DALLAS (BP)–When the doctor tells you that the blood gushing from your severed artery isn’t nearly as dangerous as your athlete’s foot, you know you’ve got a bad physician, and it’s time to get a new one. We don’t put ourselves under the care of those who can’t distinguish life-threatening conditions from benign ones. On the contrary, we fire them.
Likewise, no one should subject themselves to the leadership of pastors who cannot distinguish damning doctrinal errors from non-damning ones. The more I hear from emerging church leader Brian McLaren, the more I fear he is not competent to be a leader of God’s people. Recently, he commented on the error-ridden “The Da Vinci Code” by saying, “Frankly, I don’t think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels.”
The problem with what McLaren says here is that he cannot (or will not) distinguish what is malignant from what is benign. No one goes to hell merely for believing dispensational premillenialism, a theology of the end times that is portrayed in the “Left Behind” novels. Yet anyone who denies the deity of Jesus most certainly will, and this is precisely what is argued in “The Da Vinci Code.”
You don’t have to like dispensational premillenialism to see that its teachings about the end times do not come anywhere close to the damning heresy reflected in “The Da Vinci Code.” Any pastor that cannot (or will not) see that isn’t competent to hold the office.
McLaren clearly acknowledges that there are historical and factual errors in “The Da Vinci Code.” He says, “The book is fiction and it’s filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked.” Yet for some reason neither its factual errors nor its Christological heresy are enough to elicit a truly pastoral response from McLaren.
McLaren also says, “We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church…. Is it possible that, even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?”
Why is it that McLaren is often finding fault with Christians but seldom with Christianity’s detractors? Certainly, Christians are not perfect. But that fact is a far cry from explaining the existence of unbelief in the world. Certainly caricatures of Jesus can repel people, but so can the authentic Jesus. Sometimes people reject Christ and His gospel because they hate Christ. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself warned us that this very thing would happen, “The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil” (John 7:7).
Jesus also said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you…. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (John 15:18, 23-25).
Sometimes people hate the Lord Jesus for no good reason. McLaren can’t always account for people’s hatred of Jesus by pointing out the faults of Christians — at least not if he wants to be credible. Human sin and rebellion account for no small part of the world’s hostility towards Christ.
At some point, we all have to go to Jesus outside the camp and bear his reproach along with him (Hebrews 13:13). And sometimes that means actually acknowledging that the world is against Christ and cannot be brought to change its opinion about Christ apart from the miracle of regeneration (John 3:3, 5).
Brian McLaren’s failure to identify this threat emerging from outside the church makes his influence within the church all the more dangerous. For this reason alone we should all be paying very close attention to Pastor McLaren — paying attention and warning our own flocks.
Denny Burk serves as assistant professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas. Read his daily commentaries online at www.dennyburk.com.