Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Letters to Emerging Christians

posted by xscot mcknight

Dear Holly,
What you tell me about your older brother doesn’t surprise me, but I agree with you that it is really sad. It’s not very often that things like this are so clear — your brother is working in an evangelical church, he has some emerging leanings because he’s a youth pastor, he and some friends decide to have a group study comparing Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis and Brian McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy
… and then they compose a notebook of all their observations, a few elders get nervous and the pastor and elders make a decision to ban all study of Bell’s and McLaren’s books. (By the way, Holly, did you ever observe that there are about 220 reviews of Bell’s book at Amazon? and 113 of McLaren’s book.)
You ask me the big one: “What should I tell my brother?” Here are my suggestions:
First, pray for him and for his church. Pray for yourself.
Second, your brother “accepts” (you said you thought it was really “capitulating to”) his pastor’s authority and the decision of the elders, but you think he’ll be miserable. When a group study had done what you say they did — compare key doctrines and show differences between these two thinkers and then chart out all the things everyone liked and disliked — you know they’ve vested serious interest in one of the most important things Christians can do: think critically together about current trends in light of biblical theology. For the life of me … I wonder if the elders might have been better off participating with that study group.
Pastoral authority is a double-edged sword, sometimes used to help and other times improperly to divide the body. But I don’t like that pastors or elders would put some books on a ban when at least (you didn’t mention others) one of them (your brother) was a pastoral leader in the church — and the group was thinking critically and not naively about the books. And the minute you ban a book you’ve got yourself a problem — you increase interest in the book and you drive some folks away. (Which you say the pastor thinks is a “sign of election,” or non-election — which I’m guessing is what you meant.)
I think the way to deal with Rob Bell and Brian McLaren is to read them, look them in the eye, assess their eyes against the Bible, and render evaluation. Tell me, Holly, if you could “ban” one thing for Christians what would it be? Would it be Rob Bell or Brian McLaren or something or someone else? (I’ll be interested in your answer if you take this on as a serious question — and if you do I know you’ll have lots of interesting things to say.)
What I’m saying is this: the pastor and the elders, probably for pastoral reasons, have overstepped their limits. Leaders pastor and guide. The only way for lay folks to grow into their gifts with responsibility is to learn to think biblically for themselves — and banning doesn’t allow it.
Third, now here’s what I suggest you do: I suggest you ask your brother to spend some time in prayer and then meet with a mentor (outside that church) and then figure out how to raise the issue of banning books with the pastor and the elder board in a non-threatening (if firm) way. It could be a weekend retreat where he shares with them what they learned, where they differed, and how he thinks this is actually training Christians for critical engagement in our world.
And I suggest this: that you ask your brother to figure out a way to get the pastor and elders to think about this question: Why in the world is Rob Bell so attractive to so many young Christians? (In other words, get them to think critically about Rob Bell.) And then get them to do the same with McLaren. It has probably occurred to you that, if they do read Bell and McLaren, they just might come up with the same observations your brother’s group came up with. Now I’m getting mischievous: if that happens, you might get your brother to suggest to the pastor that he is doing a good job teaching the lay folks if they are coming to such similar results.
I’ve got to leave; Kris and I are about to go to the airport.
You know what I know: my suggestions are ideal. There is a real chance that this could lead to a breakdown in relationships. I hope they can pursue working together, getting beyond differences, but sometimes these things don’t work out. New wine often bursts the old wineskins. It should. Empowering lay folk through good teaching and critical thinking skills is a good thing.
Blessings,
Scot



Advertisement
Comments read comments(70)
post a comment
James Petticrew

posted February 28, 2007 at 4:37 am


Oh dear, I am encountering more and more hysteria about the emerging church, it seems like certain “pastors” who used to target the charismatic movement are now training their sights on the emerging church movement and whipping up a witch hunt mentality. Now their “disciples” are following through with these kinds of crazy actions. If they are so worried about these books why not follow the mature example of the young leaders in their church and read it for themselves?? I think you give wise advice Scot but I must say I am pessimistic about the type of church leadership being described in the letter responding positively. I think some in the evangelical community are determined to have a “shooting war”



report abuse
 

Rob G

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:02 am


Great advice, Scot.
I’ve been living in France for the last 15 months (previously UK), where the evangeilical church largely views anything emergent with great suspicion. Brian McLaren came to do some speaking engagements in early 2006 (for the first and maybe last time in France), and the (visible) response was a storm of criticism and outrage. Letters were sent to churches and bookshops saying his books should be banned as heretical.
This causes me great concern because it’s purely a defensive reaction, and it’s immature – there’s an unwillingess to apply any kind of discernment. At the same time, I’ve kept my mouth shut because Iem not sure the church in France is ready for the challenge that emergent thinking brings (in many ways it’s a good 20 years or more behind US and UK church in thinking and development).
Would be interested to know what you think – should I keep schtum, or should I be prepared to rock the boat? Is it dangerous to try to bring this kind of thinking in a church context which might not be ready for it?
Rob



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2007 at 7:59 am


Rob G,
My suggestion … from one not living in France…
That discussion, the interface of postmodernity and the Christian faith and the struggles the young generation has with the Church, is best in cafes in France. My suggestion is to do what most of us do: meet people outside the Church, engage them about Jesus, discover their struggles over the Church, struggle your way into clarity about how to speak to that situation.



