|Brian McLaren: Answer to John Franke's Prayer?|
|The Return of the Solas? Exegesis & Reviews for the Diaspora|
|Written by John Ronning|
|Monday, 19 March 2007|
At the end of the first chapter of their 2001 book Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), co-authors Stan Grenz and John Franke say,
[Aside: The preface makes clear that this is "a truly coauthored book," in that the collaboration between the authors produced "a book that represents in its entirety the work and theological position of both authors" (ibid., x).]
Brian McLaren obliged this hope and prayer by writing a book called a Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004 and 2006), for which John Franke wrote an approving foreword. My purpose here is not to give a comprehensive review of either of these books. What I intend to do rather is to look at the issue of Brian McLaren and homosexuality, and show how his position could be justified by what Grenz and Franke wrote in Beyond Foundationalism.
Grenz appreciated McLaren’s work enough to get him an honorary doctorate from Carey Theological College (2004).
Neither Grenz nor Franke have promoted anything like what Brian McLaren has been saying on this issue recently; my point is rather that their book does provide philosophical justification for what McLaren has done. It looks to me like any objection against what McLaren has done that comes from someone who adopts the reasoning and conclusions of Beyond Foundationalism can be met with convincing counter-arguments from that same book.
On January 23, 2006, Brian McLaren said this in the course of a discussion of how to address the issue of homosexuality in a pastoral way:
McLaren has said much worse since then, but we’ll get to that later.
Many comments for and against McLaren’s position were posted and can be seen on the same web page. Here is one that was against (I’ve corrected a couple obvious errors):
We could summarize this position as follows: the Bible is clear on the issue of homosexuality, it is just as clear as on the issue of adultery. In fact, homosexuality is one of the more serious sins since the word "abomination" is used to describe it (Lev 18:22), just as in the case of adultery (Lev 18:26, cf. v. 20). All Brian McLaren has to do is look at the Bible and then there is no question, no need for a moratorium, right?
So why doesn’t McLaren "just follow the Bible"? Why doesn’t he realize that the Holy Spirit has already spoken on this issue, and the record of it is in scripture? Maybe because he’s just doing what Grenz and Franke have taught him to do. For starters, they have taught him to avoid equating "the word of God" with the Bible:
"Came to be equated" assumes a relatively recent historical (19th century "modernist") development with which Grenz & Franke disagree.
They have also taught McLaren that we need to listen to the Spirit speaking through scripture:
This is not the same as saying that the words of God recorded in scripture, or the words of the inspired authors of scripture, constitute the message of the Holy Spirit to us today. So when Lev 18:22 and other passages are read, McLaren has been taught to ask, "How is the Holy Spirit speaking through this text?" And McLaren can also listen for the voice of the Spirit speaking to this issue from other seemingly unrelated texts as well, such as "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unclean" (Acts 10:15; 11:9). (I’m not kidding; I read someone on an Emergent Village blog quote this text for this purpose).
Notice that this is wide open for a neo-orthodox interpretation, with which we can contrast Heb 3:7; "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice’" (quoting the words of Scripture [Psalm 95] as what the Holy Spirit says; which is not the same as saying "The Spirit speaks through Psalm 95", or "listen for what the Holy Spirit says while Psalm 95 is being read" [which might be quite different from what the words themselves say]).
So, when McLaren says he hasn’t found a position "which seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us" he is doing what Franke has taught him to do; he is listening for the Spirit speaking through scripture. The man who says that the Bible is clear and we should just follow the Bible merely betrays his foundationalist, modernist mind set; McLaren has gone beyond foundationalism.
The following post endorsing McLaren’s view (same web page) seems ridiculous, absurd, and self-contradictory to those who think the Bible is clear on homosexuality. But to one who has been schooled in the thought of Beyond Foundationalism, it’s quite logical:
So, you see, the Holy Spirit can speak a message today that is directly contrary to what one reads in scripture: all you have to do is "listen" properly.
Here is another quote from Beyond Foundationalism that would tell McLaren that the inerrantist view of scripture probably held by the man quoted above was a 19th century development that does not reflect historic Christianity; it is an "Evangelical Modernist" view of scripture that needs to be rejected.
Again, the language "came to conclude" indicates that Grenz & Franke see this view of scripture as a 19th century development, an innovation which was a reaction to modernism rather than a faithful passing on of how Christians of previous generations viewed the Bible. They then repeatedly refer to Hodge and his successors (which would include BTS founders such as Bob Dunzweiler, responsible for producing BTS’s current doctrinal statement) as "Evangelical Modernists." Leaving aside the historical question (it seems to me to be an absurd understanding of church history and the Bible itself; see Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 2, Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology [Baker, 2003]; also see Jeffrey Jue, "What’s Emerging in the Church,"), we should ask in light of this view how Franke can yearly sign a doctrinal statement which contains such a "modernist" view of scripture which he rejects in Beyond Foundationalism:
The old preamble to the BTS doctrinal statement (which has been replaced on BTS’s web site) calls this statement (contrary to Franke’s opinion) "that of historic Biblical Christianity in its Reformed expression." (See here for the new preamble).
