Thursday, April 20, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (4) - Some (like McLaren) Open the Door to Universalism

I am not aware if McLaren has actually denied being a Universalist. He certainly never comes out and states that he does believe every person will eventually go to heaven, but I will offer a few extended quotes to demonstrate why so many accuse him of this heresy.

If the Evangelical Jesus saves by dying, the Pentecostal Jesus by sending his Spirit, and the Catholic Jesus by rising from death, the Eastern Orthodox Jesus saves simply by being born, by showing up, by coming among us. In Jesus’ birth, these Christians believe two wonderful things happen. First, God takes the human life of Jesus into God’s own eternal life, and in so doing, Jesus’ people (the Jews), species (the human race), and history (the history of our planet and our whole universe) enter into—are taken up into God’s own life. God’s life, love, joy, and power are so great that all our death, hate, pain, and failures are eradicated, swallowed up, cancelled, extinguished, and overcome by being taken into God. In this way Jesus will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world, to all of creation.[1]

For the first time, through the Eastern Jesus, I began to have a glimpse of how Jesus could indeed be the Saviour not just of a few individual humans, but of the whole world. (In footnote 26 to this statement he adds: By “the whole world,” I do not necessarily mean every individual in it, but rather, I mean the cosmos, creation, the earth in history, not just beyond history.[2]

In another place, McLaren writes:

But what about heaven and hell? you ask. Is everybody in?

My reply: Why do you consider me qualified to make this pronouncement? Isn’t this God’s business? Isn’t it clear that I do not believe this is the right question for a missional Christian to ask? Can’t we talk for a while about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven instead of jumping to how to escape earth and get to heaven as quickly as possible? Can’t we talk for a while about overthrowing and undermining every hellish stronghold in our lives and in our world?[3]

Or this:

The king achieves peace not by shedding the blood of rebels but by—I hope the scandal and wonder of this is not lost because the words may be familiar—shedding his own blood.

And what is the goal of this suffering sacrifice, this self-giving to the point of blood to achieve the pax Christi? It is a new and lasting reconciliation between humanity and God, and among all the at-odds individuals and groups that comprise humanity. In another letter, Paul said it like this: “Old distinctions like Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female no longer exist, for you are all one in Christ” (see Galatians 3:28). Today, he might speak of reconciliation of the war veteran with the pacifist protester. The tattooed and pierced granddaughter / with her prim and proper grandmother. The Orthodox with the Catholics, and Pentecostals with Baptists. Christians with Jews and Muslims and Hindus. Tutsi with Hutu and both with Twa. Right-wing Republicans with left-wing Democrats. Believers with doubters.

What is this set of reconciled relationships other than the kingdom of God?[4]

McLaren includes other statements that appear to suggest (to some degree!) that he is not a Universalist, although he never fully comes out and says that he is not. But even if that is the case, I find it deeply perplexing that he would write the way he does in the first place.[5]

[1] Orthodoxy, 56.

[2] Orthodoxy, 59 and footnote 26.

[3] Orthodoxy, 112.

[4] Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group/Thomas Nelson, 2006) 99-100.

[5] I will comment more on this in the appendix entitled, “Was Jesus Purposefully Confusing?” Please remember, I know that McLaren is not the official spokesperson for Emergent – but he is intimately associated with the movement and remains its “face” on a popular level. These kinds of reckless statements must therefore be addressed. And I would argue that universalism is heresy.