Though Brian McLaren is not a preterist, he has strong ties to certain preterists today who either implicitly or explicitly advocate religious syncretism, neo-Universalism, radical theological feminism, and other anti-Christian "isms." On page 179 of The Secret Message of Jesus, McLaren cites "transmillennial"(1) New-Ager and syncretist, Jay Gary. McLaren characterizes him as one who "brilliantly" teaches biblical truth. On page 233, McLaren refers his readers to "transmillennialist" Tim King and his Universalism-promoting website, Presence.tv.
Planet Preterist has been promoting McLaren and his books. Planet Preterist's 2005 conference was called "Preterism, A Generous Orthodoxy," after McLaren's book of the same name. The owner of Planet Preterist, Virgil Vaduva, attended and promoted the 2006 "Emergent Conversation" at Yale in February of 2006. (Tim King was also in attendance.) Vaduva gushed that he had the chance to meet "the emergentmeister himself, Brian McLaren" at the conference. Vaduva has said that Planet Preterist "communicate[s] the same openness and understanding" that McLaren advocates. He has also said that "...many of us [preterists] are ready to move on into the theological space which Brian [McLaren] introduced us to a few years ago."
Virgil Vaduva has expressed puzzlement though that there is "uneasiness displayed towards [Brian McLaren] by some critics, including some in our own [preterist] movement." Vaduva is correct that some, or many, preterists are uneasy with Brian McLaren and his "emergent" doctrines. The reason though is not a mystery. If you, the reader, are not familiar with McLaren's teachings, and if you believe in Sola Scriptura, then you will see by the end of this review why you should be "uneasy" (to say the least) about McLaren and his "emergent" doctrines. And you will see why you should be uneasy about McLaren-friendly, preterist websites such as Vaduva's Planet Preterist and King's Presence.tv.
Virgil Vaduva and Brian McLaren
The Secret Message of Brian McLaren
Do you believe that the Gospel is basically the good news of the substitutionary sacrifice, death and resurrection of Israel's Messiah for the sins of mankind, and justification by grace through faith in His blood? If so, then Brian McLaren says you've got it all wrong (pg. 91). According to Brian McLaren, he and a handful of men and women within the last hundred years(2) have uncovered and restored the long misunderstood, or long suppressed, gospel of Jesus Christ - His "secret message" (pg. 210). According to McLaren and his comrades, the gospel is basically this:
The dream of God is being realized. God's dream for humanity is a "scandalously inclusive" community that includes not only Christians, but also Jews, Hindus, Muslims and any other people who have a personal faith-relationship with "God" (whether they know "him" as Allah or Vishnu or Yahweh or whatever) and who follow the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. God is calling everyone to be part of His "dream for our world coming true,"(3) a dream that will be fulfilled when everyone and everything in the entire universe will become the kingdom of God (pgs. 91, 104, 191, 193, 194, 210, 234).
According to McLaren, to enter the kingdom of God today one must take the following four steps:(4)
1. Hear the above "secret message" from the heart and think deeply about it. Rethink everything in its light. Humble yourself by becoming willing to learn. Have a deep sense that you may be wrong about many things, and have a sincere desire to realign around what is good and true (even though you can't be sure what is "good and true" at this point). "Stay open to the possibility that no matter how sure of yourself you are, you may still be wrong" (pgs. 105,108).
2. Have faith. Believe God. Believe in God with "interpersonal confidence," such as when you say, "I believe in my spouse." Trust God and his "dreams" for creation. Believe in and have confidence in the good news that "the kingdom of God is at hand" (pg. 91,108,109,141,142).
3. Stay open to receive. Open your heart to receive everything you need for life in the kingdom of God (pg. 109,110).
4. Go public with your "repentance," "faith" and receptivity (pg. 110). Publicly identify yourself as "a person who is on a new path" (pg. 166).