report abuse
 

Rob G

posted February 28, 2007 at 8:05 am


Thanks Scot…yes, this is kind of the conclusion I’d come to – avoid tackling head-on those within the church who are antagonistic towards anything emergent, and simply work at developing relationship and conversation with those outside who are seeking somethign authentic and real in today’s world; I think “struggling your way into clarity” is a good summary.
Blessings,
Rob



report abuse
 

Kate Johnson

posted February 28, 2007 at 8:41 am


My husband and I were meeting with our pastor about some church concerns, and out of the blue he brought up the emerging church and then began commenting how it was not a good thing and that their theology is a mess because they have no theology (my paraphrase). Why did he bring it up? Because during an earlier conversation a month or so before, we had asked him if he had done any reading on the emerging church and that we found the concept interesting… I guess his way of letting us know they (the pastoral staff – he is not the senior pastor) had discussed it and were not approving. No surprise to us… but sad none the less. It is difficult to engage someone in a discussion when they have closed minds… which is what it sounds like at the church you mention…. any many others. The baby out with the bathwater!



report abuse
 

kent

posted February 28, 2007 at 8:51 am


I do not understand why fear is one of our first responses. It may be because our faith in what we are doing and whom we do it for has atrophied. It may be because we wonder if we are wrong, and have been wrong about our methods. It may be because we have seen so little impact for our efforts. It may be because we cannot function without an enemy. The need for the “other” is too great. But it will be our legacy that we are always against something, rather then championing the kingdom of God.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted February 28, 2007 at 9:02 am


Fear and avoidance is an unfortunate reaction.
On the other hand, does “banning” mean do not use this material in official youth functions, small groups, etc?
Or does “banning” mean – if you continue to look at this, with other adults or in your own small group we will question your fitness and commitment to serve in a leadership role?
Frankly – I think that the latter would be an abuse of pastoral authority, while the former would not necessarily be an abuse of authority – especially if use of the material would be divisive in the church.



report abuse
 

April

posted February 28, 2007 at 9:21 am


Did I correctly understand from your response to Holly that her brother’s chruch elders have banned Bell & McLaren and suggested that if anyone continues to read them they’re not among the elect?
I love the question about who or what would you ban. Great thing to think about.



report abuse
 

John Mark

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:02 am


I’m not so sure that bringing this issue up further with the pastors and elders is a good idea. It might work. But my hunch is that it has an equally if better chance of getting this youth pastor fired. I mean, if the pastor didn’t just say something off the cuff but talked with the elders about it, then they have REALLY decided to take a stand on this. Bringing it up has an enormous risk of looking insubordinate/unteachable.
I’m not arguing that this is a sad situation. Just that this youth pastor probably should think this through carefully. If he is willing to lose his job over this issue beccause it is so pressing, then bringing it up in the context Scot describes is good. Otherwise, he might want to choose his battles.



report abuse
 

Benjamin Bush Jr

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:13 am


In the spirit of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I have an interesting question.
If the situation were reversed, and someone in the local emerging congregation was teaching and/or saying things which were anathema to Emerging or advocating doctrine which didn’t synthesize with Emerging, what would be the response to that person? How would the situation be addressed. How would that person be handled and thought of by others in the group?
Is that person and / or his or her thoughts confronted and ultimately rejected. Or do you engage the person in conversation in order to build community around the accepted Emerging Doctrine? If the person proves incapable or unwilling to be synthesized, is that person accepted within the emerging community or denied fellowship with others within the Emerging community? Is that person deemed to be a heretic or simply an earnestly seeking believer?
It’s easy to point the finger at others and their supposed insensitivity and exclusion of certain teachings and personalities, but is Emerging so naive to believe that they aren’t under the same type of thought within their ranks, as nebulous as those ranks may be? Or is their no criteria to define and delineate Emerging in reference to other movements? If there is a criteria, are these delineations and definitions protected in order to retain the integrity and purity of Emerging? If they are protected, what process is implemented?
Are we so naive to believe that these questions have not been previously thought of by Emerging Leaders? Or that detractors of Emerging will not be dealt with in some manner? If we are so enamored with being human, surely fallen human nature has to be accounted for.
Unless Emerging is the next step in the evolutionary redemption of man and the vestiges of evangelicalism and Orthodoxy are to be left behind in our pursuit of the community oriented mission of discovering the redemptive trend of man’s innate and latent divinity.
In case some were wondering, my Texas coffee is extra strong this morning. I’ve also had more than my normal few cups. I’m working on a few pots of this wonderful concoction. I look forward to the converstaion!



report abuse
 

Kate Johnson

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:24 am


Be careful, Ben… you could go into overload… seriously!



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:29 am


Ben,
And more than your share of questions. You’ve stereotyped me a bit here as “emerging” and I can live with that as long as you permit nuances — I’m orthodox, Protestant, and an evangelical with emerging views.
I can only tell you what I’d do: if someone wanted to read Carson’s book — how’s that for a good example? — I’d say, read away; ask away; think away; and let’s talk about it and reason together. That’s what I did and that’s what I try to do. I tilt on this blog toward emerging books, but clearly not all of my books we do — probably not even 33% are of that sort.
So, if you are suggesting emerging folks would do the same, I’m not so sure one could say that with accuracy. For some, sure; for all, no. For me, definitely not.
If we are not willing to subject even our own views to analysis we are neither honest nor “emerging.” (I think self-criticism is inherent to the postmodernist element of emerging, but I grant you that some are not consistent here.)



report abuse
 

Rick B.

