September 20, 2020

Convince Me!

By Chaplain Mike

OK, you are going to find out today just how cantankerous and out of touch the ol’ Chaplain is.

The longer I have been a believer in and follower of Jesus, the less I have been attracted to “movements” (“fads?”) in the church. I realize this puts me at odds with those who think I am constantly missing “catching the wave of the Spirit” as he does “new and exciting” things among his people. It’s just that, the older one gets, the more one sees these movements come and go, ebb and flow, morph and get swallowed up into other waters. The relentless changes and enthusiastic voices exclaiming the arrival of the “next wave” get shrill and annoying after awhile. Count me as one who longs for continuity, roots, depth, and proven staying power with regard to matters of faith.

If that makes me an obstreperous old coot, then so be it.

When it comes to the Emerging Church movement, I’ve heard those voices calling. I’ve wandered the bookstore aisles and seen the growing number of titles filling the shelves, calling out for those weary of church as we know it to forge a new path. I’ve seen the articles describing the phenomenon. I’ve noticed the websites proliferating. I guess my contrarian streak goes deep. Or perhaps I’m just a pessimist. I figure if something is that popular and trendy, it must not be the real deal. Maybe it’s just the old hippie in me—never trust “the Man” who’s trying to sell you something.

Which leads me to my point in this post: I have never read Brian McLaren.

Never really desired to. I’ve thumbed through a few of his books in the bookstore, and to be honest, they didn’t look that interesting or insightful to me.

  • I have not read A New Kind of Christian. I always thought what we really needed was more of the original kind.
  • I have not read A Generous Orthodoxy, though I loved the title. On the other hand, I thought the subtitle—Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN—was way too cute and clever for my taste.
  • The Secret Message of Jesus sounded too much like gnosticism to me.
  • Everything Must Change—well, no.
  • As for A New Kind of Christianity, see point #1. Besides, the little that I’ve read critiquing it indicates that what he is suggesting is not new at all.

So there you have it. If Brian McLaren is the icon of the Emerging Church movement, I am an iconoclast. Maybe that’s too strong—I really have no desire to destroy him. I just won’t pay to visit the temple.

Convince Me!
So, here’s your challenge today. Those of you who appreciate McLaren’s writings—I am giving you full opportunity in your comments to persuade me that I’ve been missing out.

  • Tell me why I should quit being so contrary—right this minute!—and run out and buy one of his books.
  • Tell me something about why this guy is so insightful and why the church needs to hear his voice today.
  • Tell me how his writings can help me find some cool water in the midst of the post-evangelical wilderness.
  • Tell me what it is that he is saying that can help renew and restore God’s people to a more Jesus-shaped life and practice.

Convince me.


  1. …Well, I’m with the Chaplain on this one. I’m sure his books are great, but I just don’t find them as critical to read as other books on my list. I don’t think he’s the next Bonhoeffer or C.S. Lewis by any stretch of the imagination, though history could prove me wrong. It’s been said about his book “Generous Orthodoxy” that irony marks it’s title, it being neither generous or orthodox. But I haven’t read it, so who knows? I think this series is great! But I believe that the Ancient-Future movement and the Neo-Calvinism will give the emergent movement a race that it can’t keep up with. From my own perspective, it asks to many questions without giving solid, time-tested answers. Sorry Mike, I’m not gonna be much help convincing you to read him. If his books are still selling 10-15 years down the road, I may be convinced they are a profitable time investment.

  2. I’ll be honest and state that I’ve never read him either, but I have listened to some of his sermons, and this is what I would recommend for you. Brian McLaren seems to me to get the fact that it is not my job to lead a person from A to Z. Rather, as Paul stated, sometimes it is just my job to plant a seed or to provide some water, knowing that it is God who causes things to grow. I would also recommend reading ‘The End of Religion’ by Bruxy Cavey, or ‘Jesus Has Left the Building’ by Paul Viera. Both REALLY good stuff!!

    • But Bruxy Cavey denies being part of any emerging movement. Michael Spencer did a book review in which Bruxy comments directly on the fact that he has never considered himself theologically emerging. Very similar themes to “Mere Churchianity”, but Michael never would have considered himself emerging either.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        True. In fact, they did a sermon at The Meeting House on “Are We Emerging.” They don’t consider themselves part of the movement, but I think there are some similarities between the emerging movement at modern day Anabaptists.

      • True, true…… Bruxy and TMH deny being Emergent…. they deny being a part of anything…. they state that they are just being TMH. Still, however, I agree with Kenny below, that there are some transferable principles going on there. 🙂

        • errr…. up above rather. 🙂

        • Not so Jason,

          For example, here is what Bruxy wrote earlier on Internet Monk.

          1) Our church, The Meeting House, does not consider itself “emergent” nor do we think of ourselves as anti-or-non-emergent. It just isn’t our vocab. We do consider ourselves Anabaptist, and Anabaptist thought does penetrate our thinking and our structure.

          2) We are Brethren In Christ (BIC), not Plymouth Brethren, or any other Christian denomination that happens to have “Brethren” in the name. (I know – we all look alike.)

          About the Emergent thing, I guess I need someone to explain what makes someone (like me?) “emergent” rather than just plain ol’ ordinary Anabaptist (which is how we see ourselves). I sometimes feel like over the last few years someone came up with a new term that is meaningless to me (like “goozblab”) and then started telling me that our church is “goozblab”. Then other Christians started getting mad at us because they heard that our church is “goozblab”. And now I can’t see the good that has come out of the whole debate. Our church policy and theology is primitive Anabaptist – that is far more our identity than being or not being “emergent”. Why not use that label moreso? It describes us with more clarity and accuracy and has been around a lot longer.

          I should note that Bruxy’s previous church was a Baptist one.

          • Ohhhh….I KNEW they were goozeblabbers……now they’ve confessed; now let’s catch the flooziewongers……

  3. Put me in this same boat….hope there is room (I’m on the thin side, if that helps 🙂 )

    I’ve read Kimball, Bell, Driscoll and a few others, but not McLaren, and I really don’t feel like I missed anything. I would not rush out to read more Rob Bell , either, though I might watch a NOOMA flick, they are very well produced. Sorry if I sound like a Chap Mike Clone.

  4. David Clark says

    He’s on my to read list. I am approaching the list chronologically, starting with the first century AD. I am currently somewhere in the second century AD. Something tells me I’m going to die before I get to Brian McLaren. And something else tells me that isn’t too much of a problem.

    • I love the Ante-Nicean fathers. I have read them through several times.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        So, you’re telling me you’re not anti-Ante-Nicean Fathers? 😀

        Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

        And here’s a +1 to what you both said 🙂

  5. Kenny Johnson says

    I’ve actually never read any of his books either. I’ve usually been too busy reading other things. I don’t have any objections to reading him though.

  6. Apparently I’m the only respondent who has read McLaren so far. I don’t propose to change anyone’s mind – that’s between you and God. But having grown up Fundamental Baptist (BBF) and proceeded through other more evangelical ranks later on, I have to say that McLaren’s books have deeply helped me to search the scriptures with a fresh/ancient perspective rather than continuing to blindly accept post-reformation traditions and positions.

    His titles are, I think, deliberately skewed to both attract and detract. Getting hung up on the titles is not intellectually honest. “The Secret Message of Jesus”, for example, really helped me grasp the cultural tensions in the time of Christ and how Jesus didn’t align himself but rather rose above the various factions in that society and didn’t make it easy for people to embrace the good news… and for good reasons. Sure, the title is a play on “The Secret”, and is intended to attract those readers and re-direct them into a better path; this is a book I regularly hand out to others.