According to McLaren, if you meet these four conditions then you will enter the kingdom of God. This is what McLaren calls "grace alone" (pg. 110).(5) To the casual reader, McLaren's four steps might sound like something the Bible teaches. The careful reader however will note that faith in the sin-atoning blood of Jesus appears nowhere in McLaren's requirements for entering the kingdom of God. Now let us examine more closely McLaren's four-step program:
1. RETHINK YOUR LIFE: Being open to the possibility that everything you know may be wrong is McLaren's definition of the gospel word "repentance." Essentially, according to McLaren, the first step one must take to enter the kingdom of God is to say, "I don't know" about everything.
Reaching a point where one loses confidence in everything one knows can be a good thing. For instance, if someone has a philosophy or worldview that causes him to hate God, and that person reaches a point where he loses all confidence in that philosophy, then that is a good thing. However, that is not "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:8). Teaching that one must arrive at a philosophical "I Don't Know" before one can start out on the path of true enlightenment is a teaching of Buddhism, not the Christian doctrine of repentance. It is in fact, the first Precept of Tiep Hien Buddhism.
According to McLaren's Buddhistic definition of "repentance," a Christian who loses confidence in Christ's words and lives in fear and doubt has "repented." Not surprisingly then, McLaren calls the word repentance "problematic" on pages 47 and 105. But of course, the reason the word is problematic for McLaren is that the gospel definition of the word does not match the Buddhistic definition that McLaren forces upon it. As the word repentance is used in gospel contexts, it refers to a 180-degree change of mind (conversion) so that one has remorse for and turns away -- not from certainty, but from sin (i.e., from transgressing God's commandments). Repentance is a moral/ethical/spiritual change of mind from sin to righteousness, not a Buddhistic emptying of the mind of all certainty, as McLaren "re-imagines" the word.
To make matters worse regarding the word repentance, McLaren teaches on pages 37, 38 and 47 that repentance is equivalent to "regeneration" and that regeneration has nothing whatsoever to do with the indwelling Holy Spirit. According to McLaren, the indwelling Holy Spirit is not received until after step #4 of McLaren's program (going public); and yet McLaren has regeneration taking place in step #1. McLaren does not believe that regeneration is the re-creative work of the Holy Spirit. He teaches instead that regeneration is one's own re-creative work that is accomplished when one philosophically empties oneself (so-called "repentance") and Buddhistically makes oneself like a child.
2. BELIEVE IN GOD: This second step might sound biblical, until we take a look at what McLaren means. Though McLaren does not explicitly say it, he implies elsewhere in his book and throughout his other books and on his website, that what is necessary is not belief in the biblical God of Israel, but belief in one of the gods of the world's religions. As long as you believe in "God" as you conceive of him/her/it/them, it makes no substantial difference, as far as entering the kingdom goes, which world religion you are observing. What is necessary, according to McLaren, is having "a good and living faith" in "God," a faith that engenders an interpersonal relationship with him/her/it/them (like the relationship between master and student in Zen Buddhism).
As we know, there are people who fiercely reject the deity of Christ and the power of His Cross and of His blood (for example, Muslims). But according to McLaren, if these people have "a good kind of faith" in the "God" of their choice and strive to live by ethical teachings like those in the Sermon on the Mount, then they are eating at the table in the Presence of Christ in the kingdom of God. As McLaren explains on pages 216-217:
"Wouldn't it be fascinating if thousands of Muslims ...began to 'take their places at the feast,' discovering the secret message of Jesus in ways that many Christians have not? Could it be that Jesus ...could in some way be rediscovered to save Islam from its dangerous dark side? Similarly, wouldn't there be a certain ironic justice if Jesus' own kinsmen, the Jewish people, led the way in understanding and practicing the core teaching of one of their own prophets who has too often been hijacked by other interests or ideologies? Or if Buddhists [and] Hindus ...came from 'east and west and north and south' and began to enjoy the feast of the kingdom in ways that those bearing the name Christian have not [as Gandhi did, according to McLaren]? Of course, because we have ...the New Testament, there is always hope that we Christians will not be the last to rediscover the truth that could change everything."
