On the McLaren Nay-sayers

Update: Read Brian’s own responses to these criticisms, as well as his affirmations of creedal orthodoxy & Trinitarian conviction.

It’s a new year; A New Kind of Christianity is out. I highly recommend it; it’s a fantastically thought-provoking book. Not everyone would agree, though – which is perfectly fine. Iron sharpening iron and all that. But it’s not just content-disagreement; it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to bash Brian McLaren these days. This has been the case for years actually in certain quarters, but in the last few months it’s become common for folks who might’be happily displayed a ‘Friend of Emergent’ badge on their blog a couple of years ago – folks for whom Emergent has become either too ‘establishment’ or (more common) too ‘liberal.’ I deliberately haven’t posted at all on the latest spate of ‘breaking up with emergent’ posts here because, frankly, they depress the hell out of me. But you can find a roundup of the points and counter-points here on my Delicious bookmarks. At the end of the day, I think some valid critiques have been raised, for sure, but the overall tenor of dismissal is rather debilitating, to be honest. I can’t summarize it any better than Brother Maynard has here:

The other notable point is a set of changes in what the emerging church is, how it’s defined, who’s a part of it, who still uses the term, and a plethora of other notes. Being the end of a decade, people are also tending to look farther back and farther ahead as well. On this topic, I’m saddened that within the emerging church, people who shared a pulpit at the beginning of the decade won’t share more than the time of day at the end of the decade. Though some of them will spend some time in criticism. You know who you are.

Thankfully I’ve never been through a divorce – as a child or a husband. But my parents did fight alot during one particularly painful season, and this feels identical to me. This isn’t like those big, national ‘pajamas media’ brawls writ large, some Perez Hilton vs. Matt Drudge kind’ve affair. This is like family fighting family, civil war type stuff. It saddens me, it sickens me, it raises my blood pressure and makes me go out and ROM.

So: Bringing this back to Brian. I suppose it’s inevitable that, when you’re deemed the ‘Papa’ of something as amorphous and volatile as the emergent movement, eventually your spiritual children are going to have daddy issues and take out their frustrations on dear ‘ol dad. On the other hand, some of the loudest friends-turned-critics seem to be older men of his own generation, so maybe ‘sibling rivalry’ would be closer to the truth. Nonetheless, I sense a growing sense of more-orthodox-than-thou former emergers who are reacting to what they’re deeming hyper-modernity and/or heresy and/or cheap marketing ploys.

Let’s go with this last one – Scot McKnight says that Brian’s two-question ‘Are You A Fundamentalist?’ quiz shuts down the conversation before it begins; Bill Kinnon says this quiz is fundamentalist of Brian himself, and – if jacket copy can believed – means that Brian’s setting himself up to be a deity.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same man here? Let’s see if we can find another way to narrate this – one more in line with Philippians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13 – you know, believing all things, hoping all things, focusing on what’s pure, righteous, of good report, et cetera.

Brian, for all his lack of formal theological education, is a deep thinker and natural teacher. He reads and travels widely, combining the insights of theology, spirituality, sociology, anthropology, futures work, and the like – synthesizing it in a way that some still find too wordy, but is nonetheless light-years easier to read than his primary source material. Beyond being a bright guy, he’s an empathetic soul – he listens deeply to folks in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East who don’t have a voice, as well as marginalized people within our own borders (LGBT folks, Muslims, etc…). He often speaks for them to religious and political power. The religious power structures in particular don’t like it because while the name of Jesus is upon his lips, they’ve convinced he’s getting Jesus’ Gospel wrong. And so the mud-slinging begins.

I am not saying, as some have recently suggested, that anyone who disagrees with Brian about the aforementioned areas of theology, spirituality, politics, etc., is automatically a mud-slinger; what I am saying is a sizable number of critics are indeed engaging in mud-slinging behavior. Brian has for years endured the worst kinds of insults – to his face and in print, even directed toward his own family, because he dare question the status quo. And being an empathetic man, he takes critiques seriously, even as he’s consistently death with such withering slander with Christ-like character (as Frank Viola notes). I am not linking the recent blog-critiques with the following extreme examples, but imagine for a moment that someone – indeed many someones – are calling you these things:

A true son of Lucifer

A Satanic author

A f*cking idiot

…and I’m deliberately leaving some of the worst ones out.

Now, imagine you’ve been hearing people say stuff like that to you for years, and you have a new book coming out where you’ll be speaking plainer than ever, shooting straight from the hip, real John 16:25 type stuff. And so you want to give your potential readers a fair warning: If you don’t approach theology and spirituality with a certain playfulness, a certain curiosity, a certain winsomeness – then my newest book might not be for you!

I think that’s fair enough. It need not be read as trying to shut down conversation, bur rather that the conversation itself is wising up, maturing. Perhaps some of us emergers, in our late 1990s youth, said “We can change the world through conversation! Come one, come all!” And that worked for us, for a few years. But starting around early 2005 or so, folks who weren’t conversing with curiosity, open-endedness, et al, began strong-arming themselves in and crying “Fire!” And emergentno.com and other sites were born, making decrying such conversations a full-time gig. From my vantage point, Brian is now doing what many wish Obama would do: Grow a pair and say “You know, my message isn’t for everybody. I’ve been very diplomatic for years, but that hasn’t gotten me very far with those who continue to loathe me and my message. So now I’m going to speak plainly to those who like these kinds of conversations, which can still be all kinds of people. Except for those who, by general disposition, are inclined to (yes) ask “Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?” before they ask “Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?”

Folks who fit into the first category should have their wishes to remain fundamentalists respected. And we need to realize there are siblings in Christ who proudly self-identify as fundamentalists. God bless them and their understandings of Christ’s work in the world – I mean this sincerely.

