Books Evangelism Jesus Christ the Church Theology

Has Brian McLaren Stayed Christian? CT

The latest article in Christian Today

Evangelist and blogger David Robertson offers his take on Brian McLaren’s latest book, Do I Stay Christian?

Brian McLaren has just issued his 23rd book entitled Do I Stay Christian?A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed and the Disillusioned. The book itself, and the reaction to it, give us a window into the state of the Church in the US and indeed other parts of the West.

I have a lot in common with Brian. Both of us were brought up in the Christian Brethren, both of us are concerned about the decline of the Church, and both of us believe that the Bible addresses contemporary issues. But there the similarities end!

Brian’s formula for the salvation of the Church is a million miles away from that which Christ offers us in his Word. But it is a revealing insight into the mentality of some who claim to still be Christian but have long since left the faith of Christ.

Normally when you review a book, even one you don’t particularly appreciate, you begin by pointing out the good things in the book, and the points you agree with. In this case, that is impossible. Apart from the general truism that there are some things some Christians have done badly and that we ought to care about the poor, the planet and justice, there is little in this book to edify, build up, or stimulate.

But McLaren has already anticipated that response – he is the prophet and those who don’t agree with him are already written off as the equivalent of Christian fascists. In his simplistic fundamentalist world, he is on the ‘right side of history’ and an angel of light. Those who disagree belong to the forces of darkness.

McClaren regards his book as important. Indeed, he expects groups to meet to discuss and study it as they would the Bible. “As you read, I encourage you to underline words, sentences or paragraphs that stick out to you. Write in the margins and blank pages. At the end of each chapter, write a sentence that summarises what in the chapter was most important to you.”

He never fails to tell us about those who have been ‘saved’ because of his books. “I hear echoes of literally thousands of others in hallways, over meals, via email or in chance encounters in airports. ‘I wouldn’t be a Christian anymore, if I hadn’t found your books,’ a young youth pastor told me in a book signing line.”

Let the reader beware. We are not talking about salvation in the Christian sense – salvation from sin, self and Satan. No, this is the kind of salvation which involves signing up to progressive political doctrines and then feeling free to name them Christian.

If you want to hear about patriarchy, climate change and racism, this is the book for you. In this new version of the Gospel, the Church is the villain, and Jesus and the Bible are at best supporting players as we listen to the Gospel of Brian.

The Church

“We Christians still don’t get it. We’re the richest, largest and most well- armed religion on the planet, and if we remain unwilling to acknowledge and learn from our past, we pose a serious threat to the very existence of humanity.

Like some Christian nationalists, McLaren confuses America with Christianity. I have been in many churches in different parts of the world and have not noticed the Christian armies surrounding the churches, militias in the pews or tanks parked on the church lawns.

Jesus

McLaren informs us that he thinks it is “highly likely that Jesus existed and that he was a uniquely extraordinary human being. But that does not mean I take every story about him literally.”

This is not Christianity in any sense. A Christian knows that Christ is real and trusts that what we hear about Christ in his word is true. We do not think that God lies, and we do not follow a “highly likely” person who is merely a human being.

McLaren adds, “Christians like very much to call Jesus the Son of God. Jesus much preferred to call himself the Son of Man (or son of humanity). There are many layers of meaning to the term. But the simplest and most obvious is this: a son of humanity is a human being.”

He sets up the Son of God and Son of Man as opposites. Either McLaren does not know, or he is deliberately leaving out, the fact that the term Son of Man from Daniel 8 is a title both of humanity and also divinity. When Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, he is not just claiming that he is human, but also that he is God.

“Jesus never tortured or killed or ruined the life of anyone, but the same cannot be said for the religion that claims to follow him,” McLaren continues.

I suspect that the money changers, the Pharisees and Pilate would dispute the claim that Jesus never ruined the life of anyone! And while it is a truism that Jesus did not torture or kill anyone, he more than anyone taught about the ultimate torture, the second death – Hell. Matthew 25:41, for example, says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Christ himself and the New Testament could not be clearer. Here’s another example in Revelation 14:10, “They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.”

Given that McLaren just leaves out the bits of the Bible he doesn’t like, this is not a problem for him (he even manages to twist the words of Christ in order to claim that Christ is teaching against Hell), but it is a real problem for any follower of Jesus who takes him seriously.

The Bible

The Bible is read through the lens of McLaren’s ideology and so, given that he does not accept that the Bible is the word of God, he feels free to ignore what he doesn’t like, or to change the text to suit his own faith.

He repeats the classic 19th century Protestant liberal dismissal of anything supernatural in the Bible. For example, he believes that Dr Luke was unaware of mental illness, chemical imbalances etc.

