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Paul Harder gets it right ...

on Christian values here.

God does not require us to make a list of things that others are not permitted to do. Rather, he wants us to follow a fairly simple list of what we, ourselves, should do.

Those who focus on thou-shalt-not pronouncements about the behavior of others, ignoring the thou-shalts that Jesus actually spoke, are not trying to uphold Christian values.


It's Monday, but Good Friday's coming ...

Lots of pastors and priests will be preaching on the meaning of the crucifixion this week. If you haven't downloaded or purchased Did God Kill Jesus? yet, this is a great week to do so. Here's what I wrote in my endorsement: “An extended exploration of one of Christian theology’s oldest, most vexing, intriguing, and important questions… You’ll be grateful for a chance to think alongside a passionate, inspiring theologian who writes with clarity, intensity, and relentless curiosity.”


President Carter gets it right ...


Ultimately, only a peace agreement that grants freedom to self-governed Palestinians can bring the security that both the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve. As long as Palestinians remain divided, it will be difficult for any leader to sell to the Palestinian people a peace agreement with Israel. Absent such an agreement, lifting the closure and jump-starting Gaza’s reconstruction can do much to avert the next war.


Thirty lines below "All men are created equal …"

in the Declaration of Independence, you'll find a shock. Mark Charles tells you about it here:


You've heard "Let it Go" a million times. But have you heard "Let Go?"


Water. It's beautiful. It's life-giving.

Here are two of my pieces about world water day …

Water as a Symbol Across Faith Traditions

5 Ways you Can Save Lives on World Water Day


A reader writes … easily accessible to our youth

A reader writes:

I've been doing an internship at a small Presbyterian church since last summer. In addition to my intern duties, I have been offered a position as Christian Education Administrator as they decide how to reorganize after losing their long time DCE.

Our youth group has dwindled over the years. They were wanting something that would create excitement and help the youth think about their faith. A few weeks ago, we introduced WMTRBW. We used John Stonecypher's videos and worked with the material to make it easily accessible to our youth. The response has been great.

Your book has made a new way of approaching scripture easily understood by congregations who are wanting to move forward but are not sure of how to do so.

It's great to hear how the book is being employed in congregations like yours. I'm so glad to be in partnership with you and John Stonecypher and many others.


God becomes real to us ...

when incarnated in the kindness and love of others. This beautiful video from Rob Leveridge offers a beautiful insight into incarnation … and eucharist. So worth your next 3 minutes and 55 seconds!


Banking With a Conscience: George Bailey or Mr. Potter?


George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

This article points to a trend I think we all should be paying attention to … using moral influence upon corporations, beginning with banks, to move people toward the common good. More here. Quotable:

Last week, with little fanfare, PNC Financial, the nation’s seventh-largest bank, disclosed a significant strategic shift. The bank said it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia, an environmentally devastating practice that has long drawn opposition.

It was a big decision for PNC, which has been one of the largest financiers of companies that engage in the mountaintop mining of coal, which involves blasting off the summits of mountains to expose the coal beneath them and dumping the debris into valleys and rivers, which the environmental law organization Earthjustice described as “strip mining on steroids.”

For more on related matters, see Everything Must Change.


Hell: Jesus is Against It

by my friend Roy Terry.

More about Cornerstone UMC here.
More about the curriculum they're following this year here.


Are you wiser than a 9 year old?


You need to be FLIPPED.

Here's why.


If you liked Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress ...

or if you didn't, these insights from Navajo Christian activist Mark Charles deserve your attention:


Did anyone else catch this statement made last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address to a joint session of Congress?

He said (to applause):
"Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope..."

The belief that the lands of North America are a "promised land" to the colonizing nations of Europe is rooted in the Doctrine of Discovery and requires an acceptance of at least 2 extra-Biblical components.

1. Christian empires are ordained and established by God..
2. God gave the lands of North America to colonists in order to plant the United States, a new nation with a God-given destiny

Both Jesus and Paul rejected the notion that Christ came to establish a worldly "Christian" empire.

The belief that the United States is a Christian Empire that has a land covenant with God is a self-serving fabrication that has no moral or spiritual basis. Whether or not the United States is a Christian nation has absolutely no bearing on the salvation of any follower of Christ. Yet many American Christians embrace this national identity with such devotion that one would think our eternal destiny depended upon our citizenship in a Christian Empire.

I was shocked by the Prime Minister's words. Not only because they were extremely inaccurate, both historically and theologically. But also because one does not need to read very far into the Old Testament book of Joshua to discovery the God ordained fate of any nations or peoples that pre-exist in "Promised Lands". His words, before a joint session of Congress, implied Biblical justification for 5 centuries of incredible injustice, racism and dehumanization towards the indigenous peoples of North America.


If you're a parent, educator, youth worker, teacher, or pastor - check out this awesomeness

by geek-dad John Stonecypher. Here.

Check this out by Catherine Maresca - here.

And if you want to hang around fascinating kindred spirits - who care about fresh ways of teaching kids and youth about God, faith, Jesus, the cross, and life - don't miss Faith Forward in Chicago, April 20-23. I'll be there. I hope you will too!


A reader writes: For your inner geek ...

My wife Karen and I are working through "we make the road…" which, with some of your other books, advocates using candles during spiritual exercises.

Alan Alda, the actor, has an inner geek too. He funded a contest a few years ago to answer the question "what makes a flame?" in a way a 10-12 year old could understand.

Here is winning entry, https://vimeo.com/40271657. I think your blog readers might enjoy it too.


I love the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

If you're anywhere near Tampa, FL, on 21 March, you should be part of this.
In the meantime, you can learn more about CIW here.



Wisdom from Mark Longhurst ...

at the Emerging Voices blog.


A beautiful post from Christine Sine

Stay Close to the Cracks ...
Christine's poem and Leonard Cohen's song are a great way to start this new week.


Here's a Song to Lift Your Spirits ...

From Tag:



Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 7, 2015


Edmund Pettus Bridge
Selma, Alabama

Continue reading this....


New Zealanders -

I'll be in your beautiful country August 1 - 10. Details coming soon!


Good Friday Resource ...

Five Sundays until Good Friday - and my friend Richard Bruxvoort Colligan has created a beautiful liturgy for that day. It is creative, meaningful, and needed. You can learn more here.


Stephen Colbert on Faith


Seven Ways to Live a Faithful Life ...

Here's my most recent Sojourners post ...


Morning Prayer with Prayerful Movement

It's great to hear reports like this one about Twelve Simple Words, which yoga/tai chi/chi gong instructor Suzanne Jackson and I produced together:

… I used the Twelve Simple Words program two days a week during Advent as part of an experiment to see how Morning Prayer with prayerful movement would do at our parish. It has been so successful that two to three parishioners are now offering it at 7 a.m. daily!

Learn more (and order) here.


In tortoise news ...

Some progress in the Galapagos.


IT Spooks … and It's Unique

I really enjoyed being asked to contribute to this project with Jack Caputo and a cast of equally fascinating characters …
If you ask the big questions, including questions about the existence of God, this book could be a big help.


Breaking Up With Slavery Is Hard to Do ...

I mentioned an idea here, and John Stonecypher did it here:



I'll be in Alexandria VA March 8-9 ...

2015 is off to a great start for me. I've enjoyed opportunities to speak in Phoenix AZ, Barrington IL, Edina MN, and Richmond VA.

In early March, I'll be in Alexandria VA on the 8th and 9th. There are open-to-the-public events Sunday and Monday evening at 8:30 …
Download file
You can register here.

And a special clergy event at 9:30 am Monday …
Download file
You can register here.


I'll be in Iowa City March 6-7

I'm looking forward to meeting many old and new friends in Iowa City. More information here.


A reader writes: Two things nobody can take away ...

Certainly enjoyed your sermon on Sunday. Was unable to attend the Saturday sessions (Caregiver duties) but heard great things about the entire program. As I mentioned briefly when I met you in the church lobby, my Dad expressed a message to me that I thought would be an excellent tie-in with your stated message, "The Way of Life is the Way of Love."

My Dad and I were out fishing one summer's day, and after arriving at one of our favorite spots on the lake, getting all of our lines set and ready for the fish to take over, he said to me, "Jim, I want to talk WITH you about something special. Now having a parent talk "TO" you is one thing, but when the statement includes the word "WITH", I knew we were going to have a two-way conversation about some topic he had in mind. Being twelve years of age at the time, I figured this was going to be a special discussion.

So, he opened up the dialogue with the comment, "It's something I've been wanting to share with you, and I believe now is a good time to do so." Then he intoned, "Son, you have two things that no one can take away from you. You have to make the personal decision to give them up." Well, I thought and thought about that comment, and lots of things I owned flashed thru my mind. Must have looked fairly perplexed, because his next comment gave me one of the answers.

"The first and most important thing you own is your INTEGRITY. No one can make you cheat. No one can make you steal. No one can make you lie. You have to make the conscious effort to do one of those activities yourself. You have to cross the line of honesty to do so, and once you do it's hard to get back on the other side of the line."

Well, I thought to myself that that made a lot of sense. I was getting ready to join Boy Scouts and the first law of that organization was Trustworthy. I felt that I could keep that law, so the being honest was not going to be too tough of a challenge.

"The second thing you have that no one can take away from you is your POSITIVE ATTITUDE. You have to give that up and join the many, many people who seem to want to exhibit a negative line of thinking on situations. And from my experience, no amount of negative thinking ever made activities and life worth much. From my point of view", he said, "there is no statement about any situation that you can't make from a positive frame of thinking."

I thought about that comment for a minute, and then he said, "Let me give you an example of what i'm talking about. When we get home later today, and we haven't caught any fish and your Mother asks you how was fishing, what are you going to say?"

I looked a little perplexed, so he offered a suggestion. "Would you tell her that 'We didn't catch any fish'?" A pause ensued, and he said, "You know what? She'll already know because we aren't cleaning any!"

Well, sir. That day meant a great deal to me as I grew up and joined the adult world. And I have been trying to live that discussion for the last 60 years of my life.

Please feel free to use any of this in any of your workshops where you feel it might prove to be a worthy addition.

Again, thank you for gracing our congregation with your wisdom.


You can watch this for a few more days for free ...

My interview with Michael Dowd is available here.

The whole series is amazing. You really should check it out.


Fossil Fuels & Divestment

As I watched this short film ...

… I couldn't help but imagine a version of it being released in, say, 1860, with the word "slavery" substituted for "fossil fuels."

In love with fossil fuels? That certainly describes our current economy. I hope in the future, we'll fall in love with life, with God and neighbor, with God's beautiful creation … and with our holy calling to be humble stewards rather than extractive, consumptive plunderers.


This Sunday Is Special Because ...

It is a great time to begin my 2014 book We Make the Road by Walking. The book was written to be read in sync with the church year. Season 3 begins with Lent (which starts today) and this 13-week quarter, called Alive in a Global Uprising, is an immersion in the Sermon on the Mount. (It begins on page 127.) It was one of my favorite parts of the book to write - You can read the book on your own, or invite a few friends to read it with you. (You'll find lots of reading group resources here.)


Q & R: Maintaining Christian identity?

Here's the Q:

Loving "We Make The Road By Walking." You're always looking at things from a fresh perspective with a great set of questions.

Is there any real point to being a Christian, or maintaining a Christian identity? I don't ask this from a place of despair and frustration but I ask out of contentment, joy and surplus. I went to seminary, planted a church, expanded as a person and now haven't been a part of a church for a couple of years. I'm not asking the tired question of whether we should keep Jesus and forget the church or whether we should have a relationship with God and discard religion (for me, I found that when I've asked those questions, I've been frustrated and disillusioned)...but even more fundamentally, what is the point of aligning one's self with this thing that eventually got called Christianity? I'm just not seeing the point anymore.

I've found love, life and light in Christianity and Jesus (and am forever thankful for that), but that has not come separate from my discovery of all that is good, right and true that I see in Taoism and Lao Tsu (for example), or in my meditation journey, or in my creative endeavors, or in my health, nutrition and exercise practices, etc. I found your "Why Did Jesus, Buddha, Moses and Muhammad Cross The Road?" as a great help, but I now just don't see any compelling reason to remain identified as a Christian, despite my love and admiration of Jesus. There's lots I could go on about, but I think you get my point.

Thanks, man. Keep up the great work.

Here's the R:
This is such an important question. I'm working on my next book, entitled This Way of LIfe (due out September 2016), and just wrote a few paragraphs that I think will be helpful … not on the specific question of why Christian, but on the more general question of why identify with any tradition at all. (You may be interested in the ways I addressed the why Christian question in a book I wrote called A Generous Orthodoxy.)

To my mind, nobody has written more lucidly about the connection between spirituality and religion than Catholic educator Catherine Maresca, building on the work of Maria Cavalletti. In her work on developing spiritual literacy in children, she offers insights that are equally relevant to adults. Generalized spirituality, she says, must be “made specific” in some religious context, because
You can’t teach children language without teaching children a language. [Cavalletti] writes, “Wishing to stay on a vague level without any specific content is the same as wanting a child to talk without using any particular language.” Some parents say they don’t want their children to learn a particular religion because they want them to be free to choose their own. But these children are missing the opportunity to become spiritually literate.
... While we don’t reject other traditions, a particular religion has to be our starting point. To say, “I’m spiritual but not religious” is like saying, “I’m linguistic but don’t speak any particular language.” Everyone has innate linguistic capacity that gets activated as one learns a particular language or languages. Likewise, everyone has spiritual capacity that gets activated and mobilized through becoming religious in a particular way.

At this point in human history, our religious communities are especially conflicted, so it’s understandable why people would want to put a "but" in between spiritual and religious. If thoughtful spiritual people leave the destiny of our religions to the unthoughtful and unspiritual, then their destiny is to be conservative in the worst possible way: the last to accept good new ideas, the last to abandon ugly old prejudices, the last to admit they’ve been wrong. I believe religion is meant to lead, not lag, as a critically progressive community. As a progressive community, it should attract the brightest minds, the most sensitive and courageous hearts, to help lead the way into a brighter future by discerning and embodying the vision and values of tomorrow today, in the fierce urgency of now. As a critically progressive community, it should not blindly accept every new idea, but ground its foresight in hindsight and insight gained from thinking critically about the past and present. (From This Way of Life, Brian McLaren, Convergent Books, September 2016)


Thanks for Profound Dialogue ...

A reader writes:

Thanks … for profound dialogue with Michael Dowd.

My thanks go out to Michael for an amazing project of bringing together a wide range of people for dialogue on matters of ultimate importance for humanity. People can listen in on those dialogues here …


Q & R: hints of Kierkegaard. What about Chalcedon?

Here's the Q:

Over the past year, I have come to appreciate your challenges to conventional theology. I am particularly interested in your discussions about the incarnation, where you have described a sort of “solidarity Christology” in relation to Philippians 2:5-11 that emphasizes Christ’s identification with creation in order to transform it.

I was hoping you could elaborate just a bit more on your particular view of Christology. Does it just involve God’s solidarity with creation and the human story or does it also incorporate ideas of the divine-human natures as in the Chalcedonian formula?

Also, with relation to the hymn in Philippians 2, I detect hints of Kierkegaard’s stress on subjectively actualizing Christ in our personal life. Would you say you agree with Kierkegaard’s form of kenotic (kenosis) Christology, where Christ empties himself of certain divine attributes in order for us to emulate his example of humility and willingness to suffer? Thank you for the clarifications, Mr. McLaren!

Here's the R:
Philippians 2:5-11 is indeed important to me. It is one of very few passages that made it more than once in the lectionary for my 2014 book, We Make the Road by Walking.

I cherish the church's attempts to articulate the mystery of Christ, including the language of Chalcedon. Our great creeds from the 4th and 5th centuries were doing important work for their time: seeking to articulate an evolving understanding of God in contemporary thought forms and cultural settings. I think we face an important question today: if the Gospel of Jesus, a Jew, could be radically reinterpreted in the framework of Greek philosophy and Roman politics in the church's first five centuries, is it forever bound a limited to function within those exclusive parameters? Or is it free to enter and engage with new cultures and thought patterns, including our own - learning both positive and negative lessons from its earlier engagements?


"ISIL's Barbarity Knows No Bounds"

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 15, 2015 Statement by the Press Secretary on the Murder of Egyptian Citizens The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens. ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL. This heinous act once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya, the continuation of which only benefits terrorist groups, including ISIL. We call on all Libyans to strongly reject this and all acts of terrorism and to unite in the face of this shared and growing threat. We continue to strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Bernardino Leon to facilitate formation of a national unity government and help foster a political solution in Libya.

Some churches that need your help ...

Several churches from Evangelical backgrounds have in recent months made the decision to welcome LGBT persons as equals in their congregations. They knew they would pay a price for this decision, as some people would no longer want to be a part of or support their churches. Others, in time, will make the opposite decision, to join and support them because of this stand … but in the meantime, I hope many of us can show support from a distance.

1. Here's a message from Ryan Meeks at Eastlake Church in Seattle:

Ryan Financial Update from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.

To give, go here.

2. In Portland, Adam Philips leads a new church plant called Christ Church:

3. One of my highlights of 2014 was visiting GracePointe Church in Tennessee. What a beautiful spirit, and what a rich worship experience! I recently watched Pastor Stan Mitchell's sermon online in which he explained how the church was changing its policies to end discrimination against LGBT people. I was deeply moved. Along with the courage to take a stand, GracePointe has set an example of graciousness toward those who don't feel they can move forward with them on this journey. With a heart like that, I know that whatever the short-term stress, there will be long-term blessing and joy. Here's the sermon (the section on inclusion begins at 44:00).

Living Between Emmanuel & Epiphany Part 3 - GracePointe Church from GracePointe Church on Vimeo.

You can support GracePointe here.

It's not easy making a change like this, and I know that no pastor or leadership team would make such a decision lightly. As someone who grew up in segregated churches that were slow to acknowledge the injustice of racial exclusion, I am sensitive to the courage it takes to follow Christ on the path of inclusion, compassion, repentance, and justice.

I wish I could be present to express my support to these congregations and others like them, but I hope these words will send a big dose of encouragement, and I hope many of my blog readers will show support financially too. (If you've been wishing for a church in your area like these three, maybe you can start supporting from a distance longer term?)

I expect that in the coming years, dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of churches will forge a similar path. GracePoint in Tennessee, Eastlake in Seattle, Christ Church in Portland, Cedar Ridge in Maryland, and many other similar churches will stand as trailblazers whose example inspires and encourages others.


an open letter to katy perry

Reba Riley reaches out to a fellow survivor of PTCS ...


An opportunity for creative, innovative Christian leaders

My friend Spencer Burke is focused on raising up Innovators who are committed to living out the message of Jesus in a way that impacts the...

▪ New – never been to church before.
▪ Nones – no affiliation with a religion.
▪ Next – involving people 22-29.


Based in Redondo Beach, California, HATCHERY is an incubator that provides world class teaching and a residential learning program for social transformation entrepreneurs who want to invest in a local community by launching a sustainable Common Cause Community.

▪ A “Common” journey in the way of Jesus.
▪ A “Cause” to rally around on a regular basis.
▪ A “Community” of people where relationships are nurtured.

As the future blurs the line between ministries and churches, the Hatchery will be at the forefront of the transition from "teaching-centric" to "service-centric" church planting. They offer a hybrid between a Seminary and an MBA program, holding the tension between the best of non-profit NGOs and the best of what church communities create.

THEIR FIRST CLASS ARRIVES ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2015. Interested? Check this out!


A Texas pastor writes to Sen. Ted Cruz ...



A Reader Writes: not wanting to be like that

A reader writes:

This is an encouragement for Brian.

Many years ago I was one of several leaders in an evangelical church, which had many good points. But I was disturbed at how several people were hurt, in part due to what came out of theology and how some folk were treated in pastoral care. It gave me a personal crisis - not wanting to be like that but still wanting to minister in a hopeful church.

I came across several of Brian's books, first from 'a generous orthodoxy' later to 'a new kind of Christianity ' and the trilogy. Brian's thinking and practice, read alongside Tom Wright gave me a new exhilaration.

I know Brian has had a hard time from some evangelical groups. This is meant to redress that in a small way.

In one of his books, Brian cautioned care in bringing this to churches. He was wise. Once I preached along the lines of what he has to say about new creation and genesis, but avoiding his phrasing. One of the leaders, a strong critic of Brian's theology really liked it. I told him I had just reworded Brian's thoughts - which then caused that leader to think more deeply too.

Thank you Brian.

Thanks for this encouraging note. The process of change is slow, painful, slow, painful, slow, painful … and then breakthroughs occur. I think it was Gandhi who said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you … and then you win." I think that in the kingdom/commonwealth of God, "winning" is different, because there is no desire to make others losers. I think we're reaching a moment where many of us who have been calling for change for a long time, often suffering in the process, need to start acting like gracious winners and finding a way to help those who have opposed us to become allies for greater and higher purposes. Again, thanks for your encouragement.


Parents (and youth workers) … this is really amazing.

John Stonecypher has been creating a phenomenal set of resources for kids and teenagers using my book We Make the Road by Walking as a template. To get an idea of what he's up to, check out this week's entry, based on Chapter 25 of the book.

You can subscribe to get the weekly entries by email too.

Thanks, John. Amazing work!


Q & R: Books for a bright daughter

Here's the Q:

I am a pastor in [a Bible Belt state]. A couple in our church (same sex - I performed their ceremony) came to me about their bright daughter who was wanting to follow Jesus and be baptized. We are part of an interdenominational church and see this happen often. This couple asked me if I could recommend a good book their daughter could read before she meets with me to talk further. Uh oh! I have seen Focus on the Family type material but that is not where they are nor where we as a church are. I have been on a search for the last week but am coming up empty. Do you have any ideas here? On a side not, I was introduced to your work by Tony Campolo who was and is a huge hero of mine. Later my oldest son discovered your books when he graduated from Columbia University. Reading your books has hugely shaped his thinking about God and is having a huge influence in our church. I am a Southern Baptist raised and SBC seminary trained pastor and I want to say thank you for doing what you do.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm struck by your story … about how much diversity there is among folks raised in the Southern Baptist Convention … And I'm also struck by how quickly churches everywhere, even in the Bible Belt, are having to face the reality of gay marriage in very practical terms. Even churches that won't perform or acknowledge same-sex marriages then have to decide if they will accept children from those unions … for baptism, membership, etc. Which raises additional questions … Will the children be required to deny the validity of their parents' marriage to fit in? The job of pastors is already hard, and these questions won't go away.

Because I don't know the age of this young woman, I can't make a specific recommendation about a general introduction to Christian faith. If she is a teenager, of my books, probably Secret Message of Jesus would be best. A selection of chapters from We Make the Road by Walking could also be helpful. If she is younger, I need to ask around. This is an area of huge need. That's why I'm so glad for Faith Forward … you can learn more about them here.

I'll post a link to this at my Facebook page, and perhaps people will have some recommendations to post in the comments section there.


Inequality: simple brilliance from Archbishop Justin Welby


Q. Why is income inequality a religious issue?

A. It tends to result in the development of overmighty areas within society, and at the same time of people who are excluded and forgotten. Therefore it becomes an issue about the nature of the value of the human being, the dignity of the human being, which is a religious issue. The human being for whom Christ died is of equal value, whoever they are.

More here.


Where you should be April 20-23 ...

I'm such a big fan of Faith Forward and the work they're doing to innovate ministry with kids and youth. I've been at every one of their gatherings and I'll be speaking at the opening session at their 2015 gathering in Chicago, April 20-23. If you're looking for a community of creative and forward-thinking leaders in children's and youth ministry, there's no better place to be that Faith Forward 2015. Learn more here.

Check out this 2-minute highlights reel from last year's Faith Forward gathering:


Really positive signs …

From New Wave Emergent Voices here.
Also - some great news about Richard Rohr appearing on OWN February 8.

This new wave, as I see it, moves beyond woundedness. It honors and acknowledges sacred wounds, but it promises the potential for healing on the other side of hurt and the capacity for transformation in every human life — because being hurt is not the point. God wants us to be whole. Healing is the process, and wholeness is the point. And we are made to heal. The power of contemporary science is that it validates everything the universe and its inhabitants, on our best of days, have intuitively known to be true — that we all have the capacity to heal. We all have the right, as autonomous beings, to live in hurt and rage in perpetuity, if we so choose. But we do so consciously, eyes-open, with the knowledge that there is transformation beyond hurt. We don’t heal in lieu of justice but because the most transformed version of justice — for abuse, trauma, racism, sexism, homophobia — only comes from the transformed heart.

...New-wavers are not just thinking or intellectualizing in a postmodern framework, they are striving to practice and adopt postmodern behaviors, an orientation that seeks to destabilize and disrupt systems that are death-bringing. New-wavers are less interested in arguing on Facebook than sitting in respectful dialogue where opposing dualities are both honored and heard. New-wavers are about seeking to move beyond the oppositionality of “liberal” and “conservative” to help bring about a truly radical community of liberation for all.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2015/02/a-conversation-on-new-wave-emergence/#ixzz3QYHlt7XN


Thoughts on Reformation ...

Worth reading. Here.


Jesus the Teacher

In Chapter 22 of We Make the Road by Walking, I explore seven ways Jesus taught:
1. Signs and wonders
2. Public lectures
3. Impromptu moments
4. Private retreats and field trips
5. Public demonstrations
6. Parables
7. The Cross

When I was in England a few months ago, wise scholar and teacher Paula Gooder gently asked me why I didn't include an eighth: Asking questions.

Of course! She's right. In future editions, that's a change I want to make. (By the way, did you notice how she taught me - by using a question?)

So, here's how I plan to revise that list for a future edition:
1. Signs and wonders
2. Public lectures
3. Impromptu moments
4. Private retreats and field trips
5. Public demonstrations
6. Parables
7. Questions
8. The Cross

Here's a rough draft of a short paragraph I'd like to add on p. 102 (in the US edition):

[Regarding parables]… They could ask questions, stay curious, and seek something deeper than agreement or disagreement - namely, understanding.

Speaking of questions, one of Jesus' master-teaching strategies involved asking lots of them. People who count these sorts of things say Jesus asks over 300 questions in the four gospels, and of the 183 questions he is asked, he directly answers only 3. He routinely refuses to answer questions that are badly framed, often responding to a misguided question with a probing question.

If you've never read through the gospels noting Jesus' brilliant use of questions, it's worth doing. Conrad Gempf wrote a whole book on the subject some years ago, which I highly recommend.

One of my mentors used to say, "We must teach what Jesus taught in the manner Jesus taught it." If that rings true, you'll enjoy Chapter 22 … but be sure to add #7 (above) to the list of (now) 8.


Next week ...

I'll send out my first email newsletter of the year. Each month I'll be including at least one free gift with the newsletter - it might be music or a poem or a discount or a video. If you haven't signed up for my almost-monthly newsletter, I hope you will today -
Right here.


One big reason you should read my two most recent books:

[Chris Kyle] and his fellow platoon members spray-paint the white skull of the Punisher from Marvel Comics on their vehicles, body armor, weapons and helmets. The motto they paint in a circle around the skull reads: “Despite what your momma told you … violence does solve problems.”

“And we spray-painted it on every building and walls we could,” Kyle wrote in his memoir, “American Sniper.” “We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to f*** with you. …You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us because we will kill you, motherf***.”

The book is even more disturbing than the film. In the film Kyle is a reluctant warrior, one forced to do his duty. In the book he relishes killing and war. He is consumed by hatred of all Iraqis. He is intoxicated by violence. He is credited with 160 confirmed kills, but he notes that to be confirmed a kill had to be witnessed, “so if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn’t see him before he bled out he didn’t count.”

...He justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation. But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental.

“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel,” James Baldwin reminded us. “The wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”

“Savage, despicable evil,” Kyle wrote of those he was killing from rooftops and windows. “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’… I only wish I had killed more.” At another point he writes: “I loved killing bad guys. … I loved what I did. I still do … it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” He labels Iraqis “fanatics” and writes “they hated us because we weren’t Muslims.” He claims “the fanatics we fought valued nothing but their twisted interpretation of religion.”

- from Chris Hedges' article about the movie and book American Sniper, which you can read here:

My two most recent books directly address the toxic cocktail of religion and hostility:
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road confronts the twisted theocratic thinking of the book and film's protagonist, Chris Kyle.

We Make the Road by Walking presents a way of reading the Bible that produces peacemakers, not snipers.


Q & R: Your 4+ stages and Fowler's 6+

Here's the Q:
I've been fascinated with your four stages of faith in Naked Spirituality. Have you ever correlated them with Fowler's stages?

Here's the R:
Yes. When I developed my schema, I surveyed all the schema I could find, from Fowler to William Blake to Kierkegaard to Perry (my favorite) to Graves to Wilber to Piaget, etc. Here's a rough approximation:

My Stage 0 (SECURITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 0 which he calls "Primal/Undifferentiated," which I also call Foundational.

My Stage 1 (SIMPLICITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 1 (Intuitive/Projective/Imitative) and Stage 2 (Mythic/Literal/Affiliative).

My Stage 2 (COMPLEXITY) corresponds to Fowler's Stage 3 (Synthetic/Conventional/Personal) and early Stage 4 (Individuative/Reflective).

My Stage 3 (PERPLEXITY) corresponds to Fowler's late-Stage 4 and early Stage 5 (Conjunctive/Harmonizing)

My Stage 4 (HARMONY) corresponds to Fowler's late Stage 5 and Stage 6 (Universalizing).

A friend recently told me how much he hates stages like these. I suggested that their best use is to help us not be judgmental of others for not being where we are … and understand where they are and why. They've been very helpful to me in this way.


Grateful ...

All of us at times get a little overwhelmed, discouraged, fatigued … but then come those moments when we realized how blessed we are. Such was the case last week for me in Phoenix. I was part of Christianity 21, a gathering where 21 speakers gave 21-minute talks on Christianity in the 21st century. It was breathtaking. It's hard to name a highlight because every segment was a true and deep delight … but I'll mention just 3:

1. Hearing and seeing my old friend Dieter Zander. This extraordinary man's message: Play with God. Everything is holy. I will never forget it.

2. Hearing Navajo Christian activist Mark Charles talk about the tragic Doctrine of Discovery and talk about the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission in the US.

3. Watching Ted Schwartz's indescribably beautiful and powerful play, Listening for Grace. It was 58 minutes of holding back tears.

These were highlights of highlights … but every speaker and every informal conversation was a delight.

Sometimes, when I see how many people are doing destructive things in the world, often thinking they are doing good, it's easy to get discouraged. But when I think of how many people are doing wonderful things in the world, it's really hard to stay discouraged.


Something amazing happened yesterday ...

Please watch this video.

Yesterday, pastor Ryan Meeks addressed the issue of LGBT equality in the church in a way that I find deeply moving and compelling. I think that thousands of pastors in the future can simply say, "What Ryan Meeks said … that's my experience too," and thousands of churches in the future can say, "What Eastlake Community Church did … we want to do too." Ryan's talk begins at about minute 20. To me, this is one of the most beautiful examples of Christian leadership I have seen in my life.

If you want to help your congregation engage with this issue, I know Ryan's talk will be helpful. Another amazing resource - last week at Christianity 21, I saw Ted Schwartz present a one-act play called Listening for Grace. About a minute in, I had tears in my eyes, and for the next 58 minutes or so, I was wiping my eyes and feeling powerfully how wonderful this play is. I wish every church and community theatre in North America could present this play. It is unparalleled in its ability to expose people to the full range of emotions connected to this issue. And the acting and music are unforgettable.


Starting Today - an educational extravaganza, for free!

I'm absolutely amazed at the lineup of people my colleague Michael Dowd pulled together for interviews over the last couple years. Now he's making them available for free, starting today!

If you want to learn about climate and sustainability-oriented issues, please take advantage of “The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness”. The 55 pre-recorded Skype interviews that make up this series can all be freely accessed for two weeks, beginning January 26, or you can purchase the entire set of 55 audios, videos, and transcripts for $25. (Scholarships are available for those anywhere in the world for whom even this is a hardship.)

Participants include James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Paul Hawken, Paul Gilding, Larry Rasmussen, Richard Heinberg, U. S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Joe Romm, James Howard Kunstler, Philip Clayton, Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, Ken Wilber, Michael Lerner, Matthew Fox, and dozens more … including yours truly.

Sign up here to receive the daily schedule and access all the audios, videos, and transcripts. Tools to help spread the word via email, Facebook, Twitter, or blog posts can be found here.

Thanks for sharing this inspiring vision of love-in-action for our children and grandchildren.


Q & R: Chapter 21?

Here's the Q:

We are in chapter 21 in We Make the Road by Walking and I was wondering what direction you were going when selecting 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15. Significant & Wonderful is the title and I'm just trying to dig deep into how the fall of David and prophetic word of Nathan connect with the overall theme.

Here's the R:
Thanks for asking about the 2 Samuel passage. The paragraph that made the connection between that text and the theme got edited out - a glitch that needs to be corrected in a future edition. Here's the connection - whether Nathan's story about a rich man stealing a poor man's lamb actually happened or not, its meaning has a real-world application.

Similarly, whether or not a person believes this or that miracle happened, the story still offers rich meaning. Some of us find it easy to believe in miracles, and others don't, but that doesn't mean we can't sit down and search for meaning together.

Here's how I'd like to change a paragraph on p. 98 to clarify the connection:

Questions like these show us a way of engaging with the miracle stories as signs and wonders, without reducing them to the level of "mere facts" on the one hand or "mere superstition" on the other. The parables of Nathan in 2 Samuel or of Jesus in the Gospels told the actual truth whether or not they were factually true. In the same way, miracle stories stir us to imagine new ways of seeing, leading to new ways of acting, leading to new ways of being alive.


A photo from the panel I mentioned yesterday ...

Diana Butler Bass sent this photograph that was taken the day I described in yesterday's post about Marcus Borg.


An amazing resource - free

Imagine having a one-on-one conversation about humanity’s biggest challenges with some of the world’s most inspiring and knowledgable thinkers and activists. Well, that’s precisely what Michael Dowd had the privilege of doing over the past year. You can freely watch or listen to these 55 amazing conversations:

The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness — 55 pre-recorded podcast interviews:

At the link above, you can access all 55 audios, videos, and transcripts. This is an amazing resource. I had the privilege of being one of Michael's conversation partners.


In honor of Marcus Borg

What a pleasure to have known Marcus Borg. What a kind and beautiful human being. What a loss to us all.

I originally heard of Marcus through his association with the Jesus Seminar, which, in the Evangelical circles I hail from, was not a good thing. My first direct encounter with his writing came through a dialogue book he did with N. T. Wright. Again, my background predisposed me to disagree with him and dislike him, but he made it hard to do either, especially the latter. Hardly the hard-bitten “liberal theologian” out to eviscerate Christianity of any actual faith, he impressed me as a fellow Christian seeking an honest, thoughtful, and vital faith, ready to dialogue respectfully with people who see things differently.

We were featured speakers together on several occasions, and from our first contact to our most recent email exchange a few months ago, Marcus was a gracious gentleman, a Christian brother, and a genuinely friendly colleague. He never asked to what degree I agreed or disagreed with him; he made it clear that his acceptance of me was not dependent on agreement and that his heart and hand were equally open in similarity and difference.

Some friends of mine wrote about Marcus somewhat uncharitably on a few occasions. I remember a dinner where he asked me many questions about them, utterly non-defensive, sincerely trying to understand where they were coming from and how he could still seek common ground with them, something I wish his critics had done more earnestly with him.

Once several years ago, Marcus, Diana Butler Bass, and I spoke together for a few days at Harvard. Two memories stand out.

First, on one Q & A panel, nearly all the questions about theology and Christology were directed to Marcus, the questions about church history and trends went to Diana, and the questions about pastoral work and spirituality went to me. Near the end of the panel, a question on prayer was directed - predictably - to me. After I responded, Marcus spoke up. “I pray too!” he interjected, and shared some tender and meaningful reflections on his own prayer practice. I was deeply touched that Marcus didn’t want to stay in the zone of theory, as important as that is, but wanted to talk spiritual practice as well.

Immediately after that panel, lines formed with people asking Diana, Marcus, and me to sign their books. My line, being the least popular, left me standing there somewhat awkwardly for long periods, but it also gave me the chance to eavesdrop on what people were saying to Marcus. Person after person said almost the same words, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be a Christian today ... I dropped out of church but came back after I read one of your books ... I’m still a Christian because of you ... I became a Christian because of your books.”

Their effusive comments brought me back to the Evangelical revival meetings of my childhood where people “testify” to how they were “saved,” how they once were blind but now see, how they saw the light and were born again. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it turns out that Marcus Borg is an evangelist too, just in another way and to another community of people.”

In a recent email, understanding the severity of his illness, Marcus wrote, “I have always known that we are all on death row. Never would have gotten that wrong on a true-false test. But it’s different to know it.” Still, he said, “in the midst of all this ... I am unreasonably happy. Not all the time. But more than I might have expected.”

My prayers and thoughts go out to all Marcus’ family and to his wide circle of friends. May those of us who remain carry on his good work of helping people seek an honest, thoughtful, and vital Christian faith.

Marcus Borg did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God. I miss him deeply, honor him warmly, and will always remember him with great respect and gratitude.


Q & R: Translated into French?

Here's the Q:

> Have any of your books been translated into French? I am particularly
> interested in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammad Cross the
> Road?
If this is available in French, please send a link to someone
> who sells it.

Strange as it may seem, an author is often the last to know when his or her books have been translated. But I don't think JMBM has yet been translated into French. My first book was translated. You'll find information here.


Q & R: Dying for our sins?

Here's the Q:

I loved the book "The Secret Message of Jesus", it answered so many questions I have been pondering. I have been stuck though on Jesus' death. Did he really have to "die for our sins" to "save" us? The idea just doesn't make sense to me.
> Thank You!

Here's the R:
This is a really important question. I have addressed it from several different angles in a few of my books:
A New Kind of Christianity
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road
The Story We Find Ourselves In

And I offer an account of the meaning of Jesus death that you may find helpful and refreshing in my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

Several important books have been written by theologians on this subject in recent years, and I just read the manuscript for a new one coming out in 2015 by Tony Jones, called Did God Kill Jesus. You'll have to wait until March 15, but I think you'll find it well written and helpful.


The Great Moral Work of the 21st Century

More and more of us are convinced that just as overcoming slavery was a primary moral work of the 19th century, and seeking equality for women and minorities (racial, religious, medical, sexual) was a major moral work of the 20th century, creating an ecological civilization will be the major moral work of the 21st.

That's why I'm honored to be part of this conference in June, which I hope you'll be part of too. I think it will be one of the most important things I do this year.


Dr. King said ...

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and postive action.”


A reader writes: the best Christian book I have ever read.

A reader writes:

> I just read Naked Spirituality. It is the best Christian book I have ever read. And I have read hundreds
> That you for teaching me more about God and living the Christian life

Wow! That's encouraging! It's great to see how one book is just what one person needs, and another book is just what another person needs. I'm really glad Naked Spirituality helped you. It was a joy to write!


A reader writes: The title itself ...

A reader writes ...

I'm writing you to say thank you for the title of your new book - "We Make the Road by Walking". I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the comfort I'm finding in the title itself has been immensely helpful as I try to make sense of how to move forward after my father's suicide. (3 days ago). I keep asking myself "How do I move on?" and the words - "We Make the Road by Walking" keep coming to mind.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks for this note. My heart goes out to you about your father's suicide. If you haven't seen the first episode of Rob Bell's new TV show on the OWN network, I highly recommend it. I think you will find it deeply healing and helpful. I think many readers of this blog will join me in praying for you and your family today.


Q & R: Event in Wyoming?

Here's the Q:

My husband and I are a clergy couple who are interested in attending a Brian McLaren event in 2015 as part of our Continuing Education. I thought I saw an even in Wyoming listed a month ago, but now as I look at the 2015 calendar, I am not finding it.

Has that event been cancelled? Or was I mistaken?
Is there an open event with Brian speaking that we could attend?

Here's the R:
I'm so excited about this event - two weeks in a gorgeous setting, team-teaching with Diana Butler Bass. Exciting to look forward to! Here's the information:
And I think my schedule is more or less updated. Sometimes we get a little behind, so your question is appreciated.


Joerg Rieger gets it right … on peace, false peace, and fighting for peace


When workers start to organize, for instance, they are usually accused of waging class warfare, even though the struggle originates when pressures on workers increase and salaries and benefits are slashed while profits continue to grow. There can be no true peace without bringing to light the divisions that false peace seeks to cover up.


John and Dalia get it right - about responding to terrorism.


The first 48 hours following the attacks saw printing and reprinting of illustrated anti-Muslim racial slurs, Islamophobic media hysteria, accompanied by 15 separate anti-Muslim attacks across France alone.

But are we beholden to follow this script?

Terrorism stripped of symbolism is violent crime by murders -- without "martyrs," without the rhetoric and romance of ancient religious or civilizational rivalries. The perpetrators would then be remembered, if at all, as common criminals and murderers, and not be allowed to don the mantle of Islam and the "defender of oppressed Muslims."


What if instead we isolated the criminals as criminals rather than anointing them as representatives of a faith community of more than a billion? What if their actions were stripped of their symbolism and seen as crimes by terrorists deliberately aimed at provoking hatred and division that we as free people would not fall for?


I'm planning to invest 45 minutes in this free online course - maybe you should too?

December 29, 2014
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Contact: Chris Yaw

Cornel West to Teach Free, Online Course

Open to anyone in the world between January 11-21

December 29, 2014, BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MI – Cornel West, prominent intellectual, author, and cultural critic, will teach an online course on economic inequality that is open to all, from January 11-21.  This is an opportunity to learn about one of the most pervasive problems in the U.S. from one of the most thought-provoking teachers of our time.
The online course derives from the Trinity Institute’s 2015 “Creating Common Good” conference on economic inequality and is offered through ChurchNext, a leader in online Christian education. The class, a series of video lectures and discussions, can be taken anytime between January 11-21. No special software is required. It will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete. Registration is free and open worldwide beginning today. (Click here for more information or to register.)

Dr. Cornel West has often spoken out for justice and equality, specifically what American Christians are called to do about it; the Trinity Institute, a program of Trinity Wall Street, is an annual conference, now in its 44th year, aimed at gathering clerics and intellectuals to discuss matters of deep significance. The upcoming 2015 conference focuses on the often-overwhelming issue of economic inequality. (Click here for more information on the Trinity Institute.)

Throughout Called to Common Good, participants are encouraged to think about and discuss economic injustice and moral responsibility. Dr. West explores the problem of inequality, notions of public and private justice, and how communities can effect change. He contends that “no matter how extreme inequalities are, we’ve always got a common humanity,” which is why, he adds, “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.” During the class, representatives from Trinity Institute will be on hand to respond to discussions.
Online learning hub ChurchNext has partnered with Trinity Institute to present Dr. West’s course as well as four other previously-released courses taught by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, educational advocate Nicole Baker Fulgham, evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans, and Julio Murray, Episcopal bishop of Panama.

Called to Common Good is a worldwide online learning course for all who are interested in social justice and the Christian faith and is free, thanks to the support of Trinity Institute, The Episcopal Church, and Forward Movement.
Trinity Institute is an annual conference, now in its 44th year, that equips clergy and laypersons for imaginative and catalytic leadership. The conference is sponsored by Trinity Wall Street, an Episcopal parish in New York City. Trinity Institute takes place at Trinity Church in New York City and is streamed at Partner Sites (which are often churches and seminaries) throughout the world. For more information, visit https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/trinity-institute/2015/what’s-ti2015

ChurchNext creates online Christian learning experiences that shape disciples. Along with our partners we are devoted to helping people grow in their Christian faith, improve their lives, and better the world. Learn more at http://churchnext.tv

Forward Movement is a ministry of the Episcopal Church, which grew out of the determination of the General Convention in 1934 to "reinvigorate the life of the church and to rehabilitate its general, diocesan, and parochial work." Forward Movement offers publications to inspire Christian discipleship, personal and communal prayer, meditation, and theological reflection, and is best known for the popular daily devotional Forward Day by Day, which provides daily meditations based on Bible scripture readings appointed by the lectionary and Daily Office. For more information, visit http://www.forwardmovement.org


An Open Letter to the New Congress

My friend Cameron Trimble and I have a letter in The Hill today. You can read it here, or it is included below.

Please share it widely …

Continue reading An Open Letter to the New Congress...


If you're looking for an "open minded church" - here's a needed resource!



What People Are Saying ...

We Make the Road by Walking has been out for about six months now. Here are some recent comments that I especially appreciated:
From Amazon.com:

I am on chapter 8 of this book. At one chapter a week, it will take 52 weeks to finish. This is not a read it straight through type book; it's a read and reflect book.

So far it has made me rethink my view of God and my beliefs about my responsibility to others. Not bad for being only 1/6 into the book. Can't imagine where it will take me in the coming year.

Christian educators will do well if they read it now devotionally and then design a curriculum for adult learners to begin at the beginning of September.
With his usual almost poetic clarity, Brian offers a weekly companion for walking with Jesus 52 weeks a year. Easy to use with small groups or for personal study, he continually reminds us of the profoundness of a God who loves us more than we could possibly imagine and who desires the best for each of us. When that truth sinks in, it revolutionizes your life! Our humanity seems to make it way too easy to forget that and fall backward in old patterns of thinking and living, but books like this help revitalize and revolutionize our lives daily. Thanks for another great book, Brian!

A reader posted on Twitter:

One chapter in to @brianmclaren's "We Make The Road By Walking" and I'm already breathing deeper. So excited to spend a year with this book.

Another Twitterer tweeted:

me too. This week I'm trying to listen to God's first language...the wind, water, plants and animals, sky.

I think you'll enjoy the book. More here.


Q & R: Turtles and Salvation

Here's the Q:

As I was browsing your slideshares, which I love by the way, I occasionally see a slide of a turtle distorted in its shell by a piece of plastic. What is narrative that goes with the slide? Environmental destruction made visible? The distorted nature of the way we read the scriptures? Something else?

This has been like one of the Lord's parables. I wonder, "What does this mean?"

Here's the R:
I'm so glad you enjoy the slides. I told this story in Chapter 4 of A Generous Orthodoxy as a reflection on the concept of salvation:
Some people I know of once found a snapping turtle crossing a road in New Jersey. Snapping turtles are normally ugly: grey, often sporting a slimy coating of green algae, trailing a long, serrated tail and fronted by massive and sharp jaws that can damage if not sever a careless finger or two. This turtle was even uglier than most: it was grossly deformed due to a plastic bottle top, a ring about and inch-and-a-half in diameter that it had accidentally acquired as a hatchling when it too was about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. The ring had fit around its midsection like a belt back then, but now, nearly a foot long, weighing about 9 pounds, the animal was corseted by the ring so that it looked like a figure 8.

My friends realized that if they left the turtle in its current state, it would die. The deformity was survivable at 9 pounds, but a full-grown snapper can weigh 30; at that size, the constriction would not be survivable. So, they snipped the ring. And nothing happened. Nothing.

Except for one thing: at that moment, the turtle had a future. It was rescued. It was saved. It would take years for the animal to grow into more normal proportions, maybe decades. Perhaps even in old age, it would still be somewhat guitar-shaped. But it would survive.

Our species has been similarly been deformed by a ring of selfishness, greed, lust, injustice, fear, prejudice, arrogance, apathy, chauvinism, and ignorance. When I say that Jesus is savior, I believe he snipped the ring by judging, forgiving, teaching, suffering, dying, rising, and more. And he’s still working to restore us, to lead us, to heal us. Jesus is still in the process of saving us. Because I have confidence in Jesus as savior, I’m seeking to be part of his ongoing saving work, sharing his saving love for our world.

Like Vincent Donovan, I used to believe that Jesus’ primary focus was on saving me as an individual, and on saving other “me’s” as individuals. For that reason, I often spoke of Jesus as my “personal savior,” and I urged others to believe in Jesus in the same way. I still believe that Jesus is vitally interested in saving me and you by individually judging us (exposing and naming our wrong and hypocrisy, so we can turn away from – or repent of - them), by forgiving us of our wrongs (so we don’t feel defeated and alienated by them, and so we won’t be trapped in their ugly consequences), and teaching us to live in a better way (so that we can become part of the solution instead of part of the problem). But I fear that for too many Christians, “personal salvation” has become another personal consumer product (like personal computers, personal deodorants, personal toothpaste, etc.) and Christianity has become its marketing program. If so, then in the end, salvation is “all about me,” and like Vincent Donovan, I think we need another song.

I also use the slide to illustrate the "plastic rings" of assumptions or notions that limit us. We can survive with them for a long time … and sometimes even "grow" and "reproduce," but eventually, they will be lethal if we don't have the courage to snip them. Often a deep change in viewpoint doesn't have immediate consequences. But longer term, such changes can be matters of survival. Not a bad insight with which to face the new year!



Jesus said that people often reject the new wine because they say the old is good enough. Similarly, many people are completely satisfied with traditional approaches to reading the Bible. But for those who aren’t satisfied, the good news is that your choice isn’t between the conventional way or nothing at all. My hope is that people can now be exposed to an approach that celebrates the Bible as something that is better than infallible.

More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


Making Mistakes when Reading the Bible?

‘What will keep us from making mistakes?’ people often ask, nervous about abandoning the incorrigibility of the old approach [to reading the Bible].

‘Nothing,’ I answer. ‘But at least if we admit we are likely to be wrong, we will be more humble, more teachable, more guidable.’

After all, it’s not as if our traditional approaches have kept us from making mistakes. They didn’t work out so well if you were a woman, a non-white or non-European, or someone who dared to challenge conventional understandings. Think of Galileo, the abolitionists, or those that worked for women’s equality.

More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


More Americans need to know about this:

H.R. 3326 (111th): Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010

apology to native peoples of the united states

Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress--

(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;

(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;

(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;

(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;

(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and

(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.

(b) Disclaimer- Nothing in this section--

(1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

When President Obama was elected to his first term, I wrote a lengthy letter to a friend who would be working in the White House. I encouraged him to encourage the President to begin his term with an apology for elements of American history that no previous president had acknowledged - especially regarding our nation's treatment of Native Americans. I never heard back from my friend on this. But I just learned from Mark Charles that such an apology was actually made (thanks in large part to the efforts of Republican then-Senator Sam Brownback) … but downplayed and largely hidden. I think it's time to get this apology out in the open. Learn more here:


More on the Bible ...

Scripture, then, offers us something far better than mere infallibility or inerrancy. It offers a record of ongoing learning, growth and corrigibility, leading us to Christ, who in turn entrusts us to the Holy Spirit who will, Jesus promised, guide us into more and more truth, as we are ready to bear it.

More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


More on reading the Bible ...

Paul is no less bold in following Jesus’ approach to scripture. When he says in Galatians 5:6 that ‘circumcision counts for nothing; the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love’, he is not tweaking Levitical laws, where circumcision is absolutely important. He is correcting them.

Jesus and Paul model a new way – a Christian way – of approaching the scriptures. Our first 2,000 years of Christian history have seen us steer shy of actually following that way. We seem to have preferred ‘the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees’, even though Jesus called us to surpass their approach.

More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


Reading the Bible … cont'd.

Jesus not only saves us from sin; he saves us from unhelpful ways of reading scripture. He inserts himself into the ongoing arguments among his people, discerns God’s intent in their trajectory and extends the conversation into the future, often turning in new directions. When he says, ‘You have heard it said...but I say to you’ in Matthew 5:21-22, and when he challenges traditional Sabbath restrictions in Luke 14, he is challenging traditional understandings of the Bible and introduces what we might call ‘a new hermeneutical principle’: namely compassion.

Interpretations that lack basic human compassion, he suggests, are faulty interpretations. He is not merely tweaking conventional understandings, he is correcting them.

More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


Special Opportunities to connect in 2015:

Several events will provide special in-depth opportunities to connect in 2015:

For pastors and other leaders who are or want to be part of the Cana Initiative/Convergence Network, we'll have a special "gathering by the sea" in March. Information here.

I'll be part of a unique two-week conference/retreat at Ring Lake Ranch in Wyoming in August. Diana Butler Bass and I will speak each day … with plenty of time for gathered and informal conversation. Check it out here.

My friend Joe Stabile and I will lead a small retreat in Colorado in October for pastors and theologians who enjoy fly fishing. Check it out here.

Also, I don't often get to New Zealand, but will speak at several cities on North and South islands in July and August. We'll post details soon.


Reading the Bible ...

One of the great benefits of this approach to the Bible is that it elevates Jesus. Jesus isn’t submerged into the text as merely one voice among many; a voice that carries no more authority than, say, the texts of Leviticus or Deuteronomy. In this approach, Jesus emerges as the ultimate word of God to whom all the scriptures point. As we read in John and Colossians, the invisible God is made visible not in words on a page but in a man on a cross: word made flesh.
More here: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/January-2015/The-Progressive-Jesus-didn-t-treat-Scripture-as-infallible-nor-should-we

If you want to see how this approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


Progressive AND Evangelical: What's in a Title?

Something to keep in mind when reading an article, interview, or blog post: authors and interviewees often don't choose the title. In fact, they often don't like the title!

That was the case with a piece I recently contributed to Premier Radio and a UK magazine called Christianity.

The title that was given to the article was, "Jesus Didn't Treat the Scripture as Infallible; Nor Should We." That's not a title I would have chosen. I've been involved in religious dialogue long enough to know that misunderstanding is pretty common, so it's important to avoid needless misunderstanding. That title, I think, invites misunderstanding for a number of reasons.

For example, the word "infallible" as used today is often a stand-in for "inerrant," and both words fill a special function in modernist thought (i.e. though derived from the rational methodology of Rene Descartes). Since Jesus wasn't a modernist and didn't borrow his method from Descartes, it's highly likely that even if he had used those words, he wouldn't have had the same meanings in mind as modernist readers today would. But many contemporary religious readers won't be aware of these nuances, and they'll think the title means something that simply isn't true: that I believe Jesus believed the Bible was errant or fallible.

When I abstain from using the terms inerrant and infallible, it's not because I think the Scriptures fall short of those terms: it's because I think they transcend those terms. I tried to explain this a bit in the article:

When I speak on the subject of infallibility, I often say that it was necessary in the modern era for an ultimate authority to claim that it is never wrong. Predictably, modern-era Protestants claimed an infallible Bible and Catholics claimed an infallible pope.

But in the postmodern era, claims of inerrancy and infallibility are a liability. In the aftermath of colonialism, environmental exploitation, the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid and other exploits of the last few centuries, we have seen where excessive confidence leads.

Conservative Protestants and Catholics mistakenly double down on infallibility or inerrancy – whether of the Bible or the Pope – because they fear that if they abandon absolute confidence they will be left with no confidence at all.

Along similar lines, I thought it was unfortunate that the editors set up the debate as "The Progressive" (represented by me) versus "The Evangelical" (represented by Andrew Wilson). The implication is that progressive and evangelical are mutually exclusive categories. I very much enjoyed getting to know Andrew, and I felt that although we differed in many important ways, we enjoyed and modeled brotherly respect and affinity … something that I would hope could be true of Evangelicals in general,with progressive and conservative Evangelicals holding tension and difference in respect and affinity.

If you want to see how this "progressive & evangelical" approach to the Bible works out in practice, check out We Make the Road by Walking, which is available as a book, an e-book, and an audio book.


Here's where I'll be speaking in 2015 ...

January: Phoenix

February: Barrington, Edina, Richmond

March: Iowa City, Alexandria VA

April: Fort Worth, Fayetteville AR, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati

May: Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago

June: Claremont, Ireland

July: Hot Springs NC, New Zealand

August: New Zealand, DuBois WY,

Sep: Asheville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Columbus, Toronto, Manhattan,

October: South Fork CO, Montreat, Naples, Minneapolis, Nashville

Nov. Los Angeles

You can learn more here.


A Prayer of Hope for 2015

For ourselves: Living God, lead us, by your Spirit, deeper into life. Help us love you, ourselves, our family and neighbors, all people including our enemies, and this beautiful earth ... being filled more and more with the love that is who you are. Help us not surrender to the temptations that could easily harm us and others. Instead, help us face our challenges and come through them stronger than ever in the year ahead.

Help us set wise goals, solve solvable problems, and engage wisely with predicaments that cannot be solved. Help us learn with curiosity and live reverently with mystery. Help us work wholeheartedly and contribute in our own ways to the common good.

Grant that a year from now, we will be more of all that is good and true to who we can be, and less of all that diminishes the potential of our lives.

For our world: Living God, strengthen those in power who seek to do what is right and good for all - in the arenas of government, religion, media, culture, education, business, science, healthcare, ecology, and all other areas of human endeavor. And challenge the many leaders in our world who lead in ways that harm rather than heal. May Your Spirit empower us all to speak truth to power, and may Your Spirit humble us with our leaders so we all turn toward the justice, joy, and peace of your kingdom.

We pray that this year, the people of our world will more deeply face and repent of the racism that has shaped this world.

We pray that this year, the people of our world will more deeply face and repent of the environmental irresponsibility and economic injustice that threaten our future.

We pray that this year, our churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, and other faith communities will not put tradition above the call of your Spirit, and will open their hearts to the way of life to which you call all people, which is the way of love.

In the name of Christ, in the power of the Spirit, and to your glory, living God, we pray.


A Prayer of Gratitude for 2014:

For each breath, for each heartbeat, for each moment of life in the year behind us, we thank you, living God.

For the precious gift of friends and family, for the blessing of colleagues and neighbors, for passersby and strangers with whom we shared even a brief moment of life this year, we thank you, living God.

For our friends and family members whose days among us ended this year, for each memory of times shared with them, for the blessing of their presence and the legacy they leave with us, we thank you, living God.

For the opportunities for growth that came to us this year disguised as struggles and difficulties, for failures that humbled us and for successes that encouraged us, for grace that picked us up each time we fell down, we thank you, living God.

For each meal we enjoyed this year, for each day's nourishment and flavor, for the soil and sunlight, for the air and rainfall upon which we all depend, for all to whom our food connects us, from field to farm, and store to table, we thank you, living God.

For the rest of each night and the new hope of each sunrise, for homes where we have enjoyed rest and safety, and for work that has filled each day with challenge and opportunity, we thank you, living God.

For peace, health, and safety which we often take for granted, for all the dimensions of our daily lives that go so well we hardly notice them, we thank you, living God.

As we look back upon this year with gratitude, may our thirst for peace be strengthened, and our hunger for justice deepened, so that in the year ahead, we will, empowered by your Spirit, work in love to build a world where all can enjoy the blessings we now share, we ask you, living God.

May the giver of all good gifts fill us not only with joy and celebration, but also with deep gratitude and a sense of the precious wonder of the gift of life. We thank you, living God.

(adapted from WMTRBW)


Q & R: WMTRBW and Learning Circles

My wife and I have been enjoying We Make The Road By Walking and are hoping to start a learning circle. I wondered if Brian could recommend any further reading on the idea of learning circles? I know there is an appendix, but I'm just interested in understanding the concept more. Thanks
You'll find a lot of downloadable resources here.

You'll also find helpful resources from Parker Palmer's website, drawing from his "circles of trust" and "clearness committees," which in turn draw from the Quaker tradition.

Thanks for you interest! I know you'll enjoy the book in the new year.


A religious orthodox Jewish reader living in Jerusalem writes ...

A reader writes:

I hope this e-mail finds you well.

My name is xxx and I am a religious Orthodox Jew who was born in South Africa but currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel.

I have recently completed your book "Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?" I feel obligated to express the positive effect your book had on my religious life. I admire your courage and bravery to take a real critical view of your religion and to try bring your religion back to its roots, its essence. I wish we had a Rabbi courageous enough to try and bring Judaism back to its essence...

I don't know if you are aware but this morning there was a terrible incident where four Jews were murdered while praying. The past couple weeks have been very intense and hard for both Jews and Arabs...

I noticed in your book that you are very critical about Israel, but putting that aside, I remember that in your book you talked about how after 9/11 you coordinated an inter-faith meeting. I feel that something like this is needed now in Israel!!

I am very active in various community organizations and non-profits and I would like to organize a meeting between young Jews and young Arabs, a healthy forum where we will be able to meet each other and have a open and healthy discussion. I don't believe we will come out agreeing with each other, that is not the point. I do hope that both sides would be able to come out being more understanding and caring...

The reason I write to you, is that I wanted to know if you know a Imam, non-profit, community or any organization of Arabs living in Israel, who would be prepared to participate in such a meeting?

It goes without saying that the setting of the meeting would need to be in a matter where both parties feel comfortable. I am prepared to take this project on, it is the true Jewish response!

Thank you very much and hoping you will be able to help me improve the Israel Arab conflict, even just a bit…

Thanks so much for writing. I am critical of both Israeli and Palestinian voices for violence and injustice - and I am deeply supportive of people like you who want to do the hard and good work of peacemaking and reconciliation. You're right - it is the true Jewish response, and I applaud you for it.

Each act of hate, violence, or revenge - whether the victims are Israelis or Arabs, whether they're Jews, Muslims, or Christians - violates the essence of each religion, and causes people of compassion to mourn. With each report of new atrocities, some step closer to resignation and despair, while others draw new determination to work for peace. It is clear you are among the latter, thanks be to God!

I have met many Israeli Jews, Christian Palestinians, and Muslim Palestinians who share your desire to work for peace. Perhaps Palestinians Christians (with the right spirit and attitude) can be good brokers to bring together Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. Two groups that I would encourage you to contact in this regard would be

I know they would share your desire to build relationships, and that they have good relationships with many groups of Arabs living both in Palestine and Israel …

You should also know the work of my American Jewish friend Mark Braverman, and another outspoken Jewish friend in England who blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift. They represent the kind of courage you are calling for.

Do let me know what transpires, OK? I'm praying for you, your beautiful land, and a year of fruitful peacemaking in 2015!


A reader writes: the LGBT debate, sola scripture, not convinced but open

A reader writes ...

I wanted to make an observation about the argument over LGBT debate in the Church, in particular the way in which its opponents have been framing the argument.

The evangelical tradition has relied on interpreting the Bible with the doctrine of sola scriptura as foundational to their approach, in contrast to some established authority or council. The debate itself takes place on the grounds of biblical interpretation; that is, we sit down together and argue over the meaning of the texts in question or the validity of the hermeneutics employed.

What I've observed, quite ironically, is this: now that solid scholarship has offered compelling and plausible alternatives to the traditional interpretation of the various texts related to this issue, the typical response, "So you're saying the Church has been wrong all this time?" is unwittingly an abandonment of reliance on sola scriptura!

In the face of new and compelling evidence (even if that evidence is wrong, which I'm sure you'd agree is possible), they jump ship on interpretation and appeal to extra-biblical authority. This seems to me to undermine their entire project of reliance on sola scriptura because it exposes the fact that anyone can, as Brian Zahnd said, "make the Bible stand up and dance a jig" if they need it to.

I'm not sure how relevant the point is, and there are notable books being written about the texts themselves, but on a popular level, the "we've always believed it this way" claim seems to have more staying power.

P.S. - I'm still unconvinced to your perspective on this, but I'm still open.

Thanks for your note. It is curious, as you say, to see Evangelicals "jumping ship" from sola scripture to the appeal to authority and tradition. The vulnerability of the "we've always believed it this way" argument is that, once you know a bit of history, you realize how many things "we" used to believe but no longer do, and how many things we now believe but didn't used to. It's fascinating to note, as I mentioned in a recent Reform Magazine interview, how different the current Evangelical mainstream position is today from five, ten, and twenty years ago.

Fifteen or 20 years ago it was: “If you’re gay, it’s a choice, it’s a sin, you should repent and change.” Five or 10 years ago it was: “If you’re gay, you have a psychological problem and you can be healed.” Fewer and fewer evangelicals are saying that; they’re saying: “If you’re gay this is your sign that you should be celibate.” ... it’s interesting how those answers change.

I imagine that there will be more small steps in the right direction in the years ahead. Reality has a way of modifying our theories - in religion as well as science.


Pope Francis, right again. Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics, not so much.

[Pope] Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
More here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing

Q & R: Handling Criticism (with enneagram background)

Here's the Q:

My best friend- a student of the enneagram and my long-time teacher of it, returned from … a retreat where she met you and told me, "You need to meet Brian McLaren, he's the male you."

She then went on to tell me about you and her statement, "He's at peace with himself and handles the people that disagree with him with such grace and love. He's the most redeemed 4 I've ever met."

Her comment brought encouragement and curiosity. I went on to 'meet' you in your written work and I wanted what she said about you- 'peace with himself, handling others with grace and love' - I was a teaching leader [in an Evangelical Bible study] at the time and a part time writer- now I'm a full time writer and a part time Bible teacher/speaker- both require me to put myself out there and that is an open door to feedback.

A lot of the time I'm not at peace with myself or my work- the 1 side of me is a constant critic. If my inner voice isn't keeping me up at night then my sensitivity to the criticism of others is keeping my mind spinning during the day if I get a bad review or email from a reader. Sometimes it can be paralyzing to my work, I want to pull everything in, cave dwell, throw up my hands and say I quit and it takes me a lot of soul work to find courage over the fear and the perseverance to move on. I'm getting better at it as I 'practice' with each new negative opportunity that arises, but it still hurts.

… I'm a long way from a redeemed 4, in heaven I might be a little closer to the 'male you' and I work daily to fight the shame 4s get entangled with along with living in balance and not in emotions and just doing the work without thinking in circles and realigning/compromising myself/people pleasing in stress like a 2 after criticism.

All that being said I wanted to link the history with the reason I came to you with the question-
How do you handle-and by that I mean work through it or process- criticism or attacks- most often from Christians against your teaching/work?
How have you grown to be sensitive in spirit to others but not over sensitive to their criticism?
How can I learn to say and really mean "I see it differently than you" and gird up my faith in my purpose and calling when it comes under attack knowing who I am/whose I am/why I'm called and not fall into the traps of people pleasing or cave dwelling but stand where I am called?

I know you are an incredibly busy man with kingdom demands and commands to carry out so thank you for having your email address available for people to connect with you. May God continue to bless the work of your hands as you serve Him & His people.

Here's the R:
For people unfamiliar with the enneagram, it's an instrument (like and unlike the Myers Briggs and similar instruments) to help people understand themselves and others by understanding their similarities, differences, and internal dynamics.

As a "4," my tendency is to agree with my critics and join them in their critique. The results of that process are not good. The language that has helped me is "learning to be a friend to myself." I know how I want to treat others … and so I strive to treat myself with the same grace and kindness.

Some people (probably 6's, 7's, and 8?) would be more prone to reject needed criticism and maybe launch a counter-attack … but some of us have the opposite problem, and we're prone, as you say, to crawl into a cave.

So your struggle is mine, and as a fellow struggler, I can offer three suggestions.
1. It really helps to have some friends to whom you can go with criticism and say, "I want you to read (or listen to) this and help me process it." It's especially helpful if they "get" how criticism works on some of us … I remember doing this once and the friend said, "Brian, believe me. This isn't about you. This is about the critic's insecurity, fear, and stress, and his need to find someone to blame and scapegoat. Don't let your ego get sucked into his personal drama." That helped me a lot.

2. Always it makes sense to learn from criticism. Could I have said this in a way that would have gotten the message through but caused less offense? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no.

3. And there is a prayer that has helped me as no other. I'll copy it below (after the jump):

Continue reading Q & R: Handling Criticism (with enneagram background)...


Good News from Nigeria

There's been lots of bad news from the West African nation this year … but "around every evil, there gathers love," as Bruce Cockburn says. Read some good news here.

This is what prompted more than 200 Muslim youth volunteers to have singled themselves out to protect Christians during this year’s Christmas celebration. The church services which was organised to celebrate this year’s Christmas in Kaduna, was protected by 200 Muslim Youths.
According to Vanguard, a pastor, Pastor Yohanna Buru who is a cleric of Christ Evangelical Church, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna South, disclosed this in an interview with pressmen in Kaduna. Buru confirmed that over 200 Muslims were at his church to help protect the faithful from any attack during the church service.

READ MORE: http://www.naij.com/350157-muslim-youths-protect-christians-in-kaduna-yesterday.html?pk_campaign=ush


Watch This:

This documentary is deeply important for what it says about race … and for what it says about prophetic courage among Christian leaders … and for what it says about the power of listening.

Available on Netflix ...


A special Christmas gift ...

Grace and I, along with several other family members, had the joy of attending the Christmas Eve service at Cedar Ridge Community Church, which was our church home for 24 years. What a wonderful experience! The music was amazing, the message strong, and the spirit was beautiful. If you're looking for a church home in the Washington-Baltimore area, you really should check out this beautiful community of faith.


Christmas Joy

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing!

Thoughts from philosophers and theologians ...

A merry and meaningful Christmas to all …
You are loved!


Love Movies?

My friend Gareth Higgins is doing something wonderful and I'm eager to tell you about it - it's a film festival-peacemaking-all singing, all dancing-extravaganza next May, and I think it's going to be amazing. Here's Gareth to tell you about it:

"Movies and Meaning: A Dream Space is a new kind of festival for everyone who loves stories and light.

Part of the growing global movement for nonviolent transformation, Movies and Meaning is a long weekend away in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, featuring films, workshops, very special guests, dancing, magic and YOU.

From May 28th-31st, 2015, we’ll gather in Albuquerque, NM, building a temporary community dedicated to experiencing how the ideas and images we project can make everything better or worse, for ourselves, our communities, and the planet. We’ll watch some of the most transcendent films ever made - old and new - on a magnificent silver screen with fantastic sound. Films will be curated by Gareth Higgins, founding director of the Wild Goose Festival; most of the films will be surprises until we screen them, but we can tell you that the restored version of 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screened in all its glory, as well as a special preview of an unreleased film.

We’ll participate in conversations at the intersection of contemplation and activism with the internationally renowned spiritual teacher Richard Rohr. We’ll explore how cinema can help increase or reduce real-world violence, take a field trip in the wonderful New Mexican landscape, honor local and indigenous traditions, and, because it’s not your typical film festival, every night we will DANCE. Our aim is nothing less than transcending the myth of redemptive violence. So we’ll create a dream space of new friends, extraordinary food, and the joy of story and light combining to create something we haven’t known before.

Want to be part of creating something amazing with this inaugural experience of bringing together lovers of cinema, life, and the pursuit of a better world? Then we want you to join us."

Tickets for the four day event are $299, BUT the first ten are available for only $99, and after they sell out, until December 24th they are discounted to $149. More information and tickets available at www.moviesandmeaning.com

If you love cinema, life, and want to be part of a transformative community at the intersection of art and peace, we think this festival might just be your new home.


Last Minute Shopping?

Several of my friends have produced gifts that you would be happy to give … and others would be happy to receive … Most are downloadable:

For young adults, especially horse-lovers, check this out:

For a beautiful devotional by Steve Bell, and for amazing music, plus an excellent video about Steve's life and music, check this out.

For an important theological read, this by Derek Flood and this by Peter Enns.

If you have yoga practitioners in your life, check out this DVD project I was involved in with Suzanne Jackson.

