Essay on Brian McLaren

Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie

Books written by Brain McLaren:

  • A new Christianity (Nederlands: Een nieuw Christendom – uitg. Plateau, 2017)
  • The great spiritual shift (Nederlands: De grote spirituele shift – uitg. Kok, 2018)
  • Latest book: Naked spirituality (Nederlands: Naakte Spiritualiteit – Brandaan 2022)

Brian Mc Laren, born in 1956, is an American pastor, author, speaker and leading figure in what is called in the USA the emerging church movement. He grew up in Rockville, Maryland in the conservative Open Brethren, part of the Plymouth Brethren, turned against his background as he grew up and he became a model for many other young people who recognized themselves in the problems he faced in his orthodox circle. In the Netherlands his name is mentioned in books and journals that call themselves promotor of a ‘New Christianity’ See ‘Ziel zoekt zin’ by Pauline Weseman in the Christian journal ‘De Nieuwe Koers’.

Brian describes how he felt already at a young age uncomfortable in the narrow-minded atmosphere of his church. When he describes the main problems he had I can follow that with understanding and recognition: it looks as if the main purpose of human life was focused on accepting Christ as your savior and so gain certainty than one would inherit a place in heaven. It came with a strong black and white view on fellow citizens, as saved and potentially lost, little concern for the future of this world, a place where through gospel preaching people could be saved as from a sinking ship from going to hell. This came with a view on God as mainly all-determining Sovereign who rules it all and had a plan for mankind and the world that was dominated by a rather detailed view on the end time, with a rapture for all believing Christians and a final testing time of great tribulation before the Lord’s return. The interpretation of the bible was very literal and legalistic. There was little interest in art and culture.

When I give this as a summary of Brian’s problem you feel already that I sympathize with him.
He describes his change in understanding Gods character and personality. God is not the Immovable Mover of Aristotle the Greec Philosopher, but the Passioned Father who in his love through Christ is concerned with the whole of mankind and the Redemption and Restoration of this world. The bible is his living word to be read in its context, the message of the coming Kingdom is key in understanding Jesus.

So far it is all ok, but I take distance from Brian is on three points:

  1. Changing “the framing story” In New Christianity, from p.6 on he pleads for a better ‘framing story’ that could change the world. The old Christian ‘story ‘is that of a world created as good, fallen in sin and then changed in a mankind that is offered redemption and hope on heaven. This story must be changed. He takes time to explain that this classical concept is deeply formed by the Greek pagan thinkers like Plato and should be replaced by the ‘story‘ of the liberation of mankind by a loving and passionate God from misery and brokenness to maturity. Not any longer: creation, fall, redemption. but something like: chaos, kingdom promise, Spirit filled life, total Renewal. This new understanding of the mainline of biblical history, leaves out the fall at the beginning and relates more easily to the plural movement of liberation all over the world. Can go hand in hand with the evolutionary humanistic optimism ( as FAS called it) and takes away the priority of conversion and evangelism. This new Christianity looks very similar to the theology of liberation by Gutierrez and in the sixtieth. But liberation is not the same as salvation, and the Plato interpretation of the Genesis story of the fall is fantasy and has no support from any other theologian that I know.
  2. Use of the scripture cut off from real history, reduced to a compilation of stories of how believers have experienced God in past time. It is not the Word of God , how He revealed Himself to us, but a book of people ,how they have experienced God. Inspiration is changed from opening our eyes for what God did in the past and doing in the presence (see my Gods hand in history, sorry, only in Dutch under the title: Verborgen aanwezig Kok Utrecht 2020) into: inside subjective experience, a movement turning inside as Daniel de Waele describes in his recent book: Godenschemering.(p.391 e.v.Het innerlijk licht). This is a big step away from how the bible it self teaches us, f.i in Exodus 13:11 ev.en 1 Korintiers 15:13) and takes away the foundation of our salvation from what God did for us in real history, from Abrham and the covenant with Isreal to Jesus the Messiah and his sacrifice through which we are ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, as we sing it!
  3. Liberation theology. Most of his insights are not new f.i. the criticism on the narrow and reduced Framing story in fundamentalist churches. One can find the same criticism in the teaching of contemporary theologians I refer like Francis Schaeffer, N.T.Wright, Tim Keller, etc. BY suggesting that this is something radical new he creates distance from the mainstream of bible-believing teachers ann preachers. Brian is convinced that the direction of his teaching is new and should lead to a new movement but this makes me think that is taking distance comes from his own sectarian upbringing that he did not shake off. “Now a new and better Christianity will rise up”.. This raises expectations that easily ends in disappointment…and has to do with a lack of loyalty. To the mainline of orthodox tradition: creation, fall, redemption, Gods word objectively true in all that it confirms and a false faith in an inner worldly evolutionary better world to be realized by collective human effort.

Nevertheless: I found some interesting insights in understanding some problems that that people have in reading the bible today: the use of violence in the Old Testament and the outwardly looking different image of God in many old testament passages. And his last book on Spirituality is wise and helpful and seems to be very much in line with pious books from Thomas a Kempis But his loss of the fall makes his Christianity flat and without the drama and depth of the Creator God who had to die and rise to take the ‘power of the ring’ away from the evil one (as creatively expressed in the books of Narnia and Lord of the ring ). It fits too good to a worldview where the highest goal of man is to be happy and it loses easily the wonder of the depth of Gods mercy shown in history and coming to us with the call of repentance and conversion.