“So, going back to the exorcism and swine suicide story, could it be that demons were the best available explanation ancient people had for what we call mental illness today? Could demons be a metaphor for chemical imbalances, genetic disorders and trauma-induced breakdowns – conditions that ‘possess’ people and alter their behaviour?”

Theology

McLaren is confused about who God is and what the Bible says, and for a teacher, shows a remarkable ignorance of basic Christian theology – which he caricatures in order to denigrate and mock. For example, he cites the pastor who wrote to him: “But the idea of a Big White Guy on a Throne in the Sky … that stopped working for me a long time ago. It’s really why I left the pastorate. I’m just not sure if there’s any room in Christianity for somebody like me.” I

f that pastor really believed that God was a Big White Guy on a Throne in the Sky, he should never have been in the pastorate. There is no room in Christianity for teachers who are so ignorant and confused about God. You cannot proclaim what you do not know.

In McLaren’s somewhat irrational theology, he claims that there is something bigger than God – the Creator of all things.

He writes: “What could be bigger than God, you ask? Jesus called it the kingdom of God, the idea that God and creation are part of one integrated reality that unites all things in one beloved community.”

It’s not just that McLaren places the “integrated reality” above God; he also feels to need to set God free – as he entitles chapter 19! But it is ‘setting God free’ to be an amorphous nothing. The personal, loving God of the Bible is changed into the pantheistic God who is ‘all over the place’.

As he writes, “Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is.”

He continues, “When Mohammed testified in 613 that he had received a revelation from the God of Adam, Abraham, Mary and Jesus … the same God worshipped by Christians, Christians could have welcomed him as a brother, or at least entered into respectful dialogue.”

Again, McLaren either doesn’t know, or deliberately misrepresents, the Christian teaching about God. It is of the essence of Christianity that God is the Trinity – and that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, is God. Muslims regard this as blasphemous. It is condescending, Western, imperialistic paternalism to tell both Muslims and Christians that they are both wrong and that in reality they do worship the same God.

McLaren, like any doctrinaire progressive, lays out his doctrines with the absolute conviction that he alone has the truth, while simultaneously claiming that those who think that they have the truth should be avoided.

He talks of uncertainty, but his book is shot through with certainty. Climate change, patriarchy, critical race theory are his new fundamental doctrines and everything is seen through the eyes of US politics.

Those who follow the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality are apparently part of the patriarchy who need to be resisted in the name of the Christ who taught them. He assures us that science has shown the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality to be wrong.

Along with the arrogance and the hubris, there is an astonishing lack of self-awareness, which is why he is able to write critically about a confirmation bias which rejects “anything that doesn’t fit in with our current understanding, paradigm, belief system or world view” – while at the same time rejecting anything that doesn’t fit in with his current understanding, paradigm, belief system or world view!

It appears as though McLaren has moved from one form of apocalyptic fundamentalism to another, even more hopeless one.

“Having grown up in an apocalyptic religion – obsessed with the rapture, the end times and heaven, and singing ‘I’ll Fly Away’ – I suddenly find myself in an apocalyptic world from which I cannot fly away!” he says.

Perhaps the whole book is best summed up by McLaren’s admission that he doesn’t really care if people follow Christ or not: “As I was completing Part Two of this book, I realised that I really don’t care if you stay Christian.”

That is not surprising given that in this, or indeed in his previous books, he is unable to acknowledge Christ, or identify what a Christian is. What is surprising is how such a banal, blasphemous and boastful book is promoted in some Christian outlets, even some which profess to be evangelical.

The Reaction

For example, I heard one evangelical begin his interview by stating:

“He (McLaren) is a thinker that many have found a lifesaver as he has given voice to their questions about the Christian faith as it has been traditionally understood.”

Instead of challenging McLaren, the interviewer commends McLaren and does not oppose his contention that we need to re-write and re-read the Bible. He even asked McLaren for advice for people who find themselves in more ‘conservative’ congregations (this is progressive speak for people who actually believe the Bible, and is not a reference to either politics or tradition), before then going on to “trust that the book will be a help to many”.

The justification for this promotion of McLaren’s heresies is the same as for other ‘Christian’ teachers who reject the teaching of Christ: ‘Well, I don’t personally agree, but we have disagreements in the family, and we must learn to respect and affirm one another.’

Jesus didn’t agree. He spent far more time warning about false religious teachers, and shepherds who were really wolves, than he does warning about atheists (e.g. Matthew 7:15). If McLaren does not worship the same Jesus, or have the same Father, in what sense does he belong to the family?

Ironically the interview concluded with Jude 1:3, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”

There was little contending. McLaren left Christianity a long time ago. To continue to promote him as a Christian is like opening the gate to the wolf, and in the name of love telling him to help himself to the sheep. If we love the Lord, if we love people, if we love Brian, then we will resist his teaching and instead boldly and lovingly proclaim the real good news of Jesus, as opposed to the false gospel of Brian McLaren.

