Rethinking Everything With Brian McLaren

Updated 9:13AM, Thursday November 29th, 2012 by Sam Hailes, 1 comment seperator

Brian McLaren’s reputation proceeds him. The author of popular books including 'A New Kind of Christian' and 'Naked Spirituality' has found himself in hot water for questioning traditional Christian views.

Talking face-to-face with Brian Mclaren

(c) Josh Hailes

In his new book 'Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross The Road?' Brian continues to question and re-define key doctrines. This has inevitably resulted in a fresh wave of both criticism and praise for the author.

I caught up with the softly spoken and immensely polite (even under tough questioning) emergent church figure in London this week. My task was a difficult one: to succeed where others have failed and draw out what Brian really believes about the most tricky of subjects. Here are the results...

You’ve said you’re theology is encompassed within a different paradigm to most Christians. Is this why your views clash with others so much?

“My approach is definitely the minority report and it’s definitely the one that has to gain a hearing.”

“The standard approach works on an understanding of the Biblical narrative that starts with a perfect creation and a fall into original sin. For some there will be salvation that will lead to a return to an eternal state of perfection and for others there will be perdition to hell. That simple little plot line has formed a lot of Western Christianity.”

“I represent a growing number of people who through our reading of the Bible have found that narrative highly problematic. We’ve tried to go back and say 'what was the Biblical narrative from which Jesus came in? What was his understanding of the Biblical narrative?' He centered it in his proclamation of the kingdom or reign or commonwealth of God. The paradigm issue is 'what is the big story we think the Bible is trying to tell?'”

How does it feel to be called a heretic?

“I grew up in a very small protestant sect called the Plymouth Brethren and they thought the Methodists were heretics and the Baptists were heretics and Catholics were heretics and the only true church was a very small number of people. I grew up seeing that word being thrown around quite a bit.”

“One definition of a heretic is someone who thinks differently. So I would try to be honest in my thinking, but another definition is a schismatic who wants to say their way is the only right way and everyone else is wrong. I very much model the opposite.”

I read a quote from someone who said: "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..." – Is that the problem? People criticizing you who haven’t read you?

“This person is saying I’m saying something different to what he was taught. And he’s right. I’m also saying something different to what I was taught.”

“If all of us only stay with what we were taught there will never be any growth or change. A Christian who wants a Muslim to convert is asking that Muslim to question everything they’ve been taught. It’s not very fair to only ask other people to reconsider. We should all care enough about the truth to have the humility to change our minds.”

So why did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?

[Laughs] “One good answer is: ‘To get to the other’.”

“Something all of our religious leaders model is a greater ability to deal with differentness than their followers have shown.”

How do you view evangelism?

“The example I use is in the chapter 'How Evangelism is Like a Windmill'.”

“Windmills were a tool of colonialism, they were part of the industrial revolution combined with the British Empire, Dutch Empire and Spanish Empire and part of an exploitative economic system.”

“Where Spain wanted to control Latin America they used the Catholic religion as part of their imperial control. Where Protestants wanted to control the native people’s of North America they used religion. Evangelism and proselytization were part of that whole system and that is something that not only injured the converts, it also injured the converters because it put us in a position of grossly misunderstanding the faith we were proclaiming to spread when it became a tool of imperialism.”

“Today we’re in an era where wind energy has a greater future than it ever had. It’s not that windmills are evil and should never be used again but now we’re rediscovering them for new purposes. We have to do something similar with evangelism. We have to discover how the good news of Jesus Christ is a gift and not a threat or a weapon.”

“To me evangelism is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Proselytization is proclaiming the supremacy of the Christian religion. I’m an advocate of evangelism not proselytization.”

What about proclaiming the supremacy of Christ?

“It depends what you mean by supremacy. If you mean supremacy in an imperial or colonial way that would be blasphemous because the way Jesus modeled his kingship was by suffering and service not by domination and exploitation.”

“This is one of our problems. Just as we took Genesis 1 where Adam is given dominion over the earth - we used that to justify raping and pillaging the dominion of the environment. We took the supremacy of Christ and let supremacy be defineded more by Caesar than by Christ himself.”

“This is one of our great challenges and it’s one of the reasons why when  the average Christian says the term 'Great Commission' or 'Evangelism' they probably have more imperialism and colonialism and religious supremacy hidden in those terms than they realise.”

What is the Gospel?

“For me, Jesus defines gospel as the good news that the reign of God is at hand and in reach.”

And to repent…?

“Jesus says repent which means rethink everything, believe this good news and then he says follow me. Put those three elements together - that’s what I want to encourage people to do.”

“That’s where you see a stark difference between that and proselytization. Because proselytization may not call people to repent of the things Jesus called us to repent of, it may not proclaim the good news. Very often it proclaims the doctrines of this or that religious institution and it doesn’t call people to follow Jesus, it calls people to conform to a religious system.”

“I’m totally for the great commission but not as commonly understood.”

 Part Two of this interview will follow soon. In the meantime read our review of Brian's new book, 'Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?'




Sam writes news, features and reviews exclusively for The job involves meeting influential and interesting Christians from across the country and beyond. Most importantly, he never talks about himself in the third person.

This article was written and published by Sam Hailes for


Rethinking Everything With Brian McLaren Discussion

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James said...
November 29th, 2012 at 12:21PM • Reply

Interesting interview, Sam, look forward to part 2!

Particularly interested in his comments about the dominant Biblical story - he seems to pit "He centered it in his proclamation of the kingdom or reign or commonwealth of God." against "a perfect creation and a fall into original sin. For some there will be salvation that will lead to a return to an eternal state of perfection and for others there will be perdition to hell."

I can't really think that there would be many who would disagree with the notion that Jesus' coming is bound up with the notion of the Kingdom of God (not sure I remember the word 'commonwealth' appearing in the Gospels - reminds me a bit of Pullman's 'Republic of Heaven'...), so it looks like something of a false dichotomy (which is par for the course in emergent church rhetoric).
The Creation->Fall->Redemption->Consummation paradigm is perfectly compatible with the idea of the Kingdom of God (see Goldsworthy's excellent 'Gospel and Kingdom'), so there is clearly more at play here... but this comment is getting too long, so I shall leave further comment to another time!

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