March 25, 2017

September 4, 2016

Jesus Christ, Moral Reformer

Brian McLaren is one of the leading apostles of Jesus the Liberal Politician. That makes him irresistible to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:

One puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders.

Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays.

I don’t know about you, but I get really tired of newspaper columnists who don’t bother to listen to any contrary opinion, and hence wind up repeating the same idiotic talking points over and over again. Yo, Nick, listen up: Jesus never mentioned the environment or climate change either, but you go gaga every time the Pope plumps for recycling. And Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality because it wasn’t even slightly controversial in his day, so there was no need. Finally, if saying “homosexual behavior is wrong” is “demonizing gays,” maybe you should stop criticizing, well, anybody for anything.

“Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for,” notes Brian D. McLaren, a former pastor, in a provocative and powerful new book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”

Who suddenly has become an authority on and critic of world religions, apparently.

Founders are typically bold and charismatic visionaries who inspire with their moral imagination, while their teachings sometimes evolve into ingrown, risk-averse bureaucracies obsessed with money and power. That tension is especially pronounced with Christianity, because Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment

Kristof claims in this column to be “not a particularly religious Christian,” and it really shows in this twaddle. Jesus did not “inspire with [his] moral imagination.” If that was all he was about, he’d be no more historically or theologically consequential than Hubert Humphrey. He wasn’t about inspiration at all. He was about salvation through total transformation–from death to life–of the individual and all creation. He was about telling the unvarnished truth, no matter who didn’t like it. He was about God coming to humanity when it was dead in its trespasses and sins. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the institutional church often has been and is sclerotic, bureaucratic, co-opted by the world, and more concerned about its own privileges and power. But the answer to that is not to turn Jesus into an advocate of moral uplift, which was exactly what he came to oppose.

“No wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?’” McLaren writes. “We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped and held hostage by extremists. His captors parade him in front of cameras to say, under duress, things he obviously doesn’t believe. As their blank-faced puppet, he often comes across as anti-poor, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and anti-science. That’s not the Jesus we met in the Gospels!”

No, the Jesus we meet in the Gospels is the spitting image of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, amirite? Where exactly in the Gospels does Jesus come across as the scourge of climate change deniers? Or advocate for transgender men using women’s bathroom facilities? Or rubber-stamp for every passing academic fad, no matter how ludicrous?

The rise of the nones seems to have been accompanied by a decline in public interest in doctrine. “One of the most religious countries on earth,” Stephen Prothero says in his book “Religious Literacy,” referring to the U.S., “is also a nation of religious illiterates.”

Only half of American Christians can name the four Gospels, only 41 percent are familiar with Job, and barely half of American Catholics understand Catholic teaching about the eucharist. Yet if Americans suspect that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or wonder if the epistles were female apostles, then maybe the solution is to fret less about doctrines and more about actions.

Right. The answer to religious illiteracy is to encourage…religious illiteracy! What Kristof is saying here is the functional equivalent of saying that the answer to growing American ignorance about history (their own or anyone else’s) is to be sure that everyone can change the oil in their cars. How about we try a both/and instead of an either/or, hmmm?

It also bears pointing out that actions are not self-generating. People do the things they do for reasons. They may not be good reasons, or well thought out, but they are real. That being the case, it is emphatically not the responsibility of the church to wave its arms and say, “y’all go do some good.” It is to teach what constitutes the good, and the right, and the true, and the foundation in the nature and works of God in Christ upon which they are constructed. But, of course, that would mean grounding what the church teaches and exhorts its members to do in the revelation of God, rather than today’s fashionable politics.

“What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?” McLaren asks in “The Great Spiritual Migration.” “Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”

McLaren advises worrying less about whether biblical miracles are literally true and thinking more about their meaning: If Jesus is said to have healed a leper, put aside the question of whether this actually happened and focus on his outreach to the most stigmatized of outcasts.

And Obamacare. He should have mentioned Obamacare.

I’m sure Brian McLaren–and his megaphone–think they are being terribly avant-garde and counter-cultural by propagating this nonsense. But the truth is that it was already tired and worn out when Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand over a hundred years ago.

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Jesus never taught about cannibalism or necromania. Another argument ex nihilo.

[1] Posted by Pb on 9-4-2016 at 04:32 PM · [top]

So how are learn about Jesus in this brave new world? From the mouth of McClaren and the NYT of course! Two reliable sources 😉...

[2] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 9-4-2016 at 08:12 PM · [top]

If there’s anything remotely redeeming in the referenced column, it’s that Nicholas Kristof describes Brian McLaren as a “former pastor.” I’d sure hate to see what McLaren’s influence would be were he still in the pulpit.

[3] Posted by the virginian on 9-5-2016 at 01:20 PM · [top]

Thanks for reading this ill-informed Kristof column so I didn’t have to.

[4] Posted by Katherine on 9-5-2016 at 03:38 PM · [top]

Hey, that’s what they pay me the big bucks for, Katherine!


[5] Posted by David Fischler on 9-5-2016 at 07:38 PM · [top]

How ‘bout Jesus never mentioned anything in the Old Testament unless it was to bring new understanding of one of the Laws? He didn’t need to drill the apostles on the Law and the Prophets, they were all practicing Jews. If he didn’t mention a particular law, that means the traditional understanding of that law remains unchanged. (Or, to put it another way, Jesus changed some of the purity laws as regards food, etc. but the moral laws remain unchanged.)

[6] Posted by The Little Myrmidon on 9-6-2016 at 10:18 AM · [top]

“No wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?’”


Actually, I ask myself that question quite frequently.  For entirely different reasons, of course.

[7] Posted by Jim the Puritan on 9-6-2016 at 07:13 PM · [top]

The Left wants Jesus to be plain vanilla nice with all of the moral heft of Ellen Degeneres.  Less threatening that way.

[8] Posted by Nikolaus on 9-6-2016 at 10:36 PM · [top]

Isn’t that a cute little plastic Jesus all made up like Nicky?

Or is the plastic Jesus that looks like Brian cuter?

I wonder which one is on the dashboard of their personal vehicle?

[9] Posted by dwstroudmd+ on 9-8-2016 at 11:13 AM · [top]

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