McLaren Doesn’t Want To Hurt Anybody?

Brian McLaren has written an article for the Huffington Post answering the question “Why Do Evangelicals Dislike Me So Much?” The article is a response in part to the forum on his book that was held at SBTS. He basically accuses some evangelical leaders of being mean-spirited purveyors of dead tradition, and he says that these evangelical leaders have manipulated their followers into hating him. He justifies his own dissent from orthodoxy in this way:

“When my conscience tells me that I’m hurting people by complying with religious conventions,… I start asking questions. That’s why I wrote my book, and that’s why I’m willing to get into trouble for it.”

McLaren’s article is really bad, and I’m not going to refute it point by point. But I do want to remark about this last line. McLaren thinks that he would “hurt” people by preaching the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, eternal life, and eternal judgment. He couldn’t be more wrong. Those who follow his message will end up denying the only truth in this world that leads to salvation. Rather than leading people away from “hurt,” McLaren leads them to “hurt” that will not end. This is not loving nor is it the way of Christ, no matter how much McLaren says that it is.


  • Josh

    No one I know hates McLaren, we just find his ‘doctrine’ to be dangerously flawed. I personally think he is charming and articulate just misguided. I wish he wold understand that. I also wish he gave the same consideration to the implications of his thoughts that he wants us to give to ours.

  • Danny Wright

    while reading McLaren’s article, I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 7:28-29 (the crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority)

    Reading his articles, it seems that McLaren is not only offended by those who teach Jesus’ words with authority, but I get the feeling he would have been offended by Jesus as well.


  • Nathan

    From religious leaders, I hear: Walk like me. Talk like me. Think like me. Because I KNOW! AND unless you do, you’re headed for destruction!

    If the leader were God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit this would make sense. Since he is not, he has to tone it down a notch or two, IMO.

    I don’t necessarily endorse McLaren’s conclusions, but I see some merit in his criticisms.

    Everyone needs to go to the source Himself – God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible. If He tells you to run with the crazies, then so be it…

  • Nathan

    @D.J. Williams Here are a few general examples:

    Whenever you hear “The Bible clearly says…” and then are guided through a multitude of scriptures, synthesis, and explanations. People need to realize that the only thing the Bible clearly says is what is written – everything else should be taken as the opinion of the speaker.

    Whenever you hear a pastor complain about people who don’t like what he has to say. People need to be very leery of pastors that aren’t open to questions and dialogue, as if their sermons are “thus sayeth the Lord.”

    Whenever spiritual comparisons based on institutional preferences are allowed to run rampant among the “underlings.” This tells you that even though the leaders can’t convince everyone that they have a strong biblical standing for the exact rule, they still believe that spirituality is linked to obeying the rule.

    Whenever you hear a strong endorsement of one side of a complicated issue. For example, “I can’t see how any Christian can vote for ______.”

  • Ryan K.

    It really is tragic (and a severe setback) when the public discourse among influential leaders debases down to the point at which one side offers specific critiques backed by reasoned arguments, and the other simply responds with “well they are mean people who are manipulators.”

    I am saddened to think that McLaren thinks this is in anyway generous of a good way to hold a “conversation.” I find it to be destructive and in many ways intolerant.

  • Andrew Lindsey


    1. Do you not see that MacLaren is also making authority claims, and that his claims are not rooted in Scripture?

    2. Should we think like you? And, if we don’t, are we “headed for destruction”? Might it be possible that you should “tone it down a notch or two”?

  • David Vinzant

    As an outsider, this is all very confusing. Here we have Denny essentially saying that McLaren is leading people to hell. On another thread at this site, people are saying that Rick Warren is leading people to hell. And maybe John Piper. My Church of Christ relatives assure me that all Baptists are going to hell. I won’t get into what Catholics and Protestants think of each other’s destiny. Meanwhile, the Jesus in John’s gospel and the Apostle Paul never even mention hell – perhaps they missed the memo?

    When all these people who claim to be reading the same book and following the same Jesus can’t agree on who is saved, what am I to conclude? They can’t all be right. Are all of these but one wrong? Or all they all wrong? Did God realize that his book would be so misunderstood by so many? Or did he intentionally make it confusing just to be funny?

  • D.J. Williams

    I was looking for a specific example of a leader doing what you complained about in #3. Those are just more generalizations. You said you’re hearing that gist from religious leaders, I just want to hear from whom and just what it sounds like.

