The Curious Case of Sean McCraney (and the problem of church history)

Sean McCraney was a Mormon who openly put his faith in an Evangelical brand of Christianity and was born-again by most Evangelical measures. Yet, lately, he sounds like Joseph Smith or Brigham Young when he talks about the extant traditional Christian church.  This seems indicative of both his Mormon and Calvary Chapel roots, and his blatantly contrarian attitude.

Sean McCraney’s approach to theology seems common sense. To a modern liberal who answers to God alone, the church has clearly needed fixing over the years.  It does not represent the “good guys,” just “some guys” who happened to have attracted enough credentials and attention to make policy. Common sense tells people like McCraney that if you can fix something using Biblical interpretation, can’t you fix anything, including the Trinity?  Can’t you reject any doctrine of pagan origin if you can reasonably show it to be such?  McCraney’s refrain is as common as his sense. If “only God can judge us” it is clear to many that “we run things things don’t run we.”

While anarchy is not necessarily an irrational response to the corruption of the world, it is clearly a practically unreasonable one. Tim’s last post pointed out the firm, yet soft-spoken response to McCraney by Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ Presbyterian Church.  For the first time, perhaps, I recognized the complexities of positively explaining the historical church and its necessity for those who believe in the historical theology.

McCraney’s case might show Evangelicals something important about their brand of Christianity strikes people. It is easy for Mormons to pick up Evangelical views of salvation–and these views are also often quite spiritually effective–but it is very difficult to explain and swallow the historical Church. This is one of the seeds that sprouted into Mormonism. It’s far easier to reject the church as fundamentally corrupt or essentially irrelevant than to shoehorn its history  into a neat package that can appeal to modern sensibilities.  In a small way, the McCraney case shows that Evangelical Protestants have as big a problem with church history as do Mormons.

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72 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Sean McCraney (and the problem of church history)

  1. What historical problem did you see in Pastor Wallace’s presentation?

    I’ve have always understood Protestant historical claims to be pretty moderate.

  2. I didn’t see a historical problem with his presentation. I see a problem with coming up with a narrative that adequately explains the history of the church.

  3. If someone needs a Church history hermetically sealed from the world to create a facsimile of an idealized Act’s 2 institution, I am afraid people are setting themselves up for failure.

    What I have not seen is McCraney dealing with the historical development of theology or any of the actual issues confronting the Church at Nicaea and the other early councils. Instead he embraces the conspiracy of parallelomania to create controversy and garner attention. Perpetually.

  4. If someone needs a Church history hermetically sealed from the world to create a facsimile of an idealized Act’s 2 institution, I am afraid people are setting themselves up for failure.

    These someones are the people that join the Mormon Church.

  5. I would imagine restorationist historical narratives do not make contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints any easier.

  6. Do they all fail?

    Yes, absolutely.

    Because Mormonism in no way, shape or form presents “a Church history hermetically sealed from the world to create a facsimile of an idealized Act’s 2 institution,” regardless of what Mormons purport.

  7. If they did, would they be acceptable? Are they inherently incoherent with the faith?

    Restorationism seems a major part of the cause of Mormonism’s theological unraveling from the orthodox perspective.

    But can you can explain Christian history without some sort of restorationist narrative.

  8. @kullervo.

    I get that.

    But maybe what I am getting at is: Does the restorationist delusion always create a stumbling block that leads to real failure in a traditional Christian sense?

  9. But can you can explain But can you can explain Christian history without some sort of restorationist narrative.Christian history without some sort of restorationist narrative.

    Yes. Ecclesia semper reformanda est.

    Does the restorationist delusion always create a stumbling block that leads to real failure in a traditional Christian sense?

    Yes, because it denies the working of the Holy Spirit throughout the history of the church.

  10. Wouldn’t explaining Christian history with a restorationist narrative imply accepting restorationist presuppositions?

