Doug Wilson’s Firebombing of Brian McLaren

There are a lot of things that Doug Wilson and I don’t agree on (not the least of which is our interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s letters). But I have to say that he is one the most effective rhetoricians that I have ever read. His loquacious pyrotechnics rank right up there with the rhetorical hand-grenades that Martin Luther used to hurl at his opponents with great effect.

Doug Wilson pulls no punches in his recent critique of Pastor Brian McLaren’s inability to define homosexuality as sin (click here to see McLaren’s article). In a few short paragraphs, Wilson mounts a withering assault on McLaren’s tortured argument and then finishes him off with a wallop:

If you don’t know what to think about homosexuality, then get out of the ministry. If you can’t read the big E on the eye chart, then why should the rest of us follow you into the ditch? Now homosexuality is not the most important issue in the Bible, not by a long shot. But it is, thank God, one of the clearest. And if it is not clear to McLaren, or by his account, to most of the leaders of the emerging movement, then the time has come to look for another calling, and I hear UPS is looking for reliable drivers.

If someone were to ask me whether the Bible teaches that Jesus went to Capernaum, I would say yes, it does. I would not be in agony over the question. It is not the most important question, but it is clear. If someone were to ask if the apostle Paul taught that homosexual behavior (both male and female forms) is the dead end result of idolatry, I would say yes again. No agony in the exegesis whatever. There is only agony if you are lusting after respect from the world, which they will not give to you unless you are busy making plenty of room for their lusts. And that is what the emergent movement is doing — this is really all about sex. And, conveniently enough, this has the added benefit of making room for evangelical lusts. Son of a gun. All that agony paid off. . . (source).

The emergent folks who read Wilson’s critique will immediately write him off as having committed the unforgivable sin of being not-nice. Nevertheless, the frustration demonstrated in Wilson’s piece is one that is shared by many of us conservatives who can’t figure out why some of the Emergent folk always seem to be learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

The sting of Wilson’s rebuke is not just the rhetoric, it’s the truth of the charge. I hope some will have the ears to hear it.


  • Luke Britt

    well, well, well. where to begin? I must say that I believe homosexuality to be a sin, just as much as I believe any form of lust or greed or pride, etc. is a sin.
    However, I disagree with Wilson’s approach the conversation. It is more than “not-nice,” as you so nonchalantly referred to it. Be strong with the charge, but don’t be insulting with the extras, such as “I hear UPS is hiring reliable drivers.”

    This isn’t a call to repent, it’s a game of calling someone ignorant or “not-as-worthy” as Doug Wilson.

    Conservatives tend to have this elitist attitude that comes through the “critique.” Proud to be republicans. Proud to be pro-life. Proud to be pro-Bush. Proud to wear suits. Whatever it is.

    Well, I guess that we poor young, “emerging” guys just haven’t developed into full-grown, Conservative Baptist Ministers, who really know what’s up, like you, Mr. Wilson…

  • D. Taylor Benton

    First, I would like to say Denny, Mr. Wilson ain’t got nothin on Dr. Russ Moore. Now that i have that out of my system. The secondary response to this article is that the “emerging” church is clearly side stepping issue that in the word of Derek Webb “rattle your nerves, like sin and, faith alone”.
    Staying in the haze of interpretation only leads to one thing. That is walk off of the cliff of the Gospel into the pit of just another social “gathering”.
    I will say in respect to some emerging church people that not all are as hazy on truth as we see in Mr. Mclaren. Also as the previous post did, just addressing the zingers that bust the chops of this crowd doesn’t tell me anything about the true substance of the “emerging church”. That is the main problem of the movement. They do not address the issue of the text and the entirety of the reliance upon the inerrancy and INFALLIBILITY of the Bible.

  • Luke Britt

    You cannot define an entire movement that is mysterious like the Emergent movement. We don’t even know what it is, really.

    I think that is the problem to Conservatives. “I don’t know what it is, so I’m going to define it by it’s bad fruits.”

    We are all guilty of this, me included. I define alot of Baptists by the bad things in the denomination.

    There are good things in the “Emergent Movement,” but sometimes we look at the bad things first. It’s like the mom who always gets on to the kid when his room is dirty, but never praises him when it’s clean.

  • Jennifer (Jai)

    Hmm… interesting stuff. While I admit that Wilson was a bit.. blunt, lol, he had some good points. How can you call yourself a Christian pastor yet be liberal in your understanding and interpretation of the Word of God ? The Word of God CLEARLY states that it is wrong, not only directly but indirectly as well. If God meant for us to be in same sex relationships, He wouldn’t have created us in the way that He did. He would have not given us the sexual organs and functions that we have. When He gave Adam and Eve the instruction to go forth and multiply, that in itself lets us know God’s designed plan for the sexes because 2 men and 2 women cannot multiply without the help of artificialities and scientific procedures.

  • WLC

    Luke, or anyone who is a “conservative” emergent,

    the article by Wilson is in response to McLaren’s article. So I want to know what is your response to McLaren’s article? You have read it I hope. And do you see McLaren as a leader in the emergent circle?

