Berlin is a very different city today than the Berlin my daughter Eowyn and her husband David met when they moved there as church planters. They now find themselves preoccupied daily with a large immigrant population. Eowyn writes of her contact with a woman who said: “’I want to change religions. Mine leads to death and destruction. The God you describe is so lovely!”
Migrating to a new religion well describes the recent book by Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration (Convergent Press, 2016). The once Fundamentalist Evangelical pastor exhorts the Church to get rid of the now “malfunctioning” (4) “old time religion.”
He sees that the culture is resisting the Christian faith. His response is not to rescue sinners deceived by the culture. On the contrary, for him, the culture has it right and it is Christianity that must be “saved” (8). His proposal consists not merely of a few half-hearted tweaks to eliminate out-of-date practices. It is an impressively breath-taking revision of Christianity, beginning boldly with the very definition of God.
God must no longer be understood as the separate “omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent” Creator and cosmic Ruler (92). God must be redefined as the spirit of love flowing within everything (46). With not one mention of the Trinity, McLaren presents an entirely impersonal god. “We must become atheists in relation to the Supreme Being of violent and dominating power” (93). Christianity must “lose its monotheistic notions to embrace a grander, inclusive God who demonstrates solidarity with all” (103). We need “a bigger, non-dualistic God” (102), a God who is “in the story, not outside of time and space like a prime mover or divine watchmaker” (222). I never dreamed I would have to say of a once Evangelical, still claiming to be Christian theologian, that his god, as we would say at truthXchange, is a Oneist, pagan god—a part of creation rather than the Bible’s Twoist God, who is separate from creation.
McLaren is driven to interfaith thinking and practice because he believes “Religion will not survive if we believe that our religion is the only one true religion” (102). This is why McLaren’s god is surprisingly like, as he claims, the impersonal tribal deities of Africa and the gods of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions (105). To be complete, McLaren ought to have included witchcraft, as does the Parliament of the World’s Religions, where McLaren now speaks. After all, as a modern witch, skilled in interfaith parlance, now says: “A spell is very much like a prayer. It is a petition to the gods to act in your favor.” McLaren’s goal is to make Christianity resemble all the other religions by denying that specific “beliefs” or doctrines have anything to do with faith. Thus “inerrancy and infallibility” of Scripture is rejected as “unbelievable” (37). His new-look Christianity becomes loving actions of social justice, similar to those expressed by other religions. It must rid itself of “anti-Semitism, rejection of women, racism and religious bigotry” (198). It must work to heal climate change, and, as “reconciled people working for the common good” (168), a church should install “solar panels or a community garden” (172). This “multi-faith movement will restore the planet” (176).
The atonement must go. “God, in the traditional view, possesses a reservoir of infinite wrath that must be vented on all who are not perfect. By accepting the penalty of our sinful status and behavior, Jesus becomes our substitute…an angry God is thus appeased…” (121). This must go, as Jesus indicated in cleansing the Temple, thus opposing “the whole belief system associated with sacrifice…that God is angry and needs to be appeased with blood” (27). An impersonal, unappeasable god can never act mercifully in history. For McLaren, “Evangelism means inviting people into heart-to-heart communion…in the great work of healing the earth” (175). Heaven is replaced by a better life now” (42). “Salvation is about your Now life, not your afterlife” (53). An “all-is-one,” progressive, utopian globalism is heaven (134). I can hardly wait!
And so, says McLaren, “a great theological migration has begun” (108).
This “migration” could also be called, with little exaggeration, The Great Spiritual Betrayal. To follow this massive apostasy is to end all Gospel preaching. Had McLaren been speaking to the German immigrant, she would never have come to know that God is a loving Father who draws near to us in His Son, Jesus.