Brian McLaren, Conversation and Life

Today we had the unexpected honor of having Brian McLaren come to SSU and do a chapel. He gave a short talk about what he’s thinking about and encouraging us to embrace our different calls to serve God in the world. Then we had a lengthy discussion time with some really thought provoking stuff.

Quote of the day: “The most dangerous thing in the world is the USA.” Brian said this in response to a lot of Christian fear-mongering that accuses Islam of being the greatest danger in the world today. He said that the USA has a military budget that’s larger than the next 25 countries combined, 23 of which are US allies. Scary. So, whatever you think about Islam, he’s absolutely right that they’re a drop in the bucket next to the USA.

He also said some terrific things in response to a question from my friend Joel Mason, who asked “Why do Christians who embrace social justice issues and Christians who embrace physical healing not connect with each other very much or very well?” Brian had some terrific things in response to that, and I think that I might even devote a later blog post to unpacking some of that.

Moving from one conversation to another, there’s been some terrific discussion a few posts back between a guy (or gal?) named DH and myself about salvation. Read up and chime in if you are so inclined.

Now, back to work. Some exceedingly boring NT Theology awaits…

25 responses to “Brian McLaren, Conversation and Life”

  1. That’s an excellent question. You should devote a later post to that – I’d be interested to hear what he said.

    That kind of reminds me of what seemed at times to be going at the Vineyard prior to SHOP starting. It seemed like there was a divide of that kind.

    I wonder if it has something to do with that people who are really passionate about physical healing often seem so divorced from reality that it turns people who are socially minded off, since to be socially minded is to be attuned with reality.

    Hope you’re well bro.

    Take care then.

  2. It was an excellent question, and I’m glad that he asked it. Great connection you made between WCV and SHOP – I hadn’t thought of it, but that’s an excellent example that hits close to home. Jac thought of it too, but I guess I’m just too thick-headed.

  3. I just don’t buy this America is the most scary thing in the world. How many nations are living out their dreams and have freedom today atthe hands of the US. How about Japan, S. Korea, the list goes on. Where ths US strong military helped to formulate nations that have more freedom? I don’t see Islamic nations, except for Jordon and Turkey and to a lesser extent Egypt. It is way oversimplistic for Brian to say these things when you observe what would happen if the US had no military. You would see the world a much more dangerous place than it is now.

    Also, Brian misunderstands people who mention Islam. Nobody is propagating to ALL of Islam. It is only toward the extremist within Islam that are being addressed.

    Social justice? I think social justice is when people who are being abused by a dictator have nations help to depose that dictator so that people can have social freedoms. I think it is social justice when more people have jobs and are able to be successful. When 96% of the people in a nation have jobs then I feel one must truly define “social justice”. I understand we must take care of the poor but I don’t think we should pursue things that are going to make the number of poor people grow like communism and socialism. Social justice should be out of the goodness of ones heart not forced onto people.
    It seems weird to ridicule the US when in terms of absolute dollars we do more than any other nation in helping the poor nations and defending them against evil tyrants. dh (I’m male) :)

  4. “I don’t see Islamic nations, except for Jordon and Turkey and to a lesser extent Egypt.”

    need to add “…pursuing freedom and equality for its people.” dh


  5. Keen on Keane-
    As a result of reading a post of yours some weeks ago, I am now keen on Keane. In return I highly recommend a new Aussie band, Evermore.

  6. speedgeoff: thanks for coming by again. I’m still digging Keane; glad you are too. I’ll check out Evermore too.

    DH: Let’s back things up for a moment. Let’s look at what he actually said. He said that the USA is the most dangerous thing in the world. He did not say that it is the most scary. That would be a secondary argument that a case could be made for, but it is not what he said.

    What is helpful about what he said is that it helps us not to merely turn our gaze outward in an “us against them” mindset. Sure, there are scary things about what some terrorists who are motivated by a particular understanding of Islam do. Blowing up innocent people is always a scary thing. But that does not make them more dangerous than the USA.

    And also, just because you can argue that the USA may have used its military power for the greater good in the past, does not necessitate that they are using it well currently.

