Bob DeWaay has just published a thorough review of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. Having read all 6700 words, I considered adding a new category to this website entitled “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” De Waay makes a comparison between Brian McLaren and Francis Schaeffer, showing how in many ways McLaren is the fulfillment of Schaeffer’s prophetic voice. Yesterday I spoke to my parents, who spent over a year at L’Abri, and we agreed that Francis Schaeffer was a prophet, not in the biblical sense of one who received revelation from God, but as one who had a deep understanding of the Scripture, of the current trends in the church, but even more importantly, of where these trends would inevitably lead.
In a review I can only wish that I had written, DeWaay compares Schaeffer’s understanding of the Reformational understanding of the Scriptures with McLaren’s postmodern obscurity. Schaeffer wrote, “The Scriptures give the key to two kinds of knowledge—the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of men and nature. The great Reformation confessions emphasize that God revealed His attributes to man in the Scriptures and that this revelation was meaningful to God as well as to man. There could have been no Reformation and no Reformation culture in Northern Europe without the realization that God had spoken to man in the Scriptures and that, therefore, we know something truly about God, because God has revealed it to man.”
Compare this, then, to McLaren, who writes, “How do “I” know the Bible is always right? And if “I” am sophisticated enough to realize that I know nothing of the Bible without my own involvement via interpretation, I’ll also ask how I know which school, method, or technique of biblical interpretation is right. What makes a “good” interpretation good? And if an appeal is made to a written standard (book, doctrinal statement, etc.) or to common sense or to “scholarly principles of interpretation,” the same pesky “I” who liberated us from the authority of the church will ask, “Who sets the standard? Whose common sense? Which scholars and why? Don’t all these appeals to authorities and principles outside the Bible actually undermine the claim of ultimate biblical authority? Aren’t they just the new pope?”
This may be the very heart of a postmodern versus Reformational understanding of Scripture. The Reformers believed that man could know and could understand the Bible. The postmodernist cannot see beyond the fallibility of the one who does the reading. The one is fully aware of the work of the Spirit in guiding the Christian through the Scriptures, the other is clearly not. De Waay concludes, “McClaren and others of the postmodern ilk have erected a sophisticated system of doubts that are expressed in various versions of relativism. These are debated in academic circles and call into question the possibility of knowledge that goes beyond our language or cultural identities. Some even question if any human communication is valid (and write books to “communicate” this idea).” But, “God holds us accountable for the knowledge we have. The postmodern view of the hopelessness of knowing the truth flies in the face of the Biblical claims that God will judge us and hold us accountable if we suppress the truth.” And God indeed does hold us responsible for what we know - He tells us that He has given us enough knowledge that He can hold us accountable for it.
De Waay writes, “The term “postmodern” has come along to describe the results of the rejection of both reason and Scripture. We are left floating in a sea of subjectivism.” When we reject the idea of “true truth” or “total truth” we are left with nothing to rely on but mysticism - mystical experiences that can do for us experientially what Protestants have long believed that the Spirit, through Scripture, can and must do objectively.
Read Schaeffer’s words about what he called the “new theology.” “To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity. There is connotation, as in the word god, but there is no definition.” How could I help but be reminded of Orwell’s classic, 1984. “Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and now to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself - that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.”
Postmodernism relies on this type of doublespeak. The Emergent Church, fully steeped in postmodernism, relies on it just as much. We are to be certain only about what we are uncertain about. We can believe in beliefs that cancel each other out. We can be Protestant Catholics and Orthodox Pagans. We can love Scripture, but not trust it.
And here is what it all comes down to. I quote again from Schaeffer. “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of communication.” What an indictment of the Emergent church and of A Generous Orthodoxy! They really do promote a faith that is contrary to reason, deprived of content and incapable of communication. Perhaps that is why old-fashioned Protestants like myself just cannot understand. We are not willing to check our reason at the door of this new, mystical, non-sensical teaching.
You can (and really should) read De Waay’s review here. Perhaps consider sending him a note of encouragment as he is sure to feel some heat about this article.