And then there is the Evangelical Theological Society doctrinal statement on inerrancy which, in November 2006 was clarified by referring to the Chicago statement on inerrancy (by a 90% vote), which includes the following statements:
ETS founding member Roger Nicole commented:
Another quote from Grenz and Franke:
Grenz & Franke write as if they don’t know the difference between real Christians and unbelievers; these two differ only in degree, not in substance. The statement suggests at the very least that affirmation of the BTS doctrinal statement on the Bible is a trivial matter, it’s not important, and the historicity of the Bible need not be affirmed amidst the attacks of liberals.
The danger of substituting systematic theology, catechism, doctrinal statements, whatever, for scripture is real. But has Franke’s postfoundationalism actually helped guard him from this danger? It seems rather that he is one of the more noteworthy examples of this error. As we show elsewhere, John Franke stands up at ETS and gives a paper which quotes Barth as if it was the Bible. John Franke wrote a series of four articles on theological method for Reformation and Revival Journal (2004), 54 pages without a single quote from scripture. Who is he to talk about the silencing of the Bible?
When I went to Biblical Seminary (1976-79), under this "Evangelical Modernist" model according to which scripture was supposedly silenced, we had chapel, as I recall, four times a week. No one ever got up and read from Hodge or Warfield. I can still remember some of "modernist" theology professor Bob Dunzweiler’s scriptural expositions in chapel. Almost 30 years later I remember being virtually spellbound as he expounded on John 11.
Grenz and Franke have also taught McLaren that one must listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit in tradition and in culture. They have even said that it is wrong to ask whether scripture has priority over tradition (this while putting themselves forward as reformers!):
Here again Grenz and Franke reveal how far they are from biblical thinking; this statement would condemn Jesus as a false teacher since he clearly placed scripture over tradition in his criticism of the pharisees: "You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt 15:6). Amazingly, in a chapter on tradition as a source of theology, there is NO discussion of the New Testament teaching on the necessity to avoid the trap of following the traditions of men!
Besides scripture and tradition, Grenz and Franke identify culture as a source for theology. So we can see what McLaren is waiting for during his proposed five year moratorium, during which "we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course." He’s listening for "the wind of the Spirit" to speak not just through scripture, but through tradition and culture. Amazingly, in all their discussion of tradition and culture, Grenz and Franke sound no warning to the effect that the world lies under the power of the evil one, that tradition has constantly been used to subvert the scriptures, that the devil speaks through tradition and culture. No warning, for example, not to listen to someone like postmodern, postfoundationalist theologian Dale Martin, (also Marxist and homosexual):
What has Brian McLaren been up to during his moratorium on the issue of homosexuality, when he said we should say nothing? His endorsement of Sex and the Single Savior appears on the back cover of this vile book which came out about a half year into this supposed moratorium:
I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, after all, McLaren said that during this moraturium "We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology" (see above), and Dale Martin is a scholar and a theologian. McLaren also lists Sex and the Single Savior as one of his favorites from 2006, in a list prefaced with the comment, "In 2006 I read so many excellent books, old and new. Here are about 20 of my favorites." Also making the list is Peter Rollins, How (not) to Speak of God, in which Rollins recounts holding a QUEER service at his Ikon community, which ended with a poem (p. 137):
McLaren calls this book "one of the most important contributions to date to the emergent church conversation."
Am I really saying that Beyond Foundationalism provides justification for Brian McLaren "listening for the voice of the Spirit" in Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior? Yes, I am. Here is the argument:
You see, all life comes from the Spirit, Dale Martin is alive, Dale Martin is a part of some culture which flourishes because of the work of the Spirit, so Brian McLaren can listen for the voice of the Spirit "bubbling to the surface" through Dale Martin’s books, which are an example of "artifacts and symbols [which] humans construct."
A worthy term paper subject would be, "How many ways is this argument unbiblical?" The Spirit of God is everywhere, whether there is life there or not. Life flourishes through a propagation of the original creation as described in Genesis 1, not by specific de novo creative acts in the present. Thus the creative act of the Spirit in forming human culture goes back to the creation of Adam and Eve. To speak of this original creative act as producing human cultures today, without taking into account the effects of the fall on mankind, whereby all human cultures are evil and opposed to God, despite positive features in such cultures due to common grace and remnants of the image of God in man, is gross error. Why should we "listen for the voice of the Spirit" in cultures produced by those who are enslaved to the devil and need to be set free by the Spirit? This argument would also make the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and the Hindu scriptures to be sources of Christian theology, as they are, after all, products of the flourishing of human life from the life-giving Spirit.
