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The Gospel According to Brian McLaren

November 14, 2007

** I have significantly expanded and revised this post into an article, located at Next Wave.

Brian McLaren is celebrated by many as a hero of postevangelical theology and ministry. Others lament his writings and practice, branding him a heretic. I believe that McLaren is exemplary for a number of reasons (pastoral, dialogical, sincere, compassionate, creative); however, his theological method is disturbing. Central to his hermeneutic is a suspiscion of the reliability of Scripture.

In The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives McLaren summarizes his theological method called the “Four Ideas”.[1] These Ideas are: 1) The Gospel as a story, 2) the Gospel as many versioned, many faceted, many layered, and Christ centered, 3) the Gospel as cumulative 4) The Gospel as performative and catalytic.

McLaren stresses his experience of “depropositionlization” in order to appreciate and understand the essentially narrative nature of the gospel, which in turn, became his Idea 1. Ironically, Idea 2 comes in the form of a proposition asserting that the Gospel is “many versioned”, meaning that the gospel story was recorded and is told in a variety of ways, e.g. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or American, Asian, or African.

While affirming the rich diversity of the gospel’s expression throughout time and across cultures, McLaren does not pose self-contradictory theologies but instead asserts that all of these versions must converge upon the person of Christ, if they are to be considered the gospel. In an effort to heed the epistemological warnings of postmodernism, McLaren states that he can not know that the records of Jesus are accurate with “absolute, undoubtable, unquestionable certainty.”[2]

In Idea 3 McLaren underscores the cumulative nature of the gospel story, pointing out that the story began before the incarnation and that it continues well after the resurrection. He supports this claim by linking Luke’s two part history in the New Testament, where in his gospel he recorded, “all that Jesus began to do and teach” with the Acts of the Apostles as a Spirit-enabled continuation of the ongoing acts of Jesus Christ in his apostles. The fourth and final Idea celebrates the Transformative power of the gospel story, that it is action in time and space. As a result, the community of faith welcomes new people into its faith from various cultures and backgrounds, making the story richer and different. In fact, McLaren even says that it changes the gospel message. This claim indicates that he is not only proposing an alternative methodology but also a redefinition of the message.

McLaren’s uncertainty regarding the records of Jesus and his openness to culture changing the gospel are reasons for concern. Greater clarity on what exactly these statements mean would be helpful. Feel free to enlighten.


[1] See Leonard Sweet, ed. The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 198-206

[2] Ibid., 201

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2007 4:48 pm

    Wow, I wish I had read this before I wrote my post earlier today. This is good insight.

    I can’t say that I know McLaren’s direct thoughts on the subject, but the smell test would seem as though you are on to something.

  2. November 14, 2007 4:57 pm

    Smell test…i like it…

  3. danso permalink
    November 15, 2007 9:26 pm

    Thanks for the welcome! Yes, it’s a sweet template. By the way, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but GCTS will not be sending a team this summer for the Shan OMP – all the contacts are going to be on home assignment next year! That spells bad timing for me! Not sure what the Lord is trying to say…

  4. November 15, 2007 9:59 pm

    No, i hadnt heard…even Neel will be gone?

  5. November 20, 2007 3:21 pm

    McLaren states that he can not know that the records of Jesus are accurate with “absolute, undoubtable, unquestionable certainty.”

    I’m confused why this statement would concern you. Would you actually claim the opposite? Do you claim to know with “absolute, undoubtable, unquestionable certainty” that the records of Jesus are accurate? On what basis could you possibly claim such absolute certainty?

    Or to put it another way, do you claim to live by faith or by sight?

  6. November 22, 2007 2:38 pm

    The statement raises concern in that the extent of his doubt regarding the reliability of Scripture is unclear. If he simply means that modern translations and extant NT and OT manuscripts have errors, well then I would agree, though these errors are marginal (the ending of the gospel of Mark being the largest). However, if McLaren extends his uncertainty into the accuracy of the original autographs of Scripture and subsequently their authority for faith and practice, there is much to be concerned about.

    Yes, I believe the original autographs of the records of Jesus were without error. Scripture is the basis for this belief. It attests to its own veracity and reliablity and Jesus himself claims these very things. Numerous references come to mind that continually refer to all of Scripture as truth, God-breathed, not one jot or tittle passing away,etc. In his gospel, Luke purports to record what witnesses have seen, with accuracy.

    If the Gospels are not reliable and without error in autograph and with minimal error in present form, who is to say that any of it can be trusted?

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