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:33 am


Whether Emerging or Fundametalist or Evangelical all can learn from the main point Scot was making, and all should apply it. To simply ban or protest something without critically engaging it and filtering it through a Biblical worldview is wrong. Whether or not this is the case within specific emerging contexts would have to be taken on a case by case scenario – ease off on the coffee brother. :)



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted February 28, 2007 at 11:28 am


While the circumstances certainly conflict with democratic notions of civil rights, general humanistic notions of enlightenment and self determination, and academic biases regarding the value of deconstructionism and critical analysis, the initial ban may in fact, be an acceptable and even perhaps an appropriate first response.
Concerns that new teachings could lead to heterodoxy are a ligitimate and sacred responsibility of church authorities. Seen in this light then, an initial ban may well be a prudent first step.
Props, also to Holly’s brother, for accepting a decision that must obviously be very difficult to accept. Obedience to authority cuts a wide road in the Christian landscape and he does well to defer to it.
In the end, assuming a fair minded dialogue, I would hope that decisions reached are predicated on what is a right interpretation of Christian expression and not based on the personal desires and or fears, of the people involved.



report abuse
 

Jennifer

posted February 28, 2007 at 11:46 am


My initial thought is that once the kind of questions McLaren and Bell are asking get opened up in someone’s mind, they can not be closed again.
I cant for the life of me understand why an elder would esentially say : dont think about those things. It might work for a while, but how is the going to shape a person as time goes on?
The elders can ask Holly’s brother to close the books, but how are they going to ask him to clsoe the questions in his mind?



report abuse
 

Timbo

posted February 28, 2007 at 11:58 am


Instead of a study comparing Bell and McLaren, perhaps a study comparing Carson and McLaren would be more profitable?



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted February 28, 2007 at 12:19 pm


Been there done that… We had the old ladies in our church come into our office when we were not in and “steal” all the books they found inappropriate (McLaren books, books on social justice), we’ve had the Senior Pastor write us a handwritten note forbidding us to bring up the subject of the Emerging Church with him, we had the church council forbid us to tell others what the issue was and so rumors of sexual sin flourished, we were given anti-postmodern books to read by people who refused to read the emerging church books for themselves, and we had people we thought were friends telling lies about our theology and were never given a chance to explain what we actually believed (as opposed to the stereotyped strawman postmoderns they thought we were). In this situation submitting to church authority (as if that’s the main goal..) meant supporting lies, rumors, and refusing to think. It was sick. We eventually quit.
Benjamin #10 – given that experience, we do try to allow for numerous opinions in our current church plant. We are a church were it is okay to disagree on issues. Viewpoints of others are heard and often discussed. Granted that does make a few people who want their opinion to be the accepted one to be uncomfortable. And there are times when the majority and the leaders do express disagreement with a person, but that person is still welcome to be a part of the community and help us learn and grow.



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted February 28, 2007 at 12:35 pm


Hi Julie, Paul Johnston here.
Did you ever ask them about or come to understand what motivated the woman of your previous church and your senior pastor to take such drastic action?
Also Julie, and I am neither being mischeivious or trying to put words in your mouth, but I’m hearing you say that accomodating all personal expressions and opinions of Christian faith trumps a call to repentance. Am I wrong to hear you this way?



report abuse
 

Matt

posted February 28, 2007 at 1:11 pm


How might the Bible speak into this whole scenario?
“Love one another.”
“There is no fear in love.”



report abuse
 

Dan

posted February 28, 2007 at 1:36 pm


How might the Bible speak into this whole scenario? This one comes to mind.
2 Timothy 1:13-14 “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
Banning McLaren and Bell outright would not be a good thing in my mind. Critically analyzing them would using their own quotations as fairly as possible is needed. But it certainly fair for church leadership to take a position and question whether their epistemological and doctrinal commitments will be beneficial to the biblical mandate to maintain sound doctrine. I prefer innoculation to quarantine.
In short, I gladly discuss McLaren with my 20 yr old and my 18 yr old and a handful of their sharper friends. But I would not recommend McLaren to most of the kids in their youth group, nor to a lot of adults.



report abuse
 

Daniel Clark

posted February 28, 2007 at 2:40 pm


This is very sad. My feelings are probably better expressed by C. Blomberg (hardly a spokesman for the emerging church) in a review of McLaren:
“But overall, I am far more enthusiastic about this volume than worried over it. What worries me are the growing numbers of people who are worried about it. What does this portend if not an ungenerous orthodoxy that draws ever-narrowing boundaries around what counts as authentic Christianity, thereby alienating even more onlookers from the very faith they already see as too judgmental and divisive”



report abuse
 

Julie Clawson

posted February 28, 2007 at 2:43 pm


Paul #18 –
To answer your first question, yes. Two families that didn’t like us went digging for dirt on us. They found our connection to our Chicago Emergent Cohort – up/rooted. That had the label “postmodern” and they then assumed that we bought into and were teaching the youth all the horror stories they had heard about postmodernism – which is the rumor that spread. We were told that it would hurt their faith if they were to discuss it with us.
And yes, you are putting your own ideas in my mouth. I see no hindrance to respecting opinions and promoting repentance. (btw – we spent last Sunday discussing repentance). yes – we don’t support groups pointing a finger at whatever might annoy them and telling people to repent if they haven’t tried to understand the theology of those they are accusing. This is an experiment, it is messy and there are people who can’t handle it – others though find it to be a good way to work for unity in the body of Christ.



report abuse
 

Mike Clawson

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:41 pm


Holly’s brother has gotten off easy so far. As my wife Julie has described, we were the targets of a similar anti-EC witch hunt at our previous church and it eventually cost us our jobs… which in the end was a relief since it was such an unhealthy environment in the first place.
But Scot, you forgot to advise Holly’s brother to do one more thing along with your other recommendations: start looking for a new job. My guess is that in the kind of church that would have an official “banned books” list, if her brother starts trying to do the things you recommend, he’ll very soon be in need of a new job anyway, and probably not at his own choice.