  • Andrew Lindsey


    In John’s Gospel, Jesus certainly mentions condemnation in a coming judgment for those who do not believe in Him (see, for example, 3:18 and 5:29). The Apostle Paul likewise speaks of “wrath and indignation” rather than eternal life being given to the unrighteous (see, for example Romans 2:7-8).

  • Rick


    still a bit unclear. When you mention “institutional preferences”, “if He tells you to run with the crazies, (do you mean theological crazies, or cultural?) then so be it”, and “a strong endorsement of one side of a complicated issue” it seems that you are saying that there is no clarity in Scripture – that lack of clarity is the norm so we must give latitude.

    I agree that we must be able and willing to dialogue, and to do so with humility, but is it not true that there are clearly revealed truths in Scripture? If so, shouldn’t we stand and declare with confidence that they are true? In so doing, it is not “Walk like me; Talk like me; Think like me”, but walk, talk, and think how God in Christ has called us to do so, isn’t it?

  • Nathan


    Any Christian leader that says that you must vote this way or that on gay marriage. i.e. Mohler, Dobson, Burk, et al.

  • jbrown

    “Any Christian leader that says that you must vote this way or that on gay marriage…..”

    “GAY” It does appear that the issue of homosexual behavior has clearly delineated those who hold the Bible to be the ultimate word on “How we should then live” and those who hold their own personal conscience as the final arbiter of what is right and what is wrong.

    I’m quite sure McClaren does not want to call homosexual behavior “sinful.”

    It appears the Bible calls it “sinful.”

    Pick your side! McClaren’s or the Bible’s.

  • Nathan


    There is certainty and uncertainty within Scripture.

    Certainty: Homosexuality is prohibited
    Uncertainty: You should vote against gay marriage

    Certainty: Immodesty is sin
    Uncertainty: Dancing is a sin.

    Certainty: Adulterers won’t inherit the Kingdom
    Uncertainty: If you’ve been improperly divorced and are remarried, you are going to hell.

    Certainty: A husband should lead his wife
    Uncertainty: God’s design for every man is to lead

  • Sean Post


    You are correct that “People need to realize that the only thing the Bible clearly says is what is written.” McLaren’s problem is he doesn’t seem to believe that the written words of the Bible actually mean what they say. That’s why he is a heretic. You cannot claim to be a follower of Jesus while denying the written words of the Bible. That’s what the fuss is all about.

    Also, why would you have a problem with Mohler, Dobson, or Burk saying gay marriage is wrong when the written words of the Bible condemn homosexuality and always depict marriage as between men and women? I would think by your standard you would be in agreement with them.


    The Jesus of John’s Gospel doesn’t use the word Hell but he does say the one who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (Jn 3:36). John writes of the wrath of God as well as the lake of fire several times in Revelation. Paul speaks of the wrath of God on unbeleivers no less than 17 different times in his writings.

    Remember, just because there are different views and interpretations of Scripture doesn’t mean that the truth isn’t there. It just means the ones doing the interpreting are flawed. Keep searching the Scriptures, use the clearly written words of the Scripture, ask God to help you understand what the words say and not what you want them to say and I believe you will come to the truth.

  • Rick

    I think I see what you are asserting, but is this a general point of argument you are making or does it apply to McClaren’s theology? How are you applying this to McClaren? Where in your mind is the truthful certainty and uncertainty in the theological positions that he has taken contra-orthodoxy? Where do you apply this principle – at the level of presuppositions as to the nature and authority of Scripture, or at the issues that arise from those presuppositions?

  • Donald Johnson

    Claim: Husband and wife are to be equal partners.

    See Joel Hoffman in “And God Said” Chap 6, where he shows how SOS 4:9 should be translated “my equal, my lover”.

  • Mitch

    I don’t David but I’d like to buy him a beer. I am also an outsider and couldn’t agree more with David’s points. What he said reminded me of something that I have thought for a long time…If evangelicals believe that one of their purposes/obligations/destinies is to recruit new Christians, they might do well to take a moment and try to see themselves as many of us (supposedly condemned) outsiders do.

    I recently went to a barbecue where many children were playing in a back yard. One group of kids had poured on the imagination and transformed themselves into various characters from the Harry Potter franchise (which I understand is touted as demonic or unholy or something by many fundamentalist Christians).

    Anyway, the Harry Potter game participants were hard at work casting various spells and arguing with each other about which spell caster was more powerful. During this discourse, I heard shouts of “I have the Power!” and “My spell is more powerful than yours!” and “You’re dead, my spell already killed you.”

    As I observed this game being carried on by children between the ages of 5 and about 8, I couldn’t help thinking how similar it sounded to the silly bickering that goes on among the various Christian denominations, factions and subfactions. I don’t think it should be confusing that outsiders might be reluctant to entrust their eternity to something that resembles a children’s shouting match.

