Last week I received a mass email from Brian McLaren regarding his “Everything Must Change” tour, in which he lamented that “many if not most Christians in the US remain focused on” their “intramural religious debates” rather than the global crises confronting our world. He wrote: “In one Q & A session after another since our tour, I’ve watched the conversation be pulled away from Jesus’ gospel of the reigning of God in relation to life-and-death global crises, and turned toward controversies and inquisitions about doctrinal opinions and ‘theological correctness.’ Some nights, I didn’t even realize what had happened until I went back to my hotel room and just wanted to cry.”
I sympathize with McLaren’s lament, but really, it’s his own fault. The surest way to get his audience to focus on his ethical concerns would be to assure them that he is theologically orthodox. But when Brian refuses to answer their direct and specific questions, either by brushing them aside as the wrong question or answering with a question of his own, then he is actually fueling the theological fire he claims he would like to put out.
McLaren is right that we Christians have much work to do in this world, but his questioners are right to wonder whether Brian knows what it means to be a Christian. In his chapter in Evangelicals Engaging Emergent (Broadman & Holman), a new book which I received this week, Darrell Bock (distinguished NT professor at Dallas Seminary) critiques McLaren for pitting the social teachings of Jesus against his gospel of individual salvation. Bock notes that unlike McLaren’s fascination with Rome and resisting Empire, “Rome hardly comes up at all as an exclusive source of critique in the New Testament.” Indeed, Paul “tells Christians not to be revolutionary in the sense McLaren’s language about Rome suggests (Rom. 13:1-7).”
Bock says that McLaren incorrectly divides global concerns from matters of personal sin and salvation. Consequently, he is guilty of “mistaking sociopolitical goals as the ends when it is people’s hearts that desperately need what God alone can supply” and “highlighting practice while being too critical of attempts to think precisely theologically.”
In sum, the fact that theological questions made Brian cry makes the rest of us want to.