Brians’ quiz – which I think he meant tongue-in-cheek, by the way – is only a fair warning, doubly fair when including the context of Seth Godin’s short film on fundamentalism (which Scot sadly omitted from his initial posting on the quiz – intentionally or not). And if I understand how this all unfolded correctly, Brian’s idea for the quiz was suggested by Mike Todd’s posting on Seth’s fundamentalism clip, where Mike poses the million-dollar question:

When it comes to matters of faith, do we embrace questions in order to grow and learn, or do we first screen them through our rigid, existing lens in order to eliminate the ones that don’t fit our concrete, bounded structure?

This question is not meant to piss on orthodoxy(ies), or the wisdom of our spiritual forbears. But it’s about remaining open to the Light and leading of the Holy Spirit’s forward-pull into our future, which many of us see as the fullness of New Covenant living in God’s ecology. We can’t pass through this gate of insight without our curiosity and winsomeness intact and functioning healthily.

I understand the critique that Brian is generous to all orthodoxies but the one he comes from – evangelicalism and fundamentalist Christianity. He’s naturally the most trepidations of what he himself has lived through, and he’s naturally the most gracious and hopeful toward those forms of Christian faith that he’s discovered in his later years as a friendly outsider. Thus, Brian’s Christology, soteriology, hermeneutics, modes of discipleship, etc., might seem foreign to (or even hostile to) evangelicalism (or, some might imagine, a complete dismemberment of Christianity itself) – but in reality there are few original components to Brian’s new vision of Christian faith – which is why Brian himself is highly ambivalent to calling this ‘new’ at all.

He’s drawing from the deep and ancient wisdom of East Orthodox churches, Quakers and Anabaptists, mainline and liberation theologies, Catholic spirituality and more. He’s not drinking from these wells indiscriminately; what is new and original is his fresh synthesis of what he (and many of us) see as the best and most fruit-bearing dimensions of each, as we pray, worship, read Scripture and act together as learning communities. This doesn’t mean that everyone who reads ‘the story’ differently is a reverse-heretic in some new emergent papacy, but it does mean that increasing faith-diversification is undeniably the future. Will new ‘c’atholic churches be able to contain the diversity that’s already present in the Body of Christ, which will only continue to flourish as we grow toward the 22nd century? I hope so – we need all hands on deck to answer the call of the ‘Great Work’ of our time – to be Trees of Life for the healing of hatred, violence, and shattered lives and eco-systems. I know that our ‘Gospel’ is important and worth debating over – but please, let’s all sides do this in a respectful manner, not ad hominem, and expect the best of each other’s sincerity, lives, and theologies.

I hope that Brian never becomes impervious to his critics. I hope that he’s able to strain through the metric tons of crapola being dumped his way right now to pick out an occasional pearl, like  Yeah, I suppose that fundamentalism quiz could have been interpreted as polarizing, or I need to have more patience with brothers and sisters who still find much life in the institutions and beliefs that I, for reasons of my own, have moved beyond. I pray that the some of the hurtful words being directed toward a guy who’s already had a ton of hurtful words thrown his way don’t forever isolate him from hearing genuine loving disagreement.

But to my mind, while Brian is not above critique in his theology or actions, at the end of the day I see a man sincerely following Jesus – like Jesus, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. And like Jesus, having Hosannas shouted his way on Sunday, and being crucified on Friday. Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ according to the ancient creed. Like the much-more-recent Facebook group states, I’d rather be in hell with Brian than strumming harps with the bulk of his staunchest nay-sayers.

May all of us – missional and emergent, evangelical and mainline, Catholic and Pentecostal, gay and straight, deconstructionist and Radically Orthodox – fling ourselves upon the Throne of Grace and mercies of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, who alone saves and restores.



And in the midst of this liminal opportunity for growth in grace and mutual forbearance in this matters where so many obviously disagree, I look forward to reading and reviewing A New Kind of Christianity with the whole community of faith. Beyond the posts you’ll find amply linked to above, here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

Going to Hell with McLaren…or at least to renew an institution. Which is worse? – Dave Wainscott

A New Kind of Christianity Intro by Matt Nightingale

Book Review: A New Kind of Christianity by Bill Nieporte

A New Kind of Christianity by Pam Hoegweide

A New Kind of Blogging My Notes on A New Kind of Christianity by Dan Rustad


Brian McLaren on the Overarching Storyline of the Bible

Porpoise Diving Life interview by Bill Dahl

Explore the Spirit interview with Brian

and finally: You will find a variety of reviews, of all persuasions, on the ViralBloggers.com post for A New Kind of Christianity.

64 Responses to On the McLaren Nay-sayers

  1. wess February 11, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Nicely done Michael. I’m thinking about similar issues. Maybe there is a way for all of us to take a stand and say enough is enough. I think most of this bashing is just a way to drive traffic to our blogs, which is pretty disingenuous to say the least.

    • sonja February 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

      Oh, Wess … c’mon … really? Do you really think people are doing this just to drive traffic? That’s not worthy of who you are and what you’re becoming.

      • c.wess daniels February 12, 2010 at 6:37 am #

        Sonja, No it’s certainly not the only reason but I do think for some of these folks they keep writing this stuff because they keep getting attention (though it really works both ways I suppose). I was taken back a little by your comment though, what did you mean by “not worthy of who you are and what you’re becoming.”

        As on my most recent post, I think there is a lot more to it, I was being lazy in just suggesting this as the only thing, though I do think it fits for some.

      • sonja February 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

        Sorry, Wess … that was sort of a strange thing for me to say.

        What I meant was, this is out of character for you (way out, in my terribly UNinformed opinion) and doesn’t seem to be like the sort of the person you want to be. I was trying to say you are better than that, from what I know.

