A Conversation With Brian McLaren: Postscript

Well I made it to the Converse / Forge conference on Saturday to hear Brian McLaren speak at the Ryde-Eastwood Rugby Club and thought I’d post some miscellaneous musings.

Beware that the mismash of thoughts that follow is a memory prompt for me more than anything else. If you have questions on any specifics feel free to ask but I offer no apologies for incoherance at this point because its 10:30 at night and I had a long day at work. Anyhow…


Note to self. Must respond to Ruth Powell about questions for the NCLS. I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that emerging church and new age spirituality is overloaded by Myers-Briggs ‘N’ types (approaching 80-90%) and it would be good to put this on a firm statistical foundation. Could be helpful to identify ‘at-risk’ Christians, people with potential and emerging trends.

Grace McLaren

Further to the above, Grace said she is ENTP. More anecdotal evidence to chew over.

It was good to hear from Grace. Women have voices that need to be heard. Pity we don’t have more women interested in serving western missional contexts considering the 75% sex bias in some alternate spirituality / new age / neo pagan circles. Parent/ministry balance issues raised were very thought provoking. Grace’s talk evoked many teary responses from women attendees. Glad I opted for the womens elective. Glad she pointed out it wasn’t just for women.

Glen Powel

Loved the songs he played. Particularly ‘Secret Message’. Haven’t seen him play/sing since his ‘Quick and the Dead’ days at Black Stump when I was a newby Christian. Listening to him reminds me that Christian music can sometimes be moving.

Have to catch up for a coffee soon.

Maybe I should hike over to Cafe Church again soon as well.

Mike Frost

Ended up at the same table as circumstance would have it. In the course of the conversation he confirmed his new book is out within the next few month but Alan Hirsch’s has been pushed back to 2007 due to publishing issues. Bumber Alan!

General conversations

Caught up with some old faces and met some new ones. Surprisingly, many of the new ones I chatted to had no idea who Brian was, which left me a bit puzzled as to how they came to be forking out $80 plus. More money for experimentation than me maybe? Anyway they’ve been enlightened now.

When people asked about what I do emerging church wise a couple of the girls at my table seemed a little alarmed at my mixing with Pagans, witches, and what have you, particularly the fact that I do so without the support of a strong prayer team. “That’s hard core spiritual warfare!” one commented. I laughed. “It’d be nice”, I commented, “but most regular Christians are either too scared or too indifferent.” Many misconceptions lurking behind their exclaimation marks which are half the reason I have to go without. I think we had very different interpretations of the Bob Larson incident on John Safran’s “John Safran vs God”. Had a chat with Mel and Mal from Enmore who DO understand. Nice that there are some.

Ran into Steve Hinks. Long time no see. For my readers he used to be a pastor at St Paul’s Castle Hill, an Anglican church I attended for a number of years when I first embraced the way of Christ. Actually, he ran our wedding service, come to think of it. Now he’s in leadership training.

Had a long chat with Allison Gentle. A fellow Thin Places co-conspirator. Will have to catch up again soon.

Brian McLaren

Brian is a great storyteller. He has a knack for crafting difficult concepts into simple words and images.

Here’s some miscellaneous metaphors:

He invoked the imagery of “frog disections” and “frog ecosystems” – two different paths to understanding frogs – as a metaphor to explain the abstract distinctions between reductionism and holism. I’ll have to remember that next time I try to explain myself to the local Baptists.

“…when Christianity ceases to be a loom that can weave the threads together for an increasing segment of people…”

“theo-capitalism” as a discriptor for the religious right

“Elbow knowledge” as apprenticeship in an art (in this case the art of life that the disciples learned at the elbow of Jesus). “Jesus plays the music of life like no one else has every played it.” Had some doubts about the practicalities of this metaphor thoough, specifically, that some arts may have been lost altogether and may have to be forged anew without instructors.

“… vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else”

“Bait and switch” as a metaphor for contemporary evangelism

“Dictation theory” of biblical inspiration – Brian claims that American evangelicals are becoming increasingly like Muslims in the way they interpret scripture. Personally, I’m not so sure whether this is a changed situation or whether just more people are waking up to the problem.

Other quotes (either original or borrowed):

“Capitalism has defeated every enemy except greed”

One story I found particularly moving was from Brian’s youth. I don’t have time to type it out but basically it was how he learned that the way of Jesus was sometimes about seeking out the loneliest people rather than the prettiest.

One area I wished Brian had dealt with in more depth is the Emerging Church’s overemphasis on what I’ll call ‘back door’ ministry to the detriment of its ‘front door’ ministry. What I mean is, the extent to which our cohorts are becoming bogged down in ministry to deconstructing evangelicals while still largely failing to engage with ecclectic pluralists and devotees of new religious movements (given my past background and present ministry this is more than an academic issue for me). Moreover, I can’t help but observe that this ‘back door’ ministry is engaging post-evangelicals to a far greater extent than post-liberals.

I was able to catch up with Brian for a brief chat and quized him about some specific concerns I had re the American emerging church being quite evidentially post-evangelical but not nearly so evidentially post-liberal. He highlighted that many emerging church leaders were influenced by Stanley Houweras and the like but on reflection conceeded it was a concern.

In a later session Brian did comment that it would be easy for the Emerging Church to become a pool for alienated evangelicals and we must be careful, that we would not be doing our job if we lost focus on the unchurched. However it is my observation that this is already happening on a large scale – few emerging church leaders I read seem to have any real hands on experience with other religions and most conversations do seem to be centred around recovery from fundamentalism.

In short, although Brian is evidentially conscious of this issue I am concerned it is not receiving enough attention. I realise that he needs to devote time to fending of fundamentalists but maybe one sign of success would be to equally tick off Bishop Spong and not just Don Carson. Ahh, I am getting tired now. Must go to bed.

Actually, a truer sign of success in my mind would be to attract the attention of people like Nevil Drury, Fiona Horne, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, etc. Anyhow, hopefully this is a conversation the emerging church will have more time for as time goes by. I wish him well in further stirrings of the pot round the globe. Excuse me for the unpolished nature of this brief critique but I must go.

Final thoughts:

Kingdom of God = life to the max.

Identifying with the alienated means risking alienation ourselves.

Those who will lead us into the future are those who are prepared to suffer.

2 thoughts on “A Conversation With Brian McLaren: Postscript

  1. “theo-capitalism” as a discriptor for the religious right
    I heard it more that theo-capitalism as being a descriptor of the general western church culture. Not so much the ‘left or right’ of the church.
    It is like the church culture gives its imprimatur to the reigning consumerism and individualism in the west – effectly being the church that props up the divine authority corporate world. Whereas we should be a contrast people, not supporting a clearly dehumanising and corrupt system. Where hospital patients are now no longer patients, but consumers.


  2. Dean, I must thank you for all your efforts on the day as well. I know tech support is a thankless task and often the best complement you get is that no one noticed you were there (ie no major stuff ups that distracted people). Your a real servant.


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