Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time
Return with You Now to Those Thrilling Days of the Hippy Generation
Some folks never extricated themselves from the nutty, chaotic days of the 1960s and early 1970s. A number fried their brains on drugs, some are still “tripping” and waxing eloquently about Woodstock and about how Vietnam was a “quagmire,” others (men) are still growing their ponytails and wearing their marijuana T-shirts, and still others have taken to flying all over the world, leaving a clear and discernible carbon footprint, to visit the poor. You see it’s okay to pollute the planet if you’re going to report on someone who lives in squalor, but not if you’re flying to visit Aunt Bea.
Brian McLaren has a new book out that purports to be a kind of “ethics” entitled Everything Must Change. What a title! Everything Must Change and Everything Must Change. There is an air of inclusiveness as well as obligation tied up in this latest work by Mr. Birkenstock himself. The sub-title gives away the plot of the book: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. Apparently, Bri’s buddy, Jim Wallis didn’t do an adequate job of regaling us with left-wing politics (under the guise of “neutrality” on the subject) and sloppy biblical exegesis, so Bri is going to set the record straight. Well, sort of set the record straight within the thought structures of the Emergent church movement, which isn’t all that helpful since they don’t believe you can ever have certainty.
When you stop and reflect on what they’re saying for a moment it is a self-destructive assertion, isn’t it? If there can be no certainty about right and wrong, why am I reading a book written by an Emergent? More importantly, why are they writing it? What’s the point? If we cannot know; if we cannot have certainty why spend so much time and ink outlining a program or points if it really doesn’t matter in the first place? The Emergent non-truth truths are about as funny as Jean-Paul Sartre spending 798 pages (in the English version) in Being and Nothingness explaining that man is an absurd passion? Just say that you think man is a cipher and be done with it. Most Emergent books could be quite short. All they would have to do is to repeat (drone on about) their mantra: we cannot know anything for certain.
Bri and the boys don’t really believe what they say in the practice, however. Otherwise, why would Bri take 327 pages (including endnotes) to tell us that we can never really know anything? For example, he makes a big deal out of global warming. Apparently, with Al Gore’s help, some things actually are knowable—that the earth’s temperature rose one degree over the last 100 years. Is it getting hot in here or is it just me? When I was born in 1945 that summer it was 80 degrees; the summer of 2007 it was 81 degrees and you could definitely feel the difference—like global warming. We just can’t know anything about the atonement or homosexuality.
To be a little more serious for a moment before I slide back into jocular mode I do want to warn modern Christianity that it is my settled conviction that Brian McLaren is a false teacher. What he says is, by and large, destructive, incorrect, and heterodox. He is not some poor misguided soul. He is a man on a mission; a man with an agenda and it is not a spiritually healthy one. This man is detrimental to your spiritual health. His exegesis of Scripture is either horribly sloppy or non-existent. Some of the statements I read in his new book—and we’ll look at them—either verge on blasphemous or cross the line. McLaren is dangerous and serious Christians should stay away from him and his books. I hope this will become increasingly obvious as I walk you through his latest book. So buckle up and let’s get into his latest work.
I trust my colleagues in the PCA and at our MNA headquarters, who think the Emergent church movement is funny and cute, will take time out from their busy schedules to read this book and discover for themselves how deleterious and seditious it really is. The time to inform PCA church members that this is not some cutesy little movement where stealing from the wealthy is somehow amusing (Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz) has past. The two PCA reviews I read found the Emergent church amusing and had nothing to say about how dangerous it is. In addition, it’s also past time to warn PCA members that if they are imbibing of emergent material they are harming their souls. Some have told the PCA how funny these guys are; now it’s time to step up to the plate and warn them about how dangerous this movement is. They might even upbraid those PCA churches that have gone to contemplative and breath prayer, prayer labyrinths, and votive candles.
The above is the title of the introductory chapter in McLaren’s new book. Bri believes that if we’re going to get anywhere—I still can’t figure out why he’s concerned about this as an Emergent—he has to convince us of some things. First, we needed to be convinced that he’s not another “blah-blah-blah person ranting about how bad the world is and how guilty you should feel for taking up space in it.” Having read the book from cover to cover I’m convinced that McLaren gets an “F” on this point.
Second, he has to convince us that he can help me understand some highly complex material and make it not only accessible but maybe even interesting and inspiring. If he means by this quoting liberals and other pseudo-scientists like Al Gore and George Soros favorably then again he get an “F.”
