Interview with Brian McLaren

January 28, 2008

emergent / emerging church / theology

A couple of days ago, the Charlotte Observer had this interview with Brian McLaren, in preparation for his visit to the city this weekend. It covers a variety of topics that he has discussed, or questioned, or looked at, in his various books.

I took note of the fact that many of the questions that were asked in the interview are questions for which many in the evangelical world have already decided what his answers are. If one reads his books, there is a constant willingness to question things, far more than there is a willingness to give answers. Typically, the evangelical world doesn’t like this.

When he talks about the idea that we should question our doctrines and our theology, he automatically wants to throw out everything that we consider to be non-negotiable. For example:

Q. You say that many Christians should start by replacing the idea of getting themselves and others “saved” so they can go to heaven — the evacuation plan, I think you call with — with this idea of getting out there, in the here and now, and healing the hurts of the world. So when Jesus said, “As the father sent me, so I sent you,” he was talking not really about conversions but about tackling the world’s crises — Is that right?

In this example, because he questions the idea that Christians need to be telling everyone that they’re going to hell and need to be saved so they can go to heaven (the classic, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”), he apparently doesn’t want people to meet Jesus. His answer, though, is great:

Actually, I would put the two together. If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It’s like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium) altogether.

A better image would be: What Jesus is asking us to do is go into the stands and recruit some people to come on the field and join us to play. The recruiting of new disciples is really connected to wanting to make a difference in the world.

And this is a perfect example of the misunderstanding that is often applied, not just to Brian McLaren, but to all things involving the emerging church. A similar thought is later in the article:

Q. What do you say, though, to conservative Christians who say, “What about the Great Commission? These (non-Christian) people are doomed and we need to save them through conversion.”

His answer:

First of all, I love to help every person I can to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

A lot of people don’t want to become followers of Jesus Christ. And when they don’t want to, they are not disqualified from being my neighbor. In fact, they still are my neighbor.

Because it looks for something different than what most of modern evangelicalism is looking for, it boils down to modern liberalism. Things like this show that the idea is really far more significant, and that it offers a challenge both to modern liberalism and modern evangelicalism.

The above examples are only a couple of the things in the article that, I feel, show more of a look into Brian McLaren’s own answers to his questions. He deals with issues of sin, basic doctrine, the prosperity gospel, and a number of other things. In various books and articles, he’s questioned many of these things in brilliant ways, and it’s nice to see a little bit of his own thinking about them.