Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Brian McLaren Comes to Louisville

Pastor Brian McLaren came to Louisville this week, and his appearance at the Presbyterian Seminary has made the local paper. McLaren appeared with Diana Butler Bass and Marcus Borg at the seminary’s annual Festival of Theology. There’s not really anything new here that we didn’t already know about McLaren, but it’s worth taking a look at the reporter’s description of what he said.

McLaren said old forms of presenting religion — by proclaiming one’s own as true and everyone else’s as false — no longer resonate today.

“You bring more credibility to Christian faith by appreciating your Buddhist neighbor than by critiquing him,” McLaren proclaimed. “It’s a very, very different world, and a lot of people don’t understand it.”

Likewise, the report characterizes Diana Butler Bass’s remarks in this way:

Butler Bass said that the most important value taught by Jesus was to love God and neighbor, not to convert others, which she maintained leads to an “us or them” mindset.”

“It is not a faith that takes sides,” she said. “It is just loving God and loving neighbor. … It forms new communities. It sets new tables. It calls people who had nothing to do with each other to sit at table together and break bread.”

Both McLaren and Butler Bass are clearly chaffing against any notion of exclusivism—the belief that salvation only comes to those who have conscious faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, they are both clearly contending against any form of evangelism that relies on an exclusivist evangel. Instead, they reduce Christianity and its mission to social justice causes.

Make no mistake. This is old liberalism reincarnated, and it’s just as dangerous and as irrelevant as ever.


  • Rick

    “Both McLaren and Butler Bass are clearly chaffing against any notion of exclusivism”

    Is that what McLaren is doing? Does he say he does not believe that? Or is he possibly saying that, in the current climate, such an approach will not bring people to Christ?

  • Andrew Walker

    Dean Burk,

    I went to listen to McLaren speak Sunday night at Highland Baptist Church. Undiluted heresy is what I encountered. In a span onf 20 minutes, he denied any future eschatological program, denied the exclusivity and uniqueness of Christ, and then, above all, denied the significance or need for any type of atonement!

    But, as you noted, we shouldn’t expect anything different.


  • Rick


    Some specifics of what he said might help. “Heresy” is a big claim.

    Where did he counter the Apostle’s and/or Nicene Creed(s)?

  • Darius T

    Rick, read Generous Orthodoxy and pretty much anything written or said by McLaren (especially in the last couple years). Much of it is, as Andrew said, “undiluted heresy” (or hinting at it).

  • Rick


    What has he said that is heretical? He is good about being vague (“hints”?), asking questions, and avoiding certain specifics.

    Therefore, I ask again: what has he said that (clearly) states his belief(s) goes against historic orthodoxy?

  • Brian Krieger

    It is not a faith that takes sides…
    Actually, isn’t it? We are either for God or against. And there is only one God, one way to Salvation.
    I’ve read a bit of McLaren’s stuff. And you’re exactly right, McLaren doesn’t state the words “Christ isn’t the only way to salvation”*. But McLaren certainly falls short of always giving a reason for the hope that we have. There is no “defense and confirmation of the gospel”. He certainly ignores the preponderance of scripture saying that Christ is the way to eternal life with God. When we refuse to see others as outside of Christ’s flock, we cease to weep “that they are enemies of Christ” (Phil 3:18). That is what McLaren misses. We weep for them. He wants to be nice to, not love his neighbor. If my neighbor were in the lake and carrying an anchor while trying to stay afloat, if I were nice to him, I might tell him that that’s some nice water and a very pretty anchor indeed and chat about the wonderful boating weather. If I love him, I might tell him the same, but will tell him to drop the anchor and take this life preserver, it’s the only means that can save him.

    Which actually goes into McLaren’s statement of You bring more credibility to Christian faith…. Both of these two give far too much on what we do. What I say doesn’t convert anyone (and on that note, I think that McLaren and others similar have it right). The Holy Spirit does. My duty is to tell them who Christ is, what he did and why. It makes my heart ache to read things like this.

    On another note, Denny, I was looking for you and Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament at the Christian Book Expo here and Dallas and it seems both are glaringly missing. I’ll have to complain to the organizers.

    * – Although one of the essays on his site says that Christ’s words in John 14:6 is not that Christ is the only way (he attempts to debunk Christ as the way saying instead that we are trying to attain something here on earth).

  • Darius T

    Rick, it’s mostly WHO he’s recommended and rarely clearly stated. He recommends heretical books, which means he agrees with their theology. At least, I generally don’t recommend books which I disagree with (unless I believe that they can somehow open someone’s mind to another point of view), and even when I do, I make sure the person to whom I’m recommending it understands that I don’t affirm everything in the book. McLaren rarely does this. Instead, he speaks warmly of books like Chalke’s Lost Message of Jesus, which states that substitionary atonement is divine child abuse.

    Even look above… “McLaren said old forms of presenting religion — by proclaiming one’s own as true and everyone else’s as false — no longer resonate today… You bring more credibility to Christian faith.”

    We preach Christ crucified… foolishness to those perishing. Our faith will NEVER be credible to those who have unregenerate hearts. If we truly love the lost, we will tell them that, frankly, they’re on their way to hell unless they have repentance and forgiveness from God. And no, Mr. McLaren, a Buddhist is not on the right path, and he needs to know it!