      • c.wess daniels February 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

        Sonja – Fair enough. Thanks.

  2. ron cole February 11, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    So much of what I’m reading is beyond good critique, it’s almost character assassination…jumping on the band wagon, boardering mob mentality. My book just arrived, so I’m barely into it. Am I being stretched…you bet. Brian doesn’t expect everyone to drink the KOOL AID, he expects critique. The hope is not to win or even to convert the other to your perspective, but for both to be transformed through the engagement.The hope is not to defeat, condemn to beat up on each other, the hope is in some kind of reconciliation, not avoiding differences but seeing them as an expression of a God so large, so gracious…whose love will conquer anything. Is it possible to ctitique without an attempt to wound, hurt…and stomp the conversation out like crushing a cigarette butt. I’m really beginning to wonder.

    Thanks man, I really appreciated this post.

  3. brambonius February 11, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    After all this buzz it seems I need to really really read this book… Just te be able to engage in this whole conversation…

    I must say I was a bit annoyed by both McLarens quiz, and the way people took it out of proportion… And maybe 100 days of counting down to the release of your blog and making references to it in a lot of the other blogposts was just a bit forced to me… But maybe if I would have made a book I would also act as a proud parent. I don’t know…

    what I’ve always liked about McLaren (and emergent/emerging) is the both/and approach and generosity to critics, and the avoidance of all those dichotomies that have plagued and divided the Body of Christ… So I sincerely hope it’s not the case that Brian is creating new dichotomies in his book, like some critics have been saying, it would be the opposite of one of the main things the church in general can learn from him…

    I know it must be hard to be called son of satan and antichrist and all those things all the time. It’s not abnormal to become a bit bitter for a whole lot less than that sh*t than McLaren has to cope with.. I would just go crazy if such things would happen to me I think…

    but I didn’t read the book yet, so I can’t say anything about it…

    peace to all


  4. ed cyzewski February 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I’m afraid I don’t have many constructive suggestions here, but I do have an observation. Basically two sides have emerged (pardon the pun) that feel EXACTLY the same way. They both fear the other side is trying to shut down the conversation.

    I admit that I initially read Brian’s quiz as a bit disingenuous, though I could immediately see what he was trying to head off. Having read your post, I can see how he probably wrote that with a smirk… which brings me to one other thought.

    Before her book on Emergence came out, Phyllis Tickle talked about how she really doesn’t like blogs all that much because it’s so hard to interpret where people are coming from. I wonder if some videos or podcasts here would help release a little bit of the tension, remove so of the temptation that some have felt to get a little snarky (the comments on some reviews are a little tough to read because of the tone), and help move this back toward a conversation. Just a thought. Perhaps not a good one.

    I appreciated your benediction at the end of your post BTW. May Christ be lifted up, even in our typing.

  5. Darryl February 11, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    At first I picked up, and blogged about, a tone that subtly communicated that some times of discussion aren’t welcome. Understandable, actually. But it was more a feeling than anything, and my perception could be totally off.

    I am actually picking up other signals, that serious engagement on the issues is welcome, and that encourages me.

    This is a book that raises some serious issues, and I have some major concerns. But I’m hoping we can discuss those issues rather than attacking a person. I have no interest in the latter.

  6. Ira February 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Thanks for this, Mike.

    I think there’s a certain healthiness to recognizing that some kinds of conversations aren’t worth having. I found McLaren’s humor and candor enjoyable, though no one should be too surprised at the backlash.

    But surely some aspects of the “conversation” (including aspects in which I’ve been passionately involved) are very, very tired.

  7. Ira February 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    And I forgot to check the box for email notification. 🙂

  8. Todd February 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Solid post. No doubt some will take this a McLaren polemic. But, the one thing that I believe should be upheld in the dust up – Brian is human being, Christ-follower, and one of the most empathic listeners I have encountered – ever.

    I am always grateful for the conversations I have shared with Brian be they by phone, email, or along the shoreline of Orcas Island.

    Thanks for your post.

  9. bakdon February 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Hy Mike..Mac here. My review of the book will be in today and may include some thoughts from the conference call the other night.

    As always, I appreciate your balanced, careful yet direct approach.

    I think your insight about “Daddy issues” is pretty dead on. And I am a contemporary of Brians..and have been writing on these issues since 1991 in many ways.

    My review will be..haha froma slightly different POV (as suual). But NO, I cannot imagine how painful it must be for Brian…whose heart is so very pastoral…to have people taking shots On the other hand we is not going to have to flee to another country…

    LOve Ya Mike.


  10. Makeesha February 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    Really well said brother. And I for one, DO refuse to engage in conversation with certain people – because they’re toxic and mean and don’t actually want to have a conversation. So for anyone to say that they’re open to conversation with ANYONE is just not true.

  11. Travis Mamone February 11, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Just when people start breaking from the Emergent movement, I become involved with it. Typical bad timing on my part.

    I like McLaren. Some of this theology is questionable (I still believe there is a literal Hell), but overall his message isn’t that heretical.

  12. gracerules February 11, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    like you, at the end of the day I see a man sincerely following Jesus – I have not always agreed with Brian on everything but his Christ like spirit and actions draw me in to hear what he thinks and to think seriously about it.

    What upsets me is that people are so quick to publicly criticize someone who I thought they were friends with. Like you said Mike – it is sad.

  13. Mike Todd February 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    So well said Mike.

    I stopped reading at the line about the two-question test, and immediately emailed a friend who has objected to it to confess that it was probably my fault. Then I got back to your post, and you outed me anyway! For what it’s worth I think Godin’s simple comparison is brilliant, and is certainly cause for consideration.

    Speaking clearly and precisely about what you believe can be taken as being divisive, but I see it as simply being honest. Love it or hate it, this latest book of Brian’s is definitely a marker on the journey.