If you have a friend or relative who is unemployed, this should be a great gift:
Here's the blurb and link--

Life doesn’t stop when you’re unemployed. But what do the days look like in between leaving and finding a job? How do you keep your spirits up? And could it be that this time might actually be an opportunity for growth? WORKING WHEN YOU’RE NOT considers these questions and more with a series of short chapters that speak to those who are in between as well as their friends and family. Written by someone who’s been there and done that, WWYN explores this 'in between' space with humor, faith, and compassion.

Also ...

If you have people on your list who would rather listen than read, you'll find lots of resources here.

And, of course, I think friends and relatives would benefit by my books, especially We Make the Road by Walking, which could be their companion all through 2015.


Marriage in Florida

"Marriage is important enough and strong enough to include gay couples as well as straight couples." - More here:


a Christmas season sermon ...

from Cornerstone UMC, Naples, FL


Good-Bye Stephen ...

So many good memories …


Q & R: Persians and Judaism, afterlife?

Here's the Q:

Hello Brian,I will make this quick to honor your time and hopefully incite a response :-) Do you have any suggested reading for how the Persians influenced Judaism, specifically related to the after life and resurrection? Thanks!

Here's the R:
Here are some of the texts I've found helpful:






Q & R: Finding fellow thinkers, strugglers

Here's the Q:

I appreciate the work that you and others in the emergent movement are doing. You're helping to fill a hole that has been present in the church for a long time. I often wonder if my faith would still stand if not for you and others who are willing to struggle with the hard questions, showing me that it's OK to have them.

My problem is that I live in the Bible belt, and I'm finding that as I become more open in my theology, I feel more alienated from my faith community. I have a wonderful small group that for the most part shows love, but anytime I hint at questioning some traditional Scriptural interpretations, multiple people seem to jump in to play defense. I've experienced this with some of my pastors as well -- they want to provide easy answers rather than being present with me in my struggle. I feel alone and need someone to come alongside me as I wrestle with my questions. I am usually one to encourage others to find a community where they fit in, but I'm at a loss to know where to find this for myself this time. I am also a professional in the area, and I'm afraid to advertise some of my more "liberal" theology, knowing that it would be likely to hurt my business. Any thoughts on how to find people to partner with me in my journey?

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. Your words remind me of Parker Palmer's term "divided no more," which you can read about here.

In movement theory, groups that gather to ask, struggle, and think freely are called "critical communities." They are critical in both sense of the word!

When such circles don't exist, I think people like you can form them. It really just takes two or three … a convener and a friend or two. I would hope my books and others like them could provide a good framework for needed conversation. I offer some "guidelines for learning circles" in my new book which are available for free download here.

I hope you will create for others what you need for yourself … In doing so, I think you'll discover it's even more blessed to give than receive!


Q & R: Schedule … in California?

Here's the Q:

Hello, I live in Arroyo Grande, California, and was wondering if you could tell me California events Brian McLaren is participating in. I looked online, but his schedule was blank for 2015. Thank you for your help.

Here's the R:
Sorry for the delay. The 2015 schedule is now available here.


Food Chains - if you eat, see this documentary!

You can rent or buy it from iTunes.
I'm honored to be a volunteer with and ally of the group (CIW) profiled in this documentary. Highly, highly recommended.


Thoughts on American Racism ...

from some white folks.

Melanie. Quotable:

One white girlfriend calls in tears, partly hopeful because there are people demonstrating in the streets all over the country, and partly distraught because of “what has happened to our country.” She has made a sign for her window that says simply, ERIC.

Another white friend who teaches at an elite private school struggles “to justify teaching the structure of a sonnet when there seems to be no structure in the world —or when it seems that the structures that do exist appall and offend you.” I wish more people had his soft heart, where “simply falling asleep in secure comfort feels viciously calloused, knowing there are people dying wrongfully at the hands of others while the world looks on and declares No harm, No foul.”

Tony B. Quotable:

The U.S. runs on violence. Best guesses of how many guns there are in private ownership is one for every man, woman and child. Roughly 350 million. The US has been continually at war from year one of the 21st century, on top of the ongoing trauma from the 20th century’s two world wars, plus Korea and Vietnam, and prior to that the prolonged war against the Native American peoples across the continent. There are well over 200 U.S. military bases in foreign countries across the world, to say nothing of those on home soil. There are fabulously wealthy people in this country who do not feel they have any responsibility to the poor and marginal, unless perhaps it comes as largesse not justice. (See estimate of the Economist, that 160, 000 families, 0.1 % of the nation, own 22% of the wealth, an average of $73 million each, almost equal to the bottom 90% entire, the disparity between rich and poor a little shy of the all-time gulf immediately before the 1929 crash.) The central narrative of our time is controlled by a media which cannot step back an instant from the constant back-answering of argument and hostility between polarized commentators. The despairing assertion that the truth somehow lies in the middle is itself an illusion: the resolution of the antagonisms displayed between so-called right and left is so off the charts of the existential reality of either side, on whatever issue, as to be another kind of world altogether. It is the antagonism itself which motivates our news cycle of information and meaning, and it is this condition which is now the specific character of the 21st century. If “the war to end all wars” kicked off the 20th, permanent war grips the 21st.


Joke of the Day

A pastor who was badly overworked went to the local medical center and was able to have a clone made.

The clone was like the pastor in every respect-- except the clone used extraordinarily foul language.

The cloned pastor was exceptionally gifted in so many other areas of pastoral work, but finally the complaints about the dirty language were too much.

The pastor was not too sure how to get rid of the clone so that it didn’t look like murder. The best thing, it seemed, was to make the clone’s death look like an accident. So the pastor lured the clone onto a bridge in the middle of the night and pushed the clone off the bridge.

Unfortunately there was a police officer who happened by at that very moment and arrested the pastor for (after the jump) ...

Continue reading Joke of the Day...


Torture. The CIA. The USA.

Here are some things I've written on these important subjects in recent years:

On torture in America.

On my work with NRCAT.

An imaginary Post-9/11 speech.

Torture is not right.

From back in the Bush presidency.


Have we made an idol of the Bible (part 2)

From Premier Radio in the UK


The Future is Calling Us to Greatness

I was invited by my friend Michael Dowd to be one of several dozen presenters/participants in an important online Symposium entitled, “The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness”. The 55 Skype interviews that make up this series can be freely viewed or listened to for two weeks, beginning January 26, or you can purchase the entire set of 55 audios, videos, and transcripts for $25. (Scholarships are available for those anywhere in the world for whom this is a hardship.) Sign up here to receive the full schedule, or for more information. I think you'll find these presentations stimulating - the differences interesting, and the common themes deeply inspiring. I'm looking forward to taking these in myself ...


Enuma Okoro on Cultures Colliding


Have we made an idol of the Bible (part 1)

From Premier Radio in the UK:


Small churches that can't afford a pastor ...

have two great resources to choose from. My book, We Make the Road by Walking, provides a year's worth of sermons, readings, and conversation starters.

And A Sermon for Every Sunday (in which I am honored to participate) provides sermons via video for a nominal fee. More here.


Your group could be next!


Learn more here.


A really creative Christmas gift would be ...

to subscribe someone you love to Geez Magazine.
Learn more here.


Process and Open/Relational Theology

Theological conversations worth understanding and learning from ...


The Bible Debate

Yesterday I posted about an important new book on the Bible by Derek Flood. Not long ago I posted about another important book on the Bible by Peter Enns, and before that, an important article by Steve Chalke.

Over in the UK, Premier Radio has been hosting some debates about the Bible involving Steve Chalke, Andrew Wilson, and me. You can watch them here:


Cyber-Monday at brianmclaren.net

If you're interested in giving some of my work as a gift this Christmas, here are some excellent options:

We Make the Road by Walking - you'll find lots of ordering options here.
And you can download an audio version here. (GREAT FOR LONG CAR RIDES!)

And here's ordering information for all my other books.

A Bible Overview Course that I taught is available via CD here.
-Old Testament
-New Testament

And a series of 20 minute podcasts giving a Bible overview is also available here.

Finally, if you know someone interested in yoga, tai chi, body prayer, or contemplative prayer, this resource, created in partnership with Suzanne Jackson, could enrich their whole year.


An important new book ...

Derek Flood's new book Disarming Scripture has just been released this week, and has already received endorsements and accolades from some pretty big names: Walter Brueggemann, Jim Wallis, Peter Enns, and Steve Chalke to name a few.

Disarming Scripture deals with the problem of violence in Scripture, tackling a wide range of troubling passages--from commands to commit genocide and infanticide in the Old Testament to passages in the New Testament that have been used to justify slavery, child abuse, and state violence.

Moving beyond typical conservative and liberal approaches, which seek to either defend or whitewash over violence in the Bible, Disarming Scripture takes a surprising yet compelling approach: Learning to read the Bible like Jesus did.
Learn more here.

The following is my foreword from the book:


You need Derek Flood. You need his intelligence. You need his faithfulness. You need his courage. You need his insight. You need his message in this book. So do I.

Here’s why.
(after the jump)

Continue reading An important new book ......


Seattle. Church. A Warm Welcome.

Welcome To EastLake Community Church from EastLake Community Church Media on Vimeo.


Q & R: Complete Silence! No Breathing!

Here's the Q:

In our small group we are going through ... "We Make the Road."

Here's the challenge: For the last three weeks, I come to the end [of reading the chapter] and am greeted with complete silence. I mean like I can't even hear anyone breathing, it is that palpable! I think this may be because everyone (or almost everyone?) is finding it difficult to find the meaning you are expressing, because they are pretty much literalists to some degree. So, I continue on to the discussion questions. We have had some "good" discussions" but I have this overwhelming feeling that they just cannot seem to accept this way of reading and interpreting the Bible. I suggested to them that this is an "and" - not an "either/or" situation. If you want to keep your literal interpretation, fine, but that doesn't negate this way of looking at it.

But it is, as you put it, the difference between FACTUAL truth and ACTUAL truth. And I;m not so sure this can be an "AND" situation. Someone questioned: "If these are just stories passed down from one generation to the next, and they evolved along the way, where is the TRUTH in that?" We didn't get very far in that discussion.

I guess maybe an unspoken question goes something like, "We understand the Bible is GOD'S WORD." So how can just stories made up and changed through verbal telling also be God's Word? Aren't they just stories?"

Here's the R:
The chapters dealing with violence, contrary voices, and historicity are probably the most difficult in the book for what I call "innocent literal" readers. As you say, I try to create space BOTH for literal readers - AND for non-literal ones.

The best short answer I can give to your question is this: Consider Jesus' parables. Nobody thinks they are factual or historical; the whole point of a parable is that it tells the truth through a work of short fiction.

Would someone say the parables of the prodigal son and good samaritan are worthless because there never was such a father with two sons or a man mugged on the Jericho Road as the stories describe?

The stories weren't "just made up" - they were carefully crafted to convey a point, and for those of us who believe Jesus, we believe their meaning is profoundly true. The factuality of the stories is irrelevant; their meaning is what matters.

If we believe Jesus really is "the Word made flesh," and if Jesus told lots of fictional stories to convey true meaning … then we should understand God to be an author of both non-fiction and fiction, always guiding us into truth, but doing so in many wonderful, beautiful, and creative ways.


The Real Fire of Furgeson

"I watched Fox News and CNN spread images of flaming buildings and smashed windows all across the nation in light of the grand jury’s decision on the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Yet Fox and CNN missed the real story and the real fire in Ferguson. The true fire is burning in the hearts of a movement that has emerged in the wake of the destruction of Michael Brown’s precious life.

It’s a prophetic fire in our hearts that is finished with a nation that ignores the legacy of treating black and brown people as property, while obsessing over the property destruction that is the understandable outcome of human anguish and moral outrage." - Cornel West


Green Friday

Today, savor this poem by Wendell Berry:

Work Song, Part 2, A Vision By Wendell Berry

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear as we will never know it,
and over it birdsong, like a canopy.
On the level of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting over its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this place will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.


A Thanksgiving Prayer

By Peter Heltzel and Cornel West:

As we gather at tables, grieving the state of our nation, may we gain spiritual strength for the journey ahead, drawing on the deepest wells of wisdom from those on whose shoulders we stand and the various faith traditions that have fueled their freedom march and continue to energize ours.

In the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. King, may the pioneers of the civil rights movement collaborate with the young leaders in Ferguson, New York City and other cities, and may they impart their knowledge and understanding of nonviolent resistance that is not passive, but is spiritually active with an abiding faith that the universe is on the side of justice, and that, in the end, love will triumph over evil.

May this spiritual strength, fueled by prophetic fire and love, reveal to us our neighbors’ humanity, our own complicity in their suffering and liberate us once and for all from the history that continues to enslave us.

More here:


What I'm Grateful for Today ...



A Thanksgiving Prayer

If you are leading a prayer at your Thanksgiving table tomorrow, this simple thanks might be helpful. (It comes from We Make the Road by Walking.)

You can signal for the response by pausing and raising a hand or your glass:

Let us give thanks for this meal, saying, “We thank you, Living God.”

For this breath, for this heartbeat, for the gift of these companions,
We thank you, Living God

For this nourishment and flavor, for soil and sunlight, air and rainfall,
We thank you, Living God

For all to whom this food connects us, from field to farm and store to table,
We thank you, Living God

As we share this meal together, may our thirst for peace be strengthened and our hunger for justice deepened, until all are fed, and safe, and well.
We thank you, Living God. Amen.


Yes. There's a lot of bad news out there. But there's also some good news. Like this.



Get schooled on Political Islam

Here. Quotable:

We must strip the phenomena of "political Islam" of the mystical aura shrouding them, which results from a tendency to equate them with "fundamentalism": a mass of angry irrational impulses wholly motivated by religious aspirations and incentives, and instead situate them within the conditions of their time and space. Only through historical socio political context can we hope to cure researchers, journalists and observers of the malady of oversimplification, generalization and reductionism that currently deforms the bulk of analyses of the subject.

They must free themselves of their mystical outlook and of culturally essentialist interpretations of political parties with an Islamic background. In open democratic settings, these are likely to move closer towards the model of Christian democratic parties in Europe. Ennahdha party of Tunisia may, in fact, serve as a laboratory for the possible evolution of political Islam in this direction. The question is: when will "Western" journalists and experts rid themselves of their ideological biases and start to see reality as it is, with all its complexities, shades and nuances?

A Documentary You Should See



Are you saying the entire Christian faith has been wrong?

Quite often when I'm speaking to conservative Christian groups, whether the subject is evolution, the meaning of John 14:6, equality for women or LGBT people, the doctrine of inerrancy (papal or biblical), or related topics, people will say it is arrogant of me to suggest that the mainstream of the Christian church has been so wrong for so long.

Certainly that could be the case. I wish I were a greater stranger to arrogance than I am.

But to refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a tradition has been seriously, consistently, and tragically wrong can also reflect another kind of arrogance, as a recent speech by David Gushee makes clear.

The unchristlike teaching of contempt for Jews has been discredited. No mainstream Christian leader that I know of teaches it anymore, at least not here in this country. The Bible didn’t change. What the Bible was understood to mean changed a great deal.

The unchristlike teaching of contempt for LGBT people is, in my view, in the process of being discredited, of breaking down, even as we speak. Every year elements of it lose ground. I am now confident that Christianity is undergoing the same repudiation of an unchristlike body of tradition today, in regards to LGBT people, as happened 50 years ago in regards to antisemitism.

So this is the point of my comparison—I am comparing two different unchristlike bodies of Christian teaching tradition, one of which has been discredited and abandoned, the other of which needs to be and is in the process of being discredited and abandoned. We must celebrate the progress being made in repudiating the teaching of contempt against that 1/20th of the human family who are LGBT. And we must finish the job as soon as we can.

More here:


A Difficult but Necessary Conversation ...

Voice A:

And we must ask you, 'Why are you picking on Israel?' Why not criticise countries like Syria or North Korea where they treat their people with contempt and barbarity. Why aren't you criticising Hamas who want to wipe Israel off the map and murder all of its Jews - haven't you read their charter! Why aren't you condemning Islamic State and Boko Haram? Surely they deserve your wrath more than Israel does.
Israel treats women with respect and complete equality, and you can live an openly gay life without fear. How many Middle East countries can say that?

Why are you attempting to delegitimise the existence of the only Jewish state in the world? There are 20 Arab States by the way. We only have the one place that we can truly call home.

You are forgetting that it takes 'two to tango' and there is no partner for peace on their side. Until they renounce terrorism how can we trust them? You must have seen the stabbings and car driver murders of the last few weeks? This is what Israel is up against every day.

And we are utterly dismayed that you think to boycott Jews. Have you really forgotten the Holocaust so quickly? The Nazis started with boycotts too. And we all know where it ended.

You may mean well but you really don't understand and your naivety fills us with horror.

Voice B:

You are right too that there are other states and other regimes that behave in far worse ways. But they do not claim to be democracies. They do not wish to be perceived as aligned politically, economically and culturally with Europe and North America. The world imposes sanctions and boycotts against North Korea. Our airforce is currently bombing Islamic State. When Russia backs Ukrainian separatists attempting to take over the Crimea, there is an international crisis.

We are not comparing Israel with Islamic State or North Korea. Neither do we think Israel is to blame for all the problems that beset the Middle-East today. However, the Palestinians' long call for their rights to be recognised is clearly a powerful recruiting tool for Islamic State. And should we really make Boko Haram or President Assad the only benchmark for unacceptable behaviour?

We are not picking on Israel unfairly. What is unfair is how much Israel is allowed to get away with.We hear plenty of stern words of rebuke from America, Britain and the EU but never see any real political or economic pressure. We would love to see Israelis and Palestinians sitting down to negotiate. You are right 'it takes two to tango' but we would ask you to consider which side is refusing to dance.

… We want to work with our Jewish neighbours and our Muslim neighbours to bring a just and peaceful solution to all the people of Israel and Palestine. They deserve nothing less. Together we should be emboldening the leadership of each of our communities to speak out against injustice in the name of the traditions that we each claim to honour.

Read the whole dialogue here.


Q & R: Research "emergent church"

Here's the Q:

I am a pastor in an evangelical church…. I love what has been happening in the emergent church and often feel like I am hiding in the evangelical world as I have experienced persecution for my searching heart and questioning the status quo of evangelicalism for some time.

Anyways, the reason for my contacting you, is that I am writing a theological research paper on the theology of the Emergent Church. I was wondering if you could suggest some theological/scholarly texts that would aid me in the writing of this paper, both sources that would affirm and challenge the theology of the Emergent Church.

Thanking you in advance for any authors or titles you can suggest.

Here's the R:
I'd begin with two sources:
The Great Emergence
The New Christians

Then I'd follow their bibliographies, footnotes, and Amazon.com links … you'll find plenty. There are also a number of interesting theses and dissertations being written. It's a fascinating subject, and I don't even think the real revolution has yet begun.

You might be interested in my post of a few days ago offering my perspective on what's developing in the US.


Q & R: Membership

Here's the Q:

I am the pastor of a little church which is really struggling with the issues of church membership. We are recognizing more and more the aversion many people have to church membership. Most of us understand that aversion, having experienced spiritual abuse of one form or another, and therefore, we try to be supportive and compassionate and resist the temptation to be “heavy handed.” But after three weeks and two congregational meetings which almost were rendered ineffective because of the lack of a quorum … we also realize that, sometimes, we need to define a “corporate body.”

I know that consensus is a way to go … and in fact, we were forced to do something vaguely anti-Roberts’ Rules in order to change the bylaws just so that we could make some decisions. It was fine; nobody died. But I also know that there is something to be said for constitutions, bylaws, policies etc … if for no other reason than to establish general principles and practices so that there is some notion of consistency and identity. We have members who attend other places but cannot transfer their membership because there is nothing to transfer their membership to. We have people who refuse membership but may as well be members for the amount of time and energy they afford to us. We also have members who dare not darken the doors for all the damage that they have done … people who have decided to hold on to their membership literally until this person or that person is gone or deceased so that they might regain power and control (yeah, no kidding). We don’t want to be exclusive here (allowing a handful of people to make decisions for everyone) … nor classist (ie; base everything on what people give) … and I as the pastor would like to be able to acknowledge the hundreds of people we include in our little community through our mission and outreach.

I am searching for a new way to organize membership – maybe a broader, inclusive category of “disciples” and then a corporate distinction of “members”? Shall we do away with the corporate body idea completely? Sigh. The more I think about this, the more my head hurts. Brian, is there anyone or anything out there that can help me think about this in a fresh new way?

Here's the R:
Important questions!
Here are a few observations, but your post deserves a much more careful and lengthy response at some point, by me or by others.

First, I think we need to distinguish between ministry and mission on the one hand, and governance on the other. Boards and votes and bylaws, in my view, are matters of governance. Governance is terribly important, but most people today seem to be saying something like this: "I'm trusting you leaders to work out governance in ways that are ethical, transparent, and accountable. Invite us to be involved, but don't burden us. We would rather be involved with ministry and mission."

Second, those words "ethical, transparent, and accountable" matter. If a smaller number of people are involved in governance, they need to seek input through transparent channels and communicate what they're up to.

Third, we need to pay attention to self-organizing trends, like DIY, Sharing Economy, and Crowdsourcing. I think governance will be more and more about creating and preserving safe and productive space in which people "play" freely. That means less control, more encouragement, along with some simple guidelines to keep the space sustainable, free, and fruitful.


More on the emergent conversation

I was asked recently for my view of what's happening in the emergent/emergence conversation in North America. Here's a very short overview, from my perspective.

The conversation continues to grow, not by creating a new slice of the pie, but by seasoning nearly all sectors of the pie. Even where the word "emergent" is not used, ideas from emergence leaders are being considered and adopted, leading to new experimentation and openness.

Influence in the Roman Catholic world is still relatively small, but growing numbers of Catholic scholars and leaders are listening, reading, and engaging, from lay people to (yes) the Vatican. Catholic influence on the emergence community continues to be strong, especially through the spiritual practices of the monastic and contemplative traditions.

Much of the Mainline Protestant world has opened its arms wide to the emergent conversation, from bishops to parachurch organizations to denominational leaders to local pastors to grass-roots activists. A few years down the road, I think Mainline engagement will become even more overt and significant, but already most Mainline Protestant denominations are experimenting with creative new approaches to church planting and worship/liturgy renewal. Key next steps may include the creation of a national, trans-denominational campus ministry, collaborative and transdenominational church planting and "branding," new approaches to theological and ministry education, and the development of a new genre of progressive Christian worship music.

The Evangelical community has, by and large, decided to double down against LGBT inclusion and equality, and because many emergence leaders see equality as a natural and unavoidable expression of the gospel, their voices have been marginalized by prominent gatekeepers. But beneath the surface, influence continues to expand, especially among young Evangelicals and those uncomfortable with the marriage between American Evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Along with LGBT equality, surprising numbers of Evangelicals are quietly but consistently moving towards greater concern for the full equality for women, the environment, racial and interfaith reconciliation, the elimination of torture, peacemaking, poverty reduction, and related issues. And theologically, they are eager to engage with questions that have been suppressed - including rethinking penal substitutionary atonement theory, biblical inerrancy and interpretation, and the violence of God. For practical reasons, it will often be best, in the short run at least, for these conversations to happen without association with the term "emergence."

I am pleased to see how the center of gravity for emergence continues to be among reflective practitioners … not among theorists divorced from the local church, and not among pragmatists uninterested in theology, but among people who see theology and praxis as inextricably connected. With that center, there is room for a wide range of people - from those exploring the outer reaches of process theology and radical theology, to those concentrating on urban farming and community/parish missionality.

As the first wave of emergence leaders move through their forties and fifties, it's exciting to see a new wave of 20-something and 30-something emergence leaders arise. They are coming of age when emergence thinking is not some radical fringe phenomenon, but rather an option and resource that is a natural part of the Christian landscape. They are fiercely committed to expanding the racial and gender diversity of the conversation, to emphasizing the skills of community organizing and movement building, and to making room for Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and others to work together for the common good.

My hope is that in the US and globally, the emergence conversation will continue in its current path - a both/and approach of collaborating with existing institutions while at the same time creating new spaces and structures when necessary to nurture and support what is trying to be born in and among us.

I am pleased to see that a set of shared, long-term commitments is coalescing - along the lines of those expressed in the Mesa Document.

❖ We believe in Jesus and the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God, and we seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love - love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy.
❖ We seek to know, serve, and join the poor in the struggle for justice and freedom ... through advocacy, relationships, and action.
❖ We seek to honor, interpret, and apply the Bible in fresh and healing ways, aware of the damaging ways the Bible has been used in the past.
❖ We seek to reconnect with the earth, understand the harm human beings are doing to it, and discover more responsible, regenerative ways of life in it.
❖ We seek the common good, locally and globally, through churches of many diverse forms, contexts, and traditions, and we imagine fresh ways for churches to form Christlike people and join God in the healing of the world.
❖ We build inclusive partnerships across gaps between the powerful and vulnerable - including disparities based on wealth, gender, race and ethnic identity, education, religion, sexuality, age, politics, and physical ability.
❖ We engage conflict at all levels of human society with the creative and nonviolent wisdom of peacemaking.
❖ We propose new ways of encountering the other in today’s pluralistic world and we collaborate with other religious and secular groups in alliances for the common good.
❖ We host safe space for constructive theological conversation, seeking to root our practice in theological reflection and seeking to express our reflection in practical action.
❖ We value the arts for their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity.
❖ We emphasize spiritual and relational practices to strengthen our inner life with God and our relationships with one another.


Again, this overview is from my perspective, which is limited but based on a lot of travel, correspondence, and relationships. I'll be interested to see where others would add, subtract, or differ.


Changing the Game


Thoughts on Poverty ...

from David Peck, here:

Elizabeth Babcock in Rethinking Poverty writes, “In recent years, scientists have discovered that the stresses of poverty often overwhelm the critical-thinking skills that people need to chart and follow a pathway out of their condition.” That’s everywhere.What do you think?

The Phnom Penh Post also quoted a Credit Suisse report that said that while Global Wealth had increased by 263 trillion dollars in 2013, and yet disparity had swelled in "developing" economies. Not a big surprise really. So where was the massive surge? 34.7 percent of the growth occurred in North America. Europe accounted for 32.4 percent.


Lord, Have Mercy ...



Preparing for Christmas ...

It's just over 40 days away, and Christine Sine offers beautiful wisdom in preparing for the season. Be sure to read her post and follow the links she provides.


Congratulations, Rachel (Held Evans)!

Rachel - I'm always glad to be mentioned in the same breath with you, as in this note:

Thank you, you make my job so much easier. I lead a small house group and this year we are using your book, 'We make the Road by Walking'. We all came to your talk in Bristol last night and have come away even more inspired.

Last year we studied Rachael's 'Year of Biblical Womanhood' which was a real success for our group. Previous to this, we had struggled to find material that really worked for us as group. Rachael's book inspired, intrigued and engaged. As the year was drawing to a close the pressure was on to find some new material that would work as well for us. Rachael had reviewed your book on he blog and sang its praises so I thought it was worth a go.

The book has blown us away and we are only on Chapter 10! THe group are engaged and inspired and when we meet the first this everyone says is 'I love this book'.

So thank you for making my life easier, and I like the rest of the group Love the book.

It's fun to see that you're in the same league with Madonna, Bono, and Cher … your first name identifies you! I don't know if you can sing … but you sure can write. Thanks for all you do, Rachel!

(And thanks to our shared readers from Bristol who came and said hi last week!)


Ireland trip/retreat - a few spaces left

I just heard from Gareth Higgins that there are a few spaces left for the Ireland trip we'll be leading June 15-23. Folks who have registered should be hearing back from Gareth in the next week or so … and folks who wish to register shouldn't delay. Information here:


Q & R: Journaling?

Here's the Q:

I've been recently devouring your book A Generous Orthodoxy. It's opened up my mind to many things. One question: what do you think about "spiritual journaling"? Do you keep a spiritual journal/diary (or any kind of journal)?

Here's the R:
I'm so glad you're enjoying AGO.
About journaling - yes! I was introduced to journaling when I was about 18. It has been one of the most important spiritual disciplines of my life. I wrote prayers, reflections on Scripture, poetry, etc. in personal journals for decades. In recent years, the more I've made a living as a writer, the less fruitful journaling has been for me (for reasons that are easy to imagine), which has prompted me to explore other forms of prayer that aren't as connected to writing (body prayer, contemplative prayer, "simple word prayer" as I described in Naked Spirituality). But even so, I still keep a journal, but just use it less frequently, and I highly, highly, highly recommend it for everyone.


Emergent, liberalism, diversity ...

"Just when you thought emergent was dead, scholars are showing that it’s very much alive and kicking." - More here ...

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/10/24/study-shows-emergent-is-not-as-liberal-as-you-thought/#ixzz3HTZw9aAx


Rumours of Glory: Bruce Cockburn biography

I love music, and I follow several musicians closely. But Bruce Cockburn's songs have been my musical soundtrack since the early 70's. I've seen him in concert more than any other musician, and I've quoted him often in my books. So I was thrilled when I was sent a pre-release copy of his new autobiography, Rumours of Glory.

For me, the book has been a kind of extended liner notes to the songs … filling in backstory, connecting the dots between lyrics and events in Bruce's life. In the days after reading the book, I felt as one does after viewing a powerful movie … a little disoriented, like I had been sucked into another reality, into someone else's world. "Knocked sideways," as Bruce might say.

If you're not a fan, get the book and download/listen to the songs as you encounter them in its pages. If you are fan, do the same. A wind will come out of nowhere and knock you sideways.

More on the book, and Bruce, here.


Honored and moved ...

Each week I wait with anticipation to see what John Stonecypher has done with the next chapter of my book We Make the Road by Walking. This week's installment (Chapter 11) is especially powerful and honest - and open-ended; it engages with one of the chapters that was hardest for me to write, on the subject of divinely-sanctioned violence. Read it - and take in the videos too, here.

If we want to stick around another 3 million years, it depends on whether we're able to learn the ways of peace. It will be hard, but our teacher is Jesus, and he happens to be very good at it.


If you need a sermon today ...

Here's one from a friend of mine.


subversive meals ...

If you are interested in the eucharist, the church, and the church's relation to power, violence, empire, and peacemaking … you should see Alan Street's amazing book. More here. It's well-written, well-researched, and well worth reading.


President Obama and Islam

I have great respect for Dalia Mogahed. You'll see why in this interview on Obama and Islam.


A reader writes: Energizing my curacy

Just wanted to say thank you for your writing and insights God has given you. Your book, Generous Orthodoxy, was a breath of fresh air and articulated much of how I had seeing the Christian faith since my teenage years, but could not find in the Churches I attended or could understand why not. This book was instrumental in drawing me back to church and on to ordained ministry in the Church of England.

I am currently reading your book, A New Kind of Christianity, and all I can say is yes, yes , yes. Having grown up within a conservative evangelical household and church, you have said everything I have know within for years. Having just completed theology in Cambridge, UK, the number of heated discussions I have go had with both my conservative, liberal and Anglo-catholic brothers and sisters (including my learned tutors) on precisely these issues has worn me out. We are so invested in what you call the six lines. It is so wonderful to know that I am not on my own in seeking the non dualistic understanding of the Christian faith. This book is helping me to articulate this within my relationships with those of Christian faith and those not. It's a great help in energising my curacy.

Sorry for all the gushing, but thank you. Never allow your critics to get you down!

Thanks for these encouraging words. God bless you in your ministry!


This is a big deal: a key Evangelical leader switches sides on the LGBT issue

Jonathan Merritt writes:

It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. His Christian ethics textbook, “Kingdom Ethics,” co-authored with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year. He serves as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries, and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.
(more here)
I have grown to respect David Gushee deeply in recent years. Even before he took a stand on LGBT issues, he stood boldly against torture and for environmental protection. Now he has taken an additional step that some will condemn, but I applaud. I was honored to be invited to write a foreword to David's new book, which you can purchase here.

If you are one of the many good Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, or Catholic leaders who has secretly thought, "I'm probably going to change on this issue someday," I would say the time is probably sooner than you thought. David's new book could really help.


A reader writes: as I am weeping

I just wanted to write ( as I am weeping) as I start reading your new book. I just read the first couple of pages and the emotions started.

I have had a really challenging spiritual awakening over the past seven years. Long story. It has been difficult following how the Holy Spirit led me and living within a community of conservative, evangelicals, including my spouse. Challenging on every level of my being.

Having a devotion to Christ … I have been struggling to find a way to be authentic, and reconcile my walk in faith within my community and family. I think I have found a way with your book, I hope. I asked my husband to look at it with me, hopefully he will be open to it. We had an intense discussion about it last night, and today I found your book.

Being a yoga teacher, I am excited to see body prayer on your website! So excited about that.

Thanks for the work you do and your vision. Together we can be Christ's hands and feet to create God's King/ Queendom here as is meant to be.

I'm so glad you found the book, and I hope it can be of help to you in many ways. Thanks for writing!


Christianity, Islam, and Hate

John Esposito's responses to Michael Coren are a model of clarity, wisdom, and civility in the context of profound disagreement … worth reading both for content and style.

"Esposito, founding director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, thinks Coren is correct to speak of Jesus as a man of peace, "but he conveniently overlooks the practice of some popes, and other Christian leaders in terms of religious persecution, violence and wars," he says.

"Moreover, I presume Coren accepts the Old Testament as part of the Bible and the Christian tradition. If so, then he must be aware of Old Testament passages and the instances of not only violence but even passages calling for genocide.

"Similarly when he writes of Muhammad he has surely not forgotten the military role of prophets like Joshua, Samuel and David."

Esposito says Coren should also take note of the "anti-Muslim racism" of hardline Christian leaders like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and John Hagee.

"I (and others) as both a scholar and a Christian would disagree with the brush-stroking and collective guilt associated with that kind of reductionism."


Need some good music?

If you haven't been enjoying the music of Steve Bell for years and years as I have, you can catch up (kind of like watching a few seasons of a great TV series on Netflix) with his new 25-year retrospective, Pilgrmage.
You can listen to clips and order the CD here:
It's beautiful.


A reader writes: violence is all we know because it is all we see

A reader writes:

While I know this framing story doesn’t have a chance in the world. Hell, we can’t even get the poor out to vote on election day, and we are hoping someday they will stop thinking of themselves and start living for the sake of the community? I live in a condo complex and serve on the HOA board, and we can’t get enough people to serve to make a full board. It certainly isn’t the framing story I would choose, except I love God and this is the story I believe God chooses and I feel God chooses me to learn it and live it. I found your book Everything Must Change in the library and am about 2/3rds the way through, but I skimmed ahead to see if you touch on the Greatest commandment. While you dance around it and almost refer to it, it isn’t the foundation the framing story is built on. My favorite story is found in Mark 12: 28 where Jesus tells the teacher of the law that for believing the 2 commandments are the prime directive that he is not far from the kingdom of God (yeah my own words there), but the message is clear that Loving God and neighbor is to enter the kingdom of God. While you say in your book that “kingdom” is a kind of old fashioned word that may not have any use in today’s world, I believe it is perfect and can be re-engineered to mean a whole new type of society, one that is not capitalism and one that is not a dictatorship.
Another idea I think you dance around that I would like to comment on is your encouraging to us to try to picture what living in the kingdom of God would be like. Wonderful idea! I wish I was a better writer and had the foresight to write a screen play titled “The kingdom of God” . First scene: year 33CE, Just outside the Temple, and Mark 12:28 through 34 plays out and maybe we could throw in some more teachings about what justice would look like in the kingdom of God. Scene two: jump ahead 1800 years and the world is living the kingdom of God. The movie shows how the community works together to solve problems, work through disagreements, shows what the economy could look like, where there is no unemployment because the government has a right to work law and if you need a job you go to the employment office and you have a right to a job, one that pays well enough to live, and how those in the community work towards the good of the community, and it is that mindset that keeps those who would attempt to oppress or cheat the community from making the attempt. Perhaps the movie would show our community what it would look like and get them on the road toward the kingdom of God. The movie would reinforce acts of loving kindness, a very rare thing, if you would look at what is in the theaters year after year. Violence is all we know because it is all we see.
Thank you again for your wonderful book, I am very much enjoying the lessons you teach in it.

Thanks for the encouraging words. I think you are so right … the stories we ingest via movies teach us ways of seeing the world … My friend Gareth Higgins and I, along with the good people of the Raven Foundation, have been talking about how to get more screenplay writers to take the use of violence more seriously. That, by the way, is a major theme of my newest book, We Make the Road by Walking … grappling with violence in the Bible.


A reader writes: theological musings ...

A reader writes:

Brian, my wife and I just returned from a trip (my first) to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe these places. To be sure, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

I just wanted to share some thoughts with you.

While we were there, one of the places we went was to the Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration. While I sat in the darkness looking at that view, I thought “We have something all wrong”. When someone asks us to “prove” the existence of “God”, we trot out the old “watch and watchmaker” schpiel. I think this misses the mark by infinity.

Several weeks ago I heard a comment by singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier in which she said that artists were people who attempted to make sense out of chaos.

If you recall, in the opening verses of Genesis, that’s precisely what God does.

Maybe we need to start thinking of God not as a mere watchmaker, but as a great Artist. Maybe being made in the image and likeness of God means we can see creation through the eyes of the Artist.

I thought, If I were to bring my weeniedog Daphne to that place and asked her to comprehend the wonder of it all, she would probably be wondering if it involved food or chasing a squirrel!

Amen! In the modern era, where the machine was the pinnacle of human achievement, I can see why people were enamored with the watchmaker analogy. But it indeed falls short in so many ways. Creativity is the first action in the Bible - and it's one of the last too ("Behold, I create all things new!") That's one of the themes I trace from Genesis to Revelation in my new book, btw.

It's interesting to ponder what the human versions of chasing a squirrel would be!


A reader writes: using your book in Northern Ireland

A reader writes:

I just thought I would let you know we have a group reading We Make the Road by Walking in Whitehead, Northern Ireland. Do hope you can visit Ireland soon!!

So glad to know you're using the book. I will be in Ireland, co-leading a private retreat, next June. We will probably have one public event while I'm there (not yet scheduled, details TBA). More information here.


Thanks, David Wilcox.

I needed this.


A listener writes: overwhelming, underwhelming

A listener writes:

I was recently spiritually prompted to one of your interviews, on Premier Christian Radio, and just wanted to follow that up with an introduction.

My name is ccc; I am a [middle aged] Christian of 17 years, and I live in East London, England. I have been a Christian all of my life, but consciously reaffirmed my faith in 1997. Since then I have enjoyed (and endured) the most amazing relationship and walk with God.

I had little taught expectations (or limitations) on God, I believed he would respond to me much as he did to our Biblical forefathers - and he did, and then some. I had always assumed this was how ever Christian experienced God, in a very real and present way, guiding the big and small, trivial and significant decisions. From where to live – to what to eat, more importantly how he desires to see me grow in spiritual maturity.

Conversely, whilst my knowledge and experience of God has been extraordinary, my experience of life in the church has been underwhelming. Even this experience God used to teach and mature me – though I don’t pretend to be spiritually matured just yet.

Eventually I determined that God allowed me to experience him in such a real way because he knew I would not be able to keep it to myself. I believe my story might help and encourage other Christians struggling with faith and church life, so I wrote about it.

Essentially I try to encourage and challenge us all (as individuals and bodies) to go back to basics, to re-examine our commitment to God and our relationship with him. To take a long, hard and honest look at whether the Christians we are today reflect, honour and glorify God. Are we growing in spiritual maturity and if not, why not.

The most important lesson I learned, and it took the best part of ten years, is that I’m not in control, I can’t change me, I can’t make myself Christ like no matter how committed I am to God and how hard I try. After ten years God stopped me, showed me that he hadn’t asked for my plethora of well intended good deeds, he had only asked that I be honest and sincere with him and those around me, even if that meant confessing some very ugly truths.

That was a key turning point in my spiritual journey, try less – pray more, allowing God to lead on your transformation is the only way to ensure that change is sincere and lasting.

I had spent ten years trying to make myself better and all God really wanted was for me to get real with him, surrender to him and let him transform me into whatever he created me to become.

After hearing your interview I felt a deep resonance with your story, but also a small spiritual butt kicking to finish the book.

If I’m entirely honest I’m not sure why I’m contacting you, perhaps the encouragement to finish the book was all God intended. But it can’t hurt to say hello and let you know that I have been encouraged by your story. And, if there is any guidance you can offer to a first time author that will of course be greatly appreciated.

May God bless you and keep you.

Thanks for your encouragement. As for advice for first-time writers, here are a few things I've posted in the past:



Q & R: Reaching across the cultural & religious divide

Here's the Q:

Brian, I have a thought about your blog response
You emphasize, rightly, that progress toward peace with Islam or any
other group must include making the effort to better understand them
and why they take the positions that they take. But that's difficult
with Islam in ways not shared by other groups of "other". As you
doubtless know, there are no translations of the Quran into any
language. There are some sort-of translations that Muslims allow to be
used as a crutch by people who want to learn Arabic. But they take it
as a cardinal principle that the words of the Prophet cannot be
translated and yet remain the words of the Prophet. While nearly
anybody, anywhere, can pick up a Bible in a familiar language, only
Arabic speakers can read the Quran.

The result is that anything an American may "know" about Islam has
been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation,
misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural
references, etc.

I like languages, but I have little inclination to learn Arabic. Yet
we must come to a better understanding of Muslims. For that, we need a
strategy. A number of things you've written suggest that your strategy
for better understanding Muslims has been to meet as many as possible
and have long talks, taking a nonjudgmental attitude so that neither
party gets mad and storms out. Great. But that strategy doesn't work
for many Americans.

Any suggestions?

Here's the R:
Thanks for this question. The fact is, you could also say that to some degree, 'anything an American may "know" about Christianity or Juadism has also been filtered through a great many layers of interpretation, misinterpretation, bias, hatred, tradition, unrecognized cultural references, etc.' Fortunately, there are many translation of the Quran into English and other languages. Since avid readers of the Bible will already know that there is always an element of interpretation in any translation, people sensitive to the issues and complexities of biblical translation and interpretation are well placed to read the Quran responsibly in translation … not in a way that would satisfy all Muslim scholars, but in a way that will replace complete ignorance with a responsible knowledge base.

In addition, there are excellent introductions to Islam, written by both Muslims and Christians. Here are three resources I would especially recommend:
1. John Esposito's works, beginning with Islam: The Straight Path.

2. Who Speaks for Islam summarizes a monumental demographic study and dispels many myths. It's short, readable, and research based.

3. Reza Aslan's No God but God is also highly readable and helpful.

As for building relationships between Christian and Muslim congregations, people like my friend Jeff Burns and organizations like Peace Catalyst are going important and needed work, among many others.

And here's another great resource:

Excerpts from "The Jesus Fatwah" by Living the Questions from Living the Questions on Vimeo.


Really. You should know this ...

Theories/understandings of the sun change … as do theories and understandings of everything, including God. That's a theme of my book We Make the Road by Walking, and John Stonecypher captures it amazingly in his weekly multi-media commentary. Check it out here.
And here:


Making Plans for 2015?

Here are a few special events I'll be involved in - you might want to come along!

June: Ireland Tour with Gareth Higgins

August: Ring Lake Ranch


A reader writes … "I'm the classic kid who grew up Evangelical"

A reader writes ...

Dear Brian,
I know you are very busy and maybe won't even read this but thank you so much for your brave writing, I'm sure you get quite a lot of grief over it but I wanted to encourage and thank you. I am the classic 'kid who grew up in the evangelical church'. My dad was a pastor and my whole life was church and the evangelical bubble ( including being a missionary) until my late 20's when all my understandings of God started to fall apart. At the risk of making this too long let's just say that huge career disappointment, long term unemployment after coming out of full time christian ministry, having a disabled child and university study that raised many questions made my 30s the time of getting rid of all the paradigms and christian culture I had grown up with. I just read Rachel Held Evans memoir and we could be spiritual twins in many ways.

I read 'Generous orthodoxy' this year and it was so good. So good to hear I was not the only one with big questions about the evangelical way of church. So good to hear a bit about how other Christian traditions view such things as the cross and the kingdom of God. This has led me to reading writers from Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox streams, which has basically saved my Christianity because I can now see that it is possible to experience God organically without having to 'know'a whole lot about him, it's been awesome. I am starting my Masters degree in Anthropology next year and my thesis topic is the new trend in evangelical Christian missions of moving from 'soul saving' to justice based 'incarnational service work, and if this is a result of emerging theology, I quote you and N T Wright in my thesis proposal. My university is secular, but they find the topic fascinating. Keep writing, looking forward to reading your new book.

Thanks for writing … and thanks for your encouragement. It's an exciting time to study anthropology, and especially the intersection of anthropology and religion. In your studies, be sure to explore Rene Girard. You'll find amazing insights there.


Religion. Secularism. Violence.

Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.
- Karen Armstrong More here.

Q & R: Muslims, Isis, and benevolence

Here's the Q:

Our study group recently started a discussion of Islam, having read your book Why Did JMBM Cross the Road? as background. … In the case of Islam more than other faiths — the challenge in practical terms seems far more complex than you made it seem in your book.

I would be interested in your response to this multi-part question:
In the case of Islam — recognizing that extremists are a minority group within Islam — do you believe a strong/benevolent attitude can be effective in relation to Islamic extremists?

Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?

If so, how do we get this movement started (besides promoting your book and/or this video), in the face of what the media is showing about ISIS etc.?

Thanks for considering my questions.

Here's the R:
I'm glad your study group has read JMBM and found it helpful. You're certainly right - the challenge in practical terms is huge, especially if we expect that long-term problems can be solved with short-term solutions.

You might say it like this: I believe God gave us a major shot of life-saving medicine through Jesus. For 2000 years, which is, say, 400 generations (roughly speaking), some people have been taking this medicine. Slowly, a new way of dealing with violence and hatred is replacing the old. Since then, others have come along to administer "booster shots" - reiterating and clarifying Jesus' message when it gets sidelined or distorted - people like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Francis, St. Claire, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, Jon Sobrino, Desmond Tutu, Richard Twiss, Shane Claiborne, Tony and Peggy Campolo, and many more.

Meanwhile, the old habits of hate and violence are still normative for billions.

Our situation is not unlike someone who has smoked for 30 of their 50 years. If they quit smoking tomorrow, immediate health benefits will begin to manifest. But it will take many years for lungs, skin, vocal chords, blood pressure, etc., to return to normal. Consequences are "in the system" so to speak.

So … each of us does all we can to live the way of Jesus, the way of the beatitudes, the way of the kingdom of God. In so doing, we spread health. We try to teach our children to do the same so they will spread health. We move toward our enemies - not to destroy, but to "preach the good news" and to invite them into the way of peace too. That requires learning and understanding why they see and respond as they do … and building relationships so that they may at least see an option of a better way. That may seem impractical and slow-moving … but I can't think of a better way, try as I might.

"There is no way to peace," the old saying (from A. J. Muste) goes, "for peace itself is the way."

As for your question, "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" - I have to ask two questions. First, "Can we realistically expect that if we don't listen listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Muslims, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?" … and "Can we realistically expect that if we listen and communicate with strong/benevolent Christians, they will be able to rein in the extremists of their faith?"

It's not easy reigning in the bad behavior of others under any circumstances. I think there are two essential first steps:
1. Don't imitate extremists - in thought, language, or behavior.
2. Provide an alternative example.

I don't doubt that there will be military responses, police actions, etc., etc. These may contain evil; they may also unintentionally set more evil in motion. But they won't overcome it with good. That is the work of all of us … and that was the focus of my book.

And that cause, I hope, will be advanced today in thousands of congregations around the world … gathering around a table that dares to proclaim the kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, not like a culture war or battle zone.


A beautiful sermon from a Reconstructionist Rabbi ...



We Make the Road - Kids' Curriculum, 4 of 4

Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's one more example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry:

We Make the Road by Walking for Kids
By Dominique Nash

Week 4- The Drama of Desire
Introduction with Children
You will need a small bag full of lollipops and a volunteer who holds one big, lollipop
You: I’m so excited because my dad, who loves me very much, gave me all of these lollipops and they are so good and special. He told me I could have all of them and enjoy them. I can even share them with others to enjoy. I’m so thankful for the things my dad gives me…..wait (look over at volunteer across the room) what’s that? What do you have behind your back? I want to see.
(Volunteer pulls big lollipop out)
You: Oh wow! That’s a cool and gigantic lollipop. (Look at bag of lollipops)- I don’t want these, I want that one.
Volunteer: But you said your dad gave you those to enjoy. You have so many, now you want this one?
You: Yes, I’ll give you all of these lollipops for that one. That one looks better than these and I think I’ll like it better.
Volunteer: No, your dad gave you those, you can even share them. I don’t think you’ll be happy with your choice.
You: I don’t want these anymore I want the one you have, it’s better……….. (hastily put them aside).
Has something like this ever happened to you? You have something and you really like it, until you see someone might have something better or something you want more and then all of sudden you don’t like what you have? Maybe it’s a toy, a phone, a video game, or their house? Allow kids to answer. What that’s called is DESIRES. Who knows what it means to desire something? Allow children to answer. It’s simple, it’s to want something. Sometimes we want what others have and we compete with others to get it. Not in a good way though. We become mean, angry, and jealous. Sometimes we become sad. We even start to judge others and blame others. We pretty much make ourselves miserable. Does that sound like who God is? If we’re made in his image and he says to follow him, or to imitate him, shouldn’t we desire the same things he does? We need to have the right kind of desires, we have to have God’s generous desires…to create, bless, help, serve, care for, save, and listen to this one…..ENJOY!
Imagine what we could do for God and the world, if we all had God’s desires and worked together.
Read Genesis 3:1-13 (Act it Out): Use a stuffed animal snake, a fake tree, or human tree, and two volunteers to play Adam and Eve.
Prayer (have them repeat after you): Dear Lord, thank you for all that we have. Thank you for loving us and taking care of us. Please help be like you and want the same things you do. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Discussion Questions:
1) What did Adam and Eve do when God asked them what happened? (They blamed each other)
2) Has there been a time when you wanted something and didn’t go about the right way of trying to get it?
3) What do you think it’s like when we desire the same things God desires? What does that look like in our lives?

Activity/ Game
Younger Children (Toddlers and Preschoolers): Have children build a tower of blocks taking turns and working together. Praise them for sharing, waiting, helping, etc.
All Children: Have the children stand in a line. Make sure they’re not lined up according to height.. Make a rectangle around them with tape. Tell them they have to get in a line from shortest to tallest without talking or stepping outside of the box.
After the game: How did it feel to work together? Did you desire, or want for all of you to do well?
Older Children: Supply a large blanket or sheet. Have all of the kids stand on it together. The goal is to turn the blanket over without anyone getting off.
After the game: Follow up with the questions above.
Option 1 (For younger children): Picture of Adam and Eve
Using people shaped sponges or cookie cutters, dip them in washable paint and make two prints on a piece of construction paper (Adam and Eve) Use a strip of brown paper to make a tree trunk. Dip the child’s hand in green paint to make the top of the tree. Let them add red, yellow, and/or green circles for apples. Talk about desires and choices. Keep it simple and relatable. Things like taking turns, nice hands, kind words, good helpers, kindness to animals and plants, etc.
Option 2: “Edible Art.” Put all of the children’s names in a basket. Have each child draw a name out of the basket. Explain to them that they are going to make a snack for that child and serve it to them.
Snack- Happy Faces
1 rice cake
Cream cheese
Raisins, blueberries, or any small fruit.

Have children wash their hands hen prepare the snack. Supply each child with the ingredients. Some may have more or less fruit than someone else. Have them work that out together. They will have to share and help. Using a craft stick, have them spread the cream cheese onto the rice cake. Take the fruit and make a happy face. If you offer several different choices, have them ask the child they’re making it for what they would like.

After everyone is finished, allow them to serve. Tell them with this craft, we desired, like God, to create, sere, and enjoy. We desired to make someone happy.

Option 3: Word Collage-
Grab a big stack of magazines and flip through each one. Cut out create, bless, help, serve, care for, save, and enjoy. Cut out several of each one. If you can’t find many, combine letters and words to make the words you need.
Use cardstock and lay your favorite clippings out and make them the focal points of your collage, and then trim the pictures down as closely as possible so that you can fit them all together.
Lay out your collage, fitting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle. Overlap pieces and just keep rearranging them until every inch of your surface is covered.
Remove each piece starting with background pictures and glue them down. Don't worry of the pictures don't end up exactly where they started. Fill in any gaps with smaller images and words. Trim the edges when you're done gluing.
Cut a piece of clear contact paper that is about 1.5 inches bigger that the surface of the collage.
Peel the backing off of the contact paper carefully and slowly lay it over the collage. Start in one corner and work your way across. Be sure to leave excess contact paper around all the edges. Smooth out the contact paper to avoid air bubbles.
Fold the extra contact paper edges around the back of the surface like you're wrapping a gift and trim any excess.

Activities to Do at Home:
1) Read Psalm 32:8 as a family. Discuss what it says about God helping us?
2) Cook dinner together and serve each other.
3) Play a board game and talk about winning and losing. How does it feel to win or lose? What should we do?


We Make the Road - Kids' Curriculum, 3 of 4

Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's an example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry. More tomorrow:
We Make the Road by Walking for Kids
By Dominique Nash

Week 3- A World of Meaning
Introduction with Children
When we talk about loving God and living out that love by loving others and we set out to do that, sometimes we find love to be a hard thing to do. Who has seen a river, a creek or a stream? Tell me about it. Did it go straight?
Pretend this mountain I’m building, this foundation, is your life. God created you and here you are! (Grab rocks with words written on them) These rocks represent the hard things in life, the tough stuff. Feelings we may have, things that happen, or maybe choices we make. (Place rocks on “mountain” one at a time). Things like, ANGER, SADNESS, UNFORGIVENESS, DIVORCE, SICKNESS, DEATH, just to name some of the things that can happen in our lives. Now I have water. This water represents our love for God and his love flowing out of us to others. Watch what happens when I pour it and let it flow (Pour water on top of mountain. After kids watch, ask them what they observed). The water kept flowing even when these things tried to stop it. No matter what may happen in our lives, our love for God and others has to keep flowing. We still choose to love in every way, every day and know that everything is an opportunity to grow closer to God and each other. Just go with the flow!
Read Psalm 145:1-16 in a dramatic way.
Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for your love and the opportunities you give us to love others. Please help us know you more and live like you want us to no matter what happens. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
For Discussion
1) What does Psalm 145 say about God?
2) What does loving God and every day in every way, look like? (have them give real life examples, even simple things)
3) What are some things in your lives that make that hard? What should we do when it’s hard? (pray and read our bible-spend time with God)

Younger Children: Hug a Friend or Give a High FiveFreeze Dance. Every time the music stops, they have to hug a different friend.
**Special Note- “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers is a good song for Freeze Dance.
All Children: Ping Pong Ball Race. Have 2 to 4 children racing at the same time. Each child will have a spray bottle and have to spray their ping pong ball across the finish line. Talk about if the ball went straight or not. Did it go the way they had planned? Relate that to the lesson and living a life of love.
Another option for the ping pong ball race is to write words that express ways to love on index cards. Laminate them and tape them to the table or floor for the ping pong balls to roll over.
Option 1(for younger children): Make a river and rocks out of paper.
Cut rock shapes out of grey and brown paper. Write words that show love on each rock. Thing like- “nice hands,” kind words,” “share,” “hug,” “give,” “help,” etc.

Have each child make a river on a piece of construction paper.

River Options: Use blue watercolor paint
Have children tear blue construction paper into small pieces and glue on a sheet of paper to form a river.
Glue blue tissue squares on a piece of paper to form a river

Glue paper rocks along river

Option 2: Provide small or medium river rocks and metallic permanent markers. Allow the children to decorate the rocks (if time allows, you can use paint). When they’re finished talk about their struggles in life whether they’re events, feelings, or things they do that aren’t good choices. Have them take a black permanent marker and write one thing on each rock.
If there’s time, have them partner up and build a small mountain out of sand. Supply water in cups. Have them place the rocks on the sand and when they’re finished, they pour the water down from the top.
For younger children- have them write words that show love, as listed above.

Activities to Do At Home
1) Talk about every day ways you choose to love each other. How about others? Could you live out God’s love more?
2) Make a mountain and rocks together. Pray for each other that you will love God and others more no matter what happens.


We Make the Road by Walking - Kids' Curriculum, 2 of 4

Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's an example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry. More tomorrow:
We Make the Road by Walking for Kids
By Dominique Nash

Week 2- Being Human
Introduction with Children
Say: We are made in God’s image which means we are made like him, to be like him. This means to love like him and care about the same things he does. He made us to be creative and giving. But, we have a choice. Think about your hands. Stretch them out in front of you. What is something kind and creative you can do with your hands? What is something mean and harmful you can do with your hands? How can the same hands do both kind and mean things?
Read Genesis 2:4-25- Use a picture book or a short video clip.
After the story say: We all have choices to make every day. We choose to join God and be like him, or we choose not to. We make these choices everywhere we go, in everything we do, and with everyone we meet.
Prayer (have them repeat after you): Father God, help us use our lives to show others what you are like. Help us to be more like you in every way. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen
For Discussion
1) Who has shown you what God is like? How did they show you?
2) In what ways do you show others what God is like?
Younger Children: Use puppets to act out scenarios. What choices should be made for each one? Allow children to offer solutions.
All Children: Act it out. Have children act out the scenarios included in this lesson. Ask them what choice they should make. What would be the best way to show others what God is like in each situation?
Option 1: Handprint Decoration. At the top of a piece of paper write, “I will use my hands to______(fill in child’s response). Have children trace their hands (or help them trace). Provide stickers, glitter, sequins, markers, etc. to decorate them.
Option 2: Classroom Covenant Banner. At the top of the banner write, “We promise to help each other and to bear the image of God.” Tell them to bear the image of God, means to be like God. Ask them in what ways they are going to be like God in their lives. Write their responses in different areas on the banner. Allow each child to choose a paint color, paint their hand, and place their handprint on the banner. After each child has put their handprint on the banner, gather them in a circle for prayer. Allow them to offer up a prayers for one another
Option 3: (For older children) Hand Chain. Have children fold a piece of construction paper in half vertically and then again horizontally. It should be a small square, but big enough for a hand. Have them trace their hands on the paper making sure their thumb is on the fold. Next, cut the handprint out, but be careful not to cut around the tip of the thumb so that the handprints stay connected. On the first hand, have them write one way they will use their physical strength for good and for God. On the second hand, have them write one way they will use their money for good and for God. On the third hand, have them write one way they will use their time for good and for God. On the fourth hand have them write how they will use their talents for good and for God. Allow them to decorate them when they’re finished.

Activities to Do at Home
1) Discuss ways you, as a family, can be more generous and kind to one another.
2) Read Psalm 8 together. Share your praise reports with each other and thank and praise God for those things.


We Make the Road by Walking: Curriculum for Kids (1 of 4)

Churches around the world (literally) are using We Make the Road by Walking - in groups, in classes, and many, for a whole year of integrated programming. Here's an example of how Dominique Nash of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL, is adapting the material for her kids' ministry. More tomorrow:

We Make the Road by Walking
Week 1- Awe and Wonder
Introduction with children
Say: God created everything. As we look around and we take the time to see the things around us, we see what great works God has done and is doing. With all that he created, God also created you and me. He created all of us, on purpose, for a reason. God said, “Let there be ___(child’s name)______. And God saw that is was good. (repeat with other children). Out of everything in the whole world, God has chosen all of us, yes even you and me, to show the world who God is and has invited us to live in and enjoy all of his amazing creation.

Read Genesis 1:1-2:3- Use a felt board or a picture book for kids. Interactive option: Print out several copies of pictures of each day of creation. Assign one day to seven groups of children. Have them hold up the picture of their day as you’re reading about it. Have the group say, “And it was good” as a group, after you read each day.
After the story is told say, God created all things. He created us and he loves us. Pay attention to and enjoy the world around you, the things and the people. Know you are here on purpose.
Prayer (have them repeat after you): Dear God, thank you for all you have made. Thank you for my life. Help me take the time to enjoy all you have given us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

For Discussion
1) What are some things God has created that you already enjoy?
2) What is something God created that you want to know more about?

For younger children: Sit down on the floor in a circle and have them roll the ball to each other. When they roll the ball to a friend have them say, God made_____(friend’s name)_________ . Then the group says. “And saw that it was good!” Repeat until everyone has had a turn.
For older children: Write CREATION on the board. Starting on one side of the room have the first child think of something they’re thankful God made that starts with a C. They’ll say. “I’m thankful God made __________.”The next child will think of something that starts with an R. Keep going until all the letters of CREATION have been used. Repeat if there are more children, but they can’t say the same thing.

Option 1: Make binoculars out of toilet paper rolls. Allow the children to decorate using stickers, coloring them, etc. Take a walk outside and talk about what they see.
Option 2: Use nature stickers (you can find these at a craft store) and create a scene. Have the child draw a picture of themselves in the middle of creation. At the top write: God Made ____(child’s name)____. At the bottom write: And saw that it was good.
Option 3: Make a creation journal. Make copies of the page that is provided. Use a hole punch on the left side and tie together with yarn or ribbon. On the first page, have them draw themselves. Go outside and allow them time to walk, sit, and observe the things they see. Tell them to take the time and look closely, paying attention to details. Have them draw the things they see that interest them. Encourage them to continue this activity at home.

Activities to Do At Home
1) This week take the time to learn about one thing in creation that you want to know more about.
2) As a family, think about God’s creation; think about how He made us, human beings, to show the world what he is like. Read Psalm 19:14. What do you think it means? How does it help you in your life?


I thank God for pastors.

Pastors know things that are painful to know. Pastors keep confidences even though doing so leaves others to assume the worst. Pastors are routinely insulted, cussed out, lied about, or lied to. Pastors face expectations that range from challenging to oppressive to depressing to maddening to ridiculous. Pastors have to make tough choices balancing the needs of individuals and the needs of the community, needs of the congregation and needs of the staff, not to mention their own needs and those of their families. Pastors are called in to deal with life’s toughest realities - death, divorce, illness, prison, domestic violence, drugs, racism. Pastors have to keep congregations of diverse people together - even when political campaigns and culture wars try to divide them. And I haven’t even mentioned the challenges and responsibilities of preaching.

Pastors live in a web of complex relationships. If they become close friends with members, problems can arise. If they don’t, problems can arise. If they are open about their doubts, mistakes, and struggles, problems can arise. If they aren’t, problems can arise. If their only income comes from the church, problems can arise. If they have multiple sources of income, problems can arise. If they address or engage with political issues they care about, problems can arise. If they don’t ... You see the pattern.

Meanwhile, when unethical or unwell pastors do terrible things, all the good and honest pastors also become the subject of increased scrutiny, even cynicism.

No wonder pastors get worn down.

And they’re often so busy helping others that they don’t even hear a little voice inside them crying for help.

I was a pastor for over twenty years, and nothing I have ever done before or since has been more difficult.

If you have a pastor who is doing a good job, be good to them. Let them know. When others lob grenades of criticism at them, speak up. Write a note. Say a good word of encouragement.

If you are a pastor/priest/minister/whatever, doing good work for God, your congregation, and the common good - I don’t care whether you’re liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, gay or straight, man or woman, single or married, denominational or nondenominational: thank you, God bless you, and please, take care of yourself because the church needs you and the world needs you. Your life and work deeply, truly matter.


Want to join me in Ireland in June, 2015?

I'm really excited to let you all know about a trip to northern Ireland that Gareth Higgins and I are leading next summer. I hope you'll consider joining us.

About two dozen of us will stay first in a lovely old country house by the sea outside Belfast (that's Belfast below), and then in 400 year old thatched cottages in Mourne country (that's Mourne country above - really), with a group of friends old and new, enjoying the landscape on amazing walks, hearing music and story, meeting locals, experiencing the peace process in meeting people directly involved in activism and change, and getting to know the culture of northern Ireland, immersed in Celtic culture ancient and new. Great food, inspiring art, and beautiful journeys on foot will form the heart of this soulfully unique and transforming experience. This will be a nine day experience that might just last for the rest of your life.


My friend Gareth grew up in northern Ireland, was the founding director of the Wild Goose Festival, and was privileged to become friends with John O'Donohue in the few years before his death in 2008. Here's Gareth on the upcoming trip:


John used to host what he called 'tours', based in County Clare, for pilgrims who wanted to experience Ireland in authenticity rather than the more antiseptic/corporate tourist trip where feet don't touch the ground and souls might as well have stayed on the plane. I was lucky enough to be involved in facilitating what turned out to be the last tour John led in Ireland. This upcoming trip is very much inspired by the kinds of things John led people into on his trips: mornings will be gathered conversations, afternoons we will walk the landscape, and in the evenings there will be music, storytelling, and certainly firewater magic. You'll meet friends and colleagues with whom I have been honored to walk some of the journey, peacemakers and poets and politicians, you'll walk by the sea and on mountains, and there'll be plenty of time to take by yourself for whatever you need.'

Here are some endorsements from guests on the Summer 2014 Ireland retreat:

Before this retreat I hadn't realized how much wonder and freedom had been missing from my life. We walked each day without quite knowing exactly where we were gong, except that we would be meeting someone to talk about something! I now approach each day like a walk in Northern Ireland, filled with expectation about the wonderful people I'll meet and the things I'll learn.

Under gentle and inspiring guidance, a diverse group of strangers seeking direction in their spiritual lives became a tribe, with a sense of community and belonging for which all of us had longed.

An exceptional experience. You leave this trip with each of your senses saturated and nourished. "Refreshing", "Life-changing" - these words are over-used but, even in their sincerest definition they still serve as understatements. This trip is many beautiful things but, what I'd say overall is that a trip like this is a necessity for those who seek to go deeper and live more authentically.

The trip takes place June 15th-23rd 2014 - eight months from now. If you're interested, and want more details, please send an email at this link, and we'll send you the information and application form in the next few days. Places really are strictly limited - we can accommodate 20 guests, and expect the trip to be over-subscribed. So if you know this is for you, or if you're asking maybe, let us know. There are payment plans and may be part-scholarships available, so don't hesitate to be in touch if you're interested. Gareth and I can't wait to welcome you to Belfast in June - we'll even visit the fish below together!

Once more: here's the link to explore this possibility:


Q & R: John 14:6

Here's the Q:

I trust your journey back from Greenbelt was reasonably straightforward?

I'm just writing to try and catch up with a remark you made during your talk 'What will become of religion?' about the text in John not being suitable as one to 'greet' folk from a different faith. You mentioned you may comment on your re-reading of it at the end of the talk, however, I was pretty sure I didn't hear it at the time and I've checked the download too ;-) but to no avail.

If it is a topic in one of your recent books then please advise and I will duly purchase!

Here's the R:
It's such an important passage. You'll find where I've addressed it here:
And you'll find references to places I've addressed it in my books. One of the challenges in interpreting any verse is the pre-critical assumptions we bring to the text. That's why I hope my new book can be especially helpful. It offers an overview of the Bible that constructs a different set of assumptions than we normally bring. I hope that will be helpful. And long live Greenbelt!


A reader writes: using your book for an ecumenical study

A Catholic priest writes:

I just thought you might be interested in knowing that we will be conducting
an ecumenical book study of your book WHY DID JESUS, MOSES, THE BUDDAH AND
We begin this Thursday and have about 60-70 people signed up to participate! We are very excited to start this dialogue. If
you think of it, please keep us in prayer. And thanks for the inspiration!

That's great to hear. In these times of religious violence and hostility, I know this will be an important conversation to have. And you're in my prayers today!


Q & R: Blood of the covenant

Here's the Q:

You mention that you don’t agree with Paul on the definition of the Gospel but in Jesus’ own words he defines the Gospel of redemption---not a an example to follow, although that is important but is secondary to his ultimate mission for mankind.----comment?

28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Here's the R:
This is a great question.

First, I need to clarify: I've never said I don't agree with Paul on the definition of the Gospel. Not at all! I think Paul agrees with Jesus, and I agree with them both! What I have said is that I think many Christians (I was among them for most of my life) derive a definition of the Gospel from Paul by which they disregard Jesus' teaching and definition of the gospel. Jesus defines the Gospel as "the kingdom of God is at hand." When Paul speaks of "the righteousness of God" in his definition/explication of the Gospel, I think, broadly speaking, "righteousness" means "restorative justice," and I think that's another way of getting at the meaning of "kingdom of God." I see a close relationship between several phrases:

good news, kingdom of God, restorative justice (righteousness) of God, God's will being done on earth as in heaven

I also would differ that when Jesus refers to "blood of the covenant," he is not defining the gospel, but the meaning of what we call the eucharist. And I'm glad for the opportunity to offer a few thoughts on this passage.

Jesus does not say, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out to appease God's wrath against human sin." Perhaps that is what he means (I used to think so), but it isn't what he says. If he did mean that, then it wasn't actually a new covenant. It was simply another and perhaps final sacrifice in the Old Covenant.

I now lean toward interpreting Jesus' statement like this: The New Covenant is not about sinners bringing sacrifices to God to appease an angry God. It is about God demonstrating God's love for sinners in self-giving - even to the point of death. People don't make a sacrifice to God. God, in Christ, demonstrates that God needs no sacrifices and instead is a God of self-giving love. I write about this in more detail in A New Kind of Christianity, in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, and in We Make the Road by Walking.

Thanks for your question and the opportunity to clarify a possible misconception.


Summer Camp

I'm a huge fan of summer camp, especially camps with a goal of spiritual formation and enrichment. I gained so much from camp experiences in my childhood and youth, and it breaks my heart to think that too few kids get to enjoy the beauty of creation that camps often provide. I plan to write further in coming months about some of the reasons I am such a firm believer in summer camps, but first, I wanted to share (with permission) this story that friend shared with me:

When I was 11 years old, I went away to church camp in the mountains. To this day, it stands out in my memory as one of the most meaningful weeks of my childhood. It was an "evangelical" church camp, so there was memorization of Bible verses, praise songs around the campfire, and an emphasis on building community. It wasn't like the "Jesus Camp" movie, but it had an agenda of getting the kids to "ask Jesus into their hearts" by the end of the week. The most impactful moment for me was when we slept outside under the stars one night. As a city girl, this was my first experience of sleeping under the night sky and it pierced me to the core. I felt so vulnerable and so very connected to God in a way that has never left me.

And so it makes sense that 30 years later, I made the choice to send my own daughter to a similar camp. I was excited for her to experience the same connection to God in nature and in community that I had experienced at her age. I knew that I'd be exposing her to theology I didn't believe in anymore, but I trusted that she would meet God in a new way and I hoped that that would trump the more conservative theology. After all, that had been my experience. Or had it? Perhaps my memory is selective and I am just not aware of the ways messages have stuck with me for better or for worse.

This summer, we were driving home after camp. My daughter was radiant. I sensed a groundedness and joy I hadn't seen recently in her "tween" self. She told me that she had never felt so close go God; that she felt close to herself. I asked her what it was that had made her feel that way, and she spoke of the music and the beauty of the nature. Yes. But when I probed a bit more, she told me about the last night of camp. Candles were lit outdoors and small groups gathered for a long night of sharing and storytelling. The camp counselors were talking to the kids about hearing and following God's call. Wonderful! Then my daughter told me that her counselor shared a personal example of following God's call in her own life. She had gone [overseas] earlier in the summer on a mission trip, but she felt sad because she had failed. My curiosity was now piqued. "What did she fail at?" I asked my daughter. "She said that she failed because she couldn't get the the Muslim teenagers to convert to Christianity. They didn't believe in Jesus." "And why is that a failure?" I continued to probe. "Because they are going to go to hell."