    “A Generous Orthodoxy” is interesting in that he acknowledges and embraces what is good about a wide variety of faith traditions and practices while also being honest about the short-comings, and proposing a way forward. No, I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but they certainly help me to re-think my faith in fresh ways that I can immediately apply in real life.

    In “A New Kind of Christianity” he pulls no punches as he recounts his personal faith journey and how that has led him to deal with what he sees as the 10 great questions the world is really asking and how the kingdom of God is poised to be the answer.

    So, go ahead and don’t read any of his stuff. Neither Brian nor I will be offended. But you will be the poorer for it.

    • As if it matters…. I also read “Everything Must Change”. The two works of his that I’d recommend are “The Secret Message of Jesus” and “A New Kind of Christianity” (in that order). I think those more closely manifest where he is these days, and are very grace-filled.

  7. It seems like there might be a market for Cliff Notes on theology books. InternetMonk could host a library of summaries of these books, with a link to order the real thing.

    I don’t have time to read McClaren’s latest but I’d spend an hour absorbing a condensation of his ideas.

  8. Imagine someone writing this same post in the 16th century! Movements come, movements go – why should I listen to this arrogant monk named Luther who thinks that we need a better understanding of the gospel? This in itself is not an argument. If it was, one shouldn’t bother reading Michael Spencer either, right?

    Well, you wanted to hear a reason to read Brian McLaren. How about this one: We can learn from anybody no matter how wrong they may be on some issues! And what I’ve personally learned from Brian is a better understanding of the kingdom of God and what we are actually praying for in the Lord’s Prayer: not a future escape from a world quickly going down the drain but His good and perfect will increasingly being done on earth NOW!

    Sure, one doesn’t necessarily need to have read McLaren to figure that out (or anyone else for that matter) but that doesn’t change my gratitude to him for helping me to see this.

    • So if you had a choice between Mclaren N.T. Wright “Surprised by Hope”, which would it be, and why ??

      Greg R

      • The question presumes that I read both but I haven’t. I generally prefer Wright’s writings but like I said, this is not about preferring one author over another or even proclaiming someone as an absolute must-read. All I’m saying is: Brian has some important and timely things to say to established evangelicalism and also to those who’ve left the church because of the wounds it has inflicted.

      • FollowerOfHim says

        N.T. Wright is responsible for my finally getting serious about my faith again. “Surprised by Hope” — I can’t tell you how helpful the seriousness with which he takes “the life of the world to come” in its historic, non-escapist sense has been to me. He got me thinking Incarnationally again. (He’s also indirectly responsible for my planning to attend an AMiA church next Sunday, I suppose, where I may well end up making my home — we’ll see.)

        As for A New Kind of Christian, well, I kept having unpleasant visions of Keanu Reeves as a sort of Russian Orthodox Reader of the Skies…..

      • I haven’t read Surprised by Hope, but based on the NT Wright and McLaren that I have read, I would say that NT Wright’s theology is better developed and more completely presented. McLaren’s writing is far more readable.

        Both have good things to say. Wright takes much more effort, but has much more depth, in my opinion.

        • If a random recommendation from some girl you don’t know means anything, Surprised by Hope is one of the best books I have ever read…I might even call it life changing. Put it at the top of your list

    • Yes, but didn’t Luther (and the other Reformers) insist that what they were doing was not “A New Kind of Christianity” but going back to the old kind?

      Granted, the titles of books are meant to be catchy and snappy and attention-grabbing, and the contents may be very much different, but five hundred years on (or fifteen hundred, or two thousand), I think we’ve pretty much seen most of the variations on the theme.

      There’s a difference between peeling away accretions and tossing the entire bath, fittings and bathroom, not to mention the baby, out with the bathwater.

      • Martha, have you personally read Brian to be sure that his “new” kind of Christianity is NOT a call to return to the ancient faith and does NOT want to be more biblically grounded? Don’t let titles fool you! The reason it sounds so radical is because it addresses underlying paradigms and doesn’t just want to reform a few mistaken views and practices. I personally would argue that the Reformation was a fundamental paradigm shift as well.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Yes, but didn’t Luther (and the other Reformers) insist that what they were doing was not “A New Kind of Christianity” but going back to the old kind?

        And so did the second-generation Reformers who split away from Luther. And the third-generation Reformers who split away from them. Until 400+ years later you see a lot of little independent churches — each DOZENS strong! — who claim they and they alone are the Original New Testament Church “founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD”.

    • Josh, I get your point, but it is ridiculous to think that EVERY new thing is Luther-esque just because it might be….so tell us what is that radical and needed in what Brian has to say. And of course we could learn something from him….we could learn something from (I’d rather not put a name here and offend another IMONK reader…).

      Everyone has something to teach us, but why should I pick up Brian’s books over anothers ? To have such a reason doesn’t make him smarter or a better theologian, just the right messenger at the right time, with something the Body needs to hear. What is it we need to hear ??

      • I don’t think I claimed that EVERY new thing is Luther-esque. I just made the negative argument that claims of new insights (particularly when they are directed at the contemporary state of one major strand of thought and practice within Christianity) need not necessarily be superfluous or a mere fad.

        What we do need to hear IMO – whether it is through Brian, Michael or whoever – is that we need something very different and better than a “life-boat” Christianity that focusses on who’s in and out, who’s more theologically orthodox than the rest, and how to get our individual butts into heaven.

        • Those are all timely topics, now I guess I pick which messenger among the availables.

          Greg R

  9. Hey Chaplin Mike,

    Looks like Bob Young beat me to the punch, but here is my comment anyway… 🙂

    I can certainly identify with your “cantankerous” bent, especially the part about being skeptical of what’s popular and trendy. The same critiques you make can also be made about major personalities in more “orthodox evangelicalism” as well—marketing, image, hype. Unfortunately, that’s how stuff gets sold. With that in mind, then, don’t “judge a book by its cover”—or its cutsie subtitle.

    I’ve read the NOC trilogy, Generous Orthodoxy, and More Ready Than You Realize. While I like some more than others, I’ve appreciated what Brian has had to say in each of those books. I’ve also heard him speak and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have not kept up with his more recent works, so I don’t know what’s there. But, my impression of the guy is that he has a heart for Jesus and really does want to see others embrace Christ.

    For me personally, these books came along at just the right time in my faith journey. I, proabaly similar to Brian, grew up in fairly rigid fundamentalism. In my case, lots of anger, lots of circle the wagons to keep the world out, and lots of guilt about being witnesses was the norm. I hated it, but I didn’t want to throw Christianity out the window, either. Brian’s books were some of the influences that God used to help me forge a “middle path” between reverting back to fundamentalism and abandoning Christianity altogether. As Michael Spencer so eloquently articulated on this site, that path is a long road and in many ways lonely. Brian asked in those books some of the very same questions I had asked and that gave me hope.

    As far as whether you should read his books—I wouldn’t say *should*. As you well know, there are thousands of books out there, great ones, even. There’s no way we can read them all. My suggestion would be, if you’re curious (sounds like you might be), pick up ANKOC or Generous Orthodoxy and read it, just for curiosity’s sake. Even if you don’t like them, you’ll get a first hand experience of what Brian has to say, instead of getting it filtered through others, with all their bias for and against. You also might find something you like.


