Lee Irons on McLaren’s Gospel

To see an insightful piece on “McLaren’s gospel” and how this emergent church stream differs from historic biblical Christianity, this post by Lee Irons is a must-read.

One quote that struck a chord with me in my observations of those who are influenced by McLaren:

McLaren goes on to describe the solution (p. 79):

Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus respond to the crisis?

Conventional View: Jesus says, in essence, “If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell.” This is the good news.

Emerging View: Jesus says, in essence, “I have been sent by God with this good news — that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way. Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now.” This is the good news.

Again, distortion. McLaren’s crass characterization of the atonement hints that he agrees with some of the criticisms currently being leveled against penal substitutionary atonement — it sanctions violence, it pits the Father against the Son, it is cosmic child abuse, and/or it does not reflect God’s love. McLaren ignores the Trinitarian and Chalcedonian context of the atonement which orthodoxy has always maintained. The Father loves the Son, even when the Son is undergoing divine wrath for us, for the Father is most exalted and most pleased by his Son’s obedience unto death. Furthermore, the giving up of his Son to bear divine wrath in order to satisfy divine justice is an expression of the Father’s own love for sinners.

With regard to his own view, notice the inherent moralism of his gospel. One simply changes his or her current path and becomes a disciple of Jesus with the goal of trying to transform the world. In other words, repentance means switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, switching from being a gas-guzzling, capitalist consumer to a Prius-driving, recycling, African-orphan-adopting, war protestor.

The underlining emphasis of the last paragraph was added by me. Read the whole thing.

(HT: Between Two Worlds)


About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
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3 Responses to Lee Irons on McLaren’s Gospel

  1. Ryan says:

    Most of the emerging church, as I know it, takes McLaren’s artistic flare with a grain of salt. He is not what you might call a theologian; he is more of a poet.
    I did not get the same sense as this post incites that McLaren is against substitution atonement, but instead, like N.T. Wright, he seeks to mitigate the perceived understanding that substitution atonement IS the gospel in its entirety. Whereas evangelicalism seems to paint the atonement as a lone soloist in the dark, Wright et al longs to see the atonement buttressed within a more symphonic holistic setting. He is not pitting Son against Father, but reacting against how it appears fundamentalists pit heaven against earth – refusing to hear God’s pronouncement in genesis that His creation is good! In reaction, McLaren focuses, sometimes too much so, on the explicit instructions by Jesus to pray to the Father that ‘His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’. The understanding is that God is, and has been, at work to redeem Hid creation, and that we as the church should open our eyes and join in – even if this means going against traditional evangelical norms and conventions. This is not about ‘saving’ the world; it is about being a part of God’s New Creation – it is not something that we do, but something that we join in with.

    The story doesn’t end with our sins being forgiven, nor is our holiness measured primarily by what we abstain from. No, God is holy, God should be feared; we should love what he loves and care for what he cares for.

    In my opinion, don’t read McLaren – read N.T. Wright – and then decide for yourself.

  2. pjtibayan says:


    Thanks for your comments and taking the time to share and discuss this post with me.

    No one I know who holds to penal substitution holds it as the gospel in its entirety. I think that is a common caricature that is not accurate. I only think certain sectors of evangelicalism paint “the atonement as a lone soloist in the dark.”

    So does McLaren affirm the substitutionary death of of Christ as the recipient of the penalty for our sins? If not, then that is wrong and anti-gospel, since that lack of affirmation would be a conscious and intentional denial of a critical gospel truth not by one who is ignorant, but one who knows and rejects the truth of the statement.

    I don’t know much of N.T. Wright’s theology though I do know his definition of justification as to be declared into the people of God misses the point. I do like N.T. Wright’s stuff on Jesus as I’ve listened to a few lectures, but I do think the story of Israel seen in every parable is overstated. But I’m no N.T. Wright expert and would love to read and learn more of his teachings if the Lord gives me time and opportunity.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Ryan says:


    I have no desire here to defend McLaren; though I am grateful that he as a writer is willing to tackle some of the important issues of our day, I think he makes many wrong turns (careless overstatements and omissions) and so should be read with a critical eye. I am interested though in any issue put forward against Wright – since Wright influences McLaren, and not the other way around, I’d suggest focusing on the former (just as it would be unwise to judge John Piper through a reading of John Eldridge).
    I am curious then about the issues you have raised: why do you feel that Wright’s definition of justification (vindication) misses the point? Why do you think seeing the story of Israel in every parable is overstated?

    If I could I would love to put up a good defense for Wright’s general theology, but no one can do this better than Wright himself.
    Please check out his article on justification…


    Thanks for the discussion.

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