breaking news: the neo-reformed bros don’t like brian mclaren.
oh wait, right, they’ve been beating that drum for however many years. (the downbeat is brian mclaren, while the upbeat is rob bell.)
but, tim challies, on his ever-popular blog, is in the midst of a series called, the false teachers, where’s he’s decided to up the hate ante and gift us with a list of people who will send us straight to H – E – double hockey sticks if we read their books or, probably, even stare at their picture too long.
again, it isn’t shocking that challies and people of his ilk take shots at mclaren and the other emergent folks, but i feel like including him in a series called, the false teachers, is a particularly low blow and a hyperbolic polemic.
so, on brian mclaren’s blog series, q & r, a reader asked what he would say in response to tim challies. this was mclaren’s chance to sound off.
except that he didn’t.
mclaren responded with such grace and class. it’s a master class in how to critics and those who might slander us.
rather than going on the attack, mclaren uses his response as an opportunity to build bridges between him and challies, noting 5 things that they agree and can find common ground. in points of agreement, he lists:
A. We agree that the Bible is tremendously important.
B. We agree that the Bible is inspired by God, as 2 Tim. 3:16 says.
C. We agree that Jesus sets an example in how to engage with the Scriptures.
D. The author and I agree that I am not a fundamentalist.
E. When we acknowledge that all our interpretations are provisional, we are open to ongoing Reformation, and in that way we are all “unfinished” – unfinished-ness being another point of common ground which the author and I share.
certainly, within those agreements, mclaren points out ways in which they see those things differently, but the lesson here is that, even when we have a different way of seeing an issue, at their core, there’s points of agreement and commonality.
while i encourage you to read mclaren’s post in its entirety, i want to include the last (large) section of his response. it’s a beautiful way of directly responding that we should all learn from. when he finally reaches the point of what he’d say to challies if he knew he’d listen, mclaren writes,
First, thanks for being far more kind and fair in your treatment of me than many people who agree with you have been. I sincerely respect people who try to treat others as they would want to be treated – especially when they disagree. To me, that’s more than just being “nice.” It’s kind and loving and decent.
Second, you and followers of your blog may wonder why I, a person who used to see things as you do, now sees things differently. You may feel I am simply too proud, stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, rebellious, eager for fame or popularity, or otherwise sinful to hold to the truth as you understand it. (Or perhaps I’m simply not one of the elect, therefore have not persevered as a true saint would, am predestined for reprobation, etc.). I understand that kind of assessment because I spent many years of my life in your camp. I remember the appeal of your position, and I know you think what you think and say what you say out of complete sincerity and with the highest of motives, and with a sense that you are standing for and with God against a rising tide of darkness.
Eventually, I began to see problems with that approach, as I’ve explained in my books. I began feeling I was conforming to convention largely to avoid criticism from the more aggressive critics in the conservative camp. Over many years as a pastor, I became convinced that there were better ways to faithfully read and live by the Bible, and I became less willing to live in the valley of the shadow of fear of men. After much inner struggle I concluded, gradually and with a lot of prayer, fear, and trembling, that God would be more pleased with me being honest about my questions than with me pretending to be sure of answers that no longer made sense to me.
So if my only option were to be a Christian in the way you are, I simply could not be a Christian. My conscience wouldn’t allow it. My understanding of the Bible wouldn’t allow it. My devotion to Christ wouldn’t allow it. If you want to define me as a false teacher, not a true Christian, etc., etc., you are certainly free to do that, and I don’t hold it against you. I honor you for speaking your mind, and for doing so with far more decency and kindness than some of your colleagues. You are a good man with a good heart, trying to do the right thing.
When I started on this path, I knew it would not be an easy road. I expected to lose almost all my friends, lose my ministry, lose everything. But I felt, as Paul did, that it would be worth it to risk and lose everything in order to honestly and truly seize hold of what I believed God was calling me toward.
Yes, I did lose some friends. In fact, there have been many losses. But to my surprise, there were other blessings that came. People started approaching me, often in tears, saying, “If I hadn’t found your books, I would have left the faith entirely.” Not just one or two people, but many. Many pastors have even told me the same thing. This has continued for over 15 years now, and if anything, the intensity and frequency of these responses only seems to be increasing.
I know you hope and pray that this won’t happen, and I realize this is pretty unlikely … but when your kids or grandkids are older, one or two of them may come to you and say, “Dad (or Grandpa), I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe the version of Christianity you taught me. I love you, and I don’t want to displease you, but I took this course in college, and we learned ….”
If that happens, I’m sure you’ll do your best to turn them back to the straight path as you understand it. But if that doesn’t work, if they simply can not in good conscience follow your path, I hope you’ll consider slipping them one of my books or something by the kinds of post-conservative/post-liberal writers I mentioned earlier. It will not be what you would have wished. It will not motivate them to believe in verbal plenary inspiration, absolute inerrancy, TULIP, women’s subordination, the unacceptability of gay people as gay people, or eternal conscious torment in hell. But it will encourage them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are worse things they could live by than that.
now that is how you respond like jesus.