You are hereAn Interview with Brian McLaren

An Interview with Brian McLaren

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By Virgil - Posted on 30 January 2006

Brian McLaren, author of several books, including A Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian was kind enough to give up some of his precious time to answer some of my (our) questions. Brian has been indeed very generous towards us and allowed us to title our 2005 conference Preterism, A Generous Orthodoxy. Please join me in welcoming him to Planet Preterist. We are again very thankful for taking his time to share a slice of life and wisdom with us.Virgil Vaduva: Brian, thank you so much for this interview and for taking time to converse with us. Last year you graciously allowed us to title our yearly conference Preterism, A Generous Orthodoxy and we are very thankful for allowing us to also promote your books and communicate the same openness and understanding that you advocate. Have you seen the interest in a "generous orthodoxy" move beyond the boundaries of emergent circles since your first book came out?

Brian McLaren: Yes. I would say that part of what is happening is that emergent, as a conversation, has expanded to include mainline protestants, roman catholics, and others. I just heard the other day that the Archbishop of Canterbury has quoted the book affirmingly recently. I think a wide variety of people on both "sides" of the religious cold war between conservatives and liberals feel a desire for convergence and collaboration and mutual learning - rather than continuing polarization, attack and counterattack, reaction, and mutual criticism.

Virgil: Besides the immediate personal impact your work had on me, I think many Christians within the Preterist movement are being deeply affected by your work and by what Emergent is doing across the world. Why do you think that your message appeals to so many of us?

Brian: First, it's encouraging to hear you say that it does.
Theologies work as systems, don't they ... and they have a beginning, and middle, and an end, and the three are integrated into a single system. I think many of us are realizing that if we have one part mixed up, it will affect our understandings of the other two parts. I didn't start with any interest in rethinking eschatology, but of course eventually I had to realize that if I rethink one area, it will lead to rethinking other areas. I think many of us are in this kind of rethinking process - some starting from the beginning part by rethinking, perhaps, the relation of faith and science in relation to evolution and young-earth creationism ... some starting from the middle, as they re-examine what the gospel of the kingdom of God is supposed to mean, or the idea of integral or holistic mission ... and some starting from the end, re-examining eschatology. Wherever you start, you end up looking into the other areas too, I think.

Virgil: Reading A Generous Orthodoxy brought me to tears several times, and it is evident you speak and write from your heart. Why do you care so much? Why did you choose to leave the comfort of modernism for the heavily critiqued, less-traveled and unfinished road of post-modernism?

Brian: Well, I am not that brave by nature. I would have stayed in my comfort zone if left to myself, I imagine. But as a pastor whose main calling is evangelism, I've had to encounter seekers and their questions, and some of their questions got me thinking, and rethinking. Their questions became my own, and then sparked new questions for me. As you know, the terms modernism and postmodernism are heavily contested, and many in the religious world have a very different understanding of the terms than I do. (On top of that, their understanding of what I am saying is very different from mine too!) So I prefer to talk about questioning a conventional understanding of the gospel and the Biblical narrative in search of a more Biblical understanding.

After I started writing, I had so many people contacting me, saying that they were grateful someone was opening up some of these questions. I can't tell you how many people have told me they would have left the faith entirely otherwise. It seems like many of us in the faith - and even in Christian leadership - aren't satisfied with the status quo, and we share a sense that "something more" is out there, or perhaps I should say "back there," or "in there," residing in the Scriptures and our primal stories of the faith.

Virgil: Are you confident that the dialogue (or perhaps stone throwing) between liberals and conservatives will ever get past the deconstructive stage and move into a phase of constructive exchange of ideas, both into the theological and political spheres?

Brian: Sometimes I'm more hopeful than others. In the last few days, a particularly nasty round of stone-throwing and name-calling has taken place, and at the moment I'm pretty disappointed in the way people behave who claim to be speaking with or for God. Lately, I sense a growing humility among liberals, and even though I disagree with traditional liberalism in many ways, one can't help but think that grace flows downhill to humility's low places. At the same time, so many conservatives are embarrassed and broken-hearted by the rather arrogant and unthinking behavior of some of their colleagues, so there's humility there too. I'm hopeful wherever there's humility.

