Christianity,  Theology/Bible

McKnight Questions McLaren

Scot McKnight recently posted a fascinating article for Christianity Today about Emergent leader Brian McLaren. The whole article is worth the read, but one section in particular caught my attention. At the end of the article, McKnight raises some questions about McLaren’s theology, and the first one has to do with McLaren’s engagement with the wider evangelical movement:

“Despite his many proposals in these last two books, McLaren would rather ask a question and create a conversation than propound a solution. This style is an attribute of a good teacher. Yet having said that, I want to voice the frustration of many: McLaren’s willingness to muddy the waters, which is characteristic of Generous Orthodoxy, goes only so far. Many of us would like to see greater clarity on a variety of questions he raises.

“McLaren grew up among evangelicals; we’d like him to show the generosity he is known for to those who ask theological questions of him. The spirit of conversation that drives much of his own pastoral work urges each of us to answer the questions we are asked, and the Bible encourages those who ask those questions to listen patiently and to respond graciously. The lack of the latter has so far inhibited the former. This can be taken as a plea on behalf of all concerned to enter into a more robust, honest conversation.”

I agree with this critique. McLaren is notoriously difficult to pin down on some issues, though in recent years I detect a willingness to be more open about his post-conservative/liberal/progressive views.

In any case, the preference for raising questions over and against propounding solutions is not always a good thing (however useful it may be from time to time as a pedagogical tool). The apostle Paul warns against false teachers who are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Or, to adapt it to the present situation, those who are always asking questions but never coming up with any answers.

It is precisely here that McLaren and so many others in the Emergent (and sometimes emerging) stream represent unhealthy impulses in the evangelical movement. It’s not that Christians have all the answers, but we do have some. And the “some” that we have are pretty substantial. In fact, our partial knowledge still amounts to everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

From Jesus to Paul and to every subsequent generation of Christianity, the assumption has been that God has revealed Himself in knowable ways—not the least of which is the revelation of God in His written word. It is at this seminal point that Emergents “muddy” the headwaters of the Christian faith. As a result, everything downstream becomes muddied too.

“McLaren Emerging” – by Scot McKnight (Christianity Today)


  • Tom

    I’m in complete agreement with McKnight’s analysis. He sounds both fair and balanced.

    One thing, though, regarding these discussions – I find it continually frustrating that we speak of the Emergent movement as a monolithic community when they clearly are not.

    McClaren doesn’t represent every Emergent and I wish people would stop lumping them all in together – it’s not the rest of that movement’s fault that McClaren and Pagitt (another guy who’s off the deep end) get the most publicity.

  • Denny Burk


    “Emergent” is short for Emergent Village, and it is a specific wing of the larger emerging movement. McLaren and Pagitt are in fact representatives of Emergent Village.


  • Robert

    Denny is correct. “Emergent” is a distinct movement of which McLaren is a representative.

    I really like McKnight’s comments here.

  • jeremy zach

    i appreciate what Mcknight had to say about Mclaren.

    however Denny you argued that Paul warns us against those who are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    How do we interpret 1 Thess. 5.21,which encourages believer to test ALL things and to seek after what is good and what is true?

    it seems to me it is not fair to imply Mclaren as a false teacher because he is asking questions.

    Mcknight argues that Mclaren’s theological method can only go so far.

    You argue that Mclaren is a false teacher.

    Both of these critiques are very different.

    I would assume Mcknight would NOT consider Mclaren as a false teacher. In addition, Mclaren considers himself as a true committed follower of Truth, namely Jesus.

  • Religious history prof

    Brian McLaren takes the Bible and holds it up to the light of modern science, the collective wisdom of today’s intelligentsia in addition to all we’ve learned through the enlightenment. He does so using the didactic method. Isn’t this what honest, educated people of faith should be doing?

  • Greg Mills


    You said

    “it seems to me it is not fair to imply Mclaren as a false teacher because he is asking questions.”

    Certainly nothing wrong at all with asking questions. Job asked many of God regarding his own doubts and uncertainty about his situation. You will notice though that once God responded to him (mind you, he never answered Job’s questions. He revealed Himself to Job)Job put his hand over his mouth and fell down to worship God. Once God has spoken, there should be no more need to ask questions. The questions that McLaren raises (regarding the veracity and authority of scripture, penal substitutionary atonement) have been asked for the last 2000 years. It isn’t as if these questions have never been raised. McLaren would like you to believe that he is raising “new questions” but there is nothing new under the sun.

    We all have doubts and questions, but to continue to question God when he has clearly spoken is where the danger resides. Which leads to another question…At what point does doubt become unbelief?

    Hopefully I communicated these thoughts with grace and humility. That is the way that they are intended.

    Grace & Peace


  • jeremy zach


    thanks for your reply. however i never said Mclaren is asking new questions, he simply is asking questions?

    At what point does doubt become unbelief? I think that is a great question. I love in Mark 9 where the faith communicates to Jesus…I BELIEVE! But please help my unbelief.

    I think questioning ALL things, not the things that appear to us as concrete.
    I say lets question about the penal sub theory. Is this the best hollistic atonement theory? Or is the Penal Sub theory a mere theological transaction? Is the life of Jesus way big than a simple theory describing a legal transaction?

    I say lets talk about the many discrepancies that take place in Paul’s writings. Lets talk about the textual variants that are in the NT. Let us grapple with what scientists are wrestling with?

    I would rather be a Christian who thinks, than a Christian robot.

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