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted February 28, 2007 at 3:57 pm


Thanks for the answers to admittedly personal questions, Julie.



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:04 pm


I think this is the very thing that can stunt the growth of young Christians, and young people. One of the most critical faculties for us to develop is critical thinking. Especially being able to do so from a Christian worldview.
Why didn’t leadership step in to help? And think through the issues biblically? This is an aspect of the kind of training young people (and the rest of us) need. But are so woefully lacking. And it needs to be guided, yet participative, as well. And there needs to be room for disagreeing on many points. Of course most all of you know all this, and more….
But evidently some are driven by fear of faith being undermined. And in their case, it will be, once these young people get out into the world and really start exploring things for themselves. How much better it would be, in most cases, if the church was there to help them in that endeavor!



report abuse
 

My 2 cents

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:18 pm


I really think that it is naive to think a specific list of taboo books “defines” the emergent church. It misunderstands their world completely. IMHO.
Also, driving something underground can have some powerful effects. It forces many, like Holly’s brother, into the “my way or the highway” form of ministry. Again, it’s not by saber rattling that you rule over someone and gain yokeship.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:26 pm


Ted,
Good point – the way build strong Christians is by encouraging critical thought in a safe and informed atmosphere – not by circling the wagons and building fences.
There is a reason so many students drop away from the faith in college and beyond – and it isn’t because Christianity is irrational or indefensible. I have become convinced that one of the significant factors is the lack of education and training in critical thinking. This compulsion to build fences is counterproductive in so many cases.
So – to quote Scot: read away; ask away; think away; and let’s talk about it and reason together.



report abuse
 

Dana Ames

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:39 pm


Ok, Benjamin, I’m about to sit down for my coffee today – IRL too- I have mine in the afternoon :)
1) I have had the opportunity for some FTF interaction with Scot, Phyllis Tickle, NT Wright, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and the dread Brian McLaren (watched “Princess Bride” again the other night :) In addition, I have watched and listened in person to how most of the above named have interacted with folks who do not agree with them or are very seriously questioning their thoughts. (In particular, I listened intently to a conversation Pagitt had with someone who was obviously trying to back him into a corner.) I can’t speak about all who call themselves “emerging/ent”. I can say that I was seriously impressed with how these people interacted with those who disagreed. They were respectful, they thought about what was being said before they popped out an answer, including taking time for self-critical reflection on the spot, they actually were intent on understanding the questions and asked for clarification, genuinely having a conversation with appropriate give-and-take; there was no sense of ridicule or anathematizing in any way, even if the questioner was “in the minority”, so to speak. I get that sense from their writing, too. It’s not an act. There may not have been ultimate agreement, but the persons disagreeing were decidedly not being rejected. There was no “ganging up” on them.
2) Just to clarify, there isn’t such a thing as “accepted emerging doctrine”. The closest one would come to such a thing might possibly be the “Values and Practices” at the emergentvillage site. There really is a spectrum of opinion on the *non-essentials* of the Christian faith.
3) Detractors of Emergent, specifically, are not “dealt with in some manner”. Sometimes Tony is sarcastic; I’ve also watched him apologize, and listened to him give very good pastoral advice. Those with real questions get real responses with real respect. The emerging people I know are not chasing after detractors/those who disagree pleading with them to be a part, either. Nobody’s forcing anything.
Now for my coffee, with both soy and halfandhalf…
Dana



report abuse
 

RJS

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:53 pm


Dana,
Coffee all day – no soy (too “California”) – milk or half and half.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2007 at 5:55 pm


Ben, Dana, and RJS,
Three cups of coffee for me: at breakfast (latte), about 10:30am or 11am (latte), and early afternoon (French press). Caribou Daybreak for the latte, and Caribou Colombia for French press.
One cup of tea after dinner. Coffee after dinner keeps this fella awake all night.
No soy; skim.



report abuse
 

kent

posted February 28, 2007 at 8:49 pm


Scot,
Dude, what’s with the fu-fu coffe? Foldgers from the pot, it gets better after about 3 hours. Milk, at least I think it was milk. Is there green stuff in milk?



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted February 28, 2007 at 9:20 pm


hi, good post Scott. You said:
“That discussion, the interface of postmodernity and the Christian faith and the struggles the young generation has with the Church, is best in cafes in France. My suggestion is to do what most of us do: meet people outside the Church, engage them about Jesus, discover their struggles over the Church, struggle your way into clarity about how to speak to that situation.”
I totally agree. I have been on a 4 year journey out of the church (one that I planted). I am currently finding opportunities to meet with people on a University Campus and in various artists groups, clubs and occasionally Starbucks… I like it a lot better. j



report abuse
 

Meg

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:03 pm


I think letters to emerging christians are my favortie title to see on Scot’s blog. This situation is sad, and it seems a lot of people are going through similar experiences.
I have read a lot of emerging writers and when I speak about some of their views in their books I am challenged to compare their views to the bible and then bring what I find to people who disagree (more so they think I’m going off the deep end)
There are a couple of problems I have with this:
1. So many scholars have different interpretations/research etc. on certain passages in the bible. McLaren interprets one way, Colson another to defend their point of view. While I might agree with McLaren, my dad would agree with Colson’s interpretation.
2. When I go to compare these authors writings to the bible, I don’t have the knowledge or background of the greek/hebrew/culture/history etc. How do you figure it out.
3. I’m a feeler. I’m not a critical thinker, a feeler. So when I am asked to explain and have conversation using the bible to back it up..it doesn’t work.
How does someone like me contribute to conversation?
I’m a bit a shamed to write this on this blog as I know it isn’t the most educated response…but its what I feel..:)