    In short, what I think I hear from Christians and ESPECIALLY evangelicals are mostly just fiery pronouncements that they are right and everyone else is wrong. I’m not sure how that really serves any kind of god. I’m also not sure how evangelicals hope to recruit anyone when they seem to focus so intently on whom they can exclude rather than on whom they can include.

    I’m curious to see if this comment will draw any responses. I also wonder if any evangelical out there might say “hmmm, you know, maybe we should examine how we conduct ourselves and the way we deal with others who believe differently than we do…maybe that wouldn’t be so terrible…”

    I’m not holding my breath but stranger things have happened.

  • Charlie


    I can understand the complaint, but I think that it is overall misguided and self defeating.

    First you are condemning us for condemning others. But..there cannot be too much wrong in condemning people if you are doing it as well, right? You can’t step in and say, “you’re wrong for saying others are wrong.” For look what you are saying! You are telling us that we are wrong. you are putting rules upon other which you are unwilling to keep yourself. apparently we can’t say others are wrong, but you can tell others, who you think are wrong, that they are wrong.

    See the problem?

    Secondly, Your position presupposes that your view, whatever it is, is right and ours is wrong. Take the children’s play for example. It is funny because there is no real power which the children posses. It is just make believe. However, what if there was a real magical power. Then it would matter who had the greater power. So to, you presuppose that what we are talking about is of the same essence of the children’s make believe. Thus, when we disagree and say that others are wrong you shake your head at us. But what if we are right? what if there is a REAL God who gave us a REAL revelation that lays down a REAL way of salvation. then the condemning is not that “silly” any more.

    So if you want to argue, you need to do it at that level. You need to prove that what we believe is wrong. You cannot condemn us for “just” believing it. If Jesus’ statement, “no one can come to the Father except through me” is real then we are VERY correct in following and believing it.

    Hopefully that helps with the “disagreeing” part of Christians. Are there a lot of unnecessary disagreements and wrong headed splits? YES. We are fallen humans. But we have believed in a God who saves us and continually works with us in the midst of our fallenness.

    But thanks for the question. It is an interesting thing to ponder, the amount we disagree with one another. But I believe that your position is…wrong 🙂 for the reasons I stated above. It is self-defeating and dodges the main issue.

  • Ryan K.

    Mitch I am open to your criticism and do think it has some validity. Yet I want to make sure I understand. Are you comparing what Christians believe about God to the accuracy of a Harry Potter spell?

    If this is so, I would certainly understand why you would find all this to be petty and silly. I to find it comically when I stumble upon people who play World of Warcraft arguing about their characters and the gaining new spells. Yet the flaw in your analogy is that Christians do not believe the Bible or things of God to be make believe. But rather the deepest truths of reality and who we are.

    I would challenge you as well to examine that you also have convictions about what humans are, how we got here and what happens when we die. Rather than just assume those who disagree with you about such matters are playing make believe it might be more fruitful for you to investigate why the believe what they do.

    I would humbly recommend Tim Keller’s “The Reason For God.” Which surveys the views of both the non-believer and Christian when it comes to truth, reality, and morals. These issues are not secondary and irrelevant but rather the most important questions we all could ever ask.

  • D.J. Williams


    As prevalent as you say this attitude (“Walk like me. Talk like me. Think like me. Because I KNOW! AND unless you do, you’re headed for destruction!”) is, you still haven’t given one specific example of it from any Christian leader. The closest we’ve got is a general assertion that Mohler, Burk, and Dobson think people should vote a certain way on certain issues. If that’s all you’ve got, then I think you should be more careful in the attitude that you accuse Christian leaders of.


    I can definitely understand your concerns. There is entirely too much (and too ugly) infighting among Christians. However, I hope you’ll understand that as believers in Christ, we belive that truth matters. Ultimately, our hope is in the truth that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and has offered the free gift of forgiveness and redemption through his word. Because that is the case, getting the truth right is an important thing. Our souls hinge on it. In our pursuit of truth, sometimes we aren’t charitable with one another, and sometimes we make an overly big deal out of things that aren’t central matters. This is a sad reality. However, in this case, McLaren’s problems concern the central, foundational truths of the historic Christian faith. For believers to not call out those errors would be unloving toward those who are listening to McLaren and are being decieved by his rewriting of the Christian story. Long story short, while I understand your outsider’s concerns about disagreements within Christianity, there are times when disagreement is necessary to faithfully follow Jesus. This is one of those times.

