I’ve been listening to a pair of recent episodes of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable show.
The first was a discussion between Rob Bell and Adrian Warnock. Rob Bell was being quizzed about his recent book Love Wins, which, rather notoriously, appears to entertain a doctrine of universalism. Unusually for a presenter who is usually very even-handed Justin Brierley, seemed rather keen to side with Adrian Warnock against Rob Bell. And both of them seemed rather too keen on trying to work out whether Rob Bell is ‘in’ or ‘out’, ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’, an ‘evangelical’ or a ‘liberal’. Rob Bell, for his part, seemed unable, or unwilling, to give a straight answer to a straight question. He seemed intent on saying that he was ‘just trying to raise a few questions’, and therefore responded to some of the more pointed questions with questions of his own, together with a certain amount of giggling. I got the impression that he was thinking, ‘you guys just don’t get it, do you?’
The second episode, featuring Brian Maclaren and James White, was much more satisfactory. Both individuals are very clear-thinking and articulate. The focus of the discussion was Maclaren’s latest book A New Kind of Christianity. Sadly, the discussion served to emphasise the very significant gap that exists between Maclaren’s version of revisionist theology and the historic confessionalism represented by White. Maclaren claims that he has a very high regard for the person of Jesus Christ and for Scripture as the word of God, but I fear that he is drifting ever further away from orthodoxy.
To take one example. Maclaren, irritatingly, continues to talk about ‘theories’ of the atonement as though they were man-made, mutually incompatible constructs, rather than complementary biblical images, or pictures. He links the idea of ‘penal substitution’ with Anslem, ignoring White’s reminder that the doctrine is taught in Isaiah 53, a chapter which is of central importance to the doctrine of atonement as taught in the New Testament.
I’m afraid that the Maclaren/White discussion confirmed my opinion that ’emerging church’ teaching can provide a timely critique of some of the weaknesses of contemporary evangelicalism (especially in its American forms) but (at least, in Bell’s and Maclaren’s version) offers as a replacement something that is scarcely distinguishable from old-fashioned liberalism.