Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Recently, Brian McLaren spoke at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg and talked about Naked Spirituality, which is also the title of his newest book (Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words). The following notes are from Session 3 of McLaren’s Refreshing Winds series at (CMU), followed by Menno-lite’s endnotes and commentary below.
In Friday evening’s session(1) at the Refreshing Winds Conference in Winnipeg, Brian McLaren talked about the third stage of faith which he called Perplexity.
In review, stage one is that everything is knowable, and in stage two, everything is do–able. In this third stage it’s not all doable, but when we question our faith, says McLaren, we are put on heresy trial and invited to leave, driven beyond complexity and into perplexity.
He said that missionaries have contacted him and told him their sad stories, how they went to the mission field armed with the 4 spiritual laws (etc.) and became less sure of the answers as time went on. They were eventually ‘deconverted’ because some of the people they met were the finest they have ever met. Missionaries like these in a faith crisis have no safe place. He also shared about some missionaries at an evangelical meeting in Canada where a lady told him most of the people in the room were gay. Behind the façade, says McLaren, are a lot of people who have slipped into a different zone and haven’t found a safe place to talk about it, because the old answers and systems have stopped working. Or maybe other answers will be forthcoming, but they are just hoping. (2)
This third stage is beyond the right answers and techniques, and who knows who’s right. It’s not are you right or wrong, but are you honest or dishonest, dualistic/pragmatic, relativistic/cynical – not an easy stage to be when you are a Christian. McLaren told of his Methodist friend who was once a leader but now his faith was completely gone.
Then he talked about his own stage of doubt. In the early 90’s McLaren, a former pastor, had a lot of people coming to his church who were seekers. He was in stage two at the time, and one guy wanted to know if he could come to his church if he believed in God but not Jesus. It was just that whole thing about why Jesus had to die, and he had heard McLaren explain it for six months and still didn’t get it. It was at that moment that McLaren realized that he didn’t even know how Jesus dying solved the problem of our sin. (3) This man also didn’t really get how God killing an innocent person was fair and how two wrongs make a right, and that’s when McLaren realized he had never thought about it, didn’t know the answer, and was discovering he didn’t have answer for him. So he said, can I think about it? As McLaren wrestled with the whole question of atonement, and how Jesus’s death solves this big equation, his brother told him that even Jesus doesn’t have the answer to that, because in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father if there was any other way. Therefore, he concluded, it didn’t make sense to Jesus either.
The story itself had more power than McLaren’s interpretations, he said, because his brother was comfortable living with mystery when he didn’t have it figured out. This cause McLaren to think, “you are more mature than me because you are living with ambiguity and I still have to nail it down.” He thought how this kind of thinking was on the verge of heresy, but there it was in the Bible. At that point, McLaren acknowledged his theology was disintegrating.
He asked; at that stage, do you fake it or are you honest with your doubts?
So in stage three, you used to think you could know everything but now the only good people around are the ones who are honest that they don’t know. Authorities have forced you to know the answers, but the whole thing turns sour. Now you find your identity in alienated isolation or the small band of similarly alienated friends. This is where deep friendships develop, and it’s a counter dependency – defining yourself against those fundamentalists. Now you will become an atheist. Atheism is the mirror image when fundamentalists seem to own God, atheists are rejecting the only image of God made available to them. (4)
He told the story of a girl who got up on the stage and called him a heretic at a school where he was lecturing, primed with questions she’d gotten from a previous speaker who had warned about him, but then a guy stood up in the audience and said that McLaren’s books had brought him back to faith.
McLaren says we desperately need safe places for people to ask stage three questions. It’s not a defection from faith, but a common and universal stage in the deepening of faith. This is “normal” says McLaren, but not many people will tell you this but the stage of perplexity is normal. Only unsatisfied desire grows stronger, when it is filled it disappears, only in the absence of truth that the desire for it is strengthened. This is part of the development of a soul, and the scariest moment of all is the moment of “no.” When your way of doing things is unacceptable – something’s wrong, the jig is up, a charade, this is the point of “no.” (5)
We must get to the point of lament (6) – why? It is not expecting an answer, ‘why’ is your surrender to not knowing (7). Like when Jesus said I am thirsty on the cross, His father wasn’t helping him, so he asked for human help. The experience of the cross was going from perplexity to ‘why.’(8)
McLaren said, if you’re in this third space, it’s part of the experience. All I can offer you is that, even though it’s a well kept secret; see, your leaders don’t want you to go to stage three because they know you’ll never go back to stage one or two again, and they know you’ll never fit back in, so they keep it a secret.
