Book Reviews

The Voice of Luke, Not Even Sandals by Brian McLaren

The Voice of Luke is part of “The Voice Project” sponsored by the Ecclesia Bible Society. The project is derived from the concept that people today think, and therefore, need to read differently. “Instead of propositional-thought patterns, people today are more likely to interact with events and individuals through complex observations involving emotions, cognitive processes, tactile experiences, and spiritual awareness” (p. ix). It is for this reason the goal of "The Voice Project" to tell the story of the Bible in a narrative format, in order that the “passion, grit, humor and beauty” which is often lost in most translations, is recaptured. “One way to describe this approach is to say that it is a ‘soul translation’ not just a ‘mind translation’” (p. x). The editors admit, however, that their translations of Scripture are really a cross between translation and paraphrase, a “retelling” which seeks to bring “the biblical narratives to life and reads more like a great novel” (p. x).

In order to accomplish all of this, each literary unit (e.g. The Gospel of Luke) is assigned to a team that includes a skilled writer as well as biblical and theological scholars from a wide range of theological traditions. For this particular volume the author is emergent church leader Brian McLaren and the scholars were David Capes and (sadly) Darrell L. Bock of Dallas Seminary.

So far the project has provided “retellings” of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the books of Acts and Revelation and a volume apparently expressing The Project’s particular view of the kingdom. The only epistle addressed at this time is Hebrews. This is a bit telling for the rhetoric constantly coming from emergent circles is that the Bible is a story, a narrative, and not a propositional and theological treatise. Yet, The Project up until now has carefully navigated around almost all of the propositional, theological and non-narrative sections of Scripture. It will be most interesting to see how The Project tries to turn Romans and the other epistles into a story.

As for this particular volume, we must distinguish between the translation and the commentary or study notes. First, the translation is exactly as forewarned by the editor—it is not a translation but rather a paraphrase or retelling of the story. As a result it is unreliable and misleading in many places. Some examples:

1:1 – McLaren opens his paraphrase with “For those who love God.” This is an interpretation based on the name of the recipient of the Gospel, Theophilus, whose name is actually found in verse three. The vast majority of scholars believe Theophilus was a literal person, not a reference to those who love God in general.

2:11 – The paraphrase consistently translates “Savior” as “Liberator,” and “Christ” as “Liberating King.” This reflects McLaren’s bias concerning Jesus coming to save the world system rather than individuals.

3:3 – “Baptism” is translated “ritually washed.” The editors had informed the reader that words such as baptism, repentance and salvation would be turned into more common terminology (p. viii). But ritually washing hardly translates baptizo which means immersion and has nothing directly to do with ritual washings of the Jews.

3:38 – It is interesting that McLaren chose not to capitalize son in “Son of God.”

4:4 – Throughout, “Scriptures” are translated “the Hebrew Scriptures.” Not only does the original not use the words “the Hebrew” before the word “Scriptures” but this also seems reflective of McLaren’s concept of pluralism in regard to other religions and religious literature. The implication seems to be that, while the Hebrews had their Scriptures, other religions did as well.

9:35 – There are constant additions and subtractions to the text which are unnecessary at best. In this case the verse says, “Then a voice came out of everywhere and nowhere at once.” The original simply says “out of the cloud.”

10:4 – This one is interesting because it forms the basis for the subtitle of the book, Not Even Sandals. Jesus is telling His disciples not to “carry” extra shoes, but McLaren retells, “I don’t even want you to wear sandals, walk along barefoot, quietly” (emphasis his). It was some of the Roman Catholic mystics that practiced barefoot living, not the disciples of Jesus.

11:22 – McLaren simply makes up the phrase, “Can you see Satan as that old man of power and me as the new man of power?” (emphasis his).

21:19 – “By your endurance you will gain your lives” is morphed into, “By enduring all of these things, you will find not loss but gain—not death but authentic life.” (emphasis his).

22:18 – Here Jesus promises not “to drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” McLaren adds to this phrase, “In fullness,” reading, “Until the kingdom of God has arrived in fullness.” This addition is necessary to fit McLaren’s view of the kingdom, but is not in the original.

This gives a taste of the retelling. Like any paraphrase it is unreliable, highly subjective, and not faithful to the original languages. Paraphrases must be read with extreme caution, if read at all. As a paraphrase The Voice of Luke is probably superior to The Message which takes even more liberties with the text. But to say that this retelling reads like a novel (stated goal of the project) is a stretch. The Gospel narratives are already highly readable in good translations; McLaren’s version adds little, if anything, to clarity and takes away much in the way of reliability. Anything read in The Voice would need to be verified by a literal translation. Hence, what’s the point?

Turning next to the commentary we expect, and are not disappointed, that the author’s theology is apparent. McLaren wraps his theology around a liberal postmillennial understanding of the kingdom of God. Therefore, he is concerned about planet earth, social justice, political liberation and issues of poverty, almost to the exclusion of spiritual issues. This is constantly reflected in his commentary. He is able to take a vast amount of diverse material and reduce it to fit his agenda. His note on page eight reads “Luke is very interested in the ways that disadvantaged people of his day—the poor, the sick, and women—respond to God.” This is true, but Luke is just as concerned with the response of the advantaged, the wealthy, the powerful, and the leader. On page nine McLaren turns Mary’s song into one which calls for “a social, economic, and political revolution,” hardly Mary’s idea.

The kingdom of God, McLaren defines as, “Life as God intends it to be—life to the full, life in peace and justice, life in abundance and love.” And this “kingdom of God is available to everyone, starting now…For Jesus, the kingdom of God is about living life, and in particular living a life of love for God and for neighbor—whoever that neighbor may be” (p. 81). While on the one hand McLaren insists that the kingdom is here now, on the other hand he writes, “[The kingdom] will come as people pray, ‘May your kingdom come,’ with persistence and with humility” (p. 121). McLaren claims that Jesus’ point to the rich young ruler had nothing to do with his salvation, rather, “Jesus invited the man to stop collaborating with the Roman Empire for his own benefit and to switch sides—so he could start working with the kingdom of God for the sake of the poor…To start working for justice for the poor by collaborating with God’s kingdom” (p. 130).

In summary, The Voice of Luke is a combination of a typical paraphrase—unreliable, biased, subjective, of little (if any) value and a commentary which reflects an emergent liberal, postmillennial understanding of the kingdom of God.