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Friday, September 29, 2006

McLaren's Key Illustration

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 (review here.)

McLaren begins his message with an illustration involving puzzles. He tells the audience he's not really a "puzzle guy" (I don't think they're that fun either) but shares he sometimes has the sinister urge to switch puzzle box lids (that actually does sound like a great prank). It can be a struggle to put a puzzle together, even if you have all the right pieces, if you're trying to match the picture from the wrong lid. McLaren therefore, encourages the folks at Mar's Hill to put the box lid away; focussing on the pieces alone. It's a clever illustration that people could easily relate to. It also captures the audience, anxiously waiting to hear what he has to share.

But wait, you're thinking, You said you didn't care about illustrations. You were simply going to evaluate how he handles the Word. You're right. I don't want to evaluate the originality of the illustration, nor the delivery. I believe his illustration reveals much about McLaren's hermeneutic.

I applaud McLaren's desire to let the text do the talking. He is not satisfied to simply accept the traditional understanding of the passage. Obviously, I'm thankful for the Reformers who did not accept the teaching of the Catholic church regarding certain passages, but the key is to let the text do the talking. However, when McLaren "puts aside the box lid" he also seems to cast aside authorial intent.

At best, McLaren pulls themes out of the text that are not primary (in his handling of Isaiah 61 & Luke 4:16-21). At times, he ignores the definition of words, giving them new meaning to support his view (as he does with Mark 10:17-27). But is that really harmful? It's not like McLaren's cause was evil, he's calling people to care for the environment and look after the poor. These are both biblical themes, is it really that big a deal if they aren't primary in the texts he used?

The answer is, Yes it is a very big deal. No mention is made of God's grace despite our sin, though McLaren speaks from Isaiah 61, a passage about God giving the Israelites back the land they lost due to sin. We spend no time identifying Jesus as the ultimate gift from God, though in Luke 4, Jesus says He is the fulfillment of the favorable year of the Lord. There is no mention of God's holiness or man's depravity, though Mark 10 clearly speaks of God alone being good and that no one can fulfill His law alone. Though countless Scriptures tell the believer to find his hope in his eternity, McLaren redefines that to be living for more now. If an unbeliever is present, he did not hear enough of the word of Christ to produce faith (Romans 10:17). And the believer may place social reform and environmentalism as a higher priority than the gospel ministry.

Summary--In the midst of his "puzzle box swap illustration," McLaren shares how he would solve the problem. Confessing that puzzles naturally try his patience, McLaren would solve the problem with a marker and his fist. He laughingly tells the crowd that if the puzzle wasn't matching the box, he would simply use a marker to color the puzzle pieces and bash them together to make them fit. While McLaren was clearly joking, there is sadly some honesty in his humor. It seems that McLaren came to the passages in Isaiah 61, Luke 4:16-21 and Mark 10:17-27 with the desire to preach social reform and environmentalism. He was willing to use whatever tools he needed to make that point. He may have been trying to make the puzzle without looking at the box, but it seems clear that he already had a picture in his mind he wished to make.

What I find most puzzling is that he didn't want to make the picture about sin, redemption, the cross and grace. The gospel certainly does not need to be severed from social reform, but social reform is pointless if we do not articulate the gospel. It's a "box lid" I can't understand why anyone would want to replace.


  • At 8:06 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Not sure of the meaning of the last sentence. Should "can" be read as "can't"?

  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    correction made. thanks


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