Brian McLaren and his “choose your own adventure hermeneutic”

Speaking of the OT Prophets, “They spoke of a day when lions would lie down with lambs (an image not of literal biological upheaval but of social transformation – so that the violent, lionlike people with power would no longer oppress the vulnerable ones: the poor, elderly, orphans, and widows). They described a time when swords and spears would be melted down and recast as farm implements, when nations would not “learn war anymore.” The Secret Message of Jesus.

What markers or indications in the text allow Brian to redefine lion and lamb? Why are lion and lamb not literal, but swords and spears are literal? I’m really starting to see the importance of our consistent, literal hermeneutic.

If lion does not equal lion and if lamb does not equal lamb, then don’t the swords then represent the people who oppress others within their own families (swords are hand-to-hand only), and then the spears represent the people who oppress others in other societies and families (spears can be thrown a distance)? So the message is that these oppressors are going to be made into farm implements, or people who work God’s kingdom farm, i.e. fix the problem of world hunger!

  1. #1 by Phil on November 4, 2007 - 11:32 am

    Wow, Dave. I can’t say I’ve ever consider those verses to be a literal description of actual events. It’s definitely poetic and metaphorical language similar to the rest of the language in Isaiah.

    In Isaiah 25:6, it says,

    “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
    a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.

    Is that a description of an actual feast? It seems to me that it’s much more powerful when it’s seen in a metaphorical sense – that God is going to bless all nations through the work He began in Israel.

    By interpreting these passage in a purely literal sense, it seems to really reduce the full thrust that the prophet is getting at.

  2. #2 by clearly on November 4, 2007 - 12:48 pm


    It is obvious that there are times when the prophets use metaphorical language or employ literary devices. However, what McLaren did is different than from identifying a particular literary marker — he employed a figurative hermeneutic at his own whim. In one verse, we are to understand that lions with lambs is figurative. In the very next sentence, he interprets swords and spears as literal. Why? Because it fits his theology. We are all guilty of doing this to some degree. But, in my opinion, if we want to handle God’s Word with integrity, we should try to be consistent.

  3. #3 by Phil on November 4, 2007 - 2:02 pm

    The thing is, I don’t really think he is really saying swords and spears are literal. I don’t think McLaren is saying countries are going to start melting swords and spears. He say’s the prophet was envisioning a time when swords and spears would be melted down, meaning a time when nations would lay down arms. Generally, swords and spears were about the extent of weaponary used at the time Isaiah was alive, so for him to use other imagery wouldn’t make sense.

    I guess I’m not sure that you’re charge of inconsistency here holds much water in this case.

  4. #4 by clearly on November 4, 2007 - 4:58 pm

    Phil, swords and spears are used in a context of war, battle, or defense. I can’t think of another use for them. So when the prophet says they will be melted down, etc., the obvious meaning is that there is day approaching when those things will no longer be necessary. However, the obvious interpretation of lions lying down with lambs is not that easy. McLaren has suggested that the lions are oppressive people groups and that lambs are the poor, needy, etc. Where is the basis for this in the rest of the Scripture? Where is the basis for this in the text itself?

  5. #5 by Jeremy on November 7, 2007 - 10:35 pm

    Actually, I believe that swords are an offensive weapon, primarily. This clearly refers to those who go out and attack others with words. Like hell, sin, and separation. The spears are a, primarily, defensive weapon. This clearly refers to those who defend such minor doctrines as the atonement, innerrancy, and the virgin birth. This passage is a clear teaching on the importance of embracing an emerg(ing)ent view. If you’re going to use symbolism, Dave, at least be creative!

  6. #6 by Verity on November 8, 2007 - 5:09 am

    Interesting you mention that the sword is an offensive weapon used for words… Kind of like Ephesians 6:17 – where the only offensive weapon in our spiritual armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

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