Virgil: I was very excited to see a preteristic book coming out of the emergent thought, in Andrew Perriman's book, The Coming of the Son of Man. What do you think about Andrew's book?

Brian: I think it's very stimulating. What's especially important, I'd say, is that Andrew presents a painstakingly careful re-examination of the Scriptures. Some people accuse anyone who departs from conventional views as jettisoning the Scriptures - but Andrew shows that this is not the case at all. I think any conversation and re-appraisal takes time - especially in the world of theology, and I hope that people won't try to foreclose on dialogue with name-calling, harsh rhetoric, and that sort of thing until these explorations reach their "fullness of time." A lot is at stake in these conversations - and very literally, the lives of thousands of people hang in the balance because if the dominant religious group in the country with the most weapons of mass destruction embraces an eschatology that legitimates escalating violence ... well, I hate to think about it.

Virgil: Do you feel that placing the Parousia of Jesus and the terrible events of the Apocalypse in a first-century context is important to how Christians today approach the various aspects of life, such as economics, environmentalism and involvement in politics?

Brian: This is one reason why I feel these subjects need to be addressed, even though doing so is painful for so many people. An eschatology of abandonment, which is how I would characterize certain streams of the left-behind approach, has disastrous social consequences. Ecology is marginalized - something we can't afford to do in an age of global warming and species extinction and habitat destruction. The rights of Palestinians are ignored in favor of the Israeli state - as if God is happy to bless some people at the expense of others. Any project geared toward improving the world long term is seen as unfaithful, since we're supposed to assume that the world is getting worse and worse. If people get involved in the world's affairs at all, it is for compassion more than justice - but as Micah said, what God requires involves more than mercy: it also involves justice - and again, humility.
An eschatology of domination, as you might find in some Reconstructionist circles, is similarly destructive and in my mind antithetical to the gospel's portrayal of how God exercises power. In a bizarre way, these two eschatologies can synergize - mixing abandonment and domination in a strange stew that is easily manipulated by imperialism.

So - I'm glad people are re-opening these issues. So much is at stake!

Virgil: Many Christians today are concluding that the message of Jesus was not as much about avoiding a future fiery existence (or spending eternity in heaven) but about the present, contemporary Kingdom of God, where we should and can live as God intends us to. What pressing societal issues you think Christians should tackle today with this context in mind?

Brian: This is very much what my current writing is focused on, so I'm so glad you're asking these questions. Let me mention the first key issues that come to mind ...

1. Ecology and stewardship of creation.

2. Consumerism and what has been called "theo-capitalism" - where personified abstractions like "the economy" or "free markets" are given god-like status.

3. Reconciliation between races and religions - so we can avoid a set of dangers including bland, mushy syncretism, violent fundamentalism (by both terrorists and super-powers), and a resurgence of secularism (in response to fundamentalism).

4. Extreme Poverty - which is all the more horrific when the means to end it are available to us.

5. Sexuality and family - I'm especially interested in the ways that advertising creates a sexualized culture that undermines family life and sexual sanity.

6. Nationalism, tribalism, militarism, and neo-colonialism - do we have a vision of a better world of plowshares and pruning hooks instead of swords and spears? What will we do to stop genocide?

Eschatology affects the way we approach all of these issues.

Virgil: I am puzzled by the uneasiness displayed towards you by some critics, including some in our own movement. You have been accused of heresy, universalism and relativism. If you were in a room full of critics today what one thing would you say to them to connect with them and encourage them to reconsider what your mission and your message is all about?

Brian: I'm not sure. If you have advice, I'd welcome it! Perhaps I'd say, "Let's pray together." Or perhaps, "Let's read 1 Corinthians 13 together." Or maybe I'd ask permission to share my story with them. But these days, I think that being in a room full of critics would require me not to say anything, but instead to listen and if possible, serve. So maybe I'd say, "Can I get you a cup of coffee? Can I hang up your coat for you? Can I make you a sandwich?"

