Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Mohler and SBTS Profs Dissect McLaren

Albert Mohler hosted a discussion today of Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity. Panel members include Bruce Ware, Jim Hamilton, Greg Wills, and Stephen Wellum.

It is no surprise that this panel is very critical of the book. All agree that the book is an open renunciation of the historic Christian faith. Mohler calls the book a “brazen confrontation” of the Christian metanarrative. Ware says that the title should have been “An Old Kind of Apostasy.” He also says that before this book he had thought of McLaren as a wolf in sheep’s clothing but that now he sees that this wolf has taken off his sheep costume. McLaren’s teaching is open heresy. Jim Hamilton says that McLaren is “of his father the Devil.”

Read this book. Listen to this discussion. I’ll be interested to read your response.


  • Ben

    Full disclosure – I didn’t watch the whole thing.

    Nevertheless, I’m confused by the purpose of this panel. The critiques leveled are at times outside the bounds of what the book addresses. For instance, the question was asked “Why stick with Christianity, why not go off and create your own religion?” The answers to this question are pure speculation. Some sort of sentient representative needs to be present to answer questions that the book doesn’t answer for itself.

    Another statement early in the panel addressed evolution vs pure creationism. Christianity is not monolithic on the point made by this panel, but the panel treats it as if it was. This (and other points) almost seems like self-flagellation.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with those who say that McLaren has left the reservation. But this panel seemed to go far afield from the points of the book (e.g., “this is old apostasy” is a good comment), and it seems to me they are more concerned with McLaren’s motivations or the philosophy of postmodernity, which the book does not address.

    I struggle with the utility of this presentation. How are we intended to take it?

  • Mark

    I attend a school where many of the students are generously “orthodox.” What I start to notice is that these students start moving more and more into heresy. One student I know who I thought was a tad bit too “open-minded” in my earlier years at the school has given himself into a mixture of Christianity and Hindu mysticism. I’m not surprised when I look back at some of the conversations I had with him.

  • Chris Skinner

    Denny, Thanks for the link. McLaren is coming to St. Mary’s (where I teach) on Monday night so this was a source of interest for me. I understand the opposition to McLaren but I want to take issue with something Mohler said right at the end of the panel. He said something to the effect of, “this was a great conversation and hopefully a model of how a book is to be discussed.” This forum was anything but a model of how a book should be discussed in an academic forum. There was no voice to the other side. Not only was every member of the panel in agreement, there was no hint of dissent among the panelists. In fact, what I saw were degrees of antipathy toward McLaren and his book, but no voice of opposition. This was similar to the forum on Wright that was posted a few months back. How can you have a “forum” to discuss issues such as this without a counterpoint? Just an observation. I’m certainly not a McLaren apologist. I think he has gotten a lot wrong. But, in the spirit of academic exchange, I have to object and say that this was not a model for how a book or author should be discussed. Just my two cents. Hope you and your family are well.

  • Denny Burk

    Dear Chris,

    Great to hear from you. Yes, I know. Every time we have a faculty forum I hear this complaint. The point of these exchanges, however, is to have SBTS faculty members weigh-in on theological hot topics. We all hold to the same confessional standard, so it should be no surprise that our takes are similar on a book like this.

    We’re unashamedly a confessional school. For us, that means that as a faculty we are in broad agreement about what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus, Scripture, Sexuality, etc. It seems to me that the faculty forum is not the issue that people take exception with. It’s the confessional commitments of the panel members.

    One more thing. Those who follow McLaren’s paradigm follow him into apostasy. He has turned his back on Christianity, and he has never been more clear about that fact than he is in this book. Are we really serving God’s people as a seminary if our professors aren’t allowed to sound a clear word of warning on a book like this one? I don’t think so.

    Thanks again for commenting. It’s great to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and yours.


  • Jeff Wright

    I agree with Chris Skinner in questioning what sort of model this discussion was. It was a good model for an apologetic, defending-the-faith sort of discussion. I was pleased to hear, by the way, that they all read the book which doesn’t always keep some folks from offering opinions on it! I, too, was reminded of the NT Wright panel discussion as I was listening today. It would be good to hear a counter-point offered. It may not be praticable to have the author appear but perhaps a professor from a nearby university would interested in joining discussions like these from time to time.

