Brian McLaren — The Equation of Change
March 13, 2014

“Let's go back and look at our faith before it was reduced to a system, before it was reduced to a system of abstractions and beliefs. How can we rediscover our faith as a series of stories and as a series of encounters?”

Brian McLaren on the evolution of Christianity and the meaning of progressive Evangelicalism.

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SOF: Reality check. Ten years ago your focus on the Emerging movement (what? three shows in the past year?) might have made sense. Even then it was a tiny cohort and only influential within a small minority of people (many of whom are now atheists, deists, buddhists, or new agers) but it was at least a fairly wide topic of conversation. The movement today, though, is reduced to a handful of bloggers with an outsized sense of their own importance and influence talking mainly to themselves and a cabal of self-promoting conference speakers/consultants/writers/egoists. Their claim that they speak for the future of Christianity is laughably silly at this point and your carrying water for them really brings your judgment (or at least impartiality) into question.

As for McLaren, while he's correct that the form of warped Christianity that was created in the West to serve as chaplain to Modernism is deeply flawed and contains much that must be rejected if one wishes to be truly Christian, he is surprisingly unaware of how much the form of Christianity he imagines is nothing more than Christianity as chaplain to the new order. If he truly wants to restore Christianity his solution of transforming it into Moral Therapeutic Deism is hardly a winner.

Contrary to the opinion expressed in the previous comment, my own experience suggests that various elements of Emergence are becoming more and more prevalent in congregations that are bucking the current decline in church attendance and membership. In the case of my own lively church, a recent adult forum on Emergence attended by folks who had never been exposed to the concept revealed that we are moving into the Emergent stream without even realizing it. A large and flourishing church in our metropolitan area has begun referring to itself as Anglomergent in its printed communications and on its websites. This movement is much bigger than a handful of bloggers talking to themselves. It very well could be the salvation of Christianity.

Rearranging deckchairs on the anachronistic ship Religion. What Albert Einstein once referred to as the “mass indoctrination” “... of the most primitive superstitions”. May it soon sink once and for all and relieve the world of it's absurd and puerile truth claims not least damaging of which are its homophobia , misogyny, tribalism etc.

I could not disagree more with your commentary. Maybe you should consider your third sentence as looking at the speck in your brothers' (sisters") eye (s), without realizing your own plank. Perhaps you should be more charitable in your comments about being "truly Christian", if you searched more for His mind.

I've wondered why you haven't interviewed Bishop John Shelby Spong before now.

Me too!

The realization that "their questions were better than my answers" may be held by, I hope is held by, many religious leaders.

I am a stranger in this stange land of northwest Florida. Brian Mclaren speaks my language. Desperately seek those who connect with this way of viewing God and the religion of Gods beauty. I cant be the ONLY one here.

I am a witness to the spirit of what Brian is testifying about! Since the beginning God has sent his people/prophets to edify his children/church. As his Holy Spirit comforts, nurtures and reveals his Kingdom. Nations, Rulers, Warlords and Religious leaders have long since perverted and exploited the peoples for power and greed and all have met their demise. Yet be not afraid and claim the goodness and beauty that which has been revealed to you. Prophets, such as Abraham to Jesus, Buddah, Mohammed and you who have ears to hear continue to witness that the "KINGDOM HAS COME"! We re all lost souls. Strangers in a strange land. Rich and poor alike searching for deliverance one moment and then tempted by the deceiver the next.. Confronted by oneself to find fault in the past or foreboding in the future. Everything shall pass away. All evil shall be destroyed. Only his "WORD" which is his design shall last. No respect to Country, Race , Creed or Person. GRACE FOR ALL!

Loved the show and could relate with what Brian said. I need to check out his books. At times I thought I was listening to Richard Rohr in both content and his voice. Richard would be a great addition to your show. I had never heard of "the nones" and at first thought I might be classified there having given up Catholicism and organized religion quite some time ago. But I have been a spiritual seeker all my life so perhaps that isn't the category where I belong. Loved the end where he talked about the economics of disparity and his interaction with the farmworkers.

I usually try to catch "On Being" on NPR at 7am on Sundays.

This Sunday's guest was Brian McClaren, who takes an interesting approach to his Christian faith.

Some of what he is saying squares with contemporary Heathen (Asatru) approach to religion.
What I am speaking of is his belief that religion should be a series of stories, not a corporate system or a tool of government and empire.
Being polytheists, Asatruar also see room for all faiths and all gods in the wider world. You follow your gods, I'll follow mine.
I also like that he seemed to hint that monotheism is not true even in a Christian context since the Christians have a trinity.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear him admit that Christianity had been a tool for taking peoples land, gold and culture away from them, in the south Americas turning them into slaves, in the northern Americas putting them on reservations.
The only thing that was missing was an admission that this was just a re-play of what the church had done in northern Europe.
1500 years ago a northerly crusade invaded Europe in an attempt to wipe-out the old ways, burn the ancestors, steal land and resources and demonize the Gods. Why ? because the old way couldn't be repackaged and sold back to the people the way Christianity could. It was a capitalistic corporate model: "Create A Need And Sell A Product To Fulfill The Need"