Virgil: As we are also trying to also put a new face on our own movement and transform it into "a new kind of Preterism," and move beyond the theoretical fundamentalism into the practical, tangible aspects of Christianity and the realized presence of Christ, we are encountering the same friction and opposition that perhaps you have already encountered when dealing with a target audience that sees all things in black and white. Do you have any advice for us on how to better build bridges and construct better channels of communication with other believers?

Brian: Again, I wish I did. I think you are very perceptive to put the focus on "the realized presence of Christ," because that is key. I also think you're perceptive to identify the underlying problem not as mistaken eschatology but as "theoretical fundamentalism" and "black and white" thinking. Sometimes I think that people who are thoroughly indoctrinated and habituated into this kind of system will not be able to break free from it without experiencing both psychological and social dislocation and disorientation.
Psychologically, if a person has built his or her entire life on a certain methodology, it would be incredibly hard to consider an alternative. And socially, many groups are so full of fear - the fear of being viciously attacked and discredited and disowned, the fear of being called "liberal" or whatever - that families and friendships would be shattered the moment anyone began to change. And families and friendships are precious things. (This may be the kind of thing Jesus was referring to when he spoke of bringing, not peace, but a sword.) I think the most compassionate thing is to simply love people, not push them to change, and not be intimidated by them either, and to bless them if they persecute you for failing to toe the party line.

The only way forward I can see is for a few people to be willing to have their reputations trashed and their names vilified. If they can survive that with a good spirit and with their faith, hope, and love intact, it will make it easier for others to step out in faith also.
It's always hardest for the first few, and casualties are probably always high in the beginning. Through all of this, of course, you can only be sustained by maintaining primary spiritual disciplines - prayer, worship, tithing, meditation on Scripture, fellowship, etc.

Perhaps, as with the children of Israel in the desert, a new day will only come when a new generation rises up and comes of age.

Virgil: Thank you again for your gracious attitude Brian, and for your time. Do you have any other words of wisdom for your Preterist fans out there?

Brian: I think all of us are on a journey, all in process. It takes a long time to unlearn old habits and ways of seeing and to learn new ones. I'm grateful to people who have the courage to voice an alternative to the eschatologies of abandonment and of domination ... The more I get a glimpse of what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God," the more inspired I am to live by that good, good, good news.

You mentioned "a new kind of Preterism" before. That's an interesting thought. I think a lot of Preterist thinking has, to this point, tried to get a new vision of the ending of the Biblical story without rethinking conventional ways of seeing the middle or beginning. And as you said, it has often maintained a kind of fundamentalist methodology and attitude. That's why people like Andrew Perriman and Tim King and N. T. Wright and others have a lot to offer at this juncture, in my opinion: they're rethinking eschatology, but they're doing so with a different tone - less strident, less polemical, more inspiring and holistic. That would probably be my advice to those seeking "a new kind of Preterism." Don't get stuck in small arguments about details, as important as arguments and details may be; step back and catch the big picture of the whole Biblical story - and try to convey the beauty that you see. The good news is truly good, and our world truly needs it!

Flakinde's picture

"So I prefer to talk about questioning a conventional understanding of the gospel and the Biblical narrative in search of a more Biblical understanding."

Very refreshing to see a reknowned Christian figure acknowledging that there is actually a dichotomy between the conventional and the Biblical in our days.

Godd stuff, Virgil, congratulations on landing this one. And thanks Brian for sharing!

Blessed,

A. Rodríguez

Virgil's picture

Alex, what that sentence made me think of was the question: That's exactly what Jesus did..he questioned the conventional...we are always suppose to do so I believe because the establishment and the conventional will always stem from complacency and arrogance I believe. I hope our movement can and will get over these things and become truly a life and world-changing movement.