    Nonetheless, the discussion was provocative and thought-provoking. Many good points were made. More evangelical seminaries should have discussions like these on the important ideas of the day.

  • Chris Skinner


    Don’t get me wrong. I have no qualms about a confessional school being unabashedly confessional. My concern is with Mohler’s statement that this is how such books should be discussed. I take issue with that since I believe in an exchange of ideas even when I disagree with the view of another.



  • John Holmberg

    Teaching at a “confessional” school does not mean everybody will agree on everything or have the same views on every book. That is just silly. One person may be more sympathetic, while another more hostile. One may give the author the benefit of the doubt, while the other does not.

    Therefore, your rebuttal to Chris just doesn’t work in my opinion. Sure, you all have the same “doctrinal standards.” But that doesn’t mean you always agree on interpretations of things.

  • Denny Burk


    I guess I’m not following you here. Why can’t confessional professors discuss a book? It seems like you are suggesting that a useful exchange of ideas can’t be had among a confessional faculty. We have colloquia every week among the various departments on campus. We would need to cancel those if your argument is valid. Indeed, all colloquia on confessional campuses would have to be canceled on that logic.

    There are other occasions (e.g., conferences, Dr. Mohler’s radio program, special guests invited to campus) in which we engage directly with people outside our confession. We’re not against such engagement, and indeed we do it. The issue here is whether there’s some impropriety when our faculty discusses a book. I don’t think there is.

    In this case, I think there is great benefit to our students to hear a strong defense of the faith in the face of such profound error. I believe, in fact, that this is our calling as teachers of the word (Titus 2:15).

    Thanks again,

  • Ben

    Denny said (#7):
    “It seems like you are suggesting that a useful exchange of ideas can’t be had among a confessional faculty.”

    My point, which is very close to Chris’, is that no real exchange happened here. Everyone showed up with the same suppositions and no challenge or friction occurred to drive the conversation forward. These challenges don’t have to be unorthodox, but there is room even within (most) confessions to still disagree on things.

    What’s the point of the colloquia if only one viewpoint is presented? An analogy would be an ice cream bar with 36 flavors of vanilla. What’s the point?

    So far, I’m with Chris on this one.

  • Dorian

    “What’s the point of the colloquia if only one viewpoint is presented?”

    This was never advertised as a debate. I could understand your objection if it was, but it was simply a time of reflection and voicing some thoughts on a book. McLaren’s viewpoint was present in his book, and anyone who heard has the opportunity to hear him in the form of his book. I think an analogy would be insisting that in order for an ice cream bar to be an ice cream bar it must always have cake.

  • Mark


    There is no room for “let’s agree to disagree as Christians” with Brian McLaren. McLaren has shown more in recent years he was never on the right wagon in the first place. With all the heresies he is spewing out in his recent books do you believe that the SBTS profs in the panel where being too harsh with him?

    This discussion isn’t about McLaren’s particular view of the scope of the atonement, the Millennnium, church government, mode of baptism, etc. (all things that true believers can agree to disagree on). He is challenging fundamental beliefs held by historic orthodox Christianity for the last 2000 years.

    I for one would be more harsh to McLaren for the heresies he is promulgating. Prof. Bruce Ware was not being uncharitable when he called him a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was being true to its consistent end. People like McLaren need to be more exposed so that the flock do not get led astray by such dangerous men.

  • Ben

    My comment are not about McLaren, who I have agreed has “left the reservation”. See my comment in #2.

    I’m more curious about how I should approach these panel discussions Denny posts. To Chris’ point, my expectation of a panel discussion does not match what I see in the videos Denny often posts – the one about eschatology/dispensationalism being an exception.

  • Andrew

    Heresy needs no dissenting voice to support it. Suggesting it does is asking to give the Devil a foothold. If there’s nothing good about the book it must be said loud and clear for the sake of the flock. Too many pastors waver on these issues while the wolves drag away their flock.

    Love the Hamilton comment. You can always trust him to tell it like it is!

  • Matt Stokes

    Have to agree with those who said that this panel is rather loaded. Totally agree that McLaren is far off the reservation, but someone needs to be there to speak for the book. Otherwise, it’s four or five guys sitting explaining why something is bad. How boring.