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted February 28, 2007 at 10:12 pm


Meg,
We humans are complex aren’t we? Some like to think and some like to feel and some like to look and some like to touch. The “thinkers” are the ones who dominate the discussion in theology, though most of us don’t admit that we are dealing with only one dimension of truth.
The question you ask that I think I can actually deal with is “how do you figure it out?” Let me make one book suggestion — though it is not a “feeler” book. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart have a book called How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and it will introduce you to reading the Bible more “thinkingly.”
The second suggestion is find someone in your church or local community to whom you can go for questions about the Bible.
It is important for you to grow mentally as well as in other areas of your life.



report abuse
 

A Different Karen

posted February 28, 2007 at 11:28 pm


Great Conversation. Thanks, Meg, for your perspective. I’m a thinker too but I have close friends who are more feelers. It’s easy for thinkers to try to force feelers into becoming thinkers. Knowing what to think about theological issues is wise but there is definitely more to following Christ than having the answers, as I think we’d all agree.
You may have already, but ask God what avenue to take when you get into situations where what your sharing is challenged. Thinkers often jump to explain things with reasoned arguments but feelers often can see what lies at the heart of the person. Maybe the objection is a veiled distraction and they need someone to minister kind, loving words and actions? Maybe they’d be honored if you said, “Well, I’m not sure how that relates to what the Bible says. What do you think?” I know that would make my day. Just asking questions and drawing out a person’s passion uplifts their spirit. And what’s more important in the end, the theological debate or the growth of the relationship between friends/colleagues? Both are good but the feelers’ strength tends to be the latter and that’s why I love feelers.



report abuse
 

A Different Karen

posted February 28, 2007 at 11:29 pm


Hope that didn’t sound like I was challenging your answer, Scot. *blushes* Appreciating feelers for being feelers is new to me. It’s like a whole different world.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 1, 2007 at 8:16 am


Thinkers (such as myself) can get themselves way up a creek without a paddle theologically and philosophically by way of their minds. The mind is equally as corrupt as the emotion, as far as I’m aware. Each of us has a weakness, but each of us should submit our weaknesses to Christ to show himself strong in them. For example, there have been times in my recent past where I wanted to scrap the whole thing… Jesus, the Bible, all of it. Not just because I didn’t think the gist of it wasn’t true. I still thought it was likely true. But I hated God for the fact that an ordinary man like me knew just enough to know that I had no way of getting a firm grasp on what He was trying to communicate to us through his Word.
This is where my mind, left to itself, took me. The faith that rescued me from deep depression ended up taking the form of “knowing the truth” by way of what I felt deep inside of me. And through a period of “feeling it out”, I worked to submit my mind to study and asking questions of elders and so forth. Praise God for the multi-faceted ways He’s wired us to know Him!



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted March 1, 2007 at 9:51 am


Dear Meg,
How does someone like you or me contribute to the conversation? In the only way that really matters. By the way we live our lives.
Thank you for sharing the simple truth of your feelings.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 1, 2007 at 9:52 am


The only way, huh? That’s an interesting perspective.



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted March 1, 2007 at 10:03 am


Hey Matt,
Well to be fair, I did say “the only way that really matters”. Though on reflection, that sounds more dismissive than I intend. How about “the most important way”.



report abuse
 

joseph holbrook

posted March 1, 2007 at 11:46 am


comments all: one of the things i like about this blog is that it is down-to-earth, not at all intellectually pretentious, although it has substance. I agree that what we think, and what we say takes on substance (grace and power) based on how we live.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 1, 2007 at 1:36 pm


Amen, Paul. Faith without works is dead. Theology without works is dead. Preaching without works is dead. Teaching a Bible study without works is dead. Writing books without works is dead.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 9:10 am


Scot,
I have been thinking about this scenario described in this post. When I first read the scenario you described, I thought that the pastor and elders over reacted to the youth pastor and should have handled this differently. That may be true, but I have some questions after reading the post again.
Who are the friends of the youth pastor? If these are peers or young adults, then fine, then this is their business let ‘em read. If these friends are high school youth then I have some issues. I have four children, one in High School and one in Middle School and I would not want our youth pastor forming a reading group using those books. Speaking as a parent, I would want our youth pastor to be sharing books that build faith in students. Bell is probably closer, if not in that category. I would not put McLaren’s books in the faith building category for High School youth. If the youth pastor has issues with the church, he should not be working those out the youth in his charge.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted March 2, 2007 at 10:22 am


Mark Pike,
Good question. Assumed in the letter and perhaps not clear. This was a study with adults … 2 of whom were elders and their wives!



report abuse
 

B-W

posted March 2, 2007 at 12:54 pm


Post #43: If the youth pastor has issues with the church, he should not be working those out the youth in his charge.
I’m not sure I follow. I don’t think it’s a necessary conclusion to suggest that, by reading studying McLaren (even with youth!), the youth pastor is demonstrating that he has issues with the church. All I see that he’s doing is encouraging critical thinking. This is entirely appropriate for High Schoolers. I might not suggest it for Elementary ages: their thinking isn’t able to handle abstract concepts as a rule. But I just don’t see the necessary connection between McLaren and “working out issues with the church” that you seem to.
(Of course, the youth pastor has issues to work out with his church NOW, but that’s not what we’re talking about….)