    • I can definitely echo what you’ve said here. I also encountered McLaren’s “More Ready than you Realize” at just the right point in my faith journey. Even at the time, I didn’t agree with everything he said in the book, but the very fact that he was asking some of the same questions as I was indeed also gave me hope when I really needed it. As time has gone on, I’ve become more disenchanted with his positions on many issues. I think he has a tendency to get mired down in a lot of weaselly language under the guise of engaging today’s postmodernist culture. In “Generous Orthodoxy”, for example, there are a few places where he almost seems to uphold uncertainty and obfuscatory language as virtues in themselves. I know what he is reacting against, and I often agree with the sentiment, but I think he has gone too far the other way at times. Other parts of GO, however, were better written and more articulate, and he makes some good points. Overall, I like his “big tent” approach to trying to find the good in the myriad diverse Christian traditions out there, even if I disagree quite a bit with his conclusions.

      The bottom line is, you have to read him to know. I’d recommend GO to get a basic overview of his thinking on many issues.

  10. I have read several of McLaren’s books. He can tend to be overly-repetitive, and he does say some things just to purposely shock, but so does Robert Capon. I disagree with many things McLaren writes, or maybe I just don’t understand him well enough to know whether I agree with him. But if I only read those I agree with, why bother?

    If you are only going to read one of his books, I recommend A New Kind Of Christian. That pretty much sums up what he believes…

  11. Everything that is good in McLaren you can find elsewhere, unmixed with all the postmodern mush. Read Geerhardus Vos and George Ladd on the Kingdom, read Anthony Hoekema on eschatology in general, read N. T. Wright on the resurrection. Read Tim Keller on the Christian faith in a postmodern world. With these guys you have forward thinking in the context of open commitment to historic, Christian orthodoxy, communicating their ideas with the purpose of being clearly understood. And, unlike McLaren, when you read their stuff (with the exception of Wright on occasion) you don’t have to wade through a ton of left-wing political ideology.

    Don’t waste your time on McLaren unless your specific goal is to understand McLarenism (though, unfortunately, reading his books is no guarantee that you will even accomplish that goal).

  12. The constant change and enthusiastic voices exclaiming the arrival of the “next wave” get shrill and annoying after awhile. Count me as one who longs for continuity, roots, depth, and proven staying power with regard to matters of faith.

    I’ve only been reading you for a little while, and have tended to agree with your observations. Now I know why.

  13. I’ll give you one more reason and how good a reason it is depends entirely on your interest about being involved in the DISCUSSION of contemporary movements. To discuss someone else’s views in an honest and thorough manner, one should have read at least some of the author’s thoughts first-hand rather than relying on reviews done by others.

  14. hewhocutsdown says

    I wouldn’t read his books; his ideas aren’t the most original, nor are they best articulated by him. His best work, imho, was A Generous Orthodoxy, but it was better when it was by Chesterton.

    But I would talk to him, or listen to him talk, or listen to a recording of him talking. He is a man of peace in ways that I am only scratching the surface, and that peace permeates every interaction I’ve heard him in.

  15. I’d recommend you read at least A New Kind of Christian (and possibly its two sequels), if nothing else as a listening exercise. Its unique narrative form (a sort of fictionalized non-fiction story with a single point-of-view character) enables it to capture the heart of what so many of us have been through in our faith journeys—the struggle to align the existing church structure with the faith we’ve (ironically) inherited from that very body. The pain and heartache involved. The loneliness and isolation of feeling that no one else understands these things that God seems to be putting on our hearts.

    It’s hard to describe what the book meant to me when I first read it several years ago. My immediate response was, “So there are other people out there who feel this way? People who’ve had similar experiences and are asking similar questions that no one else seems to want to deal with? You mean I’m not alone?”

    Perhaps that’s why those in emergent circles place such an emphasis on conversation—because we’ve been shut down so many times in our faith communities by an unwillingness to even acknowledge issues that people might find uncomfortable or controversial.

    Even today, my greatest sadness in dealing with those who grew up in my faith tradition is not the fact that they really don’t understand where I’m coming from, but that they have no interest at all in trying to understand. It’s easier just to write a person off as weird or having gone off the deep end rather than taking the time to truly listen to their story.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you read the book I think you should do it not as a theological exercise (where you’re forced to choose sides and sift out the stuff you agree or disagree with), but rather as an attempt to understand some of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Do it as an act of love.

    • Well said, Marcy! Of all his books this is the one I’d recommend most to help people understand my own faith journey and also to understand what fuels emergent thinking to this very day.

      • Amen, Marcy. If someone wants to read Brian’s books just to quote mine and gather ammunition for a straw man burning party, then please don’t bother because enough angry souls have gone before you already. But if you truly want to understand where he is coming from, it’s possible if you listen in the right way (which doesn’t mean you agree, just that you understand and hopefully empathize). Conversation is so important these, especially after centuries and centuries of developing the “ChurchSpeak” dialect. You might find that you are “violently AGREEing with him” all along…

  16. “Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN”

    What – the Orthdox don’t get no love? Typical Westerner! 😉

    • Hehe. I know you don’t have a clue who I am, but I always enjoy reading your comments. So there’s your love. 0=)

      • Indeed, Kaci. I agree with you- Martha’s comments are awesome!

        And, I agree Martha- where is the love for them Orthodox peoples? Although, if I were to be express that verbally, it would have to be in Tone 6. 😉

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          Heh, I was trying to teach myself how to read the chant notations the other day. That’s neat stuff.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Lol Martha! I had that same thought during the discussion yesterday! Ironically, I didn’t even notice the absence of EO when I read it. These days I’ve been giving our Eastern brothers a lot more closer look, mostly sparked by the dialogs between Metropolitan Jonah and Archbishop Duncan about what it would take for full communion between the Orthodox and ACNA. You know what I realized? Classical Anglicanism has a lot more in common with Orthodoxy than with Catholicism in a lot of philosophical and theological areas, despite the obvious ties with Catholicism liturgically.

      • Yep, when Henry was kicking off his State Church, there was a lot of appealing to the Orthodox on the grounds of common sympathies. Even up to the 19th century, the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England was still trying to build stronger links.

        Didn’t get off the ground much through the centuries, though, because of the Orthodox having this inconvenient insistance on doctrines which the Anglicans were rejecting, quietly dropping, or outright condemning (depending on which variety of Protestantism had the upper hand politically at the time in question) such as the Blessed Virgin, the veneration of the saints, the Real Presence, icons and images, etc. etc. etc.

    • Hey, wait a minute – the Orthodox get top billing in the title – or, rather, second billing, right after that sect known as the Generousists.

      • Ah, but which Orthodox, EricW? Greek, Russian, Albanian? This is important to know!

        And why don’t the Ruthenians or the Melkites or the Syro-Malabar get any attention from these trendy young folk? They’re ancient churches too! (At least he doesn’t, to my knowledge, mention “Celtic Christianity”. As a Celtic Christian myself, it drives me crazy when this label is slapped on to something that has little or nothing to do with the Church in the British Isles during the 5th to 10th centuries).

        And what is his opinion of the Assyrians or the Oriental Orthodox? Should we be worried by this omission? Is it indicative of worrying sympathies trending towards heresy?


        • Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN

          McLaren doesn’t differentiate between the various types of Calvinists and Methodists, and he doesn’t even mention Baptists at all (of which there are about 100 different types in this country, aren’t there?) or Presbyterians or Lutherans (of which there are also several flavors), so he is being MORE THAN GENEROUS toward the various groups of Orthodox Christians to simply include the unadorned/unqualified word “Orthodoxy” in the title. 😀

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN”

      That reads all too much like the chorus of a filksong that was making the rounds locally sometime in the late Eighties:

      “I’m a Carl Sagan
      Ronald Reagan
      San Diegan Pagan!”

  17. Well, first of all a peeve: I do wish that when people quote the man they would spell his name correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of iterations of it, but very rarely McLaren.

