Some recent emails …

I receive a surprising number emails like this one … from pastors and staff in Evangelical churches who are seeking to grapple more maturely with the issue of sexual orientation, either theirs or a close friend’s or relative’s.

Hi Brian,
I’ve accepted the fact that you may never get to read this email, but I thought I’d write one anyway.
Over the past three years I have experienced what you would define as ‘a crises of faith’. I began and completed bible college at a large evangelical church which led to my current paid staff position. In this time I have come to terms and struggled with a homosexual orientation. I have also experienced alienation and exclusion as I’ve questioned Christianity, church, justice and all these things. One of the harder things to deal with was growing up and serving [in various areas of ministry], convinced of ‘the call’ to these things only to feel as if I was booed out of these things ministries because of my thoughts and ideas on certain issues. At times I really struggle to hold the tension of my ‘evangelical mega-church job’ and what i’m discovering about Christianity but i’ve found so much comfort reading your books and blog entries – it’s great knowing that i’m not the only person thinking along these lines. So thank you for your thoughts. If you’re ever in [my area] be sure to let me know ;).

More emails after the jump:

Here’s another thoughtful email – referring to some talks I’ve been giving relating to my upcoming book “A New Kind of Christianity” –

Brian, I really enjoyed the conversations this weekend. In your presentation you used the analogy of the plastic ring around a turtle to suggest that our Greco-Roman worldview/understanding of Jesus/Gospel was limiting us and that we need to cut the tie. Here’s my question, aren’t we just placing another ring on the turtle, a “post-modern world view”‘ ring or whatever we call it?
On a side/slightly related note…
I guess I’m thinking that Jesus is stuck in culture (ring maybe?….there’s no disembodiment of Jesus from culture) and that’s the beauty of it, because then Jesus ‘goes to seed’ in so many different contextual ways inside culture, thus you can have a Hindu Christ Follower, a Christian Christ follower, a Jesus mosque. We just have to acknowledge that there isn’t this ‘perfect understanding’ of Jesus/Gospel that we can attain Everything has a ring. This isn’t to say either that Jesus/Gospel is everything or that there aren’t ways contrary to Jesus.

His response to his own question goes in the same direction my response would.
People often ask this:

I was fortunate to hear you speak on Friday morning a couple of weeks ago when you were in Little Rock. That morning was incredibly enlightening for me. Would it be possible to get the slides you used during the morning?

I post most of my slide presentations here on the site (check under Resources –> downloads).
I’m always thrilled when people tell me some of my work inspired them creatively, like this one …

A couple of years ago I came across your ‘open letter to worship leaders’, and read through it thinking “yes, yes, yes”…
… I’m now 30, and until last year, had never written a song, despite being fairly musical (ok, actually I wrote one song, but it was so bad it make me feel sick). A delayed reaction to your letter (particularly the bit about the power of a well-turned phrase) … led me to write a song, and a fair few others have followed. Most of them are not “worship songs”, but as far as I can tell, this first one is.
I finally recorded it properly the other day, with a friend of mine singing, and if you’d be interested in seeing how someone else interpreted what you thought we worship leaders should do, it’s attached. It’s based on the Lord’s Prayer, and the words are below.
I often hear from Eastern Orthodox folk who can sense my affinity with many elements of Orthodoxy … like this one:

Hello Brian,
My name is XYZ and I’m trying to understand this Emerging Church thing taking place in America. Of course since info is always at our fingertips, I ran across some websites that weren’t too happy with your message. I was wondering though; from what I’ve read, it sounds as though the Emerging Church is trying to get back to theEarly Church teachings and practices. Is that correct? Perhaps you could explain it to me..?
Well, since I’m an Orthodox Christian, I was wondering why you haven’t looked into converting to Orthodoxy instead of trying to change Protestantism? I don’t mean this to be demeaning or sarcastic in any way, but it was a question I have been thinking about since I ran across the EC. Since the American culture is frightened by anything that remotely resembles the RC; I can see why the EC is getting verbally abused up by Protestants.
If you read this, thanks for taking the time.

A short answer: I haven’t felt God leading me to become Orthodox. A slightly longer answer: There are two major obstacles for people like me becoming Orthodox. First, although I’m deeply appreciative of many elements of Orthodox theology and spirituality, I couldn’t follow Orthodox ecclesiology in good conscience. And second, the way forward to greater unity, in my opinion, is not to try to reduce diversity by having everyone join one group … but rather for all groups to learn to respect one another and share their treasures with one another. Diversity, in my mind, is a good thing: division or sectarianism isn’t.
I commonly receive questions about seminaries and other training communities:

I had a quick question about finding a school online if possible that offered a theology/ministry/bible education that is close to the ideas in your book a new kind of christian. I am wanting to get on board with this new kind of christian mentality and want to pursue it with some kind of degree.
Any ideas?

