McLaren’s ‘God’s Eye’ Point of View

BM2Chrisitians believe that Christianity is true. That should come as no surprise. For if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be Christians. To be a Christian in any proper sense of the term, a person must believe what Jesus believed about himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That definite article is a killer. With it, Jesus dramatically narrows the playing field; he’s not one among many ways to the Father. He’s the only way (cf. Acts 4:12). A pretty exclusive and sweeping claim to say the least, and not at all calculated to play well in our tolerance intoxicated culture.

The problem with an exclusivistic Jesus is that he plays havoc with what we normally take to be the canons of inter-religious dialogue. The Jesus of John 14 won’t agree to be just another “seat at the table” or one “voice” among many; he elevates himself above other unquestionably humble and devout religious leaders: Moses, Elijah, Buddha, Ghandi, and the rest. The import of Jesus’ truth claim—and notice that it is a truth claim—“Truly, truly…before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58) wasn’t lost on his audience. Indeed, they detested him for it: “They picked up stones to throw at him” (v. 59). Conversation over.

McLaren’s Declaration

But whose fault was that? Well, if Brian McLaren is right, the fault might actually lie with Jesus. For example, in an interview on his latest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Jericho, 2012), McLaren confesses:

I suspect that the only people who need a God’s eye point of view are the people trying to build an empire, and impose it on other people. So when we hear that kind of language, I think that we should be suspicious. Instead of thinking ‘That’s orthodoxy’, we should think ‘That’s empire’. [audio]

For ease of reference, let’s call this McLaren’s Declaration (MD, for short). One gets the impression that, on (MD), speaking from a God’s eye point of view (GPV) isn’t a good thing. We should be “suspicious” of those who do. We shouldn’t take their claims as actually being true, but instead as covert attempts at something else, something ethically suspect—empire building. If I assert that p from a GPV, then this is because I have a desperate “need” to be in control; I have a personal agenda I want to “impose…on other people.”

Of course, in itself, this is purely ad hominem; it goes no distance at all towards showing there isn’t such a thing as a GPV. And in fact, that doesn’t seem to be McLaren’s point. What he wants to say, I take it, is that it’s flatly immoral—a serious defect in character—to even want to adopt a GPV. We should avoid this suspect vantage point like the plague. But what, precisely, is it that I’m to avoid? Understandably, McLaren can’t give us much in the podcast; however, he does mention Calvin’s James K. A. Smith, whose own musings on the topic suggest the following:

(GPV) For any individual S and proposition p, S asserts p from a God’s-eye-persepctive just in case the assertion that p entails that “one paradigm or language game [is] above another.”1

McLaren’s Mistake

Well, straight away we’ve got a problem, haven’t we? For Jesus’ declaration, namely,

(JD)     Jesus is the only way to God the Father; there are no other ways

is clearly made from a GPV. It clearly implies that Christianity is “above” other paths to God. For Christianity alone embraces (JD). Assuming, then, that (JD) is the truth of the matter—my own view, actually—any religious paradigm that denies John 14:6 is logically and inescapably false. That sure sounds like elevating one’s own paradigm “above” others to me.

But then if McLaren’s Declaration is true, we should actually be suspicious of Jesus’ claims; in particular, we should doubt (JD) itself. For what Jesus’ is doing, on McLaren’s view, is shameless empire building. This claim Jesus makes about himself—that he is the only way to the Father—is thus no more than a basic power grab. Not a pretty picture.

Perhaps McLaren would reply that it’s okay for Jesus to adopt a GPV for the simple reason that Jesus is God. Well, if that is true, then surely I, too, can confidently assert (JD) from a GPV in my conversations with those who reject the Savior. Naturally this will imply that Christianity is the only true religion, which will instantly place it alethically “above” all the rest (indeed, it will require that all the rest are false). Still, if it’s right and proper for Jesus to issue that declaration from a GPV, I can’t see how I could be faulted for bearing witness to Jesus’ claim from that same standpoint.

There is yet another muddle for McLaren, however, and this concerns (MD)–his own declaration. Without question, McLaren strongly endorses (MD)—nay, he enjoins it upon us as the settled truth of the matter. Those who follow McLaren in embracing (MD) have got it right. Those who don’t–well, they’re not quite up to post-colonial standards. It immediately follows that McLaren’s declaration entails that one paradigm (his own) is “above” others (e.g., mine). And that means that (MD) is a truth claim made from a GPV, in which case I am obliged to regard it with nothing but suspicion. (And indeed, I do regard it that way.)

So let me give you some post-post-colonial advice: when you hear Brian McLaren using the language of suspicion on the podcast (or anywhere else for that matter), you shouldn’t think to yourself “By George, he’s got it right. That’s orthodoxy.” Not for a moment. To the contrary, if you are a true McLarenite, you should obey his declaration strictly and literally, and think instead “That’s just empire. McLaren is building his kingdom.”

Works Cited

[1] James K. A. Smith, “A Little Story About Metanarratives” in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn, ed. Myron B. Penner (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), p. 131.
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