Thanks for being part of it :)

tracydanger's picture

Where's the audio version?

Jamie's picture

I forgot you can't read...poor thing :) They don't make reading a requirement for PhD programs anymore...where is education going today?

psychohmike's picture

Brian: "I think many of us are in this kind of rethinking process - some starting from the beginning part by rethinking, perhaps, the relation of faith and science in relation to evolution and young-earth creationism"

Looks like Brian has been reading some of Tim Martin's work...Maybe even "The Origins Solution" By Dick Fischer.

8) Unfinished Mike

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Mike,

Wait till you see the new "completely rewritten" book. The first two chapters (not posted here at PP) begin right where McLaren hits with that paragraph.

Stay tuned. This could get exciting.

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

psychohmike's picture

What do you mean could get...IT ALREADY IS 8)

Mike

Virgil's picture

Yes, Tim really needs to send a copy of that book his way. :)

Mick's picture

Mickey E. Denen

Mick's picture

Hey Virgil, I think the first free copy of Tim Martin's to go to PP shoud go to a columnist for PP that has a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Doctoriate of Medicine. Such a person would clearly be well trained to review the science as well as the theology. Can you think of anybody with those qualifications?
Mick

Mickey E. Denen

vinster's picture

Hey Tim, When will the "completely rewritten" book be available to purchase??
Vinster

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Vinster,

I have a new co-author. He and I are working hard. I'm guessing summer. We'll announce here when it's ready.

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

davo's picture

Man THAT was refreshing -- thankyou Virgil, Brian :)

davo

chrisliv's picture

Well; great qoute,

"The only way forward I can see is for a few people to be willing to have their reputations trashed and their names vilified. If they can survive that with a good spirit and with their faith, hope, and love intact, it will make it easier for others to step out in faith also. It's always hardest for the first few, and casualties are probably always high in the beginning."

How about renouncing a state-incorporated, 501 (c) 3 status Church? That would certainly "trash" your reputation; Amen!

Otherwise, a good interview!

Peace to you all,
Christian Livingstone

vinster's picture

Hey Virgil,

Thanks for taking the time to give us a piece of Brian's mind. Some of us folks here, including myself, were a little bit leary about him, cuz we didn't know where to place him.
When he said, "But as a pastor whose main calling is "evangelism", I was comforted in knowing that his concern is to bring souls to Christ and to help them to understand their purpose in the Kingdom now.

Also Virgil, you mention a book by Andrew Perriman as a preterist book, but I don't know if he's a full-pret. This is part of the review of his book on amazon: "By seeing the fulfillment of much of New Testament apocalyptic in events of the first century,"....(emphasizing "much", but not all).

Just some thoughts, thanks again. Vinster

Virgil's picture

Vinster,

I am not concerned with the full or partial aspect of Andrew's book, and I can't say anything about it since I haven't read it yet. Regardless of his full/partial status, I am willing to work with Andrew to reach the goals that both us and Emergent have in common. These are comprehensive goals that we have in common, not selfish and self-promoting.

I am tired of the constant bickering and arguing between preterists. It accomplishes nothing, so we will move forward to building bridges and relationships and leave the rest behind to their stone-throwing which they seem to be enjoying so much.

- virgil

JL's picture

Vinster,

McLaren contrasted Perriman's preterism to Gary North's partial preterism. That ought to be a clue.

There are some things an author has to consider.

Tim's a full preterist, but the thesis of his book is perfectly adaptable for partial preterists. I believe he uses only one verse that Kenneth Gentry would dispute. Both Gary DeMar and Jim Jordan accept that passage as fulfilled. Does Tim want to limit his audience to only full preterists by saying "all?" For the sake of that audience, Tim says "much (or all)," but the parenthetical comment gets tedious.

It's a long leap from dispyism to full preterism. Convince a dispy that only one thing that he thought was future is truly fulfilled, and he's now a partial pret. Convince him of a second, and he's still a partial pret. How many more things do you have to convince him of before he makes the final leap?

