McLaren Visits Northeast Ohio

April 1, 2009 in News

We went there to see a legend, and a legend we saw: Brian McLaren, spokesperson, evangelist, activist and prolific author of Emergent Church theology.

But he told us not to consider him an activist. “I mostly listen,” he said. What does he listen to? “The Conversation!”

Read the NeoZine article about McLaren’s performance, or listen to our very own recordings of the event:

  • The McLaren Debate.
  • The Michael Toth Question.
  • McLaren on “Penal Substitution”.

And here are the notes from the debate:

Doesn’t like “Emerging Church” term, nor “movement”.

It means “do I join or not?” Which gives it a shelf-life of 2 yrs. Doesn’t want to put pastors into a position needing to decide.

It’s not another “slice of the pie” competing for “market share.” It’s already sliced-up too much.

Rather, it’s a cross-section of a tree;they grow fat first, then taller. The outermost rings of the tree tell us about weather conditions. If the tree is under stress, it’s evident. There’s always a “conversation” among the outermost rings of the Emerging (rapidly-changing) culture. So it’s a conversation, not a movement. It’s always changing, thus “Emerging” phenomena.

These changes are philosophical, political, and economic. As the church deals with these changes, we’re dealing with people’s pain. So the conversation is between “people in pain”.

It’s also like grabbing a ball of mercury: “I’m involved in this…and I don’t understand what’s going on.” Supposedly a spokesperson, but “I’m just listening, mostly.”

He was always interested in evangelism, since the early 80s.

Never considered inviting Christians.

The kinds of questions they were asking were different from mine. My answers didn’t work. I wanted to take their questions seriously.

In 1998, attended a gathering to discuss “Generation-X”.

They understood change was afoot:  they used the P-word (postmodern).

None of us had a solution, but we could talk about the problem: “How do you do church?”

These people came out of the Mega-church movement, which counted people.

They had few people from 18-35 yrs old. They were dropping out. It was “How do we do church?”

But it isn’t about generational issues: it was a philosophical shift, a generational shift.

McLaren was chosen as an “older speaker”.

So, it’s a conversation about church.

How do we help people outside the church make sense of the message?

So he wanted to pursue “how do we evangelize” these younger people.

He wrote “Finding Faith” to help non-Christians find their way into Christianity.

Defending the “truth claims” of Christianity became a big deal: shifts in epistemology were afoot (with Postmodernism).

He wrote “New Kind of Christian”, which became a third topic.

“We were struggling against a Christianity with a history we weren’t proud of. So we entered into a period of reflection on Church history, and reflection. “

Anthony Bloom’s book, “Beginning to Pray” introduced him to Eastern Orthodoxy and its approach to prayer.  His book “Generous Orthodoxy” became the corollary.

They read black/South American theologians, who were very much interested in the Kingdom of God. They spoke of it in increasing dynamism.

Why was the KOG so important to JC, but it played almost no role in what we inherited? This means you stop talking about theology, and start talking about justice:  racism, ecology, etc.

“Secret Message of Jesus” was his book dealing with this, and also “Everything must change.”

Coming from a Pietist movement, there must be a balance between the “doing & being”, or “active and contemplative” ways.

It means cultivating a deep awareness of God (i.e., loving God, worshipping Him).

It’s also interesting watching the conversation expand.

It began as a white evangelical male movement (“with soul-patches”).

But quickly they realized they needed others involved, like women (evangelicals don’t allow significant roles for them) — which then attracted mainline Protestants, who had 20 yrs advance over Evangelicals in admitting women into leadership.

Native Americans were interested in this, as well as black theologians.

Then there were “conversations” springing up all over the world: in Europe (which was more advanced than American Christianity).

In Latin America you find the most advanced form of this conversation: lots of civil unrest, environmental problems, etc. Which led to a vibrant conversation with them.

So he’s a learner among these more advanced thinkers.

Similar things are happening in India & South Asia too.

Emerging or Diverging?

“I’ve heard that I have some critics. Many are upset by us raising these questions, looking at scripture and reaching different conclusions than our grandparents.”

I hope people will feel we’re not diverging from Jesus, but participating with the Emerging of Jesus in a changing world.

3 responses to McLaren Visits Northeast Ohio

  1. Hey thanks for the sound file. I emailed Malone College for one, but they have not gotten back to me yet.

  2. A theory of mine about McLaren and why he’s so popular: there seems to be a dominant current climate where his non-committed, agnostic attitude is actively admired. To a lot of people, his response to others’ objections with a “you don’t have to believe what I believe” lack of dialogue seems to be perceived as noble and tolerant.

    I’m really willing to bet there were people in attendance that night who were actually IMPRESSED with his useless non-answer to my question.

    There also seems to be a climate of APATHY about truth around these days, and a passivity about convictions in general. I’m recalling a conversation with Jake about post-postmodern kids who aren’t really interested in asking questions or finding answers. McLaren seems to be fueled by and/or cultivating a culture that revels in not finding or needing actual answers.

    Another thought on the “apathy” topic — I’m reminded of a conversation with a former co-worker at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and it seems worth noting that he was in college during the post-Vietnam, New Wave/Punk era. There was something scandalous about the Iraq war going on and he was shocked that no students there or at Case seemed to really be protesting. I think we may be living in a time where personal active involvement for change (I’ll even use the word “revolution” here) is not culturally valued like it used to be, and maybe even viewed negatively.

  3. Michael, can I take your comment & paste it out on the NeoZine where people can see it more publicly? It’s a very good observation.

    But I would also like to point out: McLaren’s biggest inroads are with the Millenials & Gen-Xers who want to see change — Revolution. That’s why he’s all about “Everything Must Change,” etc. It’s actually a phenomena among the newer generations that they’re wanting to put their hands to the plow, so to speak; they want to help and do something useful. But they don’t like thinking about it.

    This is why I feel we need to checkmate his attempts to hijack the real revolution.

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