In the opening chapters of Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity he posits one of the lamest and flimsiest liberal arguments I’ve encoutered to date as to why Christians need to abandon the historic/traditional understanding of the Bible and create a 'new kind of Christianity'. McLaren’s contention is that today’s Christians are guilty of looking backward at Jesus through a Greco-Roman narrative lens that misconstrues and distorts the true nature of God and the gospel message itself. Said McLaren:
I believe the Christian religion in the West, as it habitually read the Bible backwards through the lenses of later Christians, largely lost track of the frontward story line of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and so on, within which Jesus had emerged. It unwittingly traded its true heritage through Jesus from Judaism for an alien heritage drawn from Greek Philosophy and Roman Politics...
Now the god of this Greco-Roman version of the Biblical story bears a strange similarity in many ways to Zeus (Jupiter for the Romans), but we will name him Theos. The Greco-Roman god Theos, I suggest, is a far different deity from the Jewish Elohim of Genesis 1, or LORD referring ot the unspeakable name of the Creator of Genesis 2 and 12, not to mention the Abba to whom Jesus prayed. As a good — no, make that perfect — Platonic god, Theos loves spirit, state, and being and hates matter, story and becoming, since, once again, the latter involve change, and the only way to change or move from perfection is downward in decay. In fact, as soon as something drops out of the state of perfection, Theos is posessed by a pure and irresistible urge to destory it (or make it suffer).
So, having created a perfect world, now Theos is perfectly furious because it has been spoiled and is now decaying. It has fallen from its high table of perfection and is shattered on the floor...
Theos stands above, holding his thunderbolts ready to strike, ready to melt the whole damned think down to primal lava, ready to purge all that is imperfect...Every time we use terms like "the Fall" and "original sin," I believe, many of us are unknowingly importing more or less of this package of Greco-Roman, non-Jewish, and therefore nonbiblical concepts like a smuggler bringing foreign currency in the biblical economy or tourists introducing invasive species in the biblical ecosystem. (McLaren, pp. 41-43)
So, in McLaren’s view the ‘god’ that Christians have been worshiping for nearly two millenia isn’t the loving and benevolent fatherly and kind Biblical god ‘Elohim’ but instead is the false and bad tempered wrathful Greco-Roman god ‘Theos’.
McLaren’s theory is almost too stupid to warrant a scholarly response. And his caricature and straw man mischaracterization of the God worshipped and believed in by historic Christianity through McLaren's 'theos' character is nothing more than intentional dishonesty on his part. But, sadly in today’s Biblically-Illiterate church it is crucial that an easily understood scholarly refutation be given to this and many more of McLaren’s laughable postulations.
The simplest rebuttal to McLaren’s claim is found in the Hebrew text of Genesis 6. In that chapter both of the Hebrew names for God that McLaren writes favorably of are used, YHWH and Elohim. Let’s look at the relevant verses of this chapter and see what impact they have on McLaren’s theory. Each time God is mentioned in the verses below I will provide the Hebrew name written in the Masoretic text rather than an the English translation.
Genesis 6:5 YHWH (יְהוָ֔ה) saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And YHWH (יְהוָ֔ה) was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So YHWH (יְהוָ֔ה) said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH (יְהוָ֔ה).
6:11 Now the earth was corrupt in Elohim’s (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. ...17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.
This one section of the book of Genesis levels a broadside against McLaren’s theory and blows it out of the water (notice the intentional pirate lingo).
First, in Genesis 6 The God Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) claims that the thoughts of man's heart were only "evil continually". This is a verse in favor of the historic Christian doctrines of the fall and original sin. (Another clear statement from God regarding man's fallen and sinful nature is found two chapters ahead in Genesis 8:21. In that verse God says this about mankind "the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”) Furthermore, we learn from Genesis 6 that Elohim's (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) heart is greived because of mankinds inborn inclination to evil and Elohim's (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) solution is to punish mankind and 'blot out man' from the earth through a flood. In other words, the minkind's sin problem described in Genesis 6 sounds similar to the so-called "foreign Greco-Roman narrative" that McLaren claims was smuggled into Christianity. Furthermore the solution to the problem offered by Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֛ים) sounds similar to the solution that the false platonic god 'Theos' would call for. How can that even be possible IF these ideas of mankind's fall into sin and God's wrath are 'foreign to the text' as McLaren claims in his book? Answer: These doctrines are not foreign to the Biblical text at all! McLaren is engaging in deception.
What's even more embarrassing for Mclaren's 'theory' is the simple historical fact that Genesis 6 was written LONG LONG LONG before the rise of the Greco-Roman civilizations and cultures and is chronologically cut off from ANY Hellenistic or Roman influences. Fact is, Genesis was recorded by Moses somewhere between 1446 and 1406 BC. While Alexander the Great on the other hand, wasn’t even born until 356 BC. So Genesis predates any Greco-Roman influences by 1100 years. To claim that a Greco-Roman meta-narrative had any influence upon this text would be like claiming that Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln had a profound political influence on Charlemagne who lived from 742 A.D. to 814 A.D.
So what's really going on here?
Any unbiased reader of Genesis can easily see that the Hebrew text, written long before the rise of the Greco-Roman world teaches that humanity was created by God and enjoyed a face to face relationship with God prior to disobeying God by eating the fruit that God commanded our first parents not to eat. The result of Adam and Eve's rebellion resulted not only in a cursed creation but also a catastrophic alteration and marring of mankind's nature that made it so that the intention of man's heart was "only evil continually" and "evil from his youth". Furthermore, God has the moral and judicial right to punish all of mankind for their evil.
McLaren is doing nothing more than cherry picking the passages of the Bible that he likes and suppressing the ones he doesn't like in order to craft his own 'god'. The 'god' McLaren has constructed has some of the attributes of the God who has revealed Himself in the scriptures. But, those other attributes of God that McLaren has deemed to be "undesirable" have been omitted and suppressed. Fact is, Brian McLaren's 'god' is an idol and a false deity. SHE was deceitfully constructed from a highly redacted use of the Bible. But, its not hard to spot the Biblical passages that McLaren is trying to cover up and suppress. Genesis 6 is one of many that I could bring up.