Folks in the US are learning about the Wild Goose Festival (if you don't, check it out here). It was modeled largely on Greenbelt, a huge and wonderful festival in the UK. That's where I'll be for the next several days. Looking forward to seeing many of my UK (and US, and other) friends there!
A reader writes:
I recently finished your book "The Secret Message of Jesus" and I wanted to send you a short "thank you" note.
I really enjoyed this book. As a "spiritual but not religious" person it was really refreshing to hear a pastor look a little deeper at the life of Jesus.
Although I don't consider myself religious or Christian I have loved Jesus since I met him in Sunday School as a child. There's something wonderfully intriguing about him and his teaching.
And I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about his teaching style being intentionally vague. He wants to draw you in slowly. He wants you to work.
As a former philosophy/religious studies major I have always felt the need to look deeper and you have helped me with your book.
Additionally, it's just refreshing to hear a Christian (and a pastor) elucidate the teaching beyond the Beatitudes. There are still so many that can't and won't settle on believing, they need to see!
And those with eyes to see do see your work as pushing God's dream for Creation forward.
Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!
over on my Facebook page, I've been posting a poem a day. Yesterday, lots of readers posted their favorite poems, or an original poem. It's really worth checking out:
A reader writes:
I am sorry that the convictions of many whom you love as brothers and sisters in Christ demean your love for your son and the love he has for his partner. There are Christ followers outside your circle who care about the pain the LGTB community endures at our hands. I am sure you receive an overwhelming number of emails so I hesitated sending this one, but thought maybe you needed an encouraging email. Not all of us hate and condemn.
Many of the people who oppose LGBT equality do not do so because of hate. They simply are trying to be faithful to what they were taught and what they believe God requires. Many of them are grieved by the hateful tone of some people who agree with them.
This doesn't decrease the hurt they cause others. But it helps me remember that not all who disagree do so from the same motives. Again, thanks for your kind words.
OK. You'll think I'm making this up. But I'm not. I got this email recently:
I am Cristy from BreakinThru, the publisher of God’s Glory™ Bible - a beautiful, heirloom-quality, a limited First Edition King James Version Holy Bible that is wrapped in stars and stripes. After six years and an incredible response on social media – we have over 500k fans just this last year - it is released and ready for delivery. We did quite a bit of research looking for bloggers to partner with, and not only did we enjoy your blog Brian McLaren, we feel like you are a great fit. We would love to send you a Bible to review and give away to your audience – and we will of course direct our social media community to your blog and review. We additionally have an affiliate program available, should you be interested in placing an ad on your blog – or using an affiliate link for your visitors. You can learn more about God’s Glory™ Bible at www.GodsGloryBible.com or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GodsGloryBible. You can reach me at xxxyyy – I look forward to hearing from you, and of course getting God’s Glory™ Bible to you for review!
I'm impressed that they did "quite a bit" of research and that they determined this blog was a great fit for their product. Huh?
In contrast - I recently read this from the brilliant theologian Joerg Rieger:
We can reclaim the authority of the Bible when we realize, for instance, that not even the most powerful empires, including current forms of capitalism, have the last word. Here, alternative biblical visions finally get a chance to transform us, from the visions of liberation promoted in the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25; to accounts of the communities that Jesus organized where the last were indeed the first and the first were the last. Or, if we realize that the status quo of the concentration of wealth, privilege, and power in the hands of a few does not need to have the last word, alternative biblical visions of power that organizes itself in adverse situations (even on a cross) might make a real difference.
In conclusion, a truly progressive position brings together both a deeper awareness of how the powers that be hold us back and a more astute sense for possible alternatives (see Rieger, Christ and Empire, 2007). In these progressive efforts we need all the help we can get. There is little hope that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and so the ancient wisdom of the Bible is a most welcome guide, especially where it was honed in similar conflicts with empires and the status quo. To be sure: this is not just wishful thinking or a pious dream. Despite much misuse, the Bible has demonstrated its authority in the ability to make a difference in movements of liberation through the ages. As Latin American Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez once put it: "We indeed read the Bible, but we can also say that the Bible 'reads us.'"