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 1:15 pm


Scot,
Well then, that clarifies things. If the group consisted of adults and two were elders and their wives, this is a problem. If the group consisted of two elders and the action was taken as described, then this church has leadership problems. I suspect this is not really about Emerging Church issues, this could have happened with any number of authors.
Very unfortunate and sad.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 1:29 pm


B-W
When I read “A New Kind of Christian” it was very clear that McLaren has issues with the church, particularly in it’s Evangelical expressions. Drips off the page.
Of course critical thinking is important in working with High School students, you want them to think at higher levels, ask good questions and think for themselves. McLaren is an ideologue, like Jim Wallis. N.T. Wright on the other hand, thinks critically. I would have no problem with our youth pastor encouraging my 15 year old son to read “Simply Christian” because the spirit of that book is very different than “Generous Orthodoxy.”



report abuse
 

Paul Johnston

posted March 2, 2007 at 1:39 pm


If elders, are in part, commissioned to insure that orthodoxy is being taught and consequently empowered to abort programs that are deemed hetrodoxy, and they took the time to make themselves present during teachings, why should that be deemed unfortunate and sad.
Sounds like reasonable due process was given and an authoritative and informed decision rendered.



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 2, 2007 at 1:43 pm


I have been following this discussion about what one might allow your high schoolers to read, and what one might discourage. I have a question:
How many of you are keeping your high school kids in your churches after they get into college and beyond? My perception is that most churches, including evangelical churches, lose about 80 or 90% of their high school kids anyway once they become independent.
Wouldn’t it be worth the risk to try a little independent or critical thinking with them? After all, you are probably going to lose them anyway, unless you turn them into ideologues of a different sort.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:07 pm


Yes the elders are charged with the responsibility to provide orthodox teaching. I am in complete agreement there. I am sad at the tone reflected in the question raised originally by Holly. The situation appears to have been handled with too little grace. I am for elders saying to the flock, “this is sound spiritual food, read this . . .”
As far as High School students being lost to the church at a rate of 80-90% I find those numbers highly suspect. I am a campus minister at a state university in Indiana and those numbers do not reflect the reality I see on a daily basis. What Colleen Carroll describes in “The New Faithful” is more like what I see on campus. I see a greater disenchantment with the church among Christian College students than I do in students at the state university. In fact, students seek us out, they are looking for the church.



report abuse
 

B-W

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:09 pm


Post #47,
When I read “A New Kind of Christian” it was very clear that McLaren has issues with the church, particularly in it’s Evangelical expressions. Drips off the page.
This is very helpful. However, I would argue that this does not demonstrate the material’s unsuitability for high schoolers, nor would studying it demonstrate that the youth leader himself had issues with the chuch he was working out (which, I should go on record as saying, I do agree would be inappropriate to do in the context of the youth he is responsible for).
We need to teach each other (and especially our youth!) how to respond to ideologues, and to think critically about them. I don’t see this as fundamentally different than having them engage with a scholar like NT Wright who may have views one disagrees with, just because he does so “critically” rather than “ideologically.”
How would you feel about a youth director having youth read Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am Not a Christian,” if it were made clear that the purpose was to teach youth how to critically engage the thoughts of non-Christians?
I just can’t help but wonder if it might be easier to accept this kind of scenario, rather than reading a book from someone like McLaren, who does still consider himself Christian, despite his concerns with the Church as it stands. I have a gut feeling that the concern might not have to do with McLaren’s unorthodox beliefs, per se, so much as that people are afraid that impressionable minds might have trouble discerning McLaren’s beliefs from “real” Christianity.
(For the record, I think McLaren is a “real Christian. I’m setting up that last sentence for the sake of argument.)



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm


ok, 50 to 60 percent then…at least in terms of a specific local congregation. Perhaps many of them will start to search and seek out new venues to practice their faith. My point is, it may not be such a bad idea to expose High School kids to McLaren and others, and help them to “think critially” and biblically, rather than just banning books. Seems to me that it would help prepare them for their college experience and their own journey and search for wineskins.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:12 pm


Why don’t we take our kids rock climbing and make sure they have the proper gear, and then stick around to provide the necessary support. Oh wait… we don’t have time. We’re too wrapped up in our careers. We’ll just let the youth pastor deal with it. Get my drift?



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:17 pm


I agree Matt… I was the pastor of a church 5 years ago. When the young people started leaving, including a couple of my own “High Schoolers” … I left also. I followed them out of the church, pursued them, hung out with them, smoked cigars with some of them and gave them all kinds of books to read.
We now are gathering organically with about 30 of them, most of whem came to faith in our former church’s youth group at ages 12 to 15, and now are married and have children of their own. As far as I know, we did not lose one of them….but some of them went through some deep waters….some still are. A couple are in Irak and are not doing so well.
McLaren’s take on the Evangelical church would be by far, the least of their worries. For the most part, they already know the problems with the church that McLaren talks about.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:19 pm


The fact that Bertrand Russell is not a Christian and that Brian McLaren is a Christian is the point. I would not have a problem with High School students reading an atheist in order to understand their arguments. I actually think it would be a good thing to help them clarify and understand their own faith better, as well as help them have meaningful conversations with their friends who are asking questions.
McLaren is a different thing. When reading “A New Kind of Christian” or “Generous Orthodoxy” I come away wondering what he is for, can’t tell, don’t know if he knows. With Bertrand Russell I know what he is for and I can have a conversation with him about that. I cannot in good conscience hand a High School youth “Generous Orthodoxy” and say to them, “read this, it will nourish your faith, your soul.” Something like “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that nourishes faith; “Simply Christian” that explains and nourishes faith.



report abuse
 

B-W

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:21 pm


Post #55,
I cannot in good conscience hand a High School youth “Generous Orthodoxy” and say to them, “read this, it will nourish your faith, your soul.”
But the whole point of my question is that you don’t give the high schooler McLaren for the purpose of saying that. You give it to them for the purpose of encouraging critical thinking. The same as you would for Russell.



