Brian McLaren (not) at Southern Seminary and at St. Mary’s

Brian McLaren, the sometimes controversial emergent-church leader whose new book, A New Kind of Christianity, is really stirring up some elements of the church, will be speaking at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology of St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, my institution, this coming Monday.

He will be giving an all-day seminar entitled “Worship as Spiritual Formation and Preparation for Mission” and then, at 7:30 in the evening, a free public lecture entitled “The Gospel, the Postmodern Conversation, and the Church that is Emerging.” The seminar is quite full (on-site registration is possible, but it will not include lunch), but there should be plenty of room Monday evening.

Brian McLaren is a friend of mine, and he comes at my invitation. That does not mean I agree with everything he says. (I don’t agree with everything anyone says.) I have not yet read his new book, and I may find it troubling. I don’t know. But Brian is nothing if not two things: sensitive to postmodern culture and serious about understanding the meaning and consequences of the gospel.

Is he a theologian? Technically, no. Does he need some theological guidance? Probably. (We all do.) Does that make him a heretic?

Yesterday the President and four faculty members from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary held a critical discussion of the book. Whatever you think of Brian McLaren, if you watch this video, you might want to ponder some questions about the nature of a panel book review (this one or any other):

1. Do the panelists attempt to summarize the content, argument, and purpose of the book objectively?

2. Is there diversity of perspective among the panelists?

3. Does the moderator moderate or dominate?

4. Is the tone of the panel appropriate to its context and function?

In any event, if you are in the Baltimore area, come on out Monday night!

7 Responses to “Brian McLaren (not) at Southern Seminary and at St. Mary’s”

  1. The SBTS video makes me quite sad (just like the one on <a href=”http://www.michaeljgorman.net/2009/09/04/southern-baptist-panel-on-nt-wright/” N. T. Wright did.

    After watching it, I don’t actually know anything more (I knew very little to begin with) about what Brian McLaren actually believes. I have, however, learned the type of indoctrination that apparently occurs at SBTS. It appears that they equip their students to enjoy panel discussions whose chief purpose seems quite like character assassination.

    Perhaps they could acknowledge in the slightest sense that his views are misguided, but what he is striving for is good. However, that is far from the approach that they take. When it doesn’t fit their orthodoxy, instead of taking his views seriously and refuting them in an intellectually honest and biblically sound way, they actually attack him as a person — and they quite seem to enjoy doing it.

    One of the panelists actually says “he’s following in the train of his father the devil” (around 35 minutes into it I think; and although he acknowledges that he may be overstepping in saying this, he continues to develop on this image). Another panelist even manages to get a jab in at N. T. Wright for good measure.

    Like you, Dr. Gorman, I may find his views troubling — I don’t know. But I do know several members of Cedar Ridge (the Burtonsville, MD Church that he started) who have what seems to be a very orthodox and fruitful faith. For me, they are a much better starting point of assessing his work than this “discussion.” And I absolutely welcome him to St. Mary’s to hear what he has to say. I don’t think the contrast to the approaches to him could be greater. Thanks for inviting him!

  2. MJG says:

    David,

    I also know people from Cedar Ridge and like your principle about judging ministers, which seems to be “By their fruits you will know them” or (as Paul might say) “They are his letter of recommendation.”

    It will be interesting to see if others share your reactions to the panel.

  3. K. Rex Butts says:

    I watched about a third of the pannel discussion and realized that my time was to valuable to waste it on watching any more of the discussion. What I saw would concur with David Jacobson’s assesment and I just don’t have much patience for ad hominem critiques of others.

    I have not read the book yet and am not eager to after growing frustrated with reading “A Generous Orthodoxy” (frustrated with its reactionary methodology more so than its conclusions) but I did read a review by Scot McKnight at the Christianity Today website that seemed to fair, dealing with the content and claims of the book rather than making an ad hominem critique.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  4. MJG says:

    Rex,

    Thanks for the comment and the sentiments therein. I also read Scot’s review and would concur that it was fair and balanced, as one would expect.

