Sunday, April 16, 2006

Where Emergent Goes Bad (2) - What Defines a "Christian?"

Naming Christ Makes Someone a True Christian

A related fallacy to this is assuming any action or person that happens to mention “Jesus” is an example of true Christianity. McLaren’s slipshod treatment of the Spanish Roman Catholic explorer Pizarro is an easy example of this. Pizarro betrayed the Incan King and killed him and thousands of his men in the name of Christ.[1] McLaren goes to great pains to repent of this action and express regret for it... as a fellow Christian with Pizarro. Of course, he anticipates that some would distance themselves from Pizarro, but having already suggested that he himself is “catholic” he sees no issue in owning this sin – even going so far as to instruct the reader to put down the book and “breathe a prayer.”[2] But there is much that is questionable in this.

First off, was Pizarro a genuine believer? There is little evidence to suggest so. Just because someone claims to be doing something in Jesus’ name does not mean they really are, nor does it mean they really have a clue who He is! The man who spray paints ethnic slurs across a storefront because, “Jesus told him to do it” is not giving good evidence of having been born again. In events like this, we are to examine the words of a person against their actions. This is obvious, but McLaren lumps us all in with Pizarro without any historical evidence to suggest he was a true Christ-follower.

Secondly, what are we to do with all the atrocities of all the Christians over the ages? Are we to repent for Peter’s denials of Christ? Saul’s murderous threats against Christians? What purpose does this serve?

More to the point, however, notice how misleading this kind of talk can be. There is no question that there was much wrong in the Crusades, in the politicizing of Christianity that began under Constantine and even in the Reformation. Sins were committed; some of them grotesque. But to simply hold up these examples and suggest that they are representative of the true Christian faith over the centuries is preposterous. Each event must be examined in its own light, with careful study into the culture and ethos of the day. Not only that, one must remember that much accomplished “in the name of Christ” had nothing to do with true Christians and the true Jesus. Just accepting all these things and repenting of them is overly simplistic and I propose accomplishes no actual good. Holding them up as proof that we Christians continually get things wrong and need to be always re-inventing, or emerging is plainly misleading.

[1] Orthodoxy, 271f.

[2] Orthodoxy, 273.


Unknown said...

I belive part of McLaren's point in using the example of Pizarro, is that the natives did not understand and perhaps did not even want what was being offered in the name of "Jesus."

If we learn nothing else, we need to recognize that we don't understand the hopes and dreams of all people regardless of where they live.

Case in point, George W. Bush and Company failed to recognize that not everyone is desiring a free market economy along with everything the American dream had to offer... at least not in the Middle East.

His failure to recognize this simple thing has led to thousands of deaths, and it' set an entire portion of the world upside down.

And as an American, I ask for forgiveness for the sins my country commits in the name of empire building. I believe I am responsible for the sins of those who have gone before me, and somehow it is part of my story regardless if I was part of those decisions.

Enough for now, but I beleive the Pizarro story illustrates how poorly we understand the necessity for contextualization... and it also means we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember the George W. also claims a righteous war and claims to be a follower of Jesus.

God help us.

Anonymous said...

However, the point that needs to be understood re. McLaren is that rarely does anyone actually know exactly what it is he is using an example for in the first place. This is the issue with pomos like McLaren. If one presumes to be a teacher, the least they can do is make a point that people can grasp. Yet time after time with McLaren I read people say "Well, I think the point he's making is..." This is a good article that exposes the weaknesses in McLaren's "Christian" witness and states what a Christian leader should teach:


Paul said...

Hi Randy,
Thanks for your comments.
I am not sure they are answering what I have brought up though?
I am suggesting that it is misleading to use the worst of those who name Christ in order to paint a picture of true Christianity today. Whether we reach into the past (Pizarro) or the present (Bush), it is overstating the case to say that this is how the world interprets Christianity. Why I don't like the method, is that it allows McLaren and others to set up what amounts to straw men that are easily toppled by their suggested solutions.
Does that make sense?

Nate Custer said...

I think the comparison between Peter and Saul and Pizarro is weak and poor argumentation. A few difference:

* The bible is very clear that Peter's denial is a betrayal, and that Saul's persucution is wrong. In that sense the biblical authors already are acknowledging the sin of Peter and Saul, and the bible tells the story of how both of them repent. Turn from their actions and change their life.