    Now, onward. I’ve read
    “The Last Word and the Word After That”
    “A is for Abductive”
    “A Generous Orthodoxy”
    and some pieces he did for “Books and Culture” a few years ago.
    I’ve heard him in person at the Zondervan pastors’ conf. in San Diego, and had a few minutes one-on-one with him there. I’ve listened to several mp3s of other presentations he’s made. I like him speaking better than his writing. I think he’s kind, patient, very intelligent and articulate, and overall I would say he’s calling Christians to “make it real” – not unlike some folks around here. He gets the ramifications of N.T. Wright’s work on Jesus, including the meaning of the Resurrection, and of Christianity as an eschatological faith with Christians living in the Kingdom as well as awaiting the fullness of it. (The latter is “the secret message of Jesus”, not some kind of gnostic teaching.)

    Brian’s writings were hugely important at the time I was reading them because they, along with the voices of others, not only gave me permission to ask questions, but reassured me that I and others who were striving to be faithful to Jesus (but hitting many and various brick walls as self-identified bible-believing Christians, and either headed for or already in the evangelical wilderness) were asking the same questions, and that ***I wasn’t crazy***. I think this is the main reason why so many people have paid attention to him. He says aloud what many of us are thinking.

    I do not follow him much anymore, but I “get” him. I think the questions he asks in NKOC are questions 21st century Christians need to be asking ourselves and our congregations. (And that goes for my own Orthodox parish too, though I think the fabric of EOrthodoxy would hold up under his questions.)

    Now, the question of his style is a different question, along with the question of his involvement with a certain American political stream; with the latter, I think he is falling into something about which he is trying to warn people, and that’s unfortunate. But, as I say, that’s a different question, and he has a conscience, to which I assume he is listening. I think both irritation with and adulation of McLaren are symptoms of our continued tendency as Americans to overly-invest our identities in Christian “personalities”.

    I think the substance of what he is saying to “middle-of-the-road”, center-of-the-bell-curve Evangelicals is important. I think pastors should be aware of that substance, even if they are not in agreement with it.


  18. david carlson says

    as another non-reader of BM, I have yet to read any convincing arguments on why anyone should run out and buy his books. I like Pastor Mike really don’t care either way about him right now – so far i still have no reason to do so

    Convince Me!

  19. I have read “The Secret Message of Jesus”, “A Generous Orthodoxy” and now “A New Kind of Christianity” and have come to the conclusion that McLaren, well notable for what I consider very right action (orthopraxy) is not right thinking (orthodox). This especially comes forward in his latest book “A new Kind of Christianity”. There McLaren makes a very thorough effort to lay everything out on the table and what he shows is very scary. McLaren has full embraced our current zeitgeist and applies a hermeneutic of evolution and “community-development” to scripture. He finds scripture part of the never-ending and developing witness to God’s character, he removes any kind of backbone to the text, and he completely removes himself from an orthodox understanding of history.

    • I haven’t read “A New Kind of Christianity”, but you very accurately describe my fears based upon the excerpts and discussions I have read. May have to read it just for the learning opportunity.

      Thanks for the input!

  20. 1) There really is no emerging movement in the sense that will ever satisfy people who are lookingfor a clear sense of what any group believes

    2) To the extent that there is an emerging movement, Brian McLaren has never been the leader. Notice that the only people you hear saying he’s the leader are those who consider themselves outside the movement. It’s kind of lazy reporting from those who are not really looking to truly understand.

    3) I have read both A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy. His writing has never really resonated with me, although I kind of liked A Generous Orthodoxy. I see his role, as some have already mentioned, as encouraging those who feel there is no room left for them within Christianity. He’s not the heretic that some make him out to be and he’s not the next great Christian thinker either. He’s just an author with a perspective that some have found healingand others have not.

    4) I understand your suspicion with trends in Christianity, and mostly agree with you, but I think taking that too far can veer into arrogance and lack of charity for the journey that does not look like your own. When you’ve grown weary of deconstruction and are looking to reconstruct a faith with ancient roots, remember that that’s because you have had time and opportunity to work through that in a way that others have not. Getting to the place where you can follow Christ without baggage takes time, and it’s easy to be frustrated with those who are not where you want them to be, but that’s not a helpful reaction and only serves to prolong theirprocess.

  21. Well, neither have I read anything by him, nor do I have the wish to, feeling much like yorself, Chaplain Mike. However, for interest sake, I’ll post 2 links to comments made by a friend of mine, Deacon Steve Hayes, from Pretoria, South Africa. Steve is Orthodox:

  22. My favorite book of his is “Finding Faith”, which I am surprised no one has mentioned yet. This was extremely helpful to me as some folks in my life were leaving the faith for atheism. It helped me see that there were reasons to try to make this faith thing work and stick around. Much in the same way that this blog has been encouraging to me over the past several years.

  23. Timothy Van Bruggen says

    I have read “Everything Must Change” and admit that it came at an important time in my walk of faith, as it spurred me on to greater involvement both in my church and my community, and made me look at things from a different perspective. I have not read his more recent works, and don’t quite understand the Emergent movement of which he seems to be a part. The book, to me, seemed more like a call for Christians to be more involved in things like social-justice and generosity to those most in need. From the few things I’ve read, they didn’t seem like the anti-church, radical positioning that I hear many – more like a call for a more Christ-like everyday walk. His book certainly didn’t seem as incidiary as many have made it sound.

  24. I’ve read a little bit of McLaren – guess I didn’t find anything particularly new in what I read; but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t read his stuff. As one who grew up Catholic, I agree with those who’ve mentioned that the freedom to think and question has been critical to their maturing faith. When I started attending a Lutheran church (ELCA) many years ago, (after a long period of no church at all) I discovered the new found freedom to ask questions. It was not only OK, it was encouraged. It was incredibly freeing -and important to community-building – to know that others were asking my questions, too.

  25. Age IS probably a factor – and the same dynamic is at work in most any cultural field when one isn’t able to keep a hand in the doctrinal/theological disputes. It’s not confined to religion. I look at some of the theoretical discussions and arguments in the humanities now, and they are enough to make me turn immediately around and walk away. I don’t care, I don’t care, and please just stop trying to repackage vagueness within a different set of words.

    Paradoxically, it is the physical world that becomes more real the older one gets. Perhaps because our own place in it become clearer and clearer. The world of ideas becomes ever less meaningful.

  26. Clay Knick says

    I rather liked the orthodoxy book, thought the everything book was boring, and liked his book on spiritual disciplines, but his latest………..well let’s just say he’s doing nothing new and seems to have left orthodoxy. I’ve met him once, heard him lecture, and do a Q&A and found him very nice, good speaker. Generally speaking I’m with you Chap. Mike.

    • Bruce Ware of SBTS said that a better name for “A New Kind of Christianity” would be “An Old Kind of Apostasy.” Ouch, but seems like he’s justified in saying that, sadly.

  27. I tried to read A Generous Orthodoxy, I really did. Couldn’t stomach it. He was at Baylor last semester and I went to see him talk. In the Q&A, I asked him what he thought of the traditional Christian meta-narrative (creation, fall, redemption, restoration). He said it was a mere Roman imperial spin-off (gotta reach the Greeks somehow!) and said it needed to be tossed out. Orthodoxy fail. Ravi Zacharias said that book dies the death of a thousand qualifications, and I couldn’t agree more.

    P.S. He did a recent Q&A (well, more Q’s than A’s to for sure) with Scot McKnight called “Conversations on Being a Heretic”:

    If you want to see Al Mohler and some esteemed faculty of SBTS really let him have it on “A New Kind of Christianity” watch this:

  28. arpritchett says

    To begin: I’m in the young Reformed SBC category.

