I had said we’d have a 4 part series on SMJ, but after reading the rest of it over the weekend, it seems my assessment was premature. Two posts will do the job. Why?
It’s one of two reasons: Either Brian McLaren has become a reformed character, or, since this book was written for Thomas Nelson, a more conservative publisher, he was more careful to keep his prose palatable.
Given that emergents have done stuff like it before, I’m voting for “more careful.”
Yes, McLaren makes more than a few mistakes in the rest of SMJ, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t find outside of, say, something by Charles Stanley or Chuck Swindoll. For example:
58: McLaren believes that Jesus told people not to tell of their healings as part of a “strategy of understatement” or maybe to keep crowds from showing up. Not quite: It had to do with the balance of honor (see here).
67: McLaren buys into a portrait of Pilate as a weak vacillator (see relevant section here).
But this is, again, all relatively minor stuff. Most of SMJ is actually pretty decent, especially as a manifesto to exhort the Christian to action and away from bad stewardship. Perhaps the most serious misgiving I have (aside from exegetical miscues over the Sermon on the Mount) is Ch. 16, where McLaren suggest various ways to better express the notion of the “kingdom of God” to modern people who don’t like authoritarian schemes. This isn’t uniquely emergent; even Rick Warren has done something like this with his recommendation that God be read out as a modern CEO. In the end, though, neither that nor the sort of ideas McLaren proposes (eg, “the dream of God,” “the party of God”) will honestly reflect what the texts tells us, and in the end, will merely mislead potential converts. Misrepresentation isn’t a good evangelism tool, ever. We should always make an effort to “translate” concepts into modern terms, yes. But not alter them such that they do not reflect the intent of the text.
All that said, of course, I would never recommend SMJ or any work of McLaren for any purpose. It can be had much better from others with better grasps on the text (even Chuck Colson, for example). It’s just nice to know that for once, there’s no need to pinion McLaren for unusual amounts of error – just the usual amounts we find everywhere else!