Third, it’s his hope that when we’ve finished the book, we’ll not only understand the world and our place in it better, but we’ll also know how we can make a difference. Right. That’s like watching Sesame Street and knowing more about baking by watching Cookie Monster. Clearly, Bri’s infantile charts helped little. Moreover, did you notice how Bri slipped up and stated that we would actually know—that’s his word—how we can make a difference. Bri is one funny guy!
Not only is he funny but he is also a very caring person. Why Brian cares about billions of people. How do I know that? Well, I really can’t know it, but you know what I mean. I know—sort of—because Bri tells me he does. Listen: “I care about the billions of people I’ve never met and never will meet, including people who might be called my nation’s enemies.” It’s in vogue and chic to be a caring person these days. Why there are billions and billions of people out there that I can spend time embracing, loving, and caring about in my mind everyday. It’s takes a little while to contemplate billions of people, but if you break it down in bite-sized meditation—you know, a couple a million a day—then you can eventually get around to caring about everyone. I do take exception, however, to Bri caring about those who might be called his nation’s enemies. I think he ought to leave Barbra Streisand (Ms. B.S.), Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, and Cindy Sheehan out of this.
But there is more: Bri doesn’t stop at people he also cares for raccoons, gopher tortoises, red dragonflies, and woodland ferns as well. At this point, we’re trying to figure out—as much as we can without being certain and knowing—why everything must change. It probably would have come across as being a “Bible thumping fundamentalist” to have suggested that God gives us a “dominion mandate” in Genesis 1:26-28. But caring Bri is not that kind of “in-your-face; ram-the-Bible-down-your-throat” type of person, especially since he’s got so many other liberal friends that can ram their junk science and pacifist views down our throats and they’re just a footnote away.
Here’s Bri’s approach: “As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I’ve been involved in a profoundly interesting and enjoyable conversation for the last ten years or so. It’s a conversation about what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’—not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, not a stuffy traditionalist, not a blasé nominalist, not a wishy-washy liberal, not a New Agey religious hipster, not a religious imperialist, and not an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic—but something fresh and authentic and challenging and adventurous.”
This is better than any self-help book you can buy at any Christian bookstore that doesn’t carry Christian theology books but carries this kind of drivel, glow in the dark portraits of Jesus, an assortment of coffee mugs, and breath-sweetening “testa-mints.” Why Bri has culled out everything nefarious, angry, reactionary, stuffy, blasé, wishy-washy, and overly enthused and for a mere $21.99 plus tax he will inform us how to reach this golden mean and that in a book printed on acid-free, environmentally friendly paper using approved green printing standards. It is an environmental excursion into excellence where we come to know being a stuffy traditionalist is definitely wrong. After reading the book I was a little disappointed that Bri never really addressed the issue of how to be a Bible-waving fanatic without becoming overly enthused. No doubt, he’ll treat that ethical dilemma in his next exciting and informative volume. We’re only left to ponder what a Bible-waving fanatic would look like who is not overly enthused.
Having informed us just how caring and balanced he truly is, Bri proceeds to tell us a little about what this book on how we cannot know anything with certainty is all about. He writes, “So this is a religious book, but in a worldly and unconventional and ultimately positive way, a way some nonreligious people would probably call ‘spiritual but not religious.’” Got it? It’s a worldly religious book that is—in some vague, ethereal sense—spiritual but not religious, whatever those words mean. Man, I wish I could write with that kind of clarity!
Bill Dahl, a freelance writer, recently held a mega-softball interview with McLaren about his new book. Bill is a funny, wacky, and zany guy. His picture at the end of the interview has Bill (who didn’t, by the way, make it out of the hippy era) in a snowy forest (he’s a gnome or wood nymph) wearing swim goggles and a breathing apparatus and a Korean War-esque pile cap. You can’t tell from the picture, but he is probably working on his ponytail.
Bill lobs this one up to the plate: “At the beginning of the book ( p.3) you write: ‘And not only am I often unsatisfied with conventional answers, but even worse, I’ve consistently been unsatisfied with conventional questions.’ One interpretation of this remark might be, ‘conventional questions produce conventional answers.’ Is it your position that a large proportion of professed Christians have succumbed to a convenient living out of their faith that is askew with the teachings and life of Christ?” Whoa! Tough one! How will caring balanced Bri handle such a difficult question? Let’s listen.
