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Monday, November 24, 2008

Questions for Brian

When I first started exploring what the Emerging Church really was all about, one of the first figures I came across was Brian McLaren. He appeared as a much debated, controversial and rather enigmatic figure that I found difficult to draw any hard conclusions about.

Most of the stuff I read on the net about Brian was polarised. People seemed to love him and lift him up in an apostolic manner, or hate him; demonising him and branding him a heretic.

Since I first raised my questions on this blog about Brian almost 2 years ago to the day, I have had the opportunity to read several of his books and the privilege of meeting him and hearing him speak on several occasions. I even spent 3 days sitting next to him at a conference in Uganda last year.

Between the polemics offered by those who adore and those who demonise, I have found a man who is inspiring, unassuming and deeply committed to drawing others into a life centred on and lived out of the way of Jesus Christ.

Brian's two most recent books - Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change have probably had the greatest influence on me, inspiring me to take seriously the way I live my life as a follower of Christ.

In an article published on the Christianity Today website back in September, Scott McKnight looks at some of the central themes of McLaren's work and the way in which they've influenced the emerging/emergent movement and challenged the standard, two dimensional evangelical understanding of the gospel and in particular Jesus' own emphasis on the kingdom of God.

McLaren tells us that he could only see this kingdom vision of Jesus when he came to a "place of cynically doubting much of what I had been told about Jesus." To use the words of fellow emergent thinker Peter Rollins, the Northern Irish philosopher at Ikon community, McLaren experienced the "fidelity of betrayal." He had to betray the Jesus and the gospel and the church that nurtured him to become faithful to the Jesus of this kingdom vision.
But rather than simply critique the positive aspects of McLaren's influence, he goes further and poses, what he says, are some necessary questions.
McLaren grew up among evangelicals; we'd like him to show the generosity he is known for to those who ask theological questions of him. The spirit of conversation that drives much of his own pastoral work urges each of us to answer the questions we are asked, and the Bible encourages those who ask those questions to listen patiently and to respond graciously. The lack of the latter has so far inhibited the former. This can be taken as a plea on behalf of all concerned to enter into a more robust, honest conversation.
McKnights questions for McLaren centre on his (McLaren's) theology of the cross - which, according to McKnight, is nowhere near broad enough; And the relationship between the kingdom and the church - while McLaren has dealt extensively with the kingdom, he has not gone far enough, says McKnight, in thoroughly defining the kingdom and in describing or developing an appropriate ecclesiology.

The whole things is well worth a read - McKnight gives a good overview of both the books in question as well as providing something for the fans, and detractors, of McLaren to think about. Hopefully, if he hasn't already, Brian will also respond.

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