  • Donald Johnson

    FWIIW, some see Ware as a heretic (or close to it) on the idea of ESS, eternal subordination of the Son, see Ericson’s recent book.

    I am not trying to defend McLaren, not having read him.

  • Chris Skinner

    I want to try (again) to make a point about *procedure* that seems to be missed by everyone but Ben. An acceptable definition for colloquium includes “the exchange of views or ideas.” There are no “views” being “exchanged” here. There are only varying degrees of disgust and disagreement. Mohler (the supposed *moderator*) talks more than all of the “panelists” combined. Before you retreat to the “this-is-a-confessional-context” card, I was the pastor of a baptist church for the past eight years and I can tell you that every staff member signed a doctrinal statement affirming their confession. Still, this does not mean we agreed with each other 100% of the time on all issues. I don’t even agree with myself 100% of the time, and sometimes further reflection on my views shows me that I’m wrong. My simple point is, this should not be billed as a “panel,” a “colloquium,” or a “model for how books should be discussed.” Let’s simply call it what it is – a forum for demonstrating McLaren’s heterodoxy. Keep in mind, I am NOT commenting on the CONTENT of the panel. Rejecting unorthodox or even heterodox views is a part of the school’s commitment to orthodoxy. That’s fine by me. We must, however, be able to disagree in an agreeable way as followers of Christ.

    And, to Andrew’s last point, I thought the most shameful moment of the discussion was when Jim referred to McLaren as a “serpent” and called for him to repent. I know Jim and I don’t believe this was intentionally malicious. He is passionate and committed to his beliefs. Nevertheless, I doubt that those outside Southern Baptist circles would have any sympathetic regard for those comments. In fact, I know quite a few people who would regard them as arrogant, and elitist, and simply dismiss Jim as credible. Jim is a terribly gifted guy. I’m sure he wouldn’t want his views dismissed right away because of a careless phrase such as that. We can “tell it like it is” (and even “speak the truth in love”) and still honor the spirit and substance of John 13:34-35, can’t we?

  • Nate

    Chris: So I guess Jesus would have had to change some of his comments about the Pharisees for the same reasons? Look, McLaren is so far off the reservation that he is no longer a christian, even though, as Dr. Ware stated, he used to attempt to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now, he stands as the wolf and declares that the sheep need to become like him. Did you listen to the quotes the Dr. Ware read from the book? McLaren is attempting to lead the brethren away from the truth and Hamilton spoke with conviction.

    The question for you is this: Do you think McLaren needs to repent? I believe he does, as do many others, because he is leading many to destruction.

  • Denny Burk


    The McLaren forum was not a colloquium. I was just using that as an example of another forum on campus in which only SBTS profs and students would be present. The only difference is that they are not on video on the internet.

    As to Jim’s remarks, there is a sound biblical basis for speaking the way that he did. This is exactly how Jesus spoke when confronting dangerous, false teachers (Matthew 12:34; John 8:44). Indeed, Paul spoke similarly to warn the flock against damning error (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:9-10). My argument is that McLaren’s error is grave enough to merit this kind of response. To believe what he is peddling is to no longer be a Christian.

    If ever there were an occasion for sharp reproof, McLaren’s book is one of them (Titus 1:13; 2:15).


  • Chris Skinner

    You are certainly missing the point and your analogy doesn’t hold. When any of the panelists rise to the level of being Jesus, then they can use the dismissive language he used. Until then, we should all proceed with greater humility and self-awareness in public discourse. Perhaps you haven’t yet had the experience of standing in the pulpit or in the classroom on a weekly basis. Let me assure you, I shudder when I stand up before God’s people to “proclaim” not just because of the responsibility but also because of the influence I wield. People are going to go out and make decisions, live their lives, etc. based upon what I have proclaimed to them as “the Gospel.” That is a humbling thought and, as those entrusted with the ministry of teaching and/or preaching, we ought to approach with great humility and an awareness of our frailties. For his part, Jesus did not, so your analogy falls apart right away. Or, perhaps you are taking WWJD too far in your own personal theology?