  5. Bacho says:

    I have read few of McLaren’s books. Here are two thoughts. First, we need to read him because of the questions he raises, not necessarily for the answers he provides. Unlike many of his critics he at least is and has been in the dialog with those outside the church [check out his "More ready than you realize"]. Second, at times I wonder if he tries too hard to get the hearing from those on the “other side,” so he qualifies his positions, makes strong statement and then softens them. So I found that his fiction trilogy [New Kind of Christian, etc] is a much clearer presentation of his position. The narrative format allows him to relax and really outline things by putting them in the mouth of a guy named Neo. As a literature prof, he actually writes well. It is an interesting read even if you do not agree with him.

  6. MJG says:

    Bacho,

    I agree that Brian raises good questions and has had lots of good contacts with sophisticated seekers. And I do agree that he is a very good writer. But I’m not as ready to say (and you don’t quite say) that he has no answers to offer.

  7. Dm says:

    MJG,

    I appreciate the post.

    – I have a couple of comments, and then I have a question that I want to put forth.

    … I hope it will spark some dialogue, as the relationship of postmodernity and biblical authority usually falls into speculation rather than balancing various lines of argument.

    Dialogue and discourse with another person of a different philosophy or belief system is one of the hardest things to do; it requires patience and willingness to suspend your ideas in order to let another’s ideas have voice – even more, to risk adopting another’s ideas for your own. I am trying to understand the art of discourse, in order to nuance my own ideas – but it is really difficult as emotions are involved. But, sadly, this “panel” does not even attempt to have discourse; there is no nuance of interpretation.

    To put it lightly, this “panel” is, well, rigged. Like the 1919 White Sox; like Sunny Liston, this panel, or cordial chit-chat, is not what it claims to be. It represents not a cross-section of society and Christian practice, but an immoderate moderation of one’s idea or interpretation of the Biblical account. (Notice the initial responses given by the “panel”, and how rote the responses come off; none are really or authentically speaking their minds.) In the end, they are all good buddies, repressing hard questions about church and postmodernity in order to conserve face.

    I would do a criticism of their interpretation of McLaren’s fiction and of Scripture, but they sparingly exegete the texts; arguing mostly from speculation.

    It takes these guys 16 minutes to actually GET INTO the text they are critiquing. This ought to be an indicator they are not doing a real criticism or exegesis (reflecting the way they throw around ideas about Scripture).

    Mr. Ware finally decides to open to the text. He reads an excerpt of McLaren’s book, only to then say it is clearly and wholly unbiblical – yet Ware does not back this up with, well, the Bible?! I wonder what Bruce Ware would say concerning Gen. 6:6; here, God is greived and repents of the deluge of creation, thus prompting Him to make a covenant with creation.

    …MJG, doesn’t a “covenant” – at basis – imply a relationship of mutual interdependency between God and humankind, one that is deemed out of balance and thus needs to be fixed. No scapegoating can be got here. In other words, if God has really given us his image and likeness, then our mistakes “become” His, and vice versa — and we bear each other’s consequence as one communal unit. And so, the wholescale violence leading up to the flood in Genesis – where sin was rampant – prompted God to react in kind…

    Likewise, in Hosea, Yahweh charges Israel with unfaithfulness, as Israel beds Baal; Yahweh, then, reflects this by taking back unfaithful Israel and re-weds her! Likewise, in Jeremiah, idolatry has been engraved on Israel’s heart with a foreign stylus; nonetheless Yahweh then takes his own stylus and engraves his word. And Ezekiel has Yahweh depicted in a chariot — A chariot!! An unambiguous symbol of militarism (Deut. 17 prohibits military expansion). In other words, God can use evil for good, getting his divine hands dirty for a good and just creation. He can raise up northern tribes to judge Israel; he can reimagine destructive human innovation in order to speak to his creation; he can put his Son in a position of persecution, even to the cross.

    But this doesn’t mean God is sinful, right? Only that he changes his tactics according to human innovation, utilizing symbols of ours in order to refashion his just and good Word.

    – Sorry, for the loose exegesis…

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