According to McLaren, Christians have only a shaky hope that they will not be the last to discover "the gospel" and join the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Pagans in the kingdom of God. McLaren has replaced the gospel of the death of Christ with the "gospel" of a "god" who gives the kingdom to those who hate the sin-atoning blood of Christ. McLaren calls this blasphemy "fascinating."
3. STAY OPEN TO RECEIVE: To the casual reader it might appear on page 110 that McLaren is saying that one receives the Holy Spirit at this point. But on page 113, McLaren implies that one receives the Holy Spirit only after step #4 (going public). This step #3 then does not actually involve receiving anything. It involves only having an attitude or mindset of "receiving." It corresponds to the philosophical emptying of step #1. Though McLaren deceptively conceals it from his readers, this step of being "open to receive" is another precept of Buddhism. It is the second Precept of Tiep Hien Buddhism.
4. GO PUBLIC: Note that McLaren does not say that one must publicly identify oneself with Christ. He says that one need only publicly identify oneself as "a person who is on a new path" (pg. 166). This again is Buddhism and not Christianity. In Buddhism, one sets out on "a new path" of enlightenment. In scriptural Christianity, one is incorporated into Christ and publicly identifies oneself as His disciple.
It is not that McLaren is opposed to identifying oneself with Christ. In his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren affirms the doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ. Instead of denying the Gospel, McLaren teaches the following:
1. The doctrine of the death and resurrection of Christ, though true, is not the Gospel.
2. Faith in the death and resurrection of Christ is not necessary to enter the kingdom of God.
3. The doctrine that Christ died as our substitionary sacrifice under the wrath of God is a "theory" at best.
McLaren marginalizes the gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ by re-categorizing it as not the Gospel, by making it a completely optional belief and by rejecting (or at least being extremely skeptical of) the doctrine of the substitionary sacrifice. According to McLaren, you can trust in the atoning blood of Christ or you can reject it as unholy; and either way, you will enter the kingdom of God if you will simply follow McLaren's bloodless, four-step plan.
If faith in Christ's atoning work is necessary for salvation, then Muslims and Hindus and Pagans cannot be in the kingdom of God. McLaren hates that "exclusive" and "restrictive" and "elitist" (Mclaren's words) scriptural concept. The biblical doctrine of God granting eternal life exclusively to those who trust in His sin-atoning blood deeply offends McLaren. In other words, the doctrine of "exclusively Christ" is anathema to McLaren. This is why McLaren continually "spins," minimizes and obscures the scriptural doctrines of the substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith in Christ as being matters of "esoteric," philosophical "speculation" and "theory"(6) (pg. 193,212).
McLaren has hinted and implied in various places that he does not believe in the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. In his book, More Ready than You Realize, on pg. 105, he stealthily calls the doctrine "a certain theory of the atonement." He repeatedly calls it a "theory" throughout his other writings. He says on his website (quoting Dallas Willard) that believers who have an atonement-centered understanding of the Cross are "vampire Christians." He has also officially and enthusiastically endorsed a book - The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann - which calls the doctrine of penal substitution "a form of cosmic child abuse." (McLaren reaffirms his solidarity with Chalke and Mann, and their book, on page 226 of The Secret Message of Jesus.)
Much more could be said about McLaren's Gospel-corrupting, soul-destroying falsehoods. For the sake of brevity, I will mention only one more point here: Universalism. In answer to the question, Will everyone be saved, McLaren tells a diabolical Lie when he says that the Lord's answer in Matthew 13 is this: "Either no or not yet" (pg. 48). But of course, as we know, Jesus' answer was an emphatic No.
On page 163, McLaren says that it is only a "possibility" that "some" "can" miss the kingdom. This of course is a radical contradiction of many of Jesus' sayings, including those in Matt. 7:13,23. McLaren is elsewhere more blunt in his Universalism when he says that "the universe" and "everyone" will be saved, at which time "evil" (McLaren does not say "evil-doers.") will be purged from the kingdom (pgs. 52,53,60,74,202,203,235).
