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Thursday, September 28, 2006

McLaren on Mark 10:17-27

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 (review here.) Lastly, he goes to Mark 10:17-27

McLaren's Emphasis

McLaren suggests that when the ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, he does not mean heaven. He suggests the man is saying, "Jesus, there is a different kind of life that You are talking about. You call it the kingdom of God. It's life that is on the higer level, it's not just stuck in the mundane. It's life that has an eternal significance. Life in the kingdom of God."

2. Jesus questions why the man would call Him "Good Teacher" since only God is good. McLaren says what Jesus meant here was, "Look, if you're just interested in the opinion of a good teacher, that's one thing. But if you really are interested in what God says about this, let's go back to the commandments in the Bible."

3. The rich young ruler claims that he has kept the commandments. The text says that Jesus felt compassion for him. McLaren understands His compassion was borne out of thinking, "He's [the rich young ruler] is really sincere." McLaren states this man has everything we all want. He is young, he has money, he has influence. Jesus sees all this, but sees a man who wants something greater.

4. McLaren states that if this was about eternity, Jesus gives the wrong answer. But if he's asking a question about higher signficance, life on a higher level, then Jesus' answer makes sense. When Jesus tells the man to sell all he has and follow Him, McLaren understands Jesus to be saying, "You are a really commited guy. You're doing great. But if you really want to be a part of the kingdom of God...[at this point, McLaren references back to Jesus' main point in Luke 4 being social action, even though he acknowledges the ruler wouldn't have been there to hear Jesus read Isaiah 61]...back then I said the reason I am here is to bring good news to the poor. If you want to be a part of My thing, if you think I am more than just a teacher, and that God is really speaking through Me, then what I'm asking you to do is join me in my concern for the poor."

5. When Jesus says it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, He is not speaking of heaven. He's talking about being a part of His work, that He calls being a part of the kingdom of God now.

6. McLaren states that Jesus could not have been talking to the rich young ruler about eternity, or else He really messed up the Lord's prayer. He says that "thy kingdom come" and "thy will be done" speaks of Jesus' desire to bring God to us, not for us to look forward to escape in heaven.

Some observations

If the rich young ruler did not mean life after death, there are several words that need explanation. First, the ruler asks about inheriting eternal life. He does not say greater life, he does not ask for abundant life, he asks about eternity. If the man sells all he has, Jesus says his treasure will be in heaven. He does not say here on earth, but speaks of life after death, and its reward. The rich young ruler does not correct Jesus for focussing on eternity. The disciples ask who can then be saved. This seems and odd question if Jesus was merely speaking of quality of life.

2. McLaren misses Jesus' emphasis on God's righteousness when He questions the ruler for saying "Good Teacher." Jesus is saying that only God is good. Yet, this is also a moment where Jesus is expressing His divinity. For if God alone is good, and "Good Teacher" is an applicable name for Jesus, then Jesus must be God.

3. See observation 1.

4. McLaren paints Jesus as in oppostion to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1-3. The suggestion seems to come across that man can be good enough to come before God.

5. See observation 1.

6. McLaren gives the listener two options: a) Either care about the present, and improving conditions of life now, or b) focus only on heaven. He does not seem to believe both can be accomplished. I know McLaren has stated his doubts about orthodox doctrines of hell, but he seems to dismiss the eternal so much, I'm wondering if he believes in heaven either. The believer should be able to strive to improve life around him and long for heaven.


McLaren redefines many words in this passage. If you took the literal dialogue in the passage and compared it to what he believes they were really saying, it would not appear to be the same conversation. The gospel continues to be neglected, and comments are even made that appear contrary to the gospel. He does not address God's righteousness, though "Good Teacher" is a great place to do so. He does not present man's depravity, though the commandments are a great opportunity to do so. It even appears to be a bit of a works salvation, that "joining Jesus' social program" is what it means to inherit eternal life. Not only do traditional interpretations of passages go out the window, but many orthodox doctrines seem to disappear as well.


  • At 1:31 PM, Blogger ormewords said…

    hey, danny. I appreciate your diligence in study. And, you know I think you are awesome when it comes to knowing truth.

    Let me play a little devil's advocate here with your last statement, though.

    What if we took your conclusion and applied it to the actual encounter of Jesus and the rich young ruler, apart from McClaren...what if we evaluate Jesus sermon through the same lens?

    1."The gospel continues to be neglected, and comments are even made that appear contrary to the gospel"—Jesus never clearly stated the complete gospel (sin, atonement, sacrifice, propitiation, expiation...) in his exhange (here).
    2. "He does not address God's righteousness, though "Good Teacher" is a great place to do so." Neither did Jesus.
    3. "He does not present man's depravity, though the commandments are a great opportunity to do so." OK, Jesus didn't do that here, either.
    4. "It even appears to be a bit of a works salvation, that "joining Jesus' social program"—Jesus didn't take the time to clarify this with the RYR the difference of following him or going to heaven. Was Jesus confusing the RYR?

    Just a few thoughts.

    I liked your last point the best. That it should be both longing for heaven"and" with a changed heart now. I think it is easy to go to extremes and focus only on heaven and not following Jesus or just on social issues without keeping Christ at the center.

    Thanks for taking the time to post it.

    Brian O

  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    no doubt, this message is troubling if read apart from the rest of Scripture. it could appear to some that Jesus is professing a works salvation by stating you obey the commands to have eternal life.

    that's why it's important we interpret Scripture with Scripture.

    as we read all of the gospels, we see Jesus regularly extending grace to the humble and the law to the proud (and what else would you call a man who says he has kept all the commands since his youth?). then we understand that this man was not ready to hear the gospel, for he was not convinced of his sin.

    1. Jesus did not give the full gospel for He will not cast pearls to swine. This man clearly had a self-righteous heart, and not even exposure to the Law would show him his sin.

    2. I would disagree. When He says there is none good but God and then take the RYR to the Law, it appears to me that He is presenting the awesome transcendance of God's righteousness to our supossed righteousness.

    3. Again, if a man can hear the Law and still deny his depravity, I don't see the point in a continued exercise.

    4. I don't think there is a difference between following Him and going to heaven. When we understand that salvation comes by repenting of sin and trusting Christ, it seems to me that the person who does so will follow Him and will experience eternal life.

    I guess my question so far is has McLaren shared about Christ and justification, or has he only focused on the here and now? I can understand if he is frustrated with those who abuse the environment or neglect the poor, claiming they are more pious because they only think toward heaven...but to this point, he has ignored any hope, glory or redemption that is ultimately acheived in heaven.

    and shouldn't our reason to help the poor be to share the gospel message with them? to this point, he seems to think kingdom work is completed if their physical needs are met.

    this may not be his genuine perspective, but this is all his message seems to have said to this point.

  • At 2:37 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    thanks for your gracious attitude too bro.

    i truly am striving to be gracious in my posts too.

    (i guess the only way i can truly learn some of your grace is a conversation over wings!)

  • At 6:34 PM, Blogger ormewords said…

    I think wings are in order, Danny. I thought you handled this series with grace. It was fun to read. Hey, I even got a blogger account just to comment.


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