Photo Credit: IRD/Luke Moon

August 28, 2013

McLaren Attacks Conservative Evangelicals at Wild Goose

Brian McLaren, noted writer and speaker, featured prominently at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. Since the August 7-10 event is marketed towards the Evangelical Left, it is no surprise that the leading voice of emergence Christianity would share his opinions and insights during the conference. McLaren enjoyed the festival spotlight more than ever thanks to a live, on-stage interview by Krista Tippett of the public radio program On Being. In his comments, McLaren expressed great scorn for the evangelical establishment as well as traditionalists in general, especially when such groups enter the political arena.

Recalling his Plymouth Brethren upbringing, McLaren contended, “Fundamentalism wasn’t as ugly 50 years ago as it is now.” Tippett sympathized, declaring that the 1980s evangelical re-entrance into public life brought “trauma” that Christians still suffer from today. “There was a silent majority that was so embarrassed,” she wistfully remembered. “Evangelicals became a mouthpiece for a certain kind of Republicanism,” McLaren grumbled, “And they changed Republicanism for the worse.”

In his interview, McLaren concerned himself with modernism, a “colonized…European form of Christianity.” He blamed European missionaries and settlers for asserting to natives, “You all have a story; we have a system [that is universal].” “We’re probably at our worst when we present our faith not as a story but a system,” he surmised. The emergent guru finds solace in a postmodern Christianity, which rejects both a nationalism with a post-colonialist perspective and “this crazy European idea of monoreligious cultures…a Christian country” thanks to post-Holocaust concerns.

The Wild Goose regular hopes that postmodern Christianity will usher in a new era of interreligious dialogue. “God votes against sameness and for diversity,” he enthused. “Religious hostility is one of the greatest threats to human survival,” he concluded, “A different kind of interfaith dialogue happens when you’re not an imperial military player.”

Nevertheless, stubborn holdouts remain, embarrassing McLaren and his fellow postmodern believers. “We have a Catholic priesthood more concerned with keeping women out of the priesthood as the world is destroyed by carbon gases,” the speaker complained, “We have evangelicals with the audacity to say that homosexual people are ruining marriage. I think anyone who says that should be laughed off the stage. Heterosexual people do that on their own, thanks.”

Later on in the interview, Tippett asked McLaren about his officiating at his gay son’s same-sex commitment ceremony. The author warned that, in conservative evangelical circles, “a certain way of interpreting the Bible is what [gives] you power.” He likened biblical arguments against same-sex marriage to the infamous “curse of Ham” case for race-based chattel slavery. McLaren empathized with many Christians who reason, “If I accept my son, I reject my father.” On the other hand, the response against the commitment ceremony from the conservative evangelical community was anemic. The emergent leader reasoned, “I was already out of the camp by then and didn’t experience much blow-back.”

Strangely, when Tippett inquired whether McLaren identified himself as evangelical or not, he answered in the affirmative. The Wild Goose favorite explained that he still believes the Bible matters, God is speaking, there is Good News, and it is worth sharing. How this answer fits with his hermeneutic of textual suspicion and his hyper-inclusive approach to religion remains unknown. While some may strongly affirm McLaren’s response, many others will probably scratch their heads in confusion.


  • Adrian Croft

    The title of the article is pretty much MacLaren’s job description these days. Every word he said is just a re-run of what the movers and shakers in the mainlines were doing 30 years – and look what that has led to. The “emerging” church is really the “submerging.”

    If there was any justice in the world, HE would have been laughed on the stage, not Christians who oppose gay marriage. The man is truly an embarrassment to the name “Christian,” not to mention “evangelical.”

    • Richard Maloney

      Why do Christians who oppose gay marriage deserve anything other than laughter?

      The last time marriage changed was fifty years ago (less in some cases), when interracial marriage was declared kosher. Christians cite the Bible when making their arguments, oblivious to the fact that America is a secular country, then demand the law reflect their supernatural belief system.

      If you don’t want gay marriage, don’t marry a gay. It’s that simple.

      • Glenn E. Chatfield

        The definition of marriage did NOT change with “interracial marriage.” What they did was say that there is only one race – the human race – and that no matter what the skin color it was still a man and a women.
        Same-sex fake marriage is just that – fake. It is only demanded as a way for forcing everyone to give approval to sexual perversion.

      • Greg Paley

        That makes as much sense as saying “If you don’t want murder, don’t murder anyone” or “If you think shoplifting is wrong, don’t do it.” We oppose certain behaviors because they are inherently wrong, that’s what laws are about. Redefining marriage is bad for society, period. The Congress can pass a law saying that a square is a circle, but that doesn’t make it so. A society that tries to work against reality has serious problems. Two men do not constitute a marriage.

