Yesterday, I watched Brian McLaren present his view of the Gospel as “Your kingdom come to earth.” Brian is one of my favorite heretics. His beliefs are heavily influenced by deconstructionist views of Scripture, and always appear to be foundationally sound at first. Unfortunately, his presentation often obscures his view of Scripture. His view of Jesus is very closely related to that of the Jesus Seminar, which views Jesus primarily as a good teacher while getting muddy on whether Jesus was who he claimed to be and whether the Scriptures are genuinely authoritative or not.
Taking Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 as his basis, McLaren essentially stated in his talk that people misunderstand the gospel when they make it about your eternal destiny. He believes that Jesus believed the Gospel was about bringing the Kingdom to earth – in every sense.
Certainly, the present tense of the gospel is neglected in much of the evangelical churches of the world. As I said in one of my recent messages, what God desires more than a big party at the end of the world, is a people who are connected to Him.
My disagreement with McLaren lies in his oversimplified reliance on Jesus’ words. I know, this sounds like blasphemy, but it is true. I think that McLaren has exalted Jesus’ words over Jesus’ life. He has essentially cut the apostles’ teachings entirely out of the gospel, reducing it to Jesus’ teachings. As I said, on the surface, his statements seem foundationally sound, but I have a question about the way McLaren quotes Jesus.
Was Jesus presenting a normative truth to us, or was he being catalytic?
Jesus’ words are not normative of the Gospel since the Gospel is about him. There can be no doubt that Paul and the other apostles believed the Good News was about Jesus. To reduce the Good News to a statement that is not about Jesus, even if it is said by Jesus, is to rob the Gospel of its core truth. Thus, Jesus’ statement is not normative.
If it is not normative, is it catalytic? A catalyst is a material introduced to a reaction to accelerate the reaction. The catalyst remains unchanged through the reaction but affects all other reagents.
Jesus entered the entire human dialogue as a catalyst. He transformed those around him, preparing them for the work ahead of them. Jesus entered the world and presented a teaching of the world that exists in him, but it does not predicate belief in him. In order to live in the “kingdom come” stage, we must first accept the gospel. Jesus’ words are the teachings of the result of people’s interaction with Him, and not the definition of what it means to interact with Him.
Let’s put it this way. Jesus’ life IS the gospel. His teachings are for those who follow the Gospel. The Gospel is not confined to what Jesus taught. Jesus’ teachings are the economy of the Kingdom, but He is the Door, the Way, the Life of the Kingdom. We can only approach his teachings through faith in His life, death and resurrection.
McLaren’s version of the gospel involves nothing supernatural and certainly nothing divine about Jesus. It says that Jesus came to teach, not to forgive and heal. It says that essentially Jesus’ work was not the redemption of mankind but the teaching of mankind. This simply does not line up with the teachings of the apostles.