    Luke you said,

    “Be strong with the charge, but don’t be insulting with the extras”

    but then you use some insulting extras of your own,
    “Conservatives tend to have this elitist attitude that comes through the “critique.” Proud to be republicans. Proud to be pro-life. Proud to be pro-Bush. Proud to wear suits. Whatever it is.”
    “Well, I guess that we poor young, “emerging” guys just haven’t developed into full-grown, Conservative Baptist Ministers, who really know what’s up, like you, Mr. Wilson…”

    Maybe I took this the wrong way but I am a little insulted by your assumptions of me as a “Conservative”. So, Luke, “be strong with the charge, but don’t be insulting with the extras.” I want you to use the word to defend your position and not your opinion. Now I am not trying to get under you skin, I am just having a little fun with you brother. We go to the same school and we serve the same master. I enjoy your company every time I see you at school. So please don’t get upset, that is not at all what I want. I do believe you may be able to answer a lot of questions for me. I don’t know much about the emergent group so I am hesitant to agree with something I don’t know much about. I am trying to use some discernment about my decision. I am trying to compare the “movement” with the Word and I am finding some inconsistencies. I know we all have our faults, even conservative Southern Baptists, but what are the faults you find in the emergent group?

    Ok, to McLaren’s article,
    He writes,

    “So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn’t want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they’d want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.”

    My church is anti-homosexual and we are anti-murder and we are anti-rape and we are anti-adulterous and we are anti-sin. What was McLaren really saying in this statement? I think he is comparing a racist or a terrorist with someone who opposes homosexuality. He has sure slapped the Bible, God, and a lot of good Christian people in the face. Now I know McLaren was trying to speak from the point of view of the “unchurched young adults” so maybe I am reading more into his statement than I should be, but the rest of his article sure does sound iffy to me.

    God loves all, even the emergent and homosexual,
    (that was my little “insulting extra”, only in fun)

  • Luke Britt


    I must admit, I did want to give a little punch every now and then and for that I apologize. I didn’t, however, tell all the conservative SBC ministers to get new jobs.

    I do think that McLaren is mistaken in a lot of his points, but I think he is pushing a good idea, saying it wrongly.

    Racism is not a quality of a church. So, in your church, you don’t give African-Americans dirty looks or Hispanics dirty looks or Caucasians dirty looks just because of their skin color, do you?
    Do you give the person that hates in your congregation hate instead of support?
    Do you give the person that is gay dirty looks or signs of hate? Or do you just make fun of them later?

    The Southern Baptist “movement” (just kidding…or am I?) hasn’t really made a dent in the homosexual community, it seems to me. We know they feel uncomfortable or weird around homosexuals, but we don’t know what they do for the Kingdom in the situation.

    This leads me to a charge that separates the revolutionaries (to borrow a term from Barna) from the conservatives: what Kingdom work are you doing among the homosexual community? How many homosexuals do you know by name or see frequently?

    What are you doing to see homosexuals, prostitutes, money grubbers, and liars come into the Kingdom?

  • WLC

    I like your thoughts. I really like you last comment,
    “What are you doing to see homosexuals, prostitutes, money grubbers, and liars come into the Kingdom?”

    This is exactly what we are to be doing. Not targeting one group but sharing the love of Jesus Christ will all people.

    I have a question, what do you mean by,
    “I do think that McLaren is mistaken in a lot of his points, but I think he is pushing a good idea, saying it wrongly.”

    What is the specific “Idea” in reference here?


  • D. Taylor Benton


    The argument or race versus sexual orientation is a non-sequitur and cannot be used in a comparison. Let us talk apples to apples. I would stand the same way against a gay person as I would an adulterer. Which by the way the bible speaks clearly on both subjects.
    Another comment I would love to help you out on is that Barna’s revolutionary jargon is ridiculous. IF you have read that book. His assertion that someone could grow better outside the church than in is insane. Who is the bride of Christ? However big a whore she is, it is the church.
    In addition, we must not abandon that. It is biblical. Look at the early churches of Acts… didn’t see any “revolutionaries” then. I am not saying one cannot be Christian outside the church but in context of Barna’s book, the whole idea of “revolutionaries” is unbiblical and dangerous.

    p.s. – do not mistake my comments of the church for a building either. That would be another no no.

  • D. Taylor Benton

    I also wanted to comment on your questioning the outreach to the homosexual/gay community.
    It may be true that a full impact among the gay and homosexual community is probably still not there. However, to assert that there is no or little work being done by the SBC in those lifestyle communities is just plain ignorant. one big ministry is Exodus. although it is not strictly SBC, the SBC has a big part as well as Focus on the Family ministries.
    What is the quote “emergent” or even the “liberal” ministries doing to win souls among these population? (that is really a question not rhetorical).
    One thing that scares me is the fact that most of these groups that are “liberal”, is the fact that they are not reaching out to these people with the Love of Christ, they reaching out to these people and merely making them feel accepted as if Homosexuality is ok. Its not. I know more than five homosexual people and I love them as people but do not agree and do not condone their lifestyle as most “liberal” ministies do. Those ministries don’t radically change people for Christ, they are in most cases a self-help feel good center of affirmation of sinful behaviors. My liberal United Methodist minister has told me one time that ” we all sin so we are the same”. he’s right there, but the real thing that matters is if we have found forgiveness in Christ and repent of those behaviors and turn from them as the bible commands.