He thanked God for the passages of despair and doubt, like Psalm 77, 88, 42, 13, and from Job, McLaren learns “hang on to your denial and don’t settle for less.” (9) He is thankful to Paul for saying ‘we wished we were dead.’ Thank God for those honest voices, said McLaren, and the voices of the great saints and mystics of the church, that going back into the dark place was the portal of understanding a deeper dimensions than they ever discovered before. They discovered there’s a difference between having faith in your beliefs about God and having faith in God. The naked faith happens at the point of having your beliefs contradicted and subverted, when somehow we are reduced to a more naked and primal faith and dependence on the reality of God. Naked faith means to be able to live with ambiguity and be honest with God, and feel in those dark places that there is a spark of faith fighting for survival.
END NOTES AND COMMENTARY
[With special thanks to a friend of the Olives:]
(1) Listen here: Friday, February 4, 2011, 7:00pm
Plenary: Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality, Stage 3: Perplexity
(2) Or maybe, they are in sin? McLaren is right in promoting a ‘safe place to talk’ but this is to be done in a biblical way: to confess sin, pray, worship, discuss scriptures reverently and deal with people’s faith-issues. “If we are faithless, HE remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13). Have the “old answers” stopped working in the underground churches in China? Are these apostate ‘comfort-teachings’ taught in the persecuted church?
(3) This section on the atonement theory begins around 13 minutes into the talk and is nothing new. See McLaren’s view on the cross here:
Brian McLaren’s Attack Against Hell and Jesus Atonement
(4) Here McLaren’s inversion of Biblical truth is replaced with a lie that this has been the only image of God made available to them (as though the Holy Spirit in the Word is inadequate). Then there is Romans 1:18-32 which tells us that all men are without excuse.
(5) He states the obvious, that people have crises of faith. This is biblical (i.e.David, Job, Jeremiah, Elijah), but instead of using scripture to heal the crisis, McLaren soothes the self esteem, saying, it’s okay, everybody feels it, your ideas are normal, what is unacceptable is acceptable. In other words, those authorites/fundamentalists are bad, and you and your feelings are good.
(6) Yes we should lament, but for our sin and lack of vigilance in the Word. When McLaren implies that the problem is with GOD Himself, HIS body and HIS Word, he is ‘planting the doubt’.
(7) As with the Bereans, it is an honour to search out a matter, not to “surrender to not knowing.” (“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” Proverbs 25:2)
(8) No one will dare say that McLaren’s twisting of the scripture regarding the cross is blasphemy because he previously set the trap that if we challenge him, we would be putting him on trial for heresy (when we question our faith, says McLaren, we are put on heresy trial and invited to leave). Christ was fulfilling prophecy on the cross, not seeking God’s assistance, which McLaren ignorantly implies was unavailable. (“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” John 19:28)
(9) Hang on to your denial? How about holding on to your hope? (Hebrews 10:23-25)
***ADDITIONAL SPECIAL GUEST COMMENT
by a friend of the olives (regarding McLaren’s ‘confession’):
THE CONFESSION: McLaren acknowledged his theology was disintegrating. He’s not a believer and he wants to make it OK for others to not believe and to form “. . . alienated, isolated. . . ” groups within the church. Its OK to be a heretic; its OK to be an apostate and spread your faithlessness to the flock. Then…it goes viral and the flock dies.
The Pastoral epistles tell you clearly what to do: ‘cast out the heretics’ and protect the flock…at least they will not infect and kill others.
*To summarize talk #3, what might have seemed like a kind and caring message to some was actually a full frontal attack on Christianity and an attempt to destroy the church by replacing the powerful truth with a hopeless myth, the goal of which is a global synchretistic religion.
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 1
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 2
McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 4