A New Kind of…? (part 5 – Jesus)
McLaren next devotes two chapters to the Jesus question, and I was pleasantly surprised by much of what he said. In chapter 13, he works mainly with John’s gospel to paint a picture of Jesus which focuses largely on Jesus’ work in inaugurating a new creation. McLaren is reacting against some views of Jesus which see him as only having come to save souls from hell. I agree with McLaren that Jesus should be understood as having come to do more than save people from hell, but I also believe he did not come to do any less. Drawing particularly on Genesis and the prophets, McLaren outlines Old Testament themes that are developed in the fourth gospel highlighting Jesus’ work to bring about a new creation. I didn’t find much to argue with in McLaren’s assesment, though I did find it incomplete as a statement on the person and work of Christ. He deals with Christ’s work of new creation, but he pays little attention to Jesus’ death as purchasing forgiveness for sin. I imagine this is because he has written the fall out of the story choosing to summarize the biblical story as “creation, liberation, peace-making” rather than as “creation, fall, redemption.” If the fall does not figure into the scheme, then the traditional understanding of Jesus’ substitutionary death finds little place. This, of course, is a mark against the author.
This leads to a further problem with McLaren’s understanding of Jesus within his understanding of the biblical narrative. He wants desparately for Jesus to be seen as the great worker of new creation, but it is hardly clear in his scheme why new creation is needed. In the traditional scheme, new creation is the clear answer to the fall and the curse that came with it. Human rebellion plunged creation into a state of decay that was not originally natural to it. If this problem is to be dealt with, universal renewal of creation is the only answer. But McLaren has replaced fall with liberation and redemption with peace-making. But if the great story doesn’t have a fall, then from what do we need liberating? If creation has not suffered an ontological change due to the sinful rebellion of human beings, then why does it need to be ontologically renewed? McLaren rightly focuses on new creation as the biblical solution to the problem; the problem is that he has lost sight of the problem.