  14. jeffcstraka February 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Like Brian, I have not been trained in a seminary and so have not been subjected to viewing the church through rose-colored glasses (or Calvin-colored, or Luther-colored, or Wesley-colored, or Augustinian-colored, or Constantinian-colored). Brian makes a fascinating and important point in his new book of how we distort the Bible when we read from these influences back, instead of Genesis forward. Most of my reading/studying recently has been focusing on what has happened to Christianity once the Roman Empire got their hooks into it (313). I am wrestling with the feelings of anger over what the Early Church had done to the beliefs, the texts, the “heretics” (pretty un-Christiany) in order to gain a “unified orthodoxy” that could co-exist with a massive military and create a dependent, compliant people. I am, however, grateful to how the internet has made this history available to the “laity” along with discovering what texts the pre-313 Christian house churches valued: the Nag Hammadi, the Didache. It is helpful for me to know that these pre-313 Christians really did not have a doctrine of “original sin” with which they read Genesis 3 (heck, they didn’t even have chapters, verses, chapter titles) – they would have still seen it through the Jewish thought of the “birth of conscience”. It is helpful for me to know that some of these pre-313 Christians did not think “gnostic” was a dirty, heretical word. To them, it meant an experiential knowledge of the Divine, not a “head” knowledge.

    Just as the printing press in the time of Luther allowed a people to discover for themselves what had been previously “filtered”, the internet is allowing a people to discover some mind-blowing unfiltered truth. Phyllis Tickle mentions that within the 500 year cycle, there is 100 years of rummaging and sorting (deconstruction/reconstruction), 200 years of relative peace/comfort with the results and then 100 years of gradual unrest/discomfort with the “norm”. Now, with the internet, we may be able to compress this 100-year period we seem to be in, but I do think it will be a long and bumpy road while we sort this stuff out. What is a shame is to loose some of the voices that were helping to shape the conversation. What is a shame is that many are impatiently looking for a list of “what do you believe” and “where is your authority” NOW. A little premature, I would say. I find it curious that some people think there is an option to “withdraw” from the emerging landscape, that if they close their eyes tight enough and stake their position firmly enough, in 50 or 100 years when they open them again, they will be in the same place/world.

    I, frankly, am glad to be alive during this exciting period of emerging history (church and otherwise) and look forward to the journey! I am glad Brian wrote this important thought-provoking book and look forward to the conversations it will generate!

  15. brad/futuristguy February 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    Yo Mike! A couple of thoughts on your post.

    First (but not foremost), I hope Brian speaks for himself — and soon — to clarify what his own intention was about The Dreaded Quiz That Attacked Tokyo And Released Mothra From The Depths. As I commented elsewhere, written words in print or on screen really only convey about 40% of meaning. We have no tone of voice or inflection or facial expressions or body language to know if Brian meant this tongue in cheek (the best place for it, according to St. James), or meant it straight up as a dare, or meant it confrontative neo-Nazi style (and having encountered neo-Nazis, I know somewhat whereof I speak).

    The more we all conjecture about Brian’s own missing 60%, the dumber this all seems to get. As the paraphrased proverb goes, “With many words comes much misunderstanding,” but sometimes, with few words, the same thing happens. So perhaps if we convey this request directly to Brian, he can clear it up himself. He is, after all, the only one who can ultimately take responsibility for what he said and what he meant …

    Most importantly, there’s an unfortunate level of angst and pain for many people in this present sifting out of paradigms. It’s been going on for decades (though it seems more intense right now), and is likely to go on for a few more. I hope I’m understanding it right that, for you, this is about far more than just a personal relationship with Brian; it’s about the larger movements at stake here and the internal dynamics in the Body.

    This is all just plain painful, for whatever variety of reasons may be at the sources for us. (For instance, as an INFP male on Myers-Briggs, I’m often a mess emotionally because things affect me so deeply, and as a highly analytic information processor, my thoughts often give my emotions even more of a kick-start when not wanted.) (P.S. It would be easier to just hide in my Man Cave than get out in the real world where I risk exposure to more sources of sorrow.)

    But maybe this sifting is just inevitable – – and we all have to deal with it. Assuming that many of us sincerely want the survival and sustainability of the Church in North America in this post-Christendom era, then it makes sense (to me, at least) that there’s got to be a lot of settling out among various “sons and daughters of Issachar,” who are trying to understand the times, and discern what the churches should do. I’ve thought about 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 in this regard: “[W]hen you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” (NASB). Wish I knew if Paul were being straight-up or sarcastic, but the reality is, conflict could bring clarity … if we let it.

    Unfortunate that there has been rancor. If you feel I’ve contributed to that, I’d hope you would let me know directly. But I also believe I need to stick with what is my presumably providentially assigned prophetic role in the Kingdom: to analyze and interpret the bigger picture of things. That’s what drives me. I’m trying to assess the paradigms at play here, along with the overall systems like emerging-Emergent-missional movements, Christian publishing industry, etc., and consider the constructive and destructive implications thereof.

    Speaking of said evaluations of paradigms and systems, it looks like you may be speaking about me in your fourth paragraph, as I appear to be The Only Dood Who Raised The Hypermodern Moniker, and I am indeed an aging white guy like Brian (actually, if I remember aright, a few years older, though that certainly doesn’t make me his elder!), so I’m part of his sibling generation and who knows, perhaps I’m partially motivated by sibling rivalry?? However, if I do happen to be even partially right about a hypermodern paradigm directly and negatively affecting the current Christian/Kingdom systems and movements and such, maybe there’s something worth listening to. At least, it seemed from your comments to me on Bill Kinnon’s recent posts, that some of what I was saying made sense.

    So there it is, for what it’s worth.

