"I grew up in the Vietnam War era. In the end people lost interest in that war, they said this is not a war worth fighting. Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more."
Brian McLaren is one of the leading US figures in forward-thinking evangelicalism, post-Christendom approaches to mission and 'the emerging church'.
In an address to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (16 July - 4 August 2008) he said that Christians have to engage the rapid changes of post-modernity, and that cultural sensitivity on issues such as sexuality was a way to re-hear the Gospel message from each other, rather than dividing into factions.
A staff member with the Anglican Communion News Service (http://www.aco.org/acns/) caught up with McLaren for a brief, informal conversation, which we reproduce with grateful acknowledgement below.
Brian McLaren has also written about his "Lambeth experience" on his website and blog: http://www.brianmclaren.net/
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists. He is a frequent guest on US television, radio, and news media programmes. His work has also been covered in Time magazine (where he was listed as one of American's 25 most influential evangelicals) on 'Larry King Live', in the Washington Post and other media.
His books include A New Kind of Christian, and The Story We Find Ourselves in. His 2004 release, A Generous Orthodoxy, has been called a "manifesto" of the emerging church conversation. The conclusion to the A New Kind of Christian trilogy was released in 2005, entitled The Last Word and the Word After That (Jossey-Bass). More Ready Than You Realise: The Power of Everyday Conversations (http://tinyurl.com/59tw7o) appeared in 2007.
Brian McLaren's titles can be purchased through Ekklesia here: http://tinyurl.com/65zhza
The Archbishop of Canterbury said you were someone he’d wanted to hear speak to the bishops for a while now … how did you feel when he asked you?
I was very honoured, but also a little nervous! I was also very excited… I have a great belief in the Anglican spirit, with its roots going back even to the Celtic era.
Do you feel then that the world would be a poorer place were the Anglican Communion to be split?
Anybody who had the chance that I’ve had to be here would experience the deep spiritual life here, the deep spirituality and deep personal relationships. You can tell that these have real substance, whether or not there’s a split.
Those who are pulling away are depriving themselves of great resources and are depriving the Anglican Communion of their great resources.
Regardless of what happens, there will be something of an Anglican ethos that will carry on.
Tell me more about how the Western church needs to deal with a colonial approach to evangelism.
We have a lot to learn from the global south, but the North and South together have to realise that the gospel spread under colonialism was just a version of the gospel. Together they need to come up with a new vision.
When you talked about ‘un-embedding’ the gospel from the context into which the Western world has read it, there was an excited sense of “well, we can do things a new way, it doesn’t have to be either/or...”
I’m glad to hear you say it that way. In many difficult issues people can become polarised, or choose a point on the line between the two views. It’s an exciting moment when people realise there can be something outside that line. That’s the creativity of the Holy Spirit, to pull us away from that line.
What about people who say you are advocating turning your back on a couple of millennia of tradition, for the sake of speaking into one generation?
I’m sympathetic to the concern that we don’t abandon things that should be retained. Two hundred years ago, the church went through the painful process of abandoning the slave trade. That meant a deep shift in thinking about economics and human rights. World War II saw the end of colonialism, which had been theologically defended. The church has always demonstrated both continuity and adaptation.
Does our diversity prove a strength in this adaptation?
Sometimes [in a dispute] both groups can slip into a rhetoric of right and wrong, the good guys and the bad guys. I hope we can go on to a different perspective, a missiological perspective. In early years, the Anglican Communion has had to make missiological decisions about what behaviours it would allow in different cultures.
What is the message you want to give the bishops gathered here?
I hope first that they will feel a sense of hope. It is so easy to be concerned with the controversies we see in the headlines. I hope the bishops will turn from that to the primary concern of the church, which is making disciples of people who will then live in the way of Jesus.
I sensed this morning how present that idea is, that it’s time to turn outward again.
You know, I grew up in the Vietnam War era. In the end people lost interest in that war, they said this is not a war worth fighting. Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more.
Also about Brian McLaren on Ekklesia: 'Everything Must Change' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/7125
The new book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.