    I’ve read A New Kind Of Christian, The Last Word (And The Word After That), A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message Of Jesus. Most of what McLaren says falls into two categories: (1)questions which are obvious to most people who wrestle with their own life, faith, and with Scripture and (2) things which cannot receive support from the witness of Scripture and the tradition/historical witness of orthodox Christianity.

    For example, anyone doing an honest reading of Acts or the Epistles should understand that Christianity is a highly communal faith; it’s clear that as a whole we’ve missed that aspect of Christianity/being a follower of Jesus in Western culture over the last few years. McLaren discusses many things which have been discussed at late night Bible studies and in dorms and coffee houses for years. If McLaren’s message is “be more communal,” most people who take their Scripture, faith, and participation in church seriously can stand in line with him.

    However, from my reading of McLaren, I don’t think his message is to be more communal or anything that well defined. The only things that he establishes is that Jesus is not white, Anglo-Saxon, or Protestant (again, obvious), and that he (McLaren) wants to leave things ambiguous to promote discussion. Discussion is good, but ideas have to be established if they are to be discussed. Discussion can, is, and should exist among the various Christian traditions. It should exist between Christians and those of other faiths. A Calvinistic Southern Baptist should be able to sit at a table and talk about particulars with a Methodist, for example. There’s a wealth of topics to discuss, the greatest of which is how much both people love Jesus Christ. In order have that discussion, we cannot have an ambigous idea of what each person believes, but a defined idea. If we’re only being ambiguous, we’re merely practicing rhetoric.

    Overall, I don’t think McLaren is very helpful at all.

    • “he (McLaren) wants to leave things ambiguous to promote discussion.”

      That has been my impression as well… and you get the feeling that he is quite pleased by ambiguity, as if he’s doing us some favor.

      • DreamingWings says

        Speaking as someone thoroughly tired from a lifetime of endless claims of “one true orthodoxy” and “the only right interpretation is mine”; Mclaren’s commitment to to a constant level of ambiguity has been a great favor to me.

  29. conanthepunctual says

    I have read and enjoyed a few of his books. He has spoken at our church and I appreciated his perspective and presentation but tend to like his books more.

    As to is he a “must-read”? No, he’s not. I find most of the thoughts, questions, and ideas he writes about to be easy to find . . . right here on internetmonk. I find the general tenor of this site to be very similar to that of Brian. Strikingly similar is the call to an open conversation within Christianity which seems to be one of the hallmarks of this site and of Brian’s.

  30. Okay Mike – here is a flipside:

    “Emergent author Brian McLaren doesn’t believe in a literal Second Coming of Jesus. He has problems with the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross. A literal hell with eternal torment for those who reject Christ? Not likely. The Genesis account of the fall of man? Not true. But instead of addressing his own spiritual rebellion, Brian appears to want to paint his critics as bigots. In a recent blog post, McLaren demands that what he calls “discernment websites” (he used the quote marks) address an African country’s attempts to codify severe penalties for homosexuality into law. He seems to imply that these same “discernment ministries” would automatically support the arrest and execution of gays by Uganda.

    For the record, Brian, that’s a pretty nasty strategy to use against those who point to your heretical doctrinal views. While emergents supposedly are intellectual, open-minded people who enjoy conversations with subtle nuances and lots of mystery, McLaren actually sees things in black and white. Anyone who is not willing to jettison cardinal doctrine and embrace his “new kind of Christianity” is painted as ready to commit hate crimes and would support mistreating gays. What an appallingly dishonest way to deal with your critics, McLaren.

    Mr. McLaren is helping create a new kind of Christianity that will turn on the old Christianity (the 2000-year-old kind that originated with Jesus Christ) and help create the basis to prosecute the old (biblical) Christians for committing hate crimes. The ADL sent out a press release this morning announcing that hate crimes are just endemic, exploding everywhere you turn, and that something must be done about it. Now that the laws are in place in Washington, Brian McLaren can get busy trying to portray biblical Christians as dangerous, militant wing-nuts who foment hatred against gays and other religions. Consider your strategy exposed, Brian. Our love for the souls of homosexuals is the same love we have for all who need to hear of the saving grace and forgiveness of sins found in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. And all the dishonest emergents will never be able to stifle that powerful, life-changing message.”


    Brian McLaren’s Book, The Secret Message Of Jesus

    Who Defines the Kingdom of God?
    Where is the Kingdom of God? How inclusive is it? Who defines the terms? Today’s emerging church has already moved the boundaries of His Kingdom. It has redefined God’s Word and is fast embracing the latest versions of the old Gnostic quest for secret knowledge (gnosis) and self-actualization, whether through mystical experience or collective imagination.

    Stamping out faith in Biblical absolutes is central to this transformation. A mind anchored in God’s Word won’t compromise, but when that anchor is removed, the current of change can carry that mind anywhere. As Jesuit scholastic, Mark Mossa, wrote in his endorsement of Brian McLaren’s latest book: “The Secret Message of Jesus challenges us to put aside our sterile certainties about Christ and reconsider the imaginative world of Jesus stories, signs and wonders.” Read Entire Article, Who Defines The Kingdom Of God (a critique of The Secret Message of Jesus)”

    By Berit Kjos

  31. I’ve only read the first of the books listed and a few other things he’s written in other books. That was enough for me to get tired of him. Though I’m no fan of McLaren, I couldn’t write off the concerns of the Emergent/Emerging Church easily. I was stuck wanting a third way until I read Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church. That’s it. I’m all for deep church.

  32. A friend loaned me “A Generous Orthodoxy” and I found parts of it interesting. Since my formation was pretty much pluralistic in a much larger sense. I do follow his blog and find him to be an interesting speaker much of the time. Compared to St. Athanasius, St. Maximos the Confessor, the two Gregorys, or many others, he’s much lighter fare. I do find his perspective more palatable than most Calvinistic stuff out there. That’s about all the thoughts I have.

  33. On the whole I agree with you, and I also agree with the person who noted that it is better to hear Brian McLaren speak than to read his books. I have heard him speak a couple of times, and have read only one of his books, A generous orthodoxy, and I agree that the best thing about it was its title. That’s the same sort of feeling I’ve had when reading Frank Schaeffer’s books.

    And both Brian McLaren and Frank Schaeffer are reacting against certain trends in North American Evangelical Protestantism, and if one hasn’t been into that as it has developed over the last 50 years, the books of neither will seem either oddly irrelevant, or like restatements of the obvious.

    If Everything must change one of the questions I asked was “change from what?”

    And the answer, it turns out, is the Evangelical/Neopentecostal megachurch.

    If you haven’t been a member of one of those for the last 20 years or so, McLaren’s writing will make little sense.

    • See, that’s my problem, Steve. I reacted against those “Evangelical/Neopentecostal megachurches” long before I reacted against the Emerging movement! Having bypassed most of the “new things” of the 70s and 80s, why would I embrace the reactionary 90s?

      • Maybe I shouldn’t ask, but I will. After a few dozen posts from a variety of folks, on a scale of 1(think 9 marks) to 10 (think Mclaren’s literary agent) where do you now stand/sit ??

        Greg R

        • Still fairly low numbers, probably between 1-3, Greg. I haven’t yet heard compelling evidence that he offers me much more than I already have in Robert Webber, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and a number of Bible commentaries and theological works. And by the way, I’m not really just picking on McLaren here. I’ve had the same response over the years to a number of spokesmen for various movements: Peter Wagner, Bill Hybels, you name it. When all is said and done, I’ve never latched on to many “movements”—I’ve always thought that if you study the foundational works and most historically and theologically grounded authors, and if you are intimately involved in ministering to and with people, then it’s not all that necessary to keep up with the trends in order to be a good pastor.

