The Fall of Brian McLaren

I have followed McLaren, and read his early books, for a number of years as he headed, whether intentionally or not, the ‘Emergent’ movement. I have been very concerned at the steady decline in McLaren’s orthodoxy over the years. One of the more conservative Evangelical ‘supporters’ of McLaren has been Scott McKnight of Jesus Creed. Not anymore. McKnight reviews McLaren’s new book, which has finally pushed McKnight over the edge. McLaren, I fear, is a visual example of what is happening to the Emergent movement – it has slipped out of biblical, historic Christianity. I always felt that while the initial momentum of the emerging church – to ask questions and challenge how the church does things – was not a bad thing, the questioning continued, to the point of even questioning the fundamentals of the faith – which was simply wrong. It appears the emerging movement forgot to stop questioning and start  to build a biblical theology. The Church is a non-negotiable MUST of  Christianity. To criticize or question the church is fine, even helpful at times. But then, you MUST quit complaining, agree your theology based on the historic faith and climb back into the boat. It is theologically impossible to leave the church – it is the body  of Christ on the earth. McLaren is an example of one who has not climbed back into the boat – and quite simply he is drowning. And it appears his new book shows this clearly and while I have not read McLaren’s new book McKnight has and he ends his  review with:

Unfortunately, this book lacks the “generosity” of genuine orthodoxy and, frankly, I find little space in it for orthodoxy itself. Orthodoxy for too many today means little more than the absence of denying what’s in the creeds. But a robust orthodoxy means that orthodoxy itself is the lens through which we see theology. One thing about this book is clear: Orthodoxy is not central.

Alas, A New Kind of Christianity shows us that Brian, though he is now thinking more systemically, has fallen for an old school of thought. I read this book carefully, and I found nothing new. It may be new for Brian, but it’s a rehash of ideas that grew into fruition with Adolf von Harnack and now find iterations in folks like Harvey Cox and Marcus Borg. For me, Brian’s new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it’s not old enough.


3 thoughts on “The Fall of Brian McLaren

  1. I don’t think that McLaren’s orthodoxy has changed that much. What has happen is that he has simply spelt out what it means to him and his latest book certainly tries to explain his position. At a Faithworks conference in Enfield, UK a few days ago McLaren was speaking and I was able to get a copy of his latest book A New Kind of Christianity. I haven’t read it all yet but specifically interested in reading Chapter 17 which McKnight considered unsatisfactory in review which you mentioned. I can realise why there are a few Christian conservative leaders who are quite critical of him as I could quite easily see then taking offence at the beginning of this chapter. However there are other chapters such as chapter 11 that are very helpful. Mclaren uses the word “trade-ups” and “trade-downs” which is very similar to William Webb’s “redemptive hermeneutics” in his book “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals”.
    Finally I would just like to say that you and McKnight are a bit ungenerous to say that McLaren is simply regurgitating Harnack’s views and effectively wanting to excommunicate McLaren from the evangelical camp. I’m not a theological scholar but I have been a Christian nearly 40 years and have read quite a bit. As I understand for the liberal their views are that they would consider almost everything in the Bible as a myth including the resurrection and I don’t think that comes through the sections that I have read of A New Kind of Christianity and other books of McLaren that I have read
    Furthermore I am reminded of when Karl Barth completely broke with his liberal camp when he found out that his theological teachers and one of them was Harnack was prepared to sign up to German imperialism in a very famous published statement in which Harnack wrote at the beginning of the 1st World war. Barth felt that there was something terrible wrong with their theology to support such a document. Certainly if (say) the US go to war against Iran the government won’t be getting a public statement of support from McLaren they may get it from some of the right wing Christian Fundamentalists who McLaren mentions in his latest book.

  2. Bruce, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I will now read the book with interest. I notice that you say you saw McLaren in Enfield – that is were I grew up. I went to seminary at Oak Hill in Southgate. Thanks again for the comment. Peace.

  3. Its at Enfield that Oasis have started a new academy and Oasis used the academy for the 3 day conference that was put on their “prophetic group ” Faithwork. I know Enfield very well as I work there for the London Borough of Enfield
    Unfortunate I was unable to get there as I have been ill however my wife was there.

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