  16. Blake Huggins February 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Excellent post, Mike. I really don’t get this sudden rush of vitriol and emotionalism. Brian’s tone in the sure doesn’t warrant it and it shuts down any possibility of discussing the nuts and bolts of the book.

  17. zoecarnate February 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Wow, thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Sonja & Darryl, I’m very sensitive to the fact that you all represent a growing number of people who feel like ‘the conversation’ has been growing in a direction that you’re not comfortable with, and that, further, you don’t feel like your voices are always welcome anymore. I need to listen to this, and I shall. I’m also interested in any engagement with ANKoC that either of you might offer. In this post, I’m just trying to say that, in my opinion, the ‘reading’ offered of Brian’s fundamentalism quiz is a huge mis-reading – I’m seeing the quiz as tongue-in-cheek at least, or a direct statement of his book’s non-appeal to the non-curious at its strongest. To me, Rick, it seems like (if we were to simplify this to the terms of the quiz), you’re actually #2, curious, but still have reservations. Which is fine.

    Makeesha, I think you’re right – even Jesus didn’t converse with or befriend everyone. But he had a consistent habit of befriending the voiceless.

    Jeff, I agree – it’s important to realize that ‘orthodoxy’ is not always something worth universally lauding, when you look at it in its historical context as being inextricably bound up with violence. Puritans cut out Quakers’ tongues to stop their preaching – to recall just one example. I suppose we can be thankful for small blessings today, like how character assassination doesn’t usually lead to actual assassination. Usually.

    Brad! No, I believe some folks commenting on one of the posts over at Jesus Creed accused Brian of being either/or modernist – that’s who I was thinking of when I finished this post up at around 1 this morning. I’m actually really appreciating your systems’ thinking approach to all of this – I’m in a basic systems class this semester @ Regent – as I said, you’re making sense, man! 🙂 I’d still love it if you rounded your comments on all this up and posted ’em on your blog so I (and others) could engage with them via your online home.

  18. zoecarnate February 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Oh – Ed! I meant to comment on your comment too. Yes, it strikes me that both ’emergent’ and ‘missional’ folks (to use a gross oversimplification) are both feeling like the oxygen is being squeezed out of their right to exist, conversationally…and the increasing assumption that we’ve got to choose sides.

    I don’t want to choose sides! To be brutally honest, I sometimes think that the missional crowd is (at least somewhat) better at actually going out there and ‘doing the stuff’ (to use John Wimber’s phrase) – which is obviously crucial. At the same time, I sense sometimes an anti-intellectual strain in the missional movement – it’s totally okay to discuss methodology and praxis, but off-limits to explore theology in an open-ended way – maybe anti-intellectualism isn’t the best word, but pragmatism. And, well, I want both. I realize that having both can be difficult in practice – how do we devote our lives to incarnating the Gospel if we can’t even decide for ourselves what the Gospel is? So I get that some folks have had to leave the ‘conversation’ table to ‘do the stuff’ they feel called to do. I just wish that we could do it without the confusion and pain that seems to be accompanying this ‘breakup’ right now. Which is why I hope Brad collects his thoughts into a single post – I really think his systems approach is helpful.

    I’m glad you liked my closing ‘benediction’ – I didn’t write it to put a smiley-face on a difficult post; I actually prayed it as I drifted off to sleep this morning, imagining a very solid Throne of Grace that we could boldly approach, a la Romans, and rest.

  19. Ira February 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    At the risk of injecting unwanted prickliness into such an irenic conversation, I’m wondering at what point the limitations of text communication become unremarkable. McLaren is a writer. Many of us fancy ourselves writers (or at least bloggers — rim shot, please). Communicating via text is what we do. Of course there are limitations. It’s part of the risk of writing. Real-time conversations have their own liabilities.

    I don’t think McLaren’s test is all that unclear, and I don’t think it warrants the hermeneutical attention being given to it. It’s cute. It’s a little snarky. It makes me want to buy him a beer. It’s also rhetorical; nobody’s going to “take the test” — but it may serve to sort his audience by whether or not offense is taken.

    Clearly the vitriol is unfortunate. I’m not sure it’s surprising. And I don’t think McLaren is naive enough not to have expected it. I could be wrong.

  20. Chris Seay February 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    VERY WELL DONE BROTHER!! I am proud to call you a friend. Thanks for compiling your gracious thoughts so well. I am very proud to call Brian my friend and hope he sleeps better knowing many of us will not allow these hate filled unChristian attacks to go unopposed.

  21. sonja February 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    I just don’t know what to say anymore … I’m sitting here in actual tears and sobbing because it feels as though just my having an opinion is too much for people to take.

    I haven’t read the book and won’t read the book … I have maintained for as long as I’ve known about him that Brian McL had not earned the right to be heard (in old youth ministry speak) with ME. That is MY opinion. I’m not asking anyone else to share it. And for all I care, you can call me a stupid old woman … to. my. face. But for God’s sake don’t tar everyone else who doesn’t agree with the man with that brush. Not everyone who disagrees with him is a stupid old woman 😉 And not everyone who disagrees with him is a fundy or rightwinger or part of some vast sibling rivalry. Maybe you are not lumping me in with those folks … but that’s what I hear. And it hurts. When you (or anyone else) starts to form up into us and them … everyone EVERYONE gets hurt. We are not us and them.

    From reading the comments here, it may be that he has some of the same ideas that I have. Lo and behold … other smart people can also think out of the box I need to play around with my ideas by myself and with trusted friends before I go off finding other people who agree with me. There will always be people who agree with one’s ideas; it is finding the people who do not and will work with you graciously to whatever conclusion is necessary … those are gold. So what would you say to those of us who are willing to ask, “Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?”, gone spelunking and come to a different conclusion than, say, you or Brian? Does that make me a fundamentalist? Or does that make me a person who is wandering down a different path?