Here's the Q:
I wrote to you several years ago and you very kindly replied to my questions about Jesus and the "propitiation for sin." Your answer and your books validated my journey as I was simply trying to figure out how to love like Jesus loved and live my life dedicated to "reconciliation, understanding, solidarity, and peace-making" as you say in your recent blog.
I admit I haven't read your recent books, although they are on my "gotta get these" list, and so I've spent the morning re-reading sections of A New Kind of Christianity and particularly the chapter on Living the Questions in Community.
My battle is not with theology per se, or with reshaping the Church. My battle is in the area of science, and specifically science education. I am an ex-academic with over 20 years of bench under my belt and I realized when I started homeschooling my own children that science is not taught in a way that promotes real understanding. So I now write science books for kids. My gift is simply that I can take a college level text or upper level science concepts and sift the material for the basic building blocks that kids need to learn. Learning science really isn't any different than learning a language, or music, or math. There are fundamental concepts that any child can learn and once they do they have a foundation they can build upon so that they really understand science, what is can answer, and what it can't.
I have also been deeply involved in the Creation/ Evolution/ Intelligent Design battles and spent significant time speaking to Christian homeschoolers about why it's important to teach kids evolution, what it means, what it can answer, and what it can't answer.
But I have to say I have moved past these wars and see them as much more destructive than generative. The Creationists are circling their wagons and so are the Darwinists (which is a mix of hard-core "there is no god" materialists and theistic evolutionists with some other smaller philosophical hues). The ID community make some good points but they are hated by both and therefore marginalized. As a result there are several isolated camps each calling the other "the enemy," fighting over what kind of science gets taught to which kids. The kids are the ones caught in the crossfire and the kids are the collateral damage. If a child grows up as a mainstream Christian homeschooler, or goes to certain Christian schools they only hear about Creationism and that evolution is from the devil. They emerge lacking some basic building blocks for science. If a child grows up in a secular family and goes to any public school, they get a false sense of the "authority" of science and are never exposed to any of the gaps in neo-Darwinism and lack a basic understanding of how science really works.
So I have been trying to create a path for both Creationists and non-Creationists of various flavors to find some common ground. We need kids who have all the basic building blocks for science, including a good understanding of evolution, but who can also think outside the neo-Darwinian materialist box and be comfortable exploring even a vitalist paradigm as way to view some aspects of science.
The Christian homeschool market has been my main market and ministry for 15 years because, well, I have a heart for this group and I think Christian kids who can already think beyond "matter and energy" have the better tools for solving real-world problems, if they just learned all the science. In other words, I thought it would be easier to just teach the science and not try to change the philosophy.
But today I am discouraged, feeling defeated, and reconsidering my whole strategy. I recently had a top staff member suddenly quit because of a post I liked ... and a radio interview I gave … about my journey and what matters to me today. This staff member was, as far as I could tell, a solid Christian open to new ways of living as Jesus would have us live, but did a sudden about-face and quit, leaving a significant hole in my team and personally attacking me as someone who doesn't "live for Christ." I can repair the hole, but I am confused, angry, disappointed and ready to just throw in the towel on reaching Christians.
I realize, however, that my experiences are isolated and I am intersecting with a fairly narrow Christian segment, so I was wondering if you feel like the tide is turning at all. Are you finding more and more Christians open to your ideas? Is your movement growing? Are you getting more positive email or more hate mail? I'm just curious what your experience has been as you pave this path for the Christian faith and grow your ministry.
Thank you and warm regards,
I think the tide is turning - in some places. In others, people are doubling down. And I think they will do so harder and harder. The toughest place will be will be exactly where you are - in the middle, trying to help people open up. You've heard the saying, "The hard thing about being a bridge is that people walk on you from both ends."
I hope you'll stay with this important bridge-building work as long as you can. But when the more restrictive people realize that you're a bridge-builder and not a wall-builder, they will try to blow up the bridge from their side. They don't want anyone leaving to "the other side" - they want to wall people in behind a barrier of fear and ignorance.
