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 waysâ€”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.