UPDATE: Brian McLaren graciously responds to this post and a previous couple of posts of mine. No one does gracious quite as well as Brian. (Not a snark, simply an observation and a trait of Brian's I can definitely learn from.)
This is my 2nd attempt at reviewing Brian's new book. The first was 3,000 words and I was barely half done. A good friend said, "It looks like you've begun a response to the book, Bill. I thought you were writing a review?" She was right.
Another good friend thought it might be helpful for me to turn my verbosity into questions. A good and helpful point.
I'm going to ask some questions that have come up while reading Brian McLaren's new book A New Kind of Christianity, including all the footnotes. I will do my best to explain why I have those questions.
Let me begin.
Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter's immediate response (the immediacy assumed based on his character) was "You are the Christ (the Messiah), Son of the Living God."
Again, based on my finished reading of Brian's book, I am left with this rather uncomfortable question:
Who do you say Jesus is, Brian?
Is Jesus the second person of the Trinity, as Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!"
Or as the Nicene Creed says "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made."
Should this not be a relatively simple question to answer? Yet it is one I am left asking after finishing Brian's book.
Here's are a few of the reasons I ask the question?
On page 118, you say;
…the character of the living God is like the character of Jesus.
When you see him, you are getting the best view afforded to humans of the character of God.
And then at the top of page 132;
And the term “Christ” or “Messiah” literally means “anointed one,” suggesting a king or leader chosen by God to – like Moses – liberate the people from oppression.
In your 28th footnote for Chapter 18, you interpret Peter in Acts 10:42-42 as "Jesus is appointed by God to be both…"
These are just a few of the places where your description of Jesus confuses me. Now, you have a Master's Degree in English, so I'm pretty sure you know what you mean. My problem is that I don't.
Is "the character of the living God" like Jesus – or is Jesus the very character of the Living God?
Is Jesus the "best view afforded to humans of the character of God" or is Jesus simply God Incarnate?
Was Jesus "chosen by God" or did Jesus choose His way as God. And if Jesus is God, how is He "appointed by God"?
In John 14:9, Jesus tells his disciples: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."
Is He not claiming to be God there? Or am I missing something? Or do you believe He is God and I just don't understand you? Help a brother out here.
Now it would seem that you have a problem with John 14 and the way it's interpreted as you outline in Chapter 19. Particularly John 14:6 where Jesus tells the disciples; "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."
My reading suggests that you simply dismiss what appears an obvious understanding; that Jesus is actually saying He is the Only Way to the Father.
You write that those of us who would think this do not understand that this is a preprogrammed response based on our Greco-Roman understanding. (Page 212)
And about wrestling with that whole Greco-Roman thing. I realize that your entire thesis hangs in the balance on this, but wasn't the Apostle Paul rather Greco-Roman? I know, it's probably a weird place in my questions to ask this question, but I was thinking; Paul was a Roman citizen, who spoke Greek, was trained in the Scriptures, and in Greek thought, and Jesus chose him as the disciple to replace Judas. Right?
So, did God make a mistake? Should he have rather picked a non-Greco Roman type who could have kept the Greco-Roman wrestling out of Christianity? Perhaps Mike Wittmer deals with this better than I do, so I should probably leave that to him.
Anyway, back to John 14:6.
Your interpretation of the passage suggests that if we could only break out of our "dominant position" we would see that Jesus is simply responding to Thomas' fearful question, "Jesus where are you going?" You say he is not commenting, in one way or another, about the many different ways one might find God.
You write that for anyone to suggest that Jesus words have him claiming he is the ONLY way to the Father is "misappropriating them, twisting them, abusing them." (Page 217). Isn't that a little harsh or do you need to be harsh to get through my rather thick skull?
You seem to say that Jesus would never ever suggest that he was the only way.
Would the logical reason for that be because you don't believe he is God Incarnate? Since only God could claim to be the ONLY way. Or am I missing it again?
But what about Jesus telling the scared disciples that if they've seen him, they've seen the Father. Is that just a metaphor?
Which leads me to wonder if you agree with your friend, Marcus Borg, who you footnote a number of times in the book and talk about in your Introduction as one of the people whose "emerging mission" points toward the title of your book.
Borg sees John's Gospel as "the most metaphorical and furthest removed from the deeds and words of Jesus."
He says this about Jesus' "I am the Way statement"
…the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection–the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.
That last line sounds to me a lot like your statement that Jesus is "the best view afforded to humans of the character of God." But I probably don't understand, right? And I really don't want to suggest guilt by association. You should meet some of my friends. Oh right, you have.
And in his book, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (1994) Borg says about Jesus in light of that scholarship,
We are quite certain that Jesus did not think of himself as divine or as the "Son of God" in any unique sense, if at all. If one of his disciples had responded when reportedly asked by Jesus in Mark's gospel, "Who do you say that I am?," with words like those used in the Nicene Creed, we can well imagine that Jesus would have said, "What???"
Oh and Borg goes on to say that "most Jesus scholars" don't buy the Virgin Birth, the Ascension – "..there is a further reason the story cannot be taken literally, namely, one cannot imagine it happening" - or that there will be a literal second coming. They do all agree that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. (But Borg's scholarship folk don't buy the Resurrection, either.)
Are you with Borg here, or do you think he might be a tad confused?
Now, Borg's friend N.T. Wright would be one of those Jesus scholars who definitely would not agree with him. In fact, the good Bishop of Durham says this, (and I confess that I cried when I read it – at the part which I've highlighted),
Let me put it like this. In Paul (and this is really a Pauline conversation, after all), what happens is that the word of the gospel is announced. That is to say, Jesus Christ is proclaimed – one-on-one or in a large meeting or out on the street or whatever, and even though that message is crazy (and Paul knows it’s crazy; he says it’s folly to Gentiles and a scandal to Jews), some people find that it grabs them and they believe it. This is bizarre. I shouldn’t be believing this. A dead man got raised from the dead and he’s the Lord of the world. I really shouldn’t believe this, but it does make sense. And it finds me and I can feel it changing me. Paul’s analysis of that is that this is the power of the word (he has a strong theology of the word), and another equal way of saying it for Paul is that this is the Holy Spirit working through the gospel. He says, no one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Your book suggests that N.T. Wright has greatly helped your understanding of theology, correct?
So my final question would be – Do you think Borg or Wright is correct? Wright believes in the physical resurrection and that the physically resurrected Jesus is now "the Lord of the World".
Borg, well, not so much.
One of them may be Wright – but they both can't be right!
I just can't find the answer to these questions in your book that is all about A New Kind of Christianity.