Friday, July 2, 2010

Repost - The Immutability of god: Its Truth and Relevancy - The Challenge of McLaren and Process Theology

In recent weeks, we have discussed in some detail the important (and often ignored) doctrine of God's Immutability.  We have established its importance, its Biblical foundation, a number of Scriptural challenges, a recent rejection (in Tony Jones, but more could be give), and now we turn to perhaps the most prominent theological movement that stands in contrast to this wonderful doctrine, namely Process Theology and Open Theism.

Process Theology argues that God is always changing, or progressing.  Open Theism is primarily concerned with getting God off the hook over theodicy (or the problem of evil).  If God is good then why is there so much evil, suffering, war, injustice, poverty, and death in the world?  Both beliefs argue that since the world is always changing (and evolving), then so does God.  God is always changing, adapting, and progressing.  He is not yet what He will one day be.  The God of yesterday is not the same God of today.

Another common thread that is important here regards human free will.  It is believed (similarly to Pelagianism) that God does not mess with human free will.  Such a belief ultimately challenges God's sovereignty (and even His personal relationship with His creation).  If God is Sovereign, then He is intimate, personal, and in control.  If humans are completely free (especially in the Pelagian school of thought), then God is more distant and sort of spectator watching (and progressing with us) His creation.

As one can see, such a theology flies in the face of God's Immutability and the clear teaching of Scripture.  To adopt progressive theology and/or open theism is to reject the immutability of God.  One cannot hold to either of these theologies and still affirm that God does not change.

But instead of tracing the thought out more, I want to focus on a particular theologian whose recent writings sound eerily similar to Process Theology and Open Theism.  That man is Brian McLaren who has become one of the main faces of the Emergent Church Movement.  Though McLaren, as far as I have been able to tell, has never defended either of these theologies outright or spoken of God as evolving, He has comes close.

In his latest book, A New Kind of Christianity Brian McLaren  suggests that the Bible itself tells of an evolution.  What we are witnessing in the Bible is a conversation among characters and writers on their undestanding of God.  In the Old Testament, God is possessive, nationalistic, and even angry, but in the New Testament God is less racial and more loving.  It isn't necessarily that God has changed, but the conversation about God has changed.

In his book McLaren writes that our ancestor’s images and understanding of God continually changed, evolved, and matured over the centuries. God, it seemed, kept initiating this evolution (99).  McLaren is not directly implying that God evolves with history and human culture, but that instead of God directly revealing Himself to the Biblical authors, the authors are actually conversing among themselves. Therefore, in the Bible, the image we get of God is always evolving.

The problem with this view should immediately be apparent.  What do you do with a book like Job in which God is a major narrative-bending character in the story.  In response, McLaren suggests that God in the Bible is not the real God, but another character.  To understand Him as the real God is to lean towards the abuse of interpreting the Bible literally.  God doesn't order entire nations to be wiped out.  God doesn't favor one race or people over others.  God doesn't murder rebellious children and husbands who sleep with their wives while on their menstrual period. Therefore, when such atrocities are committed, it isn't that God Himself commands such things to happen (because God is not violent), rather during the evolution of ancient man's understanding of God they wrote a character named God and put Him into the story.

How convienant!

So in the case of Job, God is only a character reflecting the authors understanding of God.  But that understanding of God has evolved over time. 

If one were to read the Bible all the way through, McLaren would argue, the character, will, and actions of God evolve.  For example, the image of God moves from violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life in the OT to loving justice, kindness, reconciliation, and peace in the NT.  He goes on to say that over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory.

So what do you do with Jesus?  McLaren argues that Jesus isn’t God per se, but only like God bringing us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God (114).  He adds:

The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus . . . [this insight] is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus…provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. [The character of Jesus] is the North Star…to all people, whatever their religious background. The images of God that most resemble Jesus, whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere, are the more mature and complete images. -114

In other words, Jesus is just another part (though the climax) of man's evolutionary understanding of God.  Jesus is like God, but not (in the literal sense) God.  God is a character in the Bible and Jesus wears the costume the best.  McLaren sees in Jesus the ultimate and closest thing to the character of God being lived out in this world.  If one wants to be like God, then we ought to look at the example of Christ.