  • Bruno W

    Why hasn’t anyone addressed one of McLaren’s main contentions from his article? That being “pastoral” isn’t uncaringly and unknowingly stating “the truth”, it’s loving moving towards people like Christ. I’m a pastor and I’ll tell you that I probably wouldn’t have responded any differently than McLaren if I’m approached by two strangers and asked this very important question in the lobby on a Sunday morning. I’m careful to answer questions on Sunday mornings from my own people! We rarely have any idea why people are asking what they’re asking. I remember being asked by a woman in my congregation why I thought of Halloween in the lobby of my church after the service. I thought, “where’s she coming from here?” I’m more interested in getting to the real issue behind a question and addressing that. This doesn’t mean you don’t eventually address sin issues, but it means you do it in an effective way. I take that from Jesus. Jesus addresses people quite differently, depending on the circumstances. Jesus was really hard-nosed to the religious conservatives who were unloving to sinners (let’s take a hint) and sensitive with the ignorant.

  • Luke Britt


    You seem to be on the attack! I better watch out!

    I think that there is some good to come of Barna’s book, and if you’d like, we can continue this dialogue via email: I believe it to be off-topic, and so for everyone else reading this, you can email me.

    I think a mistake is being made in looking at organizations or denominations and their quest to reach homosexuals rather than the individual. I am pleased to hear that you have a personal impact on members of the gay and lesbian community. I pray that you can deepen your relationship with them for the Kingdom.

    I must admit, I have come across as backing the emerging movement, even calling myself an “emerging young pastor,” but this is entirely in defense of my brothers under attack. That being said, I don’t really know what the “liberals” or “emergents” or “whatevers” are doing as a convention, since I don’t think “emergents” have a convention, just church planting networks. I do know, however, is what I’m doing to reach certain homosexual individuals in my community.

    So, in conclusion (and I hope this has been productive), I don’t really care what convention or organization or strategy you are with, I just want to know what you yourself are doing to reach people for the Kingdom. This is the heart of the matter. The Pharisees were good at condemning sinners and “fellow ministers,” but at the same time, they were in sin themselves (Rom. 2:17-24)

  • D. Taylor Benton

    i will say that all issues have to be addressed in context. I also wouldn’t address a woman that has just had a miscarraige about the eternal state of her child the way i would address a collegue in debate at an academic function. that is an obvious pragmatic issue in dealing with a congregation. however, whether addressing a person in service or a person in a debate, one thing should remain. that is you full reliance upon the bible for your answer not matter how you couch it or language you present it in.

  • D. Taylor Benton

    I am not attacking, merely stating the facts. I will admit that i personally detest barna’s book in the way that in turns the church, the bride of christ, into some pajoritive social gathering. as to denominations… i could care less about denominations. I want to be biblical in my thought,ministry, and studies. that is my focus. and i don’t like seeing the scriptures being shelved for some humanitarianistic outreach effort. that doesn’t save people. that is what I am concerned about. and again, this is not in “attack mode” just calmly stating what i feel is the centrality to what we are called to. To impact peoples lives with the GOSPEL. be mere reflections of Christ so they may be saved. if we lose focus of the foundation…we will not conquer. In getting back to the main issue. Setting you foundation on one’s own weariness of the text like McClarin will only lead to man’s own attempt at saving himself.

  • Luke Britt


    You are ambitious and we probably agree on most things. Proclaiming the gospel with words, books, music, paintings, poetry, graphics, images, film, blogs, and most of all, our lives is the goal.

    I think this topic is done now, unless someone throws something else in here.

    Denny, or Prof Burk, whichever contains the respect you want, you should write a post on the new generation’s church, containing your views and what we, as young ministers should look out for.

  • Michael

    I’m surprised no one has brought up that fact that Wilson’s view on race and slavery is so completly distorted. Of course Wilson thinks it is COMPLETLY OBVIOUS that homosexuality is a sin. He has a seriously flawed hermenutic when it comes to understanding cultural issues in the scriptures. That’s not to say that homosexuality is acceptable in the life of a Christian. Only that Wilson has some serious problems of his own when it comes to cultural issues. William Web’s work should be taken seriously.

  • Keenan Ivory Towers

    More great “rhetoric”…

    “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—janitors, landscapers, garbagemen — or even like this UPS driver.”

  • Michael

    I’m not suggesting all of Webb’s conclusions are correct. Only that evangelicals have a difficult time arguing against a redemptive hermenutic (of sorts) and still finding a way to think that ending slavery was a Christian thing to do (much less ending segregation in our society). Wilson is at least consistent and says that slavery is okay and homosexuality is wrong because the bible says so on both accounts.

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