[An overseer] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9)Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In his blog (AlbertMohler.com) he regularly reviews theological writings. He has recently reviewed books by Rob Bell (Love Wins) and Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christianity). McLaren and Bell are leaders in the 'Emergent Church' movement - younger leaders who are seeking to refresh and renew the church for the new generation. Sadly, some of the things they teach need to be harshly critiqued.
Brian McLaren also recently wrote a response to a review Mohler did of Bell's book. That response in itself demanded a response, which Mohler wrote here on his blog. I thought Mohler's response was in the finest tradition of Titus 1:9. Basically he points out that McLaren and Bell represent the (re)emergence of the old Theological Liberalism - albeit with a postmoderm slant.
It is worth understanding this conversation to understand why these books are causing so much stir.
I will reprint part of Mohler's article below.
A THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION WORTH HAVING: A RESPONSE TO BRIAN McLAREN
Some theological disputes amount to very little and serve mostly as exercises in missing the point, if indeed there is a point. Other doctrinal exchanges are quite different and deal with matters of central and essential concern to the Christian faith. The first sort of dispute is a waste of precious time and energy and should be avoided at all costs. The second sort of debate is a matter of both urgency and importance. The church cannot avoid and should not seek to evade this kind of theological conversation.
That is why a recent essay by Brian McLaren helps us all to understand what is at stake in the controversy over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. Beyond this, his argument reveals a great deal about the actual beliefs and trajectories of what has become known as the emerging church. As such, his essay is a welcome addition to this important conversation.
McLaren, perhaps the best known of the leaders in the emerging church, seeks to defend Rob Bell and to act as his friend. He says that he had been waiting for an opportunity to speak in Bell’s defense, and, evidently my essay, “We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology,” afforded McLaren the opportunity he was seeking.
In his own essay, “Will Love Wins Win? We’re Early in the First Inning,” McLaren uses a baseball metaphor to reject my critique of Rob Bell’s arguments. He asserts that I “rounded first base” by affirming a clear understanding of the Gospel as found in the Scriptures and then suggesting that Rob Bell’s proposals fall short of the Gospel. My problem, according to McLaren, is that I assume that a clear understanding of the Gospel is even possible. According to McLaren, the complexities of interpretation render this claim implausible.
In his words:
Now communication is nearly always tricky, as any of us who are married or are parents know. The speaker has a meaning which is encoded in symbols (words) which then must be decoded by the receiver. That decoding process is subject to all kinds of static - for example, interference from the biases, fears, hopes, politics, vocabulary, and other characteristics of the receiver or the receiver’s community. If the receiver then tries to pass the meaning - as he has decoded it - on to others, there is more encoding and decoding, and more static. That’s why, with so much encoding and decoding and re-encoding going on, the challenge of communication across many cultural time zones is downright monumental.
Communication is indeed “nearly always tricky,” but McLaren’s argument leads to interpretive nihilism. Can we really not know what the Gospel is? If this is true, the church is left with no coherent message at all. All of our attempts to define the right form of the Gospel are just human interpretations, he insists, and we must avoid “excessive confidence” in any telling of the Gospel story. McLaren warns that we must avoid “a naive and excessive confidence,” but that we can retain a “humble confidence.” But his argument leaves us with very little idea of how this “humble confidence” is to be found, since “no articulation of the gospel today can presume to be exactly identical to the original meaning Christ and the apostles proclaimed.”
That statement leaves us with only approximations of the Gospel — some presumably better, some worse. And we would in fact be left with nothing more precise or authoritative than that but for one thing — we have the Bible. We are absolutely dependent upon the New Testament way of telling the Gospel of Christ, and the apostles were determined to pass along the Gospel as a clear and understandable message to others. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” and to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” [2 Timothy 1:13-14]
If we cannot know what the Gospel is, then there is no such thing as the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” [Jude 3] If so, we have nothing definitive to say.
The issues of communication are real, and we should never seek to minimize the challenge of interpretation. But the clarity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture are precisely the means whereby the Lord preserves his church in the Spirit and in truth. It is one thing to cite the challenge of interpretation. It is another thing altogether to suggest that we are left with an insurmountable problem and an indefinite message. This flies directly in the face of biblical claims and commands.
You can read the rest of the article here. - and there is plenty more good stuff to be found there.
(Includes links to articles previously referred to)
(Hat Tip to the ACL website.)