          To write for Internet Monk, however…I may need to broaden my scope.

          • Thanks for the feedback; not much different here, if anything changed from this post, it’s my interest in “Deep Church”, which I will look to pick up at Half-Price when it shows up. That and maybe catch an interview or sermon from McLaren here and there.

  34. Okay, gang. I started this, then got called to dinner (amazing burger place, btw), so bear with me as I try to finish my thoughts.

    Hehe. Just for fun. And no, I have no intention of indicating what label I fall under. That’s no fun. (And I don’t find it conducive to this discussion.) For the record, I’m a twentysomething who’s read a grand total of:

    –1 Donald Miller book (Blue Like Jazz)
    –1 Rob Bell book (Velvet Elvis, and a couple Nooma videos)

    I think that’s it. My personal take is that the “emergent movement” is too broad and generic a term to be useful. Such will be my mantra til I see Jesus. It becomes a catch-all for anything non-traditional and/or unorthodox and basically turns into code talk for “I don’t like it.” So, basically, I could have read more “emergent/ing” material, but, hey.

    That said.

    * Tell me why I should quit being so contrary—right this minute!—and run out and buy one of his books.

    The educated rant is more fun than the uneducated one. 0=) (I’m teasing.)

    * Tell me something about why this guy is so insightful and why the church needs to hear his voice today.

    *shrug* I know little beyond the name and that a friend of mine was a fan until he took a longer look into the theology and attitude.

    * Tell me how his writings can help me find some cool water in the midst of the post-evangelical wilderness.

    You already know this answer, so I’ll just say two words: Samaritan woman.

    * Tell me what it is that he is saying that can help renew and restore God’s people to a more Jesus-shaped life and practice.

    Maybe it’s because, one, I’m a late-comer, and, two, I haven’t read Mere Churchianity, but I still haven’t quite pegged “Jesus shaped spirituality” down. I’m sure there’s an entry on it someplace. Help?

    That said, end of the day, only the Spirit is going to lead you to that unending mountain spring.

    The longer I have been a believer in and follower of Jesus, the less I have been attracted to “movements” (“fads?”) in the church. I realize this puts me at odds with those who think I am constantly missing “catching the wave of the Spirit” as he does “new and exciting” things among his people. It’s just that, the older one gets, the more one sees these movements come and go, ebb and flow, morph and get swallowed up into other waters. The relentless changes and enthusiastic voices exclaiming the arrival of the “next wave” get shrill and annoying after awhile. Count me as one who longs for continuity, roots, depth, and proven staying power with regard to matters of faith.

    If that makes me an obstreperous old coot, then so be it.

    I dunno. I’m twenty-six, and the cutesy trendy stuff never much appealed to me. I guess for me it’s like any other trend: Roll with the flow enough to not be the lame kid wearing suspenders two years after they’re out of style, but, elsewise, I can sing a cappella or pretend I can dance to some song involving a bass and enough volume I wear ear plugs or perish (literally). (I can’t hear on one side at all, and I get recruitment. I’m lame to take to a concert.)

    As a whole, I think it’s good to analyze the “fad” before joining it, anyway. I’m also passive resistant, so there you go.

    When it comes to the Emerging Church movement, I’ve heard those voices calling.

    Chaplain Mike…Chaplain Mike….join us….. 0=)

    I’ve wandered the bookstore aisles and seen the growing number of titles filling the shelves, calling out for those weary of church as we know it to forge a new path. I’ve seen the articles describing the phenomenon. I’ve noticed the websites proliferating. I guess my contrarian streak goes deep. Or perhaps I’m just a pessimist. I figure if something is that popular and trendy, it must not be the real deal. Maybe it’s just the old hippie in me—never trust “the Man” who’s trying to sell you something.

    That’s because 9/10 of what’s in there falls under one of the following:

    –hyper-orthodoxy (not to be confused with the Orthodox Church; in Tevye’s words “Traaaadition….!”)
    –spiritual anarchists

    I happen to think all extreme positions have their blind spots. Put them all in one room and make them play on the same team, something cool might happen. Once they stop trying to kill each other.

    Which leads me to my point in this post: I have never read Brian McLaren.

    Never really desired to. I’ve thumbed through a few of his books in the bookstore, and to be honest, they didn’t look that interesting or insightful to me.

    See above.

    I may have had more. But my tummy is full.

  35. McLaren declared that if Muslims, Buddhist, Jews, or atheists, are “happy being Muslim, or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist,” then he says we should not “shoe-horn them out of their religion” into Christianity. (Impact News, “Sojourners Chairman: Jesus Cared More About Earth Than Heaven,” 6-4-07.)

    • Quote-mining is as invalid as using scripture out of context. Yes, McLaren said that, but he said a ton more on the pages preceding and following that that provide a richer context for clearly understanding his.intent. Play fair next time.

      • prove it – that this is taken out of context and that this is not what McLaren meant

        • Proof:

          1. You provided no context, you simply pasted a quote (third- or fourth-hand)
          2. My Google search of your reference revealed two links, one that contained the following clarifying quote from A Generous Orthdoxy:

          “I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” (Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 260.)

          3. The next to last chapter in A New Kind Of Christianity is entirely about this issue, and provides TONS of clarification about his intent.

          Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion where we all pay our weekly dues and sing nice songs about him and listen to some guy stand on a stage and talk at us. He came to bring a new way of life, new wine, the kingdom of God. It is a way to live, not a club to join. It’s the path to peace and shalom for the entire world, and people of all faith traditions can walk in his way (whether their doctrine and dogma are biblical or not).

          I celebrate any human willing to let go of anger, contempt, pride, lust, hypocrisy, condemnation, etc. and take up sacrificial love, patience, honesty, goodness, etc. The world is a better place for it, and the kingdom of God (God’s will, way, and rule) are expanded whether people of other faith traditions realize it or not). And maybe someday everyone will finally get it and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. But in the meantime, it’s about following, not joining.

          • let me ask you this:

            Do you have a problem with the quote you presented?

            ““I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.”

            If you do not we have no common ground of which to dialogue.

          • as a hopeful universalist myself, I love everything about this comment. I completely understand why this quote makes people nervous, but so many people haven’t been able to understand that he is not actually saying anything like all religions are the same or that Jesus is unimportant. I personally feel like this view can actually make Jesus more important and central. You explained it well, it just takes people who are not so nervous all the time to be able to hear it.

          • Thanks Marie – you “get it”, while unfortunately Matthew doesn’t. And no, Matthew, I have no problem with that quote. It isn’t about alignment with a religion; it’s about surrendering your life to the way of the kingdom. Religion is man-made; the way of Jesus is God-revealed. Hopefully it’ll click with you at some point.

          • If you deny that Jesus is the only way to God – which is what you are denying here, then it is you that needs something to click.

            Why? Because Jesus said He was the only way to God.

          • Matt, if you isolate John 14:6 out of its context you can certainly use it to assert Jesus was claiming exclusivity. I grew up with that interpretation. However, considering the entire passage (what the disciples were actually asking and how Jesus was actually responding to them), one comes away with a different understanding as to what Jesus meant, which had nothing to do with claiming exclusivity over all other paths to God. FYI, that’s also covered in McLaren’s next to last chapter of “A New Kind of Christianity”. Whether or not you ever agree, I hope for your sake that you’ll at least gain an understanding of this perspective.