So what McLaren offers isn't process theology or open theology in the strictest sense, but he certainly raises an interpretation similar to that and is equally dangerous.  The theological challenges this brings forth are numerous.  To begin, if the Bible is nothing more than a conversation about God rather than direct revelation from God, then we still do not know who God is or what He expects of us. In other words, everything we know about God is an educated guess.

This is postmodernism at its best.  Turning the Bible into a conversation allows me, based on my experience and preconceived adulterated assumptions, to pick and choose the aspects I want to believe and to fashion God in any image I want.  If I want God to be love, then I will find such a God in the biblical conversation.  Or if I want to turn God into a postmodern, enlightened deity, then I will see the Bible as an ancient book in where religious people from all walks of life tried their best to understand God but fell far too short as all of us do.  At this point I am free to emphasize God's unworkability without any effort on my part to try to understand Him in any way.

This means that if we don’t know who God is, then we do not know what He demands.  And if we do not know what He commands of us, then we are not responsible for actions.  This is the wholesale rejection of God's holiness, righteousness, jealousy, and wrath.  After all, such concepts in the Bible were just part of a conversation, not real revelation about who God really is. Likewise, if the Bible is simply a conversation then we do not know the gospel by which we can be saved.  Therefore, what is our message?  Finally, all Biblical doctrines are abstract truths that we cannot be certain making the church a collection of seekers of mystery instead of a place for those seeking the truth since the truth cannot be known.

 Though McLaren would likely reject some of these points, it is the logical conclusion of his theology.  McLaren wants his readers to follow the example of Christ, but why bother since even Christ (though came close) was nothing more than an imposter.  If Christ is not God, then how does one live in the manner of God?

This theology fundamentally undermines the biblical doctrine of sin.  In this understanding of Scripture, sin is not necessary sin because God never directly revealed what is sin and what isn’t. Since God is only a character in the biblical narrative, then we can never take that characters word for truth.  Just because that manifestation of the character of God condemned adultery, homosexuality, murder, and violence does not necessarily mean that they are actually sins.  Again, McLaren would reject such an understanding (though he is OK with homosexuality, but not with injustice and violence), but apart from personal beliefs, where in the Bible can we turn to for truths if it is only a conversation instead of direct and divine revelation?  How do I know what is right and wrong unless I turn to some relativistic, experiential, un-transcendent message.  In other words, truth and morality is the by-product of human imagination instead of revelation if the Bible is nothing more than a conversation.

McLaren and others in the Emergent conversation would add that moral truths (and even theological truths) are determined through community and conversation among equals that unite racial, gender, national, and age boundaries.  Until we hear from every walk of life, we cannot have any certainty, but since truth is never anchored, what is true today will not necessarily be true tomorrow.  This means that by their acts McLaren clearly rejects God's immutability (and he has said so elsewhere).  If God is immutable, then His Word and its message is immutable, and any communities' conclusion about truth or morality is irrelevant because God has spoken.

Clearly modern theologian are assaulting this fundamental truth of Scripture.  God is immutable and has declared so in His Word.  Though we may jump through hoops, we cannot miss the reality that God does not change and we are thus accountable for His standards and definitions of truth and morality.  By fundamentally rejecting the immutability of God, theologians like McLaren have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Theology - The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Introduction (Part 1)
Theology - The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Foundation (Part 2)
Theology - The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Challenges (Part 3)
Theology - The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Theological Challenges (Part 4)
Sermon Podcast - April 26, 2010 - The Immutability of God 
Sermon Podcast - November 29, 2009 - The Transcendence of the Gospel
Theology - The Stipulation that Paralyzes:  Tony Jones and the Limits of the Emergent Worldview
Theology - Orthopraxy is Rooted in Orthodoxy - The Postmodern Return to Rome
Commentary - Accomodationism Breed Irrelevancy:  Why Liberalism Fails and the Transcendent Gospel Triumphs
Theology - A Fad Within a Movement:   What is the Emerging Church and Where is it Going?
Reviews - "A New Kind of Christianity"  

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