I was stunned. And yet, why should I have been shocked? I should have known that this focus on "saving souls" for the afterlife would be present. Why was I so upset upon hearing these words from my daughter?

Then my mind raced. WHY was I intentionally sending my daughter to a camp where she'd learn theology she'd have to unlearn later? Why was I spending quite a bit of money for my child to inherit a belief system that promotes the idea of other religions being less-than and hell-bound?

And yet, it did create this opportunity to have an amazing conversation. I was able to share with my daughter (hopefully humbly) why I didn't agree with this. I was able to ask her if she thought those Muslim teenagers believed in God and how they were trying to live their lives. And we talked about Jesus and whether his emphasis was on where we go when we die or who we are becoming in this life on earth. None of these words would have flowed between us if she hadn't gone to this camp.

And let's be honest. Evangelicals do terrific summer camps for kids. They've got it down. It's a great mix of a ton of fun and great relationships that really open kids' hearts.

But at what cost? And is it fair to send an 11 year-old to be opened up to powerful messages about the nature of God and Christianity, only to be told by her mother on the drive home that those messages are wrong? That's a kind of ambiguity that isn't really fair to impose on an 11 year-old. Are there ways for me to open my child to this connection to God in other ways? Of course. Does she desperately hope she can go back next summer? Of course. Am I still torn even after this heart-wrenching conversation? Yes. I just can't shake how formative those summers were in my own life. They charted a life-long course of seeking and finding a deep relationship with God. Yes, I've had to "unlearn" some stuff, but isn't that a wonderful journey, too? Even if I didn't send her to this place, she'd still have to unlearn stuff. She's going to have to unlearn a lot of stuff just having me as her mom! Like we all have to.

So I am in a quandary. What is harmful (or at least unhelpful) perpetuation of a theology that teaches that the "other" must be changed into "us?" A theology that teaches that God picks favorites and requires us to ask Jesus-into-our-heart or else. And that is only one issue I had. There is also the way they spoke to the kids about sexuality and purity, not to mention the authority of scripture and its interpretation. I am someone who is able to see the gifts in all the different "flavors" of this thing we call Christianity. It is my hope that the healthy aspects of this particular flavor are the ones that will stick with my daughter. But I can't control that and I'm just not sure...


Peter Enns interview, Part 3

Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 3 of 3.

Brian: What is your biggest hope for the book? What would success look like?

Peter: Besides getting me interviewed by Brian McLaren and the book having a bright canary yellow cover I can use as a night-light, my biggest hope for the book is to help people see that their faith does not rest in “holding on” to the kind of Bible that they know deep down they simply can’t hold on to.

I want to give them permission to decouple the viability of their faith from the perceived need to base that faith on a problem-free Bible. I hope my book offers a different set of expectations about what the Bible is and what it is there to do for us that makes sense to them on their own Christian pilgrimage.

I hope those who read the book will be challenged and/or encouraged to feel the freedom to think about God and their lives in communion with God in ways they might not have expected. I can’t define what that is, of course.

For those for whom the Bible has become an obstacle to faith rather than a source of faith, I hope they will be able to take a deep breath and know there is no need to keep staring over the cliff’s edge and consider jumping. Get back on the path and keep walking.

I hope for those who have left the faith to see that maybe the faith they left was a false faith, a parody, a form of Christianity where the Bible was loaded with false expectations of scientific or historical accuracy and absolute moral mandates, and they walked away from the faith because they rightly couldn’t reconcile that non-negotiable expectation with their own reason and experience.

I want people to honor and respect Scripture as a God-sanctioned companion on their faith journey, but without thinking of the Bible as an owner’s manual or complete how-to book. I want them to see that honoring and loving the Bible does not mean living with the constant pressure of having to “get the Bible right” or suffer the consequences of a touchy, nit-picky God if they don’t.

Rather, I want them to look on their faith in God as source of joy, love, contentment, comfort, and hope, and the Bible as book that, in its own ancient and sometimes odd ways, informs and models that faith for them.

Peter: With three 20-something offspring, I have had all sorts of occasions to reflect on how “dominant evangelical culture” has not supplied them with a compelling story, one that connects with and helps them make sense of the world they live in. In a word, the almost exclusive focus on maintaining orthodoxies ("being faithful to the past") has come at the expense of delivering a viable faith for them on their life journey ("being faithful to the future"). In your traveling and speaking, I'm sure you engage a lot of people with similar perceptions. I'd love to hear you comment a bit on what you think it means for the church to take responsibility to be "faithful to the future" and not just the past.

Brian: Wow. That is a truly important question. I often tell the story about a conversation with a parent whose son had come out as gay shortly after one of my adult kids came out. "If I accept my son as a gay man," he said with tears, "I feel I am rejecting my father, who will never be willing to accept my son. If I accept my son as a gay man, I feel I am rejecting my father." In being faithful to our ancestors, we can betray our descendants.

That's one reason I love Jesus so much. As I try to explain in WMTRBW, his statement, "I have not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but fulfill them," addresses this problem powerfully. The ancient tradition was a path, a way of dealing with realities in the time and place where it arose. It set people on a trajectory whose intent their descendants had to discern. Jesus understood that sometimes overturning the tradition was necessary to fulfill its intent.

So, focusing on food taboos might have been essential at one point in their history. But now, he said, it's time to realize that what goes into a person isn't what matters; it's what comes out of a person that matters. Similarly, sacrifice and a temple to house it had their social and spiritual function in the past, but the time had come to realize that neither temple nor sacrifice really mattered. What God desired was compassion, not sacrifice … and the Spirit was available everywhere, not just on this or that temple on this or that mountain.

Religions and people that don't understand and fulfill the intent of tradition become brittle and reactionary, backward-looking and fearful of the present and future. Religions and people that understand what Jesus meant by fulfilling the tradition become creative and wise guides into the future. I think that's what people like you and I are trying to do, Peter - understand our tradition, understand its highest and best intent, and seek to live out and extend that intent into our own present and future.


A reader writes: not alone

A reader writes:

I am a lifetime believer, with a constantly evolving relationship with God. I picked up your book [Secret Message of Jesus] nearly by accident in the public library. I was shocked to read your interpretation of Jesus, His message, and the church, since it mirrors my beliefs so perfectly. I constantly struggle with what I have come to believe and what I see being preached and practiced in many churches. Thank you so much sharing your journey. It's nice to know I am not alone.

I'm always grateful for encouraging words like these. And glad to hear the book was available in your library too! So many people feel alone … if we all found each other, we'd be surprised!



“Who among us has not suddenly looked into his child's face, in the midst of the toils and troubles of everyday life, and at that moment "seen" that everything which is good, is loved and lovable, loved by God! Such certainties all mean, at bottom, one and the same thing: that the world is plumb and sound; that everything comes to its appointed goal; that in spite of all appearances, underlying all things is - peace, salvation, gloria; that nothing and no one is lost; that "God holds in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is." Such nonrational, intuitive certainties of the divine base of all that is can be vouchsafed to our gaze even when it is turned toward the most insignificant-looking things, if only it is a gaze inspired by love. That, in the precise sense, is contemplation...

Out of this kind of contemplation of the created world arise in never-ending wealth all true poetry and all real art, for it is the nature of poetry and art to be paean and praise heard above all the wails of lamentation. No one who is not capable of such contemplation can grasp poetry in a poetic fashion, that is to say, in the only meaningful fashion. The indispensability, the vital function of the arts in man's life, consists above all in this: that through them contemplation of the created world is kept alive and active.”
― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation


Fostering Empathic Capacity and Ethical Reasoning



Absolutely amazing study in how religious scholars can make a difference ...

A diverse group of Sunni Muslim scholars sent this message to the self-proclaimed leader of ISIS/ISIL:

Executive Summary
1- It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry- pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
2- It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
3- It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
4- It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
5- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
6- It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
7- It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to
kill journalists and aid workers.
8- Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose
and without the right rules of conduct.
9- It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares
10- It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the
11- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
12- The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
13- It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
14- It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
15- It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
16- It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct
procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
17- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
18- It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
19- It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God .
20- It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
21- Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler
and not allowing people to pray.
22- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
23- Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
24- After the death of the Prophet , Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

Learn more here:
And here:



“... the greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul.”
― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation



“The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refused to have anything as a gift.”
― Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis Of Culture


Peter Enns interview, Part 2

Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 2 of 3.

Brian: I often say that for 500 years Protestants have been trying to prove to Catholics that a religion can exist with an infallible book rather than an infallible pope. But now the question remains - can a religion exist without an infallible book? How do you think Christians will answer the authority question 25 years from now - those, I mean, who are no longer appealing to an infallible pope or book?

Peter: I think that’s a good way of presenting part of the Protestant predicament. It’s certainly the case that biblical authority, however conceived in the early Protestant reaction to Roman Catholicism, has taken on a life of its own—a “paper pope,” as it were. I have knowledgeable friends who would call that a bit of a low blow, because the role of the Bible—including in Roman Catholicism—has always been central to faith and life. Still, particularly in America, I can’t help but think that what conservative Protestantism expects the Bible to do for them—an inerrant guide to all matters of faith and life--is not what the Bible is meant to do (which is one of the central themes of The Bible Tells Me So).

I know, Brian, that you’ve written about how the Bible functions uniquely in America as a “constitution”—authorities interpreting the sacred, binding text to define law for the rest of us, and which correlates to the rejection of monarchy by the colonists. I agree with this comparison and I have found it a helpful way of explaining how Protestant expectations of the Bible have a significant cultural dimension.

The Bible, however, is a problem—and I’m sure you agree. All Christians should want to engage knowledgably and humbly the Bible as we walk the path of Christian faith. But the problem that you’re touching on is one of faulty expectations about what the Bible can actually do.

Seeing the Bible as a source of binding information for all matters touching on our faith and accessible by exegesis runs into well known recurring problems—namely Christians rarely agree on a lot of things about how the Bible is to be understood and listened too, which bring us back to the “paper pope” or “constitution” metaphor. The Bible is too diverse to function that way. What sounds like a good idea in the abstract becomes a problem when you actually start going to the Bible to provide answers to all our questions.

In a word, you find that the Bible has to be interpreted. And if the history of Christians and Jewish interpretation of the Bible has shown us anything, it is that interpretation and the interpreter’s context can never be severed. We read Scripture from our own cultural vantage point, much of which is below the level of the surface of the conscious mind.

What happened in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, where Scripture’s plain and authoritative voice was called upon to settle all sorts of issues? Interpretive diversity. Do you baptize infants or adults? Do you sprinkle or immerse? What does it mean when Jesus says, “This is my body?” Is Jesus really “there” in the Eucharist? In what sense is Jesus “present” in the bread and wine?

There’s a reason thousands of Christian denominations and sub-denominations exist, especially in Protestantism: the Bible requires interpretation in order to be the final court of theological appeal. But the Bible itself is notoriously difficult to nail down on many matters. There’s enough flexibility there to allow for multiple legitimate interpretations. Related to this is the concept of “inerrancy.” It’s not a helpful term for guiding our use of the Bible. Functionally, what the Bible is inerrant about and how it is inerrant varies among Christians.

Anyway, despite all this, and now finally getting to your question, I’m not sure “can a religion exist without an infallible book?” is the best question to ask. I suppose religions can in general. Whether Christianity can is another question, and I suppose we’ll never be able to test the hypothesis, because the Bible is never going to leave the life of the church. The Christian faith is too biblically engaged and defined to contemplate a life without the Bible.

Scripture—in all its diversity, complexity, and messiness—presents the Christian story. It always has, it always will. It’s not going anywhere, and we shouldn’t wish it to. So the more pressing question, as I seed it, is: what kind of “Bible” is the church going to engage in faith and life in the coming decades, generations, etc.? A “paper pope” or constitution?” Or something else?

In other words, what expectations of the Bible will we have as we try to follow Jesus here and now. What is the Bible there for? How will that question be answered differently today and tomorrow than how it’s been answered over the last century or so in conservative contexts?

Again, I‘ve tried to make very clear in The Bible Tells Me So that the Bible isn't the problem. The problems begin when we place our own expectations for the Bible onto the Bible and that the Bible simply can’t bear without a lot of fudging. In that respect, not only can but I think Christianity must learn to exist without an “infallible book” as it has been operating for at least western conservative Christians. The question needs to be asked more deliberately, “infallible for what?” That, I think, is a very important question to keep asking ourselves.

My brief answer to that question is that the Bible models for the faithful and humble our own diverse spiritual journey of faith in God and Christ, moving us toward greater love of God and love of others. “Knowing Scripture” is not the end goal. Knowing God in Christ is. The Bible doesn’t say “Look at me!” but “Look at me so you can look through me, past me, to God.” Rather than being the “center” of our faith, the Bible decenters itself and puts Christ in the center where he belongs.

Peter: When I was in graduate school, a question--actually, a two-part question--began to surface for me: "What is the Bible, really, and what do we do with it?" Realizing that I had never asked myself these questions before was a moment of profound self-awareness, but having my preconceptions challenged through a serious academic study of the Bible raised them and they have stuck with me ever since. So, I know this is totally unfair, but how would you answer a curious person who knows little to no Christianese and really wants to know what you think? What is your elevator pitch answer to those questions?

Brian: So I'd say the Bible is a library - a collection of literary artifacts. The first and larger part of it is from the Jewish people, spanning several centuries of their history. It includes poetry, a bit of philosophy, a fascinating genre called prophecy (which is something like ethical social commentary today), and a whole lot of storytelling.

The second part collects literature from the early years of a movement that arose within Judaism, centered in the life and teaching of Jesus. This collection begins with four gospels - another unique genre, not to be confused with simple biography or historical account. It is followed by a kind of gospel-appendix or sequel called Acts of the Apostles.

Then there are a series of epistles or formal letters that circulated among early centers of this movement. Finally there is an enigmatic text called Revelation or Apocalypse, which is an example of a genre called Jewish Apocalyptic literature.

Together these documents are tremendously important, because they help us reconstruct a vital conversation over many centuries about God and life. In that conversation, millions of people have found meaning and purpose for their lives; in fact, by entering that conversation, they have experienced an encounter and engagement with God. (Final installment next week …)



“Patience is not the indiscriminate acceptance of any sort of evil: "It is not the one who does not flee from evil who is patient but rather the one who does not let himself thereby be drawn into disordered sadness." To be patient means not to allow the serenity and discernmet of one's soul to be taken away. Patience, then, is not the tear-streaked mirror of a "broken" life (as one might almost think, to judge from what is frequently shown and praised under this term) but rather is the radiant essence of final freedom from harm. Patience is, as Hildegard of Bingen states, "the pillar that is weakened by nothing.”
― Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart



“No one can obtain felicity by pursuit. This explains why one of the elements of being happy is the feeling that a debt of gratitude is owed, a debt impossible to pay. Now, we do not owe gratitude to ourselves. To be conscious of gratitude is to acknowledge a gift.”
― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the writings of Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper. One of Pieper's themes was the relationship between happiness, gratitude, and contemplation. This week I'd like to share some of my favorite quotes from Pieper on these and related subjects.


A good conversation gains momentum ...

I wrote a note recently to Andrew Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was gracious enough to reply. Here are a few thoughts in response to his letter:

First, Andrew, I know you're very busy and I appreciate you taking the time to reply. A few things you said invite a response from me. I'm sorry this isn't more brief, and I don't expect you to respond.

You said:

Unfortunately, though, “conversation” as you often construe it, is simply a pretext and power play designed for endless speculation that never reaches an answer—unless it’s an answer that you find acceptable on your terms (which, more often than not, is an answer that rejects historic Christianity).

Hmmm. No, I am not for endless speculation that never reaches an answer. But I am for re-opening questions that deserve to be re-opened. I believe making room for gay marriage is one of those questions. You still do not. I explained, very briefly, why I think it deserves to be re-opened. You were not convinced. We have achieved disagreement.

No, I do not reject history Christianity. I embrace it and hope to learn all I can from it. I do probably define historic Christianity somewhat differently from you. In my view, Christian history is full of passionate disagreement. It is a history of ongoing learning, heroic successes, tragic failures, and repentance. In my view, it is less of a static position and more of an evolving quest to faithfully follow Jesus in changing times and circumstances. Sadly, too much of our history has been violent and hateful, and I hope we can do better than that in the future!

You said:

To be entirely candid in the spirit of “human to human conversation,” I’m not convinced that you’re actually writing as an evangelical on matters such as these. You may think that you are, but the evidence you’ve provided in your many writings over the years lead me to believe that you have rejected what history has long considered orthodox Christianity. Now, I don’t say that joyfully; and I know you’ll reply in such a manner that subjects all aspects of “orthodoxy” to the unending regression of perspectivalism. You’re a terrific writer, but a writer whose views I couldn’t more strongly reject. So, admittedly, I’m reluctant to accept the scriptural presuppositions that you would use to make your argument.

If I understand you clearly, you would prefer to be in conversation with people who a) share your presuppositions about Scripture, and b) will not question anything "history has long considered to be orthodox Christianity." Since you don't think I share those presuppositions, and since you think I reject what you see as historic Christianity, then clearly I am not a trustworthy or appropriate conversation partner in your mind. I could try to argue with you based on your presuppositions, since I am familiar with them and once agreed with them fully, but I think others would be better conversation partners for you than I am. More on that in a minute.

I would only point out that for the church's first 1500+ years, it was unthinkable to the vast majority of Christians that historic orthodox Christianity could exist without authoritative leaders who held the role of apostle or bishop, established through apostolic succession. Baptists came along and had the audacity to question that previously unquestioned characteristic of orthodoxy. To Baptists today, of course, apostolic succession seems like a misguided minor tradition of the past, but not so to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and others, and not so to "history" before 1500.

To their credit, Baptists and Catholics today treat one another, by and large, with civility, in spite of their disagreement on this very important matter, and I hope Christians like you and me can do the same even though we disagree on other matters.

You said:

Laws make distinctions. What matters, however, is that they not make arbitrary distinctions.

An arbitrary distinction, for example, were [sic] the awful and racist anti-miscegenation laws that prevented different races from marrying one another marry [sic]. That debate was about who could marry, not what marriage is.

I'm a bit older than you, and I remember hearing "awful and racist anti-miscengenation laws" defended as biblical truth in my Plymouth Brethren assembly when I was a boy, just as I know they were passionately defended in many Southern Baptist churches in my lifetime as well. So our ancestors had a vigorous argument about whether distinctions based on race were arbitrary or not. Many of our white ancestors believed they were not at all arbitrary, but were rooted in creation, in biblical curses, and in clear biblical teaching. You and I now agree our ancestors were wrong in their understanding and application of the Bible on these matters.

The question today is whether distinctions based on sexual orientation are arbitrary. Everyone, including me, used to agree with you that they are not arbitrary. But now many of us are coming to believe that gay and straight are differences within the realm of normal human characteristics - like skin color, left-handedness, or personality type. As such, they should not be reasons for discrimination. We believe that just as we have dared to differ from our ancestors on interracial marriage - which was considered unbiblical as recently as our grandparents' generation, we must now dare to differ on gay marriage.

You're right: that's no small thing, and no change of conviction should occur without sober, prayerful, and intense thought and conversation, which is why EME is trying to encourage that conversation: not for "endless speculation that never reaches an answer," but for careful consideration so that wrong answers are, to the greatest degree possible, left behind.

You said:

When we protect “traditional marriage” or “biblical marriage,” we’re simply being deferential to the undeniable reality that children need mothers and fathers. Marriage connects men, women, and children. All of human history has recognized this truth, until it became politically unpopular in the West less than two decades ago. (For decrying Western colonization as you do, it seems odd that you’d kowtow to a position promoted and mainstreamed exclusively by Western countries.) When government and society decide to redefine marriage, it doesn’t just expand who can marry, it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is.

There's a lot I could say about your line of thinking here, but will only respond to two things. First, regarding the word "kowtow," I don't find it odd to appreciate some things about Western culture and disapprove of other things. You do the same, I'm sure. And I should add that many non-Western cultures showed respect for gay people long before civil rights for gay people became an issue in the West. Where I live, for example, the Calusa Indians had a respected role for gay men.

Second, when you say, "When government and society decide to redefine marriage … it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is" - well, yes. To redefine marriage is indeed to redefine marriage. But to return to your earlier example, traditional American marriage outlawed interracial marriage. Redefining marriage to include interracial marriage, in the minds of the defenders of miscegenation laws, would alter marriage from what God intended. (They used the "after their kind" clause from Genesis 1 to prove their point.)

To outlaw polygamy, which certainly has a long history in the Bible and was, in fact, a requirement of biblical law, also altered marriage in significant ways, as did extending equal property and voting rights to women, as did allowing young people to choose their partners instead of the more traditional way of having parents arrange their children's weddings. Allowing wives to call their husbands by their first name (rather than "Mr. Jones," which was traditional in many societies in the past) altered marriage. So did talking openly about woman's sexual satisfaction, something a Southern Baptist couple, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, played a big role in through their then ground-breaking book The Act of Marriage.

To have churches without a pope or governments without a king certainly redefined church and government in a way as well. All changes are not equal, and to advocate for one change is not to advocate for any and all changes. That's why EME has a very limited message. EME is not advocating that Southern Baptist churches should marry gay couples. Instead, EME is not trying to redefine marriage between a man and a goat or between six people or anything like that. EME is simply making a case for Evangelical Christians to be able to affirm civil marriage for gay couples. We hope Evangelicals can speak freely and openly about that possibility.

You said:

When we make marriage fungible, we make it unintelligible. We render its persuasiveness null and void, since any relationship can supposedly exhibit marital qualities.

To say that marriage should be extended to two LGBT adults who make a lifelong commitment of fidelity and mutual care is not to say that "any relationship can exhibit marital qualities." Adults, commitment, lifelong, two, mutual care,, and fidelity are significant qualifiers. Again, you may not agree they are sufficient qualifiers, but it would be good not to misrepresent EME's position as meaningless fungibility. As I said, EME isn't even arguing for churches to recognize gay marriage; EME's position is that even if Evangelical Christians refuse gay marriage in their churches, Evangelical Christians can support civil marriage in society for two LGBT adults who make a lifelong commitment of fidelity and mutual care.

By the way - nobody should assume that EME agrees with all of my views, or that all of its advisors agree with one another on every detail. I know there is diversity of opinion on the Board of Advisors on many matters. We are on the Board of Advisors because we agree with this primary message of EME:

Given the diversity of thought among evangelicals, disagreements on the finer points of this issue are inevitable. What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.

You said:

Because of this, I think it’s disingenuous when you write “If such a dialogue is warranted, people should not be silenced, excluded, condemned, or excommunicated simply for opening up this discussion.” I agree! The problem here, though, is that you cannot, in the same statement, ask for a conversation where no one is condemned, but also place a biblical view of marriage alongside practices like slavery. This “guilt by association” argument is merely subtle condemnation.

First, it's good to know you agree with my statement!

Second, I sincerely didn't intend bringing up slavery to create "guilt by association." I could have used anti-miscegination laws (as you did) or support for segregation and apartheid or anti-Semitism to make the same point. I know people forget, but it wasn't that long ago that "orthodox Christians" - including many, many Baptists, well into the 20th century - supported these things and did not consider them minor matters. They weren't ashamed of them; in fact, they stood proudly for these things. I don't say these people weren't Christians, weren't Evangelicals, weren't Baptists, or should be condemned. I do say I think they were mistaken and we should distance ourselves from both their views and the faulty logic that made those views so important to them.

Putting guilt by association aside, the issue of slavery can't simply be disqualified from polite discourse. We both know that that our white 19th century ancestors held their faulty logic (which they called "the biblical [or Scriptural] view" on slavery) so passionately that they were willing to divide their denominations (and nation!) over the issue - and today on the issue of LGBT equality, similar logic can lead to similar choices. Whether or not LGBT equality is legitimate, we should at least have a public discussion on how our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries, people who held the "highest" view of Scripture possible, could be so wrong. Where was their logic faulty? How can we avoid making the same mistakes today and in the future? (I address this question in some detail in my book A New Kind of Christianity.)

You said:

Moving forward, I’d suggest that Evangelicals for Marriage Equality make actual arguments, because principle is the fruit of honest debate and right now, the principles of EME are quite non-existent.

You have tweeted this and repeated it, so I realize this is important - you want to actually hear and understand EME's principles and arguments. Whether or not you statement was an overstatement (the principles of EME are non-existent?), I hope EME will take it as an invitation to make their principles and arguments clear and understandable. I will not try to take the lead in this since I already seem to be disqualified from being an acceptable conversation partner, which I understand and accept. Thankfully, there are others who can more fully meet your criteria, and I hope they will speak up in the coming days, for your benefit and for the benefit of others.

Thanks again for the candid, civil, and respectful tone of your response. I hope you feel nothing less in what I've written here.


Q & R: insiders and outsiders in 1 Thessalonians

Here's the Q:

I recently read A New Kind of Christianity, and was quite impressed. God has been gradually changing my understanding of much of the Christian message, and it's been exciting for someone brought up as a fairly traditional Wesleyan. I had already moved somewhat away from my roots when I became part of the Charismatic stream of things. For several years we have been attending an Assembly of God church and I have been teaching the adult Sunday School class. Because of my Wesleyan background and the more adventurous ways God is leading me in recent years with regards to salvation and who God is (let's face it... I'm not really a true dyed in the wool Pentecostal), I have sometimes found it difficult to teach the standard lessons that come from the denominational headquarters. Still, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have always managed to find something positive to teach, even in the lessons I'm not altogether sure I agree with. I have made it a practice to try to only say things I really believe and not just parrot the party line. I could do that since I know it very well. I'm 67 and I've been a Christian all of my life, pretty much.

I do have a question about this week's lesson. The scripture is 1 Thessalonians 4, and in this scripture, it sounds to me like there are some who are included and some who are not. I've been trying to get away from that idea, but there it is... v. 13 "...the rest of mankind who have no hope" and v. 16 "the dead in Christ will rise first." That sounds like a clear distinction is being made. I'm okay with not being totally literal when it comes to end times events, but this scripture sounds like it refers to actual events that will happen. What do you think about eschatology and end time events? It's always been an area I don't enjoy studying, mainly because I think there's too much speculation about events, and most people seem to think that they are correct, even if they disagree with other good people who also think themselves correct.

Anyway, I appreciate the fact that you continue to love Jesus and the Bible even as you speak for a "new kind of Christianity."

Here's the R:
Thanks for your encouraging words. As for your question, I've just spent some time re-reading 1 Thessalonians 4. One of the sources I go to for help on difficult texts is the Girardian Lectionary (here). The language might seem technical, but it's worth the effort. There's a helpful quote included from James Alison:

If we take the notion of the 'end' understood as vengeance, just as it is found in 1 Thessalonians, it is a vengeful end which depends exactly on there being insiders and outsiders, so that the afflicted are vindicated, and the persecutors punished. But in the degree to which the perception of God changes, becoming, as we have seen, shorn of violence, two realities are altered simultaneously: the separation between goodies and baddies, insiders and outsiders, enters into a process of continuous collapse and subversion, and at the same time the 'end' cannot remain as a vengeance if there is no longer any clarity about who's an insider and who an outsider, and under these circumstances the notion of the end itself changes towards what we see in 2 Peter: it becomes a principle of revelation of what had really been going on during the time that has been left for the changing of hearts... In this way the End, rather than being a vengeful conclusion to time, comes to be a principle, operative in time, by means of which we may live out the arrival of the Son of Man, the being alert for the thief in the night, the whole time. (p. 127)


Israelis and Palestinians working for peace ...

Learn about the power of attention, distraction, and nonviolence here:


Brilliance from Katharine Hayhoe ...

I love this:

I mean, imagine a world where, you know, the highways are made of solar panels that charge our cars as we drive. Where every house is just made out of shingles of solar panels with a little wind turbine in the corner. Where we have no air pollution anymore, you know, killing children with asthma and people with respiratory disease. I mean, I know this sounds like utopia.

BILL MOYERS: Sounds to me like it could be a new gospel.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: It may be. A gospel that builds on the resources that God has given us. We have more than enough abundant energy to power our society from wind, from solar, from tides. All the things that we believe, as Christians, God created and has given to us as a free gift. So I think that there is the ability to have a better future, one that is built on the goodness that God has given us here in this world.

More here:


A (not-yet) reader writes: condemnation, apology, recommendation

A not-yet reader writes:

I felt it on my heart to send you this note. It is not a note of condemnation but a note asking for your forgiveness.
I know it may seem strange, as I have never met you or have spoken to you. The only contact I ever had was one comment I posted on your blog.
It was a message that summarizing the commonly held doctrines and dogmas of modern day religion. Looking back, it was very inappropriate and very self- righteous of me to post such a comment. In the last year the Lord, in his mercy, has answered a prayer of mine. That prayer was a deep desire in which I have asked Him to allow me to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. This was the only desire of my heart. This has resulted in my eyes being opened to the ways and means of modern religion and the goings on within the denominations. I am now in the process of being taught by Him through his word and I am unlearning what I have been “told” all of these years. Every day is filled with a new revelation. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. J

To summarize, I wanted to tell you that I apologize to you for any condemnation I may have felt about your work in my heart, as uninformed as I was. I now empathize with your walk and what you must go through on a day to day basis. My walk on this path is just beginning but I am thankful for it each and every day. I wish you the best Brian and was wondering if you have a recommendation, from your body of work, which book would be a good starting point.

Thanks for your note. I seldom receive apologies like this, and when I do, they touch me deeply and are not forgotten. Thank you. As for a recommendation, since you're paying special attention to the Bible and how it challenges "modern religion" and its "goings on," I'd highly recommend my new book, We Make the Road by Walking. If you wanted a shorter recommendation, it would be Secret Message of Jesus. If you wanted something more theological, it would be A New Kind of Christianity. And if you want some encouragement on your own search, I'd recommend my New Kind of Christian trilogy, all of which you can read about here. I hope we meet in person some day soon. Thanks again for writing. Of course, all is forgiven.


Where I would be this weekend if I could be two places at once ...

This weekend, I'll be in Birmingham, AL, speaking to the good people of the SPAFER center. I'm really looking forward to it!

But if I weren't going to be in Birmingham, I'd be in New York City, participating in the People's Climate March on Sunday. If you're anywhere near New York City, I hope you'll be part of it. My brilliant friend Stephen Phelps explains why in this brief article - perhaps the best single explanation of why so many of us care so deeply about global warming. Quotable:

The fact of climate change makes real conservatives of all who are not blind. Like thoughtless children, we stormed downstairs and, in a single century, burst open all the packages of the sun's energy so compactly wrapped and stored beneath the forests for three billion years. No wonder it's getting hot as hell! True, we had no idea what we were doing -- but that is the thing so basic to human nature of which the old conservatives were so sensible: our will is blind and cannot be trusted lightly. Now, as we pull our heads out of the sand of self-interest and look squarely at what we have done, we consider the whole Earth -- how everything is connected to everything.

That means liberal and conservative, too. We share one reality, one earth, each touching a core truth, a core beauty, and God knows, the eagle needs two wings to fly.


A friendly note to Andrew T. Walker

Dear Andrew,
I'm not young, and some of my Evangelical friends are convinced my status as a bona fide Evangelical left me along with my youth and my hair.

But I thought I'd respond to your comment on the EME launch, as reported in a recent Christian Post article:

"I eagerly await the young evangelical that finally convinces me that the Bible and human history are wrong on marriage and that justice requires that both Christianity and society bestow marriage on same-sex relationships," wrote Andrew T. Walker, director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

First, a few clarifications.
1. We (I say "we" because I'm on the advisory board of EME) are not interested in convincing you that the Bible is wrong. We are interested in convincing you that certain interpretations of the Bible are wrong, or at least not the only valid and intelligent options.

2. History - by which, I think, you mean the shared view of most people in the past - has been right on many things and wrong on many things, including many things I'm sure you now believe. Respectfully questioning tradition is part of any living tradition, including our own tradition as Evangelicals.

3. Before we could convince you or anyone that justice requires you or anyone to "bestow" marriage on same-sex relationships, we would need to convince you that a reasonable and open-minded public conversation on the subject should be allowed - in Evangelical and even Southern Baptist settings. Such free and open conversation rarely if ever takes place in Evangelical and Southern Baptist settings. Instead, conclusions are typically pronounced before the conversation begins and people who raise questions and reach differing conclusions are frequently labelled and expelled. For that reason, it would be premature and unwise for EME to try to convince anyone of anything without first helping create space for open, respectful, and reasonable conversation.

So, a more modest and appropriate goal would simply be to convince you that it is good and wise to open up space for intelligent conversation. Here is a simple argument toward that end:

1. Simple quotations from the Bible have been used to justify many things, including Anti-Semitism, colonization, elimination and enslavement of non-Christian or non-European peoples, racism and segregation/apartheid, an earth-centered universe, a young earth, the inappropriateness of rock and roll in church, the subordination of women, and the divine right of kings.

2. Those who quoted the Bible to justify these things claimed that their views were Scriptural or biblical, and their opponents were "unbiblical." Many still did not change their views when a preponderance of evidence made their views untenable; however, younger generations arose who left those views behind.

3. To continue to resist equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons may or may not be in the same category as those historic mistakes. The possibility of repeating an egregious mistake yet again warrants humble and serious reflection and openness to dialogue, so that if our traditional interpretations are wrong, we can amend them sooner rather than later, without inflicting more harm.

4. For that reason, there should at least be a reasonable dialogue about the issue among Evangelicals - including honest discussion about how the Bible has been used in the past in harmful and misguided ways, and how its current use to disallow homosexual marriage could be similar to those abuses in the past.

5. If such a dialogue is warranted, people should not be silenced, excluded, condemned, or excommunicated simply for opening up this discussion … or for reaching different conclusions, if those conclusions have warrant.

This doesn't prove that marriage equality is justifiable, but I think it makes a good case that the kind of conversation called for by EME is reasonable. That's EME's main point: "It's time for a new Evangelical conversation about marriage equality."

By the way, one way or another , conversation is happening. For example, recently at Azusa Pacific University recently, signs like these were posted:
Here's how one student on campus responded:

You said that because you are a Christian, you follow God's way and truth, but never through cursing or name calling, just by sharing the Word with us, "sinful homosexuals/homosexual supporters" … but posting this anonymous letter is extremely hurtful…. Regardless of how your letter made us feel, I would love to have a conversation with you in person, and delve into these scriptures you referenced. I am a Biblical Studies major, who considers myself a Christian, and I do not believe I am giving into sinful desires as a queer LGBTQIA friendly Christian, if anything I feel that I have modeled my life after Jesus.

… I know you don't agree with me, or my friends, but we are reading the book [the Bible] and we are believing in the same God. So let's get coffee or something, and talk about this. Human to human.

Human to human conversation is what we need, as this college student wisely said. That's what EME is asking for.


As a Floridian, a big thanks to Rev. Mitch ...

Read about his message to Florida Gov. Rick Scott here.


Peter Enns, Part 1

Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 1 of 3.

By the way, please join Peter in a Reddit AMA this Wednesday (tomorrow), September 17th at 3pm EST in the Christianity subreddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity)

Brian: Peter, I loved your book. I don't know many if any theologians who can make serious points with as much humor as you. You theologize like a stand-up comic, which, in light of the seriousness of your subject matter, is a good thing. Much humor, I think arises from pain and anger. I'm reminded that Soren Kierkegaard said, "The essence of all true preaching is malice," by which he meant that unless the preacher is mad about something, he has no passion. So … is that true for you with this book? If so, what pain or anger is behind it?

Peter: Thanks, Brian. I loved my book, too.

I’ve actually thought a lot about your question, but I’m not sure I can come up with a final answer. All I know is that I’ve loved to joke and laugh ever since I can remember (and it landed me in trouble now and then as a kid in school). Of course, this begs the question why it is part of my personality. I don’t think, though, that anger or pain are necessarily behind it. I know that many comedians have suffered emotionally, and I would venture to guess that their comedy was a form of pain-management.

But for me, I just like seeing the absurd in things. Humor can disarm and put people in a position of seeing the same old thing in a different light. I’m reminded of something George Carlin said (paraphrasing), that comedy is what happens everyday, you just need someone to point it out to you. For me, humor is a very natural-feeling mode of catching people off guard to see something deeper or from a different angle than they might be accustomed to. Maybe that’s my schtick.

I like how you refer to preaching in your question. I used to tell my seminary students that preaching is like Carlin’s definition of comedy: God-moments are all around us, we just need to be reminded of them.

In The Bible Tells Me So, I describe some people’s perceptions of God as a drunken father you don’t want to disturb from his nap lest he become angry. I’m not describing God but trying to get at the absurdity of how some perceive God—as one who will lash out ate you with only the slightest provocation. Some say I’m “mocking” God but that is to miss the point entirely.

I hope, though, that preachers don't have to be “mad” to be passionate, as Kierkegaard puts it (though I get his rhetorical overstatement in the context of the complacent church he was critiquing). Anger is fine when it is well placed, directed at things worthy of anger. But I’ve seen too many preachers who are angry about everything, as if the only way they know how to speak of God is to be majorly hacked off about something. That’s not good preaching or good pastoring.

Peter: On my blog I've been running a series I call "aha moments"--that point where you began to see how the model of Scripture you had no longer makes sense to you and you know you have to move on. What is your "aha" moment with the Bible? What happened that started you on your journey, that made you realize "I need to find another way of thinking about how the Bible informs my faith"?

Brian: For me, there have been so many aha's. One came when I was in elementary school. I'm just old enough to remember the days of segregation. We attended a white church that was proud to call itself fundamentalist because it stood for the fundamentals of the faith.

One Sunday, my Sunday School teachers (it was a husband and wife co-teaching) told us that we should never date a person of another race because we might fall in love, and if we fell in love, we might get married, and if we got married, it would be a terrible sin because God "created them according to their kind" and there was this thing called "the curse of Ham" (which was about race, not pork products, I realized).

I remember thinking this was bonkers and evil, even though I was only maybe in fifth grade at the time. My parents weren't racists at all … but I realized that the Bible could easily be "an accessory to the crime" - if not wisely interpreted.

I encountered the same kind of racist attitudes, sad to say, in some missionaries I heard speak.

A couple years later, in middle school. I was super interested in science. One Sunday, my Sunday School teacher, a good-hearted and simple man, said, "You have to choose. You can either believe in God or evolution." I remember thinking, "OK. I'm 13 years old. Five years from now and I'm outta here."

To me, evolution was one of the most beautiful and elegant things I'd ever come across, and to put it in opposition to God made no sense. I probably would have been "outta here" if I hadn't had a very powerful spiritual experience a couple years later, accompanied by some spiritual mentors who didn't have such closed-minded approaches to Scripture and faith.

Those early conflicts were like a wound that kept getting opened again … when I realized that my church considered women as subordinate to men (in church, anyway), or when I found myself caught in the cross-fire between charismatics and non-charismatics, or caught in the cross-fire between traditional and contemporary worship, or caught in the cross-fire between Calvinists and Arminians - or - here was a huge theological debate in my setting: between jeans, beards, and long hair in church versus anti-jeans, beards, and long hair.

More aha moments came when I went to college and then graduate school, where I studied English. Studying literature involves studying the ways we read literature - which means studying theories of interpretation.

What was almost always implicit and unacknowledged in church because explicit and open to critique in lit classes - that we all have theories and assumptions and perspectives and biases we bring to the text. That's one of the reasons I wish that your book had been available to me back when I was in high school and college. I would have eaten it up. (More next week)


Readers write: We're using the book!

Readers write:

We were part of the Life in Trinity - We Make the Road by Walking experience in June. We’re excited to let you know that we are using the book in two ways at our church. We’re starting a new Sunday School class for those who have not been attending. We’ll probably adjust a little in order to have conversation time. Then on Monday night we’re having folks to our home for another group. At this point we have 7 on Sunday morning and 10 on Monday night. I’m praying for God to lead us to young adults to form a third group. We’re looking forward to what God will do in the midst of our journey! Thanks for sharing your gifts of leading, writing, and speaking faithfully in our time.

Thanks for this encouraging news. Really, an author's voice goes nowhere unless readers like you join it with their own voices. So we're all in this together. Thanks for letting me know. If people want to learn more about using the book, they should check out the books' page, and Facebook community.


Q & R: Jesus' scars?

Here's the Q:

I have recently been wrestling with this question and would love to hear you speak to it: What does it mean that the resurrected Jesus still has scars? I am not satisfied (and I suspect you would not be either) with the simple answer of 'proof for the disciples'.

Thank you so much for your thoughts.

Here's the R:
Nobody has ever asked me this question before, and I've found it fascinating and meaningful to ponder it for a few days. Thanks for asking.

One of the most audacious claims of the Christian faith is this: God suffers with us. God is not above suffering. God is not removed from it. In Christ, we come to believe that God is with us … in our suffering as human beings. So Jesus' scars tell us that human pain - all of it, every tear ever cried, I believe - has left its mark on God. God empathizes. Our pain is God's pain. With that as background, the beautiful image in Revelation comes to mind … God wipes the tears from our eyes, not as someone who isn't touched by our pain, or as someone who only understands from a distance. God comforts us as a fellow sufferer … we might even say as a fellow survivor.


Q & R: God acting badly

Here's the Q:

Some friends and I (all middle age guys!) are using "We make the road by walking". It's proving helpful as we are seeking a new way to view scripture. One issue that keeps returning is the issue of God not being violent, but apparently acting that way in the Old Testament. The Exodus story of plagues and the ultimate infanticide of the Egyptian firstborn is a case in point. You compare Herod to pharaoh and liken their crimes. How can we view this Exodus story and is this too a mix of fact and fiction?

Thankyou for your courage and insight, it gives us confidence to pursue God and not be afraid to challenge the rhetoric we are sometimes fed from evangelical circles.

Here's the R:
As you continue reading, you'll find a lot of help in dealing with this question, especially in Chapter 11, but also 21 and 25. You'll also love Peter Enns' great new book, which just came out recently: The Bible Tells Me So.


Jim Wallis gets it right

"Ultimately, we won’t see an end to our “war on terrorism” without dealing with the underlying causes, and not just targeting the consequences of growing terrorism. We must address the world of oil that the West has created, that has literally defined nations, changed geography, and institutionalized the injustices and hypocrisies that breeds the grievances of terrorism. Having justified the unjust structure of that oil world to accommodate our addiction to fossil fuels has produced both a profound threat to our planet and the rise of an angry terrorism that threatens our own children. We must address the fact that 60 percent of the Middle East population is under 30 years of age, and many of them are unemployed, uneducated, aggrieved, and angry young men — too easily drawn to the rhetoric of revenge. To overcome terrorism we must address the grievances that give rise to it and are exploited by hateful extremists.

Again, we must address all of these causes. War and more war will not be able to solve any of it." - Jim Wallis, Sojo.net


Q & R: Salvation as liberation?

Here's the Q:

I'm a UK citizen and daily reader of your blog. I find many of your posts inspiring and transforming; and you have started me on a journey relooking at my faith (or lack of it), which had led to me start questioning a lot of what I thought I knew.

To come to my question - In your interview with Red Letter Christians (linked on your blog) you describe salvation as:

'"Salvation” for many people is the good news of how souls can escape the curse of original sin and go to heaven after death. But that definition would never flow from the Hebrew Scriptures. There, salvation means liberation. It’s meaning comes from God saving – or liberating – the slaves of Egypt.'

Would you be able to enlarge on this further? I am struggling with the concept of Salvation as liberation. To me it feels like a Western worldview. How can people who live in other parts of the world, who do not have a democracy / an enshrined set of human rights etc access a 'liberation'. Particularly, how in light of the Christian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Harem and other atrocities committed by other extremists groups; how do these Christians work for / achieve their own liberation, when their rights and ability to make changes is controlled by others 'in this life'.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Here's the R:
For a really good answer to this excellent question, can I suggest my new book, We Make the Road by Walking? It's an overview of the Bible, and it puts the word "salvation" in its full biblical context.

The term "salvation" gets its meaning in the Bible from what God did for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. God saved them from slavery - which means they were set free or liberated. But it didn't stop there … God guided them to a new home, and God gave them moral guidance as well. In that case, it didn't involve democracy at all; it involved a good and courageous leader (Moses) confronting a selfish and unjust leader (Pharaoh) with the liberating truth and power of God. His courageous leadership inspired the people to "make a road by walking" through the wilderness. The tragic situation in Nigeria will require similar leadership, inspiration, and collaboration. Each of us - through our example, through our daily advocacy in simply speaking our best truth, empowered by God's Spirit of liberation - plays a role in this kind of joyful, life-giving change.


A reader writes: an outpouring of sadness and joy from a charismatic evangelical

A reader writes:

I am reading my way through your books and want to thank you for affirming much of what I have come to believe in the last 20 years. As a charismatic evangelical I had a very "In/Out" way of viewing the world. Then God led me to work in a Christian 12 Step Rehab. I was there for 10 years and watched women (it was a female project) who barely acknowledged the existence of God be transformed into the beautiful women God had created and my heart was enlarged to encompass the fullness of God's love and consequent mercy.

As I worked through that time God led me into ordained ministry where I have been in full-time service for the last 10 years. During this time, slowly, I have learned some language to express my wider understanding of God's love. But as I delve more deeply into the mystery of God I find myself even less and less able to articulate clearly what I mean. Your work has increased my language and articulation. But most of the time all I want to say is "God loves you - love him back".

I have three parishes with falling electoral rolls (I am in Norfolk UK, three rural parishes) and falling Sunday attendance though I work my socks off from Monday through Saturday and can easily become discouraged and sad. It seems that though people love to hear that God loves them, they do not want to worship him. Whereas my old Charismatic/ evangelical persona would have been preaching salvation is through the blood and the cross - Get Saved!!!! Mind you, I'm not sure that would fill my churches today either!

However, I pray that the seeds I am planting with this gentler and more inclusive understanding will one day produce a harvest for God's Kingdom that we can see this side of heaven! In the meantime I think [my denomination] will expire and God will do a new thing.

Many thanks for reading this outpouring of sadness and joy and many thanks for your books which have fed and affirmed my tired soul.

Thanks for your note. Many forms of church life will, no doubt, expire, as they have done in the past. But as you say, God keeps doing a new thing. Death isn't the end; just the precursor to resurrection and new beginnings.


Q & R: Coexist?

Here's the Q:

I was a virtual participant during the NCLI this past weekend, and was able to watch the recordings of your three talks. I loved what you said about movements and each of us doing our different part. I am currently a UMC elder, however, I'm in the process of transferring my credentials to UCC. I've been working on a proposal and plan for a new church/faith community start and would love your input on two areas. My dream is that this community would be intentional with partnering with other faith traditions in the area of mission. I love the idea of working to paint a bigger picture of God, and build bridges of acceptance and understanding. I'd love to do this by demonstrating that because of the God that is within us all, we can work together to take the love that is within us all and pour that love into the lives of those around us. I created a "mock" church website as a way to better visualize all the ideas swirling around in my brain. For this specific area, I labeled the tab "Coexisting." Then your book came along, blowing my mind at how I might really be onto something here! After reading Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? I'm not sure that's the best word to use. Do you have any thoughts on that?

And finally, do you have any advice on how I, as a mid 30's white female, can best navigate my approach and dialogue with those of other faiths? Many if not all such leaders will most likely be men who are not used to seeing women in such roles? Thank you so much for your time. Here's the link to my website that I'm working on so you can have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Again, thank you for all your work and wisdom!

Here's the R:
I checked out your website and thought it was very good. One suggestion - any new venture like this will involve people trusting you. So I'd be sure to add a lot about you on the website. I know that might sound egotistical, but it's not for ego's sake; it's to help people feel they know you enough to trust connecting with you.

The language under Coexisting felt kind of "old school." As you know from reading Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, I think that it's a misdiagnosis to think that our problems are because of religious differences. (In the book, I suggest that our hostilities come not from differences but from something we all hold in common.) So I'd speak more of celebrating and understanding both our similarities and differences so that we can collaborate for the common good.

By the intelligence of your inquiry and your website, I know you'll "get" that.

On the question of you being a woman, I would encourage you to be confident and non-defensive. I think you'll find leaders from other religions will be respectful of you as a woman Christian leader - it's easier, probably, to accept differences in other religions than in one's own sometimes!

One final suggestion: Don't minimize the wonderful contributions of Christian faith in your attempt to be hospitable to others. The best partnerships don't reduce participants to the least common denominator. Rather, they call for what is best and most unique in each participant so they can share their treasures with one another.


Dear Charisma Media …


Dear Steve Strang, Jennifer LeClaire, Shawn Akers, and Lee Grady,

We all make mistakes. As editors of Charisma Media, you may agree that you made one by posting a vicious Islamophobic article last week. It was good of you to take the post down. [For people who want to read it, it is available here.]

Now, many are calling for you to apologize. (For example, here's one petition that's being circulated, asking for you to do so.) I'm sure a lot of your customer base loved the article and would be dismayed if you apologize. (I've been told the comments section made this clear.)

You may be tempted to play to your base by refusing to apologize. Or you might even try to use this outcry against your magazine as many religious and political leaders typically do - as an attempt to raise money and portray yourselves as victims of some left-wing, liberal, pluralist, or Satanic attack.

You may avoid responsibility by saying the views expressed were those of the Rev. Gary Cass, president and CEO of DefendChristians.org, and that "Unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Charisma Media." You may simply hope this blows over and do or say nothing.

I hope you will apologize. But not simply as a way to get yourselves out of a public relations fiasco. I hope the four of you will use this opportunity to really learn something - so that you can in turn help your readers. This is a teachable moment for them as well as for you.

I don't normally read your magazines, but today as I scanned the headlines, it seemed clear that many of your articles lean in the direction of Gary Cass, and few if any offer a different perspective. (As examples of a different perspective, I'd recommend responses by Sarah Bessey and Brian Zahnd.)

How Christians relate to people of other religions is deeply important on many levels. I wrote a book on the subject, called Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? In light of the firestorm your magazine has entered on this subject, I hope you'll take some time to read it and maybe discuss it among yourselves in the weeks to come. I would be happy to be in conversation in person or by phone to offer whatever help I could offer as a fellow Christian who found the piece, and your decision to post it, deeply disturbing.

Editors such as yourselves can no longer afford to be ignorant or uninformed about the subject of Christian identity in a multi-faith world. The consequences are much more serious than the success or failure of your media company.

We all make mistakes. And we all can learn from them.

Warmly, in Christ,
Brian McLaren


Really good reports … from a park

Good reports keep rolling in about groups using We Make the Road by Walking. Here's one:

Awe and Wonder: Chapter One
We had Worship in the Park on September 7th as we began our journey with We Make the Road by Walking. Salem has had worship/church at a local park for the past three years since I've been here. … Last year, we gathered near the Nolichucky River and centered our worship around Luke 15. This year, we set up in the same place with similar weather- in the 80s, a beautiful day with birds singing, the water flowing, the sun warming, and we gathered by the river. (we failed to sing any 'gathering by the river' songs-- that was my mistake...)

We did sing about creation... Morning Has Broken and All Creatures of Our God and King. I used Brian's words to create a Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession, and Invitation to the Table. I used his ideas from chapter one text and commentary for a short Homily. I focused more on the suggested texts as a Proclamation of the Word. We hear the Creation story, but how many times have we heard it proclaimed/read aloud outside, in the midst of a beautiful park, near a river bank?

We used a tree stump as our communion table, green fabric covered the stump, the white cloth covering the elements kept the flies away and a mason jar complete with wild flowers finished our 'altar'. I reused the bulletins I kept from last year and glued new ones on top of the old. I used Lowes paint stirs and stapled card stock and then paper bulletins onto the wood stirs to create a bulletin 'fan' like you might see at a wedding or church in the deep south in the dead of summer. These are easy to hold, keep the flies away, and do provide a little relief from the hot sun. I kept the bulletins black & white, but added color with stamps. Yes...the "Pastor" stamped her congregation's bulletins. These are the joys and benefits of a small congregation!

We had a great service and the only thing I would change is that next year, I've vowed to use less liturgy so the congregation doesn't have to look down as much but can enjoy the view more so.

Below is what we used. As I mentioned, I used Brian Mclaren's words-- this chapter was written so beautifully and so writing liturgy for worship was fun. I have a feeling it won't be this easy as we journey further. For now, here is what I compiled:
(continued after the jump)

Continue reading Really good reports … from a park...


N. T. Wright, progressives, conservatives, and eschatology ...

A helpful assessment here. Quotable:

On eschatology, Wright argues for an entirely different approach, one he says is rooted in scripture and early Christian tradition:

But the most important thing to say…is that heaven and hell are not, so to speak, what the whole game is about. This is one of the central surprises in the Christian hope. The whole point of my argument so far is that the question of what happens to me after death is not the major, central, framing question that centuries of theological tradition have supposed. The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. (184)

A "charismatic" "Christian" calls for genocide

This isn't from the Onion, this is from Charisma News: http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/45300-why-i-am-absolutely-islamaphobic

Quotable (in a most disgusting way):
"ISIS has done us all a favor. The true face of Islam is on full display even as Muhammad is burning in hell. We will have to face the harsh truth that radical Islam has no place in civilized society. Militant Muslims cannot live in a society based on Christian ideals of equality and liberty. They will always seek to harm us.

Now the only question is how many more dead bodies will have to pile up at home and abroad before we crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus' Name? The Good News is Jesus, and His indestructible church, will prevail, but there will be pain and heartache along the way to victory. May we be willing to take the lesser pains now so our children won't have to take greater pains later." - Gary Cass

Gary Cass has done us all a favor: the true face of Christian extremism is on full display: like all violent extremism, that face is a mirror image of what it condemns.

In contrast, I say, "I love my Muslim neighbors and wholeheartedly reject the version of Christianity promoted by Gary Cass and those who stand with him."


Q & R: Permission?

Here's the Q:

I am reading We Make the Road by Walking. Good stuff. I am interested in the confession that are in the book and on the web site, and use for Sunday worship. How does one get permission?

Here's the R:
You're welcome to use anything in the book. If you include a link to the book, that's wonderful too, but not if doing so would be distracting or inappropriate.


A reader writes: More on prayer … part of maturity

A reader writes:

Brian, your response to the man who wonders why we pray is probably a lot better than mine…. [but here it is]

When you know what your son needs, do you give it to him immediately, without waiting for him to realize that he needs it? Always? Will you continue doing that for his entire life? If you do, he will surely become an incompetent adult, unable to deal with any of life's big questions. The first thing a competent adult does, when faced with a need, is to realize that there is a need. Your son appears to be getting no training in that skill. After a competent adult realizes a need, he or she figures out what to do in order to satisfy that need. In most cases, it's an action that can be performed and the need is satisfied. Sometimes it isn't. Then, this competent adult must ask somebody for assistance.

One of the purposes of prayer is asking for assistance when all of your resources are insufficient to satisfy a need. And somehow, the need gets satisfied. Did a personal God satisfy that need? Or maybe did the random oscillations of particles and forces in the universe just happen to line up together to satisfy the need? I can't prove one theory or the other. To me, the former is preferable.

Once, when i was a young adult, I needed to make my car payment, but I had no idea where the $126 was going to come from. I was in the armed forces at the time. Out of the blue, the service gave me a $100 uniform allowance. I had already bought my uniforms, so the money just went back into the family coffers. Then a friend turned to me and said, "I feel the Lord telling me to give you this". And he handed me $25. I had not mentioned any financial need. Later that day, walking toward my apartment, I found a $1 bill lying on the ground -- in windy Oklahoma, just lying there. $100 + $25 + $1 = $126, the exact amount I needed. I paid my car payment. I cannot prove that this was the action of a loving, personal God. But I have exactly zero difficulty believing it.

You've given us two really helpful additions to the discussion - first, pointing out (reminiscent of the film Bruce Almighty?) how automatic "yes" answers-before-they-pray would be harmful to humans in need, and second, sharing an experience that sure felt like a divine response to a felt need. Both additions are important! Thanks.


A reader writes: Naked Spirituality and Native American Spirituality

A reader writes:

I just listened to the Beyond The Box Podcast yesterday on Naked Spirituality and was struck by how similar your model of spiritual development is to that of The Medicine Wheel practiced by many Western North American indigenous nations.

Several years ago I was on a solo wilderness trip to the north shore of Lake Superior and found myself invited into the sweat lodge by a traditional group of Anishenabe (Ojibway/Chippewa) people who were completing 48 hour fasts. I spent several hours with them having their symbols and framing story explained and sharing common concepts. The sweat was transformative for me in that I realized for the first time how all encompassing Anishenabe views of Creation and it's sacredness are. A day later I was canoeing on Lake Superior and saw the first vision of my life in the clouds. My rational mind was nicely kicking back in afterwards, when a golden eagle (symbol of The Creator's presence) flew in and circled overhead. It was quite a defining moment for me. That week began a process for me of discovering new symbols and concepts which I began to appreciate as expressions of my own beliefs as a Follower of Christ.

One of those symbols is the Medicine Wheel, which expresses a contemplative approach to understanding life. You may already be aware of it's symbolism which in a general way has been described very well in a book called "The Sacred Tree." A few concepts about the medicine wheel resonated with me in your conversation with Rayburn:

First, the Anishenabe are taught to begin their contemplations on the Medicine Wheel with the East which represents childhood, the dawn, etc. The word that Ojibway author Richard Wagamese uses to describe this direction in terms of contemplation is "Innocence." I offer tobacco when beginning the cycle, which is standard Anishenabe practice as well. Tobacco is used in many indigenous rituals for thanksgiving. The Anishenabe work "the way of the Sun" and so move clockwise around the wheel. South represents Adolescence, Wagamese's word is "Humility" and the sacred herb is cedar (used in ceremony for purification). West represents Adulthood, Wagamese's word is "Honesty" and the sacred herb is sage (used for prayer and for purification). North is for elders, Wagamese's word is "Wisdom" and sacred herb is sweet grass (used in prayer). There are various understandings of each direction even amongst the Anishenabe but the nuances of what I've shared are common concepts.

Second, the general belief about the medicine wheel is that an individual should attempt to remain in the centre (hub of the wheel) and to meditatively view their lives from there. The sense is that getting stuck in any stage will cause problems. Coordinating with your words in the podcast about "cycling through the stages on higher levels" is the belief that wisdom must always lead back to innocence because without that vital step a person will become cold and bitter like a northern winter.

I use the medicine wheel approach often when I pray these days. I also offer tobacco and smudge with a stick made from the other 3 herbs while contemplating the concepts of the wheel and what The Creator is doing in my life. Each time I follow this way is different, but I often sense a deep peace, completeness and fullness by the time I finish the circuit back to innocence.

Although there's no question that I'm asking specifically, I wonder if you might comment in general on the similarities between The Medicine Wheel as I presented it above or from your experience and the concepts you expressed in Naked Spirituality.

Thanks so much for this note. I am so grateful. I wasn't aware of this resonance at all. Quite amazing.

Your note makes me miss my friend Richard Twiss. Richard was a Lakota Sioux who was doing important work on the resonances between indigenous spirituality and a deeper (nonWestern) Christian faith. He passed away last year and is so greatly missed. Thankfully, his work is being carried on by NAIITS … by good people like Terry and Bev LeBlanc, Randy and Edith Woodley, Andrea Smith, Ray Aldred, and many others. Again, thanks for sharing this with me. It's wonderful when resonances like these happen!


Q & R: Why Pray?

Here's the Q:

I often think about why we pray. Greg Boyd on his ReKnew Blog says:

Prayer does certainly change us, but that’s not why we’re told to engage in it. We’re commanded to engage in prayer because it is a God-ordained means of impacting him and changing the world. Jesus didn’t say if we have faith and pray our attitude toward mountains would change. He said the mountain would move! Prayer changes what happens in world. Did you know that there are more “if…then” clauses associated with prayer in the Bible than any other single human activity? For example, the Lord says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He then goes on to add, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chron. 7:14-15). The Lord is in effect saying, “I want to heal and forgive you, but I’m waiting on you to humble yourselves and pray.”

Do we pray to move God to action, or is prayer more about motivating us to take action?

I never could figure out if God is all knowing why do we need to petition "Him" to take action? I have a son, and if I know there is something that would be of benefit to him, protect him, keep him safe and there is something I can do about it, I would not need my son to remind me to take action. He's my son. I would do what I could to help him.

For those who believe God is a deity with powers to supersede the laws of nature I suppose it makes sense to try and get his attention through prayer to take action. I no longer believe God is a deity with super natural powers. That saves me a lot of trouble trying to figure out why God would save some people on one side of the street in a tornado, and permit people on the other side of the street to be killed. For me God exists in my conscious mind.

I would be interested in your thoughts on why we pray?

Here's the R:
Books have been written, and more need to be written, on this question. (A few books down the road, I plan to address this as part or a larger book on "what we mean when we say 'God.'")

The underlying issue - that you address in your note - is called "the agency of God." One way I often address the issue is to ask, "What kind of relationship do we think the Creator wants to have with creation?"

1. One option is "the outsider with intervention privileges." This is the traditional option that so many people - you and I included - find massive problems with. Prayer is our way of begging for intervention.

2. Another option is "the outsider with absolute control." This is the option of predestinarian determinism (i.e. neo-calvinism).

3. A third option is "the outsider with no intervention privileges." This is the option of deism. It solves some problems of the previous views, but leaves other problems unaddressed.

4. Another option is "the insider with no influence." I sense that some people end up here as a way of escaping 1-3 above.

5. Another option is "an insider with influence." This is in keeping with God revealed in Jesus … incarnational, suffering and rejoicing with creation, recruiting us to join with God in the healing of the world. Prayer in this sense is, in essence, aligning our wills/desires with God's will/desires. That's a different kind of relationships than 1-4, and it means that prayer is significant … but it's not a matter of outside intervention.

That certainly doesn't solve the problem or answer every question, but I hope it at least stimulates your thinking and proves helpful in some way.


A reader writes: not a slow path to atheism

A reader writes:

Thanks for inspiring us in your books, blog, and guidance; encouraging the will to continue in faithful even if uncharted Christian territory.
I felt compelled to comment but have found it difficult to say what I wanted regarding the post at Rachel’s blog on "progressive Christianity being a slow path to atheism “. I see why your response was so long. Here goes mine.

I found myself, quite unexpectedly, falling off that cliff a few years back. Ironically, I had just started reading Naked Spirituality. Difficult because it was a dark, painful time, even if fairly brief, and hard to revisit without angst. But, I want to offer encouragement for those walking that path.
What I learned:

Rhetoric, logic, philosophy, theology, evangelicalism, and atheism not longer make any sense to me from a traditional standpoint (even though I participate in a relatively conservative faith community weekly and find joy in it,).
Do not try climb back up the metaphorical cliff- I just surrendered to the process.
As the panic subsided, I realized that I still went to sleep with God every night.
At the end of what I thought, at the exhaustion of what I knew, past the edge of what I believed here is always the “something”, always a sense of “something’, presence close as my breath; “something" just beyond me.
I love "it “ and I know I love “it”.
I no longer claim to understanding God. “God" does not seem to be the right word any longer - it is not personal enough.
I like theory and theology as hobbies but its pursuit is now always hollow in the end.
The old speculation about how it all works whether it pertains to the Bible and Christianity (or some other religion) and the other faith of science and secular humanism is just tired and inadequate.
I favor peace over clarity and am fine with that.
I accept life in paradox- the less I know the more insight comes (and then goes); the less sure I am of what I believe the more I believe and I am OK with what I believe (at that moment); the less I see the Bible as “a constitution" the more I respect its counsel and truth.
Without rules or preconceptions, the ancient ways of faith seem to ring more authentic to me.
Now I see how most religions as they are practiced as idolatry but not the “something” behind it.
As in Naked Spirituality, I am “ behold”ing. With my evangelical friends and family I use a different language to say the same thing- God is real for me and I do not seek to control it.
But, Jesus is real to me, too (I’m just saying’.) and crucial for a host reasons not necessary for this discourse.
The Mystery is real and it is good and I am bound to it.

I hope this will help when typical rhetoric does not.
Blessings & prayers to you, your family and to those who listen to you.
Thanks again.

Thank you for writing. Helpful and well-put descriptions - resonant with what I call "Stage 4" in Naked Spirituality.

A frivolous aside - I love it that Rachel Held Evans can now be identified by first name only. Rachel - you're kind of like Beyonce, Bono, Sting, and Cher!


A Poem that Struck a Nerve

Last month I posted a poem a day over at my Facebook page. (If you don't follow it, I hope you will …) I included one poem of my own which has been quite popular, with over 245,000 views at this point. Several people have asked if they can have permission to use it. The answer is that you are welcome to use anything I post here or on my Facebook page, as long as you pass it along for free and include attribution. (It's nice if you can include a link to this site too.)

Here's the poem …


"Please de-baptize me," she said.
The priest's face crumpled.
"My parents tell me you did it," she said.
"But I was not consulted. So
Now, undo it."
The priest's eyes asked why.
"If it were just about belonging to
This religion and being forgiven,
Then I would stay. If it were just
About believing
This list of doctrines and upholding
This list of rituals,
I'd be OK. But
Your sermon Sunday made
It clear it's
About more. More
Than I bargained for. So, please,
De-baptize me."
The priest looked down, said
Nothing. She continued:
"You said baptism sends
Me into the
World to
Love enemies. I don't. Nor
Do I plan to. You said it means
Being willing to stand
Against the flow. I like the flow.
You described it like rethinking
Everything, like joining a
Movement. But
I'm not rethinking or moving anywhere.
So un-baptize me. Please."
The priest began to weep. Soon
Great sobs rose from his deepest heart.
He took off his glasses, blew his nose, took
Three tissues to dry his eyes.
"These are tears of joy," he said.
"I think you
Are the first person who ever
Truly listened or understood."
"So," she said,
"Will you? Please?"

- Brian McLaren

For more on baptism, see Chapter 19 of We Make the Road by Walking.



We Make the Road by Walking - AUDIO VERSION - is on sale for $18.74 (25% off) here: http://amblingbooks.com/books/view/we_make_the_road_by_walking#.VAR1qkvCWKw


Readers write: joyous tears, set free, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, getting naked

A reader writes:

I finished "The Secret Message of Jesus" and just began "Naked Spirituality" Learning so much and THANK YOU for writing! I've only been on my journey of faith for 5 years and never a dull moment. I was at a stuck point-feeling nothing new to learn-my pastor recommended you as an author and I'm realizing there will ALWAYS be more to discover about God! My relationship with Him, with Him in me just gets brighter! Broke down in joyous tears as I was reading today…

Another reader writes:
I realize that you must get hundreds of these types of emails but I still feel compelled to write. I realize that it is not possible for Brian to read each of these individually but because of the impact on my life, I feel I must try, so here it is, as succinctly as possible.

Brian: I am a 55 year old male and have been a Christian for over thirty years, ever since a dramatic conversion in my college years. For the next several decades my wife and I raised five kids, fully immersed in very conservative, Pentecostal churches. Several years ago I started being honest with myself about inconsistencies in our theology, huge gaps between what I believed was the character of God versus the actions of the church and the tremendous inward focus of the church culture. Quite honestly, I simply could not stand being part of this church culture any longer and had to escape, all the while, trying to figure out how to hold onto a personal faith that was a very real and important part of me. While finding many other people with similar frustrations I started trying to find my own path, holding onto those things that were true and good and ignoring and distancing myself from all the things that seemed contrary to the loving nature of God. Finding your books recently was life-giving to me. Your teaching aligns exactly with where I believe God has been leading me and confirms and validates this new spiritual direction in my life. I told my wife yesterday that it feels like I have now been set free to pursue a love relationship with God, that I don’t have to feel embarrassed or stupid to have my theology aligned in this new way. I am once again excited to be a pilgrim on this journey. I just needed to say thank you for your courage, leadership and desire to help others. May God bless you tremendously in your ministry.

Another reader writes:
I wanted to let you know that we are using the cycle of readings from We Make the Road by Walking starting in September instead of the lectionary for this coming year. …after 28 years of preaching the lectionary nearly non-stop… You can add one more PC(USA) church to your list!

Another reader writes ...
Just started reading Naked Spirituality.
Decided to (in the privacy of my backyard) in the presence of my Naked Lord, take off the top.
Not just clothing wise.
But the cork that was holding in an identity formed by my church, my youth group, my community.
Getting back to the roots.
Sitting with God.
Spending time with Jesus.
Thank you Brian McLaren.
Don't even know what else to say but thank you brother.

Thanks, all, for these notes of encouragement.


A reader writes: a response to yesterday's post:

A reader writes (slightly edited):

Ouch! What you quoted was, of course, nothing really new or surprising, but extremely well said. But look what happens if you replace key words here and there. The result is not perfectly true, but it's strongly suggestive:

While religion/Christianity, a particularly harsh and distorted version, does play a role to legitimate, recruit, and motivate, studies of most militias and hate groups show that the primary drivers are to be found elsewhere….

Drivers of radicalization include moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. For many it is the experience or perception of living in a 'hostile' society, disenfranchisement and heightened political consciousness, anti-[socialism] and social justice, emancipation and the personal search to be a good Christian or [private schools] as liberation, bringing together a constellation of narratives. The vast majority of the Christian populations of America are also becoming members of a visible ethnic minority of Whites. Their experiences are therefore likely to be shaped by experiences such as xenophobia, lower employment and educational levels and, more recently, the War on Christmas, as reported by Fox News.

If, as I suspect, a great many of the people who energetically want the U.S. to do something about ISIS/ISIL/IS are highly conservative Christians, then I wonder whether it will ever occur to anybody that we have two sides of the same coin trying to erase the other from existence.

Since writing Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? a few years ago, I've been paying more attention to the problems, not just of Christianity, but to religion as a whole … and to the problems of human identity formation, not just within Christianity, but among human groups of any kind. So many times when we're pointing out the splinters in others' eyes, we have planks in our own - because the problems we're facing are problems "common to humanity." They're anthropological problems, not simply the problems of this or that subgroup of humanity.

One of the fundamental insights of mimetic theory is that groups often enter dances of imitation. If we focus on our enemies and rivals, we become like our enemies and rivals. This, to me, suggests one of the most stunning dimensions Jesus and his idea of discipleship. He teaches those with eyes to see and ears to hear how to break the cycle of offense/retaliation/counter-offense/counter-retaliation (e.g. if someone strikes you on one cheek … DON'T strike him back). He offers an alternative model to imitate, helping us break out of our dances of death.

We have some peculiarly seductive dances of death begging us to join in right now. May others of us offer a better alternative.


John Esposito on Isis

Well worth reading, here.


While religion/Islam, a particularly harsh and distorted version, does play a role to legitimate, recruit, and motivate, studies of most jihadists and movements, like ISIS, show that the primary drivers are to be found elsewhere….

Drivers of radicalization include moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. For many it is the experience or perception of living in a 'hostile' society, disenfranchisement and heightened political consciousness, anti- imperialism and social justice, emancipation and the personal search to be a good Muslim or the headscarf as liberation, bringing together a constellation of narratives. The vast majority of the Muslim populations of Europe are also members of a visible ethnic minority. Their experiences are therefore likely to be shaped by experiences such as xenophobia, lower employment and educational levels and, more recently, Islamophobia.