The Great Spiritual Migration – A Challenge From and To, Brian McLaren

The story of The Times Journalist and the Christian Deliveroo Driver – CT

19 comments

  1. The word ‘Christian’ as we know was used as a derogatory and derisory term back in the day. .. Followers of Jesus were originally known as followong ‘The Way’ as it were then.
    Why cannot we simply use the phrase ‘Followers of Jesus’ or ‘Yeshua’ in the correct Hebrew..!?

  2. Two things I have noticed about progressive “Christians”:

    1. They are *obsessed* with being “on the right side of history”. Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to seek to be on the right side of God? This speaks volumes of the progressive hope for the afterlife: namely, there isn’t one except for the legacy a person leaves behind in the memory of others. I suspect this is because in the progressive Christian worldview, there isn’t really a God either. It’s (moral therapeutic) deism at best.

    2. They *always* make some highly exaggerated claim about the numbers of people whose lives have been saved by their writings or who have phoned them in tears after reading one of their blog posts. I don’t know if these claims are entirely made up or if they just inflate the numbers, but it’s such a consistent theme that it looks highly suspicious. Again it speaks volumes about their mentality, namely that they seem to think the authority of a text can be determined by the emotional impact it has on its readers.

  3. Thanks David for your very insightful review of this book. It’s very disturbing. I am very glad of your insightful comments. It’s so easy to read and be sucked in by such writers. Keep up the good work.

  4. Thank you, David, McLaren has been off the planet for a long time in terms of Christianity but we need to keep reminding people of that fact.
    Sadly, he has seduced too many Christians away from Christ, into a false ‘gospel of Brian’ for many, many years.
    It must have been a hard anb very sad book to read, but thank you for doing it.

  5. Well done for such clear sense. As ever, it’s back to the plenary inspiration of Scripture, Priests of Woke will struggle to read your review without hissing! Truth both unites and separates.

  6. [Tiny editorial note: Daniel 7 (vv. 13-14), not 8.]

    Machen really got this one right, didn’t he…..

  7. Thank you for doing us the grueling service of reading the book, a book I’d not touch with a barge-pole, though I’d not have known of its existence, without reading this.
    It strikes as more of the same self-serving warmed-over regurgitation. Nothing new to see.
    “The Life of Brian”, as it seems to be little more than self-referential- reverential, cultic, has the hallmarks of a staid, grim, glum, joyless apologetic to Monty Python.

  8. It is tricky, I find to always understand what an author means precisely through the words they have written. I’m led to believe that 7% of communication is made through words, the rest being intonation with the majority being body language.

    So I’m not sure I would be as ready to write off it as being “impossible” to say anything good or I would agree with about any author’s work. Hitler loved his dog and even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. I do however appreciate the rhetorical effect of such an articulation.

    So, that being said, looking at the quotes you make from his book David. Perhaps focussing on one might be more helpful than attempting all.

    According to your quote, he says “highly likely that Jesus existed and that he was a uniquely extraordinary human being. But that does not mean I take every story about him literally.” Your response is to say, “this is not Christianity in any sense”, arguing that a Christian knows who Christ is and his word being true.

    I wonder what the intention was with what he wrote there – considering his target audience is “the doubters the disappointed, and the disillusioned” – people who perhaps are on the verge of losing faith – to what extent is what he is doing “unChristian” as you claim and to what extent not dissimilar to the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost?

    I suspect from having met and talked with Brian McLaren briefly his intention may be to heal division in the church and encourage unity. For someone doubting I would first of all assert that doubt is not the opposite of faith for without doubt there is no need for faith. So in uncertainty, we can practice faith and as fear comes with uncertainty, and facing fear takes courage, practicing faith also takes courage and we are enabled to do that in the truth and love of God producing fruits of the Spirit – love, joy peace etc. for anyone adhering to this. Second I would suggest that language such as it being “highly likely” that Jesus existed may be considered an act of grace to his target audience who could be doubting his existence and an encouragement to continue in faith. Third not taking every story about him literally, well he did say that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains. I doubt that Jesus would mean that if you have faith you can move Mt Everest 18 inches to the right but rather it be metaphorical, not literal in that with faith you being able to overcome obstacles that you may have thought to be overwhelming.

    So I see utility in all of these and no contradiction with Jesus or the application of his word in this necessarily in the context he is using it.

    Where I do have concern from speaking with him is his approach to truth, being that if you say something to distress your brother you have not acted in love, quoting Rom 14. However in context this was over issues as to what day was holy or the eating or vegetables only and not either enforcing your “right” to insist on what you believe about such things or to allow what you know that you do to be good to be spoken of as evil. He did kinds body swerve the question.

