Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Why Evangelicals Should Read Brian McLaren’s New Book [An Essay]

Page 2 – Evangelicals and Brian McLaren’s New Book

Liturgy and Christ’s Resurrection. McLaren is not only concerned with the possibility of reshaping the church’s doctrine, but also its liturgy. In one section he suggests that we consider Easter “not merely as the resuscitation of a single corpse nearly two millennia ago, but more – as the ongoing resurrection of all humanity through Christ” (175). A few thoughts come to mind here. First, the resurrection should not be construed as mere resuscitation, but instead as a transformation of the body of Christ as the beginning of the New Creation. Second, understood as a body transformed by Spirit, the resurrection of Christ does provide for a broader application, as the Kingdom work begun in Christ will one day be extended in its completion to the totality of the New Heavens and Earth. Finally, Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson have argued in The Cross is Not Enough that the modern church has tended to emphasize the cross of Christ often to the neglect of the resurrection. A “rediscovery” and application of Christ’s resurrection to our faith identity will be helpful in McLaren’s call to “ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, from fear to faith, from hostility to love…” (175).

Missions and the Commonwealth of God. There are several areas in McLaren’s discussion related to missions and the Kingdom or Commonwealth of God that are worthy of exploration. One facet includes his discussion of the value of “subversive friendships,” and rightly critiques the “utilitarian” abuse of friendships (223) found often in Evangelical “friendship evangelism.” He reminds us of the importance of “friendship that crosses boundaries of otherness” (228) so often found in the life of Jesus, the “friend of sinners,” and asks us to imagine the possibilities if more religious people would “cross the roads and other barriers that have separated them, and discover one another as friends” (228).


In this section McLaren also discusses the sensitive issue of interfaith and multifaith worship (241). In reading this section I was reminded of the Frontline documentary Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero which includes the disturbing story of a Lutheran minister who participated in a multifaith memorial service in New York shortly after 9/11. As a result he received a barrage of emails and letters from fellow Lutherans accusing him of compromise and heresy, even labeling him as the real terrorist for his actions. This area of theology and practice must be discussed and navigated carefully by Evangelicals so as to address fears of syncretism, concerns for purity, and concepts of sacred space in worship, while also balancing out the need to work together with those of other religions for the common good. McLaren’s call for adding “with-ness – experiencing solidarity with people of other faith,” to “witness – graciously and confidently sharing our unique, Christ-centered message” (242), is a helpful one in our pluralistic culture that construes interreligious engagement as a way of discipleship that goes beyond mere interreligious dialogue (250).

Competitive superiority and religious supremacy. As mentioned previously, there are areas in this volume where conversations with McLaren would be worthwhile. One area where this is the case is his discussion of “competitive superiority” (137) and “religious supremacy” (257).  McLaren rightly warns of the dangers of superiority that has often led to hostility against those in other religions (as well as fellow Christians!), and in his discussion of the incarnation and humility by way of Philippians 2, he suggests that Christians opt for a “preference for others rather than competitive superiority,” which then leads to “disdaining them as inferior, rejecting them as other and enemy” (137). This idea is revisited later in this volume in consideration of new kinds of evangelism. McLaren calls for Christians to avoid religious supremacy through attempts at conversion from one religion to another, but instead suggests that we work toward a shared journey, that for McLaren represents a “deeper conversion” (256-7).

I agree with McLaren that we should not engage in superiority or hostility toward those I other religions, and that this often takes place through evangelism and missions. However, in my view McLaren misses another option, and that is the extension of benevolence toward those in other religions which retains a sense of deep religious convictions, and which recognizes clear differences, but which also at times can seek to persuade when such approaches are welcomed. Such a posture recognizes that there is nothing necessarily wrong with healthy forms of competition, nor a sense of one religion being “better” or “truer” than another. In addition, this alternative does not involve a sense of superiority or hostility.

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2 Comments

  1. In response to a recent Tweet on my essay/review and McLaren’s book I posted the following reply to a question and allegations made that McLaren is offering a critique of Reformed theology, or that one can simply read any number of mainline Protestant positions to arrive at substantially what McLaren is suggesting. I response I offered the following:

    McLaren is not challenging Reformed theology (if that’s what RT means in
    his comment), but instead his thesis surrounds a reformulated Christian
    faith identity which shifts from hostility toward benevolence in
    regards to those in other religions. The challenge for evangelicals is
    to “hear” McLaren in light of liberal perceptions, and for evangelicals
    and mainline Protestants to be willing to critique their preferred
    theological frameworks (whether Reformed, Arminian, Pentecostal or
    whatever) so as to engage pluralism more positively. Here I suggest that
    an openness to not only McLaren, but also to missional, localized
    theologies that seek to live out and frame the gospel in light of one’s
    immediate religious context is what we need to shift toward, and to the
    extent that Reformed or other theologies can be adapted to fit in these
    context so much the better. These theologies were developed in specific
    historical and cultural contexts and since theologies are
    context-dependent we should be willing to consider local or contextual
    theologies as needed. See my interview and discussion on this here: http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com/2011/02/robert-schreiter-interview-on-local.html.
    In my view the decline of Christendom in the West, and the reality of
    our pluralistic context, should provide a growing awareness of the need
    for evangelicals and mainline Protestants to experiment with new faith
    identities and local theologies that dovetail with certain
    religio-cultural contexts.

  2. I really enjoyed your review of McLaren’s book on chr identity in a multi-faith world. I plan to use a lot of it tonight to help facilitate our Beer and Theology group (Spirit and spirits) tonight that consists of atheists, agnostics, deists/theists and Christ followers. Thanks and I look forward to your newsletters…