If you're interested in exploring more about how religious identity can be a force for peace in the world - especially for Christians - check out my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.


A reader writes: the church game

A reader writes ...

Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you. Though I have to play the church game for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors... your wisdom and intellect in your books allows me to feel ok with how opposite my mind/heart works from the traditional evangelical hearts/minds I spend time with. I appreciate you Brian! I admire your tenacity for what matters most!

I just got back from a wonderful long weekend in England at the Greenbelt Festival, an amazing time which further inspires me to dream big things for the "daughter of Greenbelt" festival here in the US, Wild Goose. While there, I had so many people come and express similar feelings … that they are hanging in there with traditional churches, doing what good they can, but their hearts have moved on to a new vision. I know that "playing the game" will sound disingenuous to some, but I think this writer expresses his deeper desire well: "for the sake of inspiring a larger group of people to bless their neighbors."

This situation of inner division is not sustainable, of course. Eventually, something within us cries out to be "divided no more," as Parker Palmer puts it. The frustration of "playing the game" or "living divided lives" will eventually give birth to a movement. It is already doing so … as Greenbelt, Wild Goose, the Cana Initiative (now the Convergence Network) and many other movement-building collaboratives demonstrate.

So a word to all those who feel like this writer … get ready for your frustration and weariness to give birth to something beautiful, creative, productive. Here's how Parker Palmer describes it:

The first stage in a movement can be described with some precision, I think. It happens when isolated individuals make an inner choice to stop leading “divided lives.” Most of us know from experience what a divided life is. Inwardly we feel one sort of imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to quite another. This is the human condition, of course; our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable, and when the tension snaps inside of this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway.

The decision to stop leading a divided life, made by enough people over a period of time, may eventually have political impact. But at the outset, it is a deeply personal decision, taken for the sake of personal integrity and wholeness. I call it the “Rosa Parks decision” in honor of the woman who decided, one hot Alabama day in 1955, that she finally would sit at the front of the bus.

Rosa Parks’ decision was neither random nor taken in isolation. She served as secretary for the local NAACP, had studied social change at the Highlander Folk School, and was aware of others’ hopes to organize a bus boycott. But her motive that day in Montgomery was not to spark the modern civil rights movement. Years later, she explained her decision with a simple but powerful image of personal wholeness: “I sat down because my feet were tired.”

I suspect we can say even more: Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because her soul was tired of the vast, demoralizing gap between knowing herself as fully human and collaborating with a system that denied her humanity. The decision to stop leading a divided life is less a strategy for altering other people’s values than an uprising of the elemental need for one’s own values to come to the fore. The power of a movement lies less in attacking some enemy’s untruth than in naming and claiming a truth of one’s own.

There is immense energy for change in such inward decisions as they leap from one person to another and outward to the society. With these decisions, individuals may set in motion a process that creates change from the inside out. There is an irony here: We often think of movements as “confrontational,” as hammering away at social structures until the sinners inside repent and we contrast them (often invidiously) with the “slow, steady, faithful” process of working for change from within the organization. In truth, people who take an organizational approach to problems often become obsessed with their unyielding “enemies,” while people who adopt a movement approach must begin by changing themselves.


Q & R: Guidance? Dating? Discipleship?

Here's the Q:

Hi! My name is YYY and I am a 25 year-old, who has avoided the church experience of my childhood (church of Christ), which never felt congruent with what my spirit intuitively knew as truth and love. Through volunteering with a mission team abroad I came in contact with one of your books and a couple who was tentatively sharing their reimagining of faith and God as a part of their journey. Then, I recently moved to a metro area where I visited a church and for the first time in my entire life, heard a sermon that was truly a fulfillment of speaking the truth in love.

In that sermon, the pastor spoke about deconstructing the beliefs we hold as one might deconstruct a wall, and inspect each piece. But my question is, after doing that, how is it built back? What does being a modern disciple really look like? I truly feel like such an infant in this, but have no idea where to look for guidance other than books by you and other leaders like you.

To compound this, I am dating someone who is also searching, but from an even different perspective than me. Do you have a recommendation of a book or a study we could work through together?

I realize there are some loaded questions here, but I thought I'd try to ask you because I don't know who else to ask. Thanks for being the kind of person that I feel I can ask!

Here's the R:
Thanks for writing. I'm so glad you're finding some "light at the end of the tunnel." As the pastor you heard recently said, there is an important deconstruction process that many of us - especially those from more fundamentalist/absolutist backgrounds - must go through. Some end up with fragments and don't ask the important question you are asking - how do we rebuild?

If I could recommend three of my books that focus on that reconstruction, here's what I'd recommend:
1. We Make the Road by Walking - I especially think you and the person you're dating would enjoy reading and talking about this together. It's set up for a whole year of weekly meetings, but of course you could discuss it all at once, over four dates, whatever.

2. The Secret Message of Jesus - This book focuses on the center of Christian faith, not a doctrine or system or "wall" of beliefs, but a person.

3. Naked Spirituality - This is a book about postures of the heart, and the heart is so important in this sometimes overly-heady process.

You're on a good path! Keep moving forward.


Q & R: Unforgivable?

Here's the Q:

I am curious what you believe about the "unforgivable sin" mentioned in Matthew and Mark of blaspheming and rejecting the Holy Spirit. Has the traditional church and modern translations completely misunderstood the text, or is this really what Jesus taught?

Here's the R:
This is a really big question, but I hope this short and simple answer will help.
First, we need to remember that Jesus wasn't a "Christian." In other words, he wasn't working within the Calvinist or Thomist or Pentecostal or Eastern Orthodox or Fundamentalist theological assumptions that frame Christian faith today. Jesus was a Jew.

For a Jew in Jesus' day, sin was not understood primarily as something that, in its mortal variety, could send your soul to hell because of total depravity or original sin. It was something that would result in people missing God's blessing - which for an oppressed people, meant missing liberation from their occupying oppressors.

So I think in those passages, Jesus was warning his peers that if they didn't hear the voice of the Spirit and respond to it, they faced a set of natural consequences that would be tragic. Specifically, he foresaw that his countrymen could easily stage a violent revolution against Rome which would be crushed brutally. The Spirit was calling people, Jesus knew, to a different path to liberation - a nonviolent path, a creative path, a path of courage without hostility. If they rejected the Spirit's leading, they wouldn't get an exemption from consequences.

I think we face a similar reality today. The Spirit is calling us to turn from racism, ecological destruction, greed, carelessness toward our poor and vulnerable neighbors, dependence on weapons for peace, and abdication of personal responsibility. If we don't, we can't expect to avoid the natural consequences of our actions - explosions of conflict, rising seas and destabilized climate, fear, bombs, economic tumult, insecurity. Another way to say the same thing: there is no way to peace apart from the Spirit of peace. There is no way to a regenerative economy apart from the Spirit of regeneration. There is no way to prosperity apart from the Spirit of generosity and concern for the common good. Reject, mock, belittle, turn from that Spirit … and predictable natural consequences will follow.


An interview at Red Letter Christians

Check it out here:


A reader writes: You missed a better way to respond

A reader writes:

Brian, I saw your response to the reader asking about Jesus’ views of a violent God. There is a better way to respond to this. First, acknowledge the violent deity is there and is prominent all through the New Testament. Paul was very clear on the “wrath of God” and the punishing conclusion of that violent wrath. See his Thessalonian comments on that angry god “destroying” sinners. And much more. Revelation makes no effort to hide the angry God and the Lake of fire awaiting. The New Testament is full of such comment.
A proper response will first deal with the issue of Biblicism- the belief the Bible is somehow inspired by God and so people are obligated to accept all its contents as truth and honor such. We know better today that there are profound “dissimilarities” in, for instance, the accounts of Jesus (gospels). These are differences that no exercise of common sense can reconcile. Jesus could not have told people to love their enemies and then a few chapters later damn them to perdition for refusing his message. This is simply irreconcilable difference.
And then take Jesus seriously. Take his central theme (Matt.5:38-48) seriously, that we are not to retaliate, exclude, repay or punish others because God does not. This is a radical new view of God as non-retaliatory, non-punishing. It turns everything upside down. This is authentic unconditional love and this new theology was completely rejected by Paul, who returned to a retaliatory God (Rom.12, Vengeance is mine, I will repay). Jesus was consistently on the unconditional treatment of others because this is what God is really like. A new ethic based on a new theology.

Thanks for writing. There are several ways people like you and me are seeking to address the incompatibility of God and violence. Each approach is deemed better or worse than others depending on who is doing the deeming, I suppose. I understand your approach, even though I take a somewhat different one.

I agree that Biblicism is a problem, and in my books (especially A New Kind of Christianity and We Make the Road by Walking) I try to articulate and demonstrate an approach to the Bible that is a faithful and responsible alternative to biblicism. Once we move beyond what I call an "innocent literal" way of reading the Bible, I think a lot of problems are solved.

I honestly don't see Paul as rejecting Jesus' approach as you do. I see him as a strong and privileged man struggling - as we do today - to live into Jesus' way of life. He was in process as are we all. But sadly, Biblicism allows Paul's interpreters today to extract quotes from Paul apart from the overall message, mission, and trajectory of his life - and in so doing, they effectively do reject so much of Jesus' life and teaching, often resembling Paul's pre-conversion life of religious hostility and violence rather than his post-conversion pursuit of "justice, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit."

So, even though we may differ on details, we both seek a new ethic based on a new (and primal) theology, rooted in Jesus and his way. I remain open to improving my way of doing so, and I appreciate your input.


A Muslim reader writes ...

Hello I just read your book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddah, and Muhammed Cross the Road. It was an excellent book, it actually made me cry. I am Muslim and I was touched by your Christianity, so please keep the faith perfect. I'm a blind muslim arab and I really enjoyed your book and it really made cry.
Thanks so much for writing. I think God is pleased when people of different traditions recognize one another as fellow human beings, beloved by God, sharing the same small planet, seeking the common good. I hope we meet one another in person someday soon. God bless you.

Three informed perspectives on the Islamic State (IS)



Q & R: Marrying a universalist?

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. You have changed my life. Your books have opened me up to the beautiful message of Jesus. I feel a mix of secure and totally shaken. This isn't quite a question about your book-but I ask hoping so much that you'll answer because I revere your opinion. How do you feel about two people getting married-say one a Christian and one a universalist insistent that there are many, many roads to God? Thank you thank you thank you for your time.

Here's the R:
If you search my site on the word "universalist," you'll see that I've written quite a bit on the subject. As for the subject of marriage, my strongest suggestion would be to find a pastor or counselor or spiritual director you trust who can guide you through pre-marriage or (even better) pre-engagement counseling. Working with a skilled pastor, counselor, or spiritual director, you and your partner can explore your commonalities and differences and come to understand whether and how a marriage like yours could work. You might even come into greater alignment spiritually through the process. I think it's very important for a couple to share a common direction in life - a shared sense of purpose and values. Otherwise they'll be pulling in opposing directions which is good for neither party. Some differences are of a less significant nature - and they can be opportunities for a couple to learn to respect one another's uniqueness. A good counselor can help in that discernment process at close range - far better than a writer/blogger can from a distance.


Going to Greenbelt ...

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 "spiritual but not religious" reader writes … I don't consider myself a Christian, but I love Jesus

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!
Thank you,

Thanks so much for writing. I would rather be a "spiritual but not religious" person who loves Jesus than a religious person who doesn't … Your encouragement means a lot to me. I hope we'll meet in person some day soon.


This month -

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: Not all of us hate and condemn

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.

Thanks so much. I take this encouraging email to heart.

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.


Bible wrapped in a flag? You've got to be kidding?

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.'"

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/Topics/2014-Religious-Trends/Progressive-Christian/Whos-Got-the-Power-Joerg-Rieger-08062014.html#ixzz3AHVuifkv


Circles are forming ...



Q & R: Is the tide turning?

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,

Here's the R:
First, my heart goes out to you. It is so hard to have people you trust suddenly leave. It feels like rejection and a kick in the gut. As you say - you can fill the hole, but it is truly discouraging.

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.


Readers write: We're using WMTRBW this year

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"

Another reader writes:

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!


Q & R: A, B, or C? (solving a marital dispute!)

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!

Here's the R:
OK, get ready …
I agree with your wife.
And with you.

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 ...


Please stand and applaud ...

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:


Q & R: Are we ready for it?

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.

Here's the R:
I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. Here's a thought. Why don't you explain the book - which would involve sticking your neck out. Tell them that you enjoyed it, and why, and then tell them you're worried that it might be too controversial for the group. You could then let them decide if they're ready for it. Maybe they are?

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.)


For folks who care about green and clean energy ...

Here's some encouraging news.


Faith and Science in Evangelical Colleges

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.


Free stuff and discounts

If you're not on my email list, please sign up ASAP. This weekend I'll be sending out an email with some promo codes for free stuff and discounts. Sign up here: http://a.pgtb.me/cGMg


Q & R: Does God desire losers?

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.

Here's the R:
What an important question!

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.


The list keeps growing ...

AS of today I've heard from Mennonite, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Foursquare, Quaker, Baptist, Episcopal, Vineyard, UCC, and non-denominational churches that are planning to use We Make the Road by Walking for 2014-2015. There are also home groups, seminary classes, prison fellowships, campus ministries, lunch-hour groups at non-profits, campus ministries, and neighborhood reading groups planning to begin in a week or two. There is an amazing online resource showing how one family is using the book around the dinner table.

To explore what the book/curriculum could do for your group or congregation, check this out:

Also - there's a new Facebook page for readers and leaders working with the book. Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/wemaketheroadbywalking/timeline

PS. You may have heard that Amazon and my publisher are in a spat, which means Amazon isn't being very helpful about selling the book or offering discounts. But you can get bulk orders at a discount from other booksellers here.


This week I'm in the Sierras in California ...

It's beautiful here - the setting, the spiritual retreat that I'm part of, the mountains, the people. But there's no escaping what's going on in the outside world.

The other day on a long drive in a rental car, I did something I seldom do: tuned into to AM talk radio. I heard a man named Michael Savage pontificate in ridiculous and threatening ways, using rhetoric that reminded me so much of George Wallace in my childhood ...

Then this morning I saw those same words from Wallace referenced in a piece on Gaza by my Jewish friend Mark Braverman, available here. He quotes Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's message to the family of the 1000 civilian victim in Gaza:

“I feel the urge today to make a pledge to you, which none of the Germans my father knew during the time of the Nazi regime was willing to make to him when the thugs committed genocide against his family. This is not much of a pledge at your moment of grief, but it is the best I can offer and saying nothing is not an option. And doing nothing is even less than an option.”

The whole article is worth reading, including the links, especially this very disturbing one, where this question is asked: "What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?" The article was pulled down, but like the rhetoric of George Wallace and Michael Savage, it indicates something desperate brewing beneath the surface. Another reason you should read Mark Braverman's piece and encourage others to do so.

PS. I later received this email from a South African friend, widow of a white leader who stood in the struggle against apartheid. Again, the links are worth following:

Joshua Bloomberg and his friends make me think back many years to when Beyers Naude - and my children - stood up against the injustice of their time.... as we should do against all injustice where-ever it may be.

Please join this campaign: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/humanity-retain-joshua-broomberg-as-deputy-head-boy-of-king-david-high-school-do-not-punish-him-because-he-stood-up-for-human-rights-in-palestine-as-petitioned-by-concerned-zionist?recruiter=17312153&utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition


An Open Letter from Farid Esack

Turning the wall into a message board.


Want to understand the global economy?

This chart shows one dimension … GDP. But there are other important dimensions. More on them soon.


Q & R: False teachers?

Here's the Q:

Thank you Brian for all of your books, especially most important to me have been a generous orthodoxy and a new kind of christianity. Really looking forward to getting into WMTRBW as the year goes on.

I am wondering what you think false teachers are? There are several references in the letters in the NT warning about false teachers - what are they talking about? Does it apply in any way to us today? Thank you!

Here's the R:
Thanks for the kind words. Of course there are false teachers, and the warnings of the NT on the subject are as important today as ever.

Who are they? That depends on whom you ask. One group's prophet is another group's false prophet - one group's teacher is another group's false teacher.

In one sense, all teachers are false - in that nobody is perfectly right about everything. That's why one of the most important qualities in a trustworthy teacher is corrigibility - the willingness to learn, admit mistakes, think again … in a spirit of humility and teachability.

It's not just what a teacher says that matters: it's how they say it and how they live.

Jesus repeatedly taught that "by their fruits you shall know them," and James gave this sage advice about the qualities of a wise and trustworthy teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes…. Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for* those who make peace.

I've noticed in recent years that those who spend the most time identifying and attacking those they call "false teachers" often have a deficit of the qualities James commends … No wonder Jesus said, "Take heed how you hear."


Q & R: And?

Here's the Q:

I just finished reading A Generous Orthodoxy and was wondering if you were intentionally following Mark's example in ending your book on a conjunction. The work of building the Kingdom, after the shaky start in Mark 16:8, has only just begun.

Here's the R:
Yes. The idea was to emphasize the unfinished nature of "a generous orthodoxy." As you say, the great work has only just begun. Today's headlines remind us that there is much to do. We will make the road not by whining, worrying, talking, criticizing, or complaining … but only by walking forward in faith together. So ...


A New Facebook Page

for "We Make the Road by Walking" -


Please check it out and "like" it!


Q & R: Racial Reconciliation

Here's the Q:

I'd love to see you address racial reconciliation, particularly in the US; the civil rights movement started in a culture that was still steeped in modernism - so now what about racial reconciliation in a postmodern world? I think it needs a fresh look. And at the role of Christians as peacemakers and reconcilers - how best to fulfill that role in the case of the racial/socioeconomic/cultural divide. It is extraordinarily complex, of course, but it's also one of our primary callings as Christ followers.

Here's the R:
This is a truly important subject. I agree with my friend Frank Schaeffer - that on many levels, we are seeing a resurgence of (or exposure of latent) racism in these years with an African American president - Frank calls it "the slow-motion lynching of Barack Obama."

I recently read this article with lots of interesting (and significant) charts on the subject of race and equality:
You can draw several conclusions from the data:

1) Affluent blacks and Hispanics still live in poorer neighborhoods than whites with working class incomes.

2) There's a big disparity in wealth between white Americans and non-white Americans.

3) The racial wealth gap kept widening well after the Civil Rights era.

4) The Great Recession didn't hit everyone equally.

5) In the years before the financial crisis, people of color were much more likely to be targeted for subprime loans than their white counterparts, even when they had similar credit scores.

6) Minority borrowers are still more likely to get turned down for conventional mortgage loans than white people with similar credit scores.

7) Black and Latino students are more likely to attend poorly funded schools.

8) School segregation is still widespread.

9) As early as preschool, black students are punished more frequently, and more harshly, for misbehaving than their white counterparts.

10) Perceptions of the innocence of children are still often racially skewed.

11) White Americans use drugs more than black Americans, but black people are arrested for drug possession more than three times as often as whites.

12) Black men receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than those of white men who committed similar crimes, a 2013 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.

13) A clean record doesn't protect young black men from discrimination when they're looking for work.

14) Black job seekers are often turned away by U.S. companies on the assumption that they do drugs.

15) Employers are more likely to turn away job seekers if they have African-American-sounding names.

Your comment about modern versus postmodern ways of grappling with race and equality is indeed fascinating. I will give this more thought, but here's one consideration.

As a modernist project, the Civil Rights movement worked "by the book" - i.e. it appealed to the nation's "sacred texts" and to the "unpaid note" they promised:

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.

This was and is a powerful line of argument - appealing to sacred authoritative texts, to the rationality of an economic transaction, etc. I would say that Dr. King also had some very "postmodern" lines of argument that were less transactional and more narrative. Referring to the Exodus narrative, for example, pressing on through the wilderness of prejudice towards the promised land of equality, has this ancient and postmodern feel.

To the degree that modernity appealed to "timeless truths" and postmodernity leans on evolutionary processes, today's civil rights message might ask questions like these:
What kind of future do we want?
Do we want a world where race, politics, and religion align to reinforce and inflame mutual fears and hostilities? Or do we dream of a world where differences are seen as advantages, where we learn from past mistakes, and where we strive for the common good?
Are human beings evolving/learning/maturing/growing beyond the racial prejudices of the past?

There is huge work for Christian theologians and preachers to do in this regard, since so many of our theologies and denominations were born or came of age in the age of colonialism, enslavement, and segregation/apartheid - and did little or nothing to oppose them. That's a big part of my instinct in writing We Make the Road by Walking - to help people read the Bible in a way that leads to reconciliation, mutual respect, diversity with equality, and more.


Q & R: Little Rock?

Here's the Q:

When and where will you be speaking in Little Rock, AR?

Here's the R:
September 26-28. You'll find info here:
Several of my favorite people will be there - it should be a splendid weekend!


Q & R: Where to Start?

Here's the Q:

Your response on Rachel's blog concerning progressive Christianity being a slow path the atheism struck a chord in me.

Not in the sense that I have stopped believing in God, but in that I have been in the middle of deconstructing the "God of the establishment" for a couple of years now and just feel confused and unsure about where to go from here.

It was simply a relief (after reading your response) to know that I wasn't the only one experiencing this.

I grew up in a conservative church and I am studying Bible at a conservative Christian college. None of my peers seemed to be experiencing what I was.

It started with deconstructing the God who punishes people for eternity and has gone all of the way through a deconstruction of the anti science God, and the inerrantist God, the penal substitution God (still working on that one), and a handful of other cluttered topics.

And I feel like I've lost all of the ways that were meaningful to me in the beginning of my faith of relating to God and understanding purpose and what it means to be human in God's world.

Having always planned on doing ministry, and with two years of school left, there's quite a bit of anxiety about how my faith is going to be formed and molded from here and what that means about my future (relationships, the rest of my time in school, career).

Could you possibly offer some words of encouragement and maybe some more resources from people who have experienced similar things….

I would like to read your work, but don't really know where to start. Would you recommend a particular order of your books that might be helpful for someone in my spot?

Rachel and people like Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, and Peter Enns have been particularly formative so far.

Thank you for your time,

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I'm so glad Rachel Held Evans is doing her good work out there - she is a lifeline for so many people. And of course the same is true for Rob Bell, N. T. Wright, Peter Enns, and many others.

I just read a manuscript for a new book that will be out soon by Kathy Escobar. I think you will find Faith Shift super helpful.

Of my works, here's what I'd recommend:
1. Secret Message of Jesus and/or A New Kind of Christian
2. A New Kind of Christianity (this is more theological in tone)
3. We Make the Road by Walking (my newest - especially relevant to "relating to God and understanding purpose and what it means to be human in God's world")

Be assured - you are not alone, and better days are ahead!


The greatest threat to Christianity is ...

misguided Christians, just as the greatest threat to Islam is misguided Muslims and the greatest threat to Judaism is misguided Jews. Religious insiders can do harm to their religion in ways that outsiders never could. This is especially true in a pluralistic world, where religions are credible to the degree they bring benefits to outsiders.

My friend Rabbi Michael Lerner explains why, in poignant reflections on the current situation in Israel-Palestine, here:


Turtle Island

As we watch the heartbreak of Israelis and Palestinians struggling over land, security, freedom, the past, and the future … it's a good time to remember that similar struggles happened in North America - or Turtle Island. So much of the story of struggle here has been suppressed or forgotten, which is why this video is so worth your time.


A Lamentation for Gaza and Israel

I posted this over on my Facebook page:

A lamentation for Gaza from Rabbi Brant Rosen: http://rabbibrant.com/2014/08/01/for-tisha-bav-a-lamentation-for-gaza/

In the comments, my Jewish friend Mark Braverman (jewishconscience) responds with this excerpt from his powerful book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fatal Embrace:
In response I also want to share a passage from my book, Fatal Embrace. This recounts my Tisha B’av of 8 years ago, the summer I went to the West Bank.
“My last night in Palestine that summer fell on the ninth of Av, a Jewish day of fasting and mourning, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple of Solomon and the beginning of the exile of the Jews two thousand years ago. The book of Lamentations, a source text for our liturgy of mourning, attributed by tradition to the prophet Jeremiah, is chanted that night. It is a harrowing description of a people fallen and traumatized.
Jerusalem has greatly sinned
Therefore has she been made a mockery. All who admired her despise her
For they have seen her disgraced.
Panic and pitfall are our lot,
Death and destruction.
My eyes shed streams of water
Over the brokenness of my poor people. (Lam. 1:8, 4:46–48; author’s translation)
On that night, I sat on a hill overlooking the Old City, in the company of congregations of praying Jews, mostly American émigrés worshiping, I felt, at the shrine of their Jerusalem—a Jerusalem “reclaimed” at the expense of the Palestinian people; a Jerusalem that for Palestinians is also a spiritual and political center; a Jerusalem that is being taken from them street by street, farm by farm, village by village. I stood on that hill and chanted the words as I had every year on this day, descriptions of starvation, rape, slaughter, destruction of homes, and banishment from the land, and, for the life of me, I could apply the words only to the Palestinians. In these words, I now felt their suffering. And my eyes shed streams of water for them, my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and yes, for the brokenness of my own people.”
Hamakom y’nachem otanu b’toch sh’ar avlei Zion v’Yerushalim.

In contrast to these empathetic and humane Jewish voices of lamentation, there other voices calling for something very close to genocide, mirroring the horrible extremist rhetoric of their opponents in Hamas. See this …
and this:

Words from my 2012 release come to mind: "We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence" (Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? p. 12). Those words might be paraphrased as follows: Human hostilities tend to accelerate and intensify until we are faced with the ultimate choice between reconciliation and genocide.

Or this: Human hostilities tend to accelerate and intensify until we must choose between reconciliation and mutually-assured destruction, which is a form of mutual self-destruction, or joint suicide. The words "Choose life" take on new meaning.


Teaching Kids to Walk

A reader writes (regarding using my new book, We Make the Road by Walking, as a curriculum for VBS) ...

I am so excited! Last Sunday, I tested the Walking VBS curriculum with a group of children [from our church]. The group was small and all of the children were under 8-which scared me at first. I had thought the curriculum would work best with children in 5th grade and above. I was blown away by their reaction.

We did a modified version of Chapter One. The kids loved the response prayers and I added a movement prayer to help with the wiggles. The children read the scripture. (I will admit that I modified it a little for ease of reading. Not my most scholarly move but in the interest of storytelling I did it.) They enjoyed that. The teaching part was more than they could listen to in the hour time. I think given a longer time period, they would have no trouble listening. The problem was not having enough time to process between scripture and lesson. I did modify the lesson for them. (I found that only slightly less intimidating than changing scripture :) )

The parents and their teacher were so impressed that they have been calling all week to prepare for Sunday's lesson. In the full VBS flow, we start with week 1 and then jump to chapter 27, 30, and 31. Day 5 is set aside as a mission in action day. The church will chose a mission where the children will be active participants. For tomorrow, we will be doing chapter 30. I streamlined it considerably because I want the children to have time to serve communion to one another. We got special permission for this from their church.

This has been a wonderful experiment so far. And, just so you know, there are two other churches who are interested in helping with field testing.

I'm very excited to hear about this as well … I'll keep folks informed via this website as this project develops.


Israel, Gaza, Sanity, and Insanity (Part 3)

"When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success." - Rabbi Henry Siegman

It's easy to get depressed reading some of the comments (over on my Facebook page) to my previous two postings on this subject. They make the above quote from a leading American rabbi all the more impressive. I encourage readers to listen to his entire interview, here.

In any win-lose scenario, neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a chance for what they both truly want and need - which is peace, security, freedom, and the chance to build sustainable prosperity for themselves and their descendants, in peace with their neighbors. In other words, short-term win-lose scenarios are long-term lose-lose scenarios. The long-term well-being of each is bound up with the well-being of the other.

That is true for all of us, which is an insight captured both in the African term "ubuntu" and in the central image of Jesus' message, "the kingdom/commonwealth of God."

More from Rabbi Siegman:

And I have always asked myself, and this has a great deal to do with my own changing views about the policies of governments, not about the Jewish state qua Jewish state, but of the policies pursued by Israeli governments and supported—you know, they say Israel is a model democracy in the Middle East, so you must assume—the public has to assume some responsibility for what the government does, because they put governments in place. So, the question I ask myself: What if the situation were reversed? You know, there is a Talmudic saying in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers: "Al tadin et chavercha ad shetagiah lemekomo," "Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place." So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?
What if the situation were reversed, and the Jewish population were locked into, were told, "Here, you have less than 2 percent of Palestine, so now behave. No more resistance. And let us deal with the rest"? Is there any Jew who would have said this is a reasonable proposition, that we cease our resistance, we cease our effort to establish a Jewish state, at least on one-half of Palestine, which is authorized by the U.N.? Nobody would agree to that. They would say this is absurd. So the expectations that Palestinians—and I’m speaking now about the resistance as a concept; I’m not talking about rockets, whether they were justified or not. They’re not. I think that sending rockets that are going to kill civilians is a crime. But for Palestinians to try, in any way they can, to end this state of affair—and to expect of them to end their struggle and just focus on less than 2 percent to build a country is absurd. That is part of—that’s propaganda, but it’s not a discussion of either politics or morality.


And now for something amazing …

The Stonecypher family has been working through We Make the Road by Walking - and John is making his amazing playlists and videos available with commentary … here:


Israel, Gaza, Sanity, and Insanity (Part 2)

In a previous post, I tried to address an important issue: that we need to address our precritical approaches to the conflict. If our line of approach is misguided, we will find it easier to be unhelpful. If we repeat conventional polarized/paralyzed rhetoric about the conflict, we will intensify misunderstanding and contribute to the descending spiral of violence … violence that escalates in nightmarish ways.

People on each side of the conflict tend to see their counterpart as intellectually inferior (using words like "insane" or "irrational") and morally flawed. Religious people frequently use the Bible to justify this kind of pre-judgment. (In my most recent book, We Make the Road by Walking, I offer a way of reading the Biblical story that undermines prejudice and leads towards peacemaking.) Thus God is brought in to accuse one side and protect the other.

Any conflict that is addressed from such premises has little chance of being resolved.

Is there another alternative - to consider at least - in the pursuit of a resolution that doesn't involve mass killing?

If we begin with this starting point:
Israel and Palestine are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.

And if we proceed to ask this question:
In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make the most sense?

I think we could consider two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Israel is traumatized and determined. The Jewish people have suffered so much oppression at the hands of anti-Semitic Christians and others through the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, that they are determined to create a lasting homeland where the Jewish people will be safe forever. In order to achieve that goal, they must accomplish two objectives:
A. To continue the occupation long enough so that settlements can continue to spread, thus rendering impossible any hopes of a Palestinian state that has refused to accept their existence.

B. To preserve their status - in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their main benefactor, the US - as a morally-superior nation. Doing so requires justifying the occupation and the expansion of settlements, minimizing any errors that are made in doing so, launching campaigns to overcome threats, and maximizing the impression that the Palestinians deserve what they're getting.

Hypothesis 2. Palestine is desperate and determined. They have lived under varying degrees of occupation, oppression, invasion, surveillance, and un-freedom for decades. They are utterly out-gunned by Israel, and well-funded Israeli lobbies out-spend them in molding public opinion in the US as well. Their prospects for freedom, dignity, and an improvement in their basic life conditions are slim even if they pretend that the taking of their homeland never happened. The international community is likely to tacitly allow their situation to continue to deteriorate.

Faced with such bleak prospects, the Hamas party routinely launches rocket attacks. The objective of these attacks is not to "win" in a military conflict. The objective is two-fold:

A. To be sure the world doesn't simply forget them and normalize their oppression, which tends to occur whenever they are not firing rockets.

B. To tempt Israel to over-react, so that Israel's moral superiority would then be questioned, thus opening the possibility that world public opinion will shift and their situation may change.

In light of those two hypotheses, the actions of both nations seem to follow a certain kind of logic, rendering each side sane and moral in its own eyes, and insane and immoral in the eyes of the other.

By that logic, every action of each party is paradoxical. On the one hand, the rockets fired from Gaza help Hamas be sure that the Palestinian occupation won't be normalized and their suffering forgotten. But those same rockets help Israelis defend the occupation, justify the expansion of settlements, and demonstrate the moral inferiority of their opponents.

Similarly, the killing of civilians by the Israeli military can be used by Israelis to display the moral inferiority of those who use their wives and children as human shields, while helping the Gazans by demonstrating Palestinian victimhood and undermining the claim of Israeli moral superiority.

Where will this lead? Nowhere good, I would say, unless and until some other logic - the creative logic of nonviolent peacemaking and conflict transformation - enters the equation.

That is why those of us outside the region should defect from the predictable, conventional logic and rhetoric that sustain the status quo of violence, hostility, and death and seek another approach … a higher logic of shalom/salaam/peace and justice, which a Palestinian Jewish teacher named Jesus called "the reign of God." Seek it first, he said, and everything else will fall into place. (Part 3 will follow in a day or two.)


Q & R: Why not Hinduism?

Here's the Q:

Thank you for writing "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?" In it I think you address one of the most important issues of our day. Why did you not include Hinduism, the other of the five major living religions?

Here's the R:
You're right. Christianity in its many diverse forms accounts for about 33% of the world's population, Islam for about 21-24%, and Hinduism comes in next with about 17%. (It is about "tied" with secular or nonreligious at this point in history.) So it is truly important, and I wasn't intending to snub the religion in any way by not including it in the title.

The main reason it's not included is a practical one: there isn't one single historical figure who can be associated with Hinduism as Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, or Muhammed can be associated with Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam.

Second, the main focus of the book, as you know, is Christian identity. It's not an attempt to explain other religions or even assess the state of Christian dialogue with other religions - both of which are topics I'm very interested in. The book's focus is on exploring the roots of religious hostility and violence - both of which are terribly live issues in today's world, as evidenced by this week's headlines.

I'm always grateful for opportunities to interact with Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious believers, as well as nonbelievers, over issues of justice, peace, sustainability, and conviviality. At the same time, I'm generally focused on helping Christians deal with the planks in our own eyes, not the splinters in the eyes of others.

So thanks for your question, and for the chance to affirm that no slight was intended. (I had a similar issue with my book A Generous Orthodoxy. Lutherans wondered why they didn't get a chapter like the Methodists, Reformed, Episcopalians, and others did. Similarly - no slight intended!)

By the way, I just learned that the kindle version of "Cross the Road" is on sale at Amazon for $1.99. More information here:


Israel, Gaza, Insanity and Sanity (Part 1)

This is not a post about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.

This is a post about how the rest of us talk about who is right and wrong in Israel-Palestine.

Conventional discourse on the subject goes like this:

X is right, good, values life, wants peace, is a victim, and is sane. Y is wrong, bad, doesn't value life, doesn't want peace, is a villain, and is insane.

Then, data is selected and presented (and other data ignored or discredited) to prove the proposition.

I suppose the goal is to prove that whichever is deemed the right, good, life-valuing, peace-loving, victimized and sane party has the right to continue killing the other.

Which seems ridiculous and tragic, when you think about it.

Another approach to the issue would say:

Both X and Y are a mix of right and wrong, good and bad, valuing some life more than others, acting sometimes as victims and sometimes as villains, and a mixture of sanity and insanity. They aren't necessarily morally equivalent, but neither is to exempted from moral assessment."

What would be the advantages of starting from this alternative perspective rather than the conventional one?

A further possibility would be to say:

X and Y are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.

That third possibility would raise this question:

In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make sense?

I'd like to offer a few thoughts on that question in a day or two. But for now, I hope people will at least consider defecting from the prevailing good-guys/bad-guys mode of discourse. It gets us nowhere we want to be.


Q & R: Incremental or ???

Here's the Q:

I read your article on homophobic zones and was wondering your thoughts on extending that idea to other theological issues. I attend a chuch that believes (in no particular order):

-Penal Substitutionary atonement
-The six-line narrative soul-sort
-premillenial dispensationalism
-women should be excluded from serving as elders.

So if you were trying to order those from 1-4, how would you order them? In other words, if I say I think all of those are wrong-headed, folks like me get dismissed all at once, but if someone were to question say the six-line narrative in the context of PSA, ("Sure Jesus died to appease the angry father, but he paid the penalty for *everyone's* sin.") we could help folks move out of the six-line narrative zone, even if they stay in the PSA zone.

Do you see what I'm trying to ask here?

Here's the R:
In many spheres of life, there is a debate between gradualism/incrementalism and more radical, sudden, decisive change. If you're asking whether or not I'm for gradualism in general, I'd actually say no. I'm for all the positive, constructive change toward justice, peace, and compassion that anyone or any group can handle, as fast as they can sustainably handle it.

But the truth is that few people seem to be ready to handle a lot of change fast … even when they need to. "People only change when the pain of not changing surpasses the pain of changing," the old saying goes, and sadly, it usually seems to be the case.

As with many things, when the choice is between gradualism and radical change, I think the answer is both/and. Here's why.

Most if not all of our ideas are held in systems or paradigms. People seldom abandon a paradigm quickly or easily. What most often happens is that they accept minor tweaks or adjustments to the paradigm, trying to save it as long as possible.

Eventually, they end up with so many amendments that they decide the whole constitution needs to be rewritten, so to speak. They stop trying to patch the old leaky boat and try to construct a new one. (The "Ship of Theseus" parable comes to mind.) At that point, more radical new alternatives come into view.

So … people may question literal 6-day creation without questioning the 6-line narrative I've written about. Or they may revise their view on women in ministry (or homosexuality) without rethinking the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I'm for gradual or incremental rethinking that leads people into more just, compassionate, or peaceful ways of life.

But ultimately, I think the changes we need in the Christian community (and many Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, Capitalists, Communists, and others would say something similar about their various communities) are ultimately on the paradigmatic level. That's the "new wineskin" that is demanded, ultimately, by "new wine."

It's interesting to think of the four gospels as proposing a radical new paradigm, and then to read the Epistles as various attempts to grapple with what that will mean in relation to any number of individual issues.

Of the issues you mentioned, the narrative question is the most paradigmatic one. If people rethink that issue (as I tried to explain in A New Kind of Christianity), all the other issues will necessarily be reconsidered.

My new book, We Make the Road by Walking, proposes a whole new paradigm, rooted in the Bible and flowing out into a fresh vision of just about everything.


On Gaza, Israel, Netanyahu, Moral Superiority, and Being Human

"And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing."
- Gabor Mate, Jewish survivor of Nazi genocide

Mate says:

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.
One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”
“People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,” in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded.

More here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/07/22/beautiful_dream_of_israel_has_become_a_nightmare.html


A death, the theoretic, and a poem ...

My friend Jason Derr sent me this:

Over the weekend liberation theologian Rubem Alves - founder of the theopoetic - passed away. He was 80. His book 'The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet' is a beautiful study on language, imagination and religion. I like to say that it is would have happened if Allen Ginsberg (beat poet, writer of 'Howl') were to write theology.

Here is Alves' poem "Tomorrow’s Children"

What is hope? It is a presentiment that imagination is more real and reality less real than it looks. It is a hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress is not the last word. It is a suspicion that reality is more complex than realism wants us to believe and that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual and that in a miraculous and unexpected way life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…. The two, suffering and hope, live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair, hope without suffering creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness…. Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret discipline. It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved in immediate sense experience and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.

Source: “Tomorrow’s Children” from Hijos de Maoana, by Rubem Alves.
Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Sigueme, 1976.


Q & R: How do you respond to N. T. Wright?

Here's the Q:

First, let me say how instrumental your work has been for me personally. Books like The Secret Message of Jesus and A New Kind of Christianity have forever shaped my life and ministry, and I'm exceedingly grateful for that.

Second, I feel "stuck in conservative Christianity" as I watch and listen to you and others like Rob Bell and Adam Hamilton embrace a Christian position that embraces faithful, monogamous homosexual lifestyles. I consider myself fairly open to those biblical arguments that push to legitimatize faithful and love-filled homosexuality. In fact, I even offer to some of my friends better arguments than they have that push in that direction. But alas, I still find myself unconvinced.

I believe and hope I'm that person that truly loves and values those who are homosexual, wanting always to seek their good. I even know and have family members who embrace this lifestyle, and I truly think they know that I am for them and for God's best in their lives. But still, in the end, I'm one of those Christians that can't seem yet to accept any line of argument that endorses such behavior as God's best or desire for humanity. I really wish I could.

Like you, I'm hugely influenced by N. T. Wright, who, as you know, also has yet to allow space for God-condoned homosexual behavior. I know your admiration for him remains, but I wonder how you would articulate such respect. On one level, I feel deeply connected with those of the "Brian McLaren ilk"—if I could put it hat way—but on another level, I feel disconnected due to this issue. What would you say to someone like me or Wright on this particular issue knowing there's disagreement but a large degree of affinity? How would you encourage our continued camaraderie as fellow Christians who share so much in common and yet diverge on this particular point?

Thank you in advance for whatever insights you offer here.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I know that many people feel exactly as you do. In terms of a four-zone schema I've written about, you are articulating Zone 3, and you're uncomfortable about Zone 4.

You're right - I've expressed a lot of admiration for Tom Wright. His work played a big role in helping me see the New Testament and the gospel in a new, brighter, bolder, more expansive light. I'll always be grateful to him for that. I've not paid a lot of attention to his writings or statements on LGBT issues recently, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see these issues differently. That's fine with me. We're in different contexts, prioritizing different goals, balancing and negotiating different limitations and concerns and constituencies. None of us agree on everything, none of us can excel and do everything, and I think we all appreciate others for helping us in some ways, even if we don't agree the others.

Some of my friends differ with me on this, but I'm glad that Zone 2 people provide a more humane alternative to Zone 1 people, and I'm glad Zone 3 people provide a more humane alternative to Zone 2 people, and of course I'm glad Zone 4 people provide a more human alternative to Zone 3 people.

One more thing. I want to respond to this statement:

I even know and have family members who embrace this lifestyle, and I truly think they know that I am for them and for God's best in their lives. But still, in the end, I'm one of those Christians that can't seem yet to accept any line of argument that endorses such behavior as God's best or desire for humanity. I really wish I could.

First, when you speak of people "who embrace this lifestyle," you are making assumptions that I would encourage you to question. For example, I don't think people "embrace the left-handed lifestyle," nor do I think people "embrace the extraverted lifestyle," nor do I think people "embrace the homosexual lifestyle." I think left-handers, extraverts, and LGBT people can hide who they are - "in the closet." But being who they are isn't "embracing a lifestyle." The fact is, there is no single LGBT lifestyle. I hope you'll give that matter a second thought.

Second, the idea of "God's best for their lives" is a more problematic concept than you may have considered. When men tell women "what's God's best for their lives," when whites tell people of color "what's God's best for their lives," when married people tell singles "what's God's best for their lives" and so on, I think we should be very cautious. Same when straight people tell LGBT people "what's God's best for their lives." These things don't often turn out well. I'm not trying to be critical - just to respond to your request for feedback. I hope it's helpful.


How (parts of) the Church Will Change on Homosexuality

I was invited to be part of a panel on LGBT human rights recently. I shared a four-zone schema for understanding religious responses to the reality that something like 3-6% of human beings turn out to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered.

1. Promote violence against and stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
2. Oppose violence but uphold stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
3. Oppose violence and seek to reduce stigmatization of LGBT people in the name of God and religion.
4. Oppose violence and replace stigmatization with equality and dignity in the name of God and religion.

I was remembering in recent days something a little less clinical and a little more personal. For many years I was an Evangelical pastor firmly in Zone 3 on the question of LGBT identity and equality. I didn't know that some members of my immediate family were gay. I hadn't taken any kind of public stand (either way) on the issue. I recall some barely-articulated thoughts and feelings from that time. I'm not proud of these memories, but I hope other pastors and Christian leaders might be helped if I try to articulate them roughly in their order of appearance:

1. It's fine if gay people want equal rights in the secular world, but why do they have to disturb the church? Why can't gay people just be satisfied with being "out" and accepted in society? Why can't they just be satisfied with civil unions? Why do they keep pushing? Don't they know how hard this is for religious communities? Can't they be more patient? Ministry is hard enough without having to deal with this on top of everything else.

2. Oh no. This issue isn't going away. My congregation is going to have to deal with it. Let's see … if we stay the same, we'll lose maybe 4% of our people who are fired up about this issue. If we change, we'll lose maybe 40% of the people…. Maybe someday, but we can't change yet. The cost is too high.

3. The way I've been thinking about this (see #1 and #2) sounds a lot like the way the previous generation dealt - or failed to deal - with race and desegregation. Isn't that why Dr. King wrote "Why We Can't Wait" in 1964? Am I like a segregationist in 1964? In my seemingly daring compromises - "accepting but not affirming," members but not leaders, civil unions not marriages - am I simply creating Jim Crow laws for LGBT people? If discrimination is wrong, and if it's been going on for millennia, and if 3+% of the population is suffering, why wouldn't I be willing to take some risks and take some heat? Instead of asking, "Why can't gay people be more patient?" - I should be asking, "Why can't church leaders like me be more courageous?"

4. I've changed my view. I now support LGBT equality. But if I go public with that change, my colleagues will simply think I've capitulated to "the world" or "the culture." They'll accuse me of compromise, liberalism, and all that. I'll be completely written off by the people of my heritage. I wonder how long I can stay incognito and quietly work for change from the inside?

5. Oh well. It was bound to happen. I've been "outed" as someone whose view has changed. Now I'll have to deal with the consequences. But thank God, my conscience hasn't felt this clean and clear for a long time! Why did it take me so long?

My guess is that thousands of Catholic and Evangelical priests and pastors are thinking thoughts like these. Sadly, self-interest and institutional ego can easily trump humane compassion for LGBT people and their families. Perhaps these words from Dr. King will help stir the conscience of my fellow Christians who share the same background and world view in which I was raised …

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’ But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim…when you see the vast majority of twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you…when…your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

I'm not trying to say that the struggle for gay equality is exactly the same as the struggle for civil rights or that all who experience discrimination experience the same degree of pain. It's never wise to compare the suffering of one group to another.

But I am saying there is a common struggle within priests and pastors to acknowledge reality and respond appropriately when they and their congregations are on the wrong side of justice … whether regarding women's equality, gay equality, equality for Palestinians, the atrocities of colonialism, latent racism and white privilege, silence over environmental destruction, carelessness about the poor and systemic economic injustice, and a host of other issues. It's not easy to adjudicate wisely between concerns for personal or professional comfort, the needs of others, institutional survival and health, and justice … whichever side of this issue one is on.


To brighten your outlook for the week ahead ...

Wisdom and beauty and joy from my friend Bob Jackson:


Q & R: Church recommendation?

Here's the Q;

For the last 9 years, my husband and I have been working as youth pastors at a large evangelical church in the Northeast. But as we've spent the last 3 years diving together into the thoughts and writings of a number of progressive and emergent Christian leaders, such as yourself (thank you, by the way!), we've been increasingly interested in experiencing new ways of doing church and thinking about the church's mission. However, as youth pastors, there really hasn't been a way for us to do that. We don't even get to attend our own church on Sunday mornings, let alone experiment with others. :)

This summer, we are moving to [a new city] to take new jobs in a nonprofit organization. For the first time in our marriage, we won't be working at a local church... which means we have some freedom to explore new expressions of the church. We're really excited about it.

So. My question. Do you know of any progressive or emergent churches in this area you would recommend for a young couple with no kids? Or do you know of anyone in the area who might? We are coming from a fairly typical nondenominational evangelical church. We're not sure exactly what we're looking for in a church, but we'd love to explore and try new things. :)

Any ideas? Thanks so much for your time and for your voice!

PS: I've been mentoring a crew of college-aged girls since they were 10 years old, and they talked with you for a while back in April when you spoke here. Maybe you remember them? They loved your talk and conversation afterward. We'll be diving into WMTRBW together starting in a couple of weeks. :)

Here's the R:
First, thanks for the encouraging words. I'm so glad my books have been helpful.

Your question about finding a church is one I hear often. As more and more Evangelical (and Catholic) churches hold firm or double down with a kind of fierce conservatism, more and more moderate and progressive Evangelicals (and Catholics) feel they don't fit.

Often they end up in Mainline Protestant churches - Episcopal, UCC, DoC, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. In addition, some Evangelical and charismatic churches are changing - becoming less fearful and more accepting of science (relating to evolution and global warming and sexual orientation), more committed to social justice, more reflective and less rigid theologically. There are websites that help people locate churches that are committed to LGBT equality, for example … Some of these groups, like The Fellowship, are forming networks that make them easier to find.

But I think we're all still waiting for a multi-dimensional church locator site that brings together a number of qualifications - welcoming and affirming, committed to peace-making, poverty-reduction, and planet-care, and committed to vibrant spirituality and worship, for example. (Some friends of mine are working on this right now - stay tuned.)

I hope that general guidance will help you in your search.

Thanks also for telling me about the group of college students you've been mentoring. Yes, I remember this enthusiastic and energetic bunch … and I'm thrilled they'll be using the new book.

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!


Today. Tomorrow.

Today I read this, about yesterday.
(My son-in-law is in the picture - part of the AIDs organization to which the victims were traveling.)

And today I received this, about tomorrow.

It was accompanied by this:

Joel the Aussie Red head poet here. Just thought I'd flick you this new film clip of mine as I thought you might be interested and also because it was really you who was able to put into words for me the concept of the coming new creation when I had no words for it. I had grown up in a conservative, evangelical church and the idea of God's holistic redemption was totally foreign. But 'The Story We Find Ourselves In' was the first time, as a late teen, that I really began to see how holistic God's dream for his world is. Anyways- just wanted to thankyou! Hope you enjoy....

This is where we walk … between yesterday and tomorrow.


A Reformed elder writes ...

A reader writes:

I just read book 3 of the NKOC-trilogy.
The first and second instalment of the trilogy did appeal to me, but more in an intellectual way. Somehow I couldn't connect to the more personal/emotional level within the narratives.

In the 3rd book, the character Pat wrote some poems that struck me, like lightning. Like a total surprise I was in tears, while not being able to grasp their cause. The poems comforted me, made me pray after a very long time. Asking questions to the one I call God.

Can I love God again. Can I trust him. Can I truly believe He loves me? Loves my children? Can I really trust Him the life of my children? With all the worries I have about their social and emotional development?

No answers came, but comfort did.

I grew up in a strict calvinist/reformed ilk of dutch christianity. My family and I are still part of a reformed church. Allthough I feel a connection to my local church, especially the people. Somehow I seem to have questions about everything we stand for. I'm not able to share them. Everyone seems to get annoyed and/or uneasy when I try to express them. I'm even an elder, so I should confirm everything we stand for. But no brother or sister seems to understand why I find it so hard to pray. Why I'm not on fire for Jesus. It's like I'm always on the road towards answers, never resting.

Thanks for meeting me 'on the road'.

Thanks for writing. I felt the character Pat was very important in that book, and you're one of the first readers who have written me about Pat or Pat's poems. It means a lot to me that you noticed this element of the book - and that you felt it helpful. Again, thanks. May you find the Spirit of Christ walking with you on the road.


A 71 year-old reader writes about the Trinity

A reader writes:

I just read the post from the young Irish man who said how you have stretched his imagination. I want to give a hearty “second” to that and share something how, beginning with “A New Kind of Christianity” you have stretched my imagination and helped me get out of my “Spiritual Rut”.

I am 71 years old and grew up Roman Catholic. Having just celebrated Trinity Sunday, my mind went back to the days when I was an altar boy (yes, I had to learn the prayers in Latin). There was a little pamphlet in the magazine rack in back of the church titled “Between Heaven and Earth”. On the front was an illustration. Hovering in the clouds were God the Father (stereotypical – old, long white beard), Jesus on his right side (instantly recognizable because it looked just like the statue of the Sacred Heart), and hovering between them and the dome of St. Peters Basilica was the dove of the Holy Spirit.

For many years, my idea of “Trinity” was that it was something existing “out there” and totally academic thought up by theologians long ago and far away.

Upon reflection, I am coming to the realization that our belief in a triune God is a lot more than an intellectual construct, and a lot closer to my everyday life.

I have started grappling with the notion that God is indeed three – God totally transcendent, totally “other”, totally unknowable; God incarnate, fully revealed in Jesus to be sure, but also incarnate in all of Creation (including you and me); and God relational between transcendence and incarnational – the Holy Spirit. I can’t understand it, I just “know” it. It works for me. I am not sure if I’m onto something or if I’m in a blind alley constructed of my own ignorance, but I did want to share the insight with someone I trust and respect.

Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I remember as I was writing my new book, We Make the Road by Walking, that I wondered how and where I would address the Trinity. The book is an overview of the Bible, and since the word "trinity" never occurs in the Bible, I could have passed the subject by. But the book is also a "catechesis" for Christian faith, and Trinity is deeply important to Christian history and faith. True, the doctrine has been abused in many ways - not the least of which was to animate hostility to Jews and Muslims who do not believe in the Trinity. And as your pamphlet illustrated, it is often explained or depicted in ways that create more misunderstanding and confusion than awe and worship.

But like you, I believe there is a deep truth and beauty in the healing teaching of the Trinity. I tried to capture some facets of that truth and beauty in Chapter 45, Spirit of Unity and Diversity, in the new book. Here's a quote from the chapter:

This all sounds highly speculative but it was a sincere attempt to put into words the radical way they were rethinking and freshly experiencing God in the aftermath of their experience of Jesus. By God's parental love, through Christ's beautiful life, death, and resurrection, and through the Holy Spirit, they felt that they had been caught up into this divine communion themselves. God could never again be for them a distant, isolated One to whom they were "the other." Now they knew God as a dynamic and hospitable one-another in whom they lived, moved, and had their being. The Trinity described how they experienced God "from the inside."

… This healing teaching began unleashing a revolution that is still unfolding today in at least five distinct but related ways.

Those five transformations make up the heart of the chapter. Again, thanks for writing.


Q & R: Niebuhr's famous quote - Part 2

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. I continue to appreciate your facebook postings. They are always thought provoking. I also appreciate your efforts to build bridges between different points of view. As I look at theological trends, especially of mainline protestantism, I am reminded of a quote from H Richard Niebuhr, descibing his assessment of liberal theology. He writes, "a God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a ministry of a Christ without a cross." I would like to hear your response to this. From what you have seen, do Niebuhr's concerns apply to today?

(Continued from last week)
Niebuhr, as I understand him, was trying to forge a middle way between the kind of soft and shallow liberalism exemplified in the quote and the kind of religious conservatism of which he was no friend. He saw Barth, among others, as a trailblazer of that third path.

I think my work and that of many of my friends has a lot of resonance with this desire for a new path. There are important differences too. Like them, right wing Christianity isn't an option for us, but we also see strengths and values there. Like them, we see that traditional Protestantism suffers from a lack of clarity and energy. Unlike them, we would probably see institutional apathy more the problem in the Mainline Protestant (MLP) world than an excessive commitment to "the social gospel."

The MLP world has changed a lot since 1937, its "social gospel" leanings being modified by WWII and the postwar suburbanization of America, by women's rights and civil rights, and over the last 40 years, by severe retention problems with younger generations and the rise of the religious right and megachurch.

So let me respond personally to each of Niebuhr's "withouts":

1. a God without wrath - The word "wrath" raises two questions.

First, what kind of wrath? Wrath that leads to eternal conscious torment? Vengeful wrath? Zeus-like wrath - or Christ-like wrath? Many of us believe that among the many conventional understandings Christ came to overturn were conventional conceptions of God's wrath. Which leads to a second question ...

Wrath at what? Women in leadership? Gay people accepted as equals? Laws to protect the environment from human greed? Immigrants?

Christ's anger, in contrast, focused on hypocrisy, a lack of compassion, greed, exclusion, and an inability to distinguish "weighty" matters of morality from insignificant matters.

2. men without sin - Of course, this raises questions about how we define sin. Is sin reducible to law-breaking, or does the New Testament expand and intensify the definition of sin to mean "love-breaking?" Is sin only personal, or only social - or it is an integrated system that includes both personal and social dimensions? Is the primary danger of sin that it elicits God's retributive punishment, or is the primary danger of sin that it is ultimately destructive? Is it something that insults God so God wants retaliation against us, or something that threatens us so God wants to rescue (save) us?

3. a kingdom without judgment - What is judgment? Is it primarily retributive - punishing wrong, or is it primarily restorative - setting things right? Does it involve God making a list and checking it twice, storing up eternal torment for those who have not been nice? Or does it involve humans reaping the consequences of foolish and hostile behavior that is out of harmony with God's holy melody and rhythm?

At whom is the spotlight of God's examination primarily directed - at gay people, undocumented immigrants, people on welfare … or at corporate plunderers, war-makers, self-interested politicians, and complicit publics? Is the social purpose of judgment to divide the world into clean and unclean, saved and damned, insiders and outsiders? Or is that tendency to divide humanity in these ways one of the dimensions of sin that are under God's judgment?

Does our imperfection render God against us? Or is God against what is against us? Is condemnation the last word in God's universe, or does grace get the final word?

4. a Christ without a cross - Is the cross a reinforcement of conventional notions of wrath, sin, and judgment, with Christ appeasing an angry Father by submitting to the Father's infinite wrath? Or does the cross reveal God as one who identifies with victims of oppression, who suffers with humanity, who forgives when others insult and reject?

Perhaps I could put it like this: You have heard it said that a God full of wrath condemns men full of sin to a hell full of judgment, unless they avail themselves of penal substitutionary atonement purchased by Christ upon a cross. And you have heard it said that a God without wrath brings men without sin to a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of Christ without a cross. I think both options miss the mark.

I believe a God full of love calls for radical repentance among human beings who are oppressed (and oppress) externally and internally by destructive systems of sin, so they can increasingly experience the gracious liberation of God's will being done on earth as in heaven, through Christ and his peace-making cross.

So, those who have read my books know that I believe Jesus came to radically alter our understandings of God, wrath, sin, kingdom, judgment, and the cross. For people who are interested in more … check out my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.


Hatred: Us and Them

In a disturbing NYT piece yesterday, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explores a popular website that promotes the kind of strong-hostile identity I described in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

It seems that certain parts of the human psyche - and human society - are like petri dishes waiting for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, and other forms of scapegoating and hostile-identity-formation to "culture" and infect. If there isn't something even stronger present - an identity strongly and passionately dedicated to reconciliation, understanding, solidarity, and peace-making - then hostility will dominate.

And we know where that leads.

This line of thinking was intensified for me over the weekend while watching the new Planet of the Apes film. "I used to think," one of the main characters mused, "that all of 'us' were good, and only 'they' were evil. Now I see there are both good and bad among 'us' and 'them'" (loosely paraphrased).

That's the beginning of a new way of living … the way, I believe, that Jesus came to teach. Maybe we're almost desperate enough to actually consider that he was right?


Why I'll be fasting tomorrow -

I'll be part of a multi-faith fast tomorrow, an expression of solidarity with innocent Palestinians and Israelis who are suffering under foolish, misguided, and heartless leadership on both sides. I hope you'll join the fast too. After the jump, I'll include in its entirety a letter from Rabbi MIchael Lerner, a friend whose perspective I trust and respect greatly. I encourage you to support Michael's organization Tikkun and use it as a source for trustworthy, morally-informed news and comment.

Nothing is going to change in the Middle East until we can change the way the struggles are understood both in the media and in the larger publics that have increasingly moved toward extremist perceptions of one side or the other. The extremists who killed three Israeli teens must be celebrating at the moment--because Netanyahu rewarded them by giving them precisely what they wanted, the kind of violent repression in the West Bank of Hamas sympathizers that would push Hamas into feeling the need to retaliate with a resurgence of missile strikes on Israel, thereby precipitating the predictable scenario: the ultra-nationalist Netanyahu has to show his toughness by escalating attacks on Gaza while Hamas in Gaza has to show its toughness by escalating attacks on Israel.

...What can you do?
Challenge the public discourse everywhere you can.

Here's Rabbi Lerner's full letter …

Continue reading Why I'll be fasting tomorrow - ...


Little communities ...

"We gather frequently in little communities that we call ecclesia. We borrowed this term from the Roman empire, just as we "borrowed" the cross and reversed its meaning. For the Romans, an ecclesia is an exclusive gathering that brings local citizens together to discuss the affairs of the empire. Our ecclesia brings common people together around the affairs of the kingdom of God. Whenever and wherever the Roman ecclesia gather, they honor and worship the emperor and the pantheon of gods that support him. Whenever and wherever we gather, we honor and worship the living God, revealed to us in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit." - We Make the Road by Walking (182-183)


Reminder - memorial service for my dad in 2 weeks in MD

We'll be having a memorial service for all our friends in the DC area on 27 July at 7 pm at Cedar Ridge Community Church. From 7-8 pm there will be an informal celebration of "Doc's" life, so bring some stories and memories of Ian to share, and plan to stay for a reception from 8-9 pm to renew relationships with old friends and meet new ones who share a connection because of my dad.
More info here:
In lieu of flowers, please bring a financial gift for the Cedar Ridge outreach fund.


Wise words for Methodists - and other Christians -

from Mike Slaughter:
84% of Americans now live in or around urban areas. But I’m United Methodist, so I speak out of the context of what I know best. 74% of our capital resources (that’s our buildings) are where only 16% of the American population lives. The Methodist Church flourished in the 1800’s and early 1900’s in small towns and rural areas. But now we continue to send pastors to church buildings instead of populations. And if we’re really going to reach people, we’re going to have to radically rethink our paradigms of what it’s going to mean to be missional.
What would happen if Mainline Protestants deployed their resources to where the people are?


Q & R: Is it ACTUALLY a Christian book?

Here's the Q:

Is it possible to get a listing of the Chapter NAMES for 'The Secret Message of Jesus' prior to my purchasing the Audio Book? I just want to ensure that this IS a "Christian" book ... and NOT actually book with an "alternate view" of Christianity. (I apologize if this sounds like a silly question, but I do NOT want to purchase some "New Age" book.)

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. You can read the table of contents here:

It's not a New Age book, but it's also not simply a restatement of conventional teachings. It engages deeply with the Bible and presents a fresh understanding of Jesus and his message, drawn from the four gospels, and it explores Jesus' deep relevance for our lives and our world today.


A reader writes: It's working.

A reader writes:

We experimented with chapters 1 – 3 and found the same things that you listed. As a closing ritual we formed a circle and joined hands facing outward then recited the Lord’s Prayer. The meaning of the circle and joined hands is fairly well known , the outward facing reminds us that we are to take our faith into the world. Everyone loved the sessions.

Beautiful. I think this is a great suggestion for groups using We Make the Road by Walking. I'm hearing about schools, churches, experimental faith communities, college groups, and families using the new book … great conversations are happening, and people are getting a fresh sense of vision and purpose for their lives. Thanks be to God.


Q & R: Famous Niebuhr quote - what do you think? (Part 1)

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian. I continue to appreciate your facebook postings. They are always thought provoking. I also appreciate your efforts to build bridges between different points of view. As I look at theological trends, especially of mainline protestantism, I am reminded of a quote from H Richard Niebuhr, descibing his assessment of liberal theology. He writes, "a God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a ministry of a Christ without a cross." I would like to hear your response to this. From what you have seen, do Niebuhr's concerns apply to today?

Here's the R:
Because I grew up in conservative Evangelicalism, I heard this quote quite a lot. It was our way of stereotyping our nemesis, liberal Mainline Protestants (MLPs) - who were essential to our self-definition, since we identified ourselves in opposition to them. From time to time people send me the quote via Facebook or my website, suggesting, I think, that it characterizes me. So let me respond in two ways, first with a reflection on MLP's (today), and then with more personal reflections (next week).

As for context, the quote comes from 1937. By that time, turn-of-the-century "social gospel" liberalism had achieved many if not most of its immediate aims. (For more on this, see Paul Rauschenbusch's new edition of Christianity and the Social Crisis …) Great progress had been made in worker safety, urban housing, and labor organizing. Any movement that achieves its aims either sets new goals or declines, and by Niebuhr's time, the social gospel's new goals were not clear. MLP's settled into being the chaplains of the American century.

Niebuhr stood with Barth as an advocate of Neo-orthodoxy - a middle way between what he saw as a bland social-gospel liberalism on the one hand and a bold but reactionary fundamentalism on the other (the Scopes trial had occurred just 12 years earlier).

The essence of the critique was that liberal theology was like decaf coffee or warm Coke sans fizz. Boring and pointless. If divine wrath, human sin, and divine judgment aren't the problem, what good is Christianity? What does it solve?

Based on my experience, I think Niebuhr's negative diagnosis does describe some MLP congregations today. Words like "nice, pleasant," and "calm" describe them. Words like "exciting, robust, dynamic, effective" don't. Often, they are led by pastors who are nearing retirement; one has the sense that the goal is to hang on for another year or two and let somebody else face the problems of "shrinking and wrinkling" - declining numbers and advancing age. These churches feel like cradles or rocking chairs … comforting, familiar, safe … gently rocking their members to sleep with a lullaby and a prayer. There are fewer and fewer of these churches around, I think. Post-christendom, people don't feel a great need for national religious chaplaincy.

At the other extreme, many people don't realize how many MLP churches are opposed to all things liberal. (Many of these congregations are leaving their denominations for this reason.) People in these congregations may prefer organ music over "contemporary worship," traditional liturgy over the sing-sermon-sing format, charitable acts over hard-sell evangelism, and books of order/discipline over charismatic personality-pastors. But apart from those cosmetic differences, they could be Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God. (I remember a Methodist minister in the deep South telling me that many Methodists in the South were actually "shallow water Southern Baptists.")

These churches have a God with much wrath who brings men (sic) with much sin into a heaven after death* through much judgment that is effectively managed through the penal/substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon a cross. (*Going to heaven after death is the focus, not the coming of the Kingdom of God to earth so God's will is done "on earth as in heaven." In this way, these churches have little in common with the original social gospel as articulated by Walter Rauschenbusch and others.) In spite of these churches' denominational labels, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Mike Huckabee have more practical influence on their values and behaviors than John Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther, or Thomas Cranmer.

Often, the clergy in these congregations are quite different from their members. Politically and theologically less conservative, they do their best to stretch their congregations without breaking trust. But many ministers are severely disheartened by the gap between the way of seeing God, the Bible, the gospel, and the world that they learned in seminary and the viewpoint their congregations learn from religious and secular media. An hour or two of songs and sermons on Sunday mornings is no match for five days of religious-right-radio during drive time and Fox News at night. Tension simmers.

In between these two groups, I think most MLP's are trying to find their way forward.

The phrase that describes most MLP churches in my experience is "confused but open." They are coming to realize that what they're doing isn't sustainable. They know that the future will be different from the past and present. They're organized on a denominational level to do much good (e.g. Methodists organizing to eliminate malaria). But on a congregational level, it's not sufficiently clear what purposes their committees and polities are intended to achieve beyond maintenance … and for many, they're even losing ground in that regard.

They think they've left some things behind, but they aren't so sure exactly which ones, and they're less sure what has replaced those things. They dislike the certainty and culture-wars polemics of more conservative churches to their right, and as a result, are more clear on what they're against than what they're for. They're open for new possibilities … more than even a few years ago. But they're going to have to make some bold and courageous choices to turn their statistics around and seize the imagination of younger generations.

In Part II, I'll offer some personal responses to Niebuhr's famous quote.


Q & R: Using We Make the Road in Middle/High School

Here's the Q:

I’m the Upper School chaplain to about 550 teenagers, 7th-12th grade. I’m considering using your new book, We Make the Road by Walking as our chapel lectionary this year. A little background, because I’d like to know if you think it might work:

We have a 15-minute chapel three times a week, usually on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Chapel is mandatory for all students and for teachers. While we are an Episcopal school, we welcome students from other faith traditions. We have a large number of Roman Catholics, a smattering of Greek Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, one Buddhist teacher, and one Wiccan… you name it. We even have a few Episcopalians! However, for all of that, I would guess that most of the self-labeled Christian students here have not been raised in the Christian faith. Church is not a high priority with many of their parents, and some even use the fact that we have chapel several times a week as a reason not to go, believing instead, that the school serves as a substitute. For some the school is “too Christian,” for others it is not “Christian enough” or my favorite, not “real” Christian.

You can imagine what a humbling challenge it is for me to speak to these 550 students (plus faculty) who have to attend chapel. Our Chinese students use it as nap time, but for the most part the “congregation” is respectful and many of them surprisingly attentive. I am 61 years old, but I do my best to be relevant. They are fond of Rob Bell videos, and I often use movie clips to illustrate Bible teachings. I try and keep chapel time about worshipping God, and learning the amazing stories of God’s care and involvement in God’s creation. It is not youth group time, but we have done skits, or played a game now and then that makes a point – remember I only have 15 minutes – in a way that they will listen and, I pray, “inwardly digest.” I do not have a lectionary, and instead do topics according to the church year, and whatever the Holy Spirit sends my way. There is often no rhyme and very little rhythm to it. On occasion, I’ll get a student volunteer speaker. I love those days!

Our liturgy: Student chapel leaders do a few opening sentences (BCP-ish), there is a reading, then the “homily,” followed by a prayer and we end with a song called “The Grace” (the Pauline sendoff…may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you…), and a final dismissal (Go in peace to love and serve the Lord! Thanks be to God!)

So, given those dynamics and those limitations and those opportunities, and also given your own experience with different age groups as a pastor, do you think We Make the Road by Walking might work as a lectionary? I envision it working like this, but am open to other suggestions:

Monday: First reading. Homily is first half of your sermon.
Wednesday: Second reading. Brief review of Monday. Finish sermon.
Friday: Third reading. Quick review. Use the questions, and allow a time of reflection/prayer.

I have a Chapel Council consisting of 10th-12th graders who advise me on what resonates with the students. If this is resonating, I’d love to offer a learning circle once a week for those interested. Or, I could offer it from the get go.

Thoughts? Ideas?

Here's the R:
I'd say two things from the intelligence of your inquiry - 1. Your students are blessed to have you, and 2. if you think it will work, I trust your judgment!

Here are a few suggestions.
1. I'd try to have students be actively involved as much as possible, and I'd try to "change voices" frequently. For the "sermon," you could have three to five students alternate reading a paragraph …
2. For the Scripture readings, if there's a way to project the texts, you could have half of the students read a paragraph aloud in unison and then the other half read the next paragraph.
3. If you have some students with artistic sensibilities, they could create a long banner or mural (or series of them) based on the biblical story as it unfolds.
4. I really like the idea of having the students interact about the questions. Maybe there's a way to include a shortened version of Question 1 during each session?
5. It would be really amazing if that additional learning circle formed.
6. You'll get some ideas for multimedia, etc., here: http://www.geekedoutsoul.com/category/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2/

A lot depends on how "into it" the students want to be, and I know that's not a given and can change from day to day. Please let me know how it's going if you decide to give this a try. I think you're the person for the job!


Riding a tornado ...

If you're not familiar with the site Read the Spirit, I encourage you to check it out right now. My new book is featured in their cover story this week. David Crumm is a talented writer and a great interviewer. Here's his introduction to the interview:

For years, Brian McLaren has been writing best-selling books about renewing our faith. He wrote about becoming A New Kind of Christian and compared the process to The Wizard of Oz. Beginning to renew our faith, he wrote in his 2001 book, is “like Dorothy setting out on her journey to see the wizard, invigorated with new hope and passion.”