          • I hope for your sake you will not stand before YHWH in that Day and be found to be believing that you can get to God outside of Jesus Christ..

          • Well, I’ll be standing there with Job, Abraham, David, Moses, the Syrian General who had leprosy, Nebuchadnezzar, and many more… BTW, it didn’t evade me that you never really responded to any of my points. I at least tried to respond to your questions and challenges to help you better understand a perspective other than your own. But if you don’t want an actual conversation, that’s OK.

  36. david carlson says

    Based on most of these comments (of which only a few are in the BM must die category), have convinced me of one thing

    No one really likes his stuff that much. Even the people who read it are pretty tepid (in general)

  37. Hey Mike, I liked your post and it led me off on a slightly different thought pattern that is too long to post. But, I ended up making a blog post out of it that will be published tomorrow morning (18 August) at

  38. Oh, hey, I had forgotten this particular definition for “the emergent movement” I found in a book. Just typed it for a friend, so I’ll repost it here of no one minds (it may better go in the earlier entry, but I can’t tell how “live” that one is.

    This is from Understanding the Times, Revised 2nd Ed, by David Noebel. It’s a 2006 version.

    “A relatively new movement of Christians who are incorporating elements of postermodernism within their theology.”

    “…a number of common characteristics are emerging: 1 ) a strong emphasis on community, 2) a critique of the negative aspects of modernism; 3) a strong emphasis on putting one’s faith into action, 4) a a reminder that not all truth is propositional — eg. the story of the good Samaritan expresses the same truth that is found in the proposition ‘love your neighbor.'”

    “On the other hand, several troubling traits are also emerging: 1) a denial of the bible’s inerrancy, 2) a skepticism on foundational knowledge, and 2) an orthodoxy that is perhaps too generous.”


    Anyway. That was the first real, concise definition that managed to pin things down for me. And I liked that it pointed out the positives and negatives. *shrug* It still covers a ton of ground.

  39. Brian McLaren is one of the big names but he is not the Emerging Church. It doesn’t really matter whether you’ve read McLaren or not.

    Check out Peter Rollins.

    • I mean McLaren is not the whole Emerging Church.

    • Rollins’ book “How to [Not] Speak of God” is mind-blowing. He does indeed provide a robust philosophical basis for the emerging conversation. And I don’t even necessarily consider myself “emergent” (though my old fundy friends would).

  40. No offense (especially if somebody has already said this), but debunking a book you haven’t read based on the vibe you get from the title, is just as bad as gobbling up every new fad in Christendom. I mean, what if I did that with classics?

    To Kill a Mockingbird – that sounds needlessly violent
    Pride and Prejudice – two things I don’t want to dwell on, probably not very edifying
    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – clearly a book about sorcery which is condemned by the Bible

    See how silly and ignorant that sounds? (by the way, those are three of my favorite books) Nobody does that, so why are you doing it here? So McLaren gave his books provocative titles. So what? Timothy Stoner wrote a book based on his own personal walk with Christ and titled it The God Who Smokes, just because it was ironic. In a competitive market – in which, I might add, you’re not making a whole lot of money selling Christian books – you have to have titles that grab people. And for that matter, you don’t even know that those titles are McLaren’s. Ted Dekker wrote a book called Dead, Dead and the publisher renamed it Adam. Dr. Qanta Ahmeds wrote an account of her experience living in Saudi Arabia and the publisher called it, much to her dismay, In the Land of the Invisible Women, which is apparently a much more controversial title than the book itself.

    I haven’t read anything by McLaren either, I’ll be honest, although my old pastor is a personal acquaintance of his. So I’m not necessarily defending him. But if you’re going to criticize somebody’s work, their theology, or the movement they represent, and you want to have any credibility at all, you probably should know what they are actually saying instead of making inferences from a three-to-five-word title that the author may or may not have given the book. Secondly, I have often found it very beneficial and stimulating to give an ear to people I disagree with. It helps me define my own beliefs better, as well as gives me a better understanding of other human beings, and there are a significant number of human beings who are your brothers and sisters in Christ who think very much like Brian McLaren. Third, the titles of -your- blog don’t always strike me as interesting or insightful, yet I will read them anyway because a friend invites me to, and hey, it’s not like I’ve lost brain cells from doing so. I would recommend doing the same if you have a friend, acquaintance, or person who looks up to you who wants you to check out McLaren. You don’t have to believe everything the guy says; you don’t even have to like his books. But seriously, for the sake of your own credibility, since there are people who presumably listen and look up to you, be a good example. Don’t ridicule something out of ignorance; it’s bad form, as Captain Hook would say.

    • I should clarify – I could care less whether you (or anyone) read Brian McLaren’s work, or any other specific author. But if you’re going to take the trouble to post about him or his work or the movement he represents, and give some sort of opinion about it, then yeah, it’s a good idea to know what you’re talking about.

  41. I’m half way through A Generous Orthodoxy, and liking it.

    I was thinking about it just this morning, and my line of thought went something like this:

    “If I’d read it 20 years ago, I’d have rejected it out of hand”
    “If I’d read it 15 years ago, it would have really helped me” (As someone said above – to realise that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy
    “If I’d read it 10 years ago, it would have confirmed some of my own thoughts”

    So for me, it’s kind of ‘old news’, but nice to read someone putting words to some of my thoughts.

    (To be honest, I had some of the same thoughts about Mere Churchianity – though this may be a dangerous place to say so)

    In fairness to McLaren, I don’t think one should hold his ‘figureheadness’ against him. I’m not sure that’s a position he’s sought for himself. And I don’t believe he presents himself as an original thinker either, just a collator of other people’s thoughts.

  42. Can I judge you in the same way please?….. Books and covers spring to mind here. Read the stuff and take no notice of third hand views from others…… you may be surprised, you maybe not…….

  43. Yesterday, part of what Marcy wrote here was, “So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you read the book I think you should do it not as a theological exercise (where you’re forced to choose sides and sift out the stuff you agree or disagree with), but rather as an attempt to understand some of your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Do it as an act of love.”

    Your entire comment was wonderful, Marcy, and I agree with you. I have only read interviews McLaren has done and I have read pieces of his books through the previews that Amazon allows and I think a few articles he has written online. Much of what he says resonates with me, although I do understand Scot McKnight’s contention that McLaren has now moved out of orthodox Christian beliefs after reading a long review that McKnight did.. I think it is highly possible that McLaren will be read by people who have felt forced out of the Christian churches, but who don’t want to leave Jesus. There is a place for people like that. Eventually, many of those alienated folks will find their way back to a Christian community who can help them to grow in love and understanding.

    I read one of Dan Kimball’s books and I have watched videos of Erwin McManus and Tony Campolo (is he considered emerging?) and I have read pieces of books on Amazon by Rob Bell and other folks that have been or are in the emerging “movement” and I love these guys. But, what would you expect from the liberal Catholic ex-kind-of-hippy that is me?

  44. It might not be helpful for you to read Brian McLaren, but it was for me. But I am hopelessly post-modern beyond the point of no return I am affraid… His ANKOC trilogy was very refreshing to me, and I just like his way of writing this kind of books. (just as I like the bizarre foreword of ‘a generous orthodoxy’ which I suppose some will really hate) I de read that ‘as a native’, but I do not agree with all of his ideas. But I never read books to be in agreement with people. I like it though when people seem to be able to find words to express things that have been thinking all along without knowing how to say it, or ask out loud questions that have been hidden because I thought I was the only one aksing them.

