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Transcript from Brian McLaren interview on bleeding purple podcast

Posted by nazarenepsalm113 on April 2, 2009

This is part of the transcript from Brian McLaren’s interview with Leif Hansen.

This speaks for itself as non Christians discuss Christianity

I have had some requests for this so here goes. You can also find the transcript at Lighthouse Trails Research.

McLaren: I think, first of all, I think it makes a huge difference whether you believe that that violence is waiting for everybody or whether you think that violence actually was focussed on AD 67 to 70. I mean, and I would just encourage people who are listening to this, for the next couple years, as you’re reading the Gospels, to be open to the possibility that that might be what Jesus was talking about. It’s really interesting, and this is what Andrew Perriman does very well in this brand new book, he really engages with Paul. Second Thessalonians and the others places in the New Testament that are pretty fiery, you know. And he makes a very strong case that the eschatological horizon for them—you know, all of these are written before AD 67. And so when Paul says, it’s coming very soon. Or Jesus says, this generation will not pass—in this reading, it turns out that they’re right. That the generation didn’t pass and it was very soon. It was literally a couple of years from when Paul was writing and this would happen. So what you do when that happens, suddenly, those Scriptures, it’s almost like an explosion that’s already happened. And it doesn’t make sense for us to keep talking about that explosion happening.

Hansen: But again, I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass. But does the explosion come from God or does it come from God knowing how humanity, how we will reap what we sow?

McLaren: See, this also comes from, I think, a very unhelpful way of reading the Bible where, we’re going to parse every sentence and say, oh, that means God’s doing it. I don’t think that Jesus or any of the other biblical writers—and you’ve got to remember that Jesus was a speaker. He wasn’t a writer. But you know, the speakers and writers of the Bible, I don’t think that they’re working in this technical theological way that we very often push them into. I think they are speaking the way we would speak. The way we are having conversation right now. Some day if you go and parse one of your sentences or parse one of my sentences and you know, 500 years from now be making really bizarre conclusions about it. You know, you said a couple minutes ago something about being a pain in the ass. Well, 500 years from now people don’t know that that is an idiom that is used today. You can imagine a whole theological school developing from some of that. And that’s kind of what we’re saying actually happens with the biblical language.

But—and this is a huge problem with all of biblical interpretation. To what degree when things happen in the world, is it safe to say God made this happen? And to what degree is it safe to say, God wants us to interpret this happening in a certain way?

McLaren: This is, one of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.

Hansen: Oh, Brian, that was just so beautifully said. I was tempted to get on my soap box there and you know—Because as you and I know there are so many illustrations and examples that you could give that show why the tradition view of hell completely falls in the face of—It’s just antithetical to the cross. But the way you put it there, I love that. It’s false advertising. And here, Jesus is saying, turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Forgive seven times seventy. Return violence with self-sacrificial love. But if we believe the traditional view of hell, it’s like, well, do that for a short amount of time. Because eventually, God’s going to get them.

McLaren: Yeah. And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive

And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.

Hansen: Now, is that going to be—You know, I remember one of our emails, I had asked if you were going to bring that up in The Last Word, and it looks like you—as far as an alternative view of the cross, had got a little bit. My hunch is, I am wondering, is your new book about Jesus going to get into that alternative view of the cross? Or, I might say, an earlier historical view of the cross?

McLaren: Well, yes. It does. But not through sort of direct attack. The book is called The Secret Message of Jesus and it’s about the message of the kingdom. I really like—Marcus Borg and John Dominic are you know, crossing, have a new book coming out called The Last Week. And it follows the week of what we call passion week, or holy week. It is really a great book. And you know, evangelicals tend to think that they’re  the only people who take the Bible seriously. I am so impressed with how seriously these guys take the Gospel of Mark, really the last week of Jesus. It’s really stunning. But one of the things they point out is that Mel Gibson’s film, you know, called the crucifixion, the passion of the Christ. But Jesus’ passion, the thing He was most passionate about was the kingdom. And the message of the kingdom is what I really try to explore in this book.

And that’s why, if we look at the cross as something that becomes almost the ultimate demonstration or the ultimate exclamation point about the message of the kingdom, it looks very different than if we throw the message of the kingdom away or make the message of the kingdom about something in the future and marginalize it for Jesus’ whole life. Boy, everything looks different.

Hansen: Now, I agree with you and I am starting to come to an understanding of the cross. And I  have a hunch that it’s probably pretty similar to your understanding of the cross and the kingdom. But one of the places we might differ—I don’t even want to say that because I am just really exploring right now—is, weren’t there people before Jesus and since Jesus, some inspired by Him, some Christian, some martyrs, and wasn’t God, in a sense, demonstrating self sacrificial love since the beginning of time? Since God created beings other than Himself? So, I guess the reason I ask that question is two-fold. One, it has to do with this question of world religions and Christian exclusivism. Some might say, well yes, we also believe that at the heart and center of God and of reality is self-sacrificial love. But we don’t think that Jesus was the only one to teach about that and to demonstrate that in His life. Now, a more—what’s the word to use?—a more conservative Christian, whatever—someone who believes in the literal ontological divinity of Christ would have an argument and say, well yes, but this was, this was more central because it was actually God, literally, demonstrating that kind of love. However, someone, a more liberal Christian, who might think that Jesus was perfectly imaging God’s love, or totally inspired by God’s love but not literally God—To be honest, that’s the direction I am leaning more myself these days. We would have a hard time saying what makes Jesus’ life and example and living love to the death more unique than any other.