* The actions of paul were harmful to christians and were made as a Jew. McLaren as a Christian would not need to applogize to people of other faiths/races for that would he? That does not make sense.

* Peter's denial was not a sin against a wide group of people, it was a direct afront to God. In as much as we have denied our faith because we are scared of what will happen to us, that sin is our sin, and we can echo Peter's apology but that is far different then Pizarro.

* The catholic church power system (pope etc) blessed the forced conversion of native savages. In some sense because Pizarro came with the blessing of the Church's power systems even if he was not acting from a personal relationship. As a representative of the same larger power system in some sense I can see why McLaren would feel a desire to applogize.

Moreover I think the issue of if he "has to" applogize is missing the point I think. The question is what posture should you take to a person who feels they have been harmed by people acting "in the name of Jesus"? McLaren suggests a posture of humility, of acknowledging the sins of the past, and of making a promise/commitment to act differently.

It almost sounds like you are more interested in proving you are not to blame then you are in being an agent of healing and redemtion.

One of the central themes I have seen in McLarens's work and in talking with him that I have not seen addressed yet in this essay is the issue of colonialism and post-colonialism. This may not be something that comes up in your church, but it is issue being repeatly raised in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. McLaren is traveling to those places and interacting with those people, so I think it comes up for him. The Washington DC area has a large, educated, immigrant population. I am sure the issues of christianity being a vehicle of western colinization is something his flock struggled with at some level.

Within that context ... people who have been scared deeply by colonialisation and see Christianity as a vehicle in that process what would your aproach be?

Darryl said...

Here's where I began to sense in your paper that the focus was going to be on McLaren. Almost every critique (except for two by my count) quotes McLaren. You even say, "Much of what I will comment on in this paper will be in direct reference to [McLaren's] written works."

My concern is that this is like evaluating evangelicalism by primarily examining Billy Graham's written works. It would tell you something but I don't think it would tell you enough. Although McLaren is an influential figure within the EC, he sure doesn't speak for all of the ec!

Paul said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with what you said here: "The question is what posture should you take to a person who feels they have been harmed by people acting 'in the name of Jesus'?"
But I agree in a different sense. True humility is not arrived at by acting as if the "big bad church" has a lot to answer for and "I for one am able to take it on the chin." Humility begins with an understanding of our lowliness before God, and that ought to transfer into a humility in relationships: "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped..." (Phil 2). I think what McLaren proposes in A Generous Orthodoxy amounts to a false humility - that was more the point I was trying to make.
Personally, I am free to admit the sins of the past and my own sins and shortcomings... and of those there are plenty! But this notion of the church existing as a steamroller, colonizing power for centuries is overplayed. The church made mistakes and still does - but the church does much good, too! Case in point is the ongoing work of Christians in the US south (since Katrina).
As for DC, I live in Toronto which, according the United Nations, is the most culturally diverse city in the world! I have friends (believers and non-believers) from every continent. There are over 17 nations represented by first generation immmigrants in my small church. But, I don't spend all my time rehearsing the woes of Britain's colonization of Zambia with my Zambian brothers, for instance. It is acknowledged that not all that was done was perfect, but we are far more interested in our union in Christ (Ephesians 2).
I would rather make Gospel promises of unity and mutual love than promises of political activism and repentance for actions that have nothing to do with me. That is the message of the New Testament.

Anonymous said...

As someone who lives and ministers among First Nations people in the inner city, I can promise you that the long lost sins committed in the name of Christ still play a big role in the peoples willingness to listen or respond to the Gospel we proclaim in word and deed. One could argue that the perpetrators were not truly Christians, but that will do little to help the problem except to appear as though we are, yet again, fighting to deny rather than reconcile. Further, as Pizarro's quest was sanctioned by the state and blessed by the Church (unless you deny the Roman Church of his day to be entirely ungodly), there is historical Christian complicity.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is that many of us live lives of great privilege, privilege built upon the historical and cultural foundation of these sins. In my view, we are undeniably enjoying the benefits of colonialism today, therefore ARE more complicit. I agree with you that we gain little by simply embracing these sins as our own, but I also believe we do greater damage by starting off by defending ourselves. We need to recognize that, fair or not, much of this history is openly identified with the Church today. Denial and justification have been the most common response, which needs to change.