    Frankly, I do believe that some Christian voices are characterizing the whole of Islam as inherently evil, with the terrorists as only the worst expression. I also happen to think that this characterization does an extremely poor job of helping us to love Islamic people as our neighbors and/or our enemies. That is, in my view, the goal of Christians.

    As for social justice, I’m going to refrain on commenting for the moment. I am working on a follow-up post that answers the question that my friend Joel posed, and I feel like that will probably be a better place to talk about such issues than here.

  7. Scary, dangersous my opinion is the same: I totally disagree with these things.

    You said:
    “Blowing up innocent people is always a scary thing. But that does not make them more dangerous than the USA.” I totally disagree with this, as well. Just because you think they might not be using their military well doesn’t make the US scary or dangerous. I think that perpetuates an vergeneralization of the truth that Saddam out of power is good for the world. I think what is more scary and dangerous is, assuming for argument that what you say is true which I feel it isn’t, are Saddam, Kim Jong Il, etc. Remember this isn’t the people in the countries who are not fighting for these terrorists are what the US is being an advocate for. I don’t consider the US the most dangerous thing in the world. I don’t think it is scary that the US has a high military budget.
    I think many Christians who mention the problems of terrorists get mischaracterized as stating it is for all of Islam when in fact they are referring to the extremists within Islam. THe fact remains that if we didn’t have a strong military more terroist activity would result, nations that are currently democratic would not be democratic and more dictators would be torturing their people.
    Well, I only said this because I want to be more EC or relate to PM Christianity and just get pushed away. All I seem to here are overreactions, oversimplistic answers, understating real answers, throwing the baby out with the bath water, etc.

    I will say more conversations like the Salvation post are what is needed, not condemning things that are for the greater good or are truth. DH

    P.S. Maybe I’m overreacting but Brian seems to do so much overreacting in his statements and books. I like the “balance” in an outline way but when I dig deeper it is more difficult. It makes me sad because I want to keep from the extremes but noone even in EC circles advocates the middle. Does that make sense? dh

  8. quite frankly DH, narrow-minded conservative evangelicals like yourself have become very tiresome to me.

    Of course you people want to see yourselves as the good guy. Keep on lying to yourself. And if it makes you blind to the current global realities, so be it, right?

    go america! (barf).

  9. Let us return to semantics. Dangerous and scary are not the same thing. Dangerous is the capability or potential for doing harm. Nobody is capable of doing more harm than the USA. This does not necessarily mean that they are, but they are certainly have the most potential.

    Scary would be the perceived likelihood of somone else towards doing you harm. This makes it a psychological phenomenon that is tied to dangerousnes but not the same thing. I agree that there are some scary people out there, but I do wonder how much they act that way on account of the way the USA intimidates and flexes its military muscle.

    I do not agree that “if we didn’t have a strong military more terrorist activity would result.” I frankly think that that is a bunch of propoganda. The same strong military has produced just as much, if not more, terrorism than it has prevented. Most of the terrorists are what they are because they are afraid of the USA, and not merely militarily. They are afraid that their identity as Islamic people is under threat from our relentless exporting of the American way of life that is, in their view, completely immoral. But then the USA rolls into Iraq for no good reason and creates much more animosity towards them than existed beforehand. We know have an unstable Iraq that hates the USA more than ever and is a breeding ground for more terrorists than before.

    I don’t actually find what Brian said to be extreme. I found it provocative, but he did not go to the extreme of saying that the USA is pure, incarnate evil or anything. He just said that they are dangerous, and he is certainly right. Are they scary as well? I would say that they are, but that is another thing all together.

  10. I think it is a bunch of propaganda to say that the US having no military would make the world a safer place. The reason 9/11 happened is because the terrorists thought they could get away with it.

    No good reason? Freeing the people of Iraq of an evil dictator is avery good reason. We also didn’t invade Iraq we invaded an evil regime of Saddam. There is a difference.

    It seems the other side doesn’t acknowledge the importance of spreading democracy across the world aka Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea, Iron curtain, etc. In fact it was a strong US military that indirectly had the iron curtain fall. Russia couldn’t keep up militarily and the people desired other forms of government besides communism. These good things are always forgotten. The recognition of the conclusion of theifs are what I consider closed minded. If people are going to continue to use the term.