    How far a people separate themselves from the visible Church with a restoration narrative would probably be a better predictor of failure than having a goal of restoring the Church of Act’s. The person and work of Christ is sufficient to overcome a naive history.

  11. Looking at you OP I an not sure I am convinced a Mormon is really “getting” the Evangelical views of salvation if the Church is understood as simply fundamentally corrupt or essentially irrelevant. It seems one of the first things I learned was the importance of the Church, even as an imperfect institution. Rather than trying to recreate the Church in our own image isn’t it easier to remember that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there””

  12. I see your point, for sure. That is definitely what I got from Wallace. To me it seems that the discussion about the place of the small “c” catholic church as it is generally discussed in Christian discussion is almost completely unknown to Mormons. The concept is also generally unknown to secular culture. It might not an easy one for a former Mormon like McCraney to embrace out of foreignness alone.

    My curiosity is, Where does a “born-again Mormon”—which is what McCraney has always claimed to be–fit in Christendom?

    McCraney seems to have met Evangelicals only half way.He casts himself as a wacky and unusual piece of the body of Christ (the belly button maybe). He was born again– can’t he still make such a claim?

    In practice they may want to break bread with him anymore simply because of his offensive/confrontational style. But should they continue to break bread with him in principle if he still preaches Paul without endorsing the Trinity?

  13. As a rule I don’t judge peoples state of born againness. James tells us that not many should become teachers. Mr. McCraney may want to follow Luther and reassess the book of James. It seems that the Lord’s brother may have providentially been talking directly to him. His assumption that born againness comes with the tools and gifts to start a teaching ministry seems to be mistaken.

    I think a born again Mormon would find themselves in much the same place as a born again Jew in the first century, in need of becoming a disciple, in need of faith, repentance, regular participation in worship, hearing the word preached participating in the sacraments etc.

    The problem as I see if from a small c catholic perspective is that by claiming that Jesus is a manifestation of the one God creates questions that McCraney hasn’t addressed. I think it would be reasonable, if not required to flesh out his beliefs before he came to the Lord’s Table. You need to wonder if he is aware of the problems he is creating by trying to make God rational.

  14. McCraney doesn’t help his case much by bragging repeatedly about how much he sinned in the past and how awesome it is that Jesus makes all that irrelevant so he can be a role model for all his listeners.

    It makes it sound more or less like McCraney was really just a douchebag who wanted to feel good about himself “just-the-way-he-was” and the LDS Church wasn’t letting him do that.

    The anarchical fringe of the Evangelical movement gets a lot of those types.

    “It’s just me, my Jesus, and my Bible” so I don’t need to worry about either that nasty church history stuff, or how I was abusive to my wife and kids way back when. I’m OK anyway!

    It’s really just a step removed from atheism. Except the atheists are at least honest that they’re pulling their ethics and world view out of their butt and making it up as they go along.

  15. I think that criticism is overboard. Do you view Paul in the same light, as the “worst of sinners”. In that regard I think McCraney is just following a Biblical pattern or highlighting the great work Jesus has done. I think he’s also telling his Mormon critics that he’s just not going to play the game of “We’re you a righteous Mormon?”. In Shawn’s view, his righteousness as a Mormon is secondary to the grace he received so he might as well own that he was a sinner and allow us to think whatever we want about him.

  16. Tim, I don’t consider bragging about how your sins give you more “Evangelical street cred” as a radio jock is even remotely in keeping with the spirit of repentance or grace.

    I view the guy as a radio loudmouth who has found a highly convenient justification for having his own bigoted opinions without reference to anyone else.

    “Jesus saved me, so I can say what I want.”

    And incidentally, I run into this attitude among Evangelical anti-Mormons on a fairly routine basis.

  17. Kullervo, everyone should be uncomfortable with it. Because it’s not a clear cut thing.

    There’s more to the Atonement than “Jesus did it, all – ha, ha – I win!”