At that point, believe me, your life will get much easier, even though it will hurt a lot. You will still help people from that world, but as an outsider (not by your choice). Some people will stay behind the wall for generations, but others will begin to feel the unfreedom and fear of it, and at that point, your work will be more important than ever …
Please know that you're in my prayers today, and I'm sure that many reading this post will join me. You are a good person, with a good heart, doing good work, and it's not your fault that many can't appreciate it. That's how it almost always is with innovators and pioneers.
A reader writes:
At first glance, We Make the Road by Walking can look like another new adult study program for the fall. But a few of us see it as a vehicle for understanding who we are and how we can be better used to help fulfill God's Dream for all.
We're a small-ish UMC congregation. In our 150 year history, our community has gone from rural farms to a lively , upper middle class suburb, complete with malls, restaurants and two mega-churches. We've been coping with all this change by trying to do more of what we've done in the past, but we're down to 50 or so for Sunday worship.
Instead of "just another adult Sunday School program", we are excited about using WMTRBW as the central church-wide focus for a year. It will be an opportunity for the church to know better whose it is and where it needs to go. Through this commitment, the future can be derived from the bottom up instead the top down. But at this stage, to some it looks scary and risky. It may be a step too far from our familiar words and traditions. It is considered by a few already to be too "progressive"
In the July 19 blog posting, Q & R: Church Recommendation?, I was excited to read the following:
“In the last 24 hours or so, I've learned of two churches that will be using We Make the Road by Walking for their 2014-2015 curriculum, a "learning circle" forming in the DC area, a college class that will be going through the book this semester, and some groups for incarcerated people. It's exciting to see!”
We also intend to use We Make the Road by Walking over the coming year at our church. The plan is to purchase a copy for each family to use at home throughout the week, as well as during Sunday worship. We are just starting to set out definite plans, but we intend to use the book with families, with small groups, and with the congregation as a whole (yes, intergenerationally!).
We would absolutely love to hear from other churches that are using We Make the Road by Walking as their 2014-2015 curriculum! Is there a way of getting in contact with them?
If it turns out that other congregations would be interested in joining us on this exciting adventure, please feel free to pass on my contact information.
I am a lay volunteer with special interests in worship design, music leadership, and youth ministry.
Thanks for these encouraging notes. The list of churches I'm aware of that are using the book keeps growing … and I know there are lots I've not heard about.
It's not too late to jump in and use the book for 2014-2015. You can start at Chapter 1 either August 31 or in early September, or you can start at Chapter 14 at the beginning of Advent (November 30).
I recently created a Facebook community page to help people share ideas and experiences using the book. You'll find it here:
I hope you'll post your questions and experiences there!
Here's the Q:
I know this is a long shot in ever getting this answered, but my wife and I have just had a spirited "discussion" for an hour and are not able to come to an agreement, and so I am writing to you for your opinion. My wife and I both respect your opinion, and have several of your books, in fact, I just picked up "You Make the Road by Walking" earlier today at Barnes and Noble. So I'm not just a fan, I'm a paying reader too.
Anyway, here goes; first, some background to my question:
My wife and I are both former members of a very large mega-church headquartered in Seattle, WA. While at this church, my wife and I suffered from what could be described as a form of spiritual abuse: very heavy-handed authoritarian leadership, a performance based approach to understanding Christianity, a consumer-minded approach to consuming Christian branded "products" put out by the church; and I could go on. We left almost 4 years ago, and have been processing our time there. I think I suffered more than my wife did, as I took more of what I absorbed to heart, whereas my wife filtered out much of the content she received as clearly crazy, and not worthy of consideration.
Lately, this church has been getting a lot of negative press, and many people have been coming forward criticizing the church on several fronts, from the way it handles money, to its perspective on gender roles, to an abusive culture of fear within the church leadership. Today, there is an organized protest at the church headquarters, people holding signs and placards and such. The protest intends to be peaceful, to gently engage churchgoers and encourage them to ask questions, but not to obstruct anyone who might want to worship, and not to break the law. The media has picked up on the protest and will likely be featured in the news, which is also part of the aim of the protest, namely, to get the media to look closer at money trails and such.