    I’m trying very hard to find the middle ground and remain friends so that, God help me if I ever get to meet any of you IRL, I can finally see you in 3D and smile and hear what your voice sounds like as I’ve wanted to for so long and sit down over coffee or beer. But that possibility seems to be slipping away, comment by comment and blog post by blog post.

    I don’t know who commented that this post will feel like a polemic … yep it does. It feels (until the lasts 4 paragraphs) like only real emergers can understand this … the rest of you losers can go pound sand. I’m sorry, Mike … I love your heart and I love your energy. I really do. I love the wonderful conversations you start on FaceBook. You have an energy and perspective that is wonderful to behold and learn from. But this just seems out of character for you. And it makes me really sad. Please please be careful with your words. While your last four paragraphs are beautiful and welcoming, the earlier part feels very much as though true “emergers” must choose Brian; everyone else are fundy’s who have to choose the highway.

    I know you are angry and hurt and frustrated and probably a billion other conflicting emotions … but this post is not helpful to the general state of the Body. I’m certain this was not your intent, but you’ve created your own line in the sand and we (who are neither here nor there) cross it at our own peril.

  22. Cassidy February 11, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Great post, Mike!

    The way I figure it, it doesn’t matter whether Brian’s answers to new faith questions are valid; his — and the Emerging Church’s — QUESTIONS are valid. I think Brian would agree with me — it doesn’t matter whether the Emerging Church or even Brian survives all the criticism, the questions will. They have to. They are the emerging questions and people have them about God. It’s just where the culture has gone.

    Brian’s trying to answer those question. So is the Emerging Church. That’s their reason for being. Fundamentalists don’t and won’t, and if they remain on their path of vitriol to try to put the question genie back in the bottle, the more vicious they will become until they withdraw or lash out with literal violence. They’ve already begun to withdraw — that’s what home schooling and contemporary Christian music is about. Whether they lash out violently remains to be seen, but a lot of the demonizing language coming out of the Right these days meets a prerequisite for violence.

  23. Ira February 11, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    “The way I figure it, it doesn’t matter whether Brian’s answers to new faith questions are valid; his — and the Emerging Church’s — QUESTIONS are valid.”

    Very well put.

  24. justamouse February 11, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    “May all of us – missional and emergent, evangelical and mainline, Catholic and Pentecostal, gay and straight, deconstructionist and Radically Orthodox – fling ourselves upon the Throne of Grace and mercies of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, who alone saves and restores.



  25. ed cyzewski February 11, 2010 at 5:59 pm #


    I appreciate the fact that you don’t want to choose sides. As someone who is certainly more toward the conservative end of things, I have always appreciated interacting with a wide variety of theological perspectives and have grown and changed with them. I suppose I haven’t integrated them to the degree than may be the case with Brian.

    I fear that with the imperfection of blogging as a medium and the critical eye that book reviews demand, things may only heat up as folks share their opinions and reservations. Here are a couple of thoughts on where I’m at right now with this. Perhaps it will resonate with others:
    – Hope for the best, give the benefit of a doubt.
    – Learn to take a punch sometimes and lose an argument.
    – A disagreement does not always warrant a comment.
    – Sometimes waiting brings wisdom.


    • zoecarnate February 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

      Wow, Ed. I might hang these on my refrigerator!

  26. becky February 11, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    I think we need to distinguish between those Reformed naysayers who have never liked anything to do with emerging/Emergent from the get-go and the growing voices of those like Andrew Jones, Jeremy Bourma and others who were involved with this conversation. A sign of a healthy movement is the ability to listen to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ instead of always needing to defend a brand.
    I know at times I can get so wrapped up with wanting to be right that I forget the need to be Christlike. Here’s a piece I wrote about that which might shed some light on the debate moving forward.



  27. zoecarnate February 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Hi Sonja,

    I certainly don’t like making women cry – or anyone for that matter. I want to reiterate that none of your writings elicited this response from me – your posts on the matter were written with pain and vulnerability, not snark and/or imputed motives.

    No, I’m writing in response to some of the other posts I’ve cited above, and if it sounded uncharacteristic of me, let me see if I can sum it up:

    Brian has been called every name in the book for years, and he does not retaliate in kind. I ‘read’ his fundamentalism quiz as a response to those who curse and call him demonic and try to assassinate his character – not toward those – like you and I’m sure many others – who have honest beef with the content of his ideas. I am curious as to your comment about your sense that Brian hasn’t “earned the right to be heard with me.” There are a lot of authors I don’t read, but I don’t think of it in terms of ‘rights’ one way or another…perhaps I don’t understand what you mean.

    But regardless – we can read or not read whomever we please, I just thought that the backlash from the quiz and the jacket cover was shockingly disproportionate to the ‘offense.’ I look forward to reading actual, substantiative engagements with Brian’s book – and they’re already coming out, from people who enjoy the book and those who do not.

    With the larger emergent/missional woes…I don’t know if you believe this, but I’m with you, sister! See my comments to Ed above.

  28. Makeesha February 11, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Sonja, I’m not really sure what you’re hearing in this that is hurting you so much. I don’t hear anyone attacking you so I must be missing something. I wish I could get it so I could say something helpful but I’m clearly missing something. *shrug. I don’t even do church anymore so I don’t care about any of this except that you all are friends and wherever you stand theologically is pretty irrelevant to me. Which is why I get so grumpy at some of the shit that’s poured on Brian – cuz I see him as somewhat of a friend – or a close(ish) acquaintance at least. And his writings actually helped me stay a xian at a time when I was about to write it all off as a sham. But more than that is the tone that’s used with certain people online – you get in the sites of a watchblogger and it’s pretty clear the posture they have.