The Secret Pacifism of Brian McLaren
McLaren is obviously a student of Gandhi. There is very little difference between McLaren's pacifistic philosophies, and Gandhi's. McLaren implies that Gandhi was an unidentified Christian, i.e., an unrecognized member of the kingdom of God (pgs. 67, 68, 117-128; cf. pg. 8). McLaren says this even in light of the fact that Gandhi wrote this:
"I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in [the cross], my heart cannot accept" (Gandhi: An Autobiography (1929) pg.113).
McLaren also cites Gandhi as one who lived according to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (pg. 67). Gandhi, history tells us, told the people of England to lay down their arms and to invite Hitler and Mussolini to take their land, and to give themselves - every man, woman and child - to be slaughtered by the Nazis. (Amrita Bazar Patrika, July 4, 1940, "Method of Non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi's Appeal to Every Briton.")
McLaren is an anti-Western, Gandhian pacifist. He implies on pages 24, 25, 69 and 70 that America should decommission its weapons programs and shut down its weapons factories and allow itself to be conquered by terrorists. This is why McLaren says that his doctrine is "subversive" (pg. 70), and this is why he implies that it is easy for him to see how his "secret message" could be "equated with treason" (pg. 213).
Not surprisingly, McLaren does his best to refashion the biblical Jesus into Gandhi's image. On page 188, McLaren says that Jesus never inflicted violence and that He always refused to do so. This is why whenever McLaren describes Jesus' "cleansing of the temple," McLaren conveniently omits the fact that Jesus used a "whip"/"scourge" to violently drive men out of the temple courts (Jn. 2:15) (pg. 22,61,65).
On page 32, McLaren implies that his Gandhian Jesus never identified anyone as an enemy. In reality, Jesus identified the unbelieving rulers of Israel as His enemies. He referred specifically to them when He said in Lk. 19:27: "But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and kill them in my presence."
On page 48, McLaren says that Jesus' parable in Lk. 20:9-19 depicts some tenants who resorted to "horrific violence." But McLaren conveniently omits the fact that in the same parable the landowner, who represented Jesus, also resorted to "horrific violence" when he "killed"/"destroyed" his tenants (the scribes and the chief priests) (Lk. 20:16).
In the same way, in the parable of the Wedding Feast, Jesus depicted Himself as sending out His army to destroy the enemies of His Gospel and to burn down their city (Matt. 22:7). In the same parable He had a man violently bound hand and foot and cast into a dark place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:13).
On page 150, McLaren actually hints that John the Baptist gave a wrong or insufficient answer when some soldiers asked him what they should do (Lk. 3:14). As McLaren leads his readers to consider, John failed to tell the soldiers to be Gandhian pacifists. But then on page 160, McLaren actually gives the impression that John gave the soldiers a pacifist answer! McLaren accomplishes this feat by misrepresenting what John said:
"Soldiers [today] ...may ask, 'What about us? What should we do?' John the Baptist would answer, I believe, just as he did back in the months before Jesus emerged on the scene: 'Don't abuse your power. And listen to the one whose way I was sent to prepare. He will take away the sin of the world.'"
But of course, John did not answer the soldiers with anything like: "Listen to the one whose way I was sent to prepare." In other words, John did not tell the soldiers to go get a pacifist answer from McLaren's Gandhian Jesus, as McLaren misleads his readers to believe.
On page 179, McLaren says that when the Zealots led the people into a violent rebellion (in A.D. 66), God did not intervene as they had hoped, because God did "not want to continue to bless violence." McLaren conveniently omitted the fact however that God intervened against the Zealots by sending the Romans to violently put down their rebellion. McLaren does not want you to know that God blessed and ordained the violence of the Romans against the Zealots.
On page 159, McLaren says that America's enemy today is "beloved by God." The reality though is that hate-filled terrorists who practice mass murder are not "beloved by God," as McLaren blasphemes. The Bible says that although God gives good things to them and graciously chooses to save some of them through the Gospel, God "hates" those who practice hate and murder. They are an "abomination" to Him. He created them "for the day of evil" (Prov. 6:16-19; 16:4; Rom. 9:13).
