Sexuality, Eschatology, Pluralism
This one will cover a lot of different ground but I’m not sure I have a lot to say for any of them that I haven’t said elsewhere, so I’m still going to stick these three very different questions into one post.
Question 7: Sexuality
The majority of the chapter – and it was just a single chapter for this question, albeit a fairly long chapter – deals with the current controversial issue of homosexuality. If you click on the tag for homosexuality you’ll see a few posts I’ve done on this before. Interestingly, I did largely tackle the issue from a conservative viewpoint, using what McLaren would call a constitutional reading (although not a literalistic reading) of Scripture. I came to a different conclusion of why I don’t think homosexuality is a sin but I actually did it through that semi-conservative epistemology.
McLaren’s approach was an interesting different one, neither liberal nor conservative. He drew on Scripture, but not in a legalistic sense. He talked about the general expanding of who is included within the Kingdom of God that is seen throughout Scripture and throughout church history since. But it got really interesting when he used the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. One of the earliest converts and then missionaries, and definitely one of the first non-Jewish converts, was also not heterosexual. He would not have been accepted to fully worship in Jerusalem, which the story tells us he was coming back from trying to do, much like most GLBT’s today. Phillip throws aside those rules of the sexual “other” and sees no problem with baptizing him. That’s the Gospel at work right there. Even though if you still conclude the activity is wrong, and you are free to respectfully disagree (McLaren himself didn’t make a direct statement either way), that is still the kind of love we are called to.
McLaren briefly touches on other questions of sexuality such as the premarital sex debate since most Christians say that’s a no-no but do it anyway (he provides some good stats if you haven’t encountered them elsewhere). He didn’t try to give an opinion on whether it is “right” or “wrong” or whether he believed such a division was possible, but just stopped at saying that we need to have that conversation. Kinda annoying – I wish he had given another entire chapter to this. It’s all well and good to say we have to have the conversation, but unlike every other topic he didn’t give us any conversation material to work with.
Question 8: Eschatology
Check my tag eschatology for my various posts on this topic, mostly around the most recent highly-publicized Rapture date back in May. Specifically, my post The End of the World Was Near! dealt with some of the more general theological disagreements I have with Camping’s dispensational view. Much of McLaren’s points lined up with mine there: the idea of the world being destroyed, the idea of the Kingdom of God being only something for the future, the idea of us good Christians escaping the bad non-Christians because we believed the right things, the certainty of who is in and who is out, etc. None of it is particularly biblical and one of the things I find the most amazing is that it didn’t start until the visions of a Plymouth Brethren woman in the 1830’s and then it exploded to become the main eschatology of evangelicals who now assume it as obvious and central even though nobody in the first 1800 years even thought of it, let alone thought it was obvious.
As McLaren has been doing all throughout the book, he attempts to shatter the 6-line Greco-Roman narrative and replace it with a more 3-dimensional Hebrew narrative. He points out a lot of things that have the potential to turn into self-fulfilling prophecy. If God is going to destroy the world anyway, why don’t we help him out with our poor environmental practices and our weapons? If God requires that there be another Temple in Jerusalem, then screw the Muslims, we need to make sure that no non-Jews are in Israel. If non-Christians are doomed anyway, why bother talking to them, learning from them, loving them? If God is going to violently wipe out all of our enemies, why don’t we start the process for him? So those people who think that will lead to the end of the world are quite possibly right because they’ll end it. But what if we had a loving vision of the future instead, where God doesn’t just annihilate non-Christians but he actually loves them? We could create that future too.
Question 9: Pluralism
As with the first two, I’ve tackled this one before too, most strongly in the post Views of Other Religions. Interestingly, McLaren does not try to give any kind of theology of exactly who is in and who is out. Instead, he tries to get us to discard the whole us-them dichotomy. Even if some are going to Heaven and some are going to Hell, which he doesn’t address one way or another, our job is still live in a world of “us” with no “them”, doing crazy things like loving our enemies which often means loving other religions. He then spends a lot of time with John 14:6 and shows how in context it has nothing to do with who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell; it is not a statement of one religion over any other, but the constitutional Bible reading allows us to just pick that verse out of its context and apply it to whatever we want, which in contemporary Christianity usually means applying it to condemn non-Christians.