McLaren: Right. If I understand what you’re saying. These are important subjects. I understand you’re saying: Look, we could look at Ghandi’s live as an example of self sacrificial love or Martin Luther King Junior’s life. There would be a lot of people we could look at. And so wouldn’t it be better to just talk about Jesus as one among many, rather than lift Him up as some extraordinary example. Because by doing that we create, we perpetuate this Christian elitism and exclusivism, et cetera, et cetera. Is that what you’re saying?

Hansen: Bingo! Yeah, that’s really right on.

McLaren: Well, this is a subject that I am really interested in. And in fact, it’s going to be part of the book I am going to write this year that is,  kind of will be sequel to this book of The Kingdom Seeker Messages of Jesus [NOT SURE IF THAT’S WHAT HE SAID] And it’s tentatively, right now, going to be titled Jesus and the Suicide Machine. And what’s it’s going to be is talking about how the message of the kingdom speaks to our contemporary situations. And to cut to the chase, I think what you’re reacting to is not, ultimately, the uniqueness of Jesus, but it is how the uniqueness of Jesus is used by a colonial, Roman Christianity.

Hansen: I definitely am reacting to that on an emotional level. But on an intellectual level, I guess, I am also saying that there are some questions that got brought up when I was studying. You know, ranging from if we do say this, how can we not be elitist? Versus, you know—to be honest with you, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to me is Jesus’ being in a literal sense the Son of God, was finding out that Paul never once mentions the idea. And his writings are the earliest. And when I found that out, I was like—wait a second here.

McLaren: See, I think I can feel your pain, Leif. And part of what I feel is this: There is a whole package. And the package ultimately is this hell package. And here’s what I would say: I  think the deeper problem here is a problem of the larger narrative. And when I think there’s another way of seeing the narrative where a lot of these problems disappear. In other words, I would say, I think we see the right problems in the narrative. But I think there are different understandings of the narrative that are very, very hard to get to. Because we’ve got so much of the old narrative so deeply rooted and so deeply influencing the way we read the Bible. And I feel like I can say this. I think I’ve got to a little rise on the journey, where I got a different view of the landscape. And I want to tell you, I think it’s going to be okay.

Hansen: Very hopeful.

McLaren: But in the meantime, I don’t think I can—I struggle. I’ve been struggling with this for, you know, fifteen years. I’ve really been struggling with this stuff. And so I feel like, piece by piece you get a different vision. But you can’t rush it. And the other narrative is so deeply ingrained.

So, but one of the questions I could raise that might be helpful for you and other people thinking about this, is to say, what is the problem with sin? What’s so bad about sin? Now, I can just imagine some people quoting—See, McLaren doesn’t think sin is a problem. I take sin really, seriously. But here’s the problem, If I were to make this sort of analogy or parable. When I had little children, if one of my little children—Let’s say my son Brett, was beating up on his little brother, Trevor. Now, Trevor is bigger. But back then—What was the problem? Was the problem that I don’t want my younger son to get hurt and I don’t want my older son to be a bully. I want my older son to be a good person. I want my younger son to be a good person. I want them to have a great relationship. Then the problem of sin is what it does to my family and what it does to my boys, you know. That’s the problem with sin.

But what we’ve created is, the problem of sin is that I am so angry at my son Brett for beating up his younger brother, I’m going to kill him. So now the problem we’ve got to solve is how to keep me from killing my son. Does that make sense?

Hansen: Yeah. It’s like a step back. Yeah, the reaction.

McLaren: And so now it seems to me the entire Christian theology has shifted so now the problem is, how can we keep me from killing Brett? And I don’t think that’s the kind of God that we serve. I think the problem is God wants His children to get along with each other. He wants them to be good people. Because He’s good. And His vision for creation is that they’ll love each other and be good to each other and enjoy each other and have a lot of fun together.

So sin is incredibly serious. But I think we have shifted why it’s so important. Can I say it one more way to say the same thing is—The problem is, why does sin matter to God? And I think what has happened is through the influence of Ansolm and maybe not even really Ansolm, but the way Ansolm was interpreted by later people—We have a vision that the real problem is God wants to kill us all. And we’ve got to somehow solve that problem. And what that does to me, Leif, that is so significant, is that it then minimizes the concern about injustice between human beings. That becomes a peripheral concern. But what if that’s God’s real concern, from beginning to end, see?

And by the way, that kind of theology, it just wants to placate God. And again, I know I am over stating it and I am aware everything I say now, that I have these people who are listening to me looking to find fault and so, anything I say—And I don’t care. If they misquote me on this to some degree, because at least maybe they’ll think about it. But I think that that theology was the perfect theology to enfranchise apartheid, colonialism, segregation in the United States. It enfranchises carelessness toward the poor, disregard for the rights of homosexuals, carelessness toward people with AIDS. It shifts all the attention from God’s will being done on earth to what happens to us after we die. And I think that is the kind of thing that would make God furious, if I could use that kind of language. And I think that is exactly why Jesus uses such strong language toward the Pharisees.

Hansen: I agree with you. I don’t want to get into it. I still kind of wish there was some way that He could have used—Cause it seems to be like, don’t be violent because, you know, God’s going to get you sometime. It just sort of—Anyway, I hear you. What I am hearing you say is that this original message of reconciliation, of hey guys, God is no longer mad at you, God forgives you. We need to get back to the original focus of caring for each other and for this planet and social justice issues. Somehow—well, not just somehow—You and I would agree, it seems to come from this idea of the fear and misunderstanding of sin and how God responds to it in getting us focussed on the afterlife. And it’s just gotten completely turned upside down. I hear you.

McLaren: And if the other guys are right, then you and I are wrong. But if we’re even partially right, the other guys have some thinking to do.

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