  • D.J. Williams

    Ditto what Charlie and Ryan said, especially the recommendation of Keller’s The Reason For God. Mitch, I hope that between the three of us we’ve been moderately helpful.

  • Ryan K.

    Just Curious David, but what do you get out of reading and commenting on a blog that you seem to so ardently disagree with?

    My bet is it is the community (for what the internet is capable of) that you find here. Unlike many secular blogs, your not told to go jump off a building or get lost as soon as someone disagrees with you. So for as much mud that can be slung at Christians and our blog discourse, I have witnessed the secular counterpart and by internet etiquette standards, there is no comparison.

  • RJ

    The divides in America between Right and Left, Conservative and Liberal, Religious and Secular are real, important, and not going away.

    There are voices of clarity out there, helping to delineate the divides so that the rest of us can line up behind the positions we agree with.

    Here is one of the most important articles you will ever read:

  • David Vinzant

    Ryan K.,

    I love to debate and argue. This is my argumentation outlet (or one of them) so I don’t drive my wife and kids nuts. BTW, I loved debating just as much in my former life as a preacher.

    On a higher plane, I honestly believe that I can do some good by shining my little light of rationality here. I think this world could be a much better place if some of you hardcore Christians could be liberated to actually do good and useful things.

    Community? No, I find healthy community in my Unitarian Universalist church. Do you mean comunity amongst the Christians? I haven’t really noticed that. You guys seem to argue with each other more than with nonbelievers. I do appreciate the generally good manners, though I have found a much greater incidence of ad hominem attacks in Christian forums than in the secular debate forums I’ve visited. Quite a few people here have suggested that I get lost. Others try to psychoanalyze me, as you yourself seem to be doing.

  • Jack Brooks

    My reaction is “pffft!” I taught middle schoolers long enough to learn a lot about self-pitying manipulations. I can’t decide if MacLaren is so narcissistic that he actually believes that this is all about him — or if he’s sly enough to deliberately try to turn it into a referendum about whether evangelical leaders treat him as preciously as he demands they should. It’s probably both.

  • Ryan K.

    Thanks David, for the reply. I really was curious. BTW I am glad you comment here and do enjoy reading your opinions.

  • Lucas Knisely

    People that make the broad criticism that all Christians seem to do is argue about who is right and who is wrong theologically are ironically taking an off hands theological approach and accusing all those discussing/debating to be wrong. In other words, no matter how peaceful and non-dogmatic you try to look, you are still taking a stance and claiming others to be wrong just like those you are criticizing.

  • David Vinzant

    Thanks Ryan. I appreciate your civility and would do well to imitate you.

    I think it is natural for people to argue over important matters for which there are two or more possible answers. My point is that Christians all claim to be following the exact same book, following the exact same God and being led by the exact same Holy Ghost, yet cannot agree on basic doctrine such as what one must do to be saved. The technical name for this is the Argument from Confusion.

    The fact that Christians can’t agree on what their God wants (in spite of Jesus’ prayer for unity) suggests that either the Bible is contradictory on basic points, or many Christians are dishonest/incompetent in their understanding of the Bible. Bottom line: the Bible and Christianity come across as purely human creations. People from vastly different cultures and temperaments can agree on the rules of soccer as promulgated by FIFA or on chess by the World Chess Federation, but Christians have dozens of areas of huge disagreement on major points of doctrine.

  • D.J. Williams

    David Vinzant said…
    “The fact that Christians can’t agree on what their God wants (in spite of Jesus’ prayer for unity) suggests that either the Bible is contradictory on basic points, or many Christians are dishonest/incompetent in their understanding of the Bible.”

    I would agree with that statement. Why then, do you assume that the former cause is the issue rather than the latter?

  • Brian Krieger

    Also, all the groups mentioned would agree on the same foundational beliefs (we are separated from God by our sinfulness, Christ was offered in our place, He rose. Scriptures are God’s word, etc.). This is where McLaren is so far gone. Darius and I may disagree on divorce allowed, but not on what is the tenet of salvation. Don and I may disagree on women in the church, but not on what Christ did for us. See Mohler on theological triage.

    And yes, even with that in mind, we still do quarrel because of the passions within us (God did foresee our fallen nature, see James).

    I agree, too, that, as a very good friend of mine put it, sometimes you just have to get downwind of yourself. Especially in a web-forum, harshness can come across easily. But also, disagreements on the 2nd tiers doesn’t mean relegating to eternal punishment.