    Nate, Andrew, Dorian, and Denny,
    Perhaps we should just “agree to disagree” about this. Thanks for the opportunity to dialogue though. It was stimulating.

  • Nate

    I appreciate your humility on the concern about what you say from the pulpit, but to not call heresy heresy is going to cause your people to go make decisions that could destroy them. As Denny pointed out as well, Paul spoke with similar boldness (see Galatians), and Peter did also in his second epistle. Paul also told Timothy to stand guard for the faith, so I don’t believe the analogy falls short.

  • Chris Skinner

    This is my last post, I promise. Calling heresy heresy and referring to someone you don’t know (and who’s motives you are not entirely certain of) as a “crafty serpent” who needs to repent are, to my mind, two different things. Paul also had an apostolic commissioning that none of us have. So, I’ll expand my previous statement to say that when any of the panelists rises to the level of Jesus and/or Paul, then they can use the same dismissive language.

    Okay, I’m done. Thanks again, Denny.

  • Nate

    Thanks for the dialogue Chris!

    I’ll just close by saying that I don’t need to personaly know someone in order to tell if they are a heretic. Claiming that there is salvation apart from Jesus and the cross is heretical, regardless of their intentions.

  • Terry

    You would think that the title of his book would give you a good idea of his motives, actually the titles of all his books gives you a good idea that ol’ fashioned Christianity wasn’t good enough for Bri… his kind is better

  • Larry S


    a question about your #23 comment (it might be slightly off topic). You wrote: I appreciate your humility on the concern about what you say from the pulpit, but to not call heresy heresy is going to [b]cause[/b] your people to go make decisions that could destroy them.

    I’m wondering about your use of the word CAUSE. Was it posting hyperbole? or do you stand by your use of the word?

    At times, it seems that people in the reformed tradition have an inflated view of the role/impact of the preacher. To give you a bit of my context – anabaptist with a heavy dose of the priesthood of believers. Sometimes the language of ‘office’ and so forth that comes out of the Reformed camp sounds a bit over the top.

    pls read this as musing and not too challenging. 🙂


  • Francis Beckwith

    Denny, thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    The emergent church folks have, for all their talk of being countercultural, turn out to be just parrots of the prevailing trends.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong the forum SBTS conducted. In a cultural climate in which Christianity is under siege, there is no obligation to provide “equal time” for error when you’re training future ministers. You, of course, must bring to their attention hostile thought and teach them how to properly respond to it. But you’re in the business of training future ministers, which means that your chief goal is spiritual and intellectual formation.

    Here are my comments about McLaren’s book:

  • Mark

    Frsncis Beckwith wrote: “The emergent church folks have, for all their talk of being countercultural, turn out to be just parrots of the prevailing trends.”

    LOL. Something about that sounded funny.

  • Matthew Staton

    The second link contains this ironic charge: “…while he decries the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology, his whole method seems Gnostic (and thus, neo-Platonic) in the sense that he seems to think…”

  • Nate


    In my conversation with Chris on the issue, there was the assumption that his people knew about this controversy. That was probably insinuating more than I knew. So, if I could clarify. If your people know about an issue like this (McLaren’s book) and you don’t speak clearly as a pastor that this is heresy, then yes, it could cause your people to make decisions that could destroy them. That is, if they would buy into McLaren’s argument and believe his heresy.

    I agree pastors can become too inflated but far too many people wrongly take what a pastor says or does not say on topics as truth without going to the bible to verify it for themselves.

  • Lucas Knisely

    Whenever someone removes Christ as an example because someone modeling the words of Christ is not actually Christ, they need to remember that you can’t pick and choose what actions of Christ we are allowed to model. If everything Jesus did was perfect and fitting, then we can see that there are places for harsh reproof and rebuke. To deny this is to deny Christ as teacher. Whenever someone rebuttals with, “Well you aren’t Christ.” a good response is… “Yes of course I’m not, which is why I should make every effort to be more like him.”

  • Lucas Knisely

    His miracles give us a picture of helping those in need. We take that example and try to live it out. Using his super natural abilities to elevate him above us (which they certainly do), does not suddenly affirm the position that we can’t take his examples of stern rebuke and try to live them out as well.

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