    It might be that ‘a new kind of Christianity’ is filled with too much old liberal theology, I didn’t read the book, and I like his was of asking questions more than his answers most of the time… And if he really is starting to construct new dichotomies I’m out…

    To me the legacy of the ANKOC remains, and ‘a generous orthodoxy’. Those were books that were imortant in my faith journey. but that may just be me… I’d put them on the same shelf as ‘surprised by hope’ and ‘the irresistible revolution’.

  45. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    I’ve read most of McLaren’s stuff. Everything, but his latest book, in fact. I met him once too.

    Would I recommend McLaren’s stuff? It depends. If a conservative evangelical were asking lots of painful questions and felt very alone and alienated by his church for doing so, I would heartily recommend McLaren’s stuff. And then I would want to talk about it with him later.

    Would I recommend it to Chaplain Mike? Nah, not because McLaren doesn’t make good points, but because they are made so much better elsewhere (NT Wright, etc), and because you Chaplain Mike can handle the good stuff. Lots of mega church folk can’t handle the deep and rich stuff, so McLaren can be useful to ween them off the spiritual happy meals that they are served so often.

    I will say this about McLaren, I think his earlier stuff is better than his later stuff. I haven’t read his latest book, but I get the impression that he has simply become a theological liberal. I think that he got lost in the area of reconstruction after deconstruction, and I think it happened because he did not take the Exodus seriously enough as THE story of salvation. In his book “the story we find ourselves in,” supposedly about the big story of scripture, he covered the Exodus in like three sentences. Without the Exodus to ground your understanding of salvation, you either end up with the escapist salvation theology of conservatives, or the “we build the new Jerusalem by our own sweat” of the liberals.

    As for me, McLaren was a useful stop on my journey, but I’m now an Anglican, so I guess you can put me in the Ancient/Future category.

  46. If, as suggested in the first enstallment, emergent does NOT equal emerging, then perhaps there is no compelling reason to read McLaren.

    Some things could be learned from McLaren, particularly that the best of Christianity is a sum of its parts, that each expression has its contribution, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Wesleyan, reformed, etc. Such a view is derogatively referred to “heterodoxy” – sort of a mutt theology. I think we need to get over this connotation. If the error of neo-evangelicalism is that it became wide and shallow in the attempt to create a big-tent unification, perhaps the emerging church can teach us how we can remain true to our individual traditions but allow for more interaction, which will return depth and richness to the faith – sort of like C.S. Lewis’ analogy of the hallway of doors mentioned in earlier posts. It will also prevent the faith from being easily manipulated by power brokers with strictly political motives in mind. To the would-be Falwells and Roves, it will be too much like herding cats, so they will look elseware for their minion of lemmings.

    • Doh! Spell checking would be a good thing.

    • Sir OX: can I borrow your vocab. from time to time ?? when asked about my theology (rarely happens, but ya never know), I’m henceforth going to say unwaveringly “MUTT”. I’m very fond of mutts, so this is gonna work. Seriously, I think your points are right on, and as you noted , we do , “need to get over this (connotation)”…..

      nice writing
      Mr. Mutt

      • I’ve been called that in so many terms. Someone once described my faith as a hindu shrine holding a a nick-nack collection of dieties and images. It was very deragatory. I am credo-believer, i.e. in line with the Apostles, Nicean, and Athanasian creeds, but I wasn’t “orthodox” enough for this person. So, I have some sympathy for McLaren.

        But from Chaplain Mike’s intro, there are many aspects that identify with. I do feel the need to find my own path, which criss-crosses with a lot of established paths, from Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. Perhaps this is what happens when we are expected to be self-feeders.

        • I have some sympathy for him as well, and I’m trying not to get too worked up about areas where we disagree, but the quote above (from Bob Young) taken from Generous Orthodoxy about being a follower of Jesus, yet staying within your Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish context is just ridiculous (the first two: Jewish I could go with). This is a man who has lost his sense of direction, which Fr.Ernesto addressed ably and charitably.

          My memory, and assorted body parts are starting to go as well. Let’s do what we can, while we can.

          Joy unspeakable to you and yours.
          Greg R

          • Can one follow the way of Jesus and stay within Roman Catholic context? How about Pentecostal? Presbyterian? Eastern Orthodox? If you allow that one could even stay within a Jewish context while following the way of the Messiah, how could you not allow for one to follow the way of Isa (Jesus) in a Muslim context? Certainly they would face some difficult choices at some point about allegiance to their faith tradition versus allegiance to the way of Isa… but so do people within Christendom.

            So why couldn’t that extend to Buddhism, too, where Jesus is also recognized as a great teacher? One who chooses to follow the way of Jesus wholeheartedly in a Buddhist context may likewise run into difficult choices and realize the need to move beyond that tradition at the right time.

            This was hard for me to grasp at first, having grown up very fundamentalist. But now I see that it’s about actually following Jesus, not merely joining a man-made religious club with its weekly dues, paid staff, motivational speeches, marketing programs, plastic smiles, etc. It’s not ridiculous and it’s not lacking direction – the direction is provided by Jesus himself; all that’s lacking is our belief evidenced by our follow-through. It can save the world, and it’s way more restorative and consistent with the arc of scripture than merely getting my faith card punched so I can escape this world and enjoy my personal heaven with my personal savior. But it is indeed a different paradigm than the traditions most of us were raised in…but I don’t believe it’s a different paradigm than Jesus taught.

          • I don’t want to hijack the thread into some kind of apologetic spat, your comments add some context to what you said above. You are comparing apples and oranges. First you mentioned ‘Hindu” and “Buddhist”….then you stirred in 4 or 5 groups that clearly fall within the Big Tent, to use the analogy du jour. If Jesus were just a great teacher, I could agree with you, but I’m hoping HE was much more. Jesus is not the shill for my local fellowship (I get that) but you have a tough sell to tell me that one could faithfully, wholeheartedly, follow the kING within Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam.

            I’m glad that you’ve found a way to use Mclaren’s words to add fuel to your fire, but the more I hear him quoted, the more I find myself on Matt Johnson’s side on this one.

            HIS Kingdom come in you and I and Brian today
            Greg R

          • @Bob Young: for what it’s worth, I purpose to read at least the next to last ch. of NKOC in order to understand McLaren better. Not on my top 10 of “to reads”, but I will get to it. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.

            Greg R

          • Greg (and Matt) – OOPS — it’s actually chapter 19, which is four chapters from the end. But it’s his 9th of 10 “Questions” – that’s what threw me. It’s entitled “How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?”, but it also includes the discussion of John 14 and its context. BTW, you wouldn’t be that Greg R I went to college with, would you? 🙂

          • @Bob Young well, for me college was just after the dino tar pits dried up……in Deerfield Illinois….I doubt you are that old..

          • @Greg R – yup, different guy. I was a early 80’s grad of Liberty (before it was a university). No tar pits, but plenty of chewing tobacco if you knew where to look. 😉

      • I’m sure I’m not the first to use the phrase. I’m finding that I parrot things without remembering where I first saw them. I guess the first sign of old age is…uh, I forgot.

        • Thanks, dumb ox. I now know what to call myself. I’m a Mutt Christian, my faith is Mutt Christianity, and my beliefs are Mutt Theology. I’ve been in and out of the spectrum of Christian beliefs and practices, and what I believe and do draws something from all of them.

  47. i’m late, but just wanted to say, me neither, life is too short.

  48. OK, here’s my completely self-serving attempt to convince you. Just listen to the podcast my wife and I do, where we’re currently working our way through “A New Kind of Christianity”. You can find it on my blog, which is linked above. Listen to an episode or two and see if it sparks your interest at all.