He wasn’t abandoning the long-held traditions of Christianity, he argued. He was embracing what he called, in a 2004 book, A Generous Orthodoxy, which he defined (in one of the longest sub-titles ever published) as “a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished CHRISTIAN.” He refused to capitalize any of the terms in that subtitle except the final word: CHRISTIAN.

Still in his 40s, McLaren was listed by TIME magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. TIME called him a leader in a worldwide movement to establish “a kinder and gentler brand of religion” and “yet remain true to Scripture.” TIME called him “an elder statesman … of the emerging church.”

Like Dorothy, McLaren found himself riding a tornado. Many friends saw great hope in his message and he logged countless miles to appear before appreciative audiences. Many foes claimed he was abandoning truly evangelical Christianity and he shouldered countless attacks in news media and social media.

Now, in his late 50s, McLaren is retired from parish ministry and is more firmly in control of his own life’s journey once again. He now seems far less interested in playing with labels—or battling his foes—than he is in the core message of his ministry: “The Living God is with us! And with all creation!”

Those are two lines you’ll learn to proclaim if you read his new book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. McLaren is hoping that you’ll make that proclamation with friends, your family and your entire congregation, week after week for a year. This book is all you need to spend 52 weeks taking a pilgrimage with McLaren through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

While a year-long Bible study may seem like a heavy-duty return to McLaren’s evangelical roots, readers quickly discover that he remains steadfastly committed to his original message all those years ago: The Christian journey is always about change.

The book’s opening lines are a challenge: “You are not finished yet. You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict and lose your way. Which road will you take?”

- See more at: http://www.readthespirit.com/explore/brian-mclaren-interview-make-road-walking/#sthash.cIHCxyv4.dpuf


Why I Wrote ...



Wise Words from John Esposito

An AAR Presidential address that deserves wide readership:

A phobia, according to the dictionary, is an exaggerated, illogical, or unfounded fear of a particular class of objects, people, a particular situation. It may be hard for those afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists.

So, what are the kinds of things that Islamophobes believe?
Islam, not just a small minority of Muslims and terrorists, is the problem and threat to the West. The religion of Islam has no common values with the West. Islam and modernity are incompatible. Islam is an inherently violent religion with an extremist, political ideology.

Phillip Jenkins and Bishop Spong have written very interesting books on violence in the Bible and the degree of violence. Talking comparatively here, Phillip Jenkins said there's a way you can look at certain passages in the Bible and see God ordering genocide. If you don't understand the Biblical context, that's what you would interpret. And yet when we deal with Quranic texts, wherever I go, people will ask, “What about the passage ‘slay the unbelievers wherever you find them’?” without looking at what is said in the verse after that: “When the enemy stops fighting you, you must stop.” We must also ask, who were the unbelievers at the time? The “unbelievers” weren't Christians or Jews, they were the Meccans. But the irony is that hard-line Christian Zionists or some of our Islamophobes and Neo-Cons talk just the way that the Bin Ladens of the world do; they distort the meaning of the text. They don't interpret a text within its context.

We need to think about the impact of Islamophobia in the United States.


Is the world getting better? (Deux)

Yes, in some ways ...

No way in others …


Is the world getting better?

In some important ways, yes!

In some ways, no.

The former tells us not to give up on the latter! All things are possible for those who believe ...


Some recent lectures ...

To a wonderful group of Methodists from Oregon and Idaho -


Q & R: repenting of our will to power?

Here's the Q:

Many of us realise that we have tried to control God through our right theology and moral efforts but it has essentially been about self-determination. When we find ourselves embraced by the God who chooses to love us (and has a place for us in the new-creation plan), how can we articulate this is a way which helps wary evangelicals to grasp the radical nature of this ‘repentance’, transformation and hope-full future?

Or is Brian’s Greco-Roman hypothesis richer and more nuanced than many evangelicals would believe?, or Can we still repent of our will to power?

Here's the R:
As for helping wary Christians (whether Evangelical, Catholic, or whatever), I think some people don't feel they need to be "helped." They see attempts to help them in this way as a temptation to lower their standards, compromise with "the world," etc. Often, though, things change later in life, often due to the influence of their children and grandchildren who feel less pressure to conform to the religious status quo.

I think your insight about "will to power" is quite significant. I doubt that many people consciously presume to "control God" (although certain features of "word of faith" or "prosperity theology" sound very much like this - quoting the Bible as a kind of magic talisman that forces God to comply to our "positive confession").

However, I think, we humans are quick to use God to control others. In this way, we "control God" as we do a hammer or screwdriver - by rendering God a tool in our will to power over others. This happens in all religions, I think, from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism to Buddhism to Judaism, etc. Whether parents over children, men over women, one race over another, one party over another, one ideological gang over another, or one nation over another … we find "God" is a convenient tool to make others fearful, compliant, submissive, and cooperative.

The great irony of this for Christians, I think, is that Jesus is best understood as the opposite of will to power. He represents "will to love" or "will to self-giving." Caesar's kingdom (which lives by what I called the Greco-Roman narrative in A New Kind of Christianity) brings peace through a will to power (aka domination). The kingdom of God - the very opposite.

This is one reason that the traditional penal substitutionary theory of atonement is so problematic for many of us: in it, Jesus becomes the sacrifice to uphold, appease, and mollify God's "will to power." How different when we see Jesus as imaging God in a radically new way: a God who suffers for and with us … a God who identifies not with those willing themselves to power, but with those suffering under their will to power …

This all became more clear to me than ever as I was writing my new book, We Make the Road by Walking. You'll see this understanding reflected especially in Chapters 4, 32A, B, and C, 46, and 51.


Thoughts on Ramadan

Just as many of us in the Christian faith are engaging in deep rethinking (repentance), many Muslims are engaging in "ijtihad," reevaluating the past and present, and re-imagining the future. One excellent example is Rahim Snow. Check out this post on Ramadan.

Ramadan is less about saying no to food and more about saying yes to God.

Ramadan is not so much about pushing food away as it is about letting God in.

Let’s use this month to intensify our awareness of God, our relationship with God, our service to God. Whatever form that takes, let’s own it. Whatever road that makes, let’s walk it. This is our Ramadan and God is waiting to feed our hearts.

If you're interested in my experience with Ramadan a few years back, search this site (upper right corner) for "Ramadan 2009."


Q & R: High school youth group might start walking?

Here's the Q:

I just ordered your new book "We Make the Road by Walking" thinking I might be able to use it with my High School youth group. In one of your foot notes you say that you created a resource that provides commentary on each chapter and that we can learn more about it on www.brianmclaren.net. I've looked all over on the website and can't find it anywhere. Can you direct it to me?

Here's the R:
Sorry it was hard to find … I was a few days late in getting it up. You'll find it here:
Let me know how it goes with your group if you decide to use it. Churches, classes, small groups, and families are already using it … and I hope that youth groups will also find it helpful. I think you'll get a lot of good ideas from Geeked Out Soul - here.


We Make the Road by Walking with Kids ...

I couldn't be more thrilled … what a beautiful and encouraging post:


Our parents had the Bible figured out. Our children’s parents don’t. We gained our childhood training in Scripture through a well-ordered curriculum of Bible stories, charts, and memory verses. Not our kids. We don’t have a pre-packaged boxed set of doctrines to give them in the safety and comfort of a Sunday School room. What we have is a library of ancient texts which are complicated and bewildering. Just like the real world. The texts are peopled by violent, greedy, horny apes who are relentlessly loved by God. Just like us.
Our scriptural tradition is not a safety-certified playground with padded railings and rubberized flooring. It is not a place we will send them off to play in. It is a wild place with real risks, a place they will explore with Mom and Dad at their side.
Of course, the kids are loving it. Given the choice between a safe playground and a muddy adventure hole with Mom and Dad, they are jumping face-first into the mud. So we have begun, second thoughts be damned: The Stonecyphers are making a road.


This is not the end, but it is the road ...

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified. - Martin Luther

Praying for peace ...

3 missing Israeli teens were found dead in the West Bank Monday. In all likelihood, the spiral of violence will spin on with even more fury now - each offense by one group being used to "justify" new revenge by its counterpart, which then becomes a new offense.

May Dr. King's words, uttered the year I was born, find their way into more and more hearts:

"As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos."

For responses from Israeli and Palestinian Peace activists - see this, at Tikkun:


Why We Gather

"We feel such joy to have God's Spirit rising up in our lives that we can't be silent. We sing our deep joy and longing, sometimes through the ancient psalms and also through spiritual songs that spring up in our hearts. The more we praise God, the less we fear or are intimidated by the powers of this world. And so we praise and worship God boldly joyfully, reverently, and freely, and we aren't quiet or shy about it." We Make the Road by Walking (185)


This week ...

it is expected the Supreme Court will render an important decision on the religious rights of corporations. I fully support religious freedom for individuals, but I will be disappointed on many levels if the court gives corporations exemption from the laws of the land on religious grounds. Here's a compilation ofresponses I and others wrote on the subject … and here's a piece my friend Rich Cizik wrote.


If you want to read some reader reviews of my new book ...

here are some. (You'll notice that people who have actually read the book rate it highly. People who wrote a review without having read it … not so much.)


This is the time of year ...

when a lot of churches receive new pastors. I wrote something when I was leaving my pastorate 8 years ago that has been widely disseminated in the years since to help in pastoral transitions. You're welcome to use it. (See below - it would be nice, but not essential, if you include a link to my website.)

It's almost always well received - but not always, as this recent response shows. If nothing else, this note lets folks know how easy it is to offend people without meaning to, and it explains why being a pastor can be a tough job:

I am a member of a Methodist church in [a Southern city] and this passage of your’s was mass communicated to our congregation in anticipation of a new minister who will begin in July. I felt that it might be more appropriate for a youth group or in a small setting but felt highly offended in receiving it over email. (By the way, I am in favor of the change in leadership at our church.) I think that the attempt to poke fun, and joke about accepting change in this passage is demeaning to members. I understand that these type of passages are often circulated from time to time to “lighten up” the congregation but I do think that maybe in the future, as the author, you might offer guidance on when and how passages should be shared or viewed. As Christians, we are encouraged to “hold one another accountable” and not to hurt or discourage. Thank you,

Here's the piece the note was referring to. Maybe you can discern which command(s) seemed demeaning, hurtful, or discouraging?

Ten Commandments for Welcoming a New Pastor

I. Thou shalt not compare the old Pastor and the new Pastor, for the Lord thy God has made each person unique and wishes you to appreciate each original creation.

II. Thou shalt not expect everything to stay the same when the new Pastor arrives. Nor shalt thou resist change, nor assume that change is bad, but thou shalt trust that the Lord thy God isn’t finished with your church yet and is bringing change for your good and the good of your mission.

III. Thou shalt not make graven images of thine old grudges, nor shalt thou keep stale disappointments in the temple of thine heart, but thou shalt forgive and move on in the grace of the Lord thy God, for how can thou ask God for mercy unless thou give mercy from thine heart?

IV. Thou shalt not commit gossip, nor shalt thou fearfully complain, nor shalt thou listen to those who do, but instead thou shalt entreat them to adjust their attitudes and lighten up, for everything shall be alright, and in fact, shall turn out very well indeed – better than you can even imagine.

V. Thou shalt not commit nostalgia or say that the old days were better, for in so doing thou shalt make thy judgment come true. Be assured that the Lord thy God is not falling asleep at the wheel, but will be with thee and surprise thee with abundant blessings, more than thou canst contain or count.

VI. Thou shalt not factionalize nor create “us-them” divisions, but thou shalt unify with thy brothers and sisters even when they annoy or confuse you.

VII. Thou shalt not come to the new pastor with your demands, pressure, complaints, bad reports, manipulations, threats, agendas, unsolicited advice, or snide comments. But thou shalt say, “Welcome! How can we help you? We love you! We would like to increase our giving significantly. We’re praying for you and your family. Welcome to our community! We baked you some cookies!” And each week, thou shalt do so again and again until the new pastor begs you to stop.

VIII. Thou shalt increase thy giving, and not withhold thy tithe, but invest thy money and thine heart in the future of thy community of faith and mission.

IX. Thou shalt not come to thine old and former pastor with anything but praise for the new pastor, but thou mayest bring thy concerns to God in humble prayer, and if thou must, thou may also share concerns with the duly appointed leaders of the church.

X. Most important, thou shalt trust God, and stay connected to God, and draw strength from God, staying deeply rooted in the message of God’s grace. For God is good, and God will never leave you nor forsake you. You can count on that for sure!


Free Resources for you

I just added a free 80+ page e-book that provides backstory/commentary on We Make the Road by Walking: here.

The section on approaches to the Bible should be of special interest.


What I Said at the White House

I was invited to be part of a forum on global human rights for LGBT persons on Tuesday. Short talks were presented by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Ambassador Susan Rice. Later we were invited to the Vice President's home, where he shared some additional comments. It was clear that the White House has a strong commitment to human rights for LGBT persons, especially in a world where people are routinely killed, beaten, tortured, arrested, threatened, excluded from employment, driven into secrecy, and imprisoned for being gay.

It was an honor to participate on a panel with such distinguished colleagues and such skilled moderation.

One of the ideas I shared in the panel was this:There is a huge personal cost for religious leaders to change their position on LBGT equality. And there is a huge personal cost for LGBT people when religious leaders won't change. For those reasons, I recommended we find ways to encourage religious leaders to move incrementally along a spectrum with four spaces.

1. Promote violence against and stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

2. Oppose violence but uphold stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

3. Oppose violence and seek to reduce stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

4. Oppose violence and replace stigmatization with equality in the name of God and religion.

Many leaders in certain parts of the world are still in Zone 1.

Many religious conservatives (Evangelicals and Catholics in the US) are in Zone 2. That's where I began thirty or forty years ago.

Many are moving into Zone 3. They still stigmatize - for example, by welcoming gay people as members but not as leaders, or by allowing civil unions but opposing gay marriage. But they try to reduce the scope and strength of stigmatization.

More and more are moving into Zone 4.

Many people are unaware of Zone 4. They think the only way for people to become less bigoted and more compassionate is to become less religious and more secular. But that approach is fraught with unintended consequences.

It's important, I told those present, to speak to those in each group with sensitivity to their situation and to help them take the step they are capable of taking. It's not simply a choice of inhabiting Zone 1 or 4, and it's not wise to treat Zone 2 or 3 people as if they were "homophobic" in the same way as Zone 1 people are.

The fact is that there are many people in the middle, and they are moving - often in the right direction, and often at great cost. Many lack sufficient courage to take the next step and need moral encouragement, sometimes actual physical protection, to do so.

It won't suffice to only let people in Zone 1 and 2 speak in the name of God and religion. It won't suffice to offer persuasion based on "secular" legal grounds alone. It won't suffice to forego persuasion and only rely on pressure (via money, aid, etc.), because pressure without persuasion is experienced as oppression.

More of us need to make a bold and clear moral case for Zone 4 so that religious leaders can move towards it with a clear conscience and in good faith.

I may share more about the gathering soon. Stay tuned. For those interested, so much depends on finding new, liberating ways of reading the sacred texts that have so often been quoted to stigmatize LGBT people. My new book attempts to model one such new and liberating way of reading the Bible. You can read more here.


An exciting week ...

After a great weekend in Dallas, training people in leading learning circles for We Make the Road by Walking, today I'll be at the White House as part of a symposium there on LGBT equality and human rights. Then I'll be off to Wild Goose Festival. Hope to see many of you there.


"Women's Issues" are men's issues too.

I think something parallel is true of "gay issues" and "race issues" and "immigration issues" and "minority" issues. Straight, white, native-born, and majority are connected ... here's why:


More on Global Warming

Last week I posted a Q & R about global warming. My friend Paul H sent in this reply, which is full of helpful information. Here's Paul's reply:

Brian, I just read your excellent response to the guy who so desperately (and I wonder why) wants to believe that there is no global warming. One of his points was that, if there is global warming, we cannot account for the temperature plateau of the past 15 years or so. He's wrong about that. Apparently, he has never looked at the actual temperature time series, one version of which is in the Global Surface Temperature plot on this NASA webpage:


Even a cursory examination of the time series shows that the warming of the globe is not monotonic (continuously rising), but the overall trend is undeniable. The climate research community recognizes a phenomenon known as "decadal variation" -- variation on the scale of one or a few decades, and they spend considerable effort trying to understand it. The atmospheric circulation system has a number of recognized oscillatory systems, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Madden Julian Oscillation, and others. It's pretty certain that there are other factors that are not yet recognized. Taken all together, these factors cause the globally averaged temperature (and many other parameters) to have ups and downs that are superimposed upon the long-term trend.

We see decadal variation clearly on the webpage cited above. The first half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1970s are plateaus very similar to the current one. Other decadal variations show actual drops in globally averaged temperature. These are in no way contradictory to the conclusion that global warming is real. The long-term trend is still an increase of globally averaged surface temperature.

Some of the media-fueled skepticism about this comes, oddly, from meteorologists, particularly those who work in the broadcast news industry. This is in no small part due to the influence of John Coleman, one of the founders of the Weather Channel. He is an outspoken climate change denier, but one who has exactly zero credibility. He is not a climate scientist. He is not even a meteorologist. His education is in journalism. The fact that he employs meteorologists does not give him any credibility.

A couple of years go, Prof. Richard Muller, a respected physicist and climate change skeptic, assembled a research team and acquired copies of all or most of the same data that has led the climate research community to the conclusion that global warming is real and anthropogenic. He completely reanalyzed the entire, very large collection of data. Even though his research was funded in part by the Koch brothers, his widely published conclusion was that climate change is real, it involves an increase of globally averaged temperature, and it is caused by the activities of mankind, principally the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Every year, I attend the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, and I tend to focus on the climate change sessions. In 2007, one aged member of the society rose in a plenary session, to say (in the quavering voice of an old man) that he simply could not accept the idea that a system as massive as the atmosphere could possibly be affected by the actions of puny humans. That old man and a couple of broadcast meteorologists (overheard in a conversation at lunch) are the only examples I know of any Society members disbelieving global warming. It may be that 97% of scientists believe it. I don't know where you got that number. But I strongly suspect that a much stronger proportion of climate scientists (meaning those who actually study climate and, thus, have credibility) believe it.

As is the case with nearly everything in life, basing an opinion on anything other than actual data is perilous.

I just heard the 97% number recently at a briefing I was part of, but it may be already out of date, as I think the consensus only grows stronger. It referred to all scientists, not just climate scientists. I imagine, as Paul says, that it would be much higher among those who study the data most closely.


Using We Make the Road by Walking in 2014-2015

We're just wrapping up a "boot camp" for people who plan to lead groups using We Make the Road by Walking. It has been a delightful time.

My strong recommendation for groups using the book is to keep it super simple and super participatory. Here's how:

1. Have the group seated in a circle or gathered around a table. (If the group is too large, invite 6 or 8 people to the front and they'll model participation for the larger group.)
2. Identify someone to begin reading the first Scripture reading. It's best if they read a paragraph or so of the text (about 3 to 5 verses). It helps to be sure everyone has the same translation - whether NRSV, CEV, or whatever.
3. Then someone continues with the next paragraph, and so on, through the Scripture readings. It's good to keep things moving at a good pace.
4. The same pattern continues for the chapter, with each person reading a paragraph. If people don't want to read aloud, of course they can just pass. If kids are present, I encourage you to include them in the readings and Engage questions.
5. When the chapter is complete, the next person can read the first Engage question, and so on.
The group really runs itself. The leader doesn't need to do any preparation; the hour is really self-contained.

A few observations from our time together:

1. By involving everyone with reading, attention levels stay high.
2. By everyone having a Bible and copy of the book, they can follow along as others read, thus taking in the content both orally and visually.
3. The experience of listening to others read aloud may seem unfamiliar at first, but it quickly becomes natural and very enjoyable.
4. When you move from the chapter to discussion, it's important to let people know that it is perfectly acceptable to express disagreement or discomfort with the readings, which the first Engage question invites people to do. Differences of viewpoint don't need to be resolved - simply respectfully expressed, listened to, and understood. (See #8)
5. If there is a large group, it's easy to break into groups of four. Four people can engage deeply with a chapter in an hour.
6. Engaging with the material over a meal works really well too.
7. If you want to add liturgical elements from Appendix 1, of course you can do so before and after the readings, chapter, and engagement questions.
8. At your first gathering, the leader/host should read the 5 guidelines (Appendix II). It's good to get everyone to verbally agree to assist in following these guidelines (like sitting on an exit row in a plane). The leader/host should promise to remind the group of the guidelines if problems come up, and review them from time to time.
9. If problems do come up - someone is argumentative or over-participates, for example - remind everyone of the 5 guidelines (Appendix II). Because the approach I'm recommending is so highly participatory, I think groups will get in the groove quickly and problems will be rare.

If you want to begin using the book now so that you get on schedule for the 2014-2015 year, you would begin as follows:

June 22 - Chapter 43
June 29 - Chapter 44
July 6 - Chapter 45
July 13 - Chapter 46
July 20 - Chapter 47
July 27 - Chapter 48
August 3 - Chapter 49
August 10 - Chapter 50
August 17 - Chapter 51
August 24 - Chapter 52

To sync up with Advent 2014, you would begin with Chapter 1 on August 31. If you need to begin on September 7 or 14, you would need to skip a chapter or two, or combine a few, so you'll schedule Chapter 14 on November 30, the beginning of Advent.

Because Easter's date changes each year, in 2015 you'll need to drop one chapter (or combine 2) from Part II. I'd probably recommend combining 22-23, 24-25, and/or 25-26.
Jan 4 would coincide with Chapter 19.
Lent and Part III of the book begin on February 22, 2015.
Pentecost and Part IV of the book begin on May 24, 2015.

For long-term planners, in 2015-2016, you'll begin Chapter 1 on August 30, 2015, and you'll need to drop or combine 2 chapter from Part II to coincide with Easter.

If that sounds confusing, don't worry. Once you get the group going, you'll be surprised how easily things flow, how quickly community begins to happen, how refreshing the whole experience is, and how effectively it can contribute to spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation.


Q & R: Death of God

Here's the Q:

I was raised conservative evangelical, and A Generous Orthodoxy was one of the first books to truly push me into a whole new realm of how to think about my faith. Thank you. Since then, I have gone many directions, found a few dead ends, and am now retracing my steps to try to get on a worthwhile path again. One possible path I’ve recently discovered is lead by folks like Peter Rollins, and in another way John Shelby Spong, and perhaps originally, Paul Tillich. Their work has helped but also troubled me, and I am curious to get your thoughts on this school of theology and its attempt to grapple with the alleged “death of God.”

Here's the R:
Let me offer a less than ideal analogy, but the best I can come up with at the moment.

Imagine a woman has breast cancer. She needs immediate surgery, radiation, and chemo. These treatments are all painful and in a sense destructive. They are "troubling." But they are necessary to save her life.

After the surgery, she will need two things. First, she will need reconstructive surgery. At the same time, she will need ongoing health care to maximize her health and monitor for a possible relapse so it can be caught as early as possible.

It could be said that religions get malignancies. Racism, colonialism, sexism, a sense of supremacy and privilege and exceptionalism, a victim mentality, paranoia, xenophobia … all these can get a foothold in religious communities and threaten their health and even survival.

Some theologians do surgery. Some administer chemotherapy. They appear to make the patient worse, and if they're not careful, they can hasten the death of the patient. But they are also necessary to save her life.

Other theologians focus on reconstructive surgery, rebuild basic health, and monitor for relapse prevention.

So there are some theologians I would turn to in order to administer chemo, but I wouldn't turn to them for a steady diet to promote health. Each is important - all the more so if each can appreciate his or her specialty - both its strengths and its limitations, and do the same for others with different specialties.

I should also add that many important living theologians are in process. Their project takes twists and turns, goes through various phases. You might say they are more like a family doctor. They follow one patient (their denomination or tradition) through various phases, and so they may be involved with preventative medicine, and then help their patient go through chemo when a malignancy is found, and then help their patient recover, and then return to preventative medicine.

The analogy isn't perfect, but I think it makes the point. In evaluating theologians, it's important to understand what their project or specialty is … and what patient they are trying to help, and what diagnosis they are trying to treat, and how far along they are in the process.

Some people see writers like Tillich or Spong as terribly negative. But when you have cancer, you don't want your doctor to water down the chemo. People who think they're fine, of course, don't see any need for strong medicine at all. Jesus himself faced that problem with the religious establishment of his time.


Presbyterians showed boldness this week ...

They made two historic decisions, one for LGBT equality and one against the israeli occupation. Read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/presbyterians-debating-israeli-occupation-vote-to-divest-holdings.html?_r=1


Q & R: Aren't you nothing more than a hypocrite?

Here's the Q:

Since you insist on using the pejorative “denier” for people who do not subscribe to the same dogma that you do, can I begin to label you as climate change “hypocrite”? Your carbon footprint is multiple times larger than mine, yet I am your version of “the other”?

I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. That means stop with the book tours, conferences, concerts, etc. which belch tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (which might be #8 on your steps for loyal acolytes of the church of global warming).

Some questions:

Do stories that contradict your worldview on Global Warming (GW) ever penetrate your cocoon?

If CO2 is the primary driver of GW, why have temperatures hit a plateau in the last 15 years, with higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Why did 95% of the climate forecast models produced within the last several years fail to accurately predict this plateau?

Have you read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear? Would you be open to listening to another point of view?

How many variables go into climate change? Do you think the models created by scientists have accounted for all of those variables

Why was Swedish climatologist Lennart Bengtsson bullied and threatened by other scientists for having a differing opinion?

Why did Michael Mann refuse to release his raw data behind his famous hockey stick?

Why did Michael Mann advise colleagues (via email) to “hide the decline” of data that contradicted his conclusions?

I very much appreciate your blog, and your tone (most of the time); you can be so magnanimous and kind to people who disagree with you spiritually. Would that you could exhibit the same “generous orthodoxy” to people who disagree with you politically!

Thanks for writing. I frequently have people send me notes like this that point to data that they believe disproves climate change. I keep an open mind and check into that data and so far, have always found it to be unconvincing. I haven't read "State of Fear" but did read reviews of it and the general consensus was that Crichton is a good storyteller but his science was distorted and flawed.

I'm certainly not against skepticism in the face of popular trends. In fact, if anything, I'm sympathetic to those willing to stand up to a majority.

But the bottom line for me is that I've done a lot of reading and attended a lot of lectures on this subject - and in fact attended the original "Sandy Cove" conference in 2004 where John Houghton presented Evangelical leaders with (then) state of the art data on the subject. In light of the fact that 97% of scientists believe in human-induced global warming, I believe it is our God-given responsibility to care for the earth and to exercise foresight in understanding the short- and long-term consequences of our actions. And I believe that the poorest of the world are suffering and will suffer from global warming the most. So … putting those together, I speak out as best as I can.

As for your specific questions above:
- Malfeasance by a few of the 97% of scientists doesn't discredit their whole project any more than malfeasance by a few of the 3% would. The issue is the evidence, and the overwhelming weight of evidence is not tainted by malfeasance. It confirms again and again that if anything, predictions have erred on the side of underestimating rather than overestimating the effects of fossil fuels on the planetary climate system. Finding a flaw in a theory doesn't invalidate it; a popular blog series makes that point quite well.

- Some of your assumptions above are questionable if not simply wrong. For example, C02 levels are rising and so are temperatures. It's important to remember that the theory doesn't predict that every single place in the world will grow warmer every year. In fact, the theory predicts that as the climate warms in general, certain places will grow colder in the short run.

You're right to say that the climate system is profoundly complex and no model so far comes close to containing the complexity. But our models are certainly the best they've ever been, and so far, when our best models don't predict the data perfectly, the data points to even more severe effects than the models predicted.

You said:

I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. That means stop with the book tours, conferences, concerts, etc. which belch tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (which might be #8 on your steps for loyal acolytes of the church of global warming).

If individual actions like the ones your propose would solve the problem, then I think you're right: it would be necessary for people who believe in climate change to stop traveling. But the sum total of individual actions of this sort won't come close to stopping a systemic problem. That's why the science and public policy are so closely intertwined, and that's why many of us feel a moral obligation to speak out on the subject, even though we sometimes make mistakes and our tone isn't always pitch perfect.


A reader writes … chapter 17 rocked my world!

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross The Road? Hi there! I just wanted to say, chapter 17 of this book has rocked my world. The entire book has opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to a whole new way of living. I've considered myself a Christian for some years now, but upon reading this book and applying this new knowledge, I feel like I'm living a Christ-centered, Christ-led, Christ-inspired, Christ-like loving kind of life. Thank you, thank you, thank you Brian McLaren for this gem. After reading your response to someone writing a rather nasty piece about you, you concluded by hoping that if one day their child or grandchild was going to turn away from Christianity that your book would be of use, I'm hoping the same thing! I hope everyone reads this book. This is so not just for Christians, it is for the people who God loves...EVERYONE. Thanks again.
I'm so glad to know the book was helpful. Thanks for the encouragement!

Someone you should know ...

90 Second TEASER for BURNING EMBER: THE STEVE BELL JOURNEY from Refuge 31 on Vimeo.

Learn more here.


On Israel, Palestine, and Presbyterian Divestment

Tikkun magazine recently offered these two letters - by both Jewish people concerned about the occupation of Palestine:

First, we should note that under international and American law, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal. Any business involved in the occupation is therefore illegal too. That alone should be enough to keep American companies away from the Occupation. The Israeli government argues that the occupation is necessary in order to keep Israel safe. How does building Jewish cities on stolen Palestinian land or the daily harassment and humiliation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians make Israelis more safe? All indications are that antagonizing Palestinians imperils Israeli lives.

Let us also remember that the Presbyterian resolution does not call for divestment from the State of Israel, from Israeli companies, from individual Israelis or even from Jewish-owned companies. Rather the resolution calls for divestment from three American multinationals implicated in documented human rights abuses.

The Presbyterian General Assembly will consider divestment from three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola.

Caterpillar (CAT) sells heavy equipment used by the Israeli government in military and police actions to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural lands. It also sells heavy equipment used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, roads solely used by illegal Israeli seIlers, and the construction of the Separation Wall extending across the 1967 “Green Line” into East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The number of outstanding demolition orders in East Jerusalem alone has been estimated at up to 20,000.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) provides biometric ID equipment to monitor only Palestinians at several checkpoints inside the West Bank. 2.4 million West Bank Palestinians are required to submit to lengthy waits as well as the mandatory biometric scanning, while Israelis and other passport holders transit without scanning or comparable delays. The biometric ID is also used to regulate residency rights of non-Jews in Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has revoked more than 14,000 Jerusalem residency cards, with 4,557 being revoked in 2008 alone. HPQ sells hardware to the Israeli Navy that enables it to maintain the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. This blockade has included interdicting humanitarian supplies and attacking Palestinian fishermen.

Motorola Solutions (MSI) Motorola Solutions provided an integrated communications system, known as “Mountain Rose,” to the Israeli government which uses it for military communications. It also provided ruggedized cell phones to the Israeli army utilized in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The company also sold wide-area surveillance systems for installation in the illegal Israeli settlements.

Plainly put, corporate revenue is built on the back of Palestinian suffering. And Jewish tradition is clear in its rejection of ill-gained profits.

And this:
The Presbyterian resolution targets only the occupation which is fair and right. If I thought it was anti-Israel in any way, I would not support it. But I believe that being pro-Israel requires opposing the occupation.

This resolution is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and, above all, pro-peace. It must be approved. Voting “NO” is a vote for the occupation.

And you can read a related article by Rabbi Brant Rosen here.

Powerful stuff. Let's help it get noticed.


A reader writes … I found my imagination!

I realise that you'll never likely receive this message but I thought I'd write it anyway.

I'm a 31 year old Irish man. Married for 6 years now, I love the outdoors and have a passion for language learning.

I spent 8 years working for the Presbyterian Church as a youth pastor. To cut a long story short... I found my imagination, the capacity to love those not like me, to see Christ outside the walls of the church, to read more widely, to question what I'd always been told about 'the other'
whether they be culturally or politically different, to respect, accept and welcome more...

I left my job with the church to become a Spanish teacher just last year. Having always planned to become a adult pastor it was a shock for many and still the fear is that I'm 'lost', that I no longer "love The Lord" or read the Scriptures.

My loving The Lord and reading the scriptures are all that people are concerned about it appears. (I still do both but make no song and dance about it).

Few understand the transformation that my faith has undergone, how much wider my vision for faith now is, how more expansive, mesmerising and beautifully I see things. The good news is better news than it ever was before.

Anyway... I want to thank you for your books. Your pastoral understanding has meant a lot when no one else appeared to understand. I'm not attending church right now (it does me more harm than good) and am happily working in a high school teaching Spanish/French and looking after Special Needs learners. The plan was always to be a Pastor and I'm happy to be fulfilling that role outside the walls of the church.

I imagine you get a letter like this at least twice an hour so please don't feel the need to reply!

Thanks for writing. I don't get a letter like this twice an hour, but steady stream of voices are saying almost the same thing … discovering, as you say, "how much wider my vision for faith now is, how more expansive, mesmerising and beautifully I see things. The good news is better news than it ever was before."


A brilliant series on the future of Christian faith

Patheos is running a series readers of this blog will enjoy. In addition to yours truly, it features Adam Hamilton, Barbara Brown Taylor, Peter Matthews, and many more people I greatly respect.

Here is my contribution to a panel on the Bible.

The piece stands alone, but also gives a good overview of my approach in We Make the Road by Walking, which is available now.


Don't Get Caught!



A Millennial Speaks ...

This piece from Laura Cowan deserves attention from Catholic, Mainline and Evangelical readers … Quotable:

The moral of this story might surprise you: Millennials leaving the Church is a good thing, in my opinion. For me the GOOD news is that my generation HAS refused to put up with gross distortions of Christianity. These behaviors we’re talking about are not compatible with the Christian faith. They’re not Christian behaviors at all, though we all behave in ways that aren’t consistent with our beliefs from time to time. But I think this situation with millennials leaving means they’re paying attention and they’re following their consciences and refusing to compromise their morality in order to belong to religious institutions. The pressure that used to be there to conform to religious norms isn’t there to the same degree anymore in our society, it’s true, but my hope is for a generation that walks away from the distorted practices of the Church and then walks right into Jesus’s arms somewhere else, creating an entirely new form of Christian spirituality we’ve never seen before. There are a lot of ways Christianity could take shape that don’t involve what church on Sunday looks like today. You’ll find the beginnings of hope for this in the emergent and social justice and creation care movements, and hopefully with those millennials who say they’re spiritual but not religious. Those are the people I serve with my life’s work: the brokenhearted, the abused, the people who are looking for light in the world and can’t find it. I’m grateful for the experiences of my youth, if only because they’ve given me the education I needed to understand this human woundedness that leads to such abuse. I am dedicating my life to not only stopping this dynamic from continuing in my family line, but to reversing it in my culture. It is not okay, it is not Christian, and so far as anything comes through me, it stops here.

And this:
Things are changing whether religious bullies want them to or not.

Thanks, Laura!


Q & R: Positive attitude toward Christianity?

Here's the Q:

First of all I really love your work. I love the way you are so positive despite of differences and critique.I'm from the Netherlands and I'm really struggling trying to figure out all the doubtful stuff in christianity.

For about 5 years I've been questioning my faith and researching all kinds of literature. Somewhere in this process I read 'a new kind of christianity', which led me to read all your other books as well! I just love em.

But I find it really hard to maintain a positive attitude towards christianity because the naive approach a lot of christians have. So my question to you is first of all how do you cope with that?

But to me the more important question is how do you fit Jesus in all of this. If you look at historical data and the way the bible is somewhat primitive (some parts)... and if we say that the whole wrath thing is not really the case... then what's left of the Jesus story and what's His role in our lives?

I would love to hear your comments on this. And again, thnx for all the writing!

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. I've been to Netherlands a few times and love your land and especially the Dutch people.

Once I was having a lot of trouble getting along with someone who had hurt me deeply. I went to one of my mentors and asked for help.

"You have to forgive him," my mentor said.

"That's the problem," I said. "I could say I forgive him, but I wouldn't mean it. I'm very angry at him. I don't feel I can honestly forgive him at this point. I want to, but I can't."

"Ah, that's because you don't understand him," my mentor said.

"That's a problem too. He makes no sense to me. I can't understand him," I replied.

"When you realize he's just a human being like you, and others hurt him, you'll understand that his most obnoxious behaviors are expressions of fear and hurt. Then you'll have compassion on him, and then you'll be able to forgive him," he replied.

I think something similar happens with Christianity as a community. Christianity is people, and people are in process. Various expressions of the religion have been hurt and sometimes get reactive and hurtful. But just as people can change for the better, so can communities. That's part of what I'm trying to get at in "We Make the Road by Walking."

Maybe you and I can take steps in better directions so that our faith communities can grow and change for the better.

As for your question about Jesus - I think you'll really like my new book. It will address this directly. Let me know what you think, OK?


My Muslim friend Rahim ...

wrote this beautiful artists' prayer …
Quotable from Rahim's website:

Even though some would like to see us abandon religion altogether as a useless relic from the past, I would like to see us upgrade and redesign religion so that it fulfills its original intention. No matter how old these religions are or what culture they come from, they still hold truths that can speak to us and feed us…. We have a lot of good hearty work to do, so I invite you to roll up your sleeves and join me.

Just as many of us are seeking new ways of being authentically Christian, we have counterparts doing similar work in Islam, Judaism, and other religions too.


Q & R: Heresy

Here's the Q:

From a leadership perspective, What boundaries do you think Christians should have on 'heresy'?

If you have time, here's a (very) partial answer I've been pondering ....

I've been extremely resistant to the idea of heresy, because I've found that it's usually on matters of opinion that the heresy card gets thrown around. Specifically, I find that the false doctrine or 'false teacher' card gets played any time where it looks like having mercy and grace toward others is going to win out over keeping theological traditions.

Yet wonder if there are times when it's appropriate to call someone out on their beliefs or practises. Perhaps when people start arguing and dividing and calling each other names (or burning one another at the stake) is the time to point out that heresy only really happens when an idea leads to people being dehumanized.

Well, I think there's also when core confessions of the faith are torn down. I.e no compromise from me on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, although I do appreciate the sociological commentary of the Jesus seminar - even though I think they got the 'main' detail wrong.

My context is that I am responsible for and to people who are very black and white when it comes to their reasoning skills, and thus very black and white when it comes to their bibles. Ironically, thesis thinkers are on both the liberal and conservative theological spectrum. That fascinates me endlessly. So I want to be sensitive to the fact that a poor logical premise accepted by these good folks will quickly turn into a disaster. But I also get frustrated because I see things differently - or perhaps I am learning to see behind certain things.

I am concerned because I've seen people take what is otherwise fine doctrine, and twist it around so that it is not fine in practise. I've also seen people take what I consider terrible theology, and do unbelievably gracious and wise things with it. Of course, I've also seen questionable theology (most notably, where opinions are stated as unquestionable facts) create messes, and I've seen well reasoned, gently communicated theology empower whole communities.

Here's the R:
Great question - one I can't do justice to in a short blog post, but here are a few responses.
1. The Greek word for heresy (hairesis) means choice. The idea is that an individual or group makes a choice to differ from the norm.

2. Ideas/doctrines are usually classified as heretical, but I think attitudes may be even more problematic. In Generous Orthodoxy, I offered a telling of early church heresies where the key attitude of heretics was elitist, exclusionary superiority: we are legit, everyone else isn't. Orthodoxy, then, was the broader term, more accepting and "catholic," and heresies were more elitist and exclusionary.

3. In Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, I took orthodox doctrines that have been applied with exclusive, hostile attitudes, and tried to reframe them in more "catholic" ways. In your words, I tried to take those "otherwise fine doctrines" that have been "twisted it around so that they are not fine in practice" and untwist them so they can have better out workings in praxis.

4. In We Make the Road by Walking, I explore an idea that G. K. Chesterton introduced at the end of his book Orthodoxy:

“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

What I love about this quote is that it pictures orthodoxy as a dynamic process, not simply a guard standing in one place, but rather a charioteer swerving, reeling, and racing in a "swirling adventure." My metaphor of walking a road - and extending it "off the map" - is tame by comparison, but I hope conveys the same idea. It implies a deeper and more dynamic understanding of both orthodoxy and heresy, I think. Orthodoxy is not a paved parking lot with its straight yellow lines, and heresy is not people choosing to park on the grass at all kinds of skewed angles. Rather, orthodoxy is the path that begins in the past and we must now extend into the future - with faith, fear, trembling, joy, and courage. And heresy is all those paths that divert people from the road and lead them into swamps, dead ends, and parking lots.

5. The problem, of course, is that in the present, it's not always clear who is making the right choice … to take this way or that. That's why I have no problem with various denominations or associations existing to make their own decisions of what they consider on the road and what they consider diversionary. Just as different populations of biological species mutate in different ways, some of which lead to extinction and others to evolution, I imagine that the choices made by different denominations and movements will ensure that the species over time both survives and evolves.

6. This approach reaches the same conclusion that you reach. It's irresponsible to say, "It doesn't matter what choices you make about doctrines, etc." But it's also terribly unwise to take the role of violent, angry, fearful inquisitors. But I wouldn't stop there.

7. I think one more question needs to be asked: Isn't it tragic that the Christian church was so focused on orthodoxy of doctrine that it didn't pay much attention to racism, sexism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, slavery, genocide, scapegoating, and the like for its first two thousand years?

I can imagine Jesus, James, Paul, or John saying, "You say, "Lord! Lord!" correctly, but you don't do the things I say," or "What shall it profit a person to have correct opinions but fail to love his neighbor?" Is a racist orthodoxy superior to a loving heresy? Thank God we don't have to choose between those two!

That's why some of our forbears had the courage to differ - to choose a different path - from their forbears who defended anti-Semitism, suppression of women, colonialism, segregation/apartheid, slavery, etc. They challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of their day that defended these practices with all kinds of doctrinal arguments. Sometimes the choice to differ was the orthodox choice.

Similarly today, to be faithful pilgrims on the road of truth and saving love, sometimes we need to differ - faithfully, humbly, and graciously - from our forbears and some of our peers as we move forward. Attitude is essential. And orthodoxy must no longer be separted from orthopraxy, ortho-affinity, and orthopathy. That's why I am such a fan of documents like the Accra Confession and Belhar Confession … and it's why I wrote my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.


Q & R: We Make the Road in Spanish?

Here's the Q:

Can I buy " we make the road walking" in spanish????

Here's the R:
Not yet. Here's how the process works. A Spanish publisher has to show some interest in the book. (Sometimes that happens because someone like you contacts the publisher and encourages them to consider it.) They then contact my publisher, Jericho/Hachette. They reach an agreement and then translation begins. My books Secret Message of Jesus and More Ready Than You Realize are in Spanish, and A Generous Orthodoxy is in Portuguese. Korean, Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, German, and other translations have been made for a number of my books, but relatively few in Spanish … so far. For now, We Make the Road by Walking is only available in English.


An interview and a review

Here's an interview on my new book:

And here's a review by Tony Jones, who read the manuscript and made suggestions that improved the book. (Thanks, Tony!) He also suggested a different title - which you'll read about in his review.


Q & R: Girardian Lectionary

Here's the Q:

I just listened to a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity where you dialogued with James Alison. You mentioned a Girard Lectionary. I've looked all over and can't seem to find it. May I please have the title, author, etc. so I can get a copy?

Thanks for this and for all you do.

Here's the R:
Ah, I think you got the impression that it was a book, but actually, it's a website that contains information that would fill dozens of books if not hundreds. You'll find it here:

It's the work of a brilliant and generous Lutheran pastor, Paul Nuechterlein. I think the world of Paul, and was so happy to read these words from him about my new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

"If I were to organize this website into a year's worth of sermons presenting a comprehensive engagement with the basic Christian message, and all with the anthropology of René Girard in the background guiding the interpretation, I couldn't hope for writing a book this good. I am delighted and extremely grateful that Brian has written this book. I pray that it becomes a classic of Christian instruction and spiritual formation."


A reader writes: Just another "Just" War?

A reader writes ...

I finished Everything Must Change and thought it is excellent. I like the fact that while you fervently uphold Jesus' revolutionary vision, you do not shrink from admitting the many failings of the institutional church throughout history. I just read a horrifying book about the persecution of Michael Servetus by both the Catholic Inquisition and by John Calvin:
Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in... by Lawrence Goldstone and Nancy Goldstone (Sep 2, 2003)

The only thing that disappointed me was your discussion of Just War. I think you should be more categorical about rejecting this vile notion. When Augustine formulated it most Christians lived within the Roman Empire and would not have had to fight against Christian brothers in enemy kingdoms. But I am sure you would agree that over most of the past 1500 years since the fall of pagan Rome, European nations have shed each other's blood liberally all in the name of Just War!

Indeed the Servetus book above explains that during the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics, parts of Europe lost half their population! And both world wars shed enormous quantities of Christian blood.

I like to say the following: "Just War" is just another war! I think even the standard justification invoked for it to oppose someone like Hitler is bogus, since the vast majority of Hitler's military was comprised of believing Lutherans and Catholics. Had they categorically rejected the so called just-war option, then we would not have faced the crisis in the first place.

Today the same grim scenario is being repeated in Ukraine. Putin is by every measure a devout Christian, but most American evangelicals seem almost eager to demonize him and pigeon hole him as a "closet commie." The very people who so oppose virtually every policy of Obama seem to be straining at the leash to embrace a possible war in Eastern Europe. This I believe perfectly reflects the unwillingness of the church to categorically reject the poisonous option of war.

Thanks for your note. There is horror in any human blood being shed, whether that blood flows from a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, atheist, secularist, or whatever, as I'm sure you'll agree. Minimizing that horror - even glorifying it - can only serve to make it more common.

With wars, veterans, prisoners of war, and the like in the news so much lately, I've been hearing a lot of talk that glorifies war and minimizes its horrors and tragedies. No nation seems to be very honest about its wars, and calling a war "just" easily hides a lot of ugly secrets that most people seem happy to hide. The old story of Cain and Abel penetrates our fog of deception and reminds us that all wars are civil wars, and our enemies are our brothers. Add to it the story of the Prodigal Son, and we remember that our enemies are beloved by God just as much as we are. I just need to sit with that realization a while today.


Does your church have a lawn?

Here's something to consider:


links roundup - music, comfort/joy, hell, awareness, and more

MUSIC: My friend Michelle has a new album out. You can sample it here … and pick it up too.

Plus - you can sample music from a bunch of wonderful musicians in The Shift Collective here:

COMFORT AND JOY: If all the world's meansters and crazies have you down, here's a moment of comfort and joy from Capetown, RSA:

HELL: My fellow Jericho author Jon Sweeney has written an excellent book on a hot topic. Learn more in this interview:

AWARENESS: Recently I participated in an exciting series on Spirituality and Awareness. I was one of 33 spiritual leaders interviewed, and I expect this FREE virtual conference will a truly inspirational experience. You can sign up for free to live stream the virtual conference from June 30 to July 4. Here is the link to find out more about the conference or to sign up.
I highly recommend this conference. You can also email the host Ian Lawton, ian@soulseeds.com, if you have any questions about the conference.

What You Need to Know
When: June 30 - July 4, 2014
Where: Online!
Cost: sign up for FREE here: http://www.entheos.com/Emerging-Spirituality-and-Awareness/Brian-McLaren


First Review, Important Questions, and philosophical conversation ...

The first review of my new book from the good people of Spirituality and Practice is up here:

My recent replies to excellent questions from Rachel Held Evans' intelligent and animated blog readers is up here:

And a recent interview about philosophy and theology with my friend David Peck is up here:


Wild Goose - coming soon, but it's not too late to register!

As a contributor to the festival, I've been given this code, BMCANDSJ, which you can use for 30% off at the WG website: http://wildgoosefestival.org/tickets. You can't get a better deal, so don't miss the opportunity, and I'll see you at the Goose!

Just take one minute and look at the speakers (http://wildgoosefestival.org/speakers/), music (http://wildgoosefestival.org/music/), visual art (http://wildgoosefestival.org/art/), and performances and practices (http://wildgoosefestival.org/performances-practices/) that will be a part of the Goose. Just looking at the faces on these pages and you'll see we are about to enter into a conversation that might not be able to happen anywhere else.


Today ...

Thanks so much, all my wonderful readers, for your interest in my work. Today is the release date for my new book We Make the Road by Walking.
Today you can help my new book get a good start if you pick up a copy … and maybe an extra for a friend or relative. Ordering information here. I'm grateful for your interest and support, and I know you'll enjoy the book.
Again, thanks!


Q & R: Adversarial systems

Here's the Q:

I have just finished reading your book “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?” and it was good and challenging in the right way. You point out the problems hostility produces and my question is this.

In the United States, and probably many other places, the legal system is based on an adversarial relationship. For instance, prosecutors and defense attorneys are adversaries. Would the existence of this kind of system be corrosive to a non-hostile community?

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Here's the R:
You raise a really important question. Rather than answer it, let me rephrase it and then pose some related questions.

1. Could we imagine a legal system based on a common pursuit for justice rather than an adversarial pursuit of "wins?"

2. Can we imagine an economic system based on the common good, sustainability, and creative collaboration rather than ruthless competition?

3. Can we imagine a political system based on civility rather than wedge issues and dishonesty?

Those are the kinds of questions that get us dreaming of the "commonwealth of God." And for those who are thinking - "Yea, that's realistic!" (insert sarcasm) - remember that centuries ago, a few daring people asked …

Can we imagine a political system where every person got to vote and we replace kings elevated by primogeniture with elected public servants?

Can we imagine a system where women were considered equal to men?

Can we imagine a world where domestic violence was not acceptable?

Can we imagine a world where all children had a right to free public education?

Can we imagine a world where slavery did not exist? Where segregation/apartheid did not exist? Where minorities had equal protection under the law?

As the saying goes … another world is not only possible; it is already under construction. That's a great paraphrase for "The kingdom of God is at hand." We're on a journey into ever-greater justice, reconciliation, and peace … we make the road by walking.


Music for a Sunday (and the 6 days following)

I've been enjoying this beautiful album by Solveig Leithaug, Finding Home:
You can learn more about Solveig here:

Something I wrote played a part in inspiring this beautiful song - "The World You Made" -

O the wonder of your faithfulness, summer, winter, spring and fall
Holy Father of the universe, great and merciful
Rushing rivers, rolling hills, jumping trout, and deer at play
Beautiful beyond our words is this world you made
O, what a world you made.
From the floral valleys to glacial peaks, northern lights to desert bloom,
Erupting geyser to coral reef, nature speaks of you
Earth is framed within your hands, earth and harvest, air and rain,
Show us, Lord, how to better care, for this world you made.


Here's a sermon for Pentecost Sunday ...

… from my upcoming book. I hope you enjoy it!


In turtle news … why did the turtle cross the road?

Nobody knows!
(HT: Thanks, Gary!)


Three links you shouldn't miss.

Consider hosting this play -

Don't be blind to the realities of racism and white privilege -
Check out this from James Cone …

And this from Andrea Smith.


Q & R: What about weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Here's the Q:

I have been reading your works off and on for about 10 years. Recently I have been reading and re-reading “A New Kind of Christianity”, which I have found very helpful in answering some questions I have. However, there are some other questions this line of thinking brings up. Reading chapters 13 and 14, where you break down the Gospel according to John, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, I find great inspiration. But what do we do with Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew? I generally read the four Gospels in the light of the Gospel according to Jesus (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (and in my thoughts available to be experienced now as revealed in the Beatitudes) What about the references to the weeping and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into outer darkness, etc. etc. etc.?

Here's the R:
This is a huge question, and I can't do justice to it in a short post. But let me offer a wild proposal. I'm not fully convinced of all the details in the proposal below, but this approach deserves consideration. It builds on insights from mimetic theory and from the work of Walter Wink, William Herzog, Andrew Perriman, and others.

1. The overall issue is not the end of the world, but the destruction of the temple (24:1-2). Much as people today foresee the end of nuclear proliferation or global warming or a pyramid economy that is owned by the 1%, Jesus foresaw that a militarized Israel would stage a violent rebellion against Rome which would be crushed.

2. His warnings that follow aren't about the end of the world, but the end of the world as they know it … an end that occurred in AD67-70 when the Romans came in and crushed the Jewish rebellion (24:3-31). For more on the phrase "coming of the Human One" or "coming of the Son of Man," see the work of Andrew Perriman.

3. "The generation will not pass" had its obvious meaning (24:32-35).

4. The "left behind imagery of 24:36-44 means the opposite of what Dispensationalists and other fundamentalists taught. Being "taken away" means killed by invading armies. Being "left behind" means surviving the attack.

5. If that's the case, the catastrophes in the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards aren't going to hell after you die, but the consequence of trusting in violent rebellion and not being ready for the coming catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem.

6. This is a tangent … but the parables of the servants, bridesmaids, and stewards are highly problematic. It's possible Jesus didn't intend the master, bridegroom, and rich man to refer to God … but to Caesar and his regime. Maybe not - but it's worth a thought. If that's the case, the point isn't, "Be on the alert because God might come back and destroy you at any moment if you're not careful," but "Be on the alert because Caesar might come back and destroy you if you're not careful."

7. Whether or not 6 is valid, the point of 7 is … swinging back to #1 … this: what God desires is not violent rebellion against the Romans, but grass-roots kindness and humane treatment of the least, the last, and the lost. This is a time not for hostility against our occupiers but for solidarity with the most vulnerable, those suffering most under the occupying regime. Humanity will be judged not based on who is the military victor … but who is truly human and humane.

Try this interpretation on and test it as a hypothesis. It makes sense of 26:1-5 too - because Jesus basically says, "If anyone proclaims a message of nonviolent resistance - rather than violent resistance or nonviolent compliance - that messenger is doomed. I understand that. So be prepared for what's about to happen to me."

One more question needs to be asked, of course. In light of these passages, what might Jesus say to us if he were here now, seeing the huge challenges we face - the broad road leading to environmental destruction, economic collapse, and social conflict?

It's an exciting time to be reading the Bible!


A documentary on being Christian and ...

more. You don't have to be Adventist to be a raving fan of Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film about Faith at the Margins. You can watch it and buy it here:


Tonight I'll be on Soul Emergence Radio …

Learn more here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/truthworks/2014/06/04/soul-emergence-radio-episode-110-an-evening-with-brian-mclaren

And tomorrow I'll be on Holy Rascal Radio … more here:
If you'd like to call-in 888.55.UNITY (888.558-6489)
Also, after the show, the show will be available on iTunes-


Q & R: Charitable giving

Here's the Q:

You’ve made references in some of your writings about charitable giving. I really want to make an effort to be generous with my money. I have a heart particularly for the poor since I grew up in poverty. It’s a really overwhelming topic and I just don’t know where to start and who to trust. I’m currently not at a place in my life where I’m ready to return to the church so traditional “tithing” isn’t really an option and I’m not sure that I would trust a church to put my dollars towards serving itself before serving the poor.

Heres' the R:
Thanks for this important question. Poverty is a complex reality, as you know, and often, when people sincerely try to make things better, their results are hard to measure. Sometimes, they may even make things worse. (I wrote about this in some detail in my book Everything Must Change.) Here are several categories of organizations that do great work in constructive ways:
1. Relief and Development: Organizations like World Vision and Unbound provide direct help to people in poverty through sponsorship - providing nutrition, education, and health care, and they help communities build capacity for prosperity.
2. Education organizations focus on helping kids develop skills that will bring them out of poverty. The Sold Project, started by my friend Rachel Goble, is a great example.
3. Community Development organizations focus on helping people in local neighborhoods, villages, slums, etc., set goals and achieve holistic results for themselves. I have good friends who lead organizations in this category - like Communities of Hope, African Road, and Urban Transformation.
4. Social Justice organizations focus on changing unjust policies and laws that put people into poverty. Three of my favorites are Coalition of Immokalee Workers (right here in the US), Sabeel, and Association for More Just Society.
5. Ethical businesses … for-profit companies play an important role in helping people out of poverty - especially when they have values beyond "the single bottom line" of profit. You can learn more about ethical business - with a triple bottom line of social, environmental, and economic benefit - here. By investing in businesses like these, you help poor people and can get a return on your investment.
6. Messaging and mobilizing organizations help people understand poverty and get involved in the biblical call to social justice. Sojourners, Network of Spiritual Progressives, and Auburn Media are great organizations in this category. I hope the Cana Initiative will also make significant contributions in this regard. You might even consider many writers and journalists as members of this category.
7. Exposure/relationship-building organizations help people visit underserved communities and build relationships with people who live in poverty. As my friend Shane Claiborne says, our problem often is not that we don't care about poor people, but we don't know any poor people personally. Groups like Camino Connection and Global Immersion Project do wonderful work in this way.

I'm sure there are other categories too, and so many fantastic organizations doing wonderful work … I hope readers will feel free to add their recommendations/comments over on my Facebook page.


We Can Refuse to Be Enemies

We can refuse to be silent.
We can refuse double standards.
We can refuse to be enemies.
From my piece on TIME.com:

Many of us have avoided facing the unsettling understanding that religious identity can be turned to violent ends in any religion: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist. To understand religious violence will require us to understand others’ violence, and our own; then demand that our faith leaders set the example of building strong identities that are benevolent, not hostile, toward others.

Along with decrying violence in the name of religion, we can celebrate the heroic acts of kindness and solidarity of more “normative” people of faith like the Egyptian Christians who’ve protected mosques and the Egyptian Muslims who’ve protected churches on many occasions over the last few years.

We Christians cannot remain silent about the horrific violence against Christians around the world. But to respond in ways that intensify fear, hatred and mistrust will never move us beyond global religious hostility. We must be vocal advocates for the rights of all religious minorities — from Texas to Tehran, from Nashville to Nigeria.

For more on this subject, see
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? and
We Make the Road by Walking


Q & R: 2 questions about WMTRBW

Here's the first Q:

Our church is excitedly anticipating the release of your new book, We Make the Road by Walking.

We are deeply engaged in creating a new approach to faith formation, not just for youth but for all members of your congregation, and think that your book might be an excellent resource. In fact, our Small Groups planning team intends to discuss the possibility of using it as a study resource with the entire congregation, perhaps even purchasing a copy for each family (about 70 households).

We have a couple of questions that you may be able to help us with as we head into a major planning meeting later this week.

First, is there a way of previewing a sample chapter and the discussion questions that accompany it? The table of contents and the other information we’ve seen is helpful, but having a slightly bigger picture would really help us to determine how we can best use this resource.

Yes. Even better - you can preview the preface, introduction, and first three chapters here:

Here's the 2nd Q:

The second question is this: do you think that your book would be suitable for intergenerational study? We aim to forge deeper connections between congregants of all ages as they share their faith stories and grow spiritually. If you have any recommendations or suggestions to share, we would be delighted to hear them!

We’ve recently discovered Faith Forward and have been deeply inspired by the reading we have done about new directions in youth ministry. We are very excited by the potential this research has to transform traditional, often ineffective approaches to youth ministry, and are excited to hear what new ideas come out of the upcoming conference in Nashville.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. We deeply appreciate any answers and suggestions you may be able to provide.

Yes. You'll notice when you read the "Engage" questions that there is always a question especially for children. And I tried to construct the questions so that they would be accessible to a wide range of people, whatever their age or background. My hope is that groups will include children and youth, all the way up to seniors. In Appendix I (available for download here) that there are a number of suggestions for including children and youth. Obviously, there's a huge difference between a three-year-old and an eleven-year-old, so they will engage at different levels. But I believe our faith communities should be the places in our culture where children are treated with more respect and inclusion than anyplace else.


5 Things You Should Know about the Pope's Visit to Israel Palestine


On the West Bank, he will greet children from several Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who is Eastern Orthodox (as are most Christians in the Middle East) said he hopes Pope Francis will “see the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

“We are misrepresented and are unfortunately seen by some to be criminals and terrorists,” Hanna said. “I hope they can see that we are a civilized, peaceful and well-educated people seeking freedom and a better future.”

John Esposito, an expert on international relations at Georgetown University, said the Pope’s meeting with Christians in Bethlehem could open some eyes about the Israel-Palestinian standoff.

“It will underscore the fact that it’s not just a Muslim-Jewish conflict,” he said.


Q & R: 2 unusual questions ...

Q # 1:

Have you ever thought about leading a study tour of the Holy Land?

I did help organize a tour of Israel and Palestine, focused not only on ancient sites but on the current conflict there. It was a great experience, led by Jeff and Janet Wright (below). If any of my readers are interested in such an experience, all I can say is it is life-changing. I'd highly recommend you avoid tours that avoid presenting a balanced view of current realities. Several groups lead responsible and balanced tours. Two of my favorites are …
Footsteps of Jesus - led by my friends Jeff and Janet Wright

The Global Immersion Project - led by my friend Jon Huckins

Q #2:

I was just wondering what days Brian will be talking at the Greenbelt Festival and what is the event he will be talking at in Zurich in November? I really want to go to both so any information would be great.

I'll be at Greenbelt the whole time, but don't know my specific speaking times yet. Info here. And I'll post information on my time in Zurich as soon as I have it - on my schedule, here.


How to make this summer your best ever … begin at the Goose!


Because I'm a presenter at Wild Goose, I've been given a code to share for discount admission. If you use the code BMCANDSJ, you will get 30% off tickets!
Join me at @wildgoosefest, a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music & art in NC June 26-29! http://bit.ly/1j7O75v


Q & R: Church without … God?

Here's the Q:

I have been reading your books and articles for many years and much of your spiritual journey parallels my own. I am very drawn to the ideas you and your fellow travellers promote and I want to jump boots and all into a new kind of Christian lifestyle. I have been agnostic about the literal existence of God, as an entity completely independent of our own minds, for several years now and although I can no longer accept that the Bible records literally true events that would be recognisable in video playback, I do appreciate the power of the stories of the Bible and its ability to guide and inspire us on our spiritual journeys. Although I cannot affirm any creeds, I still feel that the central Christian concepts of love, reconciliation and the power of sacrifice are a wonderful core spirituality for a meaningful life.

I want to find a contemplative and open mainline church to be part of and once again feel a part of a growing and searching community as I was for the first 40 years of my life. What holds me back is that I find it impossible to pretend. Impossible to go to church and pray as if there is a self-existent being listening to me. I can't embrace the metaphor and lose myself in it. I can't sing the hymns or the songs that are for me forever connected to fundamentalist ideas about truth and obligation.

I long for what I once had as an evangelical but can't feel comfortable pretending to really believe while those around me orient their whole lives around a list of things they believe that I just do not.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. It points up the problem with the word "God" that more and more people are having … from self-existent being entirely independent of our own minds to big man with long white beard on floating throne to angry celestial dictator with thunderbolts or hellfires waiting to intimidate the rebellious into compliance.

My friend Frank Schaeffer recently published a book on this subject - highly worth reading: Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. In the book, and also in his recent novel And God Said "Billy!", Frank shares with rare honesty how he grapples with these issues …

On a more philosophical level, I recommend Richard Kearney's Anatheism. At some point, I might take on this subject myself. We'll see.

On the church side - my Unitarian friends would be quick to offer a safe and open spiritual home for you, and some United Church of Christ congregations, among other denominations, would also be happy welcome you without pressuring you to say or sing things you don't mean. But what might be most meaningful at this point would be to find a trained spiritual director who would help you explore other ways to think of and relate to God. One of my friends said it this way: "We need to bring God back on a higher level."

My book Naked Spirituality might be meaningful to you in all this … because the God that no longer works for you is the Stage-1 and Stage-2 God of Simplicity and Complexity. I think there are understandings of God that emerge at later stages in the spiritual journey that could be highly meaningful to you. Thanks again for writing, and for expressing what more and more people feel.


Today's sermon … by Jake

Jake speaks truth to power, here:

Andy if you'd like to see/hear a recent sermon from me delivered at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, you'll find it here.


A most excellent week ...

I was a small part of two tremendous events this week. Faith Forward brings together people interested in innovative ministry with Children and Youth, and Festival of Homiletics brings together preachers. The planning and organization of both events was tremendous … the program top-notch … and the spirit among participants was a delight. You can't be at events like these without feeling that there is a fresh wind blowing among church leaders in the US.

If you're looking for events not to mix this summer, here are some I'll be involved with:

June 19-22 - I'll be in Dallas leading a "boot camp" about forming and leading an experimental faith community. It will be fun, practical, and skill-based, with lots of time for interaction. We'll use my new book, We Make the Road by Walking … which I'm really excited about.

June 26-29 - Wild Goose Festival. Always a fantastic experience. The line-up is breath-taking, the setting magical.

August 7-10 - National Church Leaders Institute … I'm really looking forward to this one.

August 10-14 - Companions on the Inner Way - a retreat focused on … the inner life. I've heard great things about this annual gathering and will be presenting some brand new material in this beautiful setting.


Tis a gift to be simple … church

We hear a lot of complaints about the state of the church … but Jim Burklo wrote a piece recently profiling some beautiful churches ...
And I must say that in my travels, I keep running into beautiful congregations doing great things. There are more out there than you might think.

Last Sunday, I loved being at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids … There was a humble, reverent, enthusiastic joyful spirit, plus one of the most beautiful sets of worship songs I've heard in ages.

I was especially thrilled to see how my book Naked Spirituality has been a resource in a year-long engagement with "12 simple words."

People posted simple expressions of thanks on blue post-its … They wrote simple expressions of "help" that were folded into birds and suspended from the ceiling … They even spray-painted graffiti expressions of "no" (rage and refusal) that were incorporated into a beautiful work of art. I posted photos over on my Facebook page (which I hope you'll "like" if you haven't already!).

Also on my Facebook page - a beautiful quote from a new book about church. Molly Phinney Baskette's new book, Real Good Church, is brimming with hope and great ideas.


A reader writes … great conversations with my friends

I'm just finishing "Why did Jesus, Moses..." and I wanted to say thank you. This book could not have been more timely in my life, nor could it have been more encouraging and live-giving to me and my spiritual walk. My friends are diverse, cultured and at times very anti-Christian, recently I've had some great conversations with them which it brought big questions about Christianity, which I have seen little written about. This book has given me so much more insight into the posture I can take in order to lovingly engage and give grace to my friends.

For this I am grateful. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you for these encouraging words. I think my upcoming book will also be of help as you live from that posture of loving and gracious engagement. I hope you'll enjoy it.


Climate Change Deniers and Believers … a challenge to both

Climate Change Deniers … here's a three-part challenge.
1. Read this article.
2. Decide if you are willing to go on record as calling this a scam. If so, go on record, so your children and grandchildren will know where you stood.
3. If not, go on record to let people know that you have changed your mind and are no longer a denier. Then move to part two below.

Climate Change Acknowledgers … we have an even bigger challenge.
1. Keep up with the news on scientific evidence for global climate change:
2. Bring up the subject whenever you can …
3. Don't stop there - look for ways you can make changes in your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint. (This is hard. Very hard. And it's not enough, but it's an important start.) This should include divesting from fossil fuel corporations like Exxon.
4. Don't stop there - work for changes in policy on behalf of our environment, which many of us believe is God's beloved creation. Support candidates who demonstrate understanding and concern for the environment.
5. Don't stop there - keep learning more through civil society groups like 350.org.
6. Don't stop there - this will be a lifelong struggle, on behalf of our grandchildren's grandchildren, so join and support local groups, like this one in my area.
7. Integrate concern for the environment into your spiritual life - into your prayers, songs, public worship, etc. Then go back and repeat these seven steps on a more intense level.


A window into an Egyptian prison cell ...

It's disappointing to see how little coverage Egypt gets in the Western media. Here is a message from a US citizen of Egyptian origin. Mr. Soltan is in my prayers...

Peace and Mercy of God be upon you. I seek your permission not to interrupt me for seven minutes while I try to sum up the suffering of the last nine months. My health is deteriorating and this session may be the last I am able to attend.
My name is Muhammad Salah Soltan. I am 26 years old, Egyptian by origin and hold a US citizenship. I am proud of every bit of my Egyptian and American identities. I am a graduate of Ohio State University, with a BSc in Economics. I formerly worked as an Institutional Development Manager in a petroleum services company. I left my job in America and moved to Egypt in March 2013 in order to take care of my mother who was afflicted with cancer and my brother who is afflicted with a vitiliginous disease [a skin disorder]. I have been in Egypt for one year and two months of which I have spent nine months in jail. I was arrested together with my friends who were visiting me when the police came to our home on August 27 to arrest my father. When they did not find him they took us. Since that day until now this is what happened:

Continue reading A window into an Egyptian prison cell ......


A reader from way down under writes ...

I write to you (hoping you might see this) to simply say thank you.

I have just completed my honours year in theology at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra Australia and am about to embark on a PhD. I have undergone a tremendous evolutionary process in terms of my theology and faith life in the last 4 years and have come to a place where I have less and less certainty to cling on to and more and more questions to contemplate and think through. I have struggled through this process feeling quite alone for the most part, as conservative theology and mainline Catholic or Evangelical leanings are what makes up the convictions of most in my circles.

I wanted to say thank you for your bold and brave book: ‘A New Kind of Christianity’. I journeyed through it with you and found deep encouragement in those pages, particularly in the closing chapters where you touched on the isolation and complication that often comes when one asks these types of questions.

I felt strengthened, challenged and re-invigorated to continue in my walk.

So from way down-under, Thank you.

Thanks for these encouraging words.


Do you want to better understand the situation in Israel-Palestine?

Kairos and Sabeel and Musalaha are three great places to start.


On June 10 …

my new book will be released. I just got a copy … Of course, as a writer, I'm most focused on the content of the book. But I was really pleased with the look and feel of the physical object too. I can't wait for it to be available. I hope many of you will buy a couple copies - one to read and a few to give away.
I've been told it helps for you to buy it on June 10 or in the few days afterwards … if that's convenient, I'll appreciate your help. But feel free to preorder if that's better for you. Ordering info here...


Do you love where you live? Peacemaking and Place-making

Local churches are (at their missional best) one of the few remaining organizations dedicated to the well-being (shalom, peace) of their local communities. Key to healthy communities are characteristics explained in this important article:

What most drives people to love where they live (their attachment) is their perception of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness of a place. It appears that what people most want out of a neighborhood is a place that is attractive, engaging, friendly, and welcoming. In every place, every year of the study, these factors were found to be the three most important to tying people to place. Why does this matter? As mentioned above, communities where people love where they live do better economically. The best-loved places were doing better in a measureable way. Little did we still know, at first, that Soul had just empirically justified some of the core principles long advocated for by Placemaking advocates.


Thanks ...

Thanks to all who sent encouraging notes, tweets, texts, etc., over recent days as we celebrated the life and mourned the death of my dad. The memorial service went well, and today I'll be driving family members to airports and preparing for re-entry into the normal stream of life tomorrow. I'll be in Grand Rapids, Nashville, and Minneapolis in the next week. Grace and I, along with our whole family, feel loved and supported, and we're grateful for you all. If you want to learn more about my dad, here's the tribute I wrote. (For friends in Maryland, we should be announcing soon a memorial service there in late July. Stay tuned.)