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 2, 2007 at 2:27 pm


I’m sorry friends, I have to respectfully disagree with you. I don’t think the problem is McLaren, the problem, at least in humble opinion, is the state of the church (at least in many cases). I think there are more young poeple lost between the cracks of the program-driven american church than would ever be disillusioned by Mclaren’s searching for answers. I have to agree with Matt’s comments above… the problem has more to do with parents handing off their responsabilities to youth pastors than it does reading emerging church literature.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 2, 2007 at 3:14 pm


Let the facts speak for themselves. Joseph H’s stats aren’t estimates. They’re the real deal. Out of 4 siblings who have graduated high school (I’m the oldest), I’m the only one who even attends church regularly, let alone has a devout faith in Jesus Christ. My parents read Plugged In, listened to Focus on the Family and Christian radio in general, did their best to instill Christian values in us and set appropriate boundaries for us. We always went to church, always had dinner together (and always prayed at dinner), had family game nights, went to a conservative Baptist church, and were very involved in our youth group, youth camps, and spiritual retreats. So for us, in spite of these things, 75% have left the Church. It is only by God’s sovereign grace that I am now following Christ’s call to prepare for the pastorate, and have not fled the church as well. But I believe that if we would have (a) been a part of a church that was truly committed to discipling young believers (such a church did not exist in the rural community in which we grew up), or (b) Biblically, historically, and philosophically trained by our parents, then that percentage would be much lower, if not zero.
For the record, rural communities are in desperate need of visionary, Biblically trained, devout pastors, worship leaders, and lay leaders to serve the churches there. Rural America, once a stronghold of our Christian heritage, has become a literal spiritual wasteland. Again, just ask the youth. And again, it’s an utter miracle that I am who I am, where I am today.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted March 2, 2007 at 3:38 pm


Mark,
As a campus pastor at a state University don’t you only see those who are actively seeking you out? Meaning that it is hard to develop good statistics.
But I do think that the circle the wagons and ban books approach is counterproductive. To repeat myself (#27) the way build strong Christians is by encouraging critical thought in a safe and informed atmosphere – not by circling the wagons and building fences.



report abuse
 

Mark Pike

posted March 2, 2007 at 4:34 pm


I will grant that the students who come to our ministry is self-selected and do not reflect the broader community. I still don’t see those numbers you guys refer to in the broader campus population.
I am also going by what Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton report in “Soul Searching.” According to their research, High School students are more likely to have a favorable view of their church than not.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted March 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm


For some odd reason, partly my own fault, this has turned into a discussion about whether or not HS students should read McLaren … the original post had nothing to do with that. It was a study group of adults; at least one pastor and two elders.



report abuse
 

B-W

posted March 2, 2007 at 4:38 pm


Scot,
Sorry. I just had to respond to this idea that McLaren was inappropriate for high schoolers. But the whole derailment is largely my fault.



report abuse
 

Matt

posted March 2, 2007 at 7:16 pm


Conversations are unpredictable at times, eh?



report abuse
 

Molly

posted March 2, 2007 at 9:13 pm


The leaders at my gathering get lovely tidbits in their Inboxes from groups like Worldview Weekend, regularly screeching about McLaren and Bell and other emergent antichrists. This sort of thing effectively ends any discussion or hope FOR discussion. They read a scathing article by WW, full of quotes that (I personally) think are out of context and WAY out of line (quick to call heretics…
All I’m trying to say is that if the church leaders in Holly’s brother’s church are reading the same kind of stuff that they read in my local gathering, then I completely understand them banning books. If WW is right, these are Satan’s books, designed for the destruction of the church.
If only more were like Holly’s brother and excercised their human ability to engage in critical thinking!!!!!!!



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 4, 2007 at 2:57 pm


With your permission Scott, I want to conclude my conversation about High Schoolers dropping out of church with these two links from Barna and Touchstone. I think the problem with the church and young adults may be worse than we think. If there is a more appropriate place to post this, let me know or feel free to move it.
From Baran:
Twentysomethings Struggle to Find Their Place in Christian Churches
http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=149
Many twentysomethings are reversing course after having been active church attenders during their teenage years. As teenagers, more than half attended church each week and more than 4 out of 5 (81%) had ever gone to a Christian church. That means that from high school graduation to age 25 there is a 42% drop in weekly church attendance and a 58% decline from age 18 to age 29. That represents about 8,000,000 twentysomethings alive today who were active church-goers as teenagers but who will no longer be active in a church by their 30th birthday.
From Touchstone:
Here is another one from touchstonemag.com about a study in Switzerland by Robbie Low, called “The Truth about Men and Church”.
http://www.touchstonemag.com/docs/issues/16.5docs/16-5pg24.html
I have just read an article summarizing a study of
church attendance in Switzerland. The data are old: 1994.
The trends recorded are not startling, but the
statistics are.
If both father and mother attend regularly, 33
percent of their children will end up as regular
churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending
irregularly. Only a quarter of their children
will end up not practicing at all. If the father
is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent
of the children will subsequently become regulars
themselves, while a further 59 percent will
become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be
lost.
I was a missionary to Hispanics in Colombia and Miami for many years. Now, the unreached people group that we are focused on are secular postmoderns under 30, regardless of whether they speak English or Spanish.
Joseph