And why focus on culture? If the argument was logically valid, then we could say that vegetation and animal life are also potential sources of theology. So let’s go down to the farm and listen for the voice of the Spirit from Wilbur the pig and the stacks of hay. And why stop at life; the Spirit of God created the whole universe, so why not make all of creation a source for theology? Maybe the reason is that making the inanimate creation, vegetation, and animal life a source of theology doesn’t fit Grenz & Franke’s agenda, but making culture a source for theology does.
But the logic of the argument is beyond stupid. It is wicked subversion of the truth, and faithful shepherds should warn the Lord’s people not to put themselves under the influence of such unfaithful teachers.
Brian McLaren is a problem for Biblical Seminary because of their mutual associations and endorsements. John Franke has a leadership position in Emergent Village, as does Brian McLaren. Dave Dunbar quotes Brian McLaren at the beginning of his 11 minute talk on the seminary’s vision, "If you have a new world, you need a new church." McLaren’s book a Generous Orthodoxy is quoted in Biblical Seminary’s eight page case statement for transforming seminary education. McLaren endorses BTS’s LEAD MDiv program: "I am genuinely enthusiastic about Biblical’s LEAD MDiv program. Biblical is pioneering a holistic approach to training leaders for tomorrow’s church, and the concept is fantastic." And John Franke wrote a favorable foreword to a Generous Orthodoxy, in which he said:
Biblical Seminary Board member John Armstrong said the following about "The Value of Listening to Brian McLaren" on July 18, 2006 (a few months before McLaren's endorsement of Martin's book came out):
A prophet for what god, John? Wouldn't a truly prophetic voice have been exposing Brian McLaren as a false prophet?
John Franke and Dave Dunbar have testified to a sense of betrayal by Brian McLaren’s endorsement of Dale Martin’s book. My response is two-fold: (1) now you know how we feel about what you have done with Biblical Theological Seminary; (2) Brian McLaren is doing exactly what Franke has taught him to do, using his methodology, even if he disagrees with his conclusions. And how can one argue against McLaren’s position without becoming "foundationalist" about the issue?
Actually, I would say that Franke has written things as bad as McLaren, because Franke, along with McLaren, is promoting idolatry, as I argue in my essay "The Emerging Churches in the Book of Judges." The whole idea of "generous orthodoxy" as used by Grenz, Franke, and McLaren is syncretism between liberalism and evangelicalism, and syncretism is a form of idolatry. We cannot mix the merely-human, dead-and-buried Jesus of liberalism with New Testament Christianity and get anything but another religion with another god.
Back to the first quote from McLaren; he said that his position of non-clarity on homosexuality "alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think." This middle ground position between liberals and conservatives is what one would expect from someone who has read and absorbed the thinking of Beyond Foundationalism:
So, you see, McLaren has gone beyond looking "to an error–free Bible" or the alternative, "religious experience" to guide him on the issue of homosexuality. He is sophisticated and thus has gotten beyond foundationalism (unlike us epistemological dinosaurs), which means he "listens for the voice of the Spirit" (wait a minute: isn’t that a "religious experience"?) in all sorts of places. It’s a tough job, and it’s going to take some time. His syncretism of liberalism and evangelicalism leaves some on both sides unhappy, but he’s willing to take the heat. This new religion is worth fighting for. As gay marriage advocate Phyllis Tickle writes, in another foreword to the paperback edition, McLaren is the new Martin Luther and his book a Generous Orthodoxy is his 95 theses. Here he stands, etc.
In the quote above, much of which is repeated by Franke in his foreword to a Generous Orthodoxy, Franke writes as if he doesn’t even know the difference between a regenerate and an unregenerate human being (the division between liberals & conservatives is not one of faith / unbelief, but just different manifestations of the error of seeking certain knowledge!). One gets the same flavor from the rest of Beyond Foundationalism. So it should not be surprising that there is no discussion by disciple McLaren of the new birth and the consequent cleansing from the sin of homosexuality of which Paul speaks (1 Cor 6:9–11), and many throughout history have testified.
Biblical Seminary could completely rid itself of all mention of Brian McLaren, but, sadly, there is a bigger problem closer at hand, and that is John Franke. I suggest that John Franke's endorsement of McLaren's (idolatrous) a Generous Orthodoxy is no less repugnant to God than Brian McLaren's endorsement of Martin's (sexually perverse) Sex and the Single Savior. Idolatry and sexual perversion are together on the Romans 1 road. Brian McLaren is just a symptom of the problems that come from applying Grenz's and Franke's theological approach, and no doubt many others will be inspired by Grenz and Franke to listen for the voice of the Spirit bubbling up through all sorts of perverse artifacts of human culture.
The following quote from a review by Paul Helms of another book by Franke, The Character of Theology, seems just as appropriate here:
Has John Franke’s prayer for a generous orthodoxy been answered in the person and ministry of Brian McLaren? Or has Brian McLaren come along to demonstrate the depravity that may be justified by the nice sounding expression "generous orthodoxy" as expounded by Grenz and Franke in Beyond Foundationalism? And what would prevent us from concluding that Dale Martin himself is simply putting into practice this manifesto for the emerging church movement?
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