I think the first thing I want to share about this past week at the Leadership Institute is that I got to really experience Brian McLaren. I got to attend a 45 minute Q & A with him on Friday. He spoke about recentering on the gospel in America for our large plenary session on Friday evening. And then I attended a teaching time with him on Friday morning, where he spoke about the Kingdom of God. I really want to just make a list of things I noticed about him to help me process him.
1) McLaren is very winsome. He started off our Q & A by saying that this type of thing was his favorite thing in the world to do. He just really loves talking to people. And he's very disarming even if you don't agree with him.
2) McLaren loves Jesus. You can tell this about him by listening to him talk. He's written a great book about post-modern evangelism which I read a couple of years ago called More Ready Than You Realize. He really cares about introducing people to Jesus and winning people to Christ.
3) McLaren loves and knows the Bible. He always had a Bible with him, and he even used it. And he quoted it from all kinds of random places. He knows it inside and out.
4) McLaren doesn't think that evangelicalism in the past 200 years has done a good job of interpreting the Bible. I asked him a question about how he thought we ought to interpret Matthew 24. He talked about how there was a genre of literature known as Jewish Apocolypticism, which is part or a larger genre known as the Literature of the Oppressed. He says that he started out as believing that most New Testament prophecies would be fulfilled in the future, but now believes that as much as 90% of it may have been fulfilled in the first century. This is commonly called preterism.
5) McLaren believes that eternal life is just one component of the gospel. He says that evangelicalism is often guilty of reducing the gospel to saving people for heaven. He interprets John 3:16 literally, where it says, "For God so loved the world". He says that God loves the world, not just Christians in the world.
6) McLaren is incredibly intelligent. He has Master's Degree in English, but he knows more history/theology/philosophy than almost any pastor I know. His mind contains so much processed information. He's really a brilliant fellow.
7) McLaren is a very gifted communicator. His powerpoints were very well done and he used hilarious personal stories to make heavy theological truths clear. He was also very articulate in his off the cuff responses to others.
8) McLaren does not speak evil of others. He was asked a number of questions that opened the door for him to say something in his defense which would make his critics look bad. He never spoke evil of his critics. He really seems like he has Christ-like character.
These are the things that really impressed me about McLaren. He left a strong impression. I listened to him and really felt like he loved the people in the room.
As I was listening to him speak about the gospel and the kingdom of God, I said to my senior pastor who was sitting next to me, "He sounds like he could be right, but then everything else that the rest of us believe is pretty much wrong. If I were to decide to try to interpret the Bible this way, I'd have to throw out everything I knew about it thus far."
The word that comes to mind when I think of his theology is deconstructionist. But not in a bad way. He's merely taking apart the cultural lens through which many of us interpret the Bible.
Here's the catch though. I don't think he's really saying a whole lot that's new. For some reason he has been granted a great measure of influence with average Christians. But many of the ideas that he has would fall in to the category of mainline centrist theology. Since he's got the gift of evangelism and is a recognized evangelical, his platform allows him to introduce centrist decontructionist theology to a greater audience, and they're eating it up.
In conclusion, I believe that McLaren is a wonderful Christian, and that he may has a better grasp on how evangelicalism has committed itself to a particular interpretation of the Bible instead of to the Bible itself. However, I don't think I will move too far toward his theology because I don't think that God's truth is quite as elusive as it would be if McLaren is 100% right. His thoughts are refreshing. His attitude is loving. His deconstruction of theology takes the faith apart to such a large degree that it will make it hard for the common Christian to have much concrete faith left at the end of the day.
I love McLaren. I like his thinking. I'm hesitant to adopt his views.