In Memoriam: Ian D. McLaren


For the last several months, my mother and I, with the help of many others, have been caring for my dad, Ian D. McLaren, who has been in his final months of life. He passed away on Saturday, May 10.

My dad’s life touched so many people, and anyone who has been influenced positively through me is an indirect beneficiary of his legacy.

We will have a small memorial service here in Florida this Wednesday, May 14, at Marco Cemetery, 489 West Elkham Circle, Marco Island, FL. Visitation will be from 10-11 am, followed by a memorial service at 11, with interment at 12. You'll find more information (including directions for sending flowers, posting memories, etc.) here.

Because my dad had so many friends in Maryland, we're planning a larger memorial service there July 27 at 7 pm at Cedar Ridge Community Church. Come with an appreciation, memory, or story about Ian to share.

Here is a tribute to my dad, Ian D. McLaren ...

Continue reading In Memoriam: Ian D. McLaren...


Links Roundup - Mid-May 2014 edition

If your church, college, or local theatre group is looking for an event that will be meaningful, cathartic, funny, and deeply moving on many levels, you should consider hosting Ted Schwartz's new play, Learning to Play. You can read about it here, and watch a promo video here:

If you are a theist who sometimes wonders if you'd rather be an atheist, or vice versa, I recommend Frank Schaeffer's excellent new book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.
I love what Phyllis Tickle says about it: "...one leaves the final pages of WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD aware yet once again that sometimes and in some circumstances, an artist is still the best theologian.”

And finally - Michael Toy has written a beautiful collection of readable, sometimes funny, often touching, always insightful poems called Blame It on the Huehuetenango.
If you've had some struggles with organized religion, especially of the Evangelical variety - but of any variety really, this book will do your soul and brain more good than a stiff carafe of coffee or the best bottle of wine … And if it doesn't, the fake endorsements at the end will at least give you some laughs. I've kept going back to this beautiful little collection … and I think you will too.


Q & R: Responding to criticism

Here's the Q:

I need your advice if you have the time to give it, as I prize your efforts to respond to people charitably in the face of vitriol.

The other day, I posted what was intended to be a (mostly) light-hearted critique... This kind of post is a massive aberration - I normally only talk about issues surrounding spirituality and mental health.

All of that to say, I knew some people wouldn't like it and that some would - that much was obvious. But my personal blog site normally garners a few thousand hits a month (at most) - I had no idea that it would generate 36,000 hits to my site in less than 48 hours.

The post deeply offended many, some of whom are my friends, and many of whom responded by personally attacking me (ad hominem) rather than addressing the merits of my arguments. I tried to say above the fray but was only successful maybe 85% of the time.

So, I guess what I want to ask you is - what you would you do now, in the aftermath? I've considered writing a follow-up post to address the most commonly asked questions about the piece (e.g., my motivations for writing it, … etc.). But I fear it may just make things worse.

Do you have any thoughts? Thanks for anything you would be willing to provide.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your note. Anyone or anything I criticize is beloved by someone, and so they will naturally interpret my critique as attack. When people feel they or something they love is being attacked, they often respond with either defense or counter-attack. If I defend myself from their counterattack, very quickly a vicious circle of offense and retaliation starts spinning.

It's hard to find a better way out of these vicious circles than the wisdom of the proverb that says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger." Sometimes the response can be very simple … thanks for telling me how you felt when you read what I wrote … I'm sorry what I wrote felt like an attack on something you love …

If you want to add explanation, I'd recommend doing so not as a defense of what you said or a contradiction or criticism of one of the respondents, but as a simple, non-defensive clarification. All this is much easier said than done, and I suppose it is an art that one can improve with over time, with practice, remembering that practice doesn't make perfect: it only makes habitual. So … practicing a negative response doesn't make one more positive! It's interesting how often in the New Testament Jesus is praised for not responding to insult with insult or injury with injury. There's something very powerful going on there … worthy of meditation and emulation. I hope that helps ...


Death Penalty in the USA

Death Penalty Infographic

The Death Penalty in the USA. Produced from ArrestRecords.com


3 Upcoming Events

Of many excellent events coming up in the next several months that I'll be part of, I want to mention three today:

In June:
I'm often asked to offer mentoring or coaching to younger (and sometimes older) leaders. I'll be leading a special "boot camp" for leaders - pastors, youth workers, small group leaders, teachers, etc. - June 19-22 in Dallas. It's the closest thing I can offer to personal mentoring this year. I hope you'll come!

In August:
I'll be speaking in August for the National Church Leaders Institute. They just extended the "early bird" registration rate. It should be an excellent few days … More information here:

In just over a week:
Faith Forward just sent this:
… We’d like to bring more young leaders to our gathering, so if you know any students who might be interested in attending, please let them know that we’re offering a special student rate of only $100. They can take advantage of this by using StudentSpecial as a promo code when they register at faith-forward.net/register.


Q & R: A nasty piece about you

Here's the Q:

Tim Challies, a well-known Reformed blogger recently wrote a nasty piece about you, listing you among "notable" false teachers in Christian history. Many of the comments are even worse than the article. I don't know how you keep from blowing up about things like this. The venomous hubris of these Reformed know-it-alls is stunning. Would you respond? What would you say to this guy if you knew he would truly listen?

Here's the R:
First, I should say that "Neo-Reformed" is probably a better name than "Reformed" for folks in this camp. Reformed Christians of the broader designation don't seek to think and say exactly what Calvin and the other Reformers thought and said, as the Neo-Reformed tend to do. Instead, they look at how creatively and insightfully the Reformers responded to issues in their context and they seek to respond to our very different context enlightened and inspired by the Reformers' example.

Even though I'm a happy outsider to the Neo-Reformed system of belief, I have high regard for the broader Reformed tradition - which includes theological giants like Barth, Pannenberg, Bosch, Boesak, Newbigin, and Moltmann. (I know, not any women on the list - that's a problem in all theology, but thankfully it is beginning to change.)

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches exemplified this broader Reformed mindset beautifully in the Accra Confession, which I think is one of the most important statements made by any group of Christians in my lifetime.

When I read the piece you linked to, I was struck by a few things.
1. The author may be wrong in his larger conclusion, but he largely gets it right when he says:

In A New Kind of Christianity he insists that Christians have long been reading the Bible through the distorted lens of a Greco-Roman narrative. This narrative produced many false dualisms, an air of superiority, and a false distinction between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” These three marks of false narrative have so impacted our faith that we can hardly see past them. His book attempts to do that, and to reconstruct the Christian faith as it is meant to be.

2. I didn't think his piece was nasty. I've seen plenty of nasty, and this struck me as comparatively civil in its tone and rhetoric. For example, the author was kind enough to actually include my own statements. Rather than making judgments on my motives and claiming to represent me with a lot of spin, he lets me speak for myself. For example:

[McLaren] goes on to say, “I’m recommending we read the Bible as an inspired library. This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed.” After all, “revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.” He understands the Bible to be a slowly-evolving human understanding of God. “Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment.”

This is an accurate reflection of my views. I would only add that I believe this evolutionary process is the medium for inspiration and revelation, and it has profound advantages over static propositional dictation.

3. Of course, when he calls me a false teacher, he is speaking from his vantage point as an articulate, committed, zealous, and sincere Christian fundamentalist. (I mean "fundamentalist" not in a pejorative sense, but in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen, to whom the author refers.) From that vantage point, he speaks the truth as he sees it. Similarly, both Tim Challies and I could be considered false teachers by people of other traditions, since (as far as I know) neither of us are under papal authority established by apostolic succession (Roman Catholic) or the ecclesial authority of bishops recognized by the Orthodox communion, nor do we honor the seventh day appropriately (Seventh Day Adventist), nor do we affirm the "second blessing" and speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Assemblies of God).

4. I could quibble about a few things - like the main point of the article (!). Apart from that important difference, what strikes me is how much we agree on.

A. We agree that the Bible is tremendously important. It's not like my critic loves the Bible and I hate it, or vice versa.

But I think we part ways on our understanding of the relative importance of Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God. As I demonstrate in my upcoming book, I believe the Bible teaches that God's ultimate word is not a book, but a person who is testified to and presented to the world through a community, which is informed and formed by a very special library of documents. I like how Martin Luther said it: the Bible is the manger in which the Word is given to the world.

B. We agree that the Bible is inspired by God, as 2 Tim. 3:16 says. That's a significant agreement. Where we part ways, I think, is in our understanding of what "inspired" means.

To the author, inspired necessarily precludes being "subject to error, evolution, antiquation, or reinterpretation." As I explain in several of my books, I think that makes sense if the Bible were inspired under modern conditions as a legal constitution. But I think the Bible was inspired under the terms of ancient people, for whom storytelling was their "scientific method." (Again, I explore this in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking.) I try to let "inspired" hold its meaning in the context of ancient storytelling cultures.

In fact, when we read the Bible as an inspired library in the genres of ancient storytellers, it comes alive in liberating and challenging ways and yields invaluable treasures. Stories quarrel with stories. Ideas - like sacrifice, like the priesthood, like the necessity of holy buildings or circumcision or polygamy, like the death penalty for Sabbath breaking or adultery - evolve. Some rules become antiquated (Jesus' speaks of Scriptures being "fulfilled" - i.e. fulfilling their purpose, creating new conditions which require new rules). Standing concepts or stories are later reinterpreted and given new and previously unimagined readings - as Jesus does when he challenges his hearers on the purpose of the Sabbath (it was "made for humanity"), or as Paul does with Sarah and Hagar in Galatians. We are brought into the conversation, and called to extend it in our own time. (Which is what is happening even in this interchange.)

C. We agree that Jesus sets an example in how to engage with the Scriptures. The author is right to say, "Jesus himself spoke clearly about the authority and relevance of Scripture, and showed no hesitation in unfolding its meaning and faulting others for misunderstanding it." Amen. I agree wholeheartedly. That is in fact what I try to do in my books. But we differ in how we understand Jesus to have engaged with the Scriptures. As I see it, Jesus himself dared to say, "You have heard it said…" and then to add those powerful words, "But I say." To me, Jesus stands above lawgivers, priests, and prophets of old: as God's Son, he reveals God's heart with a fullness and finality they could not provide.
D. The author and I agree that I am not a fundamentalist. I was born one, and being a dutiful, first-born son, I tried my best to remain faithful to my tradition. As I grew older, I found the claims made by fundamentalism to be untenable - and, in fact, unbiblical. I also found the spirit of fundamentalism too often to be unChrist-like. To the author, this places me in the category of liberals, which may or not be true, depending on how you define the term.

Some definitions of liberalism don't apply to me. For example, I'm not a big fan of reducing the gospel to fit into the categories of Enlightenment modernity. I see the gospel challenging all human categories - premodern, modern, postmodern, whatever. But if people are considered liberal because they follow their conscience and their best (and growing) understanding of the Bible and Christ - even when doing so means disagreeing with contemporary gatekeepers of tradition - then, yes, the shoe fits. But by that definition, Martin Luther was a liberal, and so were C. S. Lewis and John Stott and Dallas Willard. So, in fact, was Jesus.

The author makes an accusation almost all fundamentalists make, one I used to make in my more conservative days: that when people use their minds to interpret and apply the Bible, they place their own "authority over the Bible instead of placing [themselves] under its authority." That dichotomy is very simple and popular, but I find it highly problematic.

Texts don't exercise their authority until they are interpreted, and all interpretation involves the mind, values, and interests of the interpretive community in and for which the text is interpreted. So when people claim to be under the authority of the Bible, they may in fact be under the authority of an interpretive community's interpretation of the Bible, whether they realize it or not. It's far easier to say, "The Bible says!" than to say, "The leaders of our interpretative community say that the Bible says…" That's one reason why it's so hard to change one's interpretation: doing so often means one is no longer welcome in the familiar community where one has been nurtured and to which one belongs.

To be "under the authority of the Bible," then, presupposes the authority of this or that interpretive community and its rules of interpretation. That's why the existence, assumptions, and vested interests of any interpretive community should be made explicit and critically scrutinized, because fundamentalists of all varieties have an interpretive agenda, assumptions, and interests they bring to the text - just as "liberals" and "moderates" in all their diversity do.

I'm reminded of the debates in the 19th century in which the pro-slavery majority in the South claimed that the abolitionist minority rejected the authority of the Bible. It would have been a good thing to be labeled a "false teacher" under those circumstances. Sadly, I don't see many in the conservative camp who have identified the faulty interpretive methodology of 19th century conservatives and publicly chosen another path of interpretation. The same interpretive methodology still reigns supreme.

By the way, I see the same lack of self-critique in many sectors of the "liberal" camp. Who is paying attention to the faulty interpretive methodologies of 19th and 20th century liberal interpreters? Thankfully, I think that is exactly what contemporaries like Anne Howard, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Cameron Trimble, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Diana Butler Bass, Doug Pagitt, Maggie Dawn, Eric Elnes, Amy Butler, Alexia Salvatierra, Stephanie Spellers, Randy Woodley, Jo-Ann Badley, James Cone, Naim Ateek, Leonardo Boff, and many others are seeking to do in a variety of ways. I think they represent a convergence of what we might call post-conservatives and post-liberals. It is among them that I feel most at home.

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. I agree with what he says in his bio:
Unfinished - Though I find great beauty in traditional Protestantism, I realize that in some areas traditions may not be fully Scriptural. Where that is the case I am eager to change as the Spirit convicts me through the Word.

OK, as to what I'd say if I knew that the author would listen, here are some thoughts … not a big treatise, just what flows from my heart tonight.

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.


Q & R: The Reality of Satan

Here's the Q:

I was very interested to read a short article written by you in response to someone questioning the reality of Satan as an actual personal being.

I have wrestled with this for most of my Christian life, read a good number of opinions and tried to work my way to some conclusions. To date, I have not achieved that goal.

I would very much like to believe the ideas that you put forward (very similar to Dave Tomlinson's and of course Walter Wink), and I mean that, but there are a number of obstacles that I can't seem to get around:

1. What was it that Jesus was dealing with when he was described as casting out demons? And what do you think he was referring to when he spoke of Satan (for example as having fallen from heaven like lightening).
2. In my work I have come across a number of people who have suffered severe abuse at the hands of satanic cults. In my involvement with them they have always been convinced of the existence of a personal devil, and have spoken of evil spirits as being very real, even knowing how to instruct others in the cult how to 'acquire' spirits.
3. What do you think is happening to people who undergo deliverance ministry when they react in sometimes quite violent ways, and there seems to come a point where they experience freedom?

To be honest, it does seem strange and even illogical to me that there appears to be a personal force in the universe in opposition to God with such apparently tremendous power, almost a demi-god, but until I can resolve these issues (and probably a few others that I can't think of at the moment) I find it difficult to come to a resolution.

If you have the time and can offer some thoughts, I would be most grateful.

Here's the R:
The first thing I would say is that if your current theory or understanding of evil, Satan, etc., is working for you, you're doing the right thing not to change it. If your current understanding isn't working, it would be good to begin by identifying the problems you have with it. Often, I've found, our choices aren't between one understanding with no problems and one with lots of problems, but between two (or more) understandings each with problems. We often choose not between problems and solutions, but between greater and lesser sets of problems. As to your questions:
1. What was it that Jesus was dealing with when he was described as casting out demons? And what do you think he was referring to when he spoke of Satan (for example as having fallen from heaven like lightening).

- In responding to this, I don't want to say "the ancients had it wrong and we modern people have it right." I imagine that 200 years from now, so many of our 2014 ideas - especially about human well-being and unwellness - will be considered quite backward. But when I read the gospels, I tend to associate the symptoms "demon possession" (fits, outbursts, self-destructive behavior) with extreme mental illness. So we could understand Jesus to be healing mental illness. But I also can't help but think that demons "possess" or "occupy" people in the gospels, and the primary political reality for the people was that they were possessed or occupied by the Romans. So I wonder if the gospel writers are telling us that social/political/economic stresses are expressed in individual behaviors … We as individuals localize larger social stresses. And Jesus is seeking to free people (un-paralyze them) as individuals from the systems that oppress. They then can become "protagonists in their ongoing liberation."

2. In my work I have come across a number of people who have suffered severe abuse at the hands of satanic cults. In my involvement with them they have always been convinced of the existence of a personal devil, and have spoken of evil spirits as being very real, even knowing how to instruct others in the cult how to 'acquire' spirits.
- I have met many people like this too. As I'm sure you know, there are questions about the credibility of many of these stories. (The Mike Warnke saga of the 70's and 80's is another example of a kind of contemporary mythology built around Satanism.) If you want to hear an alternative view from someone who was deeply involved in occult and "Satanism," you should also read John Anderson's Satan.

3. What do you think is happening to people who undergo deliverance ministry when they react in sometimes quite violent ways, and there seems to come a point where they experience freedom?
- I don't want to generalize about people's experience or speak of it in reductionistic ways. But the mind is powerful and complex, and bondage is real, and freedom is real. I would also have to add that in my years as a pastor, I met many people who claimed to be healed through a deliverance ministry, but a day or week or month later, weren't much better off.

Along with Walter Wink's ground-breaking work, I'm very impressed with Rene Girard's work on this subject. If you haven't read Girard's "I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning," I encourage you to read it.

Also, in my upcoming book, I address this subject on a couple of occasions, along with the broader issues of how we read the Bible.


We Make the Road by Walking … we make the song by singing

We Make the Road by Walking: Song from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.


A reader writes … playing well in the sandbox of life

I just wanted to thank you for your book “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road”! It is sustaining me through a very difficult time in my ministry. Long story, but suffice it to say that I am part of a church which has long defined itself, particularly the very conservative side, by what they are against rather than what they are for and so has not played well in the sandbox of life with those who may see things differently than we do. I am a pastor [from a highly conservative denomination] who has believed for over 50 years what you say about relationships with other Christians and those outside of the Christian tent. My church and I recently chose to join our community’s Lenten Series and as part of the series, I spoke in the large Catholic church in town for a Wednesday night service, and the priest from that church spoke two weeks later in mine. The repercussions have echoed all the way to our denominational headquarters with cries from the ultra-right side of our denomination that I be summarily fired. I believe that what we chose to do was the right thing and I don’t regret it. But it has been hard to suffer the slings and arrows from what is really a very narrow but very vocal section of our church. A friend had recommended your book and I have been reading it as part of my personal time with God every day. And, ever day it seems that the Holy Spirit guided you to say just what I have needed to hear for that day. As a published author myself, I know that the feedback a person gets is almost always the negative, so I just wanted to let you know that if, for no one else, that book is for me.
I'm so sorry you're going through this, and I'm so grateful the book was helpful to you. If you get kicked/pushed/edged out, I encourage you to go graciously and kindly but not quietly … in other words, tell the truth - graciously - about why you are leaving. See your departure as an opportunity to speak a needed truth - again, graciously - one last time. And if you decide to form a new faith community "on the outside" - you might find my upcoming book helpful as well. Praying for you today, my brother.

Links Roundup

I think you'll enjoy this interview I did with Steve McSwain:

Speaking of interviews, here's an excellent one for Christian educators - with my friend Suzanne Ross: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/teachingnonviolentatonement/2014/04/faith-forward-the-future-of-christian-education-part-2/

There have been so many disturbing news headlines lately, including several relating to the death penalty. In this reflection on that subject, Southern Baptist Jonathan Merritt takes on Southern Baptist Albert Mohler:
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/05/02/capital-punishment-dont-start-old-testament/ Quotable:

After this week’s botched execution in Oklahoma, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued why Christians should support the death penalty at CNN.com. Grounding his argument in Genesis 9:6, where Noah is told that anyone guilty of intentional murder should be put to death, Mohler says, “The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.”

…. Such thinking requires a bit of arbitrary Biblical picking and choosing.

Even more powerful is Jonathan's Atlantic piece on the subject. Quotable:

The most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is not the amount of evidence, but the race of the victim. Geography is also an important factor, which is why a handful of counties are responsible for most of the executions in the United States. And then of course wealth is a factor, as almost all death-row inmates could not afford their own attorney. Though Americans often boast about a system that provides equal justice for all, the reality is that factors outside of the case’s merits often determine its outcome. It’s hard to imagine that a Jesus who aligned himself with the poor and powerless, marginalized and maligned would support the broken system we often call “justice” in America.

For preachers:
This coupon code, CONF14, will entitle you to a 40% discount off the retail price. The added discount should more than compensate having to pay for shipping.


A word from James ...

Oddly relevant when the issue of minimum wage is being debated/avoided in the US Congress:

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.


Today's moment of inspiration ...

… from Afghanistan


Q & R: But they're going to hell!

Here's the Q:

I enjoyed reading "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World" because I loved how it addressed that you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to non-Christians. However, what is still on my mind is how people of other faiths can be peaceful and lovable people but they are still going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus. This bothers me a lot because even if you are a peaceful and lovable person, you're still going to hell regardless. Can you shed some light on this? If you already have answered this question, can you send me a link to the answer? Thank you so much for your time!

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm glad you got a main point of the book - "that you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to nonChristians." But one of the other main points of the book is that the storyline many of us were taught - implying that the purpose of creation is to sort souls out into two destinations, heaven and hell - is not actually the biblical storyline. It is a distortion of the biblical story …

I try to make that clear in "The Doctrinal Challenge."

The heaven-hell plot line is such a deeply-held assumption that for many Christians from conservative Catholic or Protestant backgrounds, questioning it is scary - sometimes too scary. But if you're willing to open that question, two of my books will be helpful.
First, A New Kind of Christianity, and second, The Last Word and the Word After That.
And my upcoming book that will be released in about a month will give an overview of the whole biblical story without that assumption.

But even if you aren't interested in grappling with that larger and deeper question, I'm glad that you got the point that you did: you can still be a Christian without acting hateful to nonChristians!


Q & R: Grand Rapids?

Here's the Q:

HI... I would love to see Brian speak in Grand Rapids on May 18. Can i get the time and place of that event, please? Thanks so much.

Here's the R:
You can get information here:


We Make the Road by Walking: How You Can Use It

We Make the Road by Walking 7 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10, and I've been told it really helps if you buy the book that week (although if you want to pre-order, I hope you will). Thanks for your support! More information here.


A reader (and old friend) writes ...

"… I confess that I don't keep up with your personal life as much as I'd like to … I was surprised indeed to learn that your son is gay and that you participated in the wedding ceremony. That has to have hurt your credibility! In my own family, there are many who sincerely believe that there is no way to read the Bible except as a condemnation of homosexuality. I have always been unconvinced of that, and learning this about you has made me examine the issue more closely. I conclude that there is a very simple way of handling the issue -- which, I suspect, is the way you handle it: The Bible does say very clearly what is the core of Christian faith. Most of that is in Micah 6:8, Luke 10:27. and the sermon on the mount. Any doctrine that does not contribute directly to the Christian life that Jesus, himself, actually spoke about (and those are the primary things he spoke about) must be considered secondary at best -- and maybe an "adventure in missing the point". Is homosexuality a sin? As I read the Bible, I should decide whether it's a sin for me do it. That's an entirely different question than whether it's a sin if somebody else does it. My responsibility (Micah 6:8) is to humbly walk my own road to God, choosing my own actions carefully. I am not expected to judge the way others walk that road ("thou shalt not judge"). I am not permitted to disfellowship anybody because they have a different roadmap than I have. Any "Christian" whose primary goals (as evidenced by what he actually does and says, rather than by the list of doctrines to which he assents) include vilifying others for their behavior does not seem very Christlike."
Thanks for your note and your thoughts, old friend. On the subject of credibility, you and I grew up in a world where one's credibility is always on trial. Gatekeepers (official and unofficial) look for differences to condemn, and they quickly and decisively banish those who differ. All that happened to me quite a while ago - really, it began with the release of my book A Generous Orthodoxy. Once I had been banished, I realized that there is a big world "out here" where people are less interested in banishment and more interested (as you said) in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, and less interested in fragile "in-group" status, and more interested (as you said) in Christ-likeness … which, as we know, is not obsessed with status, but with self-giving.

This theme of self-giving vs. status really hit me hard when I was working on my upcoming book. The book includes a simple, one-year "introduction/overview of the Bible" lectionary … and there were only 2 passages (as I recall) that I felt needed to be repeated in the course of the year. One was the parable of the Good Samaritan and the other was Philippians 2. Both are about the choice between status ("saving face"), it turns out, and self-giving.


Tomorrow (Tuesday)

I'll be speaking at Canisius College, a Jesuit school in upstate New York (not far from where I was born). My topic is "A Vatican II for Protestants?" You'll find more information here:


Say Thanks Today ...

- Thanks to the pastors and priests who serve your congregation.
- Thanks to the invaluable leaders who work with kids and youth.
- Thanks to those who prepare and serve refreshments, who serve as greeters or ushers, who attend to facilities and grounds.
- Thanks to those who serve behind the scenes on boards, committees, guilds, etc.
- Thanks to administrators.
- Thanks to musicians, artists, readers, prayer-ers, liturgists, and others who lead in gathered worship.
- Thanks to those who model faith, hope, and love for you week after week … simply by being there, "passing the peace," smiling, singing, caring.
It's not easy building and sustaining community. I was a church planter and pastor for 24 years, so I know. That's why every Sunday, I give thanks to God - and to others.


Faith Forward. Next Month. Come!

"Framing a Conversation, Launching a Revolution" will be the title of my plenary session at the Faith Forward conference in Nashville next month. I'll present seven specific commitments that leaders with children and youth can make to foment a needed revolution in Christian spiritual formation. You should come!


The Earth Deserves More Than a Day

… which is why I'm glad many have set this whole week aside as Earth Week. Of course, it deserves more than a week too, which is why environmental concerns should be with us 24/7/365. The older I get and the more I think about what kind of world my grandchildren and their grandchildren will inhabit … the more I believe that everything must change … including our theology, liturgy, and mission regarding the regeneration of the planet we have so ignorantly, glibly, and greedily been destroying.

Notable this week:
Our do-nothing Congress should be remembered with shame (and its do-nothing members replaced wherever possible) in regard to this: no national environmental legislation has been passed in about 1900 days. In fact, the last time the government did anything new for the environment was as part of the stimulus bill back in 2009.

Shocking numbers of politicians still deny climate change, a fact that is not unrelated to the influence of coal, oil, and other incarnations of the fossil fuel industry. Here are some choice quotes from politicians who ostensibly represent me in Florida (but don't):

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25): “I know there’s a lot of money to be made on the bandwagon of global warming, you can make movies, documentaries, get a lot of research money – and that’s okay, I love capitalism.” “My fear is using the bandwagon of global warming to have Congress act on some knee-jerk reaction which will please some editorialists, will hurt our economy, will not do anything to help us in the future.” [Mario Diaz-Balart Video, 9/25/07]
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL-01): “I have scientists that I rely on, the scientists that I rely on say our climate has changed. It wasn’t just a few years ago, what was the problem that existed? It wasn’t global warming, we were gonna all be an ice cube. We’re not ice cubes. Our climate will continue to change because of the way God formed the earth.” According to Buzzfeed, earlier at the same event, Miller announced his intentions to defund the Environmental Protection Agency and responded to questions about a scientific consensus on climate change by saying none existed. [Buzzfeed, 8/14/13]
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL-08): Co-sponsored H.Res.954, a resolution that stated: “Whereas recent events have uncovered extensive evidence from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England (in this resolution referred to as the ‘CRU’) which involved many researchers across the globe discussing the destruction, altering, and hiding of data that did not support global warming claims.” [H.Res.954, GovTrack, 12/8/09]
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it,” Rubio said. Asked whether he accepts the scientific evidence that the global climate is undergoing change, he responded, “The climate is always changing. The climate is never static. The question is whether it’s caused by man-made activity and whether it justifies economically destructive government regulation.” [Tampa Tribune, 2/13/10]

Thankfully, there are Cool Congregations and groups like Presbyterians for Earth-Care and CAP that are working constructively with faith and resolve … along with Good Steward Campaign, the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, which participated in the recent Day of Prayer for Climate Action.


A reader writes: Advanced chronic CRIS

I have been reading your books (and blog posts) for several years now – and yes, admittedly with a hermeneutic of suspicion. I wanted to let you know that my Wednesday morning book club is starting your recent book Why Did Jesus… this week (the first two chapters). I am very much looking forward to our discussions and questions. We have a great group that is open to various views and we all act kindly toward one another. It’s really a great group…and mostly all from conservative evangelical traditions.

I’m going to by-pass some history of my life here, but I wanted to let you know that I have been dealing with a case of CRIS for quite some time - and really not having a good name for it. So much has happened the past few years that has required me to rethink much of what I know (or thought I knew). As I continue to wrestle with what I believe to be a real paradigm change in my thinking, practice, and worship of God, I honestly struggle with a desire to just return to the ways of old. And yet, even as I consider a return, I’m reminded that sometimes God moves us to simply “let go…."

As you’ll see, I don’t have clear answers still – and oddly less convinced that I need them. At the same time, I’m thinking your text has arrived for “such a time as this.” I’m looking forward to learning, adapting, and changing however the Spirit may lead.

With anticipation (and probably more questions),

Thanks for writing. As you say, a bona fide paradigm shift is one of the hardest experiences of life. Exhilarating at times, yes, but also scary, exhausting, sometimes depressing, and fraught with social as well as internal struggle. If an honest hunger and desperate thirst for truth, justice, and peace didn't drive us on, I doubt any of us would have the courage to make the journey.

Here's how M. Scott Peck described the process:

“Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.”
~M. Scott Peck M.D., Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled, 2001.


More on "Will you acknowledge your mistake?"

In response to yesterday's post, a very smart scientist-friend of mine sent in this:

Brian, I just read the "Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?" item on your blog. Much ado about very little, in my view, but I'm happy you took him/her seriously and addressed the questions.

That said, I think you need to know that both of you are incorrectly understanding the second law of thermodynamics….

First, some terminology:

An open system is one which is completely open to passage of matter and energy across the system's boundaries. The Earth is an open system

A closed system is one which is open to the passage of energy but closed to the passage of matter across the boundaries. The Earth is approximately a closed system, but not completely, as several tons of meteoroids strike the atmosphere each day and we lose a bit of atmosphere due to sunlight pressure on molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

An isolated system is one which is completely closed to the passage of both energy and matter across its boundaries. The Earth is not an isolated system

The second law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system cannot decrease. A reduction of entropy is what happens when something gets more ordered, less random (speaking informally -- a precise definition is too technical).

The second law says nothing about open or closed systems, and that's where you're right in spirit, but not in wording: As the Earth is not an isolated system, the second law does not pertain, so it is perfectly okay to see increasing order in the Earth.

That stale old second law argument against evolution has been around for many years …

If you can't know everything, it's great to have constructive critics and smart, helpful friends.


Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?

I recently posted a question from an agnostic atheist reader ...
Here's a follow-up. Because the post is lengthy with several questions, I'll insert replies below (after the jump):

Continue reading Q & R: will you publicly acknowledge and correct your mistake?...


Q & R: Studying Naked … with a friend?

Here's the Q:

I've recently bought a copy of Naked Spirituality and intend to study it together with a friend.
I see on your website the following: "The book includes a Group Discussion and Study Guide on pages 271-280" but my copy doesn't have that. Maybe because it's the UK version? I bought it from a book shop in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I live. Page 271 is in the middle of my chapter 26.
Is it possible for you to send me a copy of the text of that study guide?
It would be great to have some input to guide our thoughts, discussions and prayers.
Hope to hear from you soon.

Here's the R:
You can download the study questions here:
I'm glad the book is available in Amsterdam - but sorry the pages were mixed up!
By the way, when you finish Naked Spirituality, you will enjoy jumping into my next book, which releases June 10.


Q & R: who's doing it? what are the stories?

Here's the Q:
blockquote>Thank you for your work. I have recently started getting into it and appreciate your heart and insight. 2 questions

You have a section in the back that is practical on church implementation. My question is whose doing it? Which churches around our nation have made the shift from a modern to post modern narrative?

Also you speak of the 2 primary stories being told in the US but mention there are 4 or 5 prevailing stories in the world. What are the others not mentioned in the book?

Here's the R:
The good news is that lots of churches across denominations are moving in this direction. It's not a simple thing when you have an existing constituency, some of whom are chomping at the bit and others who are digging in their heels. Some of us are working on ways to help people find these churches … or to let these churches make themselves known. Right now, it's often a matter of asking around ... visiting … asking a pastor if he or she likes the work of certain writers. Sometimes websites make it clear. But so far, it's still hard for people and churches that are seeking to practice "a new kind of Christianity" to find each other.

As for the other stories … one of the early chapters in my upcoming book gives a brief summary of some of the primary stories people are living by. In a talk I give (that might become a short book someday), I talk about seven narratives -

1. Domination narrative - we're only safe if we're in control
2. Revolution narrative - we're not safe until they're no longer in control
3. Purification narrative - we're not safe until we deal with that unclean minority
4. Competition narrative - we're not safe until we have a huge surplus and advantage in terms of money, land, weapons, etc.
5. Victimization narrative - we're not safe until our victimizers acknowledge the wrong they've done to us
6. Isolation narrative - we're not safe unless we withdraw into an elite enclave.
7. Reconciliation narrative - the only real safety comes from reconciling with God and one another, coming into just and peaceful relationship.

Once you sensitize yourself to these narratives, you don't listen to the news, read a headline, or listen to political campaigning in the same way anymore.

I hope that helps!


Earth Day 2014

For Earth Day, I encourage you to go outdoors and find ten gifts of creation to enjoy. Here are mine:
1. A cardinal was singing at dawn this morning just outside my window.
2. The sunrise was gorgeous in my neighborhood this morning.
3. Right now, the sun is shining on the new leaves - copper red - on a sea grape bush outside my window.
4. Plum-sized mangoes are hanging on the trees near me.
5. A flock of ibises flew overhead.
6. A swallow-tailed kite - one of the world's most graceful and beautiful birds - was soaring overhead a while ago.
7. The beautiful green of spring grasses.
8. The morning breeze.
9. An anole sunning itself on a branch.
10. Noticing how the days are getting longer here in the northern hemisphere as the point of sunrise moves north …

What are your ten? Or five? Or even three? You can post them on my Facebook page…

Later on, when you must be indoors, take ten or fifteen minutes here:


We Make the Road by Walking: Consolidating themes

We Make the Road by Walking 6 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10, and I've been told it will help the book's release if you wait and purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.


Q & R: Radically incarnational

Here's the Q:

Brian, you have truly been one of the people that have brought my faith back to life in recent years. Thank you! One of the results is that my theology has become radically incarnational.

Now I have an observation about the issue of LGBT relationships and I would like you to tell me if I am anywhere in the ballpark or have hit a foul ball.

The Jewish prohibition on same sex relationships, as I understand it, is/was based on the notion that propagation was essential – every couple was thought to be capable of bringing forth the Messiah. For this reason (not to mention the really important role of offspring in agrarian economies), barrenness was considered a bad thing (often a curse).

In Jesus (and Paul), God has revealed him/herself as acting “incarnationally” (through the people gathered in his name) rather than “theistically” (the Giant Hand reaching out of the cloud). Yes, I know this is oversimplifying things quite a bit, but this could really get wordy.

So, if we are supposed to be about “putting skin on God”, wouldn’t it follow that if a committed, loving, faithful same-sex relationship accomplishes this, it would be rather difficult to argue it was somehow “wrong”?

So, which side of the foul pole is this going? Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Here's the R:
Thanks for asking about this. I think your destination is good, but let me offer a caution about your way of getting there.

When you identify "the Jewish prohibition" and when you associate the Jewish mind with "the Giant Hand," you unintentionally become part of a huge problem that we Christians have been creating for centuries. My friend Paul Rauschenbusch sums up the problem quite well here:

Most of us Christians don't even realize we're doing this. We forget that when Jesus and Paul criticized elements of Judaism, they were doing so as Jews themselves. They weren't outsiders attacking "the other;" they were insiders critiquing "us." They weren't part of a powerful majority religion stigmatizing a vulnerable minority religion: they were a vulnerable part of that vulnerable minority religion critiquing elites who were more powerful than they.

I'm sad to say I've made this mistake so many times myself … trying to make a positive point about Christianity by making a negative contrast with Judaism. It's only in the last few years that I've become more sensitive to the issue, and even very recently I've unintentionally repeated the mistake.

That us-them approach led to centuries of Jewish suffering in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, plus the added injustices being visited on the Palestinians today (both Muslim and Christian) as an indirect consequence of centuries of Christian antisemitism. For that reason, I think all Christians of conscience need to give up this way of argumentation for good. We need to make it clear that the problem is not and never was "Judaism" - the problem is and was hostile, elitist, exclusive, self-interested religion of all kinds, of which Christianity itself has provided no shortage of examples.

On to your positive point ... I think you're right: a "radically incarnational" theology is profoundly important and radically changes the way we see the world. It moves us beyond the patriarchy, chauvinism, and clannism/tribalism/nationalism/racism that so often characterize religion (including Christianity!) … It dares proclaim that God's Spirit indwells women and men, the young and the old, people of every race and culture, Jew and Gentile, the married and the single, and yes, heterosexuals and others (like, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch about whom I wrote in A New Kind of Christianity).


What if Easter …?

What might happen if every Easter we celebrated the resurrection not merely as the resuscitation of a single corpse nearly two millennia ago, but more - as the ongoing resurrection of all humanity through Christ? Easter could be the annual affirmation of our ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, from fear to faith, from hostility to love, from a culture of consumption to a culture of stewardship and generosity . . . and in all these ways and more, from death to life. What if our celebration of Easter was so radical in its meaning that it tempted tyrants and dictators everywhere to make it illegal, because it represents the ultimate scandal: an annual call for creative and peaceful insurrection against all status quos based on fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence? What if we never stopped making Easter claims about Jesus in AD 33, but always continued by making Easter claims on us today - declaring that now is the time to be raised from the deadness of fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence to walk in what Paul called "newness of life"? What if Easter was about our ongoing resurrection "in Christ" - in a new humanity marked by a strong-benevolent identity as Christ-embodying peacemakers, enemy lovers, offense forgivers, boundary crossers, and movement builders? What kind of character would this kind of liturgical year form in us? How might the world be changed because of it?

From Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?


If Jesus gave a TED talk ...


Last week, we talked about God’s new design for human communities. Today we get into how we’re going to make it happen. Here’s our strategy:
We’re going to love the wrong people.
That’s it.

Whatever culture/community you’re in, it holds together because of shared hatred for someone, someone you blame for your community’s biggest problems. Your job is to find that someone, and be a friend to them.

That quote is a great summary of a major theme of my most recent book.


A philosophical reader writes: Anti-foundationalist

I was quite happy to read a second one of your books, "A Generous Orthodoxy." I just wanted to comment though on the anti-foundationalist aspect of your thinking in application to scripture. I personally think that the anti-foundationalism of Richard Rorty and Cornel West based on the neo-pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce is better than the post-modernism of the structuralists. Peirce rejects the Cartesian starting point for knowledge and says that all knowledge is mediated by signs (words in part) which go in an unending direction toward no beginning foundation. One concept is understood only in terms of other concepts. But Peirce also adopts an epistemological realism which means that signs do point to something real in the world and in certain areas of knowledge, we need to be exact, particularly in the physical sciences. Paul Ricoeur, the French Christian philosopher who wrote extensively on Biblical Hermeneutics while writing other works on philosophical hermeneutics said that the sign and symbol of the text speaks to the Jungian archetypes in the unconscious and unleashes power. I would add to this that this is unlike structuralism which sees all knowledge as socially constructed and a kind of myth-making not necessarily pointing to anything real in the world. My final comment is that to filter ancient Hebrew thinking through a Greek-influenced progression of philosophical thinking in the West does a disservice to the text even though I just did that. The midrash of the ancient Hebrews, including during Jesus' time, was non-literalist enough and yet in some areas literal enough to stand on its own.
Thanks for your comments. I agreed with everything you wrote except your assumption that I am "anti-foundationalist." I'm not sure what you mean by that. I would be more comfortable with "post-foundationalist" - the approach described so well in the work of theologians John Franke and Stan Grenz, and practiced online by John Sobert Sylvest. Post- is not anti-, but rather seeks to work in light of, but not necessarily within the limits of, what has gone before. Not sure which of my other books you've read, but in my more recent works, you'll find me joining you in an attempt to read Hebrew texts without filtering them through later categories of Greek philosophical thought. I'm not a professional philosopher, obviously, but I try to be as informed philosophically as I can be - and the philosophers you mention (from Pierce to Ricoeur) have been of great help to me. If you haven't read Dan Stiver's Theology After Ricoeur, I think you'd enjoy it a great deal.

The Scandal of the Resurrection

The scandal of Easter was not simply that a supernatural event occurred. Minds in the ancient world weren't divided by the rigid natural-supernatural dualism that forms modern minds. In those days miracles were notable not for defying the laws of nature (a concept that was unknown until recent centuries), but for conveying an unexpected meaning or message through an unusual or unexplainable medium. What was the scandalous meaning conveyed by the resurrection of Jesus?

It was not simply that a dead man was raised. It was who the raised man was. Someone rejected, mocked, condemned, and executed by both the political and religious establishments was raised. A convicted outlaw, troublemaker, and rabble rouser was raised. A condemned blasphemer and lawbreaker was raised. A nonviolent nonconformist who included the outcasts - and therefore became an outcast - was raised. What does that mean about the authoritative institutions that condemned him? What does that mean about his nonconformist message and nonviolent ways?

From Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?


hope beyond hope: Friday and Saturday meditation

When I wrote Everything Must Change, I hoped I was overstating the magnitude of our global crises …

Planet: We are sucking out resources and pumping out wastes faster than the earth can handle, thus heating, killing, and destabilizing our planet in a suicidal way.
Poverty: Our economic and political systems favor the super-elite minority and disfavor the vast majority in ways that inevitably contribute to political instability, social conflict, petty crime, organized crime, mass migration, political corruption, war, and terrorism.
Peace: Given ecological and economic unsustainability, the likelihood of intra-national and international violence skyrockets, all in a world where conventional, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons are at available.
Religion: Our religious communities typically distract us from these crises with relatively trivial issues, or they intensify these crises, right when we need them to show a better way.

But I was not exaggerating when I called our current system a suicide machine. The recent update about the gravity of the global climate crisis, taken together with Exxon's disgusting response, tell us that we are … screwed, as Derrick Jensen states powerfully:

But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.

Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.

To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.

There is a day in the church year when we let all our false hopes wither and die. Jesus is in the grave and there is no hope. It is a day of doubt. Despair. Disillusionment. Silence. It is not a day of waiting. It is a day of the opposite of waiting. It is a day of defeat. Here is a meditation on (Un)Holy Saturday from my upcoming book. It places us imaginatively among the disciples on Saturday ...

That’s too much to believe today. Today, we sink in our doubt. Today we drown in our despair. Today we are pulled down, down, down, in our pain and disappointment. Today we allow ourselves to question everything about the story we have been told.
Creation? Maybe God made this world, or maybe it’s all a cruel, meaningless joke.
Crisis? Maybe violence and hate are just the way of the world. Maybe they’re not an intrusion or anomaly; maybe they’re the way things are and will always, always be.
Calling? Forget about being blessed to be a blessing. Today we lie low and nurse our wounds. It is a dangerous world out there. We would be wise to stay inside and lock all doors.
Captivity? Who cares if Moses succeeded in getting our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt? Jesus failed, and there’s no Moses for us now. We’re still captives, worse off than we were before that crazy Galilean came and raised our hopes.
Conquest? If the most violent win and the nonviolent are killed, what kind of world is it?
Conversation? Today it seems that the skeptics and doubters were right. There’s nothing to say except, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” Today’s lament feels like the only sure truth in all the sacred Scriptures!
Christ? What Christ? He lies in a grave, cold and dead, and with him, all our hopes for a better way to be alive. Let the women prepare to embalm his corpse, if they can find it. Probably the Romans tore it to pieces and fed the fragments to the dogs.

On Good Friday and (Un)holy Saturday, the question for those of us who know what happens on Sunday is this: will the hopes that resurrect on Easter be false hopes that "bind us to unlivable situations and real possibilities," or will they be true hopes, good hopes, the real hopes beyond the false hopes that motivate us to life-changing, world-changing, hope-against-hope action?


a visual meditation



Good Friday Meditation

This is from my book Everything Must Change:

The cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal. . . . Rome uses crosses to expose and pronounce a death sentence on rebels; Jesus uses the cross to expose Roman violence and religious complicity with it, while pronouncing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. His cross doesn't represent a "shock and awe" display of power as Roman crucifixions were intended to do, but rather represents a "reverence and awe" display of God's willingness to accept rejection and mistreatment, and then respond with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants.

If, as Dominic Crossan says, the Roman motto is peace through victory, or peace through the destruction of enemies, or peace through domination . . . then for Jesus the motto is peace through nonviolent justice, peace through the forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace. If in the violent narratives of Rome the victorious are blessed - which means that the most heavily armed, the most willing to kill, and the most aggressive and dominant are blessed - then in the framing story of the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are willing to suffer for doing good. In this light, these aren't simply greeting-card sentiments, but rather ways of starkly contrasting Jesus' framing story with the narratives and counternarratives of his day.

To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus' peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God's own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.

- Brian McLaren in Everything Must Change


A reader writes: Righteous? Just?

A reader writes ...

I heard you speak this morning in Fort Wayne and I just want to thank you. You hear this a lot, I am sure, but reading you fills a void in my soul because I know that I am not alone. Thank you so much.

… This morning you asked the question, with the hope that someone would research it as to how the word Diakaios got mistranslated as righteous in English translation so much, especially in the book of Romans. (nice run on sentence, eh?)

So here is my question: Do you think that maybe King James himself instructed the scholars to do this in order to justify imperialism? If we are "the righteous," instead of "the just," then what we do to other cultures is okay because now they are always "the other" and less favored by God.

The second question goes to our frustration as pastors trying to preach reconciliation instead of dominion. I wonder if this imperialistic translation has been used to justify "the doctrine of the empire" instead of proclaiming "the good news of the Kingdom." Most of what seems to divide us in US Churches is the assumed patriotism that Christianity implies -a narrative falsely disseminated by too many Christian media sources. But we are in a culture where power is shifting at an alarming rate, and churches that "prosper" are those who capitalize on the fear of that loss of power. How do we proclaim good news to those who are feeling weaker and weaker when the political rhetoric is stacked against us?

I wrote an unworthy piece about diakios on my own blog: http://revnerd.blogspot.com/2011/06/dikaios-right-word-translated-wrong-way.html and thanks to you, I updated the use of the word righteous in Romans specifically with the term "restorative justice." It just makes more sense.

Thanks for the note. About your question regarding King James - He couldn't be to blame because his project was building on previous translations … Wycliffe's and especially the Geneva Bible, among others. There's a tremendous book that details the politics behind the King James Bible - Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries. I highly recommend it.

But as to your main point … I agree: "interpretation by translation" of justice/righteousness - and also atonement/reconciliation, by the way - have huge impacts on our understanding. It's amazing how much changes when we question just those two interpretive choices made by translators of many English versions. Thanks for your courage in speaking up. If more and more of us have the courage to differ graciously, other minds and hearts will begin to change, just as yours and mine have begun to do. As you said in your blog, the Bible makes so much more sense in that new light.


Maundy Thursday: Memo from Simon Peter

You shall not wash my feet, I said.
My reaction was visceral, reflexive, furious.
I couldn't then say why I was so offended
By his self-humiliation.
But now I see.
If he, Rabbi and Leader, would abandon
All protocols of propriety,
What would it mean for us, for me?
I had my heart set upon a throne,
Right next to his,
Preferably to his right,
With Zebedee's sons, my rivals,
Put in their places on his left.
I was ambitious. I am even now.
What does it do to my ambition
To make the top the bottom,
The leader the servant,
And the last the first?
Where could this lead?
Will women dare to aspire
To be seen as our equals?
Will the outsiders stand on level ground
With the pure, the righteous, the orthodox?
Will circumcision, sacrifice, priesthood, temple
Count for nothing?
Doesn't he know?
The cosmos is hierarchical.
There are kings at the top and slaves at the bottom,
Fathers and sons, men and women, teachers and students,
Older and younger ...
No sane man would unsettle that order.
It is divinely ordained.

So, yes, I was offended.
When he pressed me,
Said my feet must be washed
Or I had no part with him. So
I wrestled again to be first,
Seizing on this:
I will be first in being served!
And so I demanded to be washed
More than the others, head to toe.
But no. He saw through my game, and
Would not comply.
As he washed my feet and allowed me no special place,
I burned within.

Later, the burning flared: I will never abandon you! I said.
All the others might falter, but not I!
He told me the cock would mock my boast.
I hated him. I resented him. I thought he hated me.
Yet I loved him.
Serve one another as I have served you, he said.
Love one another as I have loved you, he said.
If his wild ways succeed,
All this world's order will be undone
And some new order will come.
I see why Judas has been so concerned.


We Make the Road by Walking: A Trail Guide

We Make the Road by Walking 5 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. I'm told it will help if a lot of you purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.


Q & R: Bereft and searching ...

Here's the Q:

My husband and I have read several of your books, including Secret Message of Jesus, Generous Orthodoxy, and Everything Must Change. I left the church over a decade ago for many of the same issues you so eloquently describe, and since a vibrant spirituality was always the most defining characteristic of my life, I have been bereft ever since. Now, after reading your books, I am experiencing a welcome spiritual awakening. I would love to have a community in which to grow and learn. Do you know how I can find people or churches in the Knoxville TN area who are practicing Christianity as you describe it?

Thank you for your brave and insightful books! I have been deeply enriched by them, and inspired to rekindle my languishing faith. I am finally beginning to feel like a whole human again. God Bless You!

Here's the R:
Thanks for the encouraging words. Some friends of mine are working hard on the problem of helping people find churches … I don't have any news to report yet, but I hope some will be forthcoming soon.

In the meantime, I hope you'll consider forming what I call a learning circle … getting a few people together for a meal every week to start doing for one another what we wish someone would do for us: create space for vibrant spirituality, community, and action. My upcoming book is really a handbook for such spontaneous, self-organizing communities. It will be available soon (June 10). I'm so glad you haven't given up on rekindling your faith!


Q & R: Faith? Relative Certainty?

Here's the Q:

I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I feel a need to explain myself thoroughly. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist -- that is, I don't believe in God, but I can't say that with absolute certainty. So by your definition, I have made some sort of leap of faith toward atheism.

I've been reading Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense at the insistence of my mother, who raised me in the evangelical Protestantism that I abandoned in college. I like to keep an open mind, and I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your book. You are certainly no Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment because, well, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are [not my cup of tea].

I got to your section on Uncertainty Principles -- including a quote from Albert Einstein -- and I wanted to ask you about this excerpt on pp. 61-62 in my paperback:

Ironically, an unreflective person person is 100 percent certain of a lot more than a highly reflective one, because a highly reflective person eventually recognizes a number of "uncertainty principles," including these: 1. That the "laws of logic" -- the software that thought runs on -- must be accepted on faith, being unprovable (since you have to assume them in order to prove them, which tends to not prove anything!): Thus all thought is ultimately based on a kind of faith!

I don't think I can take that step with you. Let me give you an example: it has been said that our nearly universal acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4 is an act of faith. But is it really?

Every single character in that equation is a linguistic symbol that we have agreed upon as a culture (as with any language) to represent a very tangible, demonstrable thing. A Mandarin speaker could just as easily write a line with the same meaning that looked completely different. But the principles of that are not faith -- they are what you might describe as a "mundane fact," as almost any primary school teacher will tell you when they teach lessons on counting and basic arithmetic. If I put (what I call) "two" oranges on the table, I can count that there are two. If I then count two more and add (the + sign) them to the existing two, I can count them all, and I will arrive at four..at least if I'm speaking English properly. It takes no faith whatsoever to accept that, only a tacit willingness to agree to speak the same language that everyone else is speaking so that you can communicate with one another. Once we do that (again, as an agreement on language, not as faith), then we can build more complex thoughts on this understanding, demonstrating our logic each step of the way like a proof table in geometry class.

So the great thing about real science is that it's repeatable and testable and, when it discovers new information that might contradict the old understanding, it is flexible enough to adjust and refine. Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...as we saw in this week's debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

Of course, you're quite right that we all deal in "practical certainty," but to describe that as faith is misleading. I recently bought a new car, and I'm the type of consumer who researches purchases extensively before making them. I chose my particular make and model of car because it had a strong reputation for reliability based on very large samples of data collected by Consumer Reports, which is a magazine that earns no profits and accepts no advertisements that might bias their findings. It's not a perfect guide, and it's not the only one I used, but it seems to be the most trustworthy.

Was that a guarantee that my car would be reliable? No, I made a bet based on probabilities, and it's certainly possible that I could lose that bet and get a lemon. My feelings toward this manufacturer are not matters of faith, they are matters of statistical confidence -- and I certainly don't see them as infallible. If their quality and reliability scores were to decline in future years, I would decide to switch to another manufacturer for my next car...I have switched brands before.

So relative certainty is not the same thing as faith -- it's an acknowledgement that we are making a "best guess," and hopefully we are making informed decisions. That's how I feel about these bigger questions too -- like whether God exists and, if so, what God is like. Do I trust the words of ancient people who also wrote about talking serpents and donkeys and people being swallowed by fish and living to tell about it? People whose accounts of our origins are so demonstrably incorrect, as Bill Nye demonstrated this week? People who wrote that God ordered King Saul to slaughter the Amalekite women, children, infants and animals?

The problem with faith in that sense is that it's subjective -- it cannot be disproven. Anyone can say anything on faith...who is to argue that it doesn't make sense? According to the Bible, we're supposed to live by faith and NOT by sight, or we're supposed to have faith like children or sheep. But if my sight tells me something different, should I ignore or discredit that as Ken Ham does?

So, I strive to live a life without faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

What do you think?

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. Actually, Finding Faith is one of my earlier books that I still very much like but that, given the chance, I would make several changes in. I see your point about the difference between disprovable and assertions and unprovable ones. That's a good distinction and I would need to deal with it if I had the chance to rewrite that section of Finding Faith. (Which I may have the chance to do, and so thanks for the help!)

I was especially intrigued by your statement:

Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...

As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, there are points of resistance to self-correction in the scientific community … and as I would hope my work would point out (along with the work of many others), there are ways of approaching faith that are deeply committed to self-correction. The title of my upcoming book is actually a way of saying that faith must be a self-correcting journey.

In that way, I would hope I could say (almost quoting you):

So, I strive to live a life of good and honest faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.

I've found it impossible to reduce my curiosity to the kind of mundane 2 + 2 = 4 information that is self-evident, undoubtable, and virtually certain. That kind of information tends to be the kind that helps us survive and function physically, but doesn't help so much with the deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and value. You might say that people can't (over the long run?) live on the bread of disprovable data alone …

Having said that, though, with all the religious claims out there - from those of 6-day creationists to climate deniers to would-be terrorists awaiting virgins in heaven to some of the folks who regularly tell me I'm going to burn in hell for disagreeing with their understanding of God - I am highly sympathetic to your desire to be skeptical and careful. That's why, in the book, I spent a lot of time trying to distinguish between what I called "bad faith" and "good faith."


Q & R: a DMin?

Here's the Q:

I am a small town pastor and very happy with my vocation in most ways. I am a part of an increasingly conservative, increasingly fundamentalist denomination and have been very moved by A Generous Orthodoxy and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road.
As a parish pastor it is difficult to find time to dig deeper into the issues that come with attempting to unwrap, understand, and repent for my Imperialist, Roman Protestant history and how to winsomely communicate what comes out of that understanding. In order to force myself into that reflection, I am considering beginning work on a DMin that would focus on these issues. Because of your leadership in this area, I was hoping that you might have some suggestions re: schools and professors that might be a the forefront of this kind of effort.

Here's the R:
First, I think you're very wise to find some space to do some rethinking. It's never too late! A DMin could provide that space in a constructive way. I am a board member at Claremont School of Theology, and I am deeply impressed with their faculty. There are many other excellent seminaries that could help you in your studies as well.

If you research "postcolonial theology," you'll find many of the scholars who are grappling with these issues. Their names include ...

Ruth Padilla DeBorst, William Hertzog, Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Marc Ellis, Mark Braverman, Naim Ateek, the Latin American and African Liberation theologians, Warren Carter, Namsoon Kang, Gary Burge, Joerg Rieger, John Howard Yoder, the Girardian/mimetic theologians, women theologians who are consistently neglected in an imperial age, and many others.

Whatever the context in which you decide to study, I can tell you from personal experience that a reading list like this will revolutionize your theology, spirituality, and missiology. (It may also mean you have to look for a new job, but that's another story and another Q & R, I'm sure!)


Q & R: Satan?

Here's the Q:

… when you have a moment, would you bless me with some insight on the following passages in John where Jesus using the term "You are of your father, the devil" I believe he calls them children of satan. That's something I struggle with. I am not sure I believe in Satan or The Devil in the traditional sense. I think I agree more with the Jewish version of the satan and have a hard time understanding it as an opposing force outside of God or against God in the form of a demigod. So those passages in John really mess with me. Would love to gain some insight.

Here's the R:
Great question. I've addressed this question in various ways in Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, A New Kind of Christianity, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? It will also be addressed in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be released on June 10.

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 48:

Jesus told his followers to “count the cost.” He promised that those who walk his road would experience push-back, even persecution. And he often described that push-back as demonic or Satanic in nature. Some people today believe Satan and demons to be literal, objective realities. Others believe they are outmoded superstitions. Still others interpret Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology, we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces that take control of individuals, groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction.

… Now, imagine a … spirit of racism, revenge, religious supremacy, nationalism, political partisanship, greed, or fear getting a foothold in a community. You can imagine previously decent people being possessed, controlled, and driven by these forces, mind-sets, or ideologies. Soon, individuals aren’t thinking or feeling for themselves anymore. They gradually allow the spirit of the group to possess them. If nobody can break out of this frenzy, it’s easy to imagine tragic outcomes: vandalism, riots, beatings, lynchings, gang rapes, house demolitions, plundered land, exploited or enslaved workers, terrorism, dictatorship, genocide. Bullets can fly, bombs explode, and death tolls soar—among people who seemed so decent, normal, and peace loving just minutes or months before.

You don’t need to believe in literal demons and devils to agree with Jesus and the apostles: there are real and mysterious forces in our world that must be confronted. But how?

I hope that gives you some room to think about what Satan might represent - in the pages of the Bible, and in the world of today.


Q & R: Penal Substitution and Jesus' death

Here's the Q:

I've just finished reading A New Kind of Christianity http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/a-new-kind-of-christianity-1.htmlfor the third time. Thank you for your 'world view' changing books. I have found your books inspirational and faith saving. Changing a mind set is so slippery, hence the third time reading.

I get the Bible as narrative set in a Jewish historical context, I get a story of creation, liberation and the peaceable kingdom and find the new/old narrative exciting. In this narrative I get 'the kingdom of God is at hand, now', as a hope and way of life (praxis more difficult and challenging though). What I'm struggling to get my head round is to do with penal substitution. If this is part of the Greco Roman Theos narrative, why did Jesus have to die as he did? He lived a life which gave us a new model and a further revelation of God. His death is hugely important, as in the central role of The Eucharist but in the new narrative I can't see that it was essential, other than as a further model of willing suffering.

Do you have any insights or are the answers embedded somewhere in your literature?

This is my first ever attempt to network electronically in this way. I hope it's an appropriate question.

Thanks again for creating safe spaces for such questions.

Here's the R:
That's a great question. Thanks for asking it. If you put "penal substitution" in the search box in the upper right hand section of my website, you'll find a lot of places where I've addressed it here. In my book Why Did Jesus, Moses, etc? you'll find a more thorough treatment of the subject … especially in the chapter on eucharist.

But in my next book, We Make the Road by Walking, I have the chance to most fully explore Jesus' death and its meaning in the context of the whole biblical story. It will be available on June 10. You can learn more here.


Palm Sunday, Torture, and Peace

Palm Sunday could be, and I believe should be, one of our most important holidays. It is the day Jesus led a peace march into Jerusalem - a public demonstration - that included a joyful celebration of peaceful protest and a public lamentation that his nation didn't know "what makes for peace." (I explore this theme further in my upcoming book.)

What would happen if wherever Christians live, every year we made Palm Sunday the day for joyful public celebration of creative, nonviolent action and public lamentation for local, national, and global conflicts?

If we were leading such a day for celebration and lamentation today, we would pray for Syria where a dictator perpetuates atrocities, for Egypt where a peaceful protest movement was co-opted by a military coup, for Central African Republic where inter-tribal and inter-religious violence has reared its ugly ahead - echoing what happened in Rwanda twenty years ago. We would pray for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Iran. We would pray that Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace with justice as neighbors - and that the occupation, colonization, and violence there would end.

Closer to home, we would lament and pray about violence in our cities and about the persistent presence of racism that expresses itself in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways - including voter suppression, mass incarceration, and the ongoing "slow motion lynching" of our first African-American president. We would lament the unchecked and often unacknowledged power of the military-industrial complex. We would dream of ways to better employ human talent and material resources than in the proliferation and use of non-productive assets like weapons.

And most assuredly we would lament the use of torture by our own government.

In that regard, if you haven't paid attention to the unfolding story about how our nation secretly used torture, and now struggles to admit and be transparent about what it did in secret … You could read this short article for an overview:

On April 3, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to release sections of an investigative report on the CIA, its use of torture, and its deceptive manipulation of Congress to gain approval for its actions.

The Intelligence Committee's vote is significant because by refusing to suppress this information, we can begin to acknowledge and heal this moral scar on our national conscience.

I am a Christian, and I believe all people share the image of God … including the enemies of the nation in which I am a citizen. My faith requires me to treat all people - even enemies, even prisoners, even those who bear labels like "terrorist" (or heretic!) - with the dignity and inalienable rights bestowed upon them by their Creator. Because I would not want others to torture me, and am prohibited from torturing others - or approving of the use of torture. I believe that torture is wrong and immoral.

Thankfully, President Obama banned torture on his second day in office, but unless this report is fairly and fully made public, we decrease the chances that a needed public debate on our use of torture will occur, and we increase the chances that torture will be used again by our nation, in our name, in the future.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus wept for a city that did not know what makes for peace. Five days later, he became a victim of unjust arrest, torture, and finally execution in that city. May we who love and follow him join him today - joyfully celebrating "what makes for peace" and deeply lamenting all that undermines true, lasting, and just peace … for all.


Q & R: The Christian But syndrome

Here's the Q:

I am a Christian…but I have a hard time stomaching the doctrine of babies born sinful. I believe that we are all born with the inclination to be sinful and that we will all one day give into that nature. But babies and young children seem sinless to me…like they are a metaphorical garden of Eden.
Having read four of your books, I have come to respect your scriptural interpretations. What are your thoughts on original sin?

Here's the R:
There are several dimensions of the various versions of Christianity we inherited that often become problematic as we grow older and see their impacts in real life. The doctrine of original sin as taught by Augustine and preserved in Luther, Calvin, and most of Western Christianity is essential to a doctrinal system I call "the six-lined narrative" or the "soul-sort narrative." I write about this at some length in A New Kind of Christianity and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, both of which I think you'll find helpful.

The doctrine has good intentions and has a lot of truth to it, but more and more adults start to see problems with it - in their personal psychology, in making sense of the biblical text, and in its historical and social impacts. As a result, they find themselves identifying just as you did … I am a Christian … but. (A friend of mine says there are more and more Christians with big buts.)

I don't recommend keeping the old narrative and simply dropping or modifying the doctrine of original sin. Rather, I recommend we look at the larger narrative question … and try to conceive of the Christian faith in wider and deeper (and, I believe, more true-to-Scripture) narrative terms.

Your question also opens up the question of what sin is … and what it would mean to be born with an inclination to be sinful. All these questions must be asked and I think they will, in the long run, lead us to a greater appreciation of the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus.

By the way, my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, offers an overview of the whole Bible and an orientation to a fresh vision of Christian faith … apart from the old categories that cause many of us to have "big buts." It will be available on June 10. I especially think you'll find the reading of Genesis presented there to be helpful - and to replace your "but" with a "wow!"


Contraception, Hobby Lobby, and Abortion

Baptist Christian ethicist David Gushee recently wrote a helpful summary and analysis of the Hobby Lobby case that is before the Supreme Court, with a decision anticipated in June. He summarized his conclusion:

This case is the perfect storm: it brings into one case passions many Americans feel about President Obama, health care reform, sexuality, government, women, abortion, science, culture, freedom, and religion, especially Christianity. Now all the Supreme Court has to do is sort it out. This will be no simple chore. But on balance I would vote No on Hobby Lobby.

He also raised some important questions, including:

Wouldn’t a win for Hobby Lobby really mean that we would be ensuring that the religious convictions of the one (business owner/family) would then trump the needs (and convictions) of the many (everyone who works for that business)? Do we want to give business owners that kind of power? Cuius corporatio, eius religio?

What happens when, say, a Christian Scientist company owner decides not to cover any health benefits, or a Jehovah’s Witness company owner decides not to cover blood transfusions, or an anti-vaccination owner decides not to cover the MMR shots, or perhaps a trust-Jesus radical decides not to contribute to employee Social Security or a 401(k)? Do we really want to open up that Pandora’s Box?

But it was this question that has especially had me thinking:

Are critics taking seriously the public health benefits of no-cost contraception coverage, and the moral benefits of the likely dramatic reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions? Or does their principled objection to contraception and/or (perceived) abortifacients totally trump data related to the actual impact of no-cost access to contraception?

In the 2008 presidential campaign, I was an outspoken advocate for Barack Obama, and one of the most frequent objections I heard - usually coming from my conservative Roman Catholic and Evangelical friends - ran along these lines: How can you vote for a pro-choice candidate?

My reply ran along these lines: Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade, something that is unlikely to happen. But even if it did …

even if McCain were to win the election and appoint Supreme Court justices who would in fact overturn Roe vs. Wade, this move will not outlaw abortion, contrary to what many believe. It will only return the decision to the states, which raises this question: how many states lean toward criminalization?

The Guttmacher Institute recently released new 2014 stats on this question, and so here's the current answer:
4 states have laws that automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be overturned.
11 states retain their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans
8 states have laws that express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe. [Guttmacher Institute, Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe, 2/1/14]

Here are those 19 states (some meet more than one of the criteria above) with their recent average number of abortions per year:

Alabama: 9550; Arizona: 16100; Arkansas: 4370; Delaware: 5090; Illinois: 44580; Kansas: 6940; Kentucky: 3970; Louisiana: 12210; Massachusetts: 24030; Michigan: 29190; Mississippi: 2220; Missouri: 5820; New Mexico: 5180; North Dakota: 1250; Ohio: 28590; Oklahoma: 5860; South Dakota: 600; West Virginia: 2390; Wisconsin: 7640 … Total: 215,580 = 20% of 1.06 million total abortions
[Guttmacher Institute, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2014, TABLE 2. Number of reported abortions and abortion rate, selected years; and percentage change in rate, 2008–2011—all by region and state in which the abortions occurred]

In other words, if the Republican Party succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade, abortions would be reduced by up to 20% - if, that is, criminalization worked. That's significant.

But it's far less than the anticipated 75% reduction that would come by making contraception available as part of health care policies, as provided by the ACA, according to a recent study.

The ethics behind the Hobby Lobby case are, indeed, complex, as are the politics. But it's hard to question two facts:

1. Providing contraception (along with other basic health care) reduces abortion very significantly.
2. It would reduce abortion more significantly than criminalizing abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

To put the point more strongly: by opposing the inclusion of contraception in health care, conservatives who support the Hobby Lobby case and oppose the ACA are actually choosing to increase the number of abortions.

If they reply that they oppose free contraception on other grounds, such as that it encourages promiscuity, a recent study found that is not the case.

Are conservative Evangelicals and Catholics thinking about these realities when they oppose the ACA? Are they unaware of this line of reasoning? Are they making a tough ethical choice - choosing the lesser of two evils in their minds - so as to allow more abortions as a necessary cost of achieving other goals they care about even more? What are those goals, and why are they so important?


We Make the Road by Walking: 4

We Make the Road by Walking 3 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.


Guest Q & R with Michael Hardin: "The wrath of God stuff bothers me …"

I'm pleased that my friend Michael Hardin agreed to offer a guest response to this question. You can learn more about Michael here. Don't miss his books and podcasts either. Michael has so much to offer ...
Here's the Q:

“Personally , I've gotten so much from your writings over these last several years since I was introduced to your work. Last week I was especially struck by this :"Privilege should not lead us to guilt . Privilege should lead to service and compassion;to strive for restorative justice ; contemplation and action which leads to great fun and joy." … Maybe you can help me with two questions.
1. Just this Sunday the epistle reading was Romans 5:1-11 . Verse 8 and 9 : 
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood,will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[a]

The Wrath of God stuff bothers me .I reviewed Chap 22 in your New Kind of Christianity, and I had written in the margins R. Rohr's thoughts on the the Jesus hermeneutic:
"that Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist or imperialistic texts... in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy , compassion and honesty ." So should we ignore Paul here in this instance ?

2. Also, in Ephesians 5:2, Paul seems to speak of Jesus as a sacrifice to God. That doesn't make sense if God's wrath doesn't need to be appeased by sacrifice. Can you explain?”

Here's MIchael's R:

These are excellent questions. Inasmuch as Protestant Christianity specifically (and Western Christianity generally) are oriented to what I call a ‘sacrificial paradigm’ it is important to unpack some assumptions.

First, note that in Romans 5:9, the words “of God” are not in the Greek text, they are supplied by the translators. This raises the question as to what Paul is referring to when he speaks of the ‘wrath’ (orge). It is possible that ‘wrath’ could refer to a distant future punishment in hell, but would that be consonant with Paul’s theology throughout this letter (and his other authentic letters)?

With regard to the Romans text here are the particular places Paul uses the term ‘orge’ (wrath): 1:18, 2:5, 8, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22, 12:19, 13:4, 5. Note that other than 1:18, no other text in Romans has the phrase “wrath of God” only “the wrath.” How shall we then understand this word “wrath?”

Second, in order to understand Romans 1:18-32 (and thus the phrase “wrath of God”) we have three options:

1. The phrase has traditionally been understood to refer to God’s eschatological wrath where unbelievers are consigned to eternal conscious torment. The phrase need not necessarily imply some sort of emotional disturbance in God as Calvin noted in his Commentary on Romans (1:18): “The word wrath, referring to God in human terms as is usual in Scripture, means the vengeance of God, for when God punishes, He has, according to our way of thinking, the appearance of anger. The word, therefore, implies no emotion in God, but has reference only to the feelings of the sinner who is punished.”

2. The phrase is to be interpreted contextually in light of the three-fold use of the word ‘gave over’ (paradidomi). This way of understanding ‘wrath’ suggests that God takes a hands off approach to sin and turns sinful human beings over to the consequences of sin.