While U.S. and allied forces are protecting, defending and rescuing women and children from mass murderers on a daily basis, McLaren does his part with the Democrat Party and the Islamo-fascists to subtly destroy their honorable work. One of many ways that McLaren does this is by making insinuations about U.S. forces sanctioning pointless "torture" at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (pg. 159,232). Yet on page 158, McLaren hypocritically claims that he's avoiding the extreme position of vilifying the U.S. military.
We must pray fervently for the women and children who are in danger of being murdered because of people like Brian McLaren who are doing their hateful best to keep soldiers from resisting terrorists and rescuing defenseless victims. If our armed forces were compelled to obey people like McLaren, the Taliban would still be tyrannizing the people of Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein's rape rooms would still be in operation. McLaren prefers the perpetual torture and bloodbath of tyranny to the justice of warring against mass-murdering tyrants. What a vicious, brutal and sadistic doctrine McLaren is teaching.
If McLaren were a new convert to Christianity, his Scripture-contradicting doctrines could be chalked up to well-intentioned ignorance and confusion. Sadly though, McLaren is not a novice. He is well read and has been a pastor and a Bible teacher for many years. His pervasive "spinning" of God's words can be nothing other than deliberate misrepresentation of Scripture, and the most insidious kind of exploitation and manipulation of his followers.
One thing must be said for McLaren. He is adept at sugar-coating and beautifying profound lies. McLaren has a way of making radical, anti-Gospel falsehoods sound almost sugar sweet and heaven sent. It is no distortion to say that Brian McLaren is a master of deceit. If you are going to read any of his books, you have been forewarned. Do not let McLaren seduce you away from the never-lost truth of the "eternal gospel."
There are many other errors in The Secret Message of Jesus that I have not addressed in this review. I have only touched upon some of the major ones. As despicable as McLaren's ultra-pacifism is, the ultimate crime in his teaching is his false gospel. Here is his basic Buddhistic formula for being a member in good standing in the kingdom of God:
1. Philosophically empty yourself. Become unsure about everything.
2. Have an interpersonal faith-relationship with "God" (one of the deities of the world's religions).
3. Open yourself to receive everything from "God."
4. Publicly identify yourself as being on "a new path."
5. Take a Gandhian approach to the ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount (or at least be sympathetic to such an approach).
Implied in McLaren's five-step formula is this doctrine:
If a person accomplishes McLaren's Buddhistic/Gandhian regimen of good works, then that person will receive the indwelling Holy Spirit and will inherit the kingdom of God, even if that person hates and blasphemes the sin-atoning blood of the eternal covenant with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength.
That is the crux of the "secret message" that Brian McLaren, in all of his books, conceals beneath a cover of perpetual equivocation, ambiguity and a multitude of flowery, evasive words. McLaren does not want you to know that he has exchanged the Gospel of God for the "inclusive" blasphemy of Brian McLaren. He does not want you to know that he has exchanged the truth of God for an extremely ugly Lie.
In concluding this review, I should not merely critique the counterfeit message of McLaren's counterfeit Jesus; I should positively state the biblical message of the real, historical Jesus. What then was the Gospel that Jesus and John the Baptist preached? It was not merely that the Kingdom of God was near and that everyone was invited. The Gospel of Jesus and of John was that the kingdom of God was near because "the Lamb of God" was about to die for His people, take away their sins, pour out the Holy Spirit upon them, raise them from the dead and gather them into His kingdom (Matt. 3:9,11,12; 26:2,12,13; Mk. 14:8,9; Lk. 4:18; Jn. 1:29,36).
