Brian was my pastor from 1988 until 2001 and I worked with him on staff at the church he founded – Cedar Ridge Community Church – from 1999 through 2000. He married Beth and me and helped us dedicate our kids. Brian and I don’t agree on everything, but he has always been very good to me and I have learned a lot from hearing him speak and serving with him at CRCC; I definitely consider him one of my mentors.
I ran across this story about Brian that just didn’t ring true. On this link, it claimed to be from the Associated Press and so I searched their archives. I could find no such story from the AP though it is being picked up in various places.
So before I posted my doubts about the credibility of the story, I wanted to confirm my suspicions. And so I contacted Brian. He responded quickly and wrote, “I have no idea who this journalist is or where these comments come from.”
Brian also provided me with a running commentary on the story and authorized me to publish it here. Find the full text of the story with Brian’s responses italicized below:
The chairman of the liberal Christian group Sojourners says he believes that “Jesus coming was not primarily about getting people into heaven.”
— First of all, Sojourners is not a “liberal Christian group,” unless you define liberal as “not limited to the Religious Right.” This kind of binary thinking is a huge part of the problem in our culture – it is part, I think, of the “Jerry Springerization” of the media, where every story is “shoe-horned” (to pick up a word that will be included below) into a liberal/conservative, left/right polarity and fight. Many of us are trying to get beyond these old categories and pugilism because we believe that the Right and Left both have valid concerns and both have major blind spots. We believe the Christian message in some areas affirms and in other areas critiques both “sides” in many of these polarized debates.
— Second, I’m not “chairman of the group,” but chair of the board of directors, which, as you know, is a voluntary position; I’m not an official spokesperson for Sojourners.
— Third, the word “primarily” is important here. I believe that we Christians have overemphasized the issue of post-mortem destination of souls and have underestimated God’s concern for human beings in this life, in culture, in creation. The results of this problem of emphasis are complex and far-reaching.
The Rev. Brian McLaren says he believes that Jesus came “to proclaim
the Kingdom of God, which is God’s will being done on Earth.”
— This certainly is true, as my book “The Secret Message of Jesus” explores in detail, and as the Lord’s prayer makes clear. I’ll also be exploring Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God in my upcoming book, “Everything Must Change,” which will be out in early October.
McLaren says that’s why congregations in the “emergent church”
movement focus more on social action than trying to convert people to
–– After a brief respite of accuracy, we’re back to some unfortunate journalism. I certainly can imagine some churches having a special vocation or calling in evangelism or in social action, but I wouldn’t say churches in general (of whatever labelling) should focus more on social action than evangelism, nor would I say the reverse. Both are integral to our mission as followers of Jesus. What I would say is that if we better understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God, we will see how it integrates the making of disciples and the seeking of justice in one beautiful whole called “mission.”
McLaren says that if people are “happy being Muslim, or Buddhist or
Jewish or atheist,” he doesn’t think it’s right to try to “shoe-horn
them out of their religion” into Christianity.
— I could imagine saying something like this as part of a larger conversation, but in this context, coming after the previous misrepresentation of my thinking, this statement would be quite misleading, just the kind of thing some of my critics would love to seize on. Obviously, I don’t think anyone should be pressured into conversion – shoe-horned, coerced, bribed, manipulated, converted “by the sword,” or anything of that sort. The fact is, people who are satisfied with their religion won’t be interested in changing. But if people see “the light of good deeds” in our lives, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, if they see love us love one another, if they sense the love and grace and truth and character of God in us, if they hear us bearing witness to God’s reality in our lives, they’ll be attracted to our message and eager to learn about the hope that we have. I’m all for that. In fact, as you know, that’s what I’ve devoted my life to …
I know that Brian would agree with me that it’s ok to disagree but it’s not ok to misrepresent the position of the one with whom you disagree.
– An emergesque reader has found the apparent source to the story above. See this update.