      • Ryan P

        What a horribly silly argument from Richard Maloney. I believe that the more comfortable secular thought becomes in the States and the blogosphere, the more flippant that people’s attitudes are about presenting arguments and rationale about their views. In fundy land Bible belt where I live there’s silly superstition that accompanies religious thought. There’s also demonizing of one sin while a pass given to other more “comfortable” sin. Scripture is forsaken for tradition and even abused. May be the trend is turning, by God’s grace, and Christians are forced to examine scripture, the culture, and their own lifes and beliefs. The silly world of post-modernism, the irrationality and inconsistency of atheistic thought, and the new found complacency of the liberal mindset may be a blessing in disguise for the Body of Christ. Hope this makes sense. Let’s dig deep, examine ourselves and the culture in the light of the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gracious and truthful (Truth -full).

  • Glenn Sunshine

    Adrian has this dead on, but he doesn’t go far enough back in time. I wrote about McLaren et al. in an article at the Colson Center, http://www.breakpoint.org/the-center/columns/call-response/16412-reinventing-the-flat-tire, where I argued that he is essentially reinventing classic liberal theology and pointed out where this leads historically.

  • John Ewing

    I think McLaren should address the intolerance that comes from the evangelical left. If you don’t support gay marriage, you are a bigot. If you don’t support ObamaCare, you don’t care about the poor. If you vote Republican, you support the rich. If you thought Zimmerman was justified in defending himself, you are a racist. If you are against amnesty, you hate immigrants. And the list goes on and on.
    Come on Brian, intolerance isn’t just on the right.

    • Raul Alessandri

      There is a saying in Spanish that the thief thinks that everybody is a thief. Liberals hate and assume that everybody who disagrees with them, does it because of hatred. If you look, you will notice immediately: if all the “arguments” are insults, the author is a liberal.

  • Fr Gregory

    At the risk being called a cynic, of course McLaren identifies himself as an Evangelical Christian who”still believes the Bible matters, God is speaking, there is Good News, and it is worth sharing.” If he didn’t who’d want to hear him speak? The great “irony” of “post-Modernism” is that you can’t be “transgressive” without a tradition against which you rebelling. Granted, most of us outgrow this in late teens or maybe early 20′s but, hey, the Rolling Stones are still touring so evidently growing up is optional. At least for some of us.

  • gary

    I find it very comforting to know that McClaren has a low opinion of me and my kind. I must be doing something right.

    • Paul Hoskins

      I’m with you, bro. But what puzzles me is, if he is still calling himself a Christian, why is it that everything he says could have come out of the mouth of an atheist or agnostic? Someone is on the wrong path here.

  • Kay Glines

    McLaren is (as usual) totally wrong in his accusations. However, on the subject of SSM, evangelicals have to bear part of the responsibility for the debasement of marriage, as our churches got totally sucked in by the culture of easy divorce and the notion that a spouse can be gotten rid of just like a car with too much mileage on it. On any given Sunday, plenty of people who oppose SSM are sitting in conservative churches by the side of their second or third spouse (or their live-in), and while they’re support of traditional marriage is probably sincere, they have no clue that paved the way for the gay activists by throwing away the standard of one man, one woman, FOR LIFE. I don’t claim to know the solution to this problem, and maybe there isn’t one. The genie is out of the bottle, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for any conservative pastor to ban divorced couples from his church.

  • Michael Carl

    The key detail to consider when evaluating what McLaren has to say are whether or not he really believes in Christianity.

    If you deny the authority of Scripture, then you’re essentially denying the principles Scripture teaches.

    This is relevant because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.9 that ‘men who practice homosexuality…will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

    So, for him to say what he says means that he doesn’t believe Paul meant what he said. Thus, he questions Paul’s authority, and thus the validity of the Bible. When you do that, you throw out Scriptural authority. When you do that, you don’t have any basis for your Christian faith.

    So, on what basis does McLaren say he’s still a Christian?

  • Dan Martin

    Is McLaren pushing “post-modern Christianity” or “post-Christian modernity?”

  • Cogitate

    I couldn’t agree more with John Ewing above. Having been at the Goose this year for the first time, I was pretty surprised how McClaren, Schaeffer and Eric Elnes crowd-pleased with the “appropriately” interspersed anti-evangelical beatdowns in their monologues, panel discussions and Christa Tippet interviews.

    I thought William Barber’s approach was much more subtle but equally audience-tuned — he didn’t ever come out and make a statement about where he stood except “against oppression” (he gave a MLK-style address on Saturday afternoon). Unfortunately the text of Ezekiel (ch. 2 and then 37 – 39) which he chose doesn’t speak about some sort of leadership driven oppression (“mean men in high office… mean…. mean… mean”), the problem addressed there is that the Israelites rejected the law of God and the social ills experienced were indeed endemic but Ezekiel was sent to everybody – the idol worshippers, the perverted, the corrupt leadership.

    McClaren’s paradoxical solution Biblical literacy was described in one of the last sessions on Sunday. His approach is to put together 52 (1 per week) 10 minute lectures covering the story of the Bible. I don’t want to tear down anyone’s effort to bring the Bible to people but, isn’t the solution to have people actually read… the Bible… themselves? Yes, I get it… make it interesting, exciting, get people interested. Unfortunately, the actual stories in the Bible do seem to counter the everyone-can-feel-good-about-themselves (except traditional Christians) because the Bible, as written, has an expectation that people who want a relationship with God have to admit and repent of… sin…