is the reason for entropy, and only if God reverses the problem of sin can He reverse the problem of entropy. Yet McLaren presented entropy as if God created a world full of sin, disease, decay and death. Second, I'm not sure what better suggests that God has not abandoned His creation than to state He was willing to die to reverse the curse. Yet McLaren gives no reference to the cross.


The passage in Luke does not seem to be about the environment or social reform. In fact, the passage does not even contain some of the statements that McLaren draws as his main points. Not only does the listener focus on a point the text does not make, but it also causes the listener to miss the main point of the passage. The first line Jesus quotes from Isaiah is about proclaiming the gospel. The last line He quotes is about it being the favorable year of the Lord. McLaren does not acknowledge either of these points, instead focussing on the environment. By this point in his message, he has mentioned personal sin (acknowledging it is bad), however it is placed right beside social and political injustice. It is not presented as a violation of God's righteousness.


  • At 10:42 AM, Blogger Keith's Blog said…

    I think you have done a balanced and excellent job of reviewing McLaren's message. His treatment of these passages is actually a classic liberal, "liberation theology" technique designed to portray Jesus as a political revolutionary. Of course we believe that Jesus brings hope to the downtrodden now, but by collapsing all of Jesus' program into the present, McLaren denies the hope of the Coming Kingdom to be established by Jesus when He returns. Thus, the sermon robs God's people of their Blessed Hope - that is why the sermon is potentially dangerous. This is the same "over-actualized eschatology" nonsense we have stood against for over forty years.

    Keith Shearer

  • At 6:41 AM, Blogger RevPharoah said…

    I didn't want to like this post, I really didn't. Sitting around criticizing someone else's preaching can be a useless and distracting endeavor.

    BUT. . . you make your point and make it well. And when someone becomes as influential and oft-quoted as McLaren is, then their statements must be closely evaluated and examined. Good job.

  • At 8:59 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    thanks steve,

    as you know, i've struggled with this balance quite a bit. i have reservations about the movement, but if i'm not specific people will just see me as mean. if i am specific, people want to see you as nitpicky.

    grace needs to be applied (for we all can make mistakes or say something we didn't mean) but i do think the general content of a man's message tells you a lot about his theology.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home