  18. McCraney’s “license to ill” generally seems limited to lambasting and ranting, the fact that he is somewhat financially supported in doing so says more than his theology, we all say stupid stuff to make a living. My knock on him is one of style. He is annoying like a Fox News commentator.

  19. I think his “Jesus saved me, so I can say what I want.” is a different issue than his “Yes, I was a sinner, I am guilty of all of the sins”.

  20. While it is not a license to be socially odious, “Jesus did it all” is pretty accurate. And rejoicing in the complete sufficiency and salvific efficacy of the cross is not only an appropriate reaction, but the only reasonable reaction. Jesus is mighty to save.

  21. To rejoice in the Atonement, you have to actually appreciate it. You have to actually view it as rescuing you from your sins, not enabling you in your sins.

    People who misuse the Atonement in this way do not appreciate what it is.

    McCraney isn’t the repentant son who comes home to his father’s house and finds a welcoming father.

    He’s the prodigal son still living in the city bragging to his friends about how his father will forgive him.

  22. And telling everyone who will listen about his jerk of an older brother who just doesn’t get it.

  23. Gundeck, I don’t really know all that much about McCraney the man. All I know is McCraney, the public persona.

    This is the message he’s been sending me.

    To me, that’s plenty enough to be going on with.

    Personally, I have every confidence that McCraney will be a beneficiary of Christ’s grace and will receive happiness beyond what he, or I, or any of us deserve.

    But that still leaves his rather destructive ministry to deal with.

  24. To rejoice in the Atonement, you have to actually appreciate it. You have to actually view it as rescuing you from your sins, not enabling you in your sins.

    Your fallen nature ensures that, even after regeneration, you will continue to sin. If you boast that you can sin all you want but its cool because you’re saved, I would not be confident that God has made a new heart in you. On the other hand, if you absolutely should boast that Jesus has saved you despite the fact that you are a sinner and continue to sin, like every other saved person.

    People who misuse the Atonement in this way do not appreciate what it is.

    People who misuse the Atonement by denying it to sinners do not appreciate what it is.

    McCraney isn’t the repentant son who comes home to his father’s house and finds a welcoming father.

    He’s the prodigal son still living in the city bragging to his friends about how his father will forgive him.

    Or is he the prodigal son bragging to the world about how his father has already forgiven him?

  25. And if you’d witnessed the pain and hatred of the “Heart of the Matter” supporters as often as I have in my travels, you might have a different view on this piece of work with a pulpit.

    I’m not talking about people who found peace and forgiveness in Jesus. I’m talking about people whose words ooze with insecurity, hatred, fear, and resentment. It’s frequent enough with people who find their way into my path from Heart of the Matter, that I’ve come to conclude there is something simply toxic going on over there.

  26. You just pronounced him an unrepentant prodigal’s son and mis-user of the atonement? No pain and hatred?

  27. I don’t think I have shifted anything, I can have absolutely zero respect for the man as a teacher and still remain hesitant to pronounce him an unrepentant prodigal’s son.

    I’m open to reexamine my position but so far I am not convinced McCraney even comprehends the implications of his rationalizing of God. His Jesus is not a man and the Son is not God. He certainly has not shown a grasp of the distinction between a manifestation of God and the incarnation. If someone is in error there should be hope for correction and a focus on the incarnation not being a manifestation seems the most probable area to focus. The Christian saviour is fully human and fully God, all of McCraney’s followers need to understand that he just took that away.

  28. Oh, I am sorry.

    I’ve been wanting to say that anyway. The whole argument about greek philosophy is irritatingly irrelevant. It always comes back to “who do you say that I am?” and “another manifestation” is about as unsatisfying an answer as I have heard.

  29. I’m thinking that McCraney – due to his Mormon upbringing – simply misunderstands the historical Protestant views of Sola Scriptura. He thinks it means what it looks like it means – that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation. He didn’t get the memo about the Bible being authoritative only when its interpreted through the lens of the early Church councils.

  30. Tim, I’m embarrassed if that spilled over into a zing. I do, however, think that its absolutely a reality for many new or fringe Evangelicals.

