***Apologies are in order for the following:
1) This was written as a part of a research paper, so it reads like a paper, not a blog post.
2) I may or may not respond to comments on this one, but feel free to leave them.
The ECM is largely driven by their understanding of the biblical concept of kingdom. They accuse evangelicals of ignoring or explaining away passage of Scripture which deal with the kingdom; so, to them, the message of Jesus and the Bible is not about personal salvation, but about the kingdom. Steve Chalke writes, “It [kingdom] advances with faith: when people believe it is true, it becomes true. And it advances with reconciling, forgiving love: when people love strangers and enemies, the kingdom gains ground.” The kingdom, then, is established by the efforts of humans and is possible in this age. Actually, Chalke even takes it further, “…what has been known as impossible is now becoming actual.” McLaren writes,
What if Jesus’ secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn’t come to start a new religion – but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?”
Chalke echoes, “…the core of Jesus’ life-transforming, though often deeply misunderstood, message is this: The Kingdom, the in-breaking shalom of God, is available now to everyone through me.” The content of the above quotes demonstrates the heart of much of the ECM; unfortunately, this understanding of kingdom is missing only one key element, regeneration. Did Jesus come to start a revolution that would change the world or did he come to offer men life? Even if the first advent of Christ was about establishing a new world, would this new world not include individual salvation?
It is clear throughout the text of Scripture that the kingdom is made up of regenerate individuals. Jesus, clearly alluding to kingdom/new covenant contexts in the Old Testament, tells Nicodemus that he must be born from above in order to ever be a part of the kingdom. In an attempt to fix problems with evangelical orthopraxy (failure to practice properly), the ECM has diagnosed the problems of evangelicalism as a failure to understand and practice kingdom. However, if it were even possible for humans to bring the kingdom to earth, then its makeup would be completely regenerate. However, this is not so with the ECM. Their kingdom consists of freeing the oppressed, feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, fighting AIDS, advancing the Green Party’s environmental agenda; it has little, if anything, to do with preaching the gospel of the cross so that men can have life. That is why the term pseudobasileia has been chosen for this section; the kingdom preached by those in the ECM is a false kingdom.
In terms of Jesus, the ECM attempts kingdom works and ethics without kingdom regeneration. In terms of Paul, the ECM attempts imperatives without first settling indicatives. The fact is, if an individual is not regenerated, justified, reconciled, redeemed, etc., then that person is incapable of consistently living out the ethics of the kingdom taught by Jesus and just as incapable of living out the imperatives which naturally flow from the Pauline indicatives. However, McLaren seeks to turn eternal life in an imperative itself. He writes concerning the episode in John 3,
The Greek phrase John uses for “eternal life” literally means “life of the ages,” as opposed, I think we could say, to “life as people are living these days.” So John’s related phrases – eternal life, life to the full, and simply life – give us a unique angle on what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God”…Born anew or born again, like eternal life, is another frequently misunderstood phrase, one that many people make equivalent to saying a prayer at the end of a booklet or tract, or having an emotional experience at the end of a church service. It often signifies a status achieved through some belief or experience, so that it becomes an adjective: “I’m a born-again Christian.” But it’s clear that Jesus isn’t just talking about a religious experience or status that Nicodemus needs to acquire like some sort of certification.
While conservative Christians should hardly believe regeneration is simply saying a prayer, it is equally as clear that we should hardly believe that eternal life is “life as people aren’t living these days.” He creates a false dichotomy. To McLaren it’s either the easy believism, fire insurance gospel or it’s salvation by doing works for the pseudobasileia.
The gospel would not be lost if their error was merely believing the kingdom could be brought to earth. The problem for the gospel is that their kingdom does not include it. To illustrate what he means by extending the kingdom, Steve Chalke tells a story about his friend with throat cancer that reached out to one John Diamond, who at that time was also a throat cancer patient. The efforts of some Christians to evangelize Diamond had left a bitter taste in his mouth towards God. In an effort to help this man, Steve’s friend told him how much his faith helped him through the trial and then said, “In my experience God brings meaning and hope to the random stuff that happens in life.” The story goes on to explain that the two were going to meet, but that Diamond passed away before the opportunity arose. Chalke comments, “Many would see that as a lost opportunity to share the gospel.” He goes on to explain that he believes the interaction his friend had with Diamond was sharing the gospel. This is merely an illustration that the ECM has attempted to reduce the gospel of the kingdom to simply Christ’s reaching out to the poor and needy, to the social outcasts (which ironically were illustrations themselves). So, if the gospel is merely reaching out to someone who has a need, then his friend did share the gospel. However, if the gospel of the kingdom is at all about personal salvation, then his friend never did get the opportunity to share the good news.
McLaren tells an almost identical story. The details are very different, however. The similarity is that his kingdom story lacks the gospel almost to the same extent as Chalke’s. Mclaren has a friend who drives taxi in a major U.S. city. He has made several trips to Africa for the purpose of being an extension of the kingdom. Over multiple trips, he helped build a road, defended an innocent man from the oppression of the legal system, helped with medical care, helped improve farming, started a sports program, and finally on his last trip helped start a Bible school. It took four trips before the Bible was even mentioned as part of the kingdom work. Further, does the Bible school teach the people more about Christ than simply instructing them to attempt kingdom works?
The ECM has completely missed the point of the kingdom; to them, the kingdom is about doing works for the underprivileged, not about helping them find salvation in Christ alone. Thus, the charge of preaching the gospel of the pseudobasileia is warranted.
Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 32.
Ibid, 31. Their over-realized escahatology is not only present in regards to final salvation, but also in regards to the physical kingdom.
McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 4. The mindset quoted above shows McLaren’s entire understanding of the Bible. He writes, “Moses was what we might call a revolutionary political leader and liberator, a cross perhaps between George Washington and Nelson Mandela.” So Jesus is not a better mediator than Moses, rather, He is a better revolutionary.
Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 16. In fairness to Steve Chalke, later in his book, he refers to the kingdom as partly a “spiritual revolution.”
A careful reading of John 3 clarifies this point – except Nicodemus is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom. Jesus’ usage of “water” and the “spirit” has caused many Bible commentators to believe that he is referencing Ezekiel 36, a kingdom/New Covenant passage. It is clear that kingdom and the new birth are intrinsically tied. Even in Jeremiah 31, it is clear that intimately associated with the kingdom is the work of God in creating a new heart and new spirit within the people.
After explaining for over a page how ordinary people can be “secret agents” for God’s kingdom (not of which included the gospel at all), McLaren writes on page 87 of The Secret Message of Jesus, “Maybe you’re a state governor or corporate consultant or rock star or police officer or military officer. All of these jobs can become vocations if you engage in them as an agent of God’s kingdom (emphasis mine).”
McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 37-38.
Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 150.
On a humorous note, McLaren comments concerning his friend’s starting a soccer program, “. . . because in the kingdom of God, fun and play are important things. Carter knew this. He even helped them get uniforms, because in the kingdom of God, dignity and pride are also important things.”