Five Theological Turnings, 2
I finished the second McLaren session from the Abilene Christian University Lectureship, and he was again fairly interesting in his diagnosis of a number of problems within the church, but his read on them exposes some antipathy to conservative viewpoints.
He talks some about atonement, and describes penal-substitution this way: “God needs to destroy us and torture us forever in Hell. And God can’t vent God’s anger unless there is someone to vent the anger on. And so God decides to send his son…and God vents his wrath on Jesus instead of venting his wrath on all of us.” He immediatel admits that his didn’t describe it “gracefully”, but that he was “being very crude”. But that doesn’t wash off the uncharitible, and truly misleading explanation of penal-substitution. He just left it there, and moved on.
He was quite generous to the other three atonement theories he described…none other got this type of treatment, so his disdain for it is clear, if you’re listening.
One of the things that bothers me, aside from this type of thing (which he does several times), is that one of his major points is that a problem we suffer from is trying to fit all of God, Jesus, and the Gospel into one metaphor. But his decision is that all the metaphors are bad, and we need a new one, rather than using these metaphors like Jesus’ parables: all are true and descriptive, but none is all encompassing.
Each of the 4 theories of atonement he menitioned – ransom, Christus Victor, PSA, and Moral Influence – have a great deal of truth, and when taken as a tapestry, they are a fuller description than any one can be. I personally think that PSA is the most important of the four, but they are all accurate and true to the character of God.
I quite agree with a good deal of what he said about Revelation and other apocalyptic literature, in acknowledging that some of what is written about in Revelation has to do with Rome.
He also, while rightfully opposing the idea of “impassibility”, which he describes as God not experiencing emotion or suffering, he leapfrogs to dismantling “immutablity”. He says that if God experiences suffering, he is experiencing something he hasn’t experienced before. “He has a life.” But it’s quite a leap from saying that God experiences emotion to saying God changes.
God created emotion and has knowledge of everything, so what could be new to him? Whereas for us knowing about something and knowing it are different, God knows and knows about with perfection. So what is new to him? Nothing. What of the testimony to his unchanging nature in the Bible? Is that meaningless?
And if God can change for the better, can’t he change for the worse as well? The idea of God’s “mutability” seems to be influenced by the idea of the “march of progress”. All things are getting better, so why not God? But if God is truly holy and eternal, he doesn’t change.
McLaren is far left of me theological, though after a shallow appraisal he seems more evangelical than a number of the people he associates with. I have one more lecture to listen to, which is about evangelism, which is one thing that I have strongly agreed with him on in the past, so maybe it will hold some good things for me.