As many of you know, over the past year and a half, I’ve read many books by Emergent authors in an attempt to better understand where they’re coming from and what they have to say. One such author that I’ve particularly enjoyed reading the works of is Brian McLaren, so when I saw that Brian was speaking at Highland Baptist Church here in Louisville this Sunday, I jumped at the chance to attend. Earlier tonight, Teresa and I joined a mass of other people who were interested to here what McLaren had to say.
Tonight, Brian was speaking about the topic of one of his recent books, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, a book I read last year and, more or less, enjoyed. In the book, and in his message tonight, Brian takes a look at the major crises facing our world at the current time, what causes them, the outlooks people have on them, why they continue, and what Jesus has to say about them. I found his talk tonight to be much more entertaining and engaging than the book itself, and was deeply convicted as he spoke of poverty, violence, and other such issues that the church collectively shrugs their shoulders at as we continue to argue over tertiary theological issues.
After leading a song inspired by the Lord’s prayer, Brian took questions regarding his message. Knowing that there were other seminarians in the crowd, I was hopeful that since Brian hadn’t said anything blatantly heretical that everyone would refrain from opening up other topics that most of conservative Christianity have issues with regarding McLaren. However, after the pastor said that Brian could take one more question before ending the evening . . . it came. Brian was asked point blank on his views of hell.
After an awkward and silly exchange between the question asker and Brian, laughter from the crowd at the question being presented, and an expected evasion of the question itself by McLaren, I was left feeling less than enthused.
I’m not here to defend McLaren’s theology on hell. I’m also certainly not here to tell you that we need to keep up the firepower until guys like Brian McLaren give us an answer that helps us sleep better at night. What I am here to say is that it is of vital importance that we find a way to work together and use our God given strengths to our advantage for the glory of God and for the good of the hurting people of this world.
What Brian McLaren had to say tonight is something a large portion of safe, conservative, right wing, Christianity needs to hear. The message of Christ’s atonement on the cross is something that the other side needs to incorporate into their message of social justice and healing. The fact of the matter is, Jesus had much to say about ALL of these things, because He apparently saw all of these issues as being of extreme importance. The problem is that the church is apparently at an impasse on these issues with neither side willing to budge or listen to the other side without mockery, anger, or at best, a ridiculous question and answer session where one side decides to take the spotlight and try and get their point across by force, no matter how ridiculous it looks.
On the ride home, Teresa and I were fuming about the question that had no place, given the subject matter, the crowd’s reaction to the whole situation, and what a frustrating ending it was to a good evening. After posing the question, “How are we ever going to be able to work together,” Teresa reminded me of our church at Sojourn, who is not only Gospel-centered, but reaching into the hurt, poor, and downtrodden in the community surrounding us and seeking to bring healing. In a couple of weeks, the church will be open for an entire weekend with doctors, nurses, and church members who will be taking in anyone who needs medical assistance, at no cost, in hopes of providing care for those who can’t afford it.
Our church isn’t perfect. It gets messy at times. However, I believe that Scripture makes it clear that for all of this to work, it’s going to get a little messy. It’s going to be hard and people are going to disagree on things and have to lay down their pride and work together. Somehow, I hope that the church as a whole can embrace this idea and find a way to do this, if at all possible. After the question and answer session as people filed downstairs to have refreshments, I was surprised to see that Brian McLaren had come in a side door to the room we were in and was sitting at a table alone. I took the chance to go introduce myself and tell him that I appreciated his message tonight. I also told him that we had differences, but that I hoped that we could all find a way to accomplish the things that God has put before us nonetheless. After asking some questions to Teresa and myself, I think he had a good feeling of where we were coming from and he seemed to express mutual feelings about finding a way to cooperate.
I’ve only been able to see glimpses of how all this works. I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that while we continue to point fingers and argue about our disagreements, thousands of lives are being lost to preventable diseases, millions go hungry, millions more are oppressed and hopeless, and the name of Jesus has not entered enough of these places. I hope this post hasn’t been offensive, I’m certainly not going for that. I just want to start discussion that will hopefully lead to action.