Brian McLaren, James MacDonald, and The Elephant, Part 1

Few things bewilder more than the apparent contradiction in responses toward high profile Christian leaders. It seems the trigger for public outcry turns on what is said, not what is done. I am reminded of the parable of the two sons. One told his father he would go work the field but did not. The other told his father he would not but later did. One son knew the right things to say but not the proper thing to do. The other did not say the right thing but did the proper thing.

You want to get the Evangelical establishment up in arms, invite them to cross the road with Brian McLaren. There is little doubt the content of Brian’s new book will spur even more vitriol his direction. Many will feel a hubristic sense of affirmation that Brian has indeed gone the bridge too far. Few will entertain his project that Jesus-y people ought to learn to get along with everyone, even those with whom they disagree.

Writing this piece will confirm in some minds I have lost mine. They will stop reading right about now and feel justified in believing that this is an apologetic for Brian McLaren. One not so young man’s attempt to rehab the embattled reputation of a person who is quite willing to be at odds intellectually with those who choose him an adversary but himself finds it possible to be in unity in the Spirit of Jesus. He recently responded to someone who believed it was time to break ranks,

Thanks for sending me your comment. I appreciate your warmth and feel your sadness in needing to (as you say) break ranks with me. There is a lot I’d like to say – but I’ll just offer three (actually four) brief comments.

First, as you probably know, I’m not a “we have to keep ranks” type of guy. One of the characteristics I most appreciate about “a generous orthodoxy” or “a new kind of Christianity” is the freedom to stay unified and stay in fellowship even when we disagree. In fact, if we only “keep ranks” with those with whom we agree, it pretty much guarantees we won’t be challenged to think new thoughts and grow into new areas. So, it’s important for you to know that if you hold a different view than I do, whatever the issue – I would not want to “break ranks” with you. In fact, I am continually enriched, instructed, and challenged by people who differ with me on this and other issues – and I hope the reverse could be true.

What will likely be missed is in the talk of some kind of Christian plurality is that for many there is little room for Christians to read the Bible and come away with divergent opinions. It is the birthplace of the skeptic. It is the seedbed of the cynic. It will not be enough that Brian would claim Jesus is Lord by the Spirit and not Ceasar thereby filling out Paul’s description of the presence of God in spiritual people in 1 Corinthians 12. No, he has said all the wrong things.

You may disagree with Brian. There are places along the way I have. But, I find it hard to quibble with his soft answer that turns away wrath in his response offered here. I have not read his new book. I will receive a copy when he is in my hometown later this week. It will be hard for me to say where I will agree and disagree with Brian, in regards to his book. But, I cannot disagree with his response.

McLaren continues to be canon fodder for theological roundtables. I recently listened to a discussion on inerrancy and found Brian’s name being invoked as an illustration of what happens when you read the Bible from a different perspective. The fear is that everything will be lost. I am not going to rehash all of McLaren’s response I referenced. You may read it for yourself. But on the matter that is often raised, “Where will all of this end? What is the end game? How far will this go?” It is the appeal to a slippery slope while couching it in terms that, “We don’t want to make that mistake of the slippery slope.” And then of course, we make it.

Here is how Brian responded to that question. Pay careful attention to the way he understands the big problems of the world impact people and how many people. It, to my way of thinking, sets his hermeneutical lens squarely on what it means to love one’s neighbor in our contemporary context.

I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue [homosexuality] (my words, not yours) “- what else will happen next?” Here’s what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak – the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 – 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 – 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value – far beyond monetary or corporate value – of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus’ proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God’s amazing grace to all creation.

So – thanks for your note, for the warm spirit in which it was written, and for the invitation to respond. No need to be devastated. You will be fine. God bless you too, my brother! I hope our paths cross again soon. In friendship, as always – Brian

Yes, for many all the wrong things to say, but even in the commenter’s regret that he must now break ranks with Brian it was Brian’s temperate spirit and grace that drew him in their initial contact. I know, I know, nothing but a wolf in sheeps’ clothing.

To be continued . . . 

UPDATE: Marty Duren points to a Christians Science Monitor piece on poverty in America.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.