I guess I’m late to the party on this one, but after reading a couple of reviews on McLaren’s latest work, A New Kind of Christianity, it has become apparent that he has crossed that line, and is now engaged in out-and-out rank heresy, that those who continue to give him a platform are now complicit in his heresy, that the branch of the “Emerging Church” that is unwilling to distance itself from him–the “undiscerning branch”, and it is substantial–can be considered complicit as well.
I came to the party late because I really, really like to be careful about throwing around weighty words like “heresy”. I prefer to give folks the benefit of the doubt, to assume that they are just misunderstood, particularly if they, as McLaren was, are pastors of evangelical churches (and of course, I’m not talking about Osteen-“churches”; they’re heretical and not “evangelical” by any reasonable definition of the word), and/or if their books are published by “evangelical” publishers (though the lines there are so blurred as to be unhelpful anymore–but that’s grist for a different post). Full disclosure: I have met Brian McLaren (who seems a decent fellow in person), and when I went to his website yesterday and looked at his books, I realized that I have read fully seven of his offerings, the latest last month (and it had some value to it, despite my loathing of the title: The Secret Message of Jesus).
That said, until I read that book (which I got free)–only because I’m doing a sermon series on Jesus–I hadn’t read McLaren for several years, in significant part because he is easily the most annoying writer I’ve read in recent memory. The reviews detail some of the ways he’s annoying–and by the way, there’s a difference between “annoying” and “challenging” or “thought-provoking” or “provocative”; he’s just plain annoying–I’m particularly cheesed by how coy he can be, saying outrageous things that people call him on, then pulling back all innocent-like in responding with words to the effect of “how’d they get that out of what I said?” They got it, Brian, because of your post-modern, fast-and-loose-with-words, vague, generality-laden mish-mash of often contradictory and usually perplexing comments. Clarity, thy name ain’t McLaren.
But now it can be said, and said with pretty clear certainty, if you read the reviews: Brian McLaren ain’t on the team. He may be a saved man; I am hardly qualified to judge that, wouldn’t pretend to. But he’s now closer to the camp of Jack Spong than he is to my camp. He’s out of control, gone down the pomo rabbit hole so far that he’s now in Wonderland, only a “Wonderland” whose pseudonym is “hades”. I won’t attempt to repeat all of the falsehoods that McLaren now believes and dispenses with impunity; I haven’t read the book (and won’t), but others with greater minds than mine have read the book and are more than willing to share their reviews; click here to read them.
Seven years ago, I was intrigued by the Emerging Church movement; I saw some things in it I liked (and still do, honestly). I went to the Emergent Convention in 2004 in San Diego (in case you’re wondering, I highly recommend what San Diego can do for your soul). At one point, participants were asked to write a one-word prayer for the Emergent movement. My one-word prayer was “discernment”. Sadly, at least in the cases of folks like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, and some others, that prayer has gone unanswered.