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Brian McLaren's latest book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith, is two steps forward in terms of clarity and ten steps backward in terms of orthodoxy. A New Kind of Christianity, more than any previous McLaren project, provides a forceful account of what the emergent leader believes and why.

Before I get further into this review-and it will be on the long side, so buckle up-I need to say a word about charity. Without a doubt the biggest critique Ted and I received for Why We're Not Emergent was that Ted and I were not charitable. We were, some said, unfair, mean, and un-generous. I don't doubt that the same will be said of this review. So let me attempt a preemptive explanation.

I want to be fair with McLaren. I want to understand his ideas and evaluate them based on their merits. If I misunderstand a point or misconstrue what McLaren teaches I want to be corrected. Further, I have no desire to engage in ad hominem attacks. I want to discuss McLaren's theology without vitriol or sophomoric putdowns. I will not assume the worst about Brian McLaren. I will try not to say anything in the cozy confines of the blogosphere that I would not say sitting across from McLaren over a beverage of his choice.

It's not wrong to ask a reviewer to be charitable, so long as the love does not have to be devoid of the truth.

So what I will not do is pretend that the issues McLaren raises are non-essential issues or that his mistakes are little mistakes. I will not refrain from serious critique because this is only a "quest" or merely an attempt to raise questions. Moreover, I will not attempt to find a middle ground with teaching that I believe to be heterodox. I will not look for a third way when I see Christianity going down one path and McLarenism going down another. I will state my disagreements with this book strongly and warn other Christians strenuously. I am not ashamed for having convictions, and I am not afraid to write as if I understand (truly though not exhaustively) what the Bible teaches and understand that what it teaches is incompatible with A New Kind of Christianity.

No one deserves to be reviled. But some books deserve to be pilloried.

The Quest and the Questions

Brian McLaren is on a quest--"a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith" (18). On this quest, McLaren raises and responds to ten questions.

1. The narrative question: What is the overarching story line of the Bible? For McLaren, the familiar story line of creation, fall, redemption, consummation (with heaven and hell as a result) is a grotesque Greco-Roman distortion of the biblical narrative. God the creator, liberator, reconciler is the real story line.

2. The authority question: How should the Bible be understood? Not as a constitution, argues McLaren, with laws and rules and arguments about who's right and wrong. Rather, we go to the Bible as a community library, where internal consistency is not presumed and we learn by conversation.

3. The God question: Is God violent? Believers used to think so, but we ought to grow in maturity from fearing a violent tribal God to partnering with a Christlike God.

4. The Jesus question: Who is Jesus and why is he important? Jesus is never violent and does not condemn. He did not come to save people from hell. Jesus, says McLaren, is peace-loving and identifies with the weak and oppressed.

5. The gospel question: What is the gospel? It is not a message about how to get saved. The gospel is the announcement of a "new kingdom, a new way of life, and a new way of peace that carried good news to all people of every religion" (139).

6. The church question: What do we do about the church? Churches--in whatever form and whatever we call them--exist to form people of Christlike love. This is the church's primary calling, to form people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking.

7. The sex question: Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it? We need to stop hating gay people and welcome them fully into the life of the church. The "sexually other" may be defective in traditional religion, but they are loved and included in a new kind of Christianity.

8. The future question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future? No more "soul-sort" universe where our team goes to heaven and the bad guys go to hell. The future is open, inviting our participation. In the end, God's mercy will triumph and all shall be well.

9. The pluralism question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions? "Christianity has a nauseating, infuriating, depressing record when it comes to encountering people of other religions" (208). There is not us/them, insider/outsider. Jesus accepted everyone and so should we.

10. The what-do-we-do-now question: How can we translate our quest into action? The human quest for God has known many stages. Those in the more mature stages of the quest should gently invite others to grow into fuller maturity, but without being divisive.

Some may be thinking, "What's wrong with this new kind of Christianity?"

Well, as it turns out, pretty much everything.

(Today you got the ten questions from the book. Tomorrow’s post will be much longer: you’ll get the ten problems with the book. On Friday I’ll put the whole thing together as a downloadable PDF.)

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76 thoughts on “Christianity and McLarenism (1)”

  1. Marc Jongma says:

    I am not so much worried by the things McLaren affirms, but mostly by what he neglects and denies.

    I do think God is creator, liberator and reconciler. But not JUST that. I also think we can learn much by having a conversation about what the Bible is and has to say, avoiding we’ve-got-it-right arrogance. But we must also affirm and defend sound doctrine.

    Problems arise when McLaren does exactly that of which he accuses his opponents of doing, which is affirming his views as the ‘proper/new Christianity’ and denying and condemning ‘other/old Christianities’.

