Brian McLaren has recently responded to an article John Piper wrote in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan. Both men exhibit compassion and sympathy towards the victims of this tragedy and encourage Christians to help where they can.
In reading McLaren’s response, I was however slightly bemused that McLaren went after Dr. Piper’s theological position, which differs from his own, with the argument that it is sometimes hard to draw absolutes, “black and whites” as it were, from the Bible. Here is what McLaren says to John Piper’s response in an opening paragraph (emphasis mine):
“This response will no doubt be deeply satisfying for many people of a certain theological bent, those who want simple answers to go along with their aid and empathy. This clean and clear theodicy, an explanation for how evil and suffering can exist, resonates well with the old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.
But as I’ve suggested elsewhere, for all its air of confident piety, that axiom is more than a little misleading. I think the underlying meaning of the saying could be more accurately rendered like this: “The Bible says something which I interpret in a certain way, and I believe that interpretation, and that settles it!” Yes, acknowledging the complexities of the interpretive process has a way of reducing the simplicity of one’s answers. But in the interest of truth and honesty, we often have to let black-and-white, open-and-shut simplicity at least temporarily dissolve into the grays of complexity and even the darkness of perplexity.”
The ironic twist as that towards the end of McLaren’s piece, he then turns to Scripture, and the “jagged history of our planet”, himself to argue his black and white position. He makes statements about who God is, what He is like, what His purpose is for us:
“To me, as I reflect on the Scriptures and on the jagged history of our planet, it is better to say that God’s sovereignty is not totalitarian. God isn’t the kind of king interested in absolute control. God wouldn’t create that kind of relationship with the universe because God isn’t that kind of God. Instead, God creates space and time for a universe to be, to become, to unfold in its own story, its own evolution. God’s kingship is God’s absolute commitment to be with us, whatever happens, always working to bring good from evil, healing from suffering, reconciliation from conflict, and hope from despair. This is the God I see imaged in Jesus, born as a vulnerable baby, growing as a vulnerable boy, living as an unarmed man with courage and kindness. This is the God imaged as a king who washes the feet of his subjects, a king whose power is revealed not by killing and conquering but by suffering and dying . . . and rising again.”
I appreciate that theology can be hard, and I can support robust discussion between differing scholars as we seek to understand God through the Bible and the work of Jesus. No one person or stream holds a monopoly on the truth, although there may be more truthfulness found in some than in others.
In the process of our continuing theological discussions, surely it would be wise to employ ground rules and acknowledge common points of reference? The first of these could perhaps be the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12.
Tough theological positions differing from our own that others hold, palatable or otherwise, need to be critiqued in the same manner with which we would want our own to be examined. At the end of the day we have a responsibility before God to continually pursue truth ourselves (Philippians 2:12), not for personal goals but as a continuing testament to the glory of God.