  31. Christian J, while I don’t think that your characterization (implying that the early ecumenical creeds supercede the Bible itself in authority) is entirely accurate, I do agree that Sola Scriptura does not mean “just me and my Bible.”

  32. A theology is part and parcel with its methods of interpretation, i.e. its philosophy. The Creeds are not just a distillation of scripture, they are a distillation of a lot of philosophy. McCraney may still have the prejudice about the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. Of course, that problem is inescapable, at least on the personal level

  33. I do agree that Sola Scriptura does not mean “just me and my Bible.”

    At least it hasn’t meant that historically. Though, I’m not at all surprised to see people like McCraney jumping the shark. Although the Reformers never intended to abandon core theological traditions, much of the Evangelical rhetoric I’ve seen over my lifetime is leading to it – intended or not.

  34. Jared,

    You can call it philosophy or hermeneutic but in either case the the liturgy and worship of the early Church proceeded creeds. I struggle to imagine Jesus as a manifestation of God like the burning bush compelling prayer and worship.

  35. Christian J,

    I don’t think that the reformers intended the abandonment of the institutional Church that we have witnessed.

  36. . . . the liturgy and worship of the early Church proceeded creeds.

    But aren’t the liturgy and the worship the things most subject to the slogan ecclesia semper reformanda est. It seems to me that the creeds are the stake in the ground that everything swings around.

    The doctrine itself is fascinating. Its hard to tell if the slogan means perpetual small-scale restorationism (rather than wholesale restorationism), progressive innovation, or simply an excuse for whatever pragmatic change is necessary, i.e. a new law against dead-hand control. It smacks of the way we do constitutional interpretation in the U.S. (not saying if that is good or bad)

  37. I have never understood “ecclesia semper reformanda est” to refer to restorationism in any part. To confuse restoration and reformation is basically ignore the stated goals of the two movements.

    My original point about the liturgy is that the Christian Church was worshiping and glorifying Christ as God well before the creedal imperative. In other words the rule of faith preceded the declaration of faith.

  38. Jesus Christ put the church into the hands of fallen sinners. We have always had everything we need for our salvation, but we also have the ability and resources to come to a greater and deeper understanding of the things of God.

    Ecclesia semper reformanda est doesn’t mean that we constantly watch the church so that we can take the church back to the original “pure church” as it existed at the time of the apostles any time it strays. That would be restorationism.

    Ecclesia semper reformanda est means that part of the process of coming to a greater and deeper understanding of the things of God over time is constantly checking our developing understanding against the solid foundation of God’s word, and getting rid of whatever is not built on that sure foundation.

  39. A friend of mine observed that the subtext of this whole discussion seems to be that Mormons are somehow incapable of understanding Christian orthodoxy because of how their minds have been poisoned against it. And even when a Mormon leaves Mormonism and devotes years of his life to opposing the LDS Church and preaching the truth of Christian orthodoxy he is still somehow crippled and incapable of understanding it.

    He wondered how Kullervo magically escaped from this trap.

  40. Seth,

    I don’t agree. I am withholding judgment until McCraney finishes his presentation but I’ll bet it has more to do with good old Americun I don’t worship the pope anti-catholicism than anything else.

  41. Well, I don’t think that Mormons are any more crippled than anyone else in this regard either.

    I see anti-Church Evangelicals all over the place in the United States. And most of them aren’t ex-Mormons. I think it just comes from American distrust of institutions in general.

  42. A friend of mine observed that the subtext of this whole discussion seems to be that Mormons are somehow incapable of understanding Christian orthodoxy because of how their minds have been poisoned against it. And even when a Mormon leaves Mormonism and devotes years of his life to opposing the LDS Church and preaching the truth of Christian orthodoxy he is still somehow crippled and incapable of understanding it.

    He wondered how Kullervo magically escaped from this trap.

    By the grace of God, for whom all things are possible?