I believe that McLaren's point in this context was something else, making a side reference to a very real issue. In fairness, you cannot expect him to explore every thread in every sentence. I still believe that, given the chance, McLaren could argue effectively for his reference. I also agree with Darryl that, while your paper is excellent in many ways, it is largely disqualified as a critique of the emerging church movement because of its overly focused attention on McLaren. Brian is a great guy and an important voice in the conversation. However, at least in the circles I explore, he is by no means centrally representative (or even required reading). Just some thoughts.

Thanks for your willingness to put this out there.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

Paul said...

Hi Darryl!

You said: "Although McLaren is an influential figure within the EC, he sure doesn't speak for all of the ec!"

Of course, that is exactly the point I was making when I wrote this, which you also quoted: "Much of what I will comment on in this paper will be in direct reference to [McLaren's] written works."

But you failed to quote the statements immediately preceding this: "If not the most outspoken proponent of EC, he is by far the most prolific. Until January of 2006, he was the pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland – a church he both helped found and then pastored for 24 years. (McLaren was replaced by Matthew Dyer “in order to focus on his speaking and writing ministry nationally and internationally.” accessed March 30, 2006. I note this as it makes it virtually certain that we will be hearing much more from McLaren in the months and years ahead.) Two of his most recent books, A Generous Orthodoxy and The Secret Message of Jesus have been extremely influential and widely read. He speaks at numerous conferences and gatherings all over the world and is held by the majority both in and outside of the EC camp as a primary spokesperson."

Darryl, let's be honest. You posted a positive report of McLaren's work at the Evolving Church Conference. You invited McLaren to speak at Richview that same day. I have yet to hear from you one significant area where you differ from McLaren. It is fine to say that he is not the spokesman... but if that is the case, then it seems to me that you ("you" [pl.] meaning those like you who urge us not to hold up McLaren as a spokesperson) ought to make clear to others what he is and where he might be wrong.

Billy Graham is not my spokesman, and I would be happy to tell you why not.

I think you must do the same with McLaren.

Darryl said...


I appreciate McLaren as a nice guy, someone who asks good questions, and as a decent speaker. However, I don't think I've ever done more than that.

I agree with you that McLaren is a significant figure, and that's one of the reasons why we had him at Richview for a Q&A. We'll likely be hosting other thinkers through Resonate, but not because we necessarily agree or disagree with them. It will be more for the purpose of interacting with their thinking (i.e. not as an endorsement).

To be honest, I think I've only ever finished one McLaren book, so I'm not sure he's a key figure in my thinking.

As for making it clear where McLaren might be wrong, I think some have done this within the ec, or at least made it clear that they don't always agree with McLaren. Perhaps you are right that this needs to happen some more. You get hints of it, such as in a Forge document from Australia that was released and then pulled. It stated differences, but there was some controversy over the way the differences were communicated.

I think you're asking me to state where he and I would disagree. Well, for starters, I'm Reformed and he's not. I tend to agree with some of the critiques you and even Carson have made. I also find McLaren hard to pin down and sometimes a little passive-aggressive. However, I also recognize that a lot of this is purposeful on his part (he tries to ask more questions than answer them; many of his characters are fictional so they arguably don't state his view as much as the view of a fictional character; he admits to being mischevious in his writing).

I have talked to quite a few in the ec who, to various extents, disagree with McLaren on key issues.

Hope that helps a little. I could critique more but then I'd have to read more of his stuff. ;)

Whatever good and bad there is in McLaren, I think it's a mistake to think that he speaks for the ec as a whole. Although he is an influential author, his epistemology and theology are a subset of a subset of the whole emerging conversaton.

Rob said...


I think this is one of the real positives behind the EC conversation. Guy's like McLaren and Darryl can disagree but not divide or be divisive.

I enjoy McLaren's works, and for me he has been an important thinker in my journey. But I understand that he doesn't speak for all, and makes some people really nervous.

He really doesn't speak for everyone. In my little group of friends I think I'm the only one who agrees with McLaren. Others love the writings of Don Miller, Dan Kimball, George Barna, and many more orthodox writers.

Don't put all your eggs in the McLaren basket. He asks some great questions, but doesn't necessarily have the answers to those questions.


Paul said...

