Theological Tourism

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We have now come to the chapter where McLaren describes how he is “Anabaptist/Anglican.” This has been quite a slog, and the cumulative effect of reading through these chapters on how Brian McLaren is evangelical, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, fundamentalist/calvinist, and so on, is similar to a $400 dollar whirlwind tour of Europe. “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Anglicanism.” Then we all get back on the bus, decked out as we are with white American socks up to the knee, khaki shorts, florid floral print shirts, and Japanese cameras. “I so appreciate the depth of the Anglican tradition,” one of us sighs as the bus pulls out of the Yorkminster parking lot.

The anabaptists are praised by McLaren for seven things, and I will spare you comment on six of them (my version of generous orthodoxy). But a few comments are forthcoming on McLaren’s approach to anabaptist pacifism. He says, “while a generous orthodoxy does not assume that everyone will become a strict pacifist, it does assume that every follower of Christ will at least be a pacifist sympathizer and will agree that if pacifism is not required for all followers of Christ just yet, it should be as soon as possible” (p. 207). This is a sterling example of how the simplest distinctions are confounded in this book. Of course every Christian longs for the day when men will study war no more, and when the swords are beaten into plowshares. But this is not longing for pacifism (the view that fighting is ethically impermissible), but rather a longing for peace (peace). Pacifists do not love peace biblically, for if they did, they would be willing to defend and fight for it.

McLaren dismisses the “impractical” argument on behalf of the anabaptist tradition. “This is why an argument that brands pacifism as impractical makes little sense to Anabaptists” (p. 207). He then on the next page, mounts the “impractical” argument against those Christians who have accurately represented what the Bible actually requires of us in war — that we fight for just cause (ad bellum) and that we fight justly (in bello). What’s wrong with this? Well, according to McLaren, it is not practical — “has any war yet been cancelled because of ‘just war’ theory?” (p. 208). Actually, it is kind of hard to prove a negative in answering a question like this, but just war theory has certainly ameliorated the horrors of war. And if we are now admitting the “impractical” argument, how many wars has pacifism prevented? No, a better question would be how many wars has pacifism caused?

However, the anabaptists are right about one thing. If Scripture prohibited fighting in war, then the practicalities of obedience do not matter. We should simply obey. But Scripture does not in fact do this (Ps. 144:1). But Scripture does require that whatever we do, we do to the glory of God and in obedience to His Word. This includes how we go to war. Christian soldiers and sailors are under the authority of Christ in the first place, and must obey Him, even if this brings them into conflict with their military superiors. Standing for Christ on the battlefield may well be “impractical” but that is not the point. Being faithful is the point.

The Anglicans are praised for some other things, among them their de facto practice of the Methodist Quadrilateral.”Scripture is always a factor in Anglican thinking. In Anglicans’ best moments, it is their primary factor, but it is never sola — never the only factor . . . In the dynamic tension of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, Anglicans seek to discern God’s authority, and when these four values agree, Anglicans move forward with confidence” (p. 210). And this is why McLaren on the next page comes out swinging against the ordination of homosexuals in the Anglican communion. It is against Scripture, it is against the tradition of the church, reason revolts against the idea, and of course experience has taught us that homosexuality is a true dead end. No, wait. I was just kidding. The Third World bishops may be moving “forward with confidence” on this one, but McLaren sure isn’t. See his footnote comments on the bottom of page 210.

Another thing the Anglicans have going for them is liturgical beauty. “Even if they disagree on what the liturgy means or requires doctrinally, they are charmed by its mysterious beauty and beautiful mystery, and that is often enough to keep them together long enough to share, evaluate, and integrate varied understandings” (p. 211). This is what “keeps Anglicans together” (p. 211). It is also one possible cause of the previous dilemma of homosexual ordinations. Let’s take little boys, teach them how to walk with mincing step, how to sing in a high voice in the cathedral choir, deck them out in a frilly white robe and ruff, and appreciate liturgical beauty. What could go wrong?

Trying to harmonize this eclectic jumble would be a fruitless task. But of course, McLaren is more interested in his experiences, his snapshot collection after he returns from his 10 days in Europe, than in any kind of coherence.

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