The subject line is just to warn you I’m about to rant and ramble. First off, how on earth does Scot McKnight do it? A couple of days ago I’m email corresponding with him about a proper definition of the word “heresy” and “heretic”, he decides to issue a blog post about it — and he’s composed an excellent overview of the subject which I highly commend — and as kismet would have it, he future-posts the thing so it pops up into the middle of the melee on the blog day when everyone’s talking about Brian McLaren clarifying his view of Hell in an Out of Ur blog post and an interview by Leif Hansen (HT on these to half of everybody but let’s single out, oh, Stephen Shields). For good measure, it’s all on the same day that Emergent US declines to issue a doctrinal statement (HT on this one to again, half of everybody but let’s single out Mike Todd this time).
Now, if all of that don’t buzz the blogosphere.
So let’s see, back to heresy, where I’ll go on record as mentioning Brian McLaren in the heresy conversation with Scot… not because I think the man deserves the moniker, but because I’ve seen it used to wrongly accuse him, based specifically on his comments about Hell. Knowing that he doesn’t exactly sink exceeding amounts of time into dealing with critics and name-callers, someone needs to point out the absurdity of the accusation. “Foul!” I cry. Wanting to check my thinking on the matter, I sent off an email to Scot McKnight, who essentially verified the direction my thoughts were running. Affirm the historic creeds, not a heretic. Deny the deity of Christ but claim to be a Christian, heretic. Deny the nature of angels or demons, not necessarily a heretic. To answer the rhetorical question posed to illstrate the McLaren is teaching heresy, “What other word can you use…?” I answer, “possibly wrong” or “untraditional” or “not the way [you] see it.” But not heresy. That accusation is incorrect, emotive, calculated, and when levied against a brother, grievous. (I may yet publish a more extensive response to an earlier article from the same source.) In this case, McLaren’s offending statement seemed to be,
You know, if you go back into the most ancient parts of the Old Testament, there is no concept of Satan. That idea comes along much later. It seems to have been borrowed from the Zoroastrians, actually. Maybe itâ€™s no sin to think of Satan as a metaphor…
Apparently this is similarly-themed (but not exactly, perhaps misquoting?) something that E.P. Sanders says in The Historical Figure of Jesus. It must be noted that E.P. Sanders (see also E.P. Sanders at Duke) of Duke University Department of Religion is not normally considered a theological slouch, nor is his orthodoxy commonly open to question — whether one can follow along with every little thing or not. But to be clear, this isn’t contary to the historical creeds which would test for orthodoxy versus heresy.
Well. Brian “The Godfather” McLaren is now on record expanding his view of Hell, and I’ve provided the requisite links… but I here admit to not reading all of them through thoroughly, because in a very real way, I don’t necessarily care that much about it. If he were saying something seriously untraditional or dodgy about Jesus, I would care… but he isn’t. And I don’t.
Come to think of it, there are a few things being said about Jesus that aren’t completely traditional, if we look at the tradition of modernity. Let’s look at two eerily similar quotes:
LeRon Shults, in not issuing a doctrinal statement on behalf of Emergent US, writes,
Jesus did not have a “statement of faith.” He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent. The very idea of a “statement of faith” is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties…
Meanwhile, Scot McKnight, in properly defining heresy, writes,
let me add an emerging point: it is too bad we donâ€™t have such an evocative term for praxis. Jesusâ€™ focus was on â€œhypocrisyâ€? more than â€œheresy,â€? and it might just be an indication of how far weâ€™ve strayed for us to give so much attention to â€œheresyâ€? and not enough to failure in praxis. As far as we can see, failure in practice is just as bad as failure in theology.
Scot, Scot, Scot. I wish I’d said that. This one goes down as the most valuable insight of the day (the week, the year), and paired with LeRon Shults’ comments, I think we’ve truly come to the heart of the matter. Somehow in the midst of everything, we’ve gotten back to the Bible, to those early days, the ones the modern church has always striven to reach, duplicate, and practice. The days when we’ll strain out a gnat but swallow a camel — and think ourselves justified through the process.
Here we are talking about Brian McLaren, heresy, creeds, Hell, and doctrinal statements, and conveniently forgetting about hypocrisy. Let’s own it and start to change it. Sign me up for that. Step 1: “Hi, my name is Brother Maynard, and I am a hypocrite.” C’mon, say it with me, “Hi, Brother Maynard…”