Some people will never make that leap. You will have to convince them on absolutely every single point. As long as they can think of one more thing that you can't answer fully, they will remain a partial preterist. (And there are still passages we don't have good answers for.) Do you want to leave those people fully behind? Or do you want to take them part way with you?

These are tough choices an author must make. He risks taking the audience only part way, but he increases that audience.

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

vinster's picture

Hey Bro, I meant nothing derogatory or demeaning about his purpose. I was assuming that Virgil thought that Perriman was a full-pret, but wasn't even knocking Virgil's purpose of furthering the kingdom with full or partial prets. I'm sorry if you both took my post in the wrong way, (though not your fault). Maybe I should have been a bit more detailed as to what I meant.

You said,
"Some people will never make that leap. You will have to convince them on absolutely every single point. As long as they can think of one more thing that you can't answer fully, they will remain a partial preterist. (And there are still passages we don't have good answers for.) Do you want to leave those people fully behind? Or do you want to take them part way with you?"

You are correct and I wasn't,nor, would I fight against that.
In His Kingdom, Vinster

JL's picture

Vinster,

I didn't think you were being derogatory or demeaning. It's not clear to me whether Perriman is full or partial. If we read his book, it still might not be clear.

You brought up an important issue. I think this issue needs discussing. Personally, Virgil's "Can't we all just get along," response bothers me. I was just trying to add another perspective that I wanted everyone here to understand.

If Perriman hedges, he's got good reasons to. If he doesn't, but the review hedges, there's good reasons for that also. And if Perriman is a PP, then he hasn't hedged at all.

Think how many sales Ken Gentry has lost from full preterists. We could use his work, but why sweat the grief he gives us?

Think how many sales Gary DeMar gets from full preterists? Yes, we wish Gary was one of us. But since he's nice to us and helps our cause, we try to reciprocate.

Funny thing is, after all my observations, Virgil's "Can't we all just get along," starts looking like a good conclusion.

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture

"Funny thing is, after all my observations, Virgil's "Can't we all just get along," starts looking like a good conclusion."

I will take any compliment from you JL...they don't come very often :) I must admit...you are one tough critic to please, which is a good thing. We need people like you around here.

JL's picture

I thought highly enough to subscribe. Doesn't that count?

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Virgil's picture

Of course it counts! I am looking forward to meeting you face to face one day. Perhaps you and BigD can come to one of our conferences one year.

JL's picture

One of these days. Or you can come by when you take the kids to Disneyland.

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

vinster's picture

Hey JL, Have you read Dick Fischer's, "The Origens Solution" and is it a worthwhile read??

I've seen some talk about it here on planetpreterist, but still debating whether to get it on Amazon. Vinster

JL's picture

I think it's extremely worthwhile. I think it was also the hardest book I've ever read. It took me 6 months of excruciating effort. Not that the book was that badly written, but because it took that long for the changes it made in my view of Genesis to take hold. (Some people can read it as an intellectual exercise, I couldn't.)

I found it very hard (for several months) to accept his suggestion that Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 were separate creations and that the others besides Noah's family survived the Flood. (On the second issue, I hadn't read Tim's book yet.)

Once I did, I actually came to a lot of Tim's conclusions about the connection between preterism and a local flood from a completely different direction. (Tim's book helped a lot with finally settling the issues though.)

Fischer is a dispy, so take that into account. Fischer calls himself a theistic evolutionist, but he's really closer to an old earth creationist than a true TE. He demonstrates that Scripture allows a lot of evolution. But his model really doesn't require any evolution, nor does he believe science allows as much evolution as Scripture allows.

Eventually, it all made great sense to me, especially as a preterist.

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Kyle Peterson's picture

Wow. Probably like most of you I've been feeling this way for a few years now - that this is much, much bigger than just getting our theology right. How do we LIVE it? It's people like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell that can articulate what we've been thinking all along and inspire us to do more than just study verses. Definitely much bigger.

Flakinde's picture

I'm right there with you, Kyle . . .