Darryl –
Brother, I appreciate your clarification here, although I think it could go further (you’re not trying to be mischievous, are you?). You allude to a document that no longer exists (Forge) and to some of the critiques I and others have made. I guess I am curious which ones you agree with and why. What are those “key issues” that you hint at?
As for using fictional characters to express views... well, in matters of doctrine I find that to be more than mischievous...
Consider: 2 Tim 1:13-14 “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
Or, 1 Tim 4:11-13 “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
As for McLaren’s views being “a subset of a subset of the whole emerging conversation,” I think that is a bit of a red herring. If you want to claim affinity with emergent/emerging churches, you are forced to deal with Revisionists like McLaren. That is part of the reason that I focused much of the paper on his written works. Whether you like it or not, he does speak for emerging churches in the public sphere. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, as the saying goes.
You may not feel that having him speak at a gathering is endorsement, but again let’s be frank. There was certainly nothing communicated in any way that there was the slightest bit of disagreement with him at the Resonate/Richview meeting. I do not think it at all out of line for someone to say, “Here is Mr. So and So. We have invited him here to listen to his views. We do not agree with all of his views, particularly on these topics [fill in the blank].” Otherwise, I think it is endorsement... at least it sure looks like endorsement.
By the by, I am still very hopeful to see that list of positive contributions unique to emerging/emergent that you think are offered to the church as a whole.
Thanks for your thoughts, brother.

Darryl said...

Hi Paul:

Me mischievous? Never! ;)

Well, you are asking me to evaluate McLaren's theology when I have only read one of his books, a work of fiction. I will say that I am unsure of much of McLaren's theology because I think he isn't always forthcoming about what he believes, as evidenced by the night at Richview. He provides more questions than answers.

If it is okay with you, I will post a comment under each section if I have any major disagreement with a particular critique of McLaren, but I remember agreeing with many of your concerns.

I am not saying that it's wrong to critique McLaren, and I'm not denying that he's a significant and visible spokesperson within the ec. But McLaren does not represent the entire ec. You don't have to give your heart to Brian to call yourself a member of the ec.

Might I make a suggestion? Bolger and Gibbs suggest a list of characteristics of the ec as a whole that go beyond one influential author. As much as discussing McLaren is useful, it may be more useful to examine these characteristics and how they are fleshed out, and to critique those as well or instead.

Darryl said...

P.S. "As for using fictional characters to express views... well, in matters of doctrine I find that to be more than mischievous..."

I think I understand your objection here, but let me make sure I understand. Your problem is not with fiction or allegory to express doctrine, but with the possibility that someone might hide behind a fictional character to duck responsibility?

Anonymous said...

I think the track of this whole conversation reflects the problem with trying to get a handle on ec. Someone can write about it, being careful never to say that his view is representative, stating views that lead people to respond to the movement/conversation. When they do respond the retort is that the response is invalid in some way because it is illegitimate to imply that the views represent the movement. Perhaps a characteristic of ec is that it has such a distaste for classification and representation that it can always say to any critique - "there is no movement". It refuses to be analysed - and that is illigitimate.

Darryl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darryl said...

Last thought from me, I hope! ;)

I think the emerging church can be defined enough to be critiqued. I hope I've never been guilty of saying the emerging church is too indefinable to be answered. That is an untrue assertion, and I would challenge anyone who makes it. There is lots to define and lots to critique.

I still believe that it's a mistake, however, to think that if you have critiqued McLaren, you have critiqued the emerging church. By all means critique McLaren, but just realize that he is to the emerging church what Rick Warren or Tim Lahaye is to the evangelical church. You can critique Rick Warren, but to have done so is not to have critiqued Paul Martin or Ken Davis, who are evangelicals.

Even this paper acknowledges that McLaren is one type of emergent thinker (revisionist). By this paper's own definition, McLaren does not speak for Relevants or Reconstructionists.

Thanks, Paul, and I promise to follow up on that post you asked me to do. I haven't forgotten; I've just been swept up with Easter weekend.

Anonymous said...


I think if Rick Warren knew me he would be more offended than I would.

NathanColquhoun said...

A few thoughts in regards to some of the comments posted.