    Honestly, I do think that Mormons can have a really hard time understanding Christian orthodoxy because of how their minds have been poisoned against it. God knows I did when I first came out of Mormonism. I tried and tried, but Christianity was just elusive, which is why I abandoned it altogether. When I started to be drawn back in 2012, I know I was seeing things completely differently. Maybe theological detox due to years of atheism and paganism? Or maybe just the indelible, irresistible grace of God who draws sinners to him to repent and find salvation?

    I think an ex-Mormon trying to understand orthodoxy can definitely be his own worst enemy. But “crippled and incapable?” I certainly thought so at one time, but “crippled and incapable” is some pretty strong and absolute terminology when we’re talking about what the creator of the universe can and can’t to.

  43. I don’t even think you need to leave Mormonism.

    For instance, I’d be willing to wager I have a better handle on Catholic history and theology than a lot of Catholics in the United States.

    Not that that counts for much. But I do question the usefulness of trying to imply something insidious hidden inside of people that prevents them from being valid participants in the public discussion.

  44. For instance, I’d be willing to wager I have a better handle on Catholic history and theology than a lot of Catholics in the United States.

    If you’re saying that you genuinely understand Thomistics, then you are a smarter man than I.

  45. A friend of mine observed that the subtext of this whole discussion seems to be that Mormons are somehow incapable of understanding Christian orthodoxy because of how their minds have been poisoned against it. And even when a Mormon leaves Mormonism and devotes years of his life to opposing the LDS Church and preaching the truth of Christian orthodoxy he is still somehow crippled and incapable of understanding it.

    He wondered how Kullervo magically escaped from this trap.

    Aquinas, You’re welcome to comment anytime you want. No need to lurk and have Seth return and report what you thought about the discussion. 😉

    In a completely different forum with ex-Mormon Evangelicals it has also been expressed how difficult it was to transition to orthodoxy without bumping into preconceived Mormon notions. David Clark has also expressed how hard it was for him in overcoming Mormon assumptions. For all of them (and Kullervo) they said it took a lot of hard work and the humility to recognize that they might need to start from the beginning. It’s part of the purpose of the “Transitions” video series.

    For Shawn McCraney, I think he’s doing something akin to the opposite. He’s still reacting against Mormonism. He’s embraced not-Mormonism to the point of heresy.

  46. In all fairness Tim – I’ve seen Evangelicals over at CARM who never were Mormon do the same thing McCraney has.

  47. The underlying problem is that McCraney, on some level, is correct. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an inevitable conclusion from scripture. It was devised to avoid what were considered unacceptable philosophical problems. The fundamentals of the Trinitarian view of God are certainly in scripture, but the formulation of the creeds is neither intuitively obvious, or a foregone conclusion when reason is applied to scripture. There also seems to be the misconception that understanding the Trinity entails belief. i.e. if you really got it, you would understand that it is the only answer.

    Believers in the Trinity see the critical importance of the differences, but part of this is the “faith seeking understanding” stance of most of traditional theology where philosophical proofs are interpreted as the means by which we come to have philosophical insight into things we previously believed solely on testimony.

  48. I’ve seen Evangelicals over at CARM who never were Mormon do the same thing McCraney has.

    For sure. The entire Oneness Pentecostal camp is there too. You don’t have to be Mormon to bump up against the Trinity with some confusion.

    What confuses me is why you want to participate in conversation with people with a strong anti-intellectual streak and the inability to understand abstract thought. I’m well aware of the mad-libbers who look for every opportunity insert their favorite anti-Mormon zinger into the conversation and think if anything resembles Mormonism it must be false (anti-parrallelomania).

  49. The underlying problem is that McCraney, on some level, is correct. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an inevitable conclusion from scripture. It was devised to avoid what were considered unacceptable philosophical problems. The fundamentals of the Trinitarian view of God are certainly in scripture, but the formulation of the creeds is neither intuitively obvious, or a foregone conclusion when reason is applied to scripture.

