McLaren and Other Emergents’ Newer Views, Part 5 of a Series

In previous posts, I tried to describe several aspects of the more recent views of Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell. Now, I will survey (all too briefly) various contributions they have made.

Here are some initial contributions. First, McLaren rightly stresses the need for being Jesus’ disciple now and live to impact the kingdom. He’s right that an emphasis upon “going” to heaven when we die, in order to avoid hell, is misguided. He’s not alone in this; Dallas Willard describes this as a “gospel” of sin management; we focus primarily on keeping sin under control, rather than living for Christ now.[1] Moreover, God’s character hasn’t changed, so since He cared deeply about justice in the Old Testament, He still cares about it now.

Second, he’s right that many evangelicals haven’t given due attention to environmental protection. Third, McLaren is right that systems and groups (even of Christians) can perpetuate and foster injustice. Evangelicals can easily focus on individuals’ sins and not carefully examine and expose injustices that systems can foster.

Now I will mention a more substantive contribution. These authors are very concerned that God on what they might call the received, “Greco-Roman” view can be coercive and violent. McLaren has identified how some evangelicals can act coercively or manipulatively.[2] For example, in evangelism, if we even give the impression that our aim is to win a debate with someone, we convey (even if unintentionally) that we don’t really care about the person him- or herself. Yet, Jesus showed loving care for those He talked with, such as the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).

Along these lines, many evangelicals have given scathing responses against McLaren. John Franke has picked this up too: “one of the lessons evangelicals could and should learn from Brian McLaren is the value of a generous and charitable spirit…. In my opinion, evangelicals lose support where they might not have because of their lack of graciousness and generosity. Even Hannibal Lector despised rudeness!”[3]

Moreover, some leaders of evangelical institutions can adopt controlling leadership styles, whether subtle (“light”) or overt (“heavy”). I have experienced situations where employees were expected to submit to their leadership like unto Christ (i.e., as the One who placed them in leadership). Yet, it hasn’t always been God’s will to do what some leaders believed and pushed for. In those cases, the expectation to submit to leaders can become manipulative and controlling.

I also think some evangelicals can manipulate (even unintentionally) and harm fellow Christians by stressing that they live out of their “heads,” through an imbalanced stress upon the intellect at the expense of the heart (especially the will and the feelings). I think this can happen unintentionally through well-meaning teachings that we should put our trust in the truths in Scripture, and then the feelings follow. We are told to not live by our feelings, for they aren’t reliable guides to truth. Instead, we are to live by faith in Christ, which comes primarily through scriptural knowledge and our assent.

Now, it is vital that we know and live by Scripture. Yet, the Christian life is about loving God with our entire being — being deeply united with His heart and mind. So, while our minds need to know, our hearts also must bow before Him. And that includes our wills and our feelings. If we tend to ignore or suppress our feelings, rather than be aware of them and what is going on in our souls, we can become “shut down” and not live in a deep unity within ourselves, others, or even the Lord. This is something I have learned from experience, and God met me deeply through counseling to help bring much healing.

In the next blog, I will look at another more substantive contribution I think they make, before moving on to problems with their views.

[1] For instance, see his Divine Conspiracy, ch. 2

[2] And I write as an evangelical.

[3] John Franke’s e-mail to Burson, cited in Burson’s Brian McLaren in Focus (Abilene Christian University Press, 2016), 268.