Tony Cartledge's endorsement of Brian McLaren's book, "A New Kind of Christianity", may be enough to drive Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) to again brand Cartledge a "heretic."
Brian McLaren, among the brightest and most significant Christian thinkers of our age, is on a mission to save Christianity from itself. With impressive erudition, genuine humility, and a deep love for Christ and the church, McLaren dares to ask questions that contemporary believers need to confront. Questions, however, are quite threatening to traditionalists who are confident that they already have the answers, thank you very much.
Like their last faceoff, then, this difference is over issues which cut right to the root of Mohler's theological world. Indeed, as Cartledge explains, Mohler "devoted a chapel service to a panel discussion designed to debunk McLaren's work and warn students against the sort of ideas the popular author might lead them to think."
Some say McLaren is "putting a progressive spin on traditional ideas." Others see him as part of a "a new reformation," as Pastor Paul Nuechterlein, of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Portage, MI., put it last week. One which is shaking the foundations at "8.8 on the Richter scale."
Cartledge goes right to the heart of the conflict:
[. . .] in discussing biblical authority, McLaren suggests that the Bible should not be understood as a legal constitution designed as binding law to be interpreted and enforced by religious authorities, but as a community library that "preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed" (p. 83).
To Mohler and his brand of Baptists, that kind of thinking is outlandish. They used biblical inerrancy as a battle cry during the fight for control of the Southern Baptist Convention. Those in opposition were called "liberal," and "liberal" is the term Mohler and his panel repeatedly used to describe McLaren.
For receptive Southern Baptists, however, McLaren gently removes the foundations of legalistic Batholicism. He replaces the rationalization for frequent inquisitional disfellowshipping of churches like Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, with the necessity of dialogue. Fundamentalist-closed doors open to the dialogue which ensues. Reconsideration of red-hot issues, like the role of homosexuals in the church becomes possible, and necessary.
For those not afraid of thought and secure in their ability to manage their own thoughts, what's to be feared in following Cartledge's recommendation:
McLaren has much to offer for those who dare to think new thoughts and explore the future of the faith. It takes some effort to consider an approach as topsy-turvy to tradition as the one McLaren approaches, but it is well worth the work.
The debate over these issues is, after all, heating up, not cooling down. Prepare.