  29. Katherine Anderson February 11, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Oh I’m just going to repeat myself a bit and say what I said in the book review section (haven’t posted an actual review as I have yet to read the book).

    I don’t think Brian is being controversial but that the very process of questioning (quests) is a controversial one. Goodness knows I’m familiar with the controversy of asking questions. (ha!) I also think that the truths that are potentially to be uncovered in the process are painful to many and as such are also very controversial because of course wouldn’t we like to avoid the pain of change? Sure. For quite a few it is painful because it isn’t welcome or it wasn’t their idea — they didn’t bid the change to come. Others, like me, welcome a certain amount of change and so I don’t see controversy at all. I see people who are scandalized or at times even offended or just simply taken aback. I remember a time when I spent time reading church history here and there, and felt so betrayed and duped. Change can be stupifying. And then as it turns out, to be stupified ends up not being the end of the world…

    So basically in my opinion it isn’t a matter of someone trying to stir up controversy. The process of change is just very difficult for so very many people.


  30. jeffcstraka February 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    I’m starting to “get” that those with a current or future paycheck tied to the church – pastors, seminary student and professors – are naturally (and quite understandably) limited to what they are willing or able to deconstruct/reconstruct. I “get” that their livelihood would be in jeopardy if they let on that they were questioning everything. I truly feel sorry for them. Maybe that’s why the pre-Empire church did not have this hierarchical structure that seems to limit creative thought and maybe that’s why the post-Christendom church is heading back that direction. All I ask is that they don’t use THEIR limitation (and position of “authority”) to rail against and squelch a conversation that is so essential to those of us OUTSIDE that crumbling structure.

    • Ira February 12, 2010 at 10:50 am #

      Jeff — it’s not that the anti-imperial voice isn’t vital, or that I’m not sympathetic. But I am a bit confused. I can see where, in some cases, people are reluctant to embrace or articulate changing theological constructs because their job is on the line. But aren’t there pastors and bishops and seminary professors and youth ministers heavily involved in the “conversation”? Aren’t there, on the other side, house churches and intentional communities with no use for someone like McLaren? I understand the need to lay down some chalk here, but I’m not sure that particular line is germane in this case.

      And I don’t think those who might embrace more “emergent” or “postmodern” forms of faith but are afraid to do so are the ones spewing bile and hurling epithets at McLaren. Seems to me there are plenty of people with no job at stake getting into that mudfest.

      As for the crumbling, I understand the importance of declaring the system you’re railing against a failed system and predicting its demise. It’s the same quasi-apocalyptic rhetorical well from which we get ruminations about America’s waning empire and the immanent collapse of global capitalism. I’m not saying you’re on board with those other things, but the pattern is the same. That pattern (and again, on some of these I’m sympathetic) smacks of wishful thinking.

      You may need to think that it is crumbling, and I’m sure in a very real sense it crumbled for you, but I don’t think the evidence really supports tales of its widespread collapse. Some mainline denominations are in decline, and house churches and other non-hierarchical structures are seeing growth. But in some of the places where the church is growing like crazy, it is in a recognizably hierarchical and structural form — take the growth of the Anglican church in part of Africa, for instance. Whatever you think of the institutional church, it nevertheless has a vitality and tenaciousness that render rumors of its demise somewhat exaggerated.

    • David February 19, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

      This is a classic ploy by Jeff. He utilizes the assumption of a character flaw so that he can marginalize the verbiage of his target.

      Which although an escape tactic and largely dishonest, would be fine if he would at least work out the logic proposed by said folks (which he refused to do during our last encounter, because he said that I was too stuck in my ways for me to hear his response, so why should he waste his time).

      For example: Mike Wittmer may very well be a man who is motivated by promoting his own book, decrying the competition as heretical, etc. etc (which has been Jeff’s latest ploy on Wittmer’s blog). It doesn’t take away from the fact that Wittmer brings up some very good points about McLaren’s book. (Many of you may say Wittmer took things out of context. In that case, I would ask for an illustration. I don’t deny the possibility that it exists, I would just like to see it instead of hear about it).

      Jeff, here you assume every preacher is limited in his ability to question or conversate because of his paycheck. You are yet again making a large character assassination while simultaneously undermining the ability of any paid clergy-member to be taken seriously. You discuss it with you amicable “understanding” but in reality you are setting up a scenario where you can ignore the opposition because of an assumed (yet “understandable”) character flaw.

      This is dishonest debating. I’ve called you on it several times, yet you continue to employ its use.

      • Jeff Straka February 19, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

        Dishonest debating? Perhaps. I was never trained in the art nor in theology. My main “beef” with Wittmer is that he markets himself to be a “third way” between fundamentalism and liberalism and in actual practice appears to be anything BUT. That is dishonest marketing, to me.

        Here’s Mike’s description (partial) of his own book “Don’t Stop Believing” from the tab on his blog:
        Each chapter begins with a fundamentalist extreme, cites a postmodern over-reaction, and closes with a THIRD WAY which RETAINS the BEST INSIGHTS OF EACH (emphasis mine).

        From Mike’s blog review of McLaren’s book, I don’t find anything he is even REMOTELY trying to retain from it as an insight. This is dishonest representation of a review from an expected “third way” stance.

  31. pat henshaw February 11, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    much ado about nothing.

  32. Joe Machuta February 12, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    Certainly, there are many who believe that there needs to be a change from the rigid view that orthodoxy demands. So, for me, the questions are healthy. I have not completed the book yet but I am reading and so far I like what I am reading…I was taken aback with the first pages of the question about human sexuality but then, I had to stop and laugh out loud…it was brilliant!