The paper says this:
"Just accepting all these things and repenting of them is overly simplistic and I propose accomplishes no actual good."
I think this is a quite a loaded statement here. While I was always turned off by my home church walking to the river and throwing stones in it as symbolic as their forgiveness to the natives in the area, I think that there is a lot of good from owning sins that maybe we ourselves didn't actually do. It's what Jesus did on the cross. Of course, not trying to say we can atone for sins. It's not holding up sins as proof that we continually get things wrong. It’s not focusing on the wrongs much at all but rather apologizing for the past and what happened to them and that we regret what happened and acknowledging that we want to get it right now and we will work to do so. I like what Jamie said on the issue above. There are a lot of people that are deeply connected to history, probably a lot more than we are. I think it would be quite ignorant to simply push aside the past. We need to acknowledge the past actions of those who did things in the name of Christ and set the record straight as true followers of Christ (not judging and saying they were or were not, we should have no problem apologizing if they were Christians or not.)

I'd have to agree with Darryl and Jamie that it would be inaccurate to write a paper on the EC movement and have a majority of the focus on McLaren. This may sound weird, but if you want to better understand the Christianity movement, it wouldn't be an accurate picture to focus just on Jesus, you would need to look at Paul, the early church fathers, Constantine, Luther, Calvin etc. Although the emerging church is relatively new movement, there is still more than one person to look at to have an overall better picture of what's going on.

What I love about the emergent movement is that it is not a movement that is spearheaded by popular speakers and dictators of what the emergent movement is. Though it has gain popularity and media attention because of some keynotes. Some may get that impression because guys like McLaren are part of organizations with Emergent in the title. But a key characteristic of the movement is that it’s trying to manifest the life of Jesus today, not the words of McLaren. The emerging church is underground and exists all over the place. For instance, I met four people at the Evolving Church conference who thought ‘they were the only ones who thought like this in Sarnia.’ A week later they found themselves at a church plant meeting with thirty-five others who all were desiring something new in Sarnia for a church community. Was this movement inspired by McLaren? No, most of the people at this church plant meeting have not read nor care about McLaren or even the term emergent church.

In many ways it is impossible to critique the emergent church the way you have. It is a new movement still trying to understand where it stands on issues and trying to wrestle with the Scriptures, culture, history and their faith to truthfully stand where they need to be in culture. So while you could critique one member of emergent, Brian McLaren, you are inaccurately critiquing the other half of the movement who doesn’t hold to those values at all. You are going to have a hard time critiquing the movement right now because it is so diverse. Darryl said it right, it would be like us critiquing Bill Hybels on his Seeker Sensitive model but critiquing the entire evangelical church by those standards. Is there one statement that you could critique that would encompass the ENTIRE evangelical church besides the creeds?

All that being said, in my rambling sort of way, I think it is impossible to critique any movement. The best anyone can do is critique people in a movement. The whole point of a movement is that it is not one person but a group of people moving towards one goal, and with groups of people come groups of ideals. There will always be people or little groups inside the movement that cry out that they are not like those critiques. In fact, the emergent church in many ways is just one of those small groups crying out that they aren’t like the evangelical critiques that have been pinned on them. So I commend you on critiquing McLaren, but I don’t think you will ever be able to critique the emergent church or any movement for that matter very successfully. Your paper is not much of an Emergent Church Movement critique, and I don’t say that to be rude or anything, I just don’t believe you can critique, especially by the specifics you pointed out, a movement like this. You have successfully critiqued many weaknesses that exist in people, some in McLaren, some in other Emergent church leaders but those weaknesses also exist in Evangelical church leaders and Catholic Church leaders. For everyone one of your critiques so far, I could point out a number of emergent church people who wouldn’t adhere to those ideals at all. That is why I think your paper would be more beneficial if it was focused on ‘Brian McLaren as an Emergent’ as opposed to the Emergent Movement as a whole.

Anonymous said...

"Just accepting all these things and repenting of them is overly simplistic and I propose accomplishes no actual good."

Really? So... When Daniel, one of the few men in Scripture whose sins cannot be specifically pointed to in the narrative, a man who manifestly did not rebel against God prays in Daniel 9 "But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations" that's overly simplistic and does no good? I cannot ask God for forgiveness for the sins of my people because it accomplishes no actual good? Wow.


"Holding them up as proof that we Christians continually get things wrong and need to be always re-inventing, or emerging is plainly misleading."

Hmmm.. So I'm guessing you repudiate the Reformation Doctrine of "Semper Reformanda"? :)

Anonymous said...

There is only one way you can be considered a Christian and that is through Baptism.

Paul Joseph

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Officer Barbrady said...

This segment could have been left out, in my opinion. It seemed to have been more criticizing of one man's [Brian McLaren] personal beliefs, rather than the Emergent Church as a whole.

I shall read further, however.