Thank you, OnBeing!
Really good moving toward what the stories say to or in our hearts, and away from the 'lie' in be_lie_f (conceptualized, encapsulated, and concretized). Right on track! This is the direction in which our world is moving - and not just Christians. We're coming back into our bodies and getting out of our heads. Which of the great stories we choose doesn't matter. What matters is how they come to life in our hearts! Coming to life, and leaving the dead to bury their dead.

yes

The view presented by this week’s guest, Brian McClaren, and interviewed by Krista Tippett, did not jibe with my experience or my knowledge of history. Contrary to the belief expressed by both of the above, the movement I have seen in organized religion in the 80s and 90s was by far to the “Left” as seen in the embrace of personal spirituality and experience and the noisy petition for an increased government to take care of the needy and other, say environmental, issues (case in point, the Catholic bishop’s letters to the government calling for an expansion of programs for the poor and needy). The movement back to the political Right has only occurred in the last 5 years as a result of the experience, often repeated throughout history, of the government using a facade of concern for social issues to expand and solidify its own power and then turning against the religious leaders who had supported the rise to power. This has expressed itself in a movement among the Christian churches towards greater education and the development of more subtle, less abrasive, and more successful “debate tactics” and a distrust of government alliances.

Moreover, the confusion, expressed in this interview, of the historic Christian church with political government is Protestant revisionism at its worst. True, the heady and pivotal experience of Constantine’s support for the Christian Church has influenced the church throughout subsequent history but that experience also revealed the dangers of such an alliance. Constantine was also known for his extreme brutality. Similarly, the blame so skillfully applied to the Christian churches in this interview for the rise of Nazi Germany is also ridiculous. Brutal governments know that you only have to kill a few religious or other opposition leaders to insure silence or even compliance. One can not with integrity, though, blame the victim for the crime.

McClaren is apparently very charismatic but that does not make what he is saying, however logical on the surface, accurate, true or right. Equating Christian organizations with the egocentric machinations of secular governments with which they have to deal, while perhaps true now and again in this world of men, is itself political chicanery.

Regarding the issue of blame toward the Christian Church with the rise of Nazi Germany, notwithstanding the extraordinary heroism of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brian McLaren is on target.

I don't think you know your history any better than the person you are criticizing. The Religious Right has been around for decades not just the last 5 years.

As I read your comment, I was struck by something I had not considered before.....you're right, Protestants have moved toward a "personal spirituality"; hence all the non-denominational churches that embrace rock music and less formal rituals and services but stress community service as well as evangelism. And there also is the Catholic Church's advocation of gov't programs that support the needy.

But to suggest that mainstream Protestantism didn't start their conservative alliance with the Rupublican party back in the 1980's is disingenuous to say the least.

Besides Garrison Keillor, the most notorious former member of the Plymouth Brethren is Aleister Crowley.

Another option is to reconsider one's view of history. That Christianity became deformed by Constantine is a popular view, but it's not true, it's the Protestant view. The institutionalization of Christianity in the Church was a good thing: one can't blame colonialisation or the Holocaust on Christianity. And nothing wrong with Creeds. The Church mitigated their negative sides, the Catholic Church in fact condemned racial slavery in 1453. But the Catholic Church is also becoming less European. And your pointing out the problems with the economy and not to forget nuclear war is very good.

I don't see how institutionalizing a discussion of the divine could be a good thing. What happened in the 4th century is that discussion of who God is was suppressed. It was turned into a decision made by politicians and enforced by the military. Nonconformists were pushed out, churches and writings were burned. That it took until 1453 for the church to condemn slavery is a mark against them. Just ask the questions with an open mind, for example, what historical forces DID lead to the persecutions of Jews?

Is McLaren really an Evangelical pastor? How many books of the Bible has he read and taught from? I'm perplxed about his statement that; "mono religion is foreign to the Bible." This statement is somewhat ambiguous. Does it mean that there is no one true God? The Prophet Ezekiel asked a pertinent question, "How should we then live"? (Ezekiel 33:10). Should Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, and everybody else worship together under one roof? The Apostle Paul would say, God forbid! Therefore, I beseech McLaren to examine the Scriptures again. The meaning and the future of the Christian Church is and will always be; "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). The Apostle Paul was concerned about the gospel of Christ being perverted and warned the Galatians about this. He used the word accursed twice in Galatians chapter 1 to anyone who would preach another gospel. Paul never sought to please men and listen to what he said, "For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). You may call yourself an Evangrlican pastor, but you are not the servant of Christ if you preach another gospel. There is only one true God. The Judeo-Christian God. Two passages from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament made an exclusive declarations! (Isaiah 43:11, 45:22, John 14:6 and Acts 4:12).