  • Brian Krieger

    You know what, I can’t let this go. This is too sorrowful for me to read. McLaren sidelines the gospel. He may not outright deny it, but it’s secondary. The message of the gospel to him (based on what he writes and says in public) is to be good and to do good things. That’s not the gospel. That is being ashamed of Christ’s work on the cross. That’s being ashamed that God has spoken to us. That’s thumping your chest and saying “I know better”. That is glorifying man and reducing the power of the cross (denying the power of). Piper got it right today, not McLaren.

  • Rick

    Brian and Darius:

    You both do a great job in showing McLaren’s ability to muddy the waters. However, the claims of “clearly chaffing” or, even more, “heresy” are not as clear cut.
    I think his critics are right to point out his sometimes vague theology. However, I think it harms critics when they use such strong terms, such as “heresy”, without more evidence. His defenders are just emboldened when such terms are used without sufficient warrant. It also gives those on the fence an opporunity to sympathize with him in the face of such (false?) accusations.

  • Rick


    I was using a term (“false?”) because it is something his defenders might say in response. That is why I put the question mark. Sorry that didn’t get communicated as intended.

  • Brian Krieger

    Also, just to muddy the waters, Dr. Burk did not say that McLaren’s words “set him against”, but rather “chafe”. He rubs against, irritates. To extrapolate, he wears down the idea of exclusivity to nothingness. They both contend against evangelism that relies on an exclusive redeeming of the world through Christ alone.

    And if saying that we should rely solely on the Gospel or that “Christ is the only way otherwise you face the consequences of sin on your own merit which is none” or point out that never preaching Christ alone is counter to what we are called to do emboldens supporters, then I suppose I’ll have to take that and claim Christ as superior. God and man are separated. God loves us, but we have all sinned. And we cannot “will” our way over or work our way to God. We have transgressed Him and we will be judged and our rightful sentence would be eternal life without Him. But God sent his son to die in our place. He that knew no sin was found guilty of our crimes and served the sentence for us. And by faith in that atoning work we are able to cross over (that’s a pun) to God to spend eternity with Him. And if anyone is too ashamed to boldly proclaim that, then that brings great sorrow to my heart.

  • Andrew


    Based upon McLaren’s dismissal of any final eschatological event, I would be willing to place him in the category of heresy.

    Apostle’s Creed:
    “and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

    I hope this settles the discussion.

  • Rick


    Would have to hear how he phrased it. Is he denying that portion of the Creed, or does he have a different perspective on it.
    Not saying you are wrong, just that people need to be certain and clear when making the claim of heresy.

  • Todd Pruitt


    I agree that heresy is a bold charge. There is a difference between error and heresy. I have read five of McLaren’s books, numerous articles and heard him speak on a number of occasions. He clearly is in error on a myriad of topics.

    To your point about the creeds – There is more to heresy than explicit denials of particular points in the Apostle’s or Nicene Creeds.

    That said, Andrew makes a valuable point. McLaren does indeed deny what the Creeds declare about the eschaton. He also denies any future judgement. This, by your own standard, makes him a heretic.

  • Russ Ware

    It is a shame that we are so inclined to polarization. I think McLaren takes things too far and looses his voice with those who most need to hear his massage. His critics (same group for the most part) over-react and miss an opportunity to be circumspect and teachable. McLaren is saying some very important things that could be helpful correctives to modern evangelicalism. How convenient it is for us to categorize people/theologies/philosophies as all wrong, or all right. The trouble is that no on is. I will continue to be disappointed with McLaren’s fuzziness on the exclusivity of the gospel. I will continue to be frustrated with modern evangelicalism’s various over-defined versions of the same. And I will continue to read and listen to McLaren as long as he challenges me to think hard about things that are worth thinking about.

  • Darius T

    “And I will continue to read and listen to McLaren as long as he challenges me to think hard about things that are worth thinking about.”

    Rather than listen to a false teacher, why not listen to one that is pretty much right on (there are plenty of those out there)? The Bible doesn’t tell us to just take false teachers’ words with a grain of salt… it says don’t even associate with them! Read Piper, Carson, Driscoll, Chan, Keller. They have it (mostly) right, as opposed to McLaren who has it (mostly) wrong.

  • Russ Ware

    Yes… there is at least one other typo as well… that’s what I get for chiming in really quick between internet connections.

    I hear what you are saying about discerning who might have it mostly right or wrong. McLaren is just challenging in a way that some of these other guys aren’t. I’m not sure I want McLaren as my pastor, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t saying some things worth listening to.

    Again, it’s just frustrating that he doesn’t get heard by the ones who I think need it most. And as I said, that is partly his fault.

    I greatly appreciate guys like Keller and Chan (to name a couple you mentioned) who seem to have the ability to push in some of the same areas while not going overboard. I would include McKnight in that category as well. But guess what… all three of those guys are already getting blasted from certain established camps for ‘comprising the gospel.’


    That’s what I’m talking about.

  • Matthew Staton

    Russ @21 and 25: I concur.

    Blunt personal opinion: I think McLaren is on thin ice doctrinally. I think he asks better questions than he delivers answers.

    Another blunt personal opinion: At the other end of the lake, I think many of the Piper fans I know are on just as thin of ice for other reasons. Those reasons have to do with attitude and treatment of others.

  • allister

    I sometimes pray, in my mind, for those of you who are blinded by fear. I was there in the valley of the shadow of death and occasionally still feel like I am in another valley. Fearing a Hell that never existed did not work for me; I pray you will change your minds.

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