Thursday, November 17, 2016

Love is a wonderful thing, but what do you mean exactly? [Review]

The old Beatles tune proclaims, “Love is all you need.” Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda declared, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love...,” as he accepted his Tony award. And in his new book, The Great Spiritual Migration (Convergent), Brian McLaren declares that he left the church and his pastorate because he “wanted and needed a church who would help me live a life of love, with as little distraction as possible.”

All this sounds great, right?

I’m all for love. In fact, I often quote 1 Corinthians 13 in part or in whole to make a variety of points. Most recently highlighting the first part of verse seven that, in the NIV, states, “[Love] always protects....” because there are many in the world who need protecting.

Most importantly, 1 Corinthians 13 offers a lot of content defining key aspects of love, a love you can believe in.

Of course, advocating for love requires that what you mean by “love” is defined. Especially given the fluidity of the English language and how casually we toss the term around to identify our favor of just about anything.

There are many who “love” to do things that are considered cruelty and felonies. We love our pets. We love ice cream. We especially love specific flavors of ice cream. We love a certain type of music, a sunset, a particular fabric softener, a scene from a movie, a special book, a favorite author, our car, our spouse, our guns, our nation, and on and on the list of loves goes. God may even be on it.

Clearly, Miranda was wrong because, if we’re honest, love is not love is not love is not love. There’s a lot of qualifying required.

And this gets to the heart of the problem I have with McLaren’s book. He votes for love in faith yet wants to toss out any system of belief behind faith. He tries to claim that love is the true Jesus-inspired content of faith, and that beliefs (doctrine, theology, etc.) are not needed.

He states, “What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?”

How do you know what generous is? What are you contemplating? What does compassion look like? All of these require definition to be meaningful and purposeful.

Otherwise all that’s left is an empty, ambiguous, content-less “thing” that you slap the “love” label on and hope for the best. Without the defining of beliefs, love becomes meaningless.

I don’t think that’s what McLaren is aiming for, but it’s what his book, generally speaking, offers.

Even Jesus declared that to be true to Him we need to believe in Him, and faith comes from hearing the content of belief.

Having heard about McLaren over the years, when I was given the opportunity to review his book, I thought why not. He’s a key driver behind what is referred to as the Emerging Church. Or is it Emergent? Some say they’re the same, some say they’re different. I say however you label it, what McLaren is touting is not biblical.

Sure, he makes some valid points about the problems you’ll find in Christianity, past and present. There’s nothing new here. And the problems he points to are not expressions borne out of deep-seated theological errors in the accepted orthodoxy of belief. But rather they are the erroneous expressions of sinful people applying orthodoxy in anti-orthodox ways. They are the result of good people doing bad things even despite holding good beliefs.

The bottom line is that McLaren seems to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, yet he does like the tub. By that I mean he likes some of the trappings if Christianity, such as gathering together in what most of us call a church.

In fact, he explains he knows he needs others around him to help him live his life of love. He says, “I felt that without a community and regular gatherings to help me, I could too easily drift, too easily shift into autopilot, too easily stagnate and sour.”

Okay, that’s nice. But I wondered, “Drift from what?” If you scuttle beliefs then to what are you moored? You can say you’re moored to God, but even then the god to whom you claim to cling needs the substance of definition, or otherwise it’s an empty word rather than a saving Creator.

Having not read anything else by McLaren, I did a search on what others have said. There’s a book he wrote in 2010 titled A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. A review of that book written by Scot McKnight and published in Christianity Today opens stating, “Brian McLaren has grown tired of evangelicalism. In turn, many evangelicals are wearied with Brian. His most recent book... must be understood as his latest iteration of a project of deconstructing the old and reconstructing a new kind of Christian faith.”

This new book has the same feel. In fact, reading the rest of McKnight’s review, much of what he said about McLaren’s older book I thought about his newer book. So if you want a deeper analysis by someone who’s a theologian (which I’m not), go read Scot’s review.

The sense I got reading McLaren’s new book is the sense I’ve gotten from reading a few others from “leading” Christians who have become disillusioned with the church and their faith. They’re in a “rich young ruler” kind of limbo. They want to the favor of God and the joys of the faith, but not the hard, prickly stuff that goes along with it. They want to feel good, and do good, and let this define them into being good, or rather, holy and heaven worthy. All on their terms, of course.

The idea of, “Let’s just be loving and not worry about what we believe that means,” doesn’t work. It’s a rejection of both the milk and the meat of God’s Word and an embracing of an empty faith that really is not faith.

There are several other issues with McLaren’s book. One huge issue is the way he lumps Jesus in as just another founder of a religion, a view that denies His divinity. Given this fundamental error it’s understandable that so much of McLaren’s thinking goes awry.

I don’t recommend this book for anyone beyond those who, like me, were curious about McLaren and his thought. There’s nothing new here, and definitely no compelling case to “migrate” away from orthodox Christianity.

My caution would be that if you do read it, don’t be sucked in. The truth is that love is not love is not love. Only Jesus is true Love and He’s the One worth believing in. The only “better” way to be Christian is the way Christ exampled and advocated and His disciples taught and captured in Scripture.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Are you a fan of McLaren? Why or why not? If you adhere to a life of love that’s not connected to beliefs or faith or church, how do you define “love”? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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