not everything must change

Last week I received a mass email from Brian McLaren regarding his “Everything Must Change” tour, in which he lamented that “many if not most Christians in the US remain focused on” their “intramural religious debates” rather than the global crises confronting our world.  He wrote:  “In one Q & A session after another since our tour, I’ve watched the conversation be pulled away from Jesus’ gospel of the reigning of God in relation to life-and-death global crises, and turned toward controversies and inquisitions about doctrinal opinions and ‘theological correctness.’ Some nights, I didn’t even realize what had happened until I went back to my hotel room and just wanted to cry.”


I sympathize with McLaren’s lament, but really, it’s his own fault.  The surest way to get his audience to focus on his ethical concerns would be to assure them that he is theologically orthodox.  But when Brian refuses to answer their direct and specific questions, either by brushing them aside as the wrong question or answering with a question of his own, then he is actually fueling the theological fire he claims he would like to put out. 


McLaren is right that we Christians have much work to do in this world, but his questioners are right to wonder whether Brian knows what it means to be a Christian.  In his chapter in Evangelicals Engaging Emergent (Broadman & Holman), a new book which I received this week, Darrell Bock (distinguished NT professor at Dallas Seminary) critiques McLaren for pitting the social teachings of Jesus against his gospel of individual salvation.  Bock notes that unlike McLaren’s fascination with Rome and resisting Empire, “Rome hardly comes up at all as an exclusive source of critique in the New Testament.”  Indeed, Paul “tells Christians not to be revolutionary in the sense McLaren’s language about Rome suggests (Rom. 13:1-7).” 


Bock says that McLaren incorrectly divides global concerns from matters of personal sin and salvation.  Consequently, he is guilty of “mistaking sociopolitical goals as the ends when it is people’s hearts that desperately need what God alone can supply” and “highlighting practice while being too critical of attempts to think precisely theologically.” 


In sum, the fact that theological questions made Brian cry makes the rest of us want to.







14 responses to “not everything must change”

  1. How much more will Brian cry when he stands before Christ one day, saying, “But Lord, I did all these social initiatives in your name,” and Christ throws him out, replying, “I don’t know you.” (Luke 13:27) If only Jesus wasn’t such an exclusionist.

  2. That’s a fairly harsh judgment of McLaren, Jonathan. I wouldn’t be so quick to make that assumption.

  3. Dr. Wittmer,
    I hope you plan to send your post on to Brian McLaren and I’d be interested to hear what his response is to your legitimate observation.


  4. Brian McLaughlin

    Good thoughts. The typical emerging critique is that the church has been too enmeshed with individualism. I agree with this critique. However, in effort to overcome this individualism some (McLaren?) have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The biblical reality seems to be that we are saved as individuals for community. In other words, individual salvation is in no way at odds with community/social justice/etc. In fact, individual salvation empowers and makes these things possible. Why have so many missed that?

  5. Very perceptive, Mike.

  6. Great points raised here. IF Brian would say something of substance on what he really believes instead of dancing around the “controversies” and just tell us what he really thinks about, say, substitutionary atonement we would be able to deiced what to do with him. But that wouldn’t be good for his book sales no would it? no it would not be? I hope he keeps publishing, because each time he does he shows more of where he is theologically and from what I can tell it is not the same view of who God is and what the gospel is and what the church should be as that of orthodoxy. Which leads me to ask that we pray for him, the church he pastors and those who read his books to take another hard look at what he teaches and repent.

  7. File under “Haven’t We Seen This Before”: Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change Tour” reminds me quite a bit of another well-known religious figure’s book a few years ago…

  8. Thanks, Mike, for this note and the pointer to Evangelicals Engaging Emergent. Bock’s quote is so telling and I’m continually amazed at the sheer lack of focus on the kerygma from the emergent camp. “Lord set our hearts on the centrality of Christ crucified and may we take doctrine seriously as an honest quest to know you!”

  9. Mike,
    On this beautiful spring morning, I wish we would show two ounces of grace to a fellow brothers in Christ. We can talk God’s grace, but when we fail to extend it ourselves, we fail to be disciples. Orthopraxis should always flow out of orthodoxy; the fact that it doesn’t necessarily flow out is precisely Brian’s point.
    Randy Buist

  10. Layman Speaks


    Was not Mikes original post about Orthodoxy? And is it not true that Orthopraxis requires that we are faithful to scripture? Here is what Paul said:
    I Timothy 5:18-22
    “18For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,”[a] and “The worker deserves his wages.”[b] 19Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 21I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

    If McLaren, Pagit etc. are not heretical in their understanding and teaching they should make it clear. If they are heretics, Paul say’s here to “publicly rebuke them so that others may take warning.” THIS IS Orthopraxis!


  11. Perhaps a life that is not filled with grace toward others is not filled with agape love. The apostle Paul also writes about the single greatest calling of God’s people in I Cor. 13

    Without a generous love toward our fellow man, we are resou ding gongs and blah blah blah cymbals.

    If anyone questions Doug or Brian’s orthodoxy, spend a week with one of them…

  12. Hey Randy,
    I do agree with you that Christians should be shown grace and charity. But I think you’re being unfair. To have Dr. Wittmer highlight theological concerns that he has is not uncharitable. There is legitimate concern and confusion by many gospel-loving Christians in regards to the views of Brian McClaren and Doug Pagitt. These aren’t concerns about personal morality or personal Christian practice. These are concerns about the teachings of Brian and Doug. And we find a common thread in Scripture that those who don’t hold to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles concerning issues of salvation, the deity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Christ are to be shown anything but toleration. Paul explains that these people are to be silenced and removed from Christian assemblies. This is also true for those who are living in unrepentant sin where there presence would be teaching “let us go on sinning so grace may increase…”
    You say that if we only met Brian and Doug we’d see things completely different. But, if we can not get a true picture of there beliefs through their writings then we have an even greater concern of hypocrisy and double-mindedness. This, in my view, would make them even less trustworthy and would create even more questions in regards to their commitment to Christ and his gospel. I think the main issue that’s of concern is whether or not Brian and Doug are even a part of the Christian faith or are they false teachers who are wolves in sheeps clothes. If this is the case, they are for now beyond charity and in the realm of Church discipline.
    You also presume that the people on this site are uncharitable and unloving since they are raising these concerns. I at least know Dr. Wittmer, and I can say if you spent a week with him, that is not the man you would be meeting. While he has grown frustrated with Doug and Brian’s ambiguity, he has never spoken an ill word about them in regards to their character or integrity. I’ll leave it at that…

  13. Yooper


    Words have meaning. It concerns me that you continue to emphasize a works based salvation and flippantly disregard the Word of God when it comes to the essentials of the Christian faith.

  14. […] Wittmer’s comments in response to this, I believe, are exactly right. Wittmer says that while he can sympathize with McLaren’s lament “it’s his own fault.” You can read the entire entry here. […]

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