Both of these alternatives interpret ‘wrath’ as a divine behavior, whether active or passive. There is however a third alternative which depends upon reading the Epistle to the Romans from a literary perspective and has been advanced by Douglas Campbell in his book The Deliverance of God (Eerdmans, 2010). Campbell argues that Romans, much like Galatians and 2 Cor. 10-13 (Paul’s ‘tearful letter’) is directed against a specific false teacher and that it is the false teacher’s perspective which is being quoted in 1:18-32, a perspective which Paul will repudiate in chapters 2-4. In this case the phrase ‘wrath of God’ is the false teacher’s perspective. It is well known that Romans 1:18-32 reflects the kind of Jewish anti-Gentile rhetoric one finds e.g., in The Wisdom of Solomon 12-14.

Paul’s use of the rhetorical strategy of prosopopoia whereby an opponent’s view is cited and then debated, according to Campbell (and Ben Witherington III as well) would have been understood by the hearers of this epistle inasmuch as Paul always sent readers of his letters and they would know where and when to change the ‘tone of voice’ when reading the letter aloud. This third view then understands the phrase ‘wrath of God’ to be antithetical to the gospel, but part of the false teacher’s position. Following on this, all the subsequent uses of the word wrath could, if part of the rhetorical strategy, be understood as the calamity of social breakdown. The eschatological character of the ‘wrath’ seen in societal collapse prior to the advent of ‘The Day of the Lord’ became in time itself God’s eschatological wrath. Campbell’s reading of Romans is one way to ameliorate this type of reading.

With regard to Romans 5:8-9 then one might understand Paul to be saying, “Look. Even when we were at our worst, even when we had conceived of God as our enemy, Jesus came to show us that God was not our enemy but our friend (“Christ died for us”). How much more then if we have been deemed in right relationship with God even though we killed Jesus (“through his blood”), will God deliver us from the coming social breakdown when human culture returns to chaos.” In other words no matter how evil we become as humans, God will heal humanity (sozo, often translated “to save” also has the connotation of “healing”).

Regarding Ephesians 5:2, it is true that the author of Ephesians uses the word sacrifice (thusia). It is also the case that he uses two quite different terms, prosphora and thusia. The first is often translated ‘offering’, the second ‘sacrifice.’ Two essential point need to be made here: first is the use of the verbs “to love” (agapao) and “to give” (paradidomi). Jesus’ giving is a self-offering, not the offering of another. Sacrifice, understood as the act of the taking of the life of another, is contrasted by self-offering (or self-sacrifice). It is one of the merits of the New Testament that this shift occurs. One can see this especially in Hebrews. In my book The Jesus Driven Life I noted that

“Language related to the cultus, namely, thusia and its cognates, is avoided in the New Testament; rather, language related to phero and its cognates occurs. The New Testament uses the more cultic terminology only once at 1 Corinthians 5:7. Oscar Cullmann has argued that even here sacrificial terminology is clearly related to the active self-giving of the “servant of Yahweh.” The reason for this is that thusia belongs to the process of propitiation, the God-directed activity of the creature; whereas phero and its cognates, especially anaphero and prosphero have more of the sense of bringing a gift. But this gift giving is not a Do ut des (giving to get in return). To offer a gift, as the author of Hebrews later argues, is to offer it as an extension of one’s very self.”

One can see this logic at work also in Romans 12:1-2 where the “living sacrifice” is oneself. Offering one’s self to God has nothing to do with propitiating a deity, but a ‘giving over’ (a subversion of the word paradidomi) of one’s own self to be used by God in fostering reconciliation between persons. This self-offering emphasis in the New Testament thus has less to do with religion and more to do with ethics than has hitherto been noticed.

Both of these ‘shifts’ are part of the new realization that the gospel is not about appeasing an angry deity and that the violence or retribution in the death of Jesus in not God’s but humanity’s. This new approach to atonement has created both a crisis and a horizon for moving beyond views of God which portray God as a vampiric deity with an anger management problem to understanding the person, message and work of Jesus to be that of revealing our tendency to make God in our own image and to show us that God is only love, light and shalom.
Thanks, Michael, for this helpful response. Your phrase "vampiric deity with an anger management problem" evokes Dallas Willard's statement about a "vampire Christianity that wants Jesus for his blood and little else." Speaking of Dallas, I once asked him to preach at the church I pastored. I asked him to speak simply about God, and he chose as his text 1 John 1:9: "God is light and in God there is no darkness at all."


You can watch a lecture on my most recent book ...

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road


10 Reasons to Come to Faith Forward 2014

May 19-22 in Nashville. www.faith-forward.net

10. Collaboration and connection with co-conspirators who are forging new ways of doing ministry with young people.

9. Music and artistry from Aaron Niequist, Sharon Irving, Southern Word teens, and others.

8. Valuable resources from like-minded sponsors and exhibitors.

7. FUN! Southern-fried goodness, line dancin' and honky-tonkin’ at the Wildhorse Saloon, a Nashville landmark.

6. Interactive workshops that inspire and equip – led by practitioners who are creatively re-imagining children's and youth ministry.

5. A totally unique and diverse line-up of speakers, thought-leaders, and artists.

4. Progressive theological and methodological content that resonates with you and your ministry.

3. It's affordable! Only $299 for four days of events.

2. Creative and interactive worship space curated by Lilly Lewin and pastoral care opportunities with Amy Butler.

1. A truly ecumenical gathering – a wide breadth of denominational traditions and theological inflections will be represented, making Faith Forward one of the most diverse and inclusive gatherings for children’s and youth ministry workers.

May 19-22 in Nashville. www.faith-forward.net


Noah: the movie, the story, and the God(s) behind the story

A brilliant piece from Paul Nuechterlein, here:

And it's growing more urgent that we do so, because we now possess the technology to destroy ourselves with our own violence. Actually, that's precisely why flood stories are so universal in human culture. Since our beginnings as a species, we've feared wiping ourselves out through our own contagious violence. A common image for this fear has been an all-engulfing flood. The Genesis story names this flat-out: "The earth was filled with violence." Just like the flood by which God supposedly uses in trying to stop it! But god using a flood belies that age-old human answer of trying to stop violence with violence.

Without going into all the details of the anthropology here, let's at least name God's startling alternative to our human answer of stopping violence by inflicting a counter-violence. God suffers our violence on the cross, shows it to be impotent compared to God's life-giving power of love on Easter, and enacts the healing power of forgiveness in the giving of the Spirit. The cross and resurrection is God saving us from the flood of our human violence that threatens to destroy us.


Listen to this. Really! Now!

A reader writes:

I met you a couple times at Claremont school of theology events which was a blessing by the way. You have been like a mentor to me through your work. I was first introduced to your work my first year of undergrad in my theology of ministry and it forever changed my life in a great way!!! I thought you might enjoy this video I found. I am starting to learn Hebrew for the first time in a seminary class and wanted to look up Hebrew spiritual songs to start immersing myself in the language. I stumbled upon this beautiful song called the "Hebrew-Arabic Peace Song" that is so fitting for our generation. Hope you are blessed by it!

Thanks. I was blessed. Wanted to get up and dance! My heart is inspired to pray ...
May your kingdom come … may your will be done on earth as in heaven.
The kingdom of God is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
This especially warms my heart because this weekend I'm in Portland, Oregon, with a group working for Israeli-Palestinian peace.


Noah … and the Bible as a book for grown-ups

Tony Jones writes about the new film here … Quotable:

Darren Aronofsky has made an eminently biblical film.
That is, if you see the Bible as a living, complex text full of conflict and theological questions.
If you see the Bible as a wooden history book, you’ll probably dislike Noah. Or at least you’ll be confused.

Yet more evidence that the biblical cat is out of the fundamentalist bag.


For your edification ...

Fathers and sons unite!

If you're not yet familiar with David Wilcox … today's the day to change that.
Check out his newest, Blaze ...


Q & R: Problems with Sermon on Mount?

Here's the Q:

Recently with Krista Tippet you pondered the power of people reading the Sermon the Mount on a daily basis. It brought to mind a talk at a church by Barack Obama where he pointed out how difficult it would be to translate that sermon into any kind of policy. I don't think that is a difficulty just for Presidents. It seems to be about the difficulties of leading a good life, like letting your candle shine but not being too smug about it. It seems many people have pondered the sermon and we have found its limits. Could you expand on what you were alluding to?

Here's the R:
I think a lot of people read the Sermon with a set of religious assumptions that distort it - for example, that it's about how to get to heaven (it's not), or that the words "be perfect" means "achieve technical perfection" (it means something very different in context), or that the word "righteousness" means "the moral perfection necessary to go to heaven when you die" (it means something much richer). I wrote about this in my book The Secret Message of Jesus, but I've had the chance to go even deeper in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, which will be available in June.


Q & R: beauty of God

Here's the Q:

I have read many of your books, and I loved the "On Being" interview. Towards the end of that conversation, are these words:
And then there was discussion and a long line of people came to the mic and then one Muslim scholar came to the mic and he said, "We have heard brilliant lectures about the love of God and brilliant lectures about the justice of God, but no one has yet spoken of the beauty of God." Then he spoke for a few minutes about God and beauty and I can just tell you that, for those next few minutes, I forgot whether I was a Christian or a Muslim.

The closest I have found so far in looking again in some of your books for more about this concept is in the "Why did Jesus...cross the road" book, in your reflections with Sol.

I wonder if you could say more about this interchange from the conference? I especially would like to know if there are any written resources (from Islam, say) that would illuminate what this speaker what saying.
Many thanks, and blessings.

Here's the R:
Thanks for this question. I wish I had additional contemporary resources to recommend on this subject. The one thing I can point to is the poetry of Rumi. Rumi was a 13th century Persian mystic. He was a Muslim of the Sufi tradition - broadly speaking, a Muslim contemplative movement. His poetry celebrates (often playfully) the beauty of God in many ways. Here are a few samples of short poems from "The Essential Rumi":
“Soul, if you want to learn secrets,

your heart must forget about
 and dignity.
You are God's lover,

yet you worry
what people
are saying.”

“You're water. We're the millstone.
You're wind. We're dust blown up into shapes.
You're spirit. We're the opening and closing
of our hands. You're the clarity.
We're the language that tries to say it.
You're joy. We're all the different kinds of laughing.”

“Knowledge that is acquired
is not like this. Those who have it worry if
audiences like it or not.
It's a bait for popularity.
Disputational knowing wants customers.
It has no soul...
The only real customer is God.
Chew quietly
your sweet sugarcane God-Love, and stay
playfully childish.”


We Make the Road by Walking: a fresh, coherent, reasonable understanding

We Make the Road by Walking 2 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.


Q & R: troubled by growing fundamentalism

Here's the Q:

I recently bought your book, ‘Why did Jesus, Moses,…’, which I have almost finished reading, and will certainly be reading again.

In addition to being an excellent work of literature, I found the book to be of great help to me in my understanding of my Christian faith. Just to clarify matters, I live in England, I am 69 years of age and have been a member of the Church of England for most of my life. Recently I have been somewhat troubled by what I regard as a growing fundamentalism, among members of my own local church and to some extent in the wider C of E community in the UK. There seems to be a growing sense of - ‘all who do not follow Jesus are destined for hell’ - a point of view to which I have never subscribed. In this context I have found your book to be a great source comfort and reassurance.

I have, however, a couple of matters on which I would greatly appreciate your clarification.

Firstly, is there any room for interpretation of Jesus’ statement in John 14, ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (New International Version) ? This has always caused me problems because I have always maintained that there are so many good people in the world - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Atheists (even Manchester United supporters) etc. etc. who, in my opinion are more than worthy of acceptance into Heaven. I just cannot accept that only believers in Jesus will receive such acceptance. And while I appreciate the contents of chapter 22, ‘How reading the Bible responsibly…..’. it seems to me that the statement in question is perfectly clear and unambiguous, and as such is not open to interpretation. Over the years I have asked for clarification on this matter from a number of clergymen friends, but I have never really been satisfied with the answers I have received. Our present in incumbent (for whom I have the highest regard) simply addresses the matter by saying, ‘Ah, yes, there we do have a problem’.

My second question concerns, again, chapter 22. I found your description of Paul’s handling of the ‘darker passages’ of the Old Testament quite brilliant and satisfying. But then I thought to myself, that’s all very well, but what about followers of the Old Testament who are not Christian, e,g. followers of the Jewish faith, and therefore would not have access to, or an interest in the New Testament and its treatment of the Old Testament texts; are they confined to following the ‘darker’ Old Testament texts as written ?

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm sure many in England wouldn't go as far as including Manchester United supporters in those who are possibly redeemable! But aside from that …

On the John 14:6, question, I've addressed this at some length in a few of my books, especially A New Kind of Christianity, Chapter 19. But you'll also find a lot of information on that passage here on this site:

Your second question is very perceptive and important. In Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed ... I mentioned the importance of seeing arguments among the biblical writers. I used the example of Matthew 14-15 being in conversation with Deuteronomy 7, but similar pairings could be made within the Hebrew Scriptures alone.

For example, Ezra presents a rather harsh and exclusive attitude toward outsiders. But Ruth presents a very hospitable and respectful view, as does Jonah. (It's worth re-reading both Ruth and Jonah - which are short - with this question in mind: how should insiders see outsiders?)

If people only choose priestly passages in line with Ezra, people will get what they're looking for - justification for harshness and exclusivity. But if people allow the more prophetic passages of the Bible to be in argument with those priestly passages, they'll have resources to argue for a more humane (and we Christians would say "Christ-like) approach to "the other" as "one-another." My upcoming book - We Make the Road by Walking - will explore all this in a fresh, simple, and coherent way. I think you'll find it helpful.


Peace is like a tree ...

Friends in Afghanistan spread contagious kindness … planting trees, not bombs. Probably the most inspiring five minutes you'll experience today …


A reader writes … I have not felt welcome

A reader writes ...

I recently read your book Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohamed Cross the Road? and it really speaks to my heart about by Christian beliefs. I am a member of a PCUSA church in [the South] that is being torn apart because of the upcoming vote of the General Assembly concerning the definition of marriage. My husband and I are among the few 'radicals' who believe Christ would include gay people with love so I am not sure what we will do if our church votes to leave the denomination. I have not felt to welcome in the last two years because I have spoken out. I love my church family but I no longer want to remain silent. In the South, it is hard to find a place now for Christians who want to explore faith issues you have expressed so well in your book. I don't know that you have any suggestions, but we continue to pray for an inclusive church based on love and the life of Christ.

It's painful to leave a congregation … but I think there's going to be a lot of turmoil in the next few years as lots of people and groups make choices. Some churches and denominations and splits will "double down" on more conservative commitments - often from sincere conviction, and often because their major donors hold them hostage, and often from a mixture of both reasons. Others will open up, making their more conservative members feel abandoned and displaced.

Let's show grace to each other in this resorting process … It's inevitable, given the state of affairs in our churches and our polarized culture-wars climate. Those of us who show extra grace in these times will help a difficult process be at least a little more humane.

As one of my friends says, "Have the courage to differ graciously." Each of those terms matter: courage, differ, graciously.


Rachel (as usual) gets it right.


… the (recent World Vision) situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.

When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong.

There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.

And this:
So my question for those evangelicals is this: Is it worth it?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage really worth leaving thousands of needy children without financial support?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth losing more young people to cynicism regarding the church?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with LGBT people?

And is a “victory” against gay marriage worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks, "what if we get this wrong?"

I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.

I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism's culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus among its many refugees: LGBT people, women called to ministry, artists, science-lovers, misfits, sinners, doubters, thinkers and “the least of these.”

I’m ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.

More here:


It's happening here in South Florida ...

Check this out.

And check this out too - wherever you live.


What do innovative new faith communities look like?

Some look like this …

Learn more at rootsdc


Racism in High School

A film we all need to see - available for free online, right here, and just 17 minutes long:

(Thanks, Bill Dahl, for your work on this powerful short film!)


A reader writes: Response to On Being

I just heard your interview with Krista Tippett from the Wild Goose festival, 2013 and felt the need to write to you to say thank you.

… I come from a family of "born again Christians." I'm on mom and dad's prayer list because I, self admittedly, don't want to belong to an organized religion nor do I claim to be "born again" or "saved". I have a really hard time wanting to claim, "I have the truth"- in the face of friends and family who might not share the same truth that I would claim...making them wrong, me right, and they burn in hell. I can't get back to that place of rightness because of it's divisiveness. It doesn't make sense to me... Catholics go to hell (my husband), my gay niece goes to hell, my atheist/homeless/prodigal-son brother is pre-destined to go to hell according to the church I grew up in... I just can't.

When I heard your interview, it shook me to my core. You exist!?!?! These ideas and beliefs exist outside of my head?!

Thank you. We are expecting our first born in July this year and religion/spirituality isn't something I can even talk about without feeling completely anxious and on edge. Unless we are talking about the absolute wonder and heaven that we are surrounded by in nature and through the wonder of the human condition. I can't take the divisiveness modern day American Christianity stands for, yet have not familiarized myself with any other options... I feel like your interview has prepped me to begin exploring outside the institution that I grew up in.

Thanks for writing. I'm so glad you heard the On Being interview … and I hope through this website you'll find lots of resources to help you explore what I call "a generous orthodoxy" or "a new kind of Christianity." I especially think you'll like my next book, We Make the Road by Walking.


"The Issue" is Not Going Away

If you don't know about the sad turn of events at World Vision, see Tony Jones' blog for more info
and Rachel Held Evans' (who launched something really positive in response to their original decision that was then overturned).
- be sure to read comments too. One of Rachel's readers commented:

I often feel like Charlie Brown when he tries to kick Lucy's football when engaging evangelical Christians and this is no exception.

In my On Being interview with Krista Tippet, around minute 35, I mention that I hear from a surprising number of Evangelicals who privately affirm a progressive stand on gay equality, and are figuring out when and how they can go public … Recently, two of them took that step:
More here:

A Tikkun article predicts the Religious Right is on its last legs:

But many churches - like the SDA -- appear to be doubling down on their stance on homosexuality:


A Seventh Day Adventist wrote me recently about his denomination.

Here are all the official stats of our church. How large we are etc.


This is the conference that is happening:

It is taking place in March in Cape town. There were rumors that it was going to be held in Nigeria but then the laws happened.

REALLY look at the breakout sessions. One is titled: "Alternative sexualities a disorder or a choice"

It's incredible that those are the only two choices. This is suppose to have 300+ delegates from around the world. It is being put on by the General Conference of our world wide church. They're including two ex-gay people that i've continually critiqued in articles.



This being held in Africa, and my church being as large as it is, it is surely going to affect the already homophobic climate here.

There are three (unofficial/not recognized) organizations that work in LGBT world. At least the ones that aren’t ex-gay groups. We have the documentary Seventh-Gay Adventists at sgamovie.com. There is also IAGC (we’re student run etc facebook.com/iagcadventist). And there is the longest running organization hat has been around for 30+ years that works more as a support group but releases statements concerning the church and LGBT stuff their website is sdakinship.com.

… We get away with so much because not many people know about us—even though we’re a big church.


Thankfully, there are voices that reflect a "non-doubling-down" attitude, like this one:
It's going forward. We're going forward, not down. And we need to keep evolving.


Readers write …

The following came in response to my post replying to a post about Don Miller, Rob Bell, and me that was formerly on one of CT's affiliate blogs. The original CT-affiliate post was later taken down:

Thanks for not being divisive. Thanks for your books as they have helped me come terms with my 30 year old faith. I would not be a follower of Jesus if not for you, Ron and Don.

Also this one ...
On another note, a read your recent FB post regarding the “Strange but Familiar Tale…” CT thing. As always, you’re a voice for multitudes of us who remain in evangelical institutions because of calling or pay checks (likely some of both) and who cannot be quiet so bold or bold at all. Thank you, Brian, and know that your ministry is impacting us here at [this Evangelical university].

Just wanted to send you encouragement and wish you blessings as you stand your ground strongly ... with grace that does you credit. The courage and humility that you, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke and others have shown is inspirational.

I have long thought that evangelicalism's number is up, and your post on the cat being out of the bag is spot on. It seems to be the ultimate insult for a Christian to be regarded as not an evangelical. And it seems to be de rigeur for evangelicals to put down, mock and dismiss anyone who disagrees with them. This is such a long way from being Christ-like that it is scarcely believable.

Instead of trying to convince people I'm "in" I have decided I am out. Once I've come out, I'm sure I'll feel much happier!

This discomfort about being affiliated with the word Evangelical was intensified this week with the sad reversal of World Vision's change in policy regarding LGBT employees. Tony Jones posted about it, and the comments section after his post tells the tale. The Evangelical "brand" appears to be one of the most embattled brands on the landscape, at least among younger and more educated people.

Finally, this:

Do you ever consider asking those persons who criticize you so heavily to please write something themselves that will be published for wide public consumption so you might have the opportunity to pick it apart? Not that you would, I'm certain, but it bugs me terribly when people who have no platform of their own ride the coat tails of persons who do for the sole benefit of complaining. A rhetorical though, I'm sure.

Yes, I wonder how they would handle being on the other side of the keyboard, so to speak. Three quotes about critics come to mind …

“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs." [Time Magazine, October 31, 1977]”
― John Osborne

“Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”
― Benjamin Franklin

In light of Ben Franklin's words, one might wish some critics had more critics of their own. But maybe many do … they've just lost the capacity to take in what they dish out?


Mimi Haddad gets it right on gender, identity, and equality


Scripture points to a “human essentialism,” which is not associated with gender. The fixed and unchangeable essence of humankind is that both male and female are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–28)! And, to bear God’s image is an identity with a purpose: both Adam and Eve share authority in caring for the world. Scripture emphasizes not the differences between Adam and Eve but their unity and oneness. They share a physical substance, because Eve comes from Adam’s body. They also share God’s image, an essence that imparts a purpose—caring for the garden with shared authority and ruling over the animals, not over each other!


Report on recent trip

This reporter did a nice job summarizing my recent visit to Madison, WI.


Yes, Everything Must Change

This recent report ...


… is reminiscent of my book Everything Must Change. Kudos to all who are waking up!


Youth Workers (and people who love them)

This deserves your attention.


We Make the Road by Walking: getting the big story

We Make the Road by Walking 2 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.

Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10. Thanks for your support! More information here.


The Christian Way


(Thanks, The Christian Left: https://www.facebook.com/TheChristianLeft)


This probably won't get much coverage in the US mass media ...

The Egyptian military regime hands down a mass death sentence for 529 members/supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, apparently with no opportunity for the lawyers of the defendants to present a defense.

Terrorism is terrible, but counter-terrorism can be no less terrible. It can become an excuse for mass extermination - "cleansing" if you will - of political opponents.

The old maxim, "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life" was meant to curb excessive and mass retribution thousands of years ago. How quickly people slip backwards. To paraphrase Dr. King, if you fight fire with fire, the whole world burns. Read more here:




Let's not stop praying and advocating for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East …

If you want to read what I've written on the subjects of peace and justice, start here:
and here


A week ago I spent a day in Lakeland, FL,

… participating in a protest near the headquarters of Publix. If you've never participated in something like this, I hope you'll consider it. The reports below will give you a feel for what it's like:


One of the greatest discoveries and joys of my life has been the experience of combining spirituality/contemplation and activism. Call it spiritual activism or activist spirituality, I highly recommend

A. prayerfully listening to your heart for causes you care about,
B. choosing a level of commitment you can begin with - attending one protest a year, writing one blog a month, changing your buying habits, etc.
C. integrating your spiritual values with your activism, and vice versa.

When I became a writer full-time, my more flexible schedule enabled me to expand my activist involvements. Sometimes it's a lot of work, but the joy, teamwork, and sense of creative rightness and goodness of involvement always more than compensate.


Q & R: Emerging? Progressive?

Here's the Q:

Brian, it seems to me that Emerging Christianity and Progressive Christianity are similar in many ways. What are the unique distinctions and is there any thought of a convergence, in spite of what differences there may be?

Here's the R:
As with many questions, the best answer to this one is "it depends" - on what you mean by Progressive.

There is what I call an "old religious left" or "old progressivism" that had many strengths and made many contributions, especially in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. It opened the way for new possibilities to emerge. It was basically one vital wing of a modernist, colonial, institutional version of Christianity.

In this way of thinking, "left" and "right" were two ways of being traditionally modernist and colonial. Each fought the Enlightenment in some ways and embraced it in others. Each supported the state in some ways and resisted it in others. Each sought control of institutions, albeit for slightly different reasons. The left emphasized charity and institutional loyalty, and the right emphasized personal salvation and private piety, each to the near-exclusion of the other. The right defended biblical inerrancy and the left rejected it, but both opted for an understanding of Christian faith that worked well within the assumptions of modernity.

What I understand "emerging" or "emergence" to refer to is a critique of the modernist colonial mindset and an attempt to move beyond it. In this way, it differs from both old left and old right and yet respects and draws from their resources.

Many people use progressive in a different way. For them, progressive contrasts to conservative, regressive or change-averse.

In this sense, conservative/regressive/change averse says the best days are in the past, things are getting worse, and we must hold the line, resist the decay, and stop the slide down the slippery slope. Power and privilege must be conserved among those who already have it, because evil rivals are trying to steal away what has been rightly and justly earned.

And in this sense, progressive says better days are possible, we can (with God's wisdom and power) help create a more just and beautiful world, we've already slid down the slope along way and need - yes, to strive not to sink further, but more - to climb higher. Power and privilege must be more widely distributed because much of what is possessed by today's elites was gained through unjust means.

You might say that for conservatives, the greatest danger is losing the progress that has already been gained, and for progressives, the greatest danger is failing to seize the progress that is within reach now. If this is what you mean by Progressive Christianity, then yes, I think it and Emergence Christianity are on the same path, or better said, they are making the same path as we move forward.


Life and death

Read this loving and deeply moving tribute and plea from my friend Rich Cizik.


Integrating Prayer, Meditation, and Movement


If that sounds interesting, check out this project I helped create with my colleague Suzanne Jackson:
Available herehttp://wordlessprayer.com/store.html#simplewords
And here http://shop.patheos.com/products/twelve-simple-words

Here's more:

From a user of the videos:

I love the whole format! Brian's words, the beautiful setting and the movements, all of it. I have been trying to incorporate praying with my body into my life for a few years and it is difficult when I have to look at illustrations or read directions to practice. So having Suzanne's auditory leading is PERFECT!


We Make the Road by Walking: 2 ways it can help you

We Make the Road by Walking 1 from brian mclaren on Vimeo.


Q & R: A 21-year-old European reader asks about anger

Here's the Q:

I'd like to thank you for your awesome work. It really speaks to me, a 21-year-old young adult, who's in love in Christ, but not in Christianity.

My question to you is the following: How do you deal with anger coming from fundamentalists? For example, I believe in the restoration of all things (apokastasis a la Gregory of Nyssa), and I don't find homosexuality or premarital sex to be sins. This really makes fundamentalists roast at me, and I'm seen as less Christian by them.
They usually just dismiss my views by quoting the Bible, and then they proceed to offer an interpretation of the quoted verse. I disagree with the interpretation, which results in me being seen as disagreeing with God. That's just ludicrous and brings us back to the Garden of Eden (Adam and Eve wanted to be gods). I see this condemnation as part of the cross I have to bear for Christ.

I bet you have had worse experience than me due to your progressive books and refreshing opinions. So how did you deal with the judgment and hate?

Kind regards from a European bro in Christ.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. My friend Rob Bell offered some excellent counsel on this question just yesterday, which you'll find here.

And here is something I've written on the subject …


Cana Update

Last year I asked for readers of this blog to help launch an initiative that has come to be known as the Cana Initiative. We brought together a small group for planning in November, and we've made some great progress in a short amount of time since then. Wonderful people have signed on as initiators (you're welcome to sign on too). A blog has launched, and a short list of key initiatives is being identified. Of course, the dreams are big, and there is much to do, so this is just a small beginning. But I want to thank all those who have helped, and I want to ask all those who feel inspired by this start to become regular financial supporters, as I am, which you can do right here:

Here's the update:

Life in the world of the Cana Initiative has been very busy and productive in recent months.

We continue to hear relief, excitement and hopefulness in people when they learn that there is a concerted effort of Convening, Advocating, Networking and Acting for A Generous Christianity in North America.

The Cana approach is to provide crucial convening, advocating, networking energies at the right time in the most crucial and “pregnant” efforts in order to extend, broaden and sustain the Generous Christianity Movement.

As part of our Convening function we will be hosting a number of events, some large, some small; some with a specific theme, some just for connection.
Here is a start of the list of events for the 2014. More coming soon.

Details are available for the Chicago and Washington DC meet ups with details on other events when they are available.
Cana Calendar:
March 16 Chicago Local Gathering – a simple gathering -A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
March 26 Washington DC Local Gathering – a simple gathering – A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
April 30 San Francisco Local Gathering – a simple gathering – A Local Gathering is a chance for connection with others and invitations to be part of the Cana Initiative.
June 29-31 Asheville, North Carolina Post-Wild Goose Gathering – A gathering of Cana people from around the country to plan, plot and scheme together.
July 21-24 College Age Initiative, Chicago – Those interested in seeing a national generous Christianity movement among College aged people.
Fall 2014 – Theological Education Additive/Alternative Programs, New York
Fall 2014 – Technology/Online Portals and Faith, Location to be determined

Again, thanks, everyone, for your interest. From this small seed, I hope deep roots will grow and much fruit will come that will bring blessing and good to you and with you to more and more.


A Multi-Sensory Eucharist


Q & R: From a Jewish reader

Here's the Q:

I am a Jewish person reading "Why Did Jesus, Moses......" At the request of a Christian friend who I have been involved in conversation with for over a year. We are both working to achieve a sense of community through acceptance of others who may believe differently than we do (amongst other topics). I have a question that I hope you can answer. At your meeting with religious leaders in a mosque with other religious leaders, you quote Christian leaders of many faiths (p. 146). I am very curious to know what the responses of the rabbis and imams was. I feel that this could be a very telling answer because it would give me, and other readers., insight into the Jewish/Muslim view of this event and how we could move forward. It also would reflect on the quote by your Muslim friend (p. 134) that he really didn't know Christianity until he heard it described by a Christian. You are writing for a Christian audience but it would be helpful to me, as a reader, and I hope my Christian friends, to learn about other responses that are outside the "Christian box."

Your book is very interesting. I am learning more about the Christian point of view and it is sending me back to my own Jewish texts to understand my own personal Jewish responses.

Here's the R:
Thanks for your encouraging words and your interesting question. I wish I had an interesting answer! At the event I described, each leader read a prepared answer to a question (e.g. "According to your tradition, what is your duty toward your neighbor?"), and there wasn't any cross-talk (as I recall) between speakers. So as far as I can recall, nobody responded to the talks of other speakers. That would have been interesting.

Since that time, I've had the opportunity to participate in many dialogues where rabbis, imams, Buddhist teachers, Hindus, and Christian leaders like myself had the chance for interaction. It has always been a rich experience. Here's a snippet from one such dialogue, held at the Wild Goose Festival in NC, featuring my Muslim friend Ani Zonneveld:


Q & R: Violence and Paul

Here's the Q:

A bit more than a year ago, perhaps even longer you did a blog entry that looked at some exegesis of Paul that essentially argued that his exegesis is non-violent--at least for the particular passage that you referenced. Jesus does something very similar when he reads from the scroll from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4 and omits "the day of vengeance of our Lord." in his reading.

I was wondering if you know if anyone has done any extensive work on this--either Pauline or Christological (is that even a word?) exegesis arguing for non-violence? This is a theme that has not gone away since hearing about the Luke 4 scenario and reading your blog and I am very interested in reading more about this.

Here's the R:
I wrote about this a good bit in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road, and it will be a significant theme of We Make the Road by Walking.

Three (actually four) theologians (among many more) who have influenced me profoundly in this regard are:
Derek Flood - it was his work that I referred to in the earlier blog post.
Michael Hardin - both of his books, and his amazing website, address Paul and violence.
Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh - their upcoming and long-awaited work Romans Disarmed will grapple with this, as did Colossians Remixed.


This weekend, I'll be on radio and TV

I am a huge fan of Krista Tippet and On Being, and I was honored and delighted to be interviewed by her at the Wild Goose Festival last summer. The interview airs this weekend, and you can listen to the podcast any time. Here's the write-up:

How can people rediscover faith as a series of stories and encounters rather than being reduced to a system of abstractions and beliefs? An influential voice in the worlds of progressive Evangelicalism and “emerging” Christianity, Brian McLaren envisions a community where diversity no longer means division. A provocative conversation on the meaning and future of Church in a 21st-century world.

Then on Sunday, March 16 at 10 p.m. EST, I'll have a few things to say on a new H2 series called Bible Rules. People have been tweeting that they saw me for a brief second on the advertisements for the show on H2 and History Channel.

I hope you enjoy both shows.


This is what spiritual activism looks like ...

It's happening today in Lakeland, FL.


A (non-reader?) writes: I exhort Brian McLaren to repent of his anti-Christian Zionism

A (non-reader?) writes:

I exhort Brian McLaren to repent of his anti-Christian Zionism which is an affront to God! The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people as given to them as an everlasting covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendents forever!

A response:
Thanks for the encouragement to repent (i.e. to prayerfully self-examine and rethink), something I try to remain perpetually willing to do. Hardness of heart and stiffness of neck are bad for the soul, and in that light, your exclamation points are perfectly fitting!

I just heard that bombs were flying in Israel again last night, reminders that the vicious, violent cycles of offense and revenge, counter-revenge and counter-offense continue spinning in the precious land of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Today is a sad yet fitting day to respond to your post.

First, I'm curious about how you decided "anti-Christian Zionist" applies to me and what you mean by it. There is actually a sense in which I could be called a Christian Zionist. I want all people of every ethnicity and religion to live in peace, with justice, and enjoy true prosperity and security wherever they live. I want Jewish people to have this freedom everywhere on earth, and especially in their ancestral homeland. As a Christian, I feel a special concern for the Jewish people because of the terrible atrocities committed against them for nearly two thousand years in the name of Christianity. (Sadly, our religious heritage has been complicit in many atrocities, so our compassion must be stretched multi directionally.)

That's why I always pray, seek, and speak for solutions in the Middle East that are pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. How could God desire justice and peace for some precious people and in so doing heartlessly cause injustice and despair for others? That would make God an unjust and uncompassionate "respecter of persons," something Scripture repeatedly says isn't true.

Perhaps you're defining "Christian Zionist" in your following sentence: "The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people as given to them as an everlasting covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendents forever!" If that's how you define the term, then I'm not "anti-" it, but I'm concerned about it in light of Scriptures like these:

The Law in Deuteronomy 10 says:

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Then, in Deuteronomy 28 (frightening to read), the Lord promises the people will be defeated in battle and evicted from their land if they don't obey his commands, including, presumably, Deuteronomy 10:19.

Similarly, the Law says in Leviticus 19:

33“ ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

And similarly, in Leviticus 26, terrifying consequences follow if the people don't obey the Lord's commands, including, presumably, Leviticus 19:33.

So, if you are going to take the Bible literally and as a timeless, non-contextual legal constitution (an approach I understand and respect, even though it is not how I read the Bible), you would have to conclude the following:

The same God who promised the descendants of Abraham the land of Israel also promised that they would not enjoy that inheritance if they mistreat the aliens, strangers, foreigners and others among them. One promise can't be taken to the exclusion of the other.

For that reason, someone like yourself who takes Scripture so seriously should be at the forefront of urging the nation of Israel to treat their Palestinian neighbors as they would want to be treated.

We Christians must, I think, only enter this conversation with great humility. Sadly, many if not most of our Christian ancestors treated the Jews in ways that should sicken and disgust us all today. And tragically, the way anti-Semitic Christians treated Jews, colonizing Christians treated Native Americans, and Christian conquistadores treated the indigenous people of Latin America, and apartheid/segregation-defending racist Christians treated people of color in South Africa and the US. It is not fitting for people of a religion with our history to quickly take a position of moral superiority.

In that sense, all of us Christians must (to use your word) repent. We must realize that, as Dr. King said, we can't cure injustice with injustice, violence with violence, prejudice with prejudice, insult with injury. Rather, we must seek solutions in the Middle East and elsewhere that reveal our belief that God desires justice for the oppressed, all the oppressed … and that God desires peace and security for all, which is why, according to Micah, God tells humanity what is most important:
to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

There is good news for everyone: Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, South Africans, citizens of Rwanda and the Central African Republic, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, the nonreligious, everyone …we can face our old hatreds and fears and put them behind us, repent, reconcile, and learn to wholeheartedly love God and neighbor, including the stranger, alien, other, and even enemy. In so doing, we can enjoy this precious promise:

that if we seek first God's kingdom and justice, every other good thing we seek (security, prosperity, justice, equality) will be given to us (Matthew 6:33).

In this, of course, I often fail, and so must be compassionate with others who fail. But it is my sincere aspiration all the more when I fail.

As you know, it is risky to even address this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if various blogs and websites will in the coming days take snippets out of what I've written here and use them to malign and misrepresent. But because I love my neighbors - Jewish and Christian and Muslim and secular, in Israel, in Palestine, and elsewhere (including you!), I try to speak out honestly when I can, even though doing so is fraught with difficulties, all intensified by my own imperfections.

By the way, you might be aware that there has been a recent resurgence of interest in whether Christian Zionism (however you define it) is truly Christian, and truly in the interests of the people of Israel. This article by a rabbi expresses my feelings as well as anything I've ever read:

I hope you'll read his whole post carefully, including this:

For many of us, these are the critical – and too often ignored – questions for interfaith dialogue: what will we do with those aspects of our religious traditions that value entitlement over humility? Do we believe that this land was promised by God to one particular group of people, or will we affirm a theology that promises the land to all who dwell upon it? Will we lift up the fusing of religion with state power and empire or will we advocate a religious vision that preaches solidarity with the powerless, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden?

Several other Jewish voices have influenced me strongly on these issues. Although they differ in some ways, they share a concern for a more holistic and integrated appeal to Scripture on behalf of both Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the region.
I highly recommend Mark Braverman's new book, Fatal Embrace.
Marc Ellis' Judaism Does Not Equal Israel is a sobering and instructive read.
Rabbi Michael Lerner addresses issues with his characteristic wisdom and balance in Embracing Israel/Palestine.
I'd also highly recommend this blog by a Jewish writer and activist in the UK, Micah's Paradigm Shift.

In addition, Gary Burge is an Evangelical Christian who powerfully and insightfully addresses the deeper issues of Christian Zionism in
Jesus and the Land.

And if you've never heard the voice and heart of a Palestinian Christian, Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers is a good place to start.

And all this, of course, only scratches the surface. But your note to me is probably a good place for us all to start … calling for a willingness to open closed minds and give assumptions a second thought, to be open that we've been wrong or ignorant and have more to learn, which is what repent means.

Late note: Just after posting this, I realized that today is the last day of an important conference among Evangelical Christians, hosted in Bethlehem and involving many of my good friends. I would have been there myself if my schedule allowed it. This article gives a sense of the intensity and importance of this subject, as difficult as it is to address.


Phyllis Tickle turns 80!


HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY, PHYLLIS! Like so many others, I want to be like you when I grow up. You've been a friend and inspiration in so many ways. You are loved!

To all my readers - this is a great day to buy the new book I contributed to that celebrates Phyllis' life and work: Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future



Bird Watching as Meditation Retreat in May ...

I can't go, but I wish I could ...

For others who pay attention to birds, here are two wonderful books:
Debbie Blue's Consider the Birds
Simon Barnes' How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher


A Letter to Publix Owners and Management

Dear Publix Leadership,

I should begin by saying that I am in almost all ways a big fan of your company. I often shop in a nearby Publix and shopping there truly is a pleasure. It is clean. The staff are friendly and helpful. The products are good and the prices reasonable.

I'm especially impressed with the way Publix hires people with disabilities.

To provided a needed service and then go above and beyond in seeking to benefit the community - that's a winning combination, and a legacy to be proud of.

That's why I've been so surprised to see Publix (along with Wendy's) refusing (so far) to join the Fair Food Program. And that's why I've been outspoken in my desire to see Publix live up to the ideals of its founder, George Jenkins, who said, “Don’t let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing."

A few days ago, a group of farmworkers from Immokalee, FL, set out on the ten-city "Now is the Time" tour to inform people about the Fair Food Campaign.

It's been a remarkable campaign so far. McDonald's signed on. Trader Joe's signed on. Taco Bell signed on. Most recently WalMart signed on. Already, thousands of farmworkers are receiving a little better wage along with better, safer working conditions because management in the food industry - your colleagues - put doing the right thing first.

Pastor Miguel Estrada of Misión Peniel spoke this blessing over the "Now is the Time" messengers as they set out:

“You are the couriers of a fundamental message amidst the reality in which farmworkers find themselves. The need for justice is essential and the need for others to still join this effort continues to be true. And so we will continue to invite Publix and Wendy’s to come and reconcile with farmworkers so that they understand that they are a necessary part of bringing justice to those that work in the fields. And today, we ask that they repent… that they repent for the reality that they have fostered where there is no justice. And that is the message you bring today…

And so take this message. Bring it to the ten cities in which you will arrive. Let them know that reconciliation is possible… We know that a true message is not simply material, but it is something that we carry with us in our hearts. And if you believe that truth, it will be a powerful message.”

Because I am such a big fan of your company, and because I am such a big fan of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program, I'd like to make a suggestion.

Why don't you contact CIW right away and have some direct communication with them about joining the program?

Wouldn't it be great if Saturday, March 15, when the tour comes to your home base in Lakeland (I'm planning to be there too), we could come not to protest and plead - but to celebrate and congratulate?

We're not asking you to do something very difficult. We're asking you to do the right thing.

I hope we can celebrate you joining the program on March 15!
Brian McLaren
a conscientious customer


Q & R: I still don't get McLaren on the who's-going-to-heaven stuff.

Here's the Q:

I still don't get McLaren on the who's-going-to-heaven stuff. I get the feeling he's scared of the question, like that he'd get in trouble. But maybe I've got that wrong? ... in BMC's case, he seems to not want the question to arise. But to those terrified by the church's brutal and horrific doctrines of hell, "We don't ask that question any more" just doesn't cut it. ... I take myself to share BMC's basic outlook on where the focus should be, but instead of thinking that shared focus requires us to never let the question arise, it pushes toward a certain *kind* of answer (which need not be universalism)

… As one who was himself terrorized by traditional doctrines of hell, my greatest concern is for those still haunted by them. I do think these horrifying views are a major stumbling block. It seems to me that such folks should be told that there are more hopeful Christian views out there (Christian universalism being just one example). To someone who sees a horrific doctrine of hell as the only real Christian alternative, and for whom that's a tragic deal breaker, or to one terrorized by the thought of people going to such a hell, what doesn't seem to help (to perhaps again be a bit unfair to you here) is to tell them "We don't ask about / think about that anymore."

Here's the R:
This important question arises in response to my reply to a recent article, where I said:

Anyone who applies the term universalism to my understanding of things hasn't read me carefully. The situation is actually much "worse" than simply switching from exclusivism to inclusivism or universalism. I think the set of assumptions that divides the world into inclusivists, exclusivists, and universalists is deeply flawed. It's not that I've answered the "who goes to heaven" question differently - it's that I've become convinced (by Scripture and by many great theologians of the church through history) that "who goes to heaven" is not the primary question Jesus (or other biblical writers) came to ask.

First, I can see why someone might suspect I'm scared of the question. The religious world gives people a lot to be afraid about (as the fiery comments sections of most religious blogs make clear!). But if I were scared of the question, I probably wouldn't have written a whole book on the subject (called The Last Word and the Word After That). I've done my best to demonstrate a commitment to speak freely, carefully, and I hope graciously about what I believe and face the consequences.

Second, I am glad to clarify that I am not trying to "never let the question arise," nor do I want say in any way, "We don't ask or think about that question anymore." The universalism question arises constantly, and regular readers of this blog know I address it repeatedly.

Third, I agree we must be very sensitive to "those terrified by the church's brutal and horrific doctrines of hell," and I understand why a simple "universalist" response may be the most pastorally helpful for those people. They are rightly terrified, brutalized, and horrified by the portrayal of God as a terrifying, brutal, and horrific. They aren't in the mood for nuance and a lot of theological backstory … they just need reassurance that God is not vicious, vindictive, and dictatorial.

So, if by Universalist, you mean, "One who believes God perfectly and fully loves the entire universe, and every creature in it," or if you mean that God will do everything possible to give everyone possible the best possible eternal outcome of their temporal lives, or if you mean that God is not a capricious and vicious torturer who will punish eternally all those who are not "among the elect" or otherwise successful in selecting and following the correct religion … then, yes, of course, sign me up. I am happy (and unafraid) to be counted among your number.

Perhaps I should stop there.

But for those who are interested, here's why I don't normally choose that label. When the conventional question - who goes to heaven and who goes to hell - frames reality, universalism and inclusivism are preferable answers to exclusivism. But when that conventional question frames reality, and when one chooses universalism, we face a temptation to say, "Whew. What a relief! Everything will be OK! There will be a happy ending!" And that relief can lead to a kind of passivity, namely, that if all will be well in the end, then all is well now. But that isn't the case.

In other words, I don't think that the heaven-hell question is the one that should frame reality. But I acknowledge that it does frame reality for many Christians (and Muslims), and many of them need a better answer within that frame than the exclusivist one they've been given. They simply aren't ready or able to reframe reality with a different question.

When a different question frames reality - how can God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven - then we have to acknowledge that for billions of God's creatures, God's will is not being done on earth as in heaven. Universalism may be good news for them after they die, but right now, they need good news that God cares about the mess they're in … the mess of injustice, oppression, ignorance, prejudice, hunger, thirst, sickness, loneliness, guilt, shame, addiction, fear, poverty, etc. And that good news can not be in word only. It must come in deed and in truth, as 1 John and James both say (echoing Jesus) … which makes our reply very costly.

I guess this is a case of needing pastoral sensitivity to discern which problem people are facing. For some, the urgent need is to be liberated from a vicious and cruel depiction of God as eternal cosmic torturer. For others, the urgent need is to be liberated from a sense that God may help them after they die, but until then, they're stuck and sunk. Perhaps what we need is a kind of activist universalism - that affirms God's saving love for all creation, but doesn't stop there … but rather sends us into creation to bear and manifest that saving love universally - for friend, stranger, and enemy … for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and everyone else … for humans and living creatures and all creation.


Note to Denominational Leaders

If you're a bishop, executive presbyter, district superintendent, canon, dean, Christian education specialist, regional minister, new church development staff, consultant, or other denominational executive, or if you'd like to forward this to the relevant person in your network, this message is for you:

Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many gifted and dedicated church and denominational leaders ... people like you who are helping strong churches thrive and grow, weak churches turn around, and new churches begin.

I believe my next book, We Make the Road by Walking (June 2014), could be of special help to you and the churches you serve in at least five ways:

1. Whole churches could use the book as a year-long curriculum (or on a quarterly basis) in basic Christian faith and living.

2. Adult classes, small groups, and youth groups could use the book for their own spiritual growth - and as a venue to welcome in new people.

3. New and experimental congregations could form using the book and its auxiliary resources.

4. A district, diocese, or other group of churches could create a regional campaign using the book to welcome in unchurched and de-churched people - including the children and grand-children of existing church members.

5. Churches in struggle and transition could use the book to create a year of new beginnings.

The book speaks to a wide range of people - from the religiously knowledgeable with lots of “pew time” to absolute beginners who are new to the faith, and from the more conservative to the more progressive. It offers liturgical resources, well-thought-out questions for conversation, and guidelines for honest and heartfelt engagement.

Groups can begin using the book starting at Chapter 1 in September 2014, or at any point before or after, starting at the appropriate place in the church year.

If you would like to additional information about how this book could be of use to those you serve, my publisher and I would like to help. Just email your name and address to laini.brown@hbgusa.com

These are exciting times, full of challenge and possibilities. Of all my books, this is the one that I think has the most potential to help you and the churches you serve to explore "a new kind of Christianity," practice "a generous orthodoxy," and “make the road by walking.” We're all in this together!


Brian D. McLaren


A reader writes: As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace

A reader writes:

Last Christmas, my boyfriend’s 15 year old daughter gave me your book as a gift because she said she thought of me when she saw it in the bookstore. You see, I am a Christian that happened to live and work in the Middle East [for many years.] I just wanted to tell you how much I truly enjoyed and appreciated this book.

Several years before I went to the Middle East I did some research on cultural sensitivity and I came across some articles and research conducted by Hammar (seehttp://mdbgroup.com/idi-background.html for more on this) and one of the statements that he made was (paraphrasing) “…you cannot understand your own culture if you are part of the dominant culture; it is only when you are part of the non-dominant culture can you truly understand”. This is what happened to me when I went to the Middle East. Ironically, I didn’t understand my own faith, my true Christian beliefs, until I lived in a culture where the dominant religion was Islam. So in a way, I became a better Christian because of the faith I saw in my friends that were Muslim. When I came home to the US I found myself defending a religion, I didn’t even agree with. I share this with you because your book was the first book I have read by a Christian that not only believes in reaching out to other religions but you have friends, true friends, that are from other religions. I can certainly relate when you wrote about being accused of “picking and choosing” because I have friends that are well meaning Christians that seem to want to accuse me of being “lukewarm” whenever I speak up for my friends that are Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish or gay, or even atheist.

There are so many statements I want to quote from your book but perhaps that one that really resonated with me was on page 204, where you indicate that “the Bible is not a constitution” and on page 205 where you state “Interpretation is also and always a matter of ethics, a matter of the heart and the conscience”. I am always deeply troubled by the hateful acts that are done in the name of God when Jesus taught us to be people of peace. Which leads to my favorite part of your book on pages 135 -136 where you talk about how Jesus has been used as a weapon and challenge your reader to think about what would Jesus do if he encountered Mohammed or Buddha. I also want to thank you for writing about the history of our faith and the dark history that we so often don’t want to remember and how we must “….face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history”.

My guess is that to some fundamentalist your writing are controversial but I am glad that you are writing these types of books to speak out to the thinking Christian. I am currently reading your book “A New Kind of Christianity” and I also find it inspiring. So thank you again for putting into words what my heart needed to hear.
A few years ago, a Lebanese friend of mine (who is what you might call an agnostic –Muslim) was discussing the conflict in the Middle East between the Shia and Sunni Muslims and she said “As long as we put our religion before our humanity we will never have peace”. I’d like to think that if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed did ever cross the road this is one statement that would all agree with.

Thanks for your encouraging words. Your friend's statement about putting humanity before religion reminds me of Jesus' words … that humanity wasn't made for the Sabbath (i.e. religion), but the Sabbath (i.e. religion) was made for humanity. I think Paul does something similar in Romans. He is trying to bring Jews and Gentiles together in the gospel, but the Law of Moses seems to separate them. So he goes before Moses to Abraham, who offers a way of connecting with God (faith) more primal than law. And then he goes back before Abraham to Adam, where all are brought together in our common humanity.



Hi, all -
January and February have been full and full of surprises, almost all of them happy ones. Here's what's ahead for March and April:

1. On March 1st, I'll be in Dallas with Life in the Trinity Ministries, finishing my overview of the Bible. Sorry - this one is sold out and there's no more room. BUT - soon the whole set of CD's will be available for your listening pleasure. Stay tuned ...

2. On the 8th, I'll be speaking in Madison Wisconsin …

3. Then on the 9th I'll be in Lancaster, PA.

4. On the 11th I'll be in Washington DC.

5. I'm hoping to be present for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers action in Lakeland, 15 March - still working on details.

6. On the 20th I'll be in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

7. Then on April 4-5, I'll be in Portland, OR, with the Sabeel Conference.

8. April 15-25, I'll be in New Zealand. Here are the details:

Fri 18, "Convermersion" at St John's Theological College, Auckland
Sat 19, "Convermersion" at New Plymouth West Baptist, New Plymouth
Sun 20, TBC
Mon 21, "Convermersion" at Te Ara Hou Village, Hamilton
Wed 23, "Dancing to a New Tune Workshop" (9.30am-3.30pm) and "The Bible, Church & 21st Century (Café discussion 7-9pm)
Thu 24, Boulcott Seminar ("Convermersion") at Wellington Central Baptist, Wellington
Fri 25, Discussion with Wellington Central, Wellington (10am-2pm approx.)

9. Then I'll be in Buffalo, NY, on 29 April.

You can get information on all these events by going here.


Q & R:Depressed and isolated … held hostage

Here's the Q:
I just finished 'A New Kind of Christianity', and I felt myself amen-ing the whole time I was reading the book. I'm a progressive gay Christian getting a ministry degree from a conservative Pentecostal college. I have major differences with their theology, but I feel like I don't have many options. I'm out to my friends and family, but I've been somewhat 'forced' back into the closet to attend this school. It's making me depressed and isolated, and I feel like I'm being held hostage by what I consider bad theology in order to get my degree. Any advice for me?
Here's the R:
I'm glad A New Kind of Christianity has been helpful, and I'm sorry you're in this tough situation. I've learned it's not wise to offer specific pastoral guidance from a distance like this, so here's what I can offer. First, find a pastor or counselor in your area (harder in some places than others, I know) who welcomes gay people … often, these will be UCC or Episcopal, sometimes Presbyterian, DOC, Lutheran, or Methodist. It might take a little detective work and a few phone calls. Second, meet with this pastor and counselor and explain your situation. They'll help you keep your sanity while there and decide if that's the place to stay until graduation. Third, if you do decide to leave, consider meeting in private with a college official and explain why you're leaving. Don't expect their approval … just let them know your story. You're in my prayers today, and I imagine many folks who read this blog will be praying for you too.


Frank Schaeffer on Francis and Edith Schaeffer

This fascinating interview explains (among many other things) why Mike Huckabee and I, for all our differences, would both point to Francis Schaeffer as an important influence in our lives.


Q & R: Four Stages

Here's the Q:

Hello and thank you for your ministry,

A few years ago you gave a presentation at the Festival of Homiletics about 4 approaches
to listening to sermons based on the experience and attitudes of the congregation.

I was wondering if you have that lecture in a book or article ? I have found that
scheme to be helpful in educating our seminarians on their preaching

Here's the R:
That turned into a book - Naked Spirituality. You'll find a summary of the stages in my presentation slides, available here.


Attention, Professors ...

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about our need for academic activists. How can we bring the best minds to bear on our biggest problems?
His article begins:

SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: “That’s academic.” In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

He describes the problem of

the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research.

He also notes the problem of academic writing which turns off readers:

“a great, heaping mountain of exquisite knowledge surrounded by a vast moat of dreadful prose.”

Here's to reflective activists and activist academics ...


"You do not belong here. But shame on you for not staying."

In addition to a lot of responses on my Facebook page (which I hope you'll friend and follow), here's a brief sampling of what has come in about a recent critical article and my response to it:

I want to sincerely thank you. My apologies, but I know nothing of you except from reading your blog posted February 21, 2014. I happen to agree with you on about every single issue you detailed, but that is not the point of my note. It may sounds a bit melodramatic, but I am reminded of the guy facing down the tank in Tiananmen Square. I think given a choice, I might choose a tank over the tsunami of evangelical wrath. You provide a glimmer of hope. I am not sure where the future of my personal faith lies. I am convinced that individuals like you will bring more people to approach the Bible and truly understanding the teachings of Jesus. Whether those souls will be bound for heaven is not for me to say, but I believe they will make the world a better place for our children. Thank you again for your reason, compassion and courage.
+++++ I
wanted to share with you a letter that I am sending to Father Kevin Miller regarding his recent CT article. I am thankful for you and for what you do.

Dear Father Miller,

I was wondering if I could share a little bit of my story with you? I want to share how God has used Don Miller, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren in my story. They don't know me, but their books, their stories, were a blessing to me.

When I read your recent article in Christianity Today, I felt like a line was being drawn in the sand, and I heard: "You do not belong here. But shame on you for not staying." However, when I read Blue Like Jazz, Velvet Elvis, Love Wins, A Generous Orthodoxy, and A New Kind of Christianity, I felt hopeful that there was room for me at Christianity's table. Miller, Bell, and McLaren helped me at a time when I wondered whether a real faith was even possible for me. They helped me know that I wasn't alone in my questions. Maybe my questions were actually good. There is Life in, beyond, and through these questions. Miller, Bell, and McLaren made space for me. These authors pointed toward More.

Christianity is More, so much bigger, than the evangelical Christianity that I grew up with. I loved that evangelical Christianity. I have a feeling that they did too, and that is why they spoke into that arena. Why they continue to speak.

I am thankful that they do.

If Miller, Bell, and McLaren had quietly slipped out the back door without letting others know about what they have seen, I might have been left with an empty faith. A faith stunted by seemingly impossible beliefs. I might still be stuck in the questions, unable to move forward. Maybe I would not have heard that there was More. Maybe I would not have experienced the More-ness and reality of God myself.

My life, my soul, and my faith are being transformed. God is on the move in my life, and it is beautiful. Each of those writers were a part of that process.

Maybe, as your article suggests, we no longer belong in evangelical Christianity. But it is evangelical Christianity's loss to push writers, thinkers, and poets like Miller, Bell, and McLaren out of the fold. Christianity should be and is a spacious place. There is room for the story that God is writing with your life. There is room for the story that God is writing with my life. Even though our stories might look vastly different.

"God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God's path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Maybe, instead of pointing fingers at one another, we can make space for one another's stories and marvel at the grace that God shows to each one of us.

With Love and Hope,



An e-course with yours truly for Lent ...

I'm teaming up with Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat for an e-course that will run from March 5 through Easter Sunday. Here's how the course is described at their site:
• a short reading excerpted from one of Brian McLaren's books,
• a suggestion for a way you can "practice that thought" as you go about your day,
• a link to our review of the book where we found the reading,
• a link giving you access to the online Practice Circle where we will be discussing our responses to the readings and experiences with the practices.
• an opportunity to join the Brussats and Brian McLaren for a one-hour teleconference in April (which will be recorded for those who cannot attend live).
The cost is $49 and you can register here.


Readers interested in Social Justice

Readers of my books - especially Everything Must Change - will care about the two issues that are the focus of this grant. A great opportunity!

The Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship provides three individuals with $100,000 each to pursue a social or economic justice objective over one year. Candidates for the NCF Fellowship must demonstrate exceptional vision and propose a project that relates to the Foundation’s two focus areas: · Inequality · Climate Change And the methodology for their project must be rooted in at least one of the Foundation’s Approaches: · Arts and Culture · Constituency Building · Disruptive Ideas · Religious Traditions and Contemplative Practices

Preference will be given to projects that address NCF’s DNA commitments.
Fellows' projects will be expected to push NCF beyond its boundaries and open productive new lines of inquiry; ask provocative questions; challenge conventional wisdom; and develop new ideas, approaches, and strategies. For more information, please visit:

Please submit an application by Monday, March 10, 2014.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) is rooted in Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.

Background information on the Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellowship:

The Foundation owes its existence and inspiration to Nathan Cummings. Nathan Cummings was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1896. He moved from impoverished beginnings to great success by hard work, entrepreneurial genius, and a willingness to take risks. Mr. Cummings inherited a spirit of sharing and a sense of community from his immigrant parents and transmitted these values to his children and grandchildren, who now contribute their time and energy to the Foundation.


Q & R: What are you reading?

Here's the Q:
What are you reading these days?

Here's the R:
I just finished reading two books that I really enjoyed and believe others will enjoy too.

1. Subversive Meals is a book about the original meaning of the eucharist. It is fascinating, well-researched, and yet accessible. It's an example of what good yet readable religious scholarship looks like. The subject, the eucharist, is tremendously important … and you'll feel so even more strongly after reading this important book. R. Alan Street deserves your attention in this valuable contribution to ecclesiology, biblical scholarship, and practical ministry.

2. Culture Moves (Thomas Rochon) explores how cultures change - through critical communities and movements, through the formation of identity and solidarity. Obviously, for my work, this has been an essential book, joining Greg Leffel's Faith Seeking Action as a primer on social movement theory.

I'm also reading (belatedly) Garrison Keillor's Life Among the Lutherans. A delight. For fans of Prairie Home Companion, I'll just say two words: pontoon boat.


Great stuff

at the Cana Initiative Blog … here.


Q & R: Is that still something you're considering

Here's the Q:

Hi Brian, I met you at the inaugural Wild Goose festival and you talked about an idea for an upcoming book. You said that for years ministers had led their flocks by studying and reading a book that led them through prepared messages and worked through the church calendar. You said that you were considering a new liturgy that young home churches or small gatherings with leaders that felt under-qualified would be able to utilize. Is that still something you're considering?

Here's the R:
Yes. It turned into We Make the Road by Walking and will be available June 2014.

I really think you'll enjoy it … June is just around the corner. We're hoping that lots of folks can read the book in June and then start using it with groups in September (or whenever).



Here's a great job description for worship leaders:

If you're interested in the subject of worship and liturgy, along with Dent Davidson, check out Bryan Sirchio's new book.


Two voices needed in today's noisy world

Fred Burnham and Jen Butler tell an important truth in this piece:
Quotable …

Here are some telling signs of the times: CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked or potentially losing their jobs. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks.

These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power. The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they also deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619677/fred-burnham-and-jennifer-butler.html#storylink=cpy


Q & R: You, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and Christianity Today

Here's the Q:

Kevin Miller wrote a piece in CT about you, Rob Bell, and Don Miller. It follows other negative articles about you, and them, in CT. Do you think the portrayal was fair, and if not, why not?"

Here's the R:
I read the article a couple times and the first thing that struck me is that Rob, Don, and I function in the article as little more than a convenient apparatus against which to leverage so the author (and CT?) can double down on 3 things:

1. Evangelicals should submit to their pastors, ministers, and elders.
2. Evangelicals should stop trying to interpret the Bible on their own, but should listen to what "the church" says the Bible means (leaving the "Which church, when?" question open).
3. Evangelicals should double down on their rejection of homosexuality and refuse to compromise, even if it means unpopularity, rejection, or persecution by others.

According to the article, I did several things wrong.
1. I flirted with universalism.

Anyone who applies the term universalism to my understanding of things hasn't read me carefully. The situation is actually much "worse" than simply switching from exclusivism to inclusivism or universalism. I think the set of assumptions that divides the world into inclusivists, exclusivists, and universalists is deeply flawed. It's not that I've answered the "who goes to heaven" question differently - it's that I've become convinced (by Scripture and by many great theologians of the church through history) that "who goes to heaven" is not the primary question Jesus (or other biblical writers) came to ask. As I understand it, he and they were asking a very different primary question: "How can God's will be done on earth as in heaven?" That primary question will result in a very different kind of Christianity.

2. I left the pastorate.

Should spending 24 years as a church planter and pastor qualify one as a quitter? Although I did leave the pastorate 8 years ago, I didn't in any way leave the church. I'm a quiet and grateful member of a congregation in the community where I now live. My years as a pastor make me deeply grateful for every sermon, song, prayer, and eucharist that I am privileged to share in when I am at my home congregation. When I'm not at home, I spend my time working with and serving clergy and emerging leaders around the world. So I hope CT readers don't see leaving the pastorate as leaving ministry or the big-C Church!

3. I became convinced that older Evangelicals were wrong on homosexuality.

That's true, but it goes much farther than that. I think significant percentages of older Evangelicals are deeply wrong on a wide range of issues - including homosexuality, our spiritual responsibility for the environment, the reality of evolution and climate change, solidarity with the poor, our role regarding peacemaking and war, equality for women, the reality of white privilege and systemic racism, and the legitimacy of torture, to name a few. So homosexuality is only one of a long list of things that I think older white Evangelicals need to rethink. Thankfully, on most if not all of these issues, younger Evangelicals are moving to a more just and wise understanding than their parents and grandparents, just as their parents and grandparents forsook much of the overt racism and anti-Semitism that were much more common among their parents and grandparents.

The article implies or states that I went wrong in these ways because
1. I was tempted by pride and celebrity, like Icarus "flying too high" in the old fable.

I certainly don't experience my life as having much to do with celebrity. When I travel, write, and speak, I work hard, and when I'm home, I live a quiet, modest life. True, I receive large doses of heart-felt encouragement from readers, but I also receive large doses of hell-fire condemnation (often from nonreaders) and sincere critique. I would think I have lost much more than I gained in terms of readership, popularity, etc., by taking the stands I've taken. I've made my choices for conscience not convenience or celebrity, and the same would be true for Rob and Don. I'm sad the article assumes otherwise.


2. I wanted to be "accepted by the culture" and was unwilling to be persecuted or maligned, favoring applause and popularity like a "false prophet."

Perhaps someday the author will find himself required by conscience to differ with the community in which he was raised, and he will find out that the persecution that hurts the most isn't from "the culture" but from one's own tribe.

3. I interpret the Bible to mean whatever I want it to mean, ignoring the teaching of the church.

Interestingly, the more I learned about the teaching of the church in its many forms across history, the more I saw it included a wide variety of opinions and views over time and in different regions. I saw it as a living tradition that engaged in self-critique and self-correction over time. The more I grappled with biblical interpretation, the more I came to believe it carries with it an intellectual and ethical responsibility - yes, to learn from, to honor, and to respect the tradition, but also to challenge it when necessary. In fact, challenging the tradition is part of the tradition … especially for Protestants, but also for Catholics. As I blogged recently in this regard, I think that some good and needed conversation about the Bible is happening among Evangelicals.

For today's popular speakers who wonder if CT will be writing an article like this about them in ten years, I can only say that life is wonderful when you follow your conscience and aren't afraid. I know Rob and Don would agree. As the Proverb says, "The fear of men brings a snare," and as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."

Several years ago, a respected older Evangelical theologian confided to me that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have let the fear of critique by Evangelical gatekeepers have such control over him. He encouraged me to follow my conscience and not trim my sails for fear of being singled out. I have tried to follow that advice, and am glad I did.

Kevin Miller is right - nobody should make choices based on pride, popularity, fear of persecution, celebrity, or selfish and stupid individualism. But Evangelicals will not be helping themselves if they assume the only reason people like us are critiqued in articles like this is because something is wrong with us. It would be good for Evangelicals, especially in places like CT, to go deeper in thinking about why they tend to lose (or drive away) so many of their promising young leaders.

The good news is that when I am among more open and hospitable Christians (Evangelical and otherwise), I find large numbers of people from a more restrictive Evangelical heritage - like Rob, Don, and myself- who were to some degree or another lost to or driven out of Evangelical circles. They are doing wonderful work in new settings, receiving a warm welcome, enjoying life, and creating space for others.

The article's subhead said, "A decade ago, [Bell, Miller, and McLaren] stood as the leading voices for our evangelical future. We all know what happened since. But do we know why?" I wonder how many people really know - or really want to know - what happened over the last decade, and I wonder how many, even after reading the article, really understand why. Maybe the article will stimulate some curiosity and some second thoughts.

[LATE ADDITION: Someone just told me the article is on the website of Leadership Journal (where I used to be a regular columnist), not CT, but I think the 2 are still related.]


The biblical cat is out of the fundamentalist bag -

Once a conversation about the Bible gets started, it's hard to stop. That was true 500 years ago when the Reformation was brewing, and it's true today.

Steve Chalke released a bold and important article on the subject a few weeks ago, which you can download here:

Yesterday, I read a Huffington Post piece by a brilliant young writer and theologian, Derek Flood, that included this highly quotable observation:

These leaders represent a sea-change in the Evangelical landscape which has long been associated with being anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-science. Chalke, along with these other leaders, represents a growing shift, especially among younger Evangelicals, towards a more affirming, compassionate and thoughtful face of Evangelicalism, and this flows into how Scripture is interpreted and applied. In contrast to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Chalke's paper firmly denies the idea of inerrancy and instead calls for a way of interpreting Scripture characterized by debate and questioning,

"We do not believe that the Bible is 'inerrant' or 'infallible' in any popular understanding of these terms. In truth, there is nothing in the biblical texts that is beyond debate and questioning, and healthy churches are ones that create an environment which welcomes just that. The biblical texts are not a 'divine monologue', where the solitary voice of God dictates a flawless and unified declaration of his character and will to their writers."

This morning, I just came across an important piece by Tony Bartlett (another gifted theologian) that also includes an important critique of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy that has been a landmark for fundamentalist and older Evangelical Christians.

Then a few minutes ago, I read yet another great piece on the Bible, by Brian Zahnd.

I just posted news about a great group of people is coming together in a few months in Nashville to explore new ways of teaching the Bible to kids.

And for the last few months, Rob Bell has been blogging about the Bible raising deeply important questions and offering provocative and needed insights.

So the conversation has begun.

Over in the UK, Christian Today reported on Steve Chalke's article and said the Evangelical Alliance is planning to offer a response. And other responses are showing up online, with zesty dialogue in the comments section.

In the US, a recent Christianity Today article (that used Rob Bell, Don Miller, and me as negative examples) seemed to double down on the conventional view - cautioning people against thinking for themselves about the Bible, urging them to listen to the ministers (and by implication, not people like Bell, Miller, or me) and characterizing any departure from conventional interpretations as prideful, individualistic, selfish, compromising, cowardly, and pandering to popularity.

So, in a sense, the gauntlet has been thrown down. People will make all sorts of public statements as the conversation continues, but the real question is this: in the privacy of people's own hearts, will they (will you, will I?) have the courage to think, rethink, question, and consider the possibility that the conventional view of the Bible is in need of radical rethinking - not to reduce confidence in the Bible, but to discover a wiser, more just, more honest, and more proper confidence?

A good start would be to check out these links and begin to prayerfully open your heart and mind.

(If you want to read something I've written on the subject, try the first several chapters of A New Kind of Christianity.)


Why you should come to Nashville

for ">Faith Forward, May 19-22.


As a Floridian, I'm angry. And disappointed. And ashamed.

Jim Wallis calls for pastors and others to speak out against the Stand Your Ground law … I hope they will.

And the Florida Attorney General, Pamela Jo Bondi, is working to oppose clean-up of Chesapeake Bay (where I used to live). She defends her actions based on small-federal-government ideology and states' rights, which often means letting corporations do what they want, maximizing corporate profit by externalizing costs on the rest of us, not to mention the birds of the air and the fish of the seas (and estuaries).

Standing for peace, reconciliation, justice, and environmental stewardship are deeply held values for me and many of us - flowing from our faith and our vision of a desirable future.


A reader writes: I've never written to an author before -

A reader writes:

I have never been moved to write to an author before. I , personally, have gone through a period of spiritual deconstruction and as I was again experiencing the presence of God in my life, I picked up Naked Spirituality. It resonated strongly with me and I strongly felt I wanted to share it. I attend a rather conservative church and knew this would be a risk.

Since September, I have been leading a study group of 10 ladies. We are just beginning to tap into Harmony. I just wanted to thank you. This book has clarified so many things about my spiritual journey for me. I no longer am ashamed of my doubts and questions. I can now see how this is a vital part of a more vibrant deep life with God.

As we studied, the ladies would say to me, "Let's not rush through this. We need to take our time. There is so much here". Or they would simple say, "Wow!" . You have posed and addressed questions that have been in our hearts for many years. You've given us the courage to look at these things and speak of them with each other.

We have taken huge leaps in becoming what God created us to be, a body that cares, shares, and grows.
Thank you so much.

Thanks for these encouraging words. I'm humbled and grateful for the chance to be in partnership with you.


A book that needs to be written ...

and how you can help, here:


Q & R: Our adult children don't have church in their lives

Here's the Q:

Brian -- thank you for a challengingly thoughtful and inspirational evening [recently], starting with our discussion at the table and then your talk and Q&A after dinner.