    So that concerns me – if there is absence of objective truth then what is there to unity us – in anything? And therefore what is there for the shepherd even if reuniting the lost sheep to the flock to keep the sheep from straying off again? Which I think kinda is your point?

    So yes there is a danger of diluting the gospel and instead of contextualising it, losing that adherence to truth for the sake of popular appeal. No doubt Jesus and speaking about Jesus least to distress for some. It takes courage to speak truth in love that comforts the distressed and distresses the comfortable. So it is a challenge for all of us to get the balance right – I wonder I, as Brian McLaren am inclined to compromise on truth for the sake of approval of others and to what degree if someone is offended by what I say or do, it is because I have spoken or acted in truth with love or because of a manifestation of sin in me that perhaps I have not been aware of while thinking what I was doing was right. Discernment is required.

    Lord have mercy!

  9. Thank you for your trenchant and concise review – It must ‘cost’ you to read through such nonsense. In our service in missions we saw how such stuff destroyed the national church. It made its entry in the 1950s as ‘modern theology’ and suborned the church. Happily there are signs of a return to biblical preaching and theology. I think it was Jim Packer who said some thing to the effect that faithful theologians are the plumbers who keep the water pure – so again thank you.

  10. Sept 8
    ” The Gates of Hell will not Prevail.
    In every era God will be creating a new generation of his people by his grace ( v 18). We all start as ‘ not a people, but through the new birth are created to be ‘God’s people (1 Peter 1:3; 2:9-10). There will also be those who will always be those who are praising God for how he saves them from the death sentence (verse 20).
    Little could the psalmist realize the infinite breath and depth of this salvation that through faith in Jesus, that there would be ‘no condemnation’ at all for us – external freedom from the penalty of sin (Romans 8:1).

    The church endures, rolling on while completing forms of religion and non-belief rise, wane and are forgotten. Christianity faithful to God’s Word will last until the end of time and beyond (Matthew 16:18).”

    Daily Devotion based on Psalm 102:18-22
    Timothy Keller with Kath Keller – My Rock My Refuge

  11. As a new believer, a little over 20 years ago, it was troubling at times to get harsh vitriol, but I now welcome acidic criticism more easily. The acidic critic is often reacting to the stunning claims of Our Lord. It’s a bit like when a large trout feels the hook barb and reacts, after swallowing what looked like a nice worm. The truly hardened atheist, at least in my experience, is often quiet and gentle in tone, perhaps more like McClaren than the person who attacks the gospel more directly. The open attack maybe points to a noisy inner battle being worked out, so that the loud atheist is an agnostic sending out a morse message: …—…

  12. Thanks for your review, with which I broadly agree. Much of the material in the book was alarming and represents a continued drift away from orthodoxy. I think the interviewer you mentioned did indicate that he didn’t agree with Brian and quoted Jude at the end as a subtle reminder and a warning to the leaders listening that this is a serious business. Perhaps it was too subtly done? He clearly didn’t go as far as you would like in questioning the stances Brian takes and maybe you are right that he should have done. kind regards, Andy Peck, host The Leadership Show

  13. David, among the things you mention in your review is
    ‘In McLaren’s somewhat irrational theology, he claims that there is something bigger than God – the Creator of all things.

    He writes: “What could be bigger than God, you ask? Jesus called it the kingdom of God, the idea that God and creation are part of one integrated reality that unites all things in one beloved community.”’

    Don’t you believe something similar to McLaren here? If not, why are you doing what you are doing?
    How are you avoiding the presupposition that McLaren is always wrong in your review here?

    1. No – I don’t believe that there is anything bigger than God…the idea that I need to believe that there is something bigger than God in order to be able to tell people about God is an absurd irrationality! Your presuppositions are your own problem….for some reason you seem to have a strange desire to nit pick which descends into the surreal! I don’t presuppose that McLaren is always wrong – in the article I even cite where he is right!

      1. David, are you sure that this is what you believe. I mean, ‘big’ is relative — it depends _completely_ on its context to understand it (as do most words, but adjectives like ‘big’ even more so 😉 ). And McLaren outlines the context and his use of ‘big’ in the section you quoted and I suggest what he said about God and God’s kingdom is thoroughly biblical. I wouldn’t think that you are into pantheism, but that would seem to be the conclusion you are leading us to from what _you_ say — God together with God’s creation is not bigger than God, Godself? What is the sense of ‘big’ that you are relying on here?
        Nit-picking? NO! Rather asking you to be aware of your presuppositions — the context in which you are reading words.
        David, you say, ‘in the article I even cite where he is right!’ — but you don’t actually!

      2. Yes – it is nit picking….and no nothing is bigger than God. And no God is not pantheistic. The creation is not greater or bigger than the Creator. It’s really not that difficult a concept! You cannot add or take away from God…

Leave a Reply to Gordon Gray Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: