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Brian McLaren

BIO


Brian D. McLaren is an internationally known speaker and the author of over ten highly acclaimed books on contemporary Christianity, including A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus.

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INTERVIEW

November 2007

Pastor and speaker Brian McLaren is the author of such highly acclaimed books as FINDING FAITH, THE CHURCH ON THE OTHER SIDE, THE SECRET MESSAGE OF JESUS and THE VOICE OF LUKE. In this interview with FaithfulReader.com's Marcia Ford, McLaren talks about what inspired both the idea behind and the title of his latest work, EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE, and explains how it surpasses his previous efforts in scope and subject matter. He also shares his thoughts on the personal and social aspects of evangelism, the domestication of faith and the ever-shifting perspectives that Christians have of Jesus.

FaithfulReader.com: Let's start with the title: EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE. Tell us why you chose that title and what you mean by "everything" in the context of church and faith.

Brian McLaren: I explain in the book that the title comes from a woman in Rwanda who had lived through all the trauma of genocide in the early 1990s.

She realized that most of the people who had participated in genocide were church-goers, but their understanding of the gospel was not sufficient to transform their understanding of identity and tribalism, so tribalism trumped Christian identity. I think similar things happen to us here in America. Sometimes race trumps our identity in Christ.

Sometimes politics. Sometimes economics. So she said, "If the good news of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change." My sense is that she's right --- meaning that the changes we need in our churches, whether in Rwanda or here in the Washington, DC area where I live, are not superficial and simple, like changing our style of music or our seating arrangement and so on. The changes we need require us to go deep and get a fresh new vision of the original gospel that Jesus preached and lived.

FR: In illustrating the current global crises, you use the metaphor of a suicide machine. How have we as Christians contributed to the creation of humanity's suicide machine?

BM: So much of our involvement has been completely unintentional, unconscious even. For example, since Constantine in the 4th century, we Christians have too often see our faith as a kind of chaplaincy to the nation-state. We need to discover what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the church shouldn't be the servant of the state, and it shouldn't try to be the master of the state either. But it should be the conscience of the state...and I would add, its imagination, to have a vision of what is possible with God's help.

But it's not just the state: it's also political and economic ideology that can domesticate our faith. I think it's tragic when our churches become uncritical in their accommodation to say left-wing politics or socialist economic assumptions. And the same is true when we accommodate to right-wing politics and economic assumptions. I believe the gospel calls us to higher ground, to a higher set of values and perspectives. It calls us not to be conformed to this world's systems, but to be transformed by the good news.

FR: In your book, you describe four arenas of dysfunction --- prosperity, equity, security and spirituality --- and suggest that we develop an "insurgency of hope" to confront those crises. What does an insurgency of hope look like to you?

BM: I was just reading Hebrews 10 the other day, where we are told not to forsake assembling together, as some people slide into, but instead we're to encourage each other and stimulate one another "to love and good works." I imagine what our churches would be like if we gathered --- not just to "have our needs met" and to receive teaching and inspiration --- but if we gathered to stimulate one another to love and good works in each arena of our global crises. So some of us would be doing good works --- works that bring justice and healing --- regarding the economy, others in relation to the environment, others in relation to peace-making and the promotion of neighborliness locally and globally. And of course, all of us would be seeking to make disciples, so that more and more people convert from being an active or passive part of the problem to being an active part of God's solution. Of course, this is already happening in so many churches, in so many ways, but I think we still have a ways to go.

FR: You call this the most "worldly" of all your books. Why is that?

BM: I think EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE is "worldly" in the sense that a lot of my previous books have had to do with intramural affairs or the church: important matters of worship, evangelism, theology, discipleship, and so on. But this book invites us to look outside the church and examine the world that is both in deep trouble --- "like sheep without a shepherd," as Jesus said --- and at the same time ripe for a spiritual awakening --- "fields white to harvest," as Jesus said. I like to think of us as standing alongside the Lord, looking at the world, trying to feel his heartbeat, his concern, his passion for this world that God so loves.

FR: By taking the evangelical church to task for ignoring societal issues like injustice and poverty, you've received a fair amount of criticism from Christians who say you're neglecting the call to personal salvation. How do you respond to that?