My wife and I agree that much of the negative aspects of this church are outworking of theological ideas the church holds to that should be questioned, we just disagree about the proper mode of questioning.
Now, for my question:
Would you say that if one's goal is to get the broader evangelical community to question and reconsider theology, the best method is:
a. To write books, such as yours, that engage theological ideas
b. To protest specific abuses that may be the result of the outworking of theological ideas, even if that protest is aimed at a local church, and not, say, a civil rights or legal abuse that occurs more in the public sphere
c. Both A and B
d. neither a, b, or c.
I say c, my wife says a.
If you read this (I know you are a busy guy) I thank you for your patience, and would appreciate a response on your thoughts on the matter, whenever you have a mind to.
Thanks for the work you are doing, my wife and I both think that it is extremely important to have your voice engaged with the Christian conversation during these interesting times. So I guess, that we can both agree on!
I don't think people should thoughtlessly stage protests in front of churches. Which is why I agree with your wife. But sometimes, a church is getting away with something harmful, and after many attempts to deal with the issue privately, it may become necessary to deal with it publicly through a direct demonstration.
I'm actually involved with a group of people planning a demonstration like this right now. First, an impressive group of people has come together to request a time to talk with the pastor and leadership of a church that has a lot of power and is using this power to harm people we know and love. If the leaders are willing to meet, we'll report on the outcome of the meeting. I hope and pray there will be a good outcome.
If they're not willing to meet or if the outcome is negative, because the church in question is causing so much harm to so many people, we will then plan a public protest, which you should hear about next year.
So, in general, I think your wife is right. But in extreme circumstances, I think you're right. I hope that's helpful ...
1. The organizers of #NMOS14 and especially the Faith Leaders of Ferguson who "prayed with their feet" … read about them here:
2. Vicky Beeching - read about her here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/vicky-beeching-star-of-the-christian-rock-scene-im-gay-god-loves-me-just-the-way-i-am-9667566.html
3. Paul Rauschenbusch - read his important piece on Ferguson and racism here:
4. Michael Gungor - read about his bold and gracious response to recent criticism here:
Here's the Q:
I just finished reading Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, and am interested in doing this book as a small group study at a Methodist congregration. The study group has been ongoing for about 18 months, and each attendee seems pretty secure in their faith. The studies we have done in the past were more simplistic, and the questions didn't help us dig deeper. Basically, we looked up a question with a scripture reference in the Bible, and the answer was a direct quote from the scripture. It drove me crazy. But it turns out, everyone in the group desires a study that makes us think more, and dig deeper- which your book certainly does. I really want to help the Christian community have the conversations you propose in your book. Before reading your book, I struggled/ wrestled with each of the items you bring up in my own faith journey, and my family is interfaith- my brother and sister in law are Muslim. Ultimately, I reached many of the same conclusions after examining the very things you discuss in the book. I want to help Christians see the "others" in their lives- whether they are a different religion or not. I'm just not sure my small group is ready for your book yet or not. I'm afraid they may find it too shocking, or be turned off too early, and I'm a little nervous to stick my neck out. I would appreciate any suggestions for a small group, or if you have recommendations for other book titles to do instead that still discuss many of the doctrinal, liturgical, and missional questions.
Thank you for your time, and your commitment to interfaith dialogue.
Another option would be to do some background work on how people read the Bible. Two options would be my new book - We Make the Road by Walking, or an older book, A New Kind of Christianity. The latter addresses the question of how we read the Bible very directly … and the former simply introduces people to a better way of reading the Bible than proof-texting (which I blogged about recently.)
A recent article details the ongoing struggle of Evangelical colleges over the theory of evolution:
Beneath this struggle is biblical literalism, which was the conceptual womb of many Evangelical colleges. In the commentary to my most recent book We Make the Road by Walking, I call this the "innocent literal" approach. It is diametrically opposed to what I call "critical literal" approach. (I propose a different alternative altogether - a critical literary approach.)
Innocent (or naive) Biblical literalism lies behind several other struggles too, including:
- Inability or unwillingness to rethink sexual orientation in light of new biological, psychological, and sociological science, resulting in ongoing stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, including their own sons and daughters.