The good news is that there are more and more seminaries “getting it.” And there are some alternative training communities forming as well – although more needs to be done in this area. The bad news is that I don’t think I should make public endorsements. But you could check over my travel schedule and see the kinds of schools that are inviting me and others like me as guest lecturers … that might be an indicator of some positive openness to the “new kind of christian mentality.”
Many people who write are looking for contacts in their area, like this one:

Thank you so much for being such an encouragement and inspiration throughout all your books and websites. I have gained invaluable wisdom and insight from you which have definitely enriched my life and spiritual journey. You are so refreshing, eloquently putting into words so many of my personal struggles over the last few years. Through you I have felt that I’m not so alone after all, and that God is way bigger and more wonderful than I ever dreamed of and that He is infinitely more loving and gracious than I’ve given Him credit for.
I am from England and moved to [the US] 2 years ago… I have since found it incredibly difficult to settle in to US life, not least because of the isolation I feel in trying to locate like-minded Christians, who are not so right-wing and Conservative and not apparently interested in anything like social justice and looking after our community. I feel desperately alone and have exhausted myself visiting various churches of many denominations. I am at the point of not even wanting to go anymore, as I feel like such an alien when I go! And the places I’ve been to do nothing to point my husband to a loving, embracing God. I’ve told my husband to stop coming to church with me, as I’m usually ashamed or embarrassed by the time we leave. He has so many excellent questions (and he loved your New Kind of Christian trilogy too) and would love to talk with other Christians, besides me, about them, but we’ve definitely hit a brick wall in terms of finding a local church.
I feel so sad to be in this situation and am desperate to find anyone who lives and believes similar things to you and all the things you write about so wonderfully. Furthermore, reading Tony Campolo’s book “Red Letter Christians” also made me more desperate to find people who think like that! If there is any way you can help, such as recommending people you know or local churches in [this] area, I would be SO grateful. I don’t know where else to turn and since I can’t move back to England, I thought I’d ask you for help.

The best thing I can recommend is to go to … If you find a cohort in or near your area, they can often make recommendations. I’m hoping that emergent village (or someone) will find a way of helping emergent-friendly churches “go public.” In many cases, I think people like this woman won’t be able to find a hospitable place. In that situation, I encourage people to form a little faith community or reading group … even two or three friends can provide a lot of support.
I also receive some emails like the following one. I hesitate to include it here … I find so many of the writer’s opinions so deeply disturbing that I don’t even want to give them airplay. I’ll include this piece (edited as always only to maintain anonymity) only so people can see why I am willing to take the stands I take: someone needs to provide an alternative to this approach to Christian faith.

Hi Brian
I visited your website recently.
What is your view of Genesis, especially chapters 1-11? In particular:-
Were the “days” of Genesis 1 really days?
Was there death and suffering before Adam and Eve first disobeyed God?
To be honest, I was disappointed with your article “Four points toward peace in the Middle East” for the following reasons:-
1) You fail to realize that peace cannot come unless both parties are willing to let the other live, or if at least one of them is destroyed. In the Israel-Palestinian situation, the Arabs cannot let the Israelis live because their Koran commands them to annihilate Israel. So irrespective of what Americans/Israelis/Christians do (or write, like you’re doing), there won’t be lasting peace unless either
Arabs dump Islam OR
Arabs are destroyed
I trust you have the sense not to deny what I’ve said about the Koran without reading it yourself.
2) You misrepresent dispensationalism to mean the idea that God cares only for some people, etc. I do not like to subscribe to various “isms”, so let me put it this way: the plain teaching of the Bible is that Israel has a special place in God’s purposes, and He’s not done with them yet. This includes possession of a patch of land. If you notice the huge amounts of land the Arabs already have (just look at a map), you’ll realize that shortage of land for Muslims is not the reason for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I believe in WWIII because I find it in the bible, not because I have a “deathwish”.
3) You’re like the atheists who paint broad strokes. While they say that belief in God has been discredited without providing any hard evidence, you claim that the dispensational hermeunetic has been discredited. How? Where? On what basis?
4) You confuse recognition of certain Biblical truths with pro-Israel, anti-Muslim bigotry. I recognize that Canaan still belongs to Israel from the Bible (though I’ve never read Darby!!). This does not mean that I support whatever Israel does. Israelis are in extreme rebellion against God (and they’re paying for it). I’m an Indian, and I acknowledge that God calls himself the God of Israel more than 200 times in the Bible. He never calls Himself the God of Arabia, America or India. This does not mean I’m a racist!!
5) You confuse the notion of God’s different purposes for different people (a reality) with the idea that God plays favorites (a falsehood). In Acts 12, God sends an angel to rescue Peter but does not send anyone to rescue James. How do you explain that? Can’t you see that God’s purposes for Peter and James were different? Both got better than they deserved, so we can’t accuse God. In the same way, God’s purposes for Israel and Arabs are not the same. In Genesis, we read about the land that God alloted to the Arabs. I’m not against them occupying that land. I’m only against Arabs occupying the land that God alloted for Israel.
6) You confuse Christian history with Roman Catholic history. Roman Catholicism is paganism in Christ

Wow – destroying Arabs? Catholicism is paganism? This is exactly the kind of Christianity I am trying to provide an alternative to.
Here’s another one – a lot like the previous one in tone:

Mr. McLaren,
Shame on you for speaking to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. The Episcopal Church persecutes the faithful, promotes abortion and any number of heresies. And you have allied yourself with their evil.
Your so-called generous orthodoxy is neither.
Shame on you!