    I think you’re right about this Jared. But when you start asking some pointed questions about what the Bible is revealing you start getting backed into the doctrine of the Trinity. Which is why McCraney is resisting answering questions (both publicly and privately). They reveal he’s only interacting with one side of the argument.

    There also seems to be the misconception that understanding the Trinity entails belief. i.e. if you really got it, you would understand that it is the only answer.

    I think the orthodox are generally permissive when it comes to misunderstanding the Trinity. If people are confused or imprecise most of the time no one gets their knickers in a bunch. It’s when people start outright rejecting the concept that things get testy. It has a habit of revealing other heresies and/or character flaws (for example in Mormonism the greater heresy is that man can be a god).

  50. True, McCraney rails against the Trinity, but ultimately without engaging in the underlying theology of the trinity, or presenting some other cogent position, he is just some dude and his biblical opinion. Fine as that goes, if he is enlightening people despite his antagonism fine, but he is not Jesus clearing the temple here. His resistance of the “evil” of the Trinity seems very messy in light of his other theological positions. Protestant freedom has to be tidy right?

  51. Jared,

    You keep saying Greek philosophy as if there was one amorphous philosophy that dictated the theology of the early church. What type of Greek philosophy is presumed by the theology of Trinity? What unacceptable philosophical problem does the theological doctrine of the Trinity prevent?

    Sure there could be other explanations, I can understand the theology behind the Diaphisites and even Monophysites. I couldn’t disagree more about McCraney, If there is another explanation about the doctrines of God and Christology it certainly cannot be turning Jesus Christ into a manifestation of God like the burning bush. I don’t think there is a “get it” check in the box but taking away the true humanity of Jesus really does have some significant theological implications.

  52. I am speaking Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy and their subsequent revivals by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. The Trinity, in itself, seems to entail a view of God that is very informed by these philosophies. Why, because they were hashed out when Plato and Aristotle were the acknowledged masters.

    I endorse none of McCraney’s arguments. I think his views are completely untrustworthy and generally unsupported. Again, I think his theology is common sense not intellectual.

  53. But as I have pointed out before the creeds reject the basic presuppositions of an un-personal God, un-created matter, and eternal existance of Plato, in the first clause. If I pick my philosophy and then my theology how does that work?

    Besides Aquinas comes about 900 years after Nicaea and Augustine was not even a Christian when the Council of Constantinople was held.

  54. Yes, why do you want to participate in conversation with people with a strong anti-intellectual streak and the inability to understand abstract thought?

  55. Just to cut through your wordiness. Shawn tells the truth. God is three in One. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
    Man will never be God. Satan and Jesus are NOT brothers. There’s no such place as Kolob, nor were there any Laminites nor Nephites in America. There is no battle archeological evidence in Mount Korah.
    Just do ONE dig!! Just ONE!! Please?!
    Joseph Smith was shooting at someone when he was killed. Both he and Brigham Young were pediphiles, and had multiple wives and said that no man could enter the celestial kingdom unless they practiced polygamy. Joseph lied to his poor wife! and first took a cleaning maid as a wife in secret. Adulterer!! Had over 30’wives before he died, one was only 14!!
    Joseph Smith had a talisman, which is equivalent to a witch stone. He and his father were fortune seekers using witchcraft. They got their fortunes alright, as do their predecessors with their huge corporation and conglomeration.
    Holy underwear? Give me a break! Gross! 😷
    Smith put his face in a hat with a stone in it, and “magically” deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics. Wow…. Weren’t the Egyptians pagan? and against God? I know God wasn’t too pleased with them!
    Check out Google Earth! They blurred the Temple, which is riddled with Masonic symbols and pentagrams!
    A light on a hill? I think not! What they do is in secret.
    YouTube has a video of someone that exposed that boring ritual they force their people into. Identical to Free Masonry. “That will do!” Haha
    Pathetic!
    LDS exploit people, use them, and put burdens upon them.

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