A New Kind of…? (part 3 – Bible)
In chapter seven, McLaren strikes out against those who read the Bible as if it were a legal constitution. He decries the ills that have been promulgated under this hermeneutical scheme. I am sympathetic to some of his worries. The denominational equivalents of supreme courts are clearly not in line with biblical teachings on church order and discipline.
Rather than a legal constitution, McLaren proposes that the Bible is “the library of a culture and community – the culture and community of people who trace their history back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (81). Libraries, McLaren argues, can be both authoritative and contain different views. In fact, McLaren defines a culture as, “a group of people who say different things about the same things.” Thus, the so-called librariness of the Bible leads one to expect it to have inconsistencies.
To begin with, McLaren’s definition of a culture is so inadequate that it is edging toward ridiculous. A group of people who say different things about the same thing? A simple thought experiment will demonstrate the problem with this definition. Say you take a Saudi Muslim and an American Christian and put them in a group. Then ask them both a question about who God is. The Muslim might say God is one and entirely transcendent. The Christian might say God is triune and both imminent and transcendent. Here we have a group of people saying different things about the same thing, and they clearly do not share the same culture.
Beyond this, McLaren’s approach to the Bible is incoherent. His understanding of the Bible as a cultural library leads him to expect internal inconsistency in the scriptures. However, he still wants to say that the Bible functions to uniquely guide the church unlike any other written work. The problem should be obvious: how can a text that gives contradictory and inconsistent counsel been seen as a trustworthy or even adequate, let alone unique and inspired, guide for anything?
A simple example will demonstrate the problem. McLaren raises the issue of scriptural instruction relating to one’s enemy. He points out that Matthew 5:44 tells us to love our enemies, while Psalm 139:19 tells us to hate them. The problem is that McLaren is approaching this question with a flat hermeneutic. He is not taking into account genre, context, or the progressive nature of revelation. He is not stopping to ask whether or not the ocassion of hating one’s enemy is held up as worthy of imitation. Any first year seminarian knows that the Psalms are not intended to be read the same way the historical narrative of the gospels is intended to be read. McLaren’s flat approach to scripture falls flat on its face.
In his scheme, scripture is not really the guide no matter how much he says it is. When McLaren comes to the text and finds alleged inconsistency or contradiction, then he himself must stand over the text as a judge. He chooses the text by which he would like to be guided. He is the final authority. His experience, emotions, and presuppositions rule over the text as he chooses which bits and pieces he likes and which he does not. This is the wolf of arrogance wearing the sheep’s clothing of false humility.
McLaren’s problem is that he sees the Bible as a conversation, and in this regard, he has recast the scriptures in his own image. The Bible is not a conversation, it is revelation and proclamation.