  • Nathan


    I guess I’m talking more about bias regarding what Scripture really teaches. There are a couple of very strong personalities in my area: Ken Hutcherson and Mark Driscoll. I will never say that they are categorically wrong across the board, but they each have their pet subjects to talk about and they have biases that the Scripture doesn’t contain, IMO.

    How about Fred Phelps? Sorry, couldn’t resist.


    I’m not defending McLaren’s conclusions (or anyone’s for that matter). My whole argument here is that people need to discern for themselves what Scripture has to say and not just go along with someone else out of tradition or respect or whatever. I’m sorry if you consider that a weak argument.

  • Darius T

    Nathan, you said: “I don’t necessarily endorse McLaren’s conclusions, but I see some merit in his criticisms.”

    I was responding to that comment, pointing out the hypocrisy of McLaren’s criticism and thus, your “weak” point. McLaren doesn’t mind people reading the Bible as if it had answers or telling others to follow them, cause HE DOES THAT. He just doesn’t like it when people don’t read it that way he wants them to read it. The hypocrite.

  • Mitch

    Wow, I’m impressed with these comments. Ryan & D.J., I have to say that you guys are some of the more civil christians I’ve come across.

    Now, Charlie. I’m not sure what to make of what you’ve said here. First of all, I haven’t condemned anyone. All I’ve said is that christians bicker among themselves and that’s a turn off to outsiders.

    The next thing I really noticed was this statement:

    “Secondly, Your position presupposes that your view, whatever it is, is right and ours is wrong.”

    This is exactly the kind of sarcastic nastiness that I’m talking about and have encountered from a LOT of christians ESPECIALLY evangelicals. “your view, whatever it is” Such kind and christ-like words (that was sarcasm).

    The thing I really can’t understand is that if you don’t know what my view is, how can you wrap up your comment with this:

    ” But I believe that your position is…wrong for the reasons I stated above. ”

    You say that you don’t know what my view is but you believe my position is wrong? Very confusing.

    Also, I can see that you didn’t really read much of my initial comment. It was about how people who are trying to win new converts to their faith might consider how that endeavor is affected by loud and nasty infighting in their ranks. My point is that this infighting drives outsiders away from this faith. That point does not depend on who’s right and who’s wrong in christianity. So, I’m not sure what you mean by saying that I’m “dodging the main issue.”

  • Charlie


    First, ”

    My comment was direct to two issues which I saw in your approach to the subject.

    The first one was direct to your remark about Christians calling others wrong. you said at the end, “In short, what I think I hear from Christians and ESPECIALLY evangelicals are mostly just fiery pronouncements that they are right and everyone else is wrong. I’m not sure how that really serves any kind of god.” What is happening in this comment? You can saying, that you cannot see that our “fiery pronouncements” that we are right and “everyone else is wrong.” as serving God. And if you are not serving God you are a disservice correct? And is it right or wrong to be a disservice to God? Thus, you are saying that we are wrong. (note: i am using the word “condemn” and the phrase “say that some is wrong” interchangeably.)

    That was the issue of the first section of my response. I went off the words “in short” taking them to mean that you were providing a summary of your comment. Thus, I used what you communicated and the general feel which I got from your comment (the feeling part is subjective, I know. But the summary confirmed it to me.) to get my understanding of your comment.

    If your summary was about bickering and how we need to develop more loving ways to express disagreement with one another I would have no problem with that.

    However…it is the “expressing disagreement” part which I did not find in your comment. I did not understand you as saying, “express disagreement better.” It was stating that we were wrong in condemning some which we disagree with. That is how I understood it. If I understood it wrong, I am sorry. But I believe I am correct in that your summary does communicate my understanding of your comment.

    Second. I believe that you are reading sarcasm into my comment. by my use of the phrase “whatever that is”, I meant to show fairness in the discussion. It expresses the exact reality: you have a belief and I do not know what that is. You have a belief about the world, humans, the problems in the world and how to fix them, God, etc.

    Looking at my comment I know that the divisions of the comment were not clear defined. So, let me do that here. The first response was about the issue just discussed above, you saying we were wrong in saying some else was wrong.

    Then the second section dealt with an underlining factor to the problem stated in the first section. So you had, “here is what you are doing (action A) and it is wrong” and then “this is why you can’t do action A” see what I am talking about?

    That is why in second section I stated that I do not know your worldview (“whatever that is”). And then at the end I stated that your comment was wrong. I will say that I was not very clear is making the separation between those to. I did call them both “positions.” But, they are separate positions. the unknown one is your unstated worldview. The other position is your beliefs stated through your comment.

    Hope that clears things up. If not, let me know and I will try and work on things.

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