McLaren responds to critiques of “A New Kind of Christianity”

Books / Religion

I’m leading a group here in the Diocese of Arizona that’s reading through Brian McLaren’s newest book. At the beginning of the week I posted a critique of his criticism of the Graeco-Roman world view and its effect on reading the Bible properly. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to have the reaction I had.

So McLaren has posted a response to the critics.

“1. I would encourage people who are critical of the chapter (4) dealing with Plato and Aristotle to be sure to read the lengthy endnotes for the chapter, especially notes 1, 2, 3, 5, 14, and 17, where I address some or maybe most of their concerns. I noticed how some of the criticism paraphrases exactly the kinds of provisos and qualifications I offer in notes 1 and 2, which made me think the commenters hadn’t seen those notes. Perhaps I should have included these provisos in the text itself. At any rate, in the notes (and at points in the text itself) I try to make it clear that I’m dealing with some of the popularized ‘isms’ associated with these great philosophers, not with their rich and nuanced thinking itself, which I also acknowledge could never be reduced to a simple or formulaic summary. If someone is seeking a thorough understanding of these philosophers themselves, I imagine Nathan would be a good source of information. My purpose was to offer some explanation for how a certain narrative alien to Jesus and his gospel may have come to frame Jesus and his gospel. Whether my proposed explanation is valid or not, this narrative still arose from somewhere, and still deserves some attention, and, I think, questioning.”

Read the full response here, there’s a great deal more.

To which I respond, “fair enough”.

As I’ve gotten further into the book, McLaren’s left this particular line alone and if following different ones. At the moment he’s pointing out that our sense of what it is to properly interpret scripture is highly culturally conditioned. He’s listing the horrific ways that the Bible was used to justify human slavery in the southern U.S. As I read these sections, there’s not much to disagree with. It’s pretty standard stuff and represents much of what was being discussed, taught, debated, etc at Yale when I was a student at the Divinity School there back in the late 80’s.

I still think McLaren could strengthen his argument against the traditional Reformation reading of the Bible by saying it no longer makes sense to us in the 21st century rather than by dismissing the sources that the Reformers used to make their argument. But, that’s a nuance and not a dismissal of the main point.

… More as I get further into the book.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. But that’s part of the problem isn’t it? On the one hand McLaren says that our interpretations are highly conditioned by our situation and culture (which obviously they are), but on the other hand he says that the direction of christology right around the time of Nicaea is too “Greek,” that is, it is culturally specific- for lack of a nuanced articulation.
    But if there was a “Greek fall” of christology into categories alien to the bible it is beyond me how he is able to suggest that we are going to get back to the “real” narrative of the bible, presumably more-free of “non-biblical” categories than the Fathers?!
    I think he would have been better off making a case merely for the contextualization of the Gospel “here and now” rather than maligning overwhelming swaths of Christian theological reflection on the person of Christ as less-than-biblical.
    It is also hermeneutically youthful in my opinion. If Gadamer is really onto something with his hermeneutical project, and I think he is, there can be no separation between “performance” and “method.” On top of this, we simply cannot peel off our historical layers to enable us to see and contextualize the Gospel more clearly than any other group. McLaren just demonstrates “modern” presumption again: “We’re the ‘scientific’ generations who care about historical criticism and hermeneutics, unlike those ancient people who were more subjective than we are.”
    It’s like you said, he’s not saying anything particularly new. Indeed, in some ways it’s a late imitation of what the Mainline has been saying for a while. And it hasn’t exactly helped our christology!

  2. Bunker Hill says

    Hi Nick,
    Are you aware that McLaren is posting a video discussion of each of the questions at The Ooze?

  3. Christopher says

    Caveat, I have not read this book, but in the descriptions I’ve read so far I am troubled. Overdetermined arguments of biblical versus Hellenistic will not do. Even before the New Testament period, in the inter-Testamental period we have examples of Greco-Jewish interactions in thinking. Paul is Jewish in his thinking and his thinking is also greatly influenced by Hellenistic tendencies. It’s both/and.
    What is most interesting, and I don’t think the complainers against Hellenism get, is that the Fathers, especially Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Damascene take Neo-Platonic categories and turn them on their heel, so that we end up with an theo-ontology that is being-in-communion based in a Person, the Father. This is no unmoved Mover in the pre-Patristic sense of a God unto self, but a God of Persons in relationship mutually interpenetrating and co-eternal. By baptism we are brought into this Communion, this Relationship. Such a radical theo-ontology puts our own relationships among ourselves into question wherever they fall short on the level of humanity, which cannot be perichoretic (something overly enthusiastic supporters of Communion ecclesiologies al la Zizioulos seem to ignore but Volf reminds us to take seriously) in the same way, hence moral theology and ethics and social justice and yes, rights, as the likes of LaCugna and Volf would remind.
    Further, the if McLaren thinks the heart of the Reformation–God’s unearned love in Christ, no longer speaks he has not understood the heart of Desmond Tutu’s gospel message and its radical rebuke to an apartheid economy.

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