I think you’ll agree that this email has a very humble and sincere tone. This fellow was brought to faith in a dispensationalist context (as I was) and he believes as he was taught (as I did). He is struggling with figuring out how to interpret the Bible (a major theme of my next book) – a truly important question. [I tried to clarify his intent in parentheses in a couple of places.]

Dear Sir,
My name is ABC. I am just a simple person; however I am a dispensationalist. I am still young in Christ, but enjoy learning and living each moment the way God has revealed Himself to me….
In one of your writings you commented on dispensationalist and the elect Jewish nation, you stated that because of that believe [belief] there is a major turmoil in the Middle East, or words to that effect. Sir, do you believe if you could get read [rid] of this teaching and the Jewish nation the world could have peace? Are you stating that we could have love and no hate? Or wipe away darkness and replace it with light? Sir, I do not believe that humans can get read [rid] of sin, and or darkness, hate. One could look at the local Television and see that hate is at our footstep. Are you also stating as a prior dispensationalist that we should not interpret the bible normal, in a literal, grammatical and historical way? Then sir how should one intrepid [interpret] the bible?
Sir, you probably will not answer me because I am of unimportance, but I wanted to thank you for revealing a differed view.

Of course, this fellow is in no way “of unimportance.” I can’t respond to all the inquiries I get … but that’s not because the inquirers are unimportant; it’s only because my time and energy are limited.
For sincere dispensationalists who, like this fellow, are open to a different view (or for people are growing uncomfortable with the kind of rhetoric, ethics, and politics reflected in the posting before this one) I’d recommend two books:
Here’s a good question:
Dear Brian,

I’m confused. First you say we need to stop consuming so much and then you turn around and say “buy my books”. So which is it?

First, I’d say, “To stop consuming so much isn’t the same as to stop consuming at all.” Second, I’d say, “I’m glad you’re concerned about this!” As I’ve explained previously on this blog, I’m constantly trying to find ways to reduce my impact on God’s beautiful planet – both as a private citizen and as a writer/speaker. For example, I’m cutting back on my travel significantly, and encouraging people who invite me to speak to have me appear via skypecast, etc. And the publishing industry is taking steps to improve environmental impact – by using recycled paper, for example, and by exploring Kindle and other digital technologies that won’t require trees to be cut down and ink to be manufactured.
Many emails I receive are deeply encouraging, like this one from someone who comes from the same heritage in which I was born:

I noticed on your website this email that was sent to you by an evangelical Christian. It read … WARNING!! Brian McLaren is not a REAL Christian! He is making up lies about the Bible and is now attacking Christians for believing in Jesus and his return and denies that The state of Israel and the jewish people are God’s chosen as stated in the Bible. Brian Mclaren is also Obama’s new assistant on a new bill passed called the hate crime bill and stated he wants to destroy the Christian majority and its belief as Jesus will return. He is a Heretic! Brian Mclaren is a wolf in sheeps clothing. It is sad how others respond.
I heard you speak at Spring Arbor Michigan this past February. I even asked a question personally to you about this framing story and eschatology – you recommended a book – Comfort and Protest – which i found online. The impression that i received from this first time of hearing you speak was the same as that as what I have received through your writings. It is one of humility expressed through a desire to learn, to understand, and to seek truth.
Since reading your material, I have been asking myself and others alot of questions about scripture and life – so much so that they are concerned for the ‘seekers’ who come to the church (I am a pastor) and for me personally. While my views from my old Plymouth Brethren days have changed drastically, my desire to understand and learn has increased a hundred fold.
Thank you for being bold and courageous and to take the criticisms from those who do not understand. I have received my fair share of criticisms from those who do not understand and yet it is nothing in comparison to what you must endure ….
Thank you for strengthening my faith. It is because of your writings that I have been able to find faith again – for at one point, i was ready to bail and throw in the towel. Because of you and others, i didn’t; you along with others gave me the desire to continue to seek truth and faith.
Thank you.
from a fellow learner!

Here’s another in the encouraging category – with a good lead on an interview with one of my favorite musicians …

Brian, I don’t know if you’ll get this or not, but I remember you saying that you’re a big Bruce Cockburn fan. I came across this interview that he did with Acoustic Guitar Magazine that you may enjoy reading. He talks about some of the technical aspects of his music, both in arranging and playing:
Also, I just want to thank you. My wife and I were at the EMC stop in Tampa last year (you signed my copy of A Generous Orthodoxy after one of the sessions), and we are still following the momentum of that event. That whole weekend really seemed to affirm to us that: 1) we aren’t crazy hippies who nobody will ever “get,” and 2) there’s SO much more to our faith than what we’ve been taught. I know you catch a lot of flak and backlash from people, but know that here are two people that firmly support you. Thank you.