SBTS prof: McLaren 'Serpent-sensitive'

SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. (BP)--Recent denials of hell and a literal second coming of Christ by emerging church leader Brian McLaren are absurd and actually lead to the kind of violence McLaren seeks to prevent, said Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

In his latest book, "Everything Must Change," McLaren argued that those who believe in a Jesus who will crush His enemies by force may be inclined to dominate and take advantage of other people. McLaren explained some of the ideas in his book when he spoke at the Shift youth ministry conference April 9-11 at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. He did not specifically deny hell or the second coming at the conference.

"Many of us have been increasingly critical in recent years of popular American eschatology in general, and conventional views of hell in particular," he writes. "Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly."

McLaren also argues the orthodox understanding that Jesus will return at a future date and forcefully conquer all His enemies needs rethinking.

"This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we've said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly," McLaren writes.

Moore, who also serves as dean of Southern's school of theology, said the doctrine of a forceful Jesus actually should restrain Christians from committing acts of violence.

"When the apostle Peter takes up the sword to defend Jesus, he is rebuked precisely because Jesus says He can call 'more than twelve legions of angels' to defend Him (Matthew 26:53), but His time is not yet," Moore said. "The apostle Paul tells us not to avenge ourselves. Why? Because, he writes, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord' (Romans 12:18-20).

"As for domination, the Bible tells us not to dominate one another, precisely because 'we will all stand before the judgment seat of God' (Romans 12:10)."

Even though McLaren claims to want world peace, his own view is actually the one that leads to violence, Moore said.

"When a Christian understands that he does not fight for his own honor, but that justice will be done by God, either through union with Christ and His cross or at the judgment itself, the Christian is freed then to trust God, not his sword or his gun or his fists or his tongue," he said. "It is McLaren's vision of a life that consists only of the justice achieved in this era that leads to violence and Darwinian struggle to see that a pound of flesh is exacted.

"It is the kind of world that McLaren envisions, without a messianic hope of a second coming, that leads to the bloody utopian experiments we have seen throughout the twentieth century. If human beings do not expect a Messiah in the skies, they will expect to elect one or anoint one or biochemically engineer one. And, do not be deceived, such pseudo-Messiahs always eventually have a sword."

Christians should know by now that McLaren displays "hostility to the most basic aspects of the Gospel message," Moore said, adding that Willow Creek should not have invited him to speak.

"McLaren's comments at Willow Creek are not themselves surprising," he said. "What is surprising is that a Christian conference, especially one growing out of a movement designed to reach 'seekers' for Christ, would invite him to speak. When McLaren questions the existence of hell and the hope of the second coming, he is not a 'new kind of Christian.' Such things are neither new nor Christian.

"They are instead a repetition of the voice of a snake in a long-ago garden: 'Has God said?' and 'You shall not surely die.' It is tragic that one of the world's most renowned evangelical churches would highlight this kind of Serpent-sensitive worship."

Dan Kimball, another emerging church leader and pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., is to be commended for saying at the same conference that it is wrong for Christians to focus so much on social justice that they neglect to speak about eternal life, Moore said.

"Dan Kimball's comments were courageous and correct," he said. "An evangelicalism without the Gospel is no advance for the church."

David Roach is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Baptist Press correspondent.

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