Monday, May 01, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (9) - "Me" the Final Authority

Finally, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that for McLaren and many other EC folks, the final source of authority for their opinions are... themselves. McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy is proof in the pudding. It is rather staggering to read this book and listen to one man go on for nearly 300 pages about what he has judged to be good in all forms of world religions. Chapter after chapter we are told what is good in groups like liberals, charismatics, Calvinists, Anabaptists, etc. And all of these conclusions are based strictly on McLaren’s experience of the group.

So, he can embrace little “c” catholicism because of a nice moment he had in a garden beside a statue of Mary.[1] He can appreciate his re-working of Calvinism by remembering that Calvin wrote his first edition of the Institutes as a very young and bold man.[2] He can say he is Biblical, without embracing inerrancy, since the actual word “inerrant” is not found in the Bible.[3] Every chapter is full of the same.

The first person personal pronoun is the most-used word in the book: I think, I saw, I came to realize, I found, I know – these types of things. On top of that, we are faced with conclusion after conclusion of why this group did this, what we are to learn from these folks, etc without any factual back up other than McLaren’s own opinion and/or experience. Sometimes we are given footnotes of other authors who seem to agree with McLaren, but a rough survey by my daughter and I brought forward results that suggest 84% of McLaren’s quoted sources were published after 1996. That means the majority of cited works are less than ten years old.[4]

When you combine these characteristics you end up with a very bold book indeed![5] But this is reflective of the post-modernism that many EC people love. Truth is not static nor to be found only in the Bible alone. It really all comes down to what I think is true – how it impacts me.

This strikes at the heart of the problem with EC; the source of Truth.

[1] Orthodoxy, 221.

[2] Orthodoxy, 188.

[3] Orthodoxy, 165.

[4] We counted 70 sources cited in the footnotes of A Generous Orthodoxy, 11 published between 1954-1990, and 59 from 1996-2004. There is some duplication in our figures as we did not account for every multiple citation. Even so, our figures show where the majority of quotations are from.

[5] Carson comments on A Generous Orthodoxy this way: “Every chapter of this book succumbs to the same elementary analysis. Every chapter has some useful insights, and every chapter overstates arguments, distorts history, attaches excessively negative terms to all the things with which McLaren disagrees (even when they have been part of the heritage of confessional Christianity for two thousand years), and almost never engages the Scriptures except occasionally in prooftexting ways. Even the closing chapter, “Why I Am Unfinished,” manages in brief compass to express attractive humility, misrepresent what “orthodoxy” has meant in the past, give a new definition of “orthodoxy,” cite a couple of biblical passages that have nothing to do with what he is talking about, and very seriously understate what believers ought to know, should know, and can know, if we are to judge such matters not by postmodern epistemological preferences but by what Scripture actually says. It is important to face the limitations of our knowledge; it is also important to celebrate the fact that one of the central purposes of the coming of the Son of God to this earth, of his death and resurrection, of the gospel itself, was to reveal and make known the things that had been much more hidden in earlier revelation (Romans 16:25-27).

I wish these problems were located only in this book, so that one could say that this book is not typical of McLaren’s work as a whole.” Conversant, 13.


Rob said...


If your crticism is that many of us do not adhere to sola scriptura, you're right. Many believe Wesley's Quadilateral is a much more balanced hermeneutic because it doesn't reject reason and experience when interpreting scripture.

The other thing to note is the many people in the EC who do embrace Sola Scriptura.

ScottB said...

Can I make the observation that you have yourself used the personal pronoun "I" 117 times on this page? Does that, then, indicate your personal epistemology as well? Or is this simply reductio ad absurdum?

Robbymac said...

Hey, people like John F. MacArthur have written MANY books telling us what is wrong with every church/denomination outside of MacArthur's own. Nobody seems to have a problem with that. Why attack McLaren for telling us his opinion on where other denominations may have got something right?

(tongue in cheek) Maybe MacArthur's and McLaren's books should be sold together, so that we can read all the negative stuff from one, and the positive from the other. Would that make us balanced?

Sorry, couldn't resist... :)

bill said...

"Finally, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that for McLaren and many other EC folks, the final source of authority for their opinions are... themselves."

And just who should be the final authority for one's opinion other than themselves? Are you expecting that we ask some fundamentalist to give us our opinions?

Seems as much.

The truth is that all theology is opinion. So is christology. The Midrash is. Bible commentaries are. All books are. It seems that some want us to accept that their favorite theology is revealed from the mouth of God. Balderdash.

In fact, Bible translations are opinion. Either an individual or, more typically, a committee decides (opines) how best to represent their source in the end language. Opinion, opinion, opinion.

Some of us admit opinion, while others claim that their words, thoughts and favorite theologies are inspired of God. Which position is more trustworthy?

Trish said...

Wow, has this paper ever dive bombed now.

Michael said...

There is such a thing as propositional Truth... I can read and exegete Koine Greek, so you'll be happy to know that I'm not reading others opinions... Theology is opinion? In the essentials it is not, if you think that it is then your a pluralist, just like McLaren

Nick Hill said...

Hey Bill,

Is that your "opinion" or is that the truth? Couldn't resist.... :)


Hidden One said...

"Finally, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that for McLaren and many other EC folks, the final source of authority for their opinions are... themselves."

If I may be so bold as to ask, what is yours?

"(even when they have been part of the heritage of confessional Christianity for two thousand years),"

It occurs to me that beliefs such as the literal presence in the Eucharist has been part of the heritage of Christianity for (depending on your denomination) almost 2000 years, or 'till ...after the Reformation. I'm not sure that the altering of tradition is really a viable point when used by Protestants, especially ones loudly espousing Sola Scriptura.

Sincerely in Christ,
Hidden One.