A question for when you have a moment -- and perhaps the readers of your blog might be interested as well --

We are blessed with having two children (ages 39 and 35), each with their own children. Both of our kids were high achievers in college and grad school, and now in their careers. But, they and their families do not have a church in their lives.

In view of our discussions last evening, could you recommend one of your books that might start as a platform for family discussion of these issues?

Here's the R:
I think 3 of my books might be especially helpful.

If your adult children are interested in theology, A New Kind of Christianity would be a good place to start. You could even choose a few of the ten questions to talk about.

If they're more interested in politics and social issues, Everything Must Change would be ideal.

And if they'd consider themselves "spiritual but not religious," Naked Spirituality would be a good choice.

I'd love to hear how things go ...


This Week: West Coast

I'd love to see you if you're in the neighborhood!
Monday 17 February - Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma WA
Tuesday 18 February - The Well at Queen Anne UMC, Seattle WA
Wednesday 19 February - Claremont Theological Seminary, Claremont CA
Thursday 20 February - St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Palm Desert CA
Saturday 22 February - Guibord Center, Los Angeles CA
You'll find links with additional information here: http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/schedule/current-schedul/


RIP Jamie Coots ...

Snake handling preacher Jamie Coots died from a snakebite at his church today.

Coots' way of reading the Bible suggests why Steve Chalke's recent article is so needed. And his death suggests that discussions of "religious liberty" are more complex than many people realize at first glance.


The Triple Threat: Alan Bean gets it right



Why We Can't Wait: Overcoming the New Jim Crow

… of Mass Incarceration.

A great 6 minute introduction.


Q & R: You have no real firm belief in anything

Here's the Q:

I am a pastor of a fairly conservative assembly. I am open to the fact that I do not know everything but reading through your material it appears you have no real firm belief in anything, that everything is questionable? Can you please confirm what you do believe.

Is Jesus God?
Is Jesus the only way to the Father?

I ask these as it would appear (however as I said I have found nowhere that you believe one way or the other) that you feel all religions lead to God or to Heaven?

I would be grateful for your reply as it will not take long to give a yes or no answer.

Here's the R:
It's good that you're open to the fact that you don't know everything. When you say you've "read through my material," does this mean you've actually read even one of my books with an honest and open mind? If you did, I'm quite certain you would not come away with the idea that I "have no real firm belief in anything," and you would understand that your questions actually make assumptions that I find problematic.

To give a "yes or no" answer would be impossible without entering into deeper dialogue about those assumptions. For example, I don't think Jesus' intent was primarily to lead to heaven, but rather, to lead to God's will being done on earth as in heaven, as the Lord's Prayer makes clear. Perhaps this would prompt you to want to explore my work a little deeper? The book I'd recommend for you would be The Secret Message of Jesus. (The "secret" is not some gnostic mystery, but rather what Jesus refers to in Mark 4:11.)

The best I can do is to say that I believe, with John, that in Jesus the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us, and that if we've seen Jesus - a man of radical nonviolence and true compassion, we've seen the Father. And I'd say that various religions lead to many different goals and ends, their projects being (as John Cobb puts it) "incommensurable." It's simply inaccurate to suggest that all religions even intend to lead to the same goal.

So be assured, I do have firm beliefs. It's just that some of them do not fit within some of your apparent assumptions.


A reader writes: in case I missed something

A reader writes:

I wanted to thank you. I am clergy and have spent most of my life in the church feeling as though I am standing in wrong line. The church way of thinking is one line and I am in a totally different line (talking to someone). Growing up in the Methodist Church, going to a Mennonite seminary, living for almost 20 years in a different country than the USA, having family and friends who are gay and lesbian, Buddhist and bikers, and who all over the political spectrum, it isn’t a surprise to me at all.

You reminded me that there are many standing with me. You have given me much to think about in your books, Naked Spirituality and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? I am starting on my second read of both books, in case I missed something. Thank you for sharing your stories and your words. I will be plotting some goodness here and there (subversively, of course)

Thank you, too for the grace you showed at a recent conference toward those who are gay and lesbian. I wish my family and friends heard more voices such as yours. I am keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.


One of the most encouraging signs of social activism in a long time -

Think Occupy Wall Street on prayer - get schooled here:


2014: The Year of the Bible

This is the year that an important conversation will break out from behind closed doors.

This is the year that several Christian leaders are speaking out about our need for a new way of understanding, approaching, and employing Scripture.

Today, Steve Chalke's important new article on the Bible went public. You can dowload it here: http://www.oasisuk.org/theologyresources/restoringconfidence
And you can watch Steve introduce it here:

Restoring Confidence in the Bible from Oasis UK on Vimeo.

Next month, Adam Hamilton's "Making Sense of the Bible" comes out.

And in June, my We Make the Road by Walking will be published.

By year's end, there should be some robust dialogue going on about what the Bible is, how it has been abused, and how we should more wisely and faithfully engage with the Bible in the years ahead. Let's all do all we can to bring this important conversation the attention it deserves.


It's not going away

In denomination after denomination, debate continues on equality for gay people. Here's a window into the Seventh Day Adventists' ongoing internal struggle ...

Some will double down on their traditional response. Others are beginning to wonder if there's a better way. There is a better way.


A reader writes: Simple gospel? I don't think so ...

A reader writes:

First, let me say, thank you for your work and writings. While I have read a couple of your works and am working on another currently, I have greatly appreciated having your perspective to re-engage my own jaded perspectives of our contemporary Christian experience.

My question to you – and the subject of this email – is this: Has the Church misrepresented the “simplicity” of the Gospel? By that, let me illustrate from my own profession.

As you can see from my signature, I have my MDiv and served as a hospital chaplain for 11 years in an inner-city, Level 1 trauma center. Halfway through that work, I pursued a JD. I have overseen Clinical Ethics at a large not-for-profit faith-based health care system for nearly six years, now. I face many complex issues of medical practice, technology, legal and regulatory requirements, interpersonal dynamics, communication break-downs and the intersection of competing values systems on a daily basis. Oftentimes, when cases or situations arise, I marvel because – given my familiarity with issues, forms of moral reasoning, provisions with legal codes, understanding of interpersonal dynamics, etc. – I do not perceive the “difficulty” in assessing the situation and addressing it. Quite honestly – and this is either confession or an issue for me to pursue with my counselor – I feel like a bit of a charlatan, at times, because physicians, administrators, staff and others will comment on what an asset I have been in a case and how helpful I was. I – as my wife will readily attest – will say myself, “This isn’t rocket science here. We aren’t trying to get the space shuttle into orbit. This is really pretty basic, isn’t it?” Only recently have I come to accept that, no, it isn’t pretty basic. Especially for people who are so emotionally or relationally “tied up” in an issue, there are powerful subtleties and nuances to these issues that aren’t appreciated until you are so thoroughly familiar with the “material” and have wrestled with many of the difficult questions that you can begin to break the issues down into manageable pieces.

Now, turning to issues of faith, I feel that the Church has given a message to people for hundreds – if not thousands – of years that says, “Here, let us masticate this for you. It’s pretty simple. See? You just consume what we spit into your mouth.” (I am reminded of the image of a baby bird taking nourishment from a parent.)

But, Jesus never told us that it would be that “simple”, did he? In matter of fact, we are told to “count the cost”. We are told that the path is difficult. (Yes, that is in the context of the passage discussing the destruction of Jerusalem if God’s people didn’t turn away from the path of what they thought it meant to be God’s people, but I think it still applies here.) We are called to be Yisra-el; struggling and persevering with God. Never “losing hold”, but struggling with the meaning of all “this”, with its implications, with our nature, with our fellow denizens of this planet and how this calls us to be in relationship to them.

I am struck by Tony Jones’ blog entry about “high school answers”, but I think it is an issue of the Church trying to make “manageable” the complexity and nuanced nature of this faith journey. It isn’t as simple, as all that. It cannot be boiled down to a bumper sticker or pithy saying or praise worship track. While the beginning may be Matthew 22:36-40, that is only the beginning. That is not the “destination”. It is about the journey and, in that, the Gospel is FAR from simple.

Your thoughts?

What people often refer to as "the simple gospel" is an outline - like 4 Spiritual Laws or The Roman Road - that is extracted from the Bible and proclaimed as "the gospel."

On one level, I do think the gospel can be put very simply: God's reign is within reach, God loves everyone, no exceptions … God is with us … God's abundant life is available to all by grace … but as you say, the depths and implications of those simple words can't be fathomed.

I wrote two books to explore the meaning of Jesus and his gospel:
Secret Message of Jesus
Everything Must Change


Q & R: postmodern post evangelical?

Here's the Q:

I am doing my MA in theology right at [a seminary] in Canada. My thesis for it is Christ's kingship from a postmodern perspective. This research has lead me to discover the emerging church movement, and post-evangelical Christianity. For one of my history topics in school, I'm want to study theologians and philosophers greatly impacted by postmodernity, and post-evangelicalism, and your name came up as a prominent individual in both the movements.

I know you are a busy man and have much on your plate but I would greatly appreciate you telling me how you relate to postmodernism and what your post evangelical faith is for you, and means to you?

Here's the R:
I think you should start with my book A New Kind of Christian. Then, to explore what "Christ's kingship" would mean today, I'd recommend Everything Must Change.


Rene Girard

If you've been hearing about Rene Girard's work and want a good introduction … here it is:


A reader writes: Jesus told non-biblical stories … should we?

A reader writes ...

Dear Brian,
...I go on your website regularly and read your books, and listen to your lectures and podcasts. Like so many people have said, your insight and honestly has helped me find peace and direction in the new ways I feel God leading in my life and in my own personal discoveries from scripture. I grew up with Bible study and spend years going over scripture and Bible stories with our children.
I am a preschool teacher and over the past 5 years I set up a preschool in our home for our grandchildren. I studied child development later in life and was disturbed when I found that the philosophies I learned to be important for child development were very difficult to implement in many daycare situations. I started with a home nursery which evolved into a preschool. The kids are advanced for their age and they are responsible for their schedule, helping, and caring for each other. I implement a lot about nature, care of the environment, and Bible stories that I felt taught them the lessons they needed to treat people in the way Jesus taught in the Gospels. Our theme has been to treat others as you want to be treated. I chose Bible stories like the Good Samaritan as I felt I could use it to show how Jesus sometimes taught things that were different, and the love Jesus has for all people.
I have always sought what the children need to hear and have tried to not be led by condemnation for not teaching the things and ways I was taught. I had to clear my mind and ask God how to frame things, but I was often at a loss for what I felt was spiritual material. Recently I found out I have cervical cancer which I pray can be taken care of soon with an operation. I started to ask the Lord for what He wanted to show me through this and oddly enough I felt there was a breakthrough in what I need to share with the children in my care. At the same time I felt like I was supposed to write to you about it. If I could explain why I guess it would be that you are very open to many subjects, and that you have a website where things can be shared.
I think sometimes we get stuck in a rut thinking what we need to teach children is only Bible Stories, but Jesus actually didn’t only tell Old Testament Bible stories as much as he told relevant stories which got across the message to have his Kingdom established on earth. I started to think about children and what they need to hear are stories of examples of people doing what Jesus said to do in a relevant way they can understand pertaining to their lives today. We used to do that a lot with our children with books about people who were heroes in different ways, or who did things that required character or sacrifice or love for others. I started to think that if Jesus was teaching again he would probably use stories just as he did before using present day examples so that we could get the point. Maybe this is common knowledge, but for me it was like a light came on in my thinking and that I had the answer I had been seeking for some time. I wonder if in a way we feel bound to the Bible stories and sort of stuck there and miss the idea of how Jesus used storytelling as a tool to get across the message, which is what I think we can do as well. (I want to mention that I believe children still need to hear stories form the Bible.)

I wanted to thank you for being willing to stick your neck out for so many of us who feel the same way.

First, I know that many will join me in prayers for your cancer diagnosis … you sound like a very brave woman! Second - great point on Jesus' use of short fiction (parables). People who think creatively like you about children's ministry will be gathering in Nashville TN in a couple months for the Faith Forward Conference. I'm very much looking forward to being there. Here's some more information.


Children and Youth Ministry people ...

I'm really looking forward to being part of Faith Forward's 2014 gathering in Nashville, May 19-22 (more info at (faith-forward.net). I get to join an inspiring line-up of speakers and contributors who are working together to inspire and resource innovation in ministry with children and youth--including Phyllis Tickle, Andrew Root, Ivy Beckwith, Dave Csinos, Romal Tune, Mike King, Anne Streaty Wimberly, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Melvin Bray, and Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher.

For too long, Christians who are forging new kinds of Christianity have been relying on curricula and approaches for children that promote the same problematic structures that many of us as adults have come to question and move beyond. Faith Forward 2014 is an ideal gathering for leaders and parents who are looking for cutting-edge, holistic, and thoughtful ways to nurture faith in youth and children.

The leaders of Faith Forward are currently accepting proposals for leading breakout sessions at this gathering. If you've got an idea that you want to share, then submit a proposal at faith-forward.net/lead-a-breakout-session/. Submissions are due by February 15 -- and if your breakout proposal is accepted, you'll save $100 on registration.


A reader writes ...

A reader writes...

just had to let you know that i am re-reading A New Kind of Christianity in chorus with The Story We Find Ourselves In. Wow. This is very helpful. It has taken me a few years to get the Greco-Roman narrative out of my head and now the Hebrew narrative seems so normal and beautiful. Reading these two books together however seems to help both sides of my brain to see things clearer. I am mentoring a young guy and we are doing this together. Part of want I am doing is rethinking how we tell the story of the Gospel through the lens of the Hebrew narrative as I have been reconfiguring my faith. This is hard work but it is definitely paying off.

Thanks for these encouraging words. I think you'll especially enjoy my upcoming book, where I try to put together all the work I've been engaged in over recent decades in a fresh overview of the whole Bible.


Home alive

Last week was an incredibly rich week - beginning with a short but meaningful visit to Cedar Ridge for a memorial service, then time in Denver with some new and old friends talking about "theism on a higher level," then with the joyful and energetic APCE in San Jose, then with the beautiful and hospitable Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church. But halfway through the trip I got a nasty flu-like virus. By the grace of God and with the forbearance of my hosts, I was able to fulfill my duties as best as I could, and made it home yesterday. Home is good.


Q & R: colonizing atheism - and brown theism

Here's the Q:
Would you respond to this article on the new atheism?
Here's the R:
First, it's a fascinating article. Thanks for sending it. His thoughts on the desert and its impact on Abrahamic theology (and sexual ethics) are fascinating - something I explored a bit in my Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

I was also intrigued by his linking of protest marches and religious processions. That gets my imagination going!

And that term "materialistic sterility" - that speaks.

Also quotable:

My qualm, right now, with the political left is that it is so taken over by sexual issues, sexual questions, that we have forgotten the traditional concern of the left was always social class and those at the bottom. And now we’re faced with a pope who is compassionate towards the poor and we want to know his position on abortion. It seems to me that at one point when Pope Francis said, “You know the church has been too preoccupied with those issues, gay marriage and abortion…” at some level the secular left has been too preoccupied with those issues.

I don't think he's saying those issues aren't important, but that if "progressives" don't have a moral vision that addresses other issues as well, especially economic ones, there's a problem.

And this:

I think what hasn’t happened yet in the official language of our political life is that we really don’t know how to speak brown-ly about each other and about ourselves. And Barack Obama is still officially designated our first black president. Well, he’s our first brown president, which is a much more interesting thing to be because it unites these two races, but in some way what we are not able to deal with is the reality that brown is all around us. That kids have been born, Cambodian/Mexican/German kids who don’t look like anyone who has ever lived before. And we’re still in a kind of rhetorical swamp where we’re still using the vocabulary of the 1950s: white and black America.

I'll come back to that quote in a minute …

As for the New Atheism and Postcolonialism … I was just with a group of people who are fluent with "Integral Theory." Drawing from Spiral Dynamics, they use a color-coded framework to describe different kinds of "consciousness" - or ways of looking at the world. Broadly speaking, they are talking about traditionalist/pre-modern, modernist, and postmodernist mindsets.

If the traditionalist mind is naturally theistic, modernist and postmodernist mindsets tend toward agnosticism and atheism, and they look down on pre moderns, a disdain and superiority (a colonizing mind) which Rodriguez is naming. What many of us are seeking is to rediscover theism after modern and postmodern atheism - as philosopher Richard Kearney says, to discover a new theism after atheism. That new theism must not look at the old theism and atheism with disdain, but with understanding and appreciation, knowing that whatever meaning we discover and construct in the future will build upon what has gone before. I don't know Rodriguez work at all apart from this article, but it seems like he is also looking for a more integrating, respectful, and generous theism.

Perhaps what we need, recalling the quote above, is the capacity to go beyond white and black theism and atheism to discover a "brown theism."


What we've been talking about in Boulder this week

Important conversations with wonderful people.


Q & R Storyline of the Bible

Here's the Q:

I'm interested in downloading your MP3s on "The Storyline of the Bible" but can only find US sites that carry them, and can't obtain them from there as I am UK resident.

Are they available in UK anywhere or is there a site that will allow downloads to outside US, or some other way that I can acquire them?

Here's the R from my friends at Life in the Trinity:

If they will call 214-366-3377, they can take his payment info over the phone and will provide him with the download code. We are upgrading our website this week and it should improve the download time considerably for the folks who buy the series.

This call would need to be during business hours, central time, US.
The series can be purchased by folks in North America here.


A reader writes … challenged and angered

A reader writes:

I am reading through your book Generous Orthodoxy and as all good texts should it has challenged me in some places, angered me in others, and given me hope in yet others. If we ever have a chance to sit down over a cup of coffee I would be interested in discussing more about your views of ethnic cleansing in the OT since you argument in the book seems problematic to me. But that is for another time, if the opportunity presents itself.

Something more pressing to me personally is something I just read in your final chapter. I read the familiar words, Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (paraphrase). I have become very interested lately in exactly what others think that means. I was raised in a fundamentalist, charismatic, pentecostal non-denominational church (the only thing missing were the snakes) and was always taught that verse was related to the penal substitution view of the atonement. The law required blood, so it was taught, and Jesus fulfilled this blood debt in our stead. I cannot accept this view of atonement, and from what I gather you are not sympathetic to it either (please correct me if I am mischaracterizing your views). So, if it does not refer to penal substitution, what does 'fulfilling the law' mean? And how does 'fulfilling the law' free us from being under the law?

I know you are probably very busy, so if your answer is simply in the form of pointing me to an appropriate source, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for writing …
On the biblical genocide issue, my thinking on that subject continued to develop after writing A Generous Orthodoxy. I am much more satisfied with my treatment of the issue of divine violence in A New Kind of Christianity and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? You'll also find a more thorough treatment of the issue of atonement in those two later books. Again, after A Generous Orthodoxy, my thinking continued to develop - becoming, I hope, more generous and no less orthodox (in the best sense of the word).

On "fulfilling the law" - my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking, devotes a whole chapter to that issue. I think you'll find it helpful - that chapter was one of my favorite ones to write. But you'll have to wait until June of this year …. which will give you time to delve into the two books I just mentioned. Thanks again for writing.


A young mother writes: a pursuit of something better

A reader writes ...

I wanted to write to say Thank you for writing your book, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed cross the road?. It is so validating for me as a young woman of 31 years, mother of three, and wife living in our multi-faith world. I was raised in a very strict Pentecostal Charismatic Church, and it left it's impression upon me so heavily despite our leaving the church when I was ten years old, because my mother become a threat to the "us".

It has been a long journey away from the church, walking away from Christ, until recently while living in [Asia] under my husband's Marine Corps orders, that a [local] Jehovah's Witness knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to talk about the good news. It was such a blessing to my heart. I had longed to talk about Christ with anyone, but had little faith in the church due to my past. I began studying with her and after some time I began to recognize some of the same dogmatism that I saw in my own religious past and told her I loved Jesus and the Bible, but I had no intention or interest in becoming a Jehovah's witness, nor would I read her Watchtower Magazine. And through many tears of mine and hers, together we felt a connection that allowed us to continue studying the Bible together (what it seemed like was) "in-spite" of our differences. As I reclaimed my faith in Jesus and love for others I felt so conflicted by these religious differences, and angry at how it separated us from one another. I thought, there are huge religious organization in the world, not just Christianity, it would be so arrogant for me to say I am right, they are wrong. I felt that there had to be something better and bigger to understand it all. Something that actually reflects that kind of ideology that the Bible represents and expresses love in the same way that Jesus showed to others.

Anyway, when I saw your book and began reading it, I felt such validation in my pursuit of something better. It has been years since I have been able to trust and/or read any books about religion without feeling that awful feeling you describe in your book about becoming strong and creating more opposition towards others, or watering down what you believe to be more tolerant of others. I am not yet halfway through the book, and I know it will be a journey of heart, soul and mind. Yet, I look forward to reading your book like I am having a wonderful conversation with a thoughtful, caring, intelligent friend, and for that I Thank You! I am so glad you wrote this book. I have already encouraged my mother to read it, as we share much of this journey together.

May God continue to Bless you and may He use me to continue to express His love for all,

Thanks for these encouraging words. Little friendships "in spite of" differences are like like sutures healing the wounds in our world. It's easy to tear and wound. It's beautiful and good to heal.


This week … Boulder, San Jose, and Lafayette

After a brief stopover today in the Baltimore-Washington area to attend the memorial service of a dear friend in the company of many other wonderful friends, I'll be heading West for the next week.

First, in the Boulder, CO, area:
I'll be part of private meetings and then a public panel with Steve McIntosh, Bruce Sanguine, Morgan McKenna, and Ross Hostetter at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1128 Pine Street, Boulder, CO 80302. (On the corner of Broadway and Pine, downtown Boulder). The event will feature an open-ended discussion followed by questions and comments from the audience. This interactive public event will be held on Tuesday evening, January 28, 2014, from 7– 9 PM. If you live in Colorado’s front range, this should be a fascinating evening.

Then, in San Jose, CA, I'll be with the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators - an event I've been looking forward to greatly for a long time. Learn more here:

Then I'll be teaching and preaching at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church next Saturday and Sunday, Feb 1-2, in the Bay Area. More information here:

I don't get out west that often, so hope to see many old and new friends there.


Holiness and glory ...

I came across this quote from Fred Buechner recently:

"One holy place I know is a workshop attached to a barn. There is a wood-burning stove in it made out of an oil drum. There is a workbench, dark and dented, with shallow, crammed drawers behind one of which a cat lives. There is a girlie calendar on the wall, plus various lengths of chain and rope, shovels and rakes of different sizes and shapes, some worn-out jackets and caps on pegs, an electric clock that doesn't keep time. On the workbench are two small plug-in radios, both of which have serious things wrong with them. There are several metal boxes full of wrenches and a bench saw. There are a couple of chairs with rungs missing. There is an old yellow bulldozer with its tracks caked with mud parked against one wall. The place smells mainly of engine oil and smoke — both wood smoke and pipe smoke. The windows are small, and even on bright days what light there is comes through mainly in window-sized patches on the floor.

I have no idea why this place is holy, but you can tell it is the moment you set foot in it if you have an eye for that kind of thing. For reasons known only to God, it is one of the places God uses for sending God's love to the world through."

- Frederick Buechner - Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Word


It reminded me of a song I wrote years ago, that I think I appreciate now more than ever.

There's a farm that I know … as I child I would go and run in the fields below. Near a stream, on a hill, there's an old windmill. In the afternoon sun it would glow with the glory of God, the glory of God, the glory of God shining through. And I pray for you that you'll see it to, for this life is a search for the glory of God. The whole world is full of the glory of God.

There are people I've met, some I'll never forget, full of laughter, some young and some old.
Sometimes on a face, a mysterious grace seems to smile out and shine through like gold.
It's the glory of God, it's the glory of God, it's the glory of God shining through.
And I pray for you that you'll see it to, for this life is a search for the glory of God.
This world is aglow with the glory of God.

Light through a window, wind in the grass, a fish in the current, birds as they pass,
A dancer, a gesture, a joke, or a kiss … the glory shines through simple things such as this.

There are moments that come like a gift from someone who loves you but you hardly know.
They bring a tear to the cheek, and a catch when you speak, and the meaning you seek seems to flow
With the glory of God, the glory of God, the glory of God shining through.
And I pray for you that you’ll see it too, for this life is a search for the glory of God.
The world is on fire with the glory of God.



A few years ago, I wrote a book called Naked Spirituality. Although it's not the best-selling of my books, I think it's the most highly rated.

It gives 12 simple words organized in four seasons or stages to help people develop a strong spiritual life dedicated to life-long spiritual growth.

It's been thrilling to see how different groups and whole churches have used the book. For example, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids has been using the book as a background for its Sunday sermons this year. Recently, they focused on the simple word "Help!" People wrote prayers asking for help that were hung from the ceiling….

Meanwhile, my friend Suzanne Jackson took the 12 simple words and integrated them with simple moves from yoga, tai chi, and chi gong. We collaborated on a set of videos that will help you practice these 12 spiritual moves through simple and energizing physical movement. You can learn more here.


Grief and encouragement ...


When I read about your tragic passing from this life (tragic for all of us, of course, but glorious for you), I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like walking into that space today and not seeing you.

Turns out hundreds of others felt the same. We spent the morning wresting with real grief, anger, shock, and also a painful sort of hope and joy. Joy for you, knowing you are now in the presence of the One you loved so deeply and authentically, so openly and demonstratively. But deep grief in not having you be a part of the community you truly helped grow and build. Again , I am the newbie… I didn’t have the privilege of knowing you personally in this life. Turns out that was really my loss.

But you just have to know how deeply you have touched my life, with or without a personal connection. I sat there this morning weeping as I listened to story after story of the life of love, faithfulness, friendship and service you lived. And I am deeply challenged to rethink my own life… my own lack of commitment and service and even real love. Though your life seems cut way too short, you lived it FULLY… and you have left behind such a deep, rich and tangible legacy in this community.

So thank you. Thank you for serving my children. For loving them. Week after week. Craft project after craft project. As a mom, there are few things more meaningful to me than to see someone else truly loving my children. And you loved them. Each and every one of them.

Betsy Mitchell-Henning was my colleague and friend when I served as a pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Burtonsville, MD. With her shock of purple or pink or blue hair, her upbeat attitude, her deep sincerity, and her impulse toward laughter, she served as the church's liturgist/worship coordinator for many years and then as a leader in children's ministry. She died of flu complications Saturday, and the Cedar Ridge family is absorbing and grieving this profound loss together.

A new member of the church wrote the beautiful tribute I quoted at the top of this post, and it struck me that it not only honored Betsy, but could serve as an encouragement to people who serve in various ways in churches everywhere. It's well worth reading for both reasons. Your labor is not in vain. These words from St. Paul come to mind: "Do not be weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest in due season if we don't give up."


A lot is right with the world ...

Yesterday, millions of people gathered in thousands of churches where preachers preached good sermons, musicians presented good music, people practiced peace, hugs, and handshakes, hearts were warmed and filled with God's love, and kids were treated as important. Sure, there are a lot of problems in the religious world, but it's important to remember how many good things happen week by week in local churches around the world. I know that was the case at my home church yesterday.

Today honors Dr. King who set an example and proclaimed a message that has changed many of our lives. Yes, our nation still harbors deep levels of unacknowledged racism, but today is a good day to be thankful for people like Dr. King who call us to reconciliation and relationships. And today is a good day to rededicate ourselves to joining in that ongoing movement of peace.

Last week, Walmart joined the Fair Food Program, which I'm still so thrilled about, wondering if Publix will be the next to join.

My friend Aaron Niequist (who hails from the same denominational neighborhood I come from) wrote a beautiful post (linking to another great post from Jeff Calliguire) here.

Kudos to CCDA for focusing attention on the crisis of mass incarceration. Learn what they're doing here:
And learn more about mass incarceration here and here.

Friends in the Boulder, CO, area:
I'll be part of a public panel with Steve McIntosh, Bruce Sanguine, Morgan McKenna, and Ross Hostetter at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1128 Pine Street, Boulder, CO 80302. (On the corner of Broadway and Pine, downtown Boulder). The event will feature an open-ended discussion followed by questions and comments from the audience. This interactive public event will be held on Tuesday evening, January 28, 2014, from 7– 9 PM. If you live in Colorado’s front range, this should be a fascinating evening.

Friends in the San Jose area, I'll be speaking at a great event there next week (learn more here), and the following weekend I'll be in Lafayette, CA.


Congratulations, Walmart!

Walmart gets criticized for a lot of things, but today they deserve major applause for a courageous decision: to join the Fair Food Program launched by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

This afternoon, at a ceremony held under a watermelon packing shed on a tomato farm outside of Immokalee (photo above), Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed an historic agreement for the world’s largest retailer to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the widely-acclaimed social responsibility program that is bringing real, measurable change to the men and women who harvest tomatoes for Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with the CIW to expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and into “other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain.”

It's an important and encouraging day for all who care about justice. Congratulations to the CIW for their tireless and passionate work, thanks to Walmart for making a big step in the right direction, and a question for the major corporations (like Publix) who are still refusing to join the program … How about now?


On the road this week ...

I just spent a couple excellent days with UCC pastors in Phoenix. What a bright, sincere, warm, and welcoming group! There is so much to be hopeful about when you see church leaders like these …

I'm en route now to Minneapolis where I'll be doing video for Animate. A fun and creative experience.

If you haven't checked out my Facebook page lately, there's been a lot of interesting conversation going on.

It was fun to learn today that my Slideshare.net page is one of their top sites. Nearly all of my presentations are available there.


Alan Bean gets it right

… on negative features of American exceptionalism, regarding incarceration, guns, and health care. Here.


Thank you, Eric Haines ...

Back in 2008, I was joined by my friends Linnea Nilsen Capshaw, Denise Van Eck, Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Eric Haines, and others to plan and present the Everything Must Change tour. We visited eleven cities and helped stir conversations and spur friendships that have continued to grow ever since.


Eric Haines was our sound and tech guy. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. None of us will forget his smile, his dry sense of humor, his cheerful attitude, his ability to fix anything, his extraordinary generosity, his desire to serve, his technical skill, and his ever-pleasant company. (Not to mention his distaste for air travel.) He was beloved by all who knew him, especially those in his local church.


In November, Eric came down to Washington, DC, to do some video work for the Cana Initiative. When I saw him, I knew he wasn't feeling well. He told me about a persistent cough and terrible pain in his hip. A few days later he was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away a few days ago.

When I'm discouraged or tempted to be cynical about things, I just need to think of Eric. He lived well, loved well, did good work, and blessed the world with many good works. He wasn't "famous" - he avoided the spotlight with the same energy many seek it. But he deserved to be known and appreciated as a good man, a good Christian, a good human being. Which is why I wanted to write these few words in his honor. I love you, Eric, will miss you, and will not stop thanking God for the gift of your friendship in my life.


Q & R: Global challenges?

Here's the Q:

When you spoke [about your book Everything Must Change in Charlotte NC, you referred to 15 challenges from UN University but I have not been able to find them. Where should I look? Thank you for your help.

Here's the R:
You'll find information on the list here:
Here's the list:
1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?

2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?

3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?

4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?

5. How can policymaking be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?

6. How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?

7. How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?

8. How can the threat of new and reemerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?

9. How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?

10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?

11. How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?

12. How can transnational organized crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?

13. How can growing energy demands be met safely and efficiently?

14. How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?

15. How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?

My additional question - how can people of faith bring the wisdom and other resources from their traditions to bear on these challenges in constructive, collaborative, generative ways? That question, with the others, could add great vibrancy to the "missional" conversation in the Christian community.

See the following post about the Everything Must Change Tour you mentioned ...


If you've never discovered ...

… the rich resources of the Girardian lectionary, here's an invaluable resource. In this reflection, for example, you'll get a link to a beautiful sermon by Paul Nuechterlein, and interpretive resources on John 1:1-18.

"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." It's worth calling attention to John's use of the word life here, in light of the more familiar term "eternal life." Here, for example, is an insightful commentary by Brian McLaren, in The Secret Message of Jesus:
Interestingly, John almost never uses the term “kingdom of God” (which is at the heart of Jesus’ message for Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There are two exceptions, both of which occur in this unique conversation [with Nicodemus in John 3]. Instead, John normally translates “kingdom of God” into another phrase that is notoriously hard to render in English. Most commonly, John’s translation of Jesus’ original phrase is rendered “eternal life” in English. Unfortunately, the phrase eternal life is often misinterpreted to mean “life in heaven after you die” — as are kingdom of God and its synonym, kingdom of heaven — so I think we need to find a better rendering.

If “eternal life” doesn’t mean “life after death,” what does it mean? Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus reduces the phrase simply to “life,” or “life to the full.” Near the end of John’s account, Jesus makes a particularly fascinating statement in a prayer, and it is as close as we get to a definition: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [God has] sent” (John 17:3). So here, “eternal life” means knowing, and knowing means an interactive relationship. In other words, “This is eternal life, to have an interactive relationship with the only true God and with Jesus Christ, his messenger.” Interestingly, that’s what a kingdom is too: an interactive relationship one has with a king, the king’s other subjects, and so on.

The Greek phrase John uses for “eternal life” literally means “life of the ages,” as opposed, I think we could say, to “life as people are living it these days.” So John’s related phrases — eternal life, life to the full, and simply life — give us a unique angle on what Jesus meant by “kingdom of God”: a life that is radically different from the way people are living these days, a life that is full and overflowing, a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Let’s render it simply “an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God.” (pp. 36-37)

McLaren is following recent New Testament scholarship on this rendering -- preeminently N.T. Wright, especially in his books The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope. He offers the translation of "eternal life" in his The Kingdom New Testament, as “the life of the coming age.” His best explanation of translating the Greek phrase zoe aionias is in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels:
“God so loved the world,” reads the famous text in the King James Version of John 3:16, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There we are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise of a timeless heavenly bliss.

But it isn’t. In the many places where the phrase zoe aionios appears in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters for that matter, it refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two “aions” (we sometimes use the word “eon” in that sense): the “Present age,” ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and the “age to come,” ha-olam ha-ba. The “age to come,” many ancient Jews believed, would arrive one day to bring God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groaned and toiled within the “present age.” You can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians 1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to rescue us from the present evil age.” In other words, Jesus has inaugurated, ushered in, the "age to come.” But there is no sense that this “age to come” is “eternal” in the sense of being outside space, time, and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (pp. 44-45)


I'm honored that Paul considers my work of value to this tremendous project he has been working on for many years now. If you love the Bible already, this resource will give you new levels of appreciation. If you're itchy around the Bible, this resource will help you see the powerful and beautiful currents that run beneath the surface.


Q & R: Which denomination?

Here's the Q:

First off thank you for all your great work. You have deeply impacted me in many ways. I seem to think along very similar lines as far as I can tell from reading your posts, books, articles etc. I would like to pastor a church in the future, but I am in transition at the moment mostly due to the change in perspective over the last couple of years (still love the people). My question is if you were to start as a Pastor today, with all the wisdom and perspective you have accumulated through years of experience, would you choose a certain denomination instead of non-denominational? Do you have any denominations that you would most closely align with?

Here's the R:
This is a tough question. Here are five elements - in random order, because all are essential - I'd consider in choosing a denomination (or nondenominational association):

1. Hand/Mission: Is this denomination more oriented toward maintenance, self-benefit, or the common good of the world? In what ways is this denomination practically expressing its commitment to join God in bringing blessing to the world? Is the denomination more dominated by tradition/the past than by mission/the present and future.

2. Heart/Spirituality: Does this denomination promote personal and communal encounter with God, the neighbor, and the other and enemy, or is it preoccupied with correctness, numbers, politics, and institutional maintenance or aggrandizement?

3. Head/Theology: Does this denomination create space for vibrant theological reflection, imagination, and investigation? Or does it suppress theological curiosity in order to unquestioningly support a predetermined set of conclusions? Does it expect the Spirit to continue to guide us into truth?

4. Backbone/Structure: What kind of support and accountability does this denomination provide to support its staff and members in mission? How nimble and flexible is the structure?

5. Open arms/Ecumenism: Does this denomination wall itself off from other Christian communities, and other faith communities - or does it use its structure as a bridge to facilitate collaborative relationships? And is this denomination interested in welcoming me?

Some denominations might score well on 3 and 5, but not so well on 2 and 4, for example, so every choice would involve weighing strengths and weaknesses. As for going the non-denominational route, I would have to ask these same 5 questions but in slightly different ways. By the way, I still believe that we need creative church planting, so if you feel a gift and calling in that direction, I hope you'll fan that flame, whatever denominational (or non-) path you choose.


Dear American Youth Pastor ...

Please watch this, and forward it to your fellow youth pastors ...

(Thanks SDT!)


Dear American Youth Pastor ...

Please watch this, and forward it to your fellow youth pastors ...

(Thanks SDT!)


A sermon on Habakkuk: Options for Anxiety

I was asked to preach on this passage (obscure to some, well-known to others) at a gathering for preachers in Minneapolis last year. I thought it might be of some encouragement to folks who won't hear a "live" sermon today….

Habakkuk 2:12-20. "What's the Big Story?"

We woke up this morning in a heap of trouble.

First, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a lot of political trouble - a government shutdown, a looming debt default. Then, if the debt default occurs, we are warned that a global economic crisis could follow.

On a deeper level, our political and economic crises are fueled by internal social strife. As the gap widens between a super-rich minority and a struggling majority, frustration grows proportionately. Few doubt there are also racial and sexual dimensions to our social divisions ... as the familiar world of a privileged white patriarchy gives way to a multicultural world where racial and sexual minorities cannot be marginalized. No wonder the fear of the other leads to a fervor to buy more and more guns, as if the more weapons we have the safer we will be.

Meanwhile, behind all this drama, the planet has a fever. The very fuels upon which our civilization depends are pushing us well beyond the green zone into the yellow and red zones of climate instability.

And I haven’t even mentioned weapons of mass destruction. Do you see why I say we’re in a heap of trouble?

People like us who are in a heap of trouble have four common options at our disposal to deal with our anxiety.

First, we can scapegoat somebody. We can find some group of people - Jews, Muslims, gays, Mexicans, the ACLU, China, supporters of Barack Obama or Ted Cruz - and blame them for all our problems. It’s fun, it’s easy, it requires no research or thought ... and it works - at venting our anxiety, that is. Unfortunately, it provides no real help in solving the problems we’re anxious about. In fact, scapegoating ultimately makes both our problems and ourselves worse.

So second, if we lose our taste for scapegoating, we can turn our crises into fundraising opportunities. Radio stations, TV networks, political campaigns, and religious groups are very happy to make a buck off our fear. And in fact, many sectors of the fear-industrial complex will gin up fear, rake in money, and then issue a tax deduction to boot!

Third, if scapegoating and fund-raising don’t satisfy, we can implement some sort of fundamentalist hail Mary ... we can pray more or louder or in tongues even, fast more, go to church or synagogue or mosque more, wear more religious clothing, become more observant of religious holidays, obsess more about the end times, and become more careful to avoid religious taboos, in hopes that God will send in a skyhook to save us at the last minute from the heap of trouble that threatens to crush us under its growing weight.

Fourth, if scapegoating, fundraising, and fundamentalism don’t prevail, we can offer a moral explanation by which we blame ourselves for our trouble. Yes, we can say, we’re in a heap of trouble, but that trouble is evidence of the morality of the universe. We deserve this trouble, so the bad news is actually good news ... it’s proof that God is still on the throne, still ruling the universe, still supervising the affairs of humanity. Even though we are, frankly, screwed in the short term, at least God is still in control in the long term.

That fourth option was the option of many of the prophets, including Habbakuk in today’s passage.

It was late in the 7th Century BC, and Habakkuk’s people were in a major heap of trouble. The Babylonians were rising to power to the East, and these upstart regional superpowers weren’t at all nice neighbors to have. It was only a matter of time until they invaded, conquered, and plundered Habakkuk’s homeland. In the midst of the anxiety, prophets like Habakkuk were doing their job, interpreting signs of times, trying to find or make some meaning in the madness.

Habbakuk could have scapegoated somebody, or turned the crisis into a fundraising opportunity, or engaged in a fundamentalist hail-Mary act of spiritual desperation. But instead, he took the fourth option. He said, “We’re going to be conquered, and it’s our own fault. We have been violent. We have been unjust. We have proven ourselves unworthy of God’s protection. So the Babylonians will prevail.”

If that was all that Habakkuk did, he would be a good respectable prophet. But Habakkuk didn’t stop there, and that’s what makes him so extraordinary.

Habakkuk dares to question the very answer he is proposing. Yes, God might be just in allowing us to be conquered, but how could God use a people who are even worse than us to do it? You can imagine a Texan musing: maybe the evil Dallas Cowboys deserve to lose, but do the even more evil Denver Broncos deserve to be the ones to beat them?

The prophet tries to comfort himself with the idea that eventually, the Babylonians will get theirs too. But that doesn’t solve the problem that his best explanation leaves God’s hands looking something less than sanitary in dealing with the human mess.

You might expect some perceptive journalist or snarky comedian to raise a question like this - the 7th century BCE equivalent of Erin Burnett or John Stewart. But Habbakuk himself argues with God about the situation. He refuses to be satisfied with the best answer he himself can offer.

That’s an interesting role for a preacher, don’t you think? To reject inferior explanations, to offer the best he has, but also to go public with the misgivings he has about his own best answers?

You didn’t hear Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson express any misgivings when they scapegoated liberals and the ACLU after 9-11. You didn’t hear Pat Robertson express any second thoughts when he blamed Haitians for the Haiti earthquake. You didn’t hear a local pastor express discomfort with his explanation for a local tragedy a few years back - which I think involved a conservative God punishing liberal Lutherans for their sins.

But here we have Habakkuk - giving his best interpretation of the signs of the times and openly expressing his frustration with that interpretation.

He doesn’t solve that moral paradox. But he does offer some clear moral guidance for living in it. As a great preacher once said, where you can’t offer certainty, you can still try to offer clarity. So Habakkuk offers this clear moral guidance. In the absence of a completely satisfying explanation for what’s going on, in the absence of a completely satisfying theological interpretation of the signs of the times, he says, “the just shall live by faith.”

Later theological minds like St. Paul and Martin Luther offered their own interpretations of these five words in English (or three words in Hebrew). But I think a good paraphrase of Habakkuk’s message in context would be something like this:

If we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. Yes, we’re in a heap of trouble, but if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. Yes, our trouble is in many ways our own fault. But if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive. No, I can’t explain why reality is this messy, but if we keep faith and stay faithful, we will survive.

At the end of Habbakuk, he expands this simple moral summons in more poetic terms. If we keep faith and stay faithful, he says, God won’t spare us calamity, but God will give us the agility of a deer or mountain goat on a rocky mountainside so we can survive the rough terrain ahead.

It’s not pleasant, but I think it’s important to imagine what that could mean for us. The government shut down may result in a constitutional crisis. E Pluribus Unum could disintegrate into E Pluribus Duum or Tridium or whatever. The dollar could plummet. The banks and even the currency could fail. The global economy could crash and burn. More terrorist attacks could happen, echoed by more counter-terrorist attacks. Many of our fellow Christians could be possessed by a spirit of Islamophobia and revenge and our world could be torn in a thirty years war of crusade versus jihad. Chemical weapons, even nuclear bombs could fall. We could remain in denial about our unsustainable dirty energy economy, and as a result, global temperatures and sea levels could keep rising. The Gulf Stream could break. Crops could fail. Unprecedented storms and droughts could wreak havoc. Dustbowls could spread and tornado alley could widen into a tornado superhighway and the Oglala aquifer could be sucked dry as a bone. The bad guys could win, and even more scary, the good guys could become bad guys too so there are few discernible good guys left.

It’s not pleasant, but we must face these possibilities in our day just as Habakkuk did in his. But even if the worst happens, if we keep faith and stay faithful, we can trust God to give us agility to navigate the rocky terrain.

By courageously and honestly facing his own dissatisfaction with his own best explanation for the coming Babylonian conquest, Habakkuk is driven down to an even deeper affirmation of faith. Whatever short-term catastrophes may occur, he believes, in the end, in the long term, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” That is a radical, transformative, and comprehensive conviction.

So yes, we are in a heap of trouble. That is a true story. And it is a big story. But there is a bigger story still, more capacious and gracious, deeper and more vast. “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” that story proclaims, and if that’s true, then trouble itself is in a heap of trouble. Amen.


Q & R: Religious books for young teens?

Here's the Q:

Can you recommend any religious books for young teens?

Here's the R:
This isn't my specialty, but it's something I care about a great deal. I'll post your question on my Facebook page today, and I hope that people will send in recommendations - along with a sentence explaining why they recommend each book they suggest.


A reader writes: YES, that's how I feel! (and quotes Bruce Cockburn)

A reader writes ...

Hello Brian
I'm in the process of reading your sequel - A New Kind of Christian, and The Story We Find Ourselves In - just over last couple of wks finished the first two and can't wait to get to the next/last one !
I've read Naked Spirituality and Why Did Jesus Moses Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road, of recent - never enough hours in a day to read !

I've felt for a while now, even before reading your last book, Why did Jesus,etc, that who are we as Christians to think that our way is the only way to God. How arrogant that feels to me. To me, I feel Jesus is the way I get to The Loving Father, but for others who follow, Moses, Mohammed The Buddha, the beautiful Native American/Canadian Spirituality, that is their way. We can all learn from one another. Your book is refreshing ! I wish everyone would read this.

These books and what you have to say so resonate deep with me, my life and how I understand myself to be a "Christian". I don't even like to use that label of late -
guess a Follower off Jesus and, even, then, I fall short of that @ times. I've felt for a few years now, this change-transformation, this questioning the traditional way of Christianity -
I have many questions doubts about certain things...and have read Rob Bell's books too. They also touch a place deep inside my soul that brings a freedom and refreshment. When I read yours and his books - I think - YES that's how I feel ! YES, it can be different! But where and who can I talk to about this?! Where can I go here in the place I live, Toronto, Ontario Canada

where I can feel free to Worhsip The Loving Creator this way.
It's sometimes a lonely walk of faith and feel, as do you, that things need to change! . I am struggling with that and just feel @ times to not even go to church- I've pulled back and try to Worship God my Creator on my own, or with my sister, and also a friend. There are not many,unfortunately, I can talk to about this. How very troubling and sad. I also believe that church is not a place, a bldg - that the Great I AM is everywhere I am - but sometimes, just sometimes it would be lovely to find a place where I feel spiritually fed - This is my prayer and I would ask if you could pray for me as well.

I will close with a couple of lines from one of my favourite artists, Bruce Cockburn .......

Thank you, from another stumbler who believes love rules, and who will continue to kick @ the darkness til it bleeds daylight.

Brian, Thank you for you

Thanks for your note. I'm a major Bruce Cockburn fan too …
I'm glad you've found the books helpful. I especially think you'll enjoy The Last Word and the Word After That.
I have some friends who are working on a way for people to find churches with a more open spirit … stay tuned! In Toronto, I'm sure you'd find United Churches and some Anglican churches that would welcome you … among others.


Friends in Southwest Florida

I don't do much public speaking in my own area these days - but will be speaking at this gathering on January 25 in Fort Myers. I hope you'll come and say hi!


Ten years ago from 2014 ...

… my book A Generous Orthodoxy came out. Matt Richie recently wrote a thoughtful reflection on the book … Thanks, Matt!

If you'd like to read the book, you'll find ordering info here.


Q & R: Christian Racists

Here's the Q:

You recently were mentioned by Brittney Cooper in an article on the Duck Dynasty controversy.
She wrote:
Ironically enough, the progressive Christians who inspire me the most these days are white. Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, Brian McLaren and theologian Peter Enns are fighting the good fight of faith.

But then she added:
But I won’t let any of them off the hook for their failure to be more forthright in addressing racism. Evans, Bakker and McLaren are great on questions of homophobia, poverty and sexism; but racism, when it is addressed at all, is largely addressed as a problem of individual attitudes rather than systemic disfranchisement.

I wondered whether you thought her assessment of you was fair?

Here's the R:
First, I think her article is deeply important and I'm greatly honored that she is helped by my work. I wouldn't expect Dr. Cooper to keep up with everything I say about race, and so if she does underestimate my sensitivity to systemic issues, I wouldn't hold it against her. I would say that her assessment of me was accurate for the first 40 years of my life. I was taught a very personalistic approach to faith and life, along with a bias to interpret claims of systemic injustice as excuses for personal irresponsibility. It took a long time for me to begin to break through that teaching and bias. It's amazing how hard it is for privileged white heterosexual males to see or understand white male heterosexual privilege.

Although I'm sure I still have a long way to go, I think I've begun to see things a bit more clearly over the last fifteen or twenty years. If folks are interested in what I've been saying on the subject the last several years, they can search this blog for the words "racism" or "race." They could check my Facebook page as well.

These days, I'm more often accused of paying too much attention to systemic injustice and not enough to personal sin … so it's oddly refreshing to feel some push-back in the other direction. I couldn't say it any better than Dr. Cooper does:

… individual prejudices, and the amelioration of them, are bound up with the structures that support them.

That's why I agree with Dr. Cooper that it's important to emphasize institutional structural injustice, disenfranchisement, and racism, without forgetting about personal responsibility. Those structures invisibly, unconsciously "educate" new generations into subtle, unconscious racism … a racism that is increasingly evident in our culture these days. For some recent research on this subject, check out this by Bob Allen:

This by Jonathan Merritt is also helpful.

And for a passionate response to the unconscious racism behind so much hatred of President Obama in our Congress, the media, and the culture at large (very evident where I live in Florida), Frank Schaeffer's recent piece is explosive:
His term "slow motion lynching" captures something I think is very real … and nobody has put it more graphically than Frank.

All that's to say that I think Dr. Cooper's article is deeply important, and I'm grateful for your question pointing it out to me and giving me the chance to point others to it. Especially quotable:

As Evangelicalism goes, racism, homophobia, and sexism go hand in hand. Black evangelicals like to tell themselves that they can reject Christianity’s racist past, while embracing homophobic and sexist ideas about the position of gay people and women, in the world and the church. I have come to say: It just isn’t so.

God is not a racist. I know that despite a Bible that sanctions enslavement and implores slaves to obey and be kind to their masters.

God is not a sexist. I know that despite a Bible that tells me that women are to be quiet in church, that women are not to teach men, that women are to submit.

God is not a homophobe. I know that despite a Bible that declares sex between men to be an abomination.

God is love. That is a truth I learned first and foremost from the Bible. And it holds moral and political weight for me because of the life that Jesus Christ lived, from birth to death and back again.

I love the Church, despite myself. But I won’t love it uncritically. This is what hermeneutic consistency requires. And worshipping alongside white folks who are more moved to stand with a homophobe than to stand against racism gives me great pause.

The Church can no longer afford to be disingenuous about its racism problem. Easy unity is not what we need. Time has run out for an African American Church that continues to tack hard to the right — uncritically imbibing the agenda of the (white) Evangelical Right, without acknowledging that this position, predicated as it is on the belief that Christian = Republican, is fundamentally averse to, and in some ways responsible for, the declining social and political condition of African Americans, gay and straight alike.

Amen, Brittney Cooper!


Q & R: How do I put the pieces back together again?

Here's the Q:

I have read a handful of Brian's books and found they have helped me look at my faith in a new way. They have caused me to disassemble my childhood faith and really look at why I believe what I believe. My question is, after disassembling my faith, which I think has been a good thing, how do I put the pieces back together again? It's as if I've lost the forest for the trees.

Here's the R:
Thanks for this important question. Without a good answer, a lot of folks go from a dysfunctional faith to a disintegrated or disappearing faith.

One of the major discoveries of my life (which shouldn't have taken so long, given that I was an English major and focused my studies on the power of fiction) was this: that we human beings live, not by systems or "world views" or philosophies alone, but by stories. Stories are often treated as accessories or "illustrations" to abstract systems, but the truth is, I believe, that doctrinal systems and world views and philosophies are creative projects that arise within stories … stories which are often so primal and "pre-critical" that they are not even recognized.

Personal therapy often means discovering the unhelpful and unacknowledged stories that are controlling our lives. I think spiritual growth involves something very similar.

That's why "the forest," I think, is a fresh healing and transforming narrative … one that I believe is rooted in the Scriptures, but differs in many ways from the narrative many of us were taught. I first grappled with this need for a fresh narrative in my book The Story We Find Ourselves In. It's the first question addressed in my New Kind of Christianity. I address it again in Why Did Jesus? And it's at the heart of my 2014 release We Make the Road by Walking.

A narrative is like the string on which all the pearls of beliefs, ethical commitments, values, etc., hang … it's the forest in which the trees thrive. So … my prayer for you and for so many of us is that we seek a better, more capacious, more true and liberating narrative to live by.


Merry Christmas, 2013!

Christmas joy from Grace and Brian to you and yours ...


A Christmas song

Several years ago, I wrote this simple song for Christmas to share with friends.


The scarier predictions ...

on climate change. Everything must change.


Last-Minute Christmas gifts ...

My friend Nic Patton produced this eclectic collection of music called Voxi, which you can buy fast via iTunes.

As for my stuff, you might be interested in my short-fiction e-books:
The Girl with the Dove Tattoo
The Word of the Lord to the Democrats
The Word of the Lord to the Republicans
The Word of the Lord to the Evangelicals

And you can find information (from most recent to "vintage") about my other books here.


March 27-30 … TRANSFORM!

Registration is live for the next TransFORM Network gathering, March 27-30, 2014 -- featuring Joerg Rieger, Alexia Salvatierra, Pam Wilhelms, Gareth Higgins, and a lot of great people.

Translating missional into meaningful and relevant language and action for the broader culture is no small task. The Transform team is crafting this special weekend — a conference unlike any other they’ve ever done — to bring together pastors and activists, artists and theologians to work through the challenges we are facing and emerge together with solutions, training and inspiration.

Learn more: http://www.transformnetwork.org/2014

Register online now: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/transforming-missional-transform-network-gathering-tickets-9636453893


An encouraging note about human kindness

This encouraging note reminded me how many people have been hurt by various forms of religiosity, but really are just looking for some authentic expression of humanity, of kindness … of basic human-kindness:

You might not remember me; I was the person serving drinks (including your Fanta) at the reception for the … conference yesterday. You have completely resurrected my faith in the evangelical/"post-evangelical" tradition. I was a die-hard Pentecostal in college and had a falling out with not just the movement but will all people who confess to being "friends" with Jesus. I suggested to our campus minister that our group could help out at a soup kitchen where I volunteered through my Episcopal church and was rebuked with a very strange reading of James. "Religion is about taking care of widows and orphans," said the Pastor, who continued, "God doesn't want religion. He wants faith." For the last decade (including eight years as a Methodist minister) I have harbored a deep resentment against relationship theology, which I considered to be spiritualistic, individualistic, and frankly gnostic. My theology has gone from liberal to existential to post-Liberal to agnostic, but it has been detached from relationship for quite some time. I discovered you in seminary and quickly separated you and a few others (Tony Campolo comes immediately to mind, as well as Eugene Peterson minus The Message) from the insular "evangelical" movement. But I never really understood the theology of incarnational relationship until last night.

Most of the people to whom I served drinks were, frankly, rude. Several said nothing to me except the name of the beverage they wanted. More complained than thanked me -- this was the first time in my life that I have tended bar and I was not always correct about how much ice people wanted or whether they preferred Coke Zero to Diet Coke. You, on the other hand, looked first at my face, then at my name-tag, and then proceeded to ask me about...me. No one ever does that to a bartender, especially when he's drinking soda! You wanted to know my story, my background, my place. You picked out the least important person in the room, not knowing even that I was a minister or a PhD student, because that is exactly what Jesus would have done. You didn't even advertise who you were (I suspected you were Brian McLaren -- the Brian McLaren -- based on what little you said, but you were so humble that I didn't want to presume). I spent hours last night processing this with my girlfriend, who is Jewish (and I sincerely hope will always remain so), trying to figure out whether there is something to the idea that people can be so in touch with Jesus that they exude him.

You spent the first ten-to-fifteen minutes of the reception talking to me about my project, and I got the profound sense that this was not just about the skills you learned as a pastor or through CPE. This was genuine. You only joined the VIPs after I became busy serving other people. I cannot begin to tell you how much you have turned my life upside-down. I have always respected your approach to post-modernity (as I told you, I was part of an Emerging church plant based on your writings), but your personality last night reminded me about everything that led me to relationship theology in the first place.

Sorry for rambling, and sorry for the personal email -- I had to beg, borrow, and steal to get your email address. You made my day yesterday, if not my week and month. Thank you for bringing Jesus with you everywhere you go. I regret missing your talk -- I had to work behind the scenes most of the day -- but I hope to hear you at some time in the future. It was a true honor to meet you.

Deep peace,

A confession: At this reception, most of the people in the room knew each other, but I only knew one person well and one person peripherally. So, had I known a lot of the people there, I might have gotten so caught up in seeing old friends that I might have been no better to the person serving drinks than the other guests were. But I'm glad we connected … and glad that a simple act of kindness can make a difference.

May all of us remember that everyone we meet is a neighbor, and that when we look out on the world through the eyes of Christ, there is no male/female, Jew/Greek, Bond/free, gay/straight, documented/undocumented, bartender/customer, PhD/GED, etc.


Learn how not to be an expeller ...

A worthwhile article on Evangelical colleges ... here.


Religious Hostility

Joan Warren reflects on religious hostility ...
Part One: http://joantwarren.com/2013/10/23/excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people-part-1/
Part Two: http://joantwarren.com/2013/10/28/excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people-part-2/
Part Three: http://joantwarren.com/2013/11/10/part-3-excuse-me-but-um-theyre-killing-people/


What do Chris Seay, David Gushee, Gabriel Salguero, and I have in common?

Find out here.


What could be finer than to be in San Jose, California, in late January?

I'll be speaking to Christian educators in San Jose, CA at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators Annual Event ConnectED. This is an excellent gathering - a great way to start the new year. Sign up here.


Dear Megyn Kelly ...

More here.


Meanwhile, over at my Facebook page ...

Yesterday I posted a short quote that hit a nerve.

Jesus did not say, "Blessed are the deserving poor," or "Blessed are the legally documented poor."

It's funny how sometimes a few simple words can stimulate more thought (or if not thought, reaction) than many complex ones.


Prayer for enemies

Yesterday a friend shared with me an experience many of us know. Over the last few years, he has been changing in his thinking, his theology, his core values … changing, he feels, for the better. But those changes meant, as he said to me, "When I went home, it wasn't home." When friends and acquaintances become critics and opponents, that hurts. So I shared with him this prayer that has helped me deeply over the years.
It begins …

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

More here.


The Advent Calendar you may need right about now ...

Thanks, Tom Willett!


A Christmas Message for those who want to go deeper than wrapping paper

From Sabeel ... If you don't already follow them, I hope you will:

Christmas Message 2013

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke2:8).

“…after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (Matthew 2:1).

The fact that the Christmas story mentions only two groups of visitors to the Christ child in Bethlehem, has, I believe, a theological significance. The shepherds in first century Palestine represented one of the lowest social strata in society. Religious tradition of Jesus’ day labeled them as unclean. They were marginalized, poor, and considered as the scum of society; while the wise men represented the well to do, the educated, and the scholars of their day. The theological implication is clear: God’s love for all people was expressed in and through the coming of Jesus Christ. This love welcomed both the shepherds and the wise men. True love does not differentiate between God’s children. In Christ, the evil of discrimination and bigotry is obliterated.

Moreover, the shepherds were presumably Jewish, while the wise men were foreigners. Since the wise men came from “the East,” a number of New Testament scholars have suggested that they came from Arabia. There is a further theological significance here. Both Jews and Arabs came to offer their homage to the Christ child. When we stand before God, not only do our social differences lose their importance, our racial differences are also eradicated. God’s love for all people was being communicated regardless of social and financial status in society and regardless of racial background. Not only do rich and poor, Jew and Gentile stand before God as equals, there are also no political boundaries. All are welcomed and accepted. In other words, when we stand before the holy, our racism and bigotry should melt away and we should become authentically human recognizing the other as a brother and a sister.

One of our most disturbing issues during this Christmas season is the situation of the shepherds and farmers of today, namely, the Bedouins of the Negev who are citizens of Israel. The Israeli government plans to Judaize the Negev by forcibly relocating tens of thousands of Bedouins from their ancestral lands on which most of them have lived for hundreds of years, long before the state of Israel came into being. Israel wants to force them away from their lands and traditional way of life for the benefit of Israeli Jewish citizens. It is essentially a land grab.* Many local and international human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s actions and policies as discriminatory and in violation of international law.

During this Christmas season, Sabeel calls attention to the plight of the Bedouin community of the Negev that numbers between 160 to 200 thousand, and where thousands of them are living in villages that the government of Israel does not recognize. Consequently, Israel deprives them of basic services like education, electricity, running water, and sanitation.

This year’s Christmas message emphasizes the fact that our faith demands of us to champion today’s shepherds and farmers—the Bedouins—and advocate for their rights. The appalling irony is that what the Jewish people longed for over the centuries when they were weak, they are unwilling to give to others now that they have become strong. For hundreds of years, Jews wished and longed for human dignity, equality, and respect for their human rights, but tragically, the Israeli government today is unwilling to grant the same to its own citizens, the Bedouins of the Negev.

Christmas affirms God’s love and concern for all human beings and especially to the most vulnerable, today’s shepherds and farmers, the Bedouin community of the Negev.


On behalf of Sabeel’s board and staff, I extend our best Christmas and New Year wishes to all our friends. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank all those friends who joined us at Sabeel’s 9th international conference in Jerusalem last month when we addressed the theme of the “Bible and the Palestine-Israel conflict.”

Naim Ateek

6 December 2013


Remembering Nelson Mandela

My South African friend John de Laar has written a beautiful liturgy of remembrance for Nelson Mandela, which you can find here. It is exquisite … for personal use, but especially for a group.

We thank you, God of Love and Justice,
that you are forever working within us and among us,
in our hearts and in our world,
to create wholeness and freedom,
compassion and connection,
equity and reconciliation;
And so we pray for your love and justice to fill our world,
as the waters cover the sea.

We pray for bold prophets to speak your truth
wherever our fears and certainties
drown out your wisdom;


A carol for this advent season


Q & R: Multiple Religious Identities?

Here's the Q:

Hope you're doing well! I caught your Q&A this morning on Facebook, about why you continue to identify as a Christian. In it, you make reference to the fact that Christianity is your heritage. This is an issue I've been wrestling with lately, and was hoping if you found a couple extra moments you could offer some encouragement and/or advice. I have no issues continuing to identify with other Christians--in other words, I don't feel the need to shy away from the label because of others. For me, I was raised in a Jesus-following home. But my family is Jewish. I was raised in a small Messianic congregation, worshipping Jesus within a Jewish context. I have distanced myself from the "Messianic Movement" as an adult, because I have issues with the exclusiveness and tribal mentality of many in that movement. While I was obviously raised in a Christian home, Christianity feels more like my background; Jewishness is my heritage. Calling myself a Christian has always been a challenge, because my Jewishness is so important to me. And as I have discovered the Emergent stream of Christianity (a much more "Jewish" expression/ethos of Christianity, in my opinion), I've tapped even more into my Jewish identity. I just...don't know how to reconcile the two. I love being Jewish. I love that inheritance. I also love Jesus. Is there a way you think I can gracefully and authentically combine the two without neglecting my Jewish heritage or affiliating myself with the Messianic movement?

Here's the R:
Thanks for sharing this challenging problem. It's a great example of CRIS (conflicted religious identity syndrome) that I talked about in my book.

I want to begin by further complexifying your problem into three problems.
1. On a personal level, I think you've become comfortable with what my friend Richard Rohr calls "non-dual thinking." For many people (especially those "in the first half of life"), you're either this or that, one or the other, and any mixing is seen as "compromise" or syncretism. But you've experienced the reality that you can in some creative ways be both/and. In Why Did Jesus?, I was focused on the challenge of Christian identity in a multi-faith, post-Holocaust world, and could only briefly mention the challenge of multi-religious identity. One of the best books on the subject that I'm aware of is "Without the Buddha I Could Not Be Christian" by Paul Knitter - which you might enjoy.
2. On a congregational level, of course, that creates problems, especially if you're part of a church where non-dual thinking is rare or forbidden. Interestingly, though, I'm finding more and more churches where multiple religious identity is welcomed. This, by the way, is one of the contributions of the "seeker movement." Churches have gotten comfortable welcoming people who are at various places in their spiritual journey, and they've become more open to the ways the Spirit leads different people differently.
3. On a more public level, you have the challenge of how you identify yourself most authentically and honestly without creating insult, offense, confusion, etc. I think of two Jewish friends who do this particularly well. You can read about them here.

At the end of the day, I think more and more of us find ourselves saying, with Paul, that "by the grace of God I am what I am," and "I become all things to all men" - not as an act of camouflage or subterfuge, but as a true expression of our human solidarity, because "in Christ, we recognize no one according to the flesh" any longer. That's a complex identity - but it is an honest and interesting one!


Two important events ...

We're almost sold out for this Friday-Saturday in Dallas ... I'll be completing a Bible survey with a workshop on the Epistles and Revelation. A great way to end 2013! Sign up here.

Then at the end of January, I'll be speaking to Christian educators in San Jose, CA. This is an excellent gathering - a great way to start the new year. Sign up here.


Excited to share new resources, more coming soon

This year, I've been presenting weekend seminars at Life in the Trinity Ministry in Dallas, TX. We've completed three, and as of next weekend, there will be four, giving an overview, from a fresh perspective, of the whole Bible.

The first three seminars, on the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and Acts, are available now. The final installment will be presented December 6-7 and will cover the Epistles and Revelation. (Last I heard there were only a few spaces left, so register ASAP if you're interested in attending "live.")

Also, LTM is re-releasing a popular 48-session podcast series that also gives an overview of the Bible. Sessions 1-8 are available. And my friend and colleague Joe Stabile has a great introduction to the Bible called Scripture 101, available now too.


Now there's an invocation!

Faith, Part 2 (Open Up) from Jimmy Bartz on Vimeo.

It would do my soul good to start every Sunday with this one ...


Begin Advent here ...

... wonderful advent resources ... from mentors and friends Tom and Christine Sine:

Here's the first weekly meditation ...


I wish I was there in Louisville ...

to take in this time with Wendell Berry. Next best to being there - this feature by Bill Moyers. Gosh - two of my favorite public figures in one show!

Quotable: "There are no sacred and un-sacred places. There are only sacred and desecrated places."

Begins at 1:50. If you have time for one poem, skip to 38:30.
Keep watching to see the piece on honeybees as well.


Hell, God, Love, Fear ...

Wisdom from Alan Bean, right here:

If you find this article useful, you'll enjoy one of my books, The Last Word and the Word After That.

Here's a recent Q about The Last Word ...

I loved the first two books of the New Kind of Christian Trilogy. I am a busy man and purchased the audio books. I was wondering if the last book, The Last Word and the Word After That would be available on audio at some point.

I love your writing and ministry. Keep up all that you are doing.

Here's the R:
Unfortunately, Christian Audio has not released the third book. You can find my other books that they've made available here:

If you'd like to encourage them to make the book available, you could send an email here:

I'd be pleased if they responded to customer requests and decide to release it along with the first two books in the trilogy.


Watch this ... and this, this weekend

A chance to view an important documentary on gay Christians (Seventh-Gay Adventists) ... for free until Sunday night here:

The basics are:

To see the film for free, simply go to http://buy.sgamovie.com/buy anytime between Wednesday, Nov. 27th through Sunday night, December 1st and input the coupon code watchfree to redeem your copy. It's DRM-free, so you can sync it to your phone, iPad or other device to share.

The film is available with English, Spanish, Portuguese and French subtitles.

Also, Eliel Cruz hopes you will listen to his heart, here:


Black Friday - YOU NEED THIS!

Ted Schwartz puts everything into perfect focus ...


A Black Friday Q & R: A Bleak Future?

Here's the Q:

I have loved reading about Rene Girard's mimetic theory in your recent book. I think the idea that we are all caught up in systems of intense rivalry and scapegoating is very enlightening and resonates very much with the training I received to become a counsellor.

The more I read about the theory, the more sense it makes. The only thing is, I am starting to feel troubled! Girard seems to predict a bleak future where we will be consumed by our violence. Is God just waiting for us to self destruct? This depresses me!

Other voices seem to suggest our violence has markedly declined in recent times (Stephen Pinker's book 'The Better Angles of Our Nature' for example). Perhaps Girard might argue this is merely the calm before the storm and in fact decreased ways to discharge our violence will ultimately lead to an explosion of it.

Then I look around my small corner of the world and I see abundant examples of good, evil and indifference in myself and others on a daily basis- but the good is definitely there. So I am confused.

I would love to hear your own personal take on this.

Here's the R:
You're right - in Girard's last few works, you can trace a growing sense of impending doom, about which two things need to be said.

1. Anyone who looks at current global crises (as I try to do in Everything Must Change) - and isn't deeply concerned - hasn't really faced the data.

2. Girard's sense of foreboding is intensified by insights from his theory, insights which suggest that humanity must make a choice between seeking to overcome human violence by violence and seeking to overcome human violence by peace. When weapons become increasingly catastrophic and increasingly available, and when religious communities don't seem to offer much in the way of peace-making formation and training, there is ample reason to be concerned.

Here is where faith comes in ... not faith that the problems will magically go away (which is childish faith) - but faith that we will seek to do the right thing with courage and resilience no matter what (which is mature faith). For Girard, doing the right thing meant warning us about the futility of our current path ... and if his "doing the right thing" works, the rest of us will do different things: clarifying, improving, and intensifying our efforts for "Tikkun Olam" AKA the dream or reign or commonwealth of God.

On this "Black Friday," we'll see how effectively our culture subverts Thanksgiving (which is an antidote to greed) with a baptism in greed, as if "to live is to shop and consume." That subversion can easily depress us, even paralyze us ... but if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed and depressed, we in a sense become part of the problem rather than the solution.

People who believe in incarnation and resurrection have resources to face insurmountable, "impossible" odds. Which is why Advent can subvert the subversion of Black Friday ... if we dare to believe.

On a practical level, this is why I've invested a lot this year in supporting emerging initiatives like Mesa and Cana. I hope others will join me in these and other good ventures at this critical time. To borrow the language of Black Friday, our future is "on sale" at the moment. If we don't invest in it now, the cost to save it will be much higher the longer we wait.


Presbyterian. Emergent. Even Canadian!

I was with Presbyterians in Toronto recently, and seminarian Reuben St. Louis passed on this well-written thesis ...


While we're feasting ... some are fasting

Learn more here.
And here.


Thankful for, thankful to

Today I'm thankful for ...
Family. We added two grandchildren to our clan this year. Both births had some extra drama, which makes us especially grateful for Mia and Lukas, who join Averie and Ella as four of the world's most loved grandchildren. It's a great joy for Grace and me to watch each of our adult children grow, mature, and thrive - in their families, their work, and their personal growth. I've also been blessed to have my parents close by and in good health for octogenarians, and Grace and I have a great set of siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts, uncles, and more. This has been a great y