The Apostles preached the same Message. However, many of the things that Jesus and John had promised in the Gospel were fulfilled after Pentecost and were proclaimed by the Apostles as being past instead of "at hand." The Good News that the Apostles preached after Pentecost was that Christ had been crucified, put to death and buried, and that God had raised Him from the dead the third day. Since "all authority" had been given to Christ through His resurrection from the dead, He was now calling His elect through the Gospel, pouring out His Spirit into their hearts, forgiving them their sins through faith in Him (Acts 10:43), and was about to raise His people from the dead and gather them into the kingdom of God (Acts 10:39-43; Rom. 1:1-7; 2:16; I Cor. 1:17,23; 15:3,4,10,11; Col. 1:5,23; II Tim. 2:8).
In Acts 10,11 (about A.D. 40), God revealed, to everyone's astonishment, that the blessings of the Gospel were going to go beyond the Jewish world. The previously "unclean" gentiles were "being granted repentance unto life" through the Gospel (Acts 10:28; 11:18). People of all nations, regardless of ethnicity or nationality or social status, were being united with Israel's elect into "one new man" in Christ, through faith in His sin-atoning blood (Acts 10:36; Eph. 2:15; 3:6; 6:19).
Today, since the Parousia in 70, the Gospel is fulfilled and all believers in heaven and on earth are the living, spiritual Body of Christ and the eternal Tabernacle of God. What then is required today to receive eternal life? What conditions must we meet to enter God's kingdom? Is there a four- or five-step plan for entering into the City of God?
Not at all.
Do not let McLaren trick you with his weak, beggerly and anemic five-step plan.
As offensive and foolish as it is to McLaren, Jesus met the requirement for us. And the root evidence that we have entered into Christ's Kingdom is our faith in Him - that is, our faith in the scriptural Lord who suffered under the judgment-wrath of God in our place; who shed His sin-atoning blood and died "for our offences," and who was raised from the dead "for our justification" (Rom. 3:25; 4:25; I Cor. 1:18; 15:14,17; Gal. 3:26; 5:11; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:14; 2:5; I Tim. 3:13; II Tim. 3:15).
"For he has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21).
"And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
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1: "Transmillennialism" is a trademarked euphemism for thoroughgoing preterism. The trademark was bought by a humanistic, Universalism-promoting, Gospel-corrupting organization owned and operated by Tim King.
2: On page 209, McLaren names thirteen people who helped lead him to Jesus' "secret message." McLaren's group of theological mentors and brethren consists of religious syncretists, anti-Western leftists, radical pacifists, neo-Universalists, radical theological feminists, and those who either defend or refuse to condemn sexual abominations.
3: McLaren says on page 139: "...If Jesus were here today, I am quite certain he wouldn't use the language of kingdom at all" (Emphasis in the original). McLaren suggests that a better term than "the kingdom of God" is "the dream of God for creation" (Think Martin Luther King, Jr.; page 140-142). McLaren adds that evil and sin (i.e., such things as "prisons" and "conformity") are God's "nightmares" (pg. 141).
4: McLaren actually presents five steps, but the fifth step describes what one should do after one is already in the kingdom. McLaren presents his five-part formula (He characterizes it as five "moves.") on pages 105-111. Yet on page x, McLaren mocks those who have Jesus' message "figured out" and "reduced to their own kind of mathematics." McLaren characterizes such people as saying: "It's these three concepts or those four steps or this simple little five-part formula . . . Why is Brian so misguided or difficult that he doesn't just repeat them and get with the program?" (Emphasis added) Evidently, it isn't formulae or steps that McLaren finds objectionable. It's the steps or formula of the historic Gospel. Specifically: Faith in Christ = eternal life; and faith in "God" without faith in Christ = condemnation (Acts 4:12; Jn. 3:36; 5:46; 6:53; 14:6).
5: In his book, Finding Faith, McLaren defines God's grace as a feeling that "God" expresses when one of his children confesses a wrong and "God" in effect says, "It's okay. I love you." (pg. 192) In his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren defines "God's" grace as his "desire" to do good things to his children (pg. 196).
6: McLaren slyly labels the pillars of the Faith as "speculation" and "theory" while he replaces them with Buddhistic speculation and theory.
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