  2. In fairness to McLaren, I have not read his work. And this might sound like an attack, but I mean it as a sincere question: If indeed “God the creator, liberator, reconciler is the real story line,” and if (as I’ve read elsewhere) he takes issue with the notion of original sin, from what is it exactly that McLaren claims God is liberating and reconciling us?

    Thanks for the insight.

  3. Aubrey says:

    Isaiah 8:19b,20
    “should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them”

  4. Ben says:

    hmmmm. He got alot of things wrong. First of all number 4. Does everybody forget that Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple by WHIPPING THEM. That jesus was never violent is a total falsehood. Now for number 7, of course we shouldn’t hate homosexuals, but homosexuality is a sin, defined in the bible and we should never encourage sinful behavior in the church, we should encourage them to repent of their sinful ways and embrace god. Finally number 9 Christians actually have a GREAT track record when it comes to encountering other religions (at least certain factions of christianity does) by offering christian charity to whoever needs it is a conerstone of our religion. The good Samaritan taught everybody very well. Christian charity to other religons, indeed anybody that needs it, is a way that many of new christians come to know Jesus. In conclusions I wouldn’t truat this guys teachings he seems to be pandering to the non-christian masses and the media. Beware the devil will come as a sheep dressed in wolves clothing and never forget the lessons of Sodom and Ghomorrah.

  5. @Pete Scribner: He’s liberating us from conservative politics, orthodox Christianity, and other passé ideas, so we can be spiritual rather than religious, and then feel superior to all the benighted people who still sit around reciting creeds and reading the Bible, instead of being a doubting community sitting in a pub drinking Guinness.
    P.S. The only thing the emergents seem to consistently get right is Guinness.

  6. SmellyFish says:

    So fresh it’s stinky: “Politics is bad, unless it’s leftist politics. Doubt is good, unless you doubt me. Orthodoxy is evil, so embrace liberal orthodoxy. I’m just asking questions, but don’t you dare do the same.”

  7. Rob Lombardi says:

    It doesn’t sound like McLaren believes that the Scripture is God-breathed. It reminds of a conversation with a Catholic PhD over the phone (Nathan Mamo) who couldn’t even give me a straight answer about the gospel. When I confronted his theology with specific Scripture, it basically boiled down to disbelief in the Scriptures as the inerrant, divinely inspired Word of God. At first, he would defend his interpretation as just as valid as his, but if I backed up my interpretation sufficiently, he would fall back on the foundational presupposition that the Scriptures were written 2,000 years ago by men. He didn’t have the presupposition that the Scriptures were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit without error. He considered the Scriptures to be full of errors!

    When man places himself in authority of what God says, then God says just about whatever you want!

  8. Note a new article on by Mark Galli, with some great insights.

    “…there may be a good reason the church is not like a bar.”

    “Could it be that the culture no longer takes the church seriously because we don’t take ourselves seriously? Could it be that the more we strive to be as friendly as a bar, the more we’ll be viewed as seriously as people view a bar?”

  9. Chris says:

    Hello all – I have a question for the community. Maybe someone could help me solve this problem. (I apologize for the long post)

    Preface – I myself am a reformed Pastor, with a strong desire to “Contend for the Faith once delivered to the Saints” and to fight back against the down-grade of the Church.

    However – at the same time – I have those close to me, specifically one being a father, who over time has jettisoned all basic truths of Christianity. At first it was Calvinism and the Sovereignty of God. Then it was Original Sin and the Penal Substitution. And now it has become any and all truth that even closely resembles Christianity. He is now very antagonistic towards any Orthodox Truth but I know that he would eat this sort of thing up (McLarenism).

    Question: In order to Contend for the Faith – do we never endorse liberal Christianity, even if it is at the expense of unbelievers and backsliders who are definitely antagonistic towards Orthodox truth, but might be willing to nibble at Liberal Christianity?

    Thanks brothers,

  10. John Thomson says:


    I’m sorry about your father. I have a son who has rejected the faith after being baptised in his mid-teens (he is now 28). I know the grief this causes. However, I don’t think McLaren is the way forward, largely because I don’t think his version of Christianity is Christianity at all.

    I would rather pray that the Lord may work in his heart and help him to see the truth again than have him believe and find false comfort in something that is a lie and quite probably damning.



  11. Joan Kirk says:

    This is sad. I’ve loved so many of Mclaren’s books and so much of what he has written in the past has resonated; giving fresh interpretations and connecting head knowledge to the heart. Now I see that he is fully committed to a reactionary path and writing off everthing the church has ever stood for and it seems it’s because of abuses or bad behavior or poor representations of Christianity. Is anyone else feeling as conflicted as I am? I think he was a man who was hungry and longed for more as we all have been in our faith and when he found his refreshment, turned both barrels back on the foundations rather than finding a way to enhance, refresh and breathe new life into stale convention. For someone who proposes learning by ‘conversation’ it seems there is none but his. I’m just sad.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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