Listen more closely,what he actually said was that mono-religious CULTURES were foreign in biblical times and he's correct in that assertion. Besides if there are no other Gods, why did yours need to instruct his people to not worship other deities or put them 'before me' ? The Gods of other faiths are as real and true for them as yours, like it or not.This type of judgmental attitude is exactly why I can appreciate most of the teachings of Jesus but can't deal with his so called followers

I was so excited hearing Brian macarena on chrsra Tippett,today,tat for thefit time inky life,that I can remember,I was talking to the radio and shouting wow wow.so said to myself I must find out who this guy is,may be I'll join,may be I'll work for him or with him
May be this is something that I would rely be interested in.so I couldn't wait and immediately spent two or three hours,on YouTube listening to BM ,being interviewed and delivering lecture. I'm sorry to say,my negative gut reaction,was as strong s the first:this really an accomplished salesma and by the way so are the church leaders who oppose him,under the covers they are one and the same.

I found this program fascinating and wonderful. A man of faith taking back his faith, aware of how institutional religion warped the origins. But the conversation needs to go further. Man created gods and then, God, to understand a world of mystery and danger. Prophets disseminated their beliefs and found followers. Early politicians discovered the power of "the Word" and institutiionalized the gospel. It seems OK to me that man created God. It is OK if there are lliteratures that we have come to accept as, well, gospel, if that serves a purpose of providing hope and faith in the unknowns of life. What isn't OK is the reliance on a fictional history, reinterpreted over hundreds of years, cannonized as truth, as if it were delivered all at once by a munifiscent being and his immaculate son. Credit to Brian McLaren for his quest to rediscover the origins of ancient folklore and for seeking the next antithesis.

I cried through the entire interview. Never have i heard anyone with the ablility to put into words the fragments of thoughts I have in regards to Christianity like Mr. McLaren did for me today. I have not identified as a Christian for about 15 years and dislike much of the system discussed, but have always had great respect for the messages of Jesus. Thank you for clarifying my thoughts and opening my imagination.

I should be more exact about the Catholic view of the Church. Catholics believe that the Eucharist has been with the Church since it's beginning at Pentecost, Jesus Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And that Jesus' presence is at the center of the Church and is it's protection and guide and motive force. So the Church has been guided, like Israel in the time before Christ, and can't go seriously wrong (as is suggested about the time of Constantine) but is protected from error, and continues to grow until it reaches the 'full stature of Christ' as St. Paul says. (Of course, Catholics have free will and can fail in how they live their faith, which was the criticism at the time of the Reformation that was legitimate.)

These days, I substitute the term diffuse for the concept of diversity. It helps me capture the subtleties of interdependence, flow, and the animating, intelligent force in whom we live and have our being. Think of aromatherapy diffuser reeds...

Excellent program. Much appreciate McLaren's perspective and insights, and his faith journey. I am a Lutheran by both upbringing, seminary training, and spiritual foundation. Fr Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Thomas Merton, Joan Chittister, John O'Donohue, numerous others, and now McLaren bring insight and wisdom to the second half of life spiritual work, to borrow Fr Rohr's phrase. Thank you for his interview. Blessings on your work.

Brian McLaren is a leader in the Progressive Evangelical movement – something I was unaware even existed. I really enjoyed Brian’s point of view, so much so that I purchased one of his books to read over the summer. The interview focuses intently on the idea of Progressive Evangelicalism, what it is, and how those two words have so many misunderstandings associated with them.
Far and away, the thing I was most impressed with was Brian’s outlook on religion. This may seem pretty basic, but I really appreciated his point of view, and would love to read more about his views. My girlfriend doesn’t practice any specific religion, but she talks about spirituality frequently. The way she speaks about spirituality really reminds me of the way the Brian talks about Jesus. It’s interesting, because Brian makes an important distinction between Christianity and Jesus. He even states that “Conversations about Jesus are completely different than conversations about Christianity”, meaning that we all understand what Jesus was about. But Christianity has so many different variations and belief systems, that it winds up turning people away.
Brian also spent a great deal of time discussing the importance of not only keeping religion out of politics, but keeping politics out of religion. I think many would agree that in America, we’ve seen a negative impact on both institutions by each other. Speaking of institutions, Brian had this amazing idea that related Progressivism to Religions – that institutions (governments, religions, whatever) constantly need movements knocking at the door to challenge and move them forward. This was certainly an “ah hah!” moment for me, and it’s stuck with me for days now. You can see that in religion with people like Martin Luther, in politics with people like FDR, and in society with people like Malcolm X. Society has the tendency to be still, but every movement forward has, on a whole, made for a better world, and we need people to keep doing that.

Voices on the Radio

is a leading Evangelical pastor and author of several books including A Generous Orthodoxy, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, and the forthcoming We Make the Road by Walking.

Production Credits

Host/Executive Producer: Krista Tippett

Head of Content: Trent Gilliss

Technical Director: Chris Heagle

Senior Producer: Lily Percy

Associate Producer: Mariah Helgeson

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