I appreciate the honorable treatment Brian McLaren gives to evangelicals when he writes: (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 119)
“evangelicals have a passion that drives them into action: their emotion puts them in motion. And this emotion goes right to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus: loving God and loving others…. That’s why you’ll find evangelicals passionately at work around the world — including every dangerous and difficult place they can get themselves into. They have a mandate from Jesus to get out and make a difference. They love Jesus and they’re not going to let anything stop them. I love that.” He goes on to say, “evangelical passion for spiritual experience, for spiritual understanding, for mission is precious. If it could be bottled, one quart of it would be worth five libraries full of religious books (including mine) …. Even though it can’t be bottled, it cann be acquired, because, ultimately, “it” is the Spirit of Jesus, and Jesus gives himself freely to all who ask.”
I, too, have observed this evangelical zeal and I love it. The evangelicals who are attacking McLaren for what they perceive as dangerous perspectives in “Generous Orthodoxy” would do well to copy his kindness. I think that this missional spirit, this zeal to learn truth and stand for what is right and obey God’s commands and reach out to bring a message of salvation to the unsaved world are all noble impulses — as McLaren said, “the spirit of Jesus”.
I think Jesus was referring to this wholesome part of evangelical traditions when he praises the Philadelphia church — the only one of the churches he did not rebuke — in Rev. 3:7-13.
Unfortunately, the current church is not Philadelphia, which I believe was the 19th century church. Today we’re in Laodicea. We’ve moved beyond the missions of Dwight Moody and Hudson Taylor into the “hour of tempptation” realm of the 20th and 21st centuries. The historic period of “justice for the people” (literal translation of Laodicea).
John MacArthur’s contribution to this colloquy:
He agrees with me that the Philadelphia church is a “true, faithful church”. And he agrees with me that the Laodicea church is “a graphic picture of the church in the Tribulation.” Well, actually, Revelation doesn’t say “Tribulation,” it says “hour of temptation”. Which I think is now. And I do not share MacArthur’s black and white view of reality, that there are “no true believers, only false” in Laodicea; any more than I think there were only true and faithful believers in Philadelphia, a century or more ago. Why then, does Jesus say to them (us) “as many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.”? And why does he counsel the lukewarm believers of Laodicea to obtain from him gold, and fine linen and eyesalve, so that they can see their nakedness etc. and be healed of it? So I agree with McLaren’s perspective, that we need to keep “flipping the script” as he put it in the Revolution conference — keep recognizing that by fits we each are what we despise.
Laodicea feels to me like Evangelicalism
Brian McLaren points out that where he got off the Evangelical (capital E) train was when he began to notice finger-pointing, strife, and debate more than bringing the poor to their house (to put it in Isaiah’s words). In Brians’s words, they seem to have “started identifying judgmentalism and anger as fruits of the Spirit.” (p. 117)
So I join McLaren in honoring what is good about evangelicalism, the focus on a good message with passion and creativity — and call to them to open their ears to the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22…. something that clearly they are hearing, hence the many different strains of “revolution”.
It is the Emergent movement that is finally trying to prick the conscience of the church with this century-old social theme of Justice for the People. [that God is not on the side of the powerful but the powerless]. So I share McLaren’s observation that evangelicals need to balance their passion for getting the details right with an appropriate emphasis on the mercies of God. It is indeed above all else a Revolution of Kindness. Tomorrow I’ll give a brief reaction to his thoughts on page 125ff about Protestantism.