A Quiet Reflection on QROH
Jamie Sim reported the event in Christian Today online magazine here
Alwyn Lau’s reflections are here,here,and here. I am sure Alwyn has much more to say. David Tan comments on his blog. Another comment is found in Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. It is encouraging to note the conversation is still going on and people are engaging with the experience.
I have prepared myself for this conference by reading all 10 of Brian’s books (which he has autographed), and also whatever I can find on the internet. I engage in conversations with people involved with the emerging church movement. My objective is to learn as much about the emerging church movement as possible. I thank my brothers in the JB Pastor Fellowship for their concern; especially those warned me and sent me emails and reading materials about the dangers of the emerging church. Fortunately, this conference allowed me to have a lot of time of interactions and quiet conversations with Brian McLaren.
Here are a few of my observations:
1. Brian is a gentle soft spoken man. I believe that he is a committed Christian seeking to follow and serve Jesus as we all are doing. I do not believe that he is a charlatan with his own selfish agenda.
2. I do not think Brian is “a threat to the gospel” as reported in a report. However, his interpretation of the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of the gospel is slightly wider than what most evangelicals would allow. However, we need to understand where he is coming from in his definition of gospel. Brian is an excellent communicator and as he tells his stories and illustrations, that we can be so caught up with enjoying the way he tells them that we missed what he is telling us, and more importantly, what he is not saying. It is good that he tells of the two versions of the gospel. One is the gospel of self which can be roughly translated as “I am saved so to hell with the rest of the world.” The other version is the kingdom of God. Brian has not mentioned that there are other versions of the gospel. He also needs to clarify whether he means that the kingdom of God is the gospel. He is not too clear in his talks on that. And he also needs to clarify what he means when he uses the word, “kingdom of God.”
3. Brian's emphasis is on contextualization of the gospel rather than attempting to create a systematic theological definition. As a friend of mine points out, this is akin to Lamin Sanneh’s concept of “translatability.” The gospel is both universal (truth) and particular (culture). Other scholar who may have shaped Brian’s thinking is Lesslie Newbigin (who is a guy in spite of his name) and David Bosch. Brian is in fact being a missionary to the North American church. However, it is relevant to us in Malaysia and Singapore or other part of Asia to examine this “translatability” of the gospel especially in a pluralistic, materialistic, and multicultural context. It is important that we examine the universal and the particular.
4. Brian was a pastor and his approach is mainly pastoral in nature. One needs to understand his approach from this direction. While giving us three illustrations about the emerging church, Brian did not give us much information about the emerging church or on what exactly is an emergent church. He then talks about deep ecclesiology in such a vague way that we are free to interpret the term to mean whatever we want to. It would have been helpful for Brian explain his diagram in respect to “liquid”, “ghost”, and why the vertical arrow is bidirectional. What makes this ecclesiology “deep”? There is a danger that we are so engrossed by high sounding words that we fail to understand what it means.
5. I have problem with his theological construct on which he builds his emerging churches. The emerging churches are strong in practice but weak in theology. This is a weakness that Brian has to address if his theology of model making is to be accepted by the church. Another friend of mine comments that Brian “artificially contrasts between the ‘bad’ timeless propositional model which is a caricature and then puts it beside his model which is vaguely described. The assumption is that his theology has all the qualities which the earlier models lack.” While it is obvious that Brian is influenced by W.T. Wright, we need to, in comparison look at the ecclesiological theology of Barth, Erickson, Luther, and Calvin. His theology is very much influenced by sociology, psychology, politics, pragmatism, secular individualism than by biblical propositions. However I do not think that he is “New Age”, of which he is accused to be associated with by another friend of mine. Still at this moment his theology construct is still weak.
6. Though he claims to be post-modern, he is very ‘modern’ in the way he thinks. I do not see how one can think of God, the Trinity and the gospel without being propositional. In his last talk in the conference about the world, he gives his analysis of the problems of the world. His reasoning reminds me of the theories of Karl Marx and Nietszche. His answer, as in all his other three presentations is simplistic without much offering in the sense of how do we translate his concepts to action.
7. His definition of theology as “an ongoing creative enterprise of making models of the universe based on beliefs about God” was presented at the STM lecture. I was disappointed that the many STM theologians present did not engage in this definition. It sounds too universalistic and scary for many evangelicals. I would like to know what limitations does he place on his model making and what hermeneutic role does the Bible plays in his theology.
8. He is concerned about the weaknesses of the institutional church, and I share his concern that we are losing a large number of our younger people from the church. Would the model of emerging church be an answer?
9. Brian is articulate, intelligent, and well meaning. I have enjoyed his company. I believe we should listen to what he has to say. The least we can do is to offer him Christian hospitality which means that we listen to one another. However, we must critically reflect on what he says. We need to examine his propositions in the light of the Word of God. Finally, we need to come to our own conclusions, not depending on the conclusions of others.
This is not a criticism of Brian and should not be taken as such. These are some of my reflections and of a few other pastors and theologians I have spoken to. There are still a lot of questions and even more answers are needed. I value Brian as a friend. Hey, we had Yee Sang on Chap Goh May. I believe that he has an important message for us here in Asia. At the very least, I can tell my grandchildren (when I have them) that I once shared the stage with Brian McLaren.