BM: Ironically, I think my primary gift is evangelism. I worked for 24 years as a pastor, and over that time I helped quite a few people come to faith and begin the path of discipleship. So evangelism is a huge concern for me, probably my ultimate priority. The problem comes with the adjective "personal." I believe salvation is indeed personal, meaning it touches the individual and calls the individual to commitment. But it never stops at being personal, because it calls us out of ourselves to love our neighbors, to love strangers, and ultimately to love our enemies. So I am interested in salvation, but not "skim" or "decaf" salvation, a salvation that is satisfied with touching the individual. My understanding of the gospel is that it’s always personal, but always social too. You can't have one without the other and still be dealing with the gospel that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed. One way to say it is that you can't have a kingdom without a king, meaning that you can't have a social gospel without a personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior and liberating king; but neither can you have a king without a kingdom, which means that you can't have Jesus as your mascot or your genii --- to accept him is to accept his love for the whole world, including its crises and suffering.

FR: You write that "we are in the early stages of a radical reassessment of Jesus." What do you mean by that? How do you see Jesus? What do you believe was his purpose in coming to earth?

BM: In recent years, nearly all Biblical scholars are agreeing that we can't extract Jesus from his original environment and claim to understand him. In other words, we can try to understand Jesus in light of the teachings of Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and others...this is important. But these people came after Jesus. They give us a perspective on him and represent the history that flows from Jesus, but we also need the perspective gained by seeing Jesus in the story into which he was born --- the story of those who came before him, which includes Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets and so on. In that light, we see Jesus as the one coming to fulfill the promises that came through the prophets --- the promise of a king who would change people's hearts and bring a new creation. So to me, Jesus comes for many reasons --- but among the most important is his coming to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, and to plant that kingdom like a seed in the ground or like yeast in dough or like light in darkness.

He does this through his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, his calling of disciples and his sending of the Holy Spirit; this gives all who believe assurance of life with God beyond death, which gives them a clear sense of identity and mission in this life as agents of the kingdom of God.

FR: In 2008, you'll be holding "Everything Must Change" weekend sessions throughout the country. What will these sessions involve, and what do you hope to accomplish through this tour?

BM: As you can imagine, I'm really excited about this chance to gather people in various regions to talk about the content of this new book, to answer questions and encourage dialogue, to provide some resources that can be used in churches --- songs, prayers, confessions of sin, and so on. So many people feel a kind of holy dissatisfaction growing in them, and along with it, a hope for a more vibrant and robust faith; but, many of them feel alone and isolated. I hope that by coming together, they'll realize that they're not alone and that God is stirring up something very similar in many, many hearts, across denominations and around the world.

FR: On your website (www.brianmclaren.net) you've posted bonus content that was intended to be in the book but had to be cut --- specifically, a "hopelessly idealistic" and imaginary speech that President Bush could have delivered immediately after 9/11. In it, Bush rejects the notion of a war on terror in favor of a plan for peace and security through cooperation and justice. What has been the reaction to this imaginary speech?

BM: Actually, we just put it up the other day, so you're the very first person to comment on it. I'd love to know what you thought, and what your readers think.

FR: You've often been referred to as the "elder statesman" of the emerging church, and then, as if that didn't place enough pressure on you, Time magazine named you one of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders in the U.S. How do accolades like that affect you, your writing and your preaching? Certainly some people consider your words to be gospel. How do you handle that?

BM: Well, it's rather complex. I get so much encouragement from people who thank me for my writings and speaking because they say it's saved their faith, which was slipping away into discouragement or cynicism or doubt. But then, as you know, I receive a lot of high-octane criticism too, which can be quite draining. I suppose the two, taken together, provide needed doses of humility and encouragement, and I'd probably be in trouble if I only got one without the other.

Ironically, the encouragement and criticism also can have the opposite effects one might expect. For example, the criticism can tempt me to pride, because if I defend myself or take offense at some of the untrue and harsh things that are said, my ego gets exercised and that's not healthy spiritually. Meanwhile, the encouragement is quite humbling, actually, as I realize that God is doing wonderful things through my books while I'm sound asleep. It truly is God who makes the seeds grow, and of course, God supplies the seeds to begin with. So, I always try to bring all of this into God's light and process it there.

FR: What can we expect to find in your next book?

BM: I just finished the first draft, actually. It's called FINDING OUR WAY AGAIN, and it's about rediscovering our faith as a way of life, as a set of practices by which we're formed as disciples. So it's about spiritual formation --- coming back to the theme of personal devotion and growth. Going back to your earlier question, I'm trying to keep this balance --- never seeing the faith as personal without also being social, but never seeing it as being social without also being personal. The balance and integration are so strong in Scripture --- they're integrated in the great commandment to love God and neighbor, or in Micah's words to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. But for a variety of reasons, we American Christians have found it hard to avoid "dividing asunder what God has joined together." I hope my books, taken together, can help us rediscover and live that dynamic integration. Thanks for your excellent questions!


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