“Well, I think many people are doing their best to live out their faith in sync with the teachings and life of Christ, but it’s not easy to figure out what that means, especially in changing times. Some things are easy—like knowing you shouldn’t hate or commit adultery or kill. But pretty quickly, it gets complex—like knowing whether pre-emptive and hastily-launched wars fit under killing, for example. And that gets to what I mean about conventional questions. We have lots of religious arguments about the origin of the species, but far fewer dialogues about the extinction of species and what we can do to save species that we all agree are precious parts of God’s creation. We have lots of religious arguments about homosexuality, but far fewer conversations about the growing gap between rich and poor and what we can do about it. We argue about what to do about abortion, but we seem much less concerned about what to do about racial disharmony and political polarization and how we can be peacemakers and reconcilers. I’m not saying the common arguments are unimportant, only that less common questions deserve a lot more attention. I hope my book will help in that regard.” (Italics mine.)
Or try this from the book: “Why do we need to have to have singular and firm opinions on the protection of the unborn, but not about how to help the poor people and how to avoid killing people labeled enemies who are already born?” Now here’s the deal: In the answer that Bri gave to Bill the Gnome softball player and in the quote just cited—in fact throughout the book—he has precious little to say about abortion but lots and lots to say about the war and fossil fuels. Apparently, abortion is not all that big a deal for Bri because he rarely mentions it.
Of course the short answer to his many questions is that dealing with ethics isn’t an either/or proposition. In point of fact, many, many books have been written on every subject he listed—good books; biblical books. Apparently Bri isn’t aware of them. Moreover, “conventional answers” (read: those that are well thought out, biblical, but in opposition to what Bri thinks) are out. However, it might not hurt McLaren to pause and reflect upon many of the sound and solidly biblical writings that have given us biblically reasoned answers to questions such as abortion, homosexuality, war, pre-emptive strikes, fossil fuels, global warming (or freezing, depending on when you’re living), welfare, poverty, socialistic income redistribution, and a host of other ethical subjects. But if you don’t know and can’t know what does it matter anyway?
One of his pseudo-non-conventional questions goes like this: “Or why are we so concerned about the legitimacy of homosexual marriage but not about the legitimacy of fossil fuels or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (and in particular, our weapons as opposed to theirs)?” I’m certain—as certain as I can be of course—that one of the reasons that we’re concerned about so-called homosexual marriage is because some of us are convinced that even given postmodern contextualization that God, in his self-revelation, says that homosexuality is an abomination. To Bri’s mind, God must be an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic, since he inspired it. Was Bri concerned about fossil fuels when he flew all over the world to speak about the dangers of global warming or did he travel across the ocean in an outrigger canoe? The proliferation of WMD? Ours? Bri must have been smoking something during the Cold War because it just was completely off his radar that the threat of nuclear destruction did not come from the U.S. side but from the former U.S.S.R. Moreover, it is true—relatively speaking—that not one person got shot fleeing West Germany for East Germany, but the converse is not true.
To date, I have not heard of the U.S. having rape chambers or decapitating anyone on Al Fox News, but I think we have some footage of that being done by the other side. Bri’s naiveté defies all logic. Why in the world is there reason to believe that I should be deeply concerned about the U.S. using nerve gas on anyone? There is very good reason, however, to believe that the Taliban or al Qaeda would not hesitate for a heartbeat to use it on us if they could. What Bri just doesn’t get is that they would murder him in a nano-second even though he’s cool and wears Birkenstocks. Why would they murder him? It would be because he’s an American.
But, old Bri reminds us that “Part of what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’ is to discover or rediscover what the essential message of Jesus is about.” Is he sure? When will we know that we have discovered or rediscovered the essential message of Jesus? When did people know in the past? Did they know in the past? Has Bri been the sole discoverer of what others failed to understand?
But what the new kind of Christian—you know, like Bill Dahl—will want to do is to figure out how they can fit in with God’s dreams—those are his words, folks, not mine. Yep, that’s what I’ve been about for a while: figuring out what “God’s dreams” might be and how I fit in. Most of you dullards probably didn’t even realize that God had hopes, dreams, and aspirations, so this will come as a real revelation to you—relatively speaking. So when you put your heads on your pillows tonight you can ponder what kinds of divine dreams God is having and why Bill Dahl is wearing swim goggles in the middle of the forest. Before you know it, the whole world will make sense to you and you’ll realize that you have become a new kind of Christian.
 Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).
 See Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, (
 McLaren, EMC, 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2-3. Italics mine.
 Ibid., 3.
 A special thanks to Dr. John “Lips” Bumgardner for sending this interview to me.
 McLaren, EMC, 3.
 Ibid., 3-4. Italics his.
 Ibid., 4.
Labels: Emergent Church