“The ‘us-versus them’ approach…is complicit in a whole series of atrocities that Muslim people.., Jewish people…, Native Americans.., African Americans.., women.., lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual people…know about.”
“Emergent Church” guru Brian McLaren, a prominent voice on the evangelical left, is increasingly high profile as a speaker in the Episcopal Church. Most recently, he gave the commencement address at Virginia Theological Seminary.
“I can guarantee that if you do your job right, there will always be for you, as there was for him [Jesus Christ], a crowd of religious critics standing by to tell you how you did it, when you did it, what you said, and how you said it were not up to their standards,” McLaren told the graduating Episcopal seminarians in Alexandria, Virginia.
“You will learn that there are two paths of martyrdom – one leading into the den of ravenous lions and the other through the valley of nibbling ducks.”
The controversial author and self-identified evangelical was chosen to deliver keynote addresses at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church as well as the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the recent Episcopal Village conference in Baltimore.
At the same time, McLaren has drawn fire from an increasing number of fellow evangelicals, most recently for his book A New Kind of Christianity, in which he questions traditional views of Christ’s death as an atonement for sin.
The Episcopal events at which McLaren spoke were controversial in their own right. The 2009 General Convention adopted resolutions favoring openly homosexual partnered bishops and same-sex union rites, while the Los Angeles convention elected Mary Glasspool as the first openly partnered lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion.
McLaren began his address at the Episcopal Virginia Theological seminary by briefly reflecting on what he called “the Episcopal moment,” a time when the denomination had extraordinary opportunities before it.
“I believe you are graduating from seminary at a pregnant moment in the history of the Episcopal Church,” McLaren said, without going into detail about what the opportunities were.
Despite his position as a nondenominational pastor, McLaren himself has a history with Anglicanism and told the seminary graduates that he had “a special love for the Episcopal Church.”
“The best pastor I ever had was an Episcopal priest in this diocese, and through his encouragement I prayerfully considered coming to this seminary about 30 years ago,” McLaren said. “Although I felt I was led into another path, serving in nondenominational settings over the years, I must admit I have an Anglican heart, shaped by the Prayer Book and deepened by the liturgy.”
McLaren worshipped and taught Bible studies for several years at the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Virginia. Apostles is a charismatic parish which departed the Episcopal Church in 2007 and is no longer part of the Diocese of Virginia.
“The more I prayed and thought about this day, the more I felt I should focus less on God’s work in the Episcopal Church at this critical moment, and less on God’s mission through the Episcopal Church in today’s world, and less on God’s work through the Episcopal Church in my own life … but instead, I’d like to focus on God’s work in your own lives,” McLaren told the graduates.
The Emergent Church leader focused on two verses: Proverbs 4:23 (“Above all else, guard well your own heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life”) and 1 Timothy 4:16 (“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers”).
McLaren said the two verses were especially relevant to the day’s Gospel reading of Matthew 9:1-8.
“When Jesus comes to his home town, he faces tremendous human need – physical need epitomized in a paralyzed man; social need evident in the friends who carry his stretcher, and spiritual need centered in sins needing forgiveness,” McLaren remarked. “But the physical paralysis of the man on the stretcher seems easy to heal compared to the spiritual paralysis of the teachers of the law who are stuck in a cramped, critical mode and mindset. All they can do is criticize Jesus – either for what he does, when he does it, what he says, or how he says it.”
McLaren predicted that the seminarians would face the same experience, too, as they came under criticism from a conservative religious establishment. The Emergent Church leader suggested that graduates needed to love themselves. He advised finding a soul-friend to love them as well as a friend outside the church. He reminded them that God himself is friendly towards them.
“You have to smoke what you’re selling,” McLaren quipped, quoting fellow Emergent Church pastor Rob Bell. “You can become so busy as a purveyor of the abundant life in Christ that you run out of time to actually live that abundant life.
You can get so busy talking about and organizing life in the kingdom or realm or dream of God that you forget to actually live it and enjoy it.”
McLaren had raised controversy a month earlier during the Q Gathering, a conference in Chicago featuring prominent evangelicals speaking on religion and culture.
During a segment titled “Conversations on Being a Heretic,” McLaren repeatedly sidestepped questions from theologian Scot McKnight about his views on whether all humanity would be saved or only those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Instead McLaren emphasized his rejection of an “us-versus them” approach to the world. “Historically, it has repeatedly resulted in oppression and violence and horrible things that are opposed to the way and spirit of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I think that narrative is complicit in a whole series of atrocities that Muslim people know about, that Jewish people know about, that the Native Americans know about, that African Americans know about, that women know about, that lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual people currently know about. It’s like everybody sees it but us. I think that narrative is the ungenerous thing that’s been wrapped up with orthodoxy.”
Jeff Walton is Communications Manager and Anglican Staffer for the Institute on Religion & Democracy. This article appeared on the IRD website and is used with permission. Source: https://www.theird.org/Page.aspx?pid=1646