- Inability or unwillingness to address the science of global warming, which has staggering consequences for life on our planet.
- Inability or unwillingness to see beyond a facile good-guy/bad-guy typology of the Israel-Palestine situation, which results in a prolongation (even an apocalpyt-ization) of a conflict that needs to be resolved.
- Inability or unwillingness to grapple with full equality for women as well as men, nonChristians as well as Christians, people of all races and nationalities, etc.
Among Evangelicals, innocent literalism is typically called "a high view of Scripture." It is time for Evangelicals to realize that this is actually an immature view of Scripture. A critical literary approach takes the text in all its granularity more seriously and seeks meaning and truth in all the facets of the text. It is unafraid to ask any question or face any evidence. It takes seriously all dimensions of the text, including the evidence for how the compositions of Scripture evolved over time. It is, in this sense, a much "higher view."
It is time for Evangelical parents to realize that spending $50,000-100,000+ in lower forms of higher education for their daughters and sons is a bad investment. We need Christian colleges to defect from the innocent-literal approach and dare to actually educate. And we need a new nationwide campus ministry that will also dare to defect from that unhelpful approach. (More on that soon.)
Church leaders, college and university leaders, campus ministry leaders alike - higher education demands a higher view of Scripture than the innocent-literalism that currently holds the purse-strings and pulls the puppet-strings.
Here's the Q:
I hope this email finds you well.
I recently read your book "Cross The Road" with great delight. It gave me hope that there are other people out there that feel similarly about religion.
I've been following your blog regarding the current conflict in the middle-east. I'm confused about something. How can you as a Christian talk about a win-win situation when that is not the will of God? I've been struggling to understand your concept. On one side we have the word of God:
Genesis 17:7-8 states: "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
On the other side you seem to support rabbi Siegman (a brave man!) who questions Israel's morality in this conflict. But isn't Israel simply claiming and defending what God promised? It seems clear to me that the bible leaves no doubt about the rightful owners of that land.
We can't have it both ways. My personal opinion/morality is in stark contrast with God's will in the OT, because I'm a firm believer that Palestinians also have the right to live there. How do you reconcile something that is mutually exclusive? I don't see how we can have a win-win situation given God's word.
I know you must be getting hundreds of emails each day, but I hope you may find 2 minutes to reply.
I need to tell you something terribly important - and scary and unsettling for many: that way of reading the Bible - quoting a Bible verse in isolation to respond to a contemporary situation - has caused a lot of damage in the world. It is an irresponsible way to use the Bible, especially for an American. In our history, that way of using the Bible justified the slaughter and land theft of Native Americans, justified enslavement of kidnapped black Africans, justified segregation/apartheid and white privilege, justified the subjugation of women, justified the exploitation of the earth, and many other horrible things. It's called "proof-texting" - and it is a methodology that needs to be rejected once and for all, especially by people who love the Bible.
It's an abuse of the Bible and it needs to be left in the past, along with the injustices it was used to perpetuate.
That doesn't mean rejecting the Bible; it means rejecting one discredited way of using/abusing the Bible. I offer a better way of reading the Bible in my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.
You're right - Genesis 17 says what you say. But it doesn't necessarily mean what you've been told it means. For starters, consider how you would interpret Genesis 17 in light of Deuteronomy 10 and Leviticus 19 and 26 … I wrote about those Scriptures here.
If you're a Christian, more importantly, how would you square using those verses to justify oppression of the Palestinians in light of Jesus' teaching - say, to do unto others as you would have them do to you, or to love your enemies, or to seek first God's restorative justice?
So - we may not be able to find a win-win solution if we only quote one verse - in isolation from the rest of the Bible. But if allow God to speak, not through one disconnected, out-of-context verse, but through the whole of Scripture, centered in the life and teaching of Christ … I think win-win solutions are possible.
If some of our ancestors didn't seek that alternative approach, we would still be quoting verses to justify slavery, apartheid, suppression of women, exploitation of the environment, and much more. (Oops. I guess some people still are using the Bible in these sad ways!) So - good news! You can still love the Bible without using it as a source for proof-texts.