report abuse
 

Samuel Lopez De Victoria

posted March 4, 2007 at 3:47 pm


Joseph said, “I have been following this discussion about what one might allow your high schoolers to read, and what one might discourage. I have a question:
How many of you are keeping your high school kids in your churches after they get into college and beyond? My perception is that most churches, including evangelical churches, lose about 80 or 90% of their high school kids anyway once they become independent.
Wouldn’t it be worth the risk to try a little independent or critical thinking with them? After all, you are probably going to lose them anyway, unless you turn them into ideologues of a different sort. ”
_____________________________________________
Hi guys, I’m new to this blog. I’m the other former church planter/pastor (25 years and a series of churches later) that hangs out with Joseph trying to figure out the next reformation and who convinced him to go get his Ph.D. :D
I realize I may be jumping into a few areas that I may have missed. Excuse my misunderstandings.
Besides working in my private practice and with a group of doctors as a psychotherapist, I also teach just about all the kinds of psychology classes at the local college. I usually teach about 150 students per semester. My experience is that they are incredibly hungry for truth but most do not go to church. Each class I have is an amazing journey of discovery where I constantly see the eyes light up with delight of discovering truth. These are secular folks. It is very common for me to have 4-6 students walking me out of the classes wanting to ask me tons of questions. Lives do get changed.
Based on my experience, I feel that the way that reach these minds/hearts is to show them that TRUTH works and exists. First by modeling it to them. Second by showing them how it can be practical in their daily lives (home, girlfriends, boyfriends, sadness, losses, healing, work, sex, etc.). I think that problem that many times we Christian leaders fall into is that we try to reach the mind/cognition (linear constructs such as “reason” and “logic”) when the path is through the heart (non-linear such as “love” and “connecting”). I personally believe (Joseph and I have talked about this area) that truth cannot be proven. It can only be experienced. You KNOW (as in “epignosis”) TRUTH… which ultimately is a PERSON. Just as the Word became flesh. I must do the same metaphorically with those I am “touching with truth.”
I also think that some of us may try to bring unbelievers into our constructs. We must enter their world (yet not sin) and incarnate metaphorically. That may mean we throw out all the traditional verbage and props that carry so much baggage.
So to go back to Joseph’s comment on young peoples leaving the church. I agree. I see it all around me. But that is OK because it is a wonderful opportunity to flesh out TRUTH in our lives in front of them and start with a clean slate. The potential for spawning new/non-infected disciples (with baggage of traditional constraints) is great.
I humbly submit these thoughts to my fellow wizards of THE TRUTH.
SAMUEL (Gandalf :D )



report abuse
 

Mike Clawson

posted March 4, 2007 at 7:27 pm


I could be wrong, but it seems like most of those arguing whether or not high schoolers ought to be reading McLaren seem to have an underlying assumption that Brian is mostly wrong, or at least asking dangerous questions. Frankly, I have the complete opposite assumption. Brian’s books (especially ones like Finding Faith or More Ready Than You Realize) are some of the few that I would have no qualms about giving my teens because I know I can trust Brian’s perspectives. I’d have a lot harder time justifying giving my teens books by any of the other typical evangelical authors (e.g. Piper, McDowell, Dobson, Harris, etc.) – but I guess that’s just because these days I tend to be suspicious of evangelical theology and have found it to be harmful and destructive to the faith of young people.
I guess it’s all about your presuppositions. If you assume that evangelicalism is the orthodox norm that teens must be held to, then it’s no wonder that you’d want to keep your kids away from McLaren. But if you tend to view contemporary evangelicalism as the distortion, then you probably wouldn’t mind exposing your kids to viewpoints that challenge those assumptions.



report abuse
 

Joseph Holbrook

posted March 4, 2007 at 7:31 pm


I am in complete agreement with you Mike. I did give my son Mclaren to read, along with C.S. Lewis, Watchman Nee, Dallas Willard and a few others. I still have a copy of Plato’s works that I am trying to get him to read. He is now 21 and is still purusing God, although with ups and downs like all of us.



report abuse
 

Gordon Hackman

posted March 5, 2007 at 8:57 am


Mike,
I like your perspective here, even though I can’t claim to have ever read any McClaren or much of the evangelical authors you list. Though raised in conventional evangelicalism, I have always found that the Christian authors who have spoken to me the most deeply and affected my thinking the most profoundly are those outside the evangelical mainstream (even when their published by evangelical presses). I think you are dead right about the way that so many evangelicals assume that orthodoxy equals evangelical. Your observation that much of evangelical theology is destructive of the faith of young people resonates with me as well.
Gordon



report abuse
 

Josh W

posted March 5, 2007 at 11:51 am


Skip all the “emerging” stuff for a moment, what is wrong about reading a book? It takes up time, especially if you want to treat it fairly. So if you have something better to study than that these people’s book, then get to it. On the other hand, any threat to the gospel (if that is what these are) should be defended against honestly, and provides an opportunity to know a little better what you believe.
I think sometimes though, certainly in my own life, it is possible to try to assimilate too many lines of thought: Taking all that is of value and making it subservient to Christ takes a while! We are not here to be Athenians, always discussing the latest ideas, we are here to serve God and do what he wants.
Banning is rubbish, and it seems to me that the common thread is submit to God, on his terms and not on ours, and honestly look at various theologies and find where they are right and wrong, not just where you like them! A big part here is studying the bible just as much, so you learn Gods perspective; the vague rule I have on this is to study the bible itself about as much as I study other books, although its vague because I rarely do it!



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.