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Brian D. McLaren (born 1956) is a prominent Christian pastor, author, activist and speaker and leading figure in the emerging church movement. McLaren is also associated with postmodern Christianity and progressive Christianity and is a major figure in post-evangelical thought.
He has often been named one of the most influential Christian leaders in America and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America in 2005. McLaren was also the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, which he left in 2006 to pursue writing and speaking full-time.
Born in 1956, Brian McLaren graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with degrees in English (BA, summa cum laude, 1978, and MA, 1981). His academic interests include medieval drama, romantic poets, modern philosophical literature, and the novels of Dr. Walker Percy. He is also a musician and songwriter.
After several years of teaching English and consulting in higher education, he left academia in 1986 to become the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, a nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region. The church has grown to involve several hundred people, many of whom were previously unchurched. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
McLaren has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid-1980s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He has shown support for fellow pastors, including former theologian, church planter, and author, Mike Hamel. On McLaren's website, he wrote, "I have several friends who have had unbelievably tough years ... some of them, tough decades and tough lives overall. I wish I could somehow make things better, but so far all I can do is listen and let their story touch my heart."
In spite of the intense criticism leveled at McLaren by some Evangelical leaders, he remains a popular speaker for campus groups and retreats as well as a frequent guest lecturer at seminaries and conferences, nationally and internationally. His public speaking covers a broad range of topics including postmodernism, biblical studies, evangelism, apologetics, leadership, global mission, church growth, church planting, art and music, pastoral survival and burnout, inter-religious dialogue, ecology, and social justice.
McLaren is on the international steering team and board of directors for Emergent Village; a growing, generative friendship among missional Christian leaders, and serves as a board member for Sojourners and Orientacion Cristiana. He formerly served as board chair of International Teams, an innovative mission organization with 15 nationally registered members including the United States office based in Chicago, and has served on several other boards, including The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, and Off The Map.
McLaren is married and has four children. He has traveled extensively in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, and his personal interests include ecology, fishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, songwriting, music, art, and literature. In September 2012, McLaren led a gay marriage commitment ceremony for his son Trevor and partner Owen Ryan at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a ceremony officiated by a Universal Life minister.
Many of the books that McLaren has written, including the "A New Kind of Christian" trilogy, deal with Christianity in the context of the cultural shift towards postmodernism. McLaren believes this theology enables him to approach faith from what he considers a more Jewish perspective which allows faith to exist without objective, propositional truth to believe. He has also challenged traditional evangelicals' emphasis on individual salvation, end-times theology and the prosperity gospel. He also creates an antithesis between personal trust in God and belief in his propositions:
- "I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God." – Brian McLaren
Applying this epistemology to his theology, McLaren suggests on pp. 80–81 of More Ready Than You Realize that new Christian converts should remain within their specific contexts.
- I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264).
Often McLaren's postmodern approach to hermeneutics and Biblical understanding prompts him to take a less traditional approach towards issues considered controversial by fundamentalists, such as homosexuality. McLaren encourages what he calls a humble approach to controversial issues to enable dialog with others in a productive way.
- "Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn."
In January 2006, McLaren expressed uncertainty about what the Christian view on homosexuality should be. He suggested a five-year moratorium on the issue.
McLaren favors what he calls a "generous" approach to biblical hermeneutics, claiming that the foundational and objective hermeneutics of Evangelicals leads them to political conservatism. McLaren has been an outspoken advocate of issues such as social justice and peace.
Though McLaren is opposed to what he asserts are oppressive, Evangelical, literalist hermeneutics, his own hermeneutic is often called into question by conservative Christians. Often McLaren's own view on interpreting the Bible seems to call for others to rethink the whole process of interpretation. In his book, A New Kind of Christian, McLaren writes (via his main character Neo),
"Our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves. They reveal what we want to defend, what we want to attack, what we want to ignore, what we're unwilling to question..." (A New Kind of Christian, 50)
In 2011 McLaren defended Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins against critiques from figures such as Albert Mohler, who argued that Bell advocated universalism. Like Bell, McLaren has been branded a universalist by some of his critics, a charge which McLaren denies. Instead he argues for what he calls a more humble, inclusivist approach to the issue.
- The Church on the Other Side (Zondervan, 1998)
- Finding Faith (Zondervan, 1999)
- A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass, 2001)
- More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix (Zondervan, 2002)
- A Is for Abductive (Zondervan, 2002)
- Adventures in Missing the Point (Emergent/YS, 2003, co-written with Tony Campolo)
- Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives (Zondervan Emergent/YS, 2003) Leonard Sweet (General Editor), with contributors Andy Crouch, Brian D. McLaren, Erwin McManus, Michael Horton, Frederica Mathewes-Green
- The Story We Find Ourselves In (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
- A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (Zondervan, 2004)
- The Last Word and the Word After That (Jossey-Bass, 2005)
- The New Kind of Christian Trilogy - Limited Edition Boxed Set (A New Kind of Christian; The Story We Find Ourselves In; The Last Word and the Word After That) (Jossey-Bass, 2005)
- The Secret Message of Jesus : Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (W Publishing Group, April 2006)
- The Voice of Luke: Not Even Sandals (The Voice) (Thomas Nelson, July 2007) ISBN 0-529-12351-7
- Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson, October 2007) ISBN 0-8499-0183-9
- Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Thomas Nelson, May 2008) ISBN 0-8499-0114-6
- The Justice Project (Baker, September 2009), edited with Elisa Padilla, and Ashley Bunting Seeber ISBN 0-8010-1328-3
- A New Kind of Christianity (HarperOne, February 2010) ISBN 0-06-185398-4
- Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words (HarperOne, March 2011) ISBN 0-06-185401-8
- Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (Jericho Books, September 2012) ISBN 978-1-4555-1396-3
- We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books, June 2014) ISBN 9781455514007
- "Why Do Evangelicals Dislike Me So Much?". Huffington Post.
- "Brian McLaren - Paradigm Shifter". Time Magazine. 2005-02-07.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- "Cedar Ridge Community Church: What to Expect". Retrieved 2008-05-18.
- "Brian McLaren Remembers Stan Grenz". Retrieved 2009-12-15.
- Off The Map Homepage http://www.offthemap.com
- "Brian McLaren's biography from official website".
- "Trevor McLaren, Owen Ryan - Weddings". New York Times. 2012-09-23. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
- "Brian McLaren in Africa".
- "Brian McLaren everything must change".
- "response to email question at official website". September 2004.
- "Brian McLaren on the homosexual question: Finding a pastoral response".
- McLaren, Brian. "Leader's Insight: No Cowardly Flip-Flop". Leadership Journal. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
- Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan Zondervan, 2005.
- Erickson, Millard. Postmodernizing the Faith: Evangelical Responses to the Challenge of Postmodernism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998.
- ________; Helseth, Paul Kjoss; and Taylor, Justin eds. Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004.
- Smith, R. Scott. Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2005.
- Driscoll, Mark. Religion Saves + Nine Other Misconceptions. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2009.
- BrianMcLaren.net - official Brian McLaren website
- "Evangelical Author Puts Progressive Spin On Traditional Faith" (Washington Post, September 10, 2006)
- Video interview/discussion with Richard Land on Bloggingheads.tv
- Interview with Brian McLaren on "Finding Our Way Again" by ReadTheSpirit.com
- Interview with Brian McLaren on "A New Kind of Christianity" by ReadTheSpirit.com