    For me there is another question however; Is there a way in which one can take a high view of Jesus’ divinity and, allow the King to remain King and still be more inclusive with a gentler, kinder Christianity that focuses on the redemption of the entire planet? I think there is and that it is comprehended in the understanding of covenants, God’s purpose in creation and, the finished work of redemption.

    I cannot understand why there are not more scholarly theologians that examine this.


  33. dave wainscott February 14, 2010 at 5:53 am #

    Thank you for that, and for saying it so well!

  34. Bob Robinson February 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    I would hardly call my post “bashing” Brian. I certainly am not trying to be “fashionable” either. I also don’t think that Scot McKnight, of all people is trying to “fashionably bash” Brian either.

    As someone who actually knows, loves, and respects Brian, I feel that I should be allowed to offer my critiques without being lumped into those who do not know and respect him!

    Bob Robinson

  35. zoecarnate February 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Bob! Thanks for speaking up. I know that Brian of all people appreciates ‘loyal critics’ and would even consider some of them (the friendly ones) friends. I’m sure you’re no exception.

    With that said, I did feel like your blog was part of a ‘meme’ I was sensing a week or so ago – not of heresy-hunters (as I said in the post: “I am not linking the recent blog-critiques with the following extreme examples…”) – of friends or former friends who were saying rather harsh things about Brian or imputing motives as to why he wrote his latest book and/or why he posted that quiz.

    I know it’s a fine line I’m walking, between saying ‘Knock off the assumptions, folks!’ and ‘Never critique Brian, ever-ever!’ I’m not saying the latter (I know that Brian wouldn’t want to live in a world where the latter was the case), but I guess I just wish that those who came to all sorts of conclusions about the whys and wherefores of Brian’s quiz would have a.) Maybe asked him about it directly, if you have the means to do so (I’m not sure if you do or not – Scot certainly does), and b.) Take in the context of both the accompanying video and the fact that Brian does, indeed, have many name-calling, mud-slinging (and yes, largely fundamentalist) detractors, so even if the quiz was deadly-serious it makes sense.

    PS: I’ve long enjoyed your blog. You were the first to introduce me to how appreciative inquiry could be used in sharing faith!

  36. Darren February 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm #


  37. Scot McKnight February 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    Wow, this one is taking off.

    I have a problem and it illustrates the problem with Brian’s writings. People criticize Brian and his defenders say “Brian’s a good guy and I like him and I know his heart and …”. When critics criticize, the problem becomes “You guys don’t like him and you questions his motives etc..” So, defenders say critique is ad hominem and the defense is clearly ad hominem.

    The issue here is not Brian himself, but what he has now written.

    One question: Do you his sketch of Theos, which drives that book more than might be recognized by some, is a fair description of what Christians believe about God and about how Christians have framed the doctrine of God? Your answer leads to all sorts of follow-ups, but we need not entertain them.

    The issue here is not ad hominem defenses or critiques. The issue is what Brian has written.

    I could say more, but my review will be in the next edition of Christianity Today. And I will also be interviewing Brian at the Q conference in April.

    • Jeff Straka February 18, 2010 at 12:36 am #

      I see your point on using the “Theo” or the “Greco-Roman” descriptor – it was a little confusion to me. I personally see the problems outlined flowing out of the post-Constantinian church of Rome, framing theology through a state-run, patriarchal, hierarchical, military empire. But it seems to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if one can’t see past that descriptor. I look forward to reading the interview – should be great!

  38. Mark Petersen February 17, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    Beautiful Mike. Thank you. Thoughtful, gracious.

    We get so heated up don’t we?

  39. Chad February 18, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Well said, Mike.

    The Rabbi I have the great pleasure to sit under and learn from each Tuesday at Duke Divinity School answers many questions in a way that just makes me happy, and I think is fitting here: “Your question,” he says, “is a far better question than any one answer might be.”

  40. zoecarnate February 18, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Hi Scot,

    Thanks for weighing in. I look forward to your CT review. For me, I’m not trying to squelch honest review of Brian’s ideas – in my newest post, I present three potential points of scrutiny where Brian’s work ‘deserves’ some critical push-back, in my opinion. But I think that some of the recent blog-talk devolved into ad hominem when it ventured beyond his work into what his motives were in posting the ‘fundamentalism quiz.’ While the reading you and some others gave it (perhaps opportunistic marketing, perhaps shutting off conversation before it began) is certainly plausible in general with regards to authors in general (I work with ’em all the time), I was urging a reconsideration in this case – not based on my or others’ warm-fuzzies with Brian, but based on a wider reading of his interaction with critics who have definitely been ad hominem, personal, and uncharitable. Read in the context of folks who call Brian a ‘son of Lucifer’ and worse, a survey – whether tongue-in-cheek or perfectly straightforward – makes a lot more sense.

    All the same, I look forward to seeing specific interactions with the ideas raised in the book. I only pray that the conversation generates more light than heat.

  41. Chad Holtz February 18, 2010 at 3:38 pm #


    Your thoughts and those of others inspired this: http://chadholtz.net/?p=1060

    titled: Theological Suicide: Heretics, Antichrists, Porn Stars and McLarens

  42. zoecarnate February 18, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    I’m reading it now!

  43. theologshmeolog February 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    DeYoung treats Mclaren phenomenally lovingly–without ad hominem; dealing with ideas, etc. Probably the most cogent and well-written critique of Mclaren. It’s worth a read, and in a very real way has the brilliance of Machen–even connecting to M’s original title: “Christianity and Liberalism.” Sam Hendrickson

  44. Ted February 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    BM is an F*n retard

    • Jeff S. February 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

      Wow, Ted. Wow.

      • Katherine Anderson February 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

        I notice Ted has no last name. There not (*sarcasm) being very many Teds on the WWW, it’s easy to see this means his bid for anonymity will get him places he may or may not want to be.


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