A. Rodríguez

Virgil's picture

I am glad and encouraged to see this trend in Preterism :) We "infected" all of you guys...can we at least take credit for that?

Flakinde's picture

No Virgil, you can't. :)

Seriously, the more I think of a more "practical" Preterism, the more I think there is really no other way. Yeah, yeah, I know that for years Preterists haven't quite had this concern, maybe not as strongly as I'm seeing now . . . but how dead can a theology that is not lived out be? Did our Lord say we would light the world through showing our "perfection" in eschatology, or maybe through our boasting to other Christians that we have the truth and they don't?

I don't want to abandon serious Bible study, nor good solid apologetics, those will always be essential . . . but I really want to see more emphasis (starting from myself) on how realized eschatology, and the awareness of the reality of our Lord's full presence, impacts our daily living to produce more good fruits, more light on this world, more leaves for healing, more and more people drinking clean water. I tell you confidently, when we start speaking about these things, people will listen to us then.

Blessed in His rest,

A. Rodríguez

Virgil's picture

Alex, your thoughts are my thoughts my friend. Practical is what I am concerned with. I have seen way too many "preterists" spitting out great theology and barely being able to present any tangible and practical benefits of our movement. It is time we say "enough" and start making some changes.

davo's picture

Below is a snippet from a recent two part podcast interview with Brian McLaren:

The question was posed – If hell is true, is the meaning of the cross false advertising?

"This is one of the huge problems with the traditional understanding of hell… because if the cross is in line with Jesus teaching then I won't say the only and I certainly won't say the primary but… a primary meaning of the cross is that the Kingdom of God doesn't come like the kingdoms of this world by inflicting violence and coercing people but that the Kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing voluntary sacrifice right? But in an ironic way the doctrine of hell basically says no but that's not really true… again God gets his way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination… just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn't the center then the cross is almost a distraction and false advertisement for God." – Brian McLaren

Bleeding Purple Podcast part 1
SUNDAY, JANUARY 08, 2006
Blog page HERE

Or simply right click and download the mp3 HERE

Bleeding Purple Podcast part 2
THURSDAY, JANUARY 12, 2006
HERE

Or simply right click and download the mp3 HERE

davo

Virgil's picture

I really want to find the time to sit down and listen to these interviews. While I think the premise "If hell is true, is the meaning of the cross false advertising" is invalid, I am willing to consider the arguments.

I am continually amazed by the kindness and generosity of the folks in Emergent, and I am thankful we are having a budding relationship with them and I hope it develops into something more...assuming it won't get trampled on by the extreme nimrods out there who are apparently bent on destroying everything we are trying to do.

davo's picture

Yeah I think they are a good listen -- and the "premise" in context will make sense etc; it was related to McLaren's "Last Word After That" book -- though the discussion was also around "fulfillment" etc. Quite interesting.

davo

Randude's picture

I think I understand what he is saying. I grew up in churches that the primary motive for "getting saved" was to avoid hell. I heard many messages on the torments of hell and in many cases it was the one focus of providing a reason to have a relationship with God. As I look closer at this and the overall purpose of the scripture, this was just plain wrong. Whatever you believe about hell, the purpose of the Bible was to point man back to a relationship with God. In some ways, isn't an eternal lifetime without God Hell in itself?

Virgil's picture

Dude,

I just now got around to listening to this interview with Brian. Honestly, I found the Purple Heart "guy" (I really don't know what his name is) a bit annoying and unable to keep clear thinking in line. Brian brought up fulfilled prophecy several times and even named Max and Tim, yet he was ignored.

Good interview overall, very little substance coming from the host - I think Brian did very well.

davo's picture

Virgil: I really want to find the time to sit down and listen to these interviews.

Virgil: I just now got around to listening to this interview with Brian.

LOL. Well that's not bad going -- Feb 1st to Aug 6th -- hmm, maybe some lag left over from your former futurist eschatology ;)

cya "soon" :P

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