Recently, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell said two things more clearly than they have said them in the past. For years, both McLaren and Bell have had serious issues with biblical Christianity. They have found the teachings of biblical Christianity offensive, distasteful, and outrageous. Having completed my dissertation on the hermeneutics of the emergent church, I have been convinced for some time now that these two men were imposters of Christian ministry, apostates from the faith.
λύκοι βαρεῖς is the term Paul uses in Acts 20:29 to describe the elders who would enter into the Christian community or who would even rise up from among that community. The wolf was used metaphorically to describe a vicious person. The latter term is a term used to describe someone who is vicious, fierce, or cruel. What prompts Paul to use the term “savage wolves” to describe these men? Put differently, how does one become a “savage wolf” in the eyes of the great apostle Paul, or more accurately, in the eyes of God? Paul uses the term λαλοῦντες διεστραμμένα as one of the things a man can do, and in fact these men will do in order to reveal their status as “savage wolves.” They will speak things that cause others to depart from an accepted standard of oral or spiritual values. The word belongs to the same semantic range as ἀποστρέφω, which is the word for apostasy.
For years, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have been telling us how wrong the Church was in its received dogma. They attacked everything from the atonement to eternal punishment to the exclusivity of the gospel. The evangelical church embraced these men as brothers even though she had some issues with some of the views they expressed in their books and sermons. For a long time, these men were intentionally vague in how they worded their views. The seemed to have a strategy to become as accepted and liked as possible before removing their mask. The Church sat by and did little to discourage this tactic. It is true, some pastors and theologians sounded alarms, but these men sound alarms all the time. The noise they make has simply become part of the rest of the noise that evangelicals hear every day and so, it went unnoticed for the most part. Now Mr. McLaren and Mr. Bell have finally graduated to a place of greater clarity.
Brian McLaren has revealed that he is indeed a Universalist. This should come as no surprise to anyone. He has said as much, albeit vaguely, behind a veil of sorts, for years now. Evangelicals were so enamored with him that they just didn’t want to hear that part. Rob Bell has come out to embrace gay Christians as being his brothers and sisters in Christ the same as heterosexuals. I wonder about his timing. This too, should take no one by surprise. I have long recognized that these men were “savage wolves” for years now and consequently have caught my share of criticism for it.
What is this apostasy really about? What is the gay controversy about? What are the attacks from modern culture really about? Americans are finished with the God of Scripture. They hate Him with a hatred that is deeply rooted in their sinful nature. The first strategy was to try to use the tool of hermeneutics to claim that the God we had been told Scripture reveals is not correct. We changed the hermeneutic so that we could change God. That worked for some, but not for others. We then attacked the Scriptures themselves, claiming that they are fallible. After all, an infallible Scripture is naïve position and only the most unsophisticated and backward people hold to such a view. This allowed us to dismiss some statements about God as the product of men whose projections of God were more the product of their bloody culture than divine revelation. This is precisely where McLaren and Bell land. That worked for some, but not for others. Finally, we simply dismiss the Bible as an old outdated archaic book written by men from a backwards culture who were anything but moral. With these beliefs about Scripture in hand, Americans obtained the autonomy they desired to revamp God into any god of their choosing. Indeed, Americanized Christianity is so far removed from biblical Christianity that one has to wonder if it isn’t better to call it something else.
That difficult task for the Church is to press the rewind button on the tolerance meter so that we can recover from this mess. You see, when you send the signal that men like McLaren and Bell are genuine brothers in Christ, others will think it is perfectly acceptable to treat the Word of God the same way they do. It is like allowing your children engage in harmful behavior without acting and then trying to change that behavior after you have tolerated for so long. This is indeed not an easy task. However, it is a task that we have no choice but to accept and perform.
Paul calls men who come along promoting the abandonment of Christian dogma as taught in Scripture “savage wolves.” He also says explicitly that if he had failed to declare this whole standard of God, that the blood of his audience would be on his hands. For those of you who think it appropriate to receive McLaren and Bell as brothers and leaders in the Christian community, you should read this text of Scripture very closely.
For those who think that this is just another hyper-critical alarmist, I would direct you to another of Paul’s statements in Acts 20:31: Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. There are those in the Church who see this kind of behavior as radically critical. Some call it intellectual bullying. Yet, according to this sentence, Paul himself was not nonchalant nor did he relax in how he delivered Christian dogma. The idea is that the elders were to be in a constant state of readiness! This is military language that one would use for a unit that was placed on high alert. The cause of this status is that a threat exists. Paul sees any teaching that encourages us to abandon the received dogma of Scripture as a threat, in fact, the use of words like “blood,” “savage wolves,” and “alert” are indicators that he was deadly serious about this behavior. For three years Paul warned the Church at Ephesus with tears.
μετὰ δακρύων νουθετῶν is the phrase “admonish with tears.” Literally, in this order, “with tears admonishing.” To smooth it out in modern English it reads, “admonishing with tears.” The word for admonish, which we often understand as teach, has a much stronger sense here. It means to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct, to warn, to advise someone concerning the dangerous consequences of some happening or action.” The general thrust here is that false teaching destroys human beings, it should be taken seriously, and God has ordained elders to protect His body from false teachers whom He labels as “savage wolves.” Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have willingly, and voluntarily, admitted to having a goal of turning those in the church away from the standard handed down in orthodox Christianity. Paul labels them as “savage wolves.” We do not help these men by softening Paul’s description of them and we certainly do nothing to help the body of Christ when we do not sound the alarm for what it is, an alarm that a threat to your soul is present and you must act.