    Just because they think democracy is immoral is what I think the problem is. They want to control the people. What is going on is very reminiscent of pre WWII Japan with their particular “religious dynasty”. People seem to forget history and it just repeats itself. The accusation of “closed-mindedness” in light of history seems odd to me. To me terrorism is scary, defending people against terrorism and promoting democracy in theworld that isn’t. dh

  11. Matt, after reading my previous post. I was a little over the top on my attitude. I got convicted and I wanted to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness. It is just the reaction I see from Brian is one where he seems to focus more on the problems of the Evnagelical church as opposed to ALL of the church. dh

    I guess without the wrong attitude I was trying to say that the way Brian says things and the terms he uses begs the question and seems over the top when he could have said it in such a better way as to not cause division. If he said I have some very strong concerns about the US or anything close to that. However, to say the term “dangerous” or anything in that category, whicle not what he intended, shows his overgeneralization. Some of the statements he says imply the same thing on other issues. Then when he explains or clarifies his positions after the fact he blames the people who misunderstood as opposed to looking at the way he said it and rephrasing it or not stating the ambigous statements in the first place.

    Well, Matt I think we can come together but I hope my previous posts on this didn’t make things worse. :( I’m bad :( I still think you help me and I appreciate your blog. :)

  12. Thanks for your honesty and humility DH, apology accepted and largely unnecessary. E-communication is a tough thing to do, because you can’t look someone in the eye.

    For the record, I think that Brian overstates things sometimes too. But we sometimes need shocking, jarring comments so that unquestioned assumptions are called into question and we can start to understand things from a new angle.

    Let me also say that Brian’s comment was spoken within a context in which it made perfect sense. When we talk about terrorists, we talk about the horrible things that they do to reach their goals. And yet, from their perspective, we are doing the exact same things to them. We are killing many innocent civilians in our “war on terror.” Whether or not we have better motives and are justified in doing so is a separate matter from the fact that what we are doing results in the same thing: killing civilians who have no place being involved in this conflict apart from their unfortunate location between two warring factions.

    That is the kind of thinking that Brian wants to stimulate, I think. Let’s apply the same standards to ourselves that we do to our enemies. And again, from a Christian perspective I’m much more interested in learning to love my enemies than in bombing them. The question of whether or not military force is ever justified is also a separate question that I’m not getting at here. What I am doing is being critical of a foreign policy conceived of in strictly “us and them” categories that does not recognize that even the terrorists–evil and abhorrent as their actions are–are also to be loved by us.

    And just to further the discussion: I’d say it’s perfectly valid for Brian to be specifically critical of the evangelical church, as they have largely swallowed US foreign policy in Iraq despite excellent biblical reasons to be critical. No matter what some may call him now, Brian has been shaped and formed by the evangelical tradition and in some way is an evangelical. He’s therefore speaking to his own family with a vested interest: he’s a part of them and cares about what they’re thinking and doing. I feel the same about my family, and I definitely have less things to say to and about other families that I don’t know as well.

    Anyways, I do appreciate the stimulating conversations going here DH.

  13. I appreciate the tone of theresponse but I disagree with some of thepoints you raise. What do you do about terrorists who sole goal is to see the ellimination of your people? To me it is a matter of whether self-defense is approriate or whether preventing people who are knowingly going to murder innocent people from doing it in the future.

    You say “Whether or not we have better motives and are justified in doing so is a separate matter” I totally disagree with this. Motive IS the main thing. I don’t understand a foreign policy that basically resembles the French WWII response. I don’t understand a response now that resembles Neville Chamberlain “peace in our time”. I don’t understand a response that doesn’t recognize the justice for the people who were hurting under an evil regime. I don’t feel physical life is an absolute value. The founding Fathers were willing to rick their lives for Liberty and many Iraqi police foreces are doing the same. Should we let them down and not help them in their fight against terrorism? Is love sitting back and letting terrorists continue to murder innocent people. I also refuse to look short-term on these issues as opposed to the bigger picture.

    For me there is a difference between killing and murder. Murder goes into intent. (These are all said with honesty and care; I hope you can see that I TOO care for the Evangelical church and to see people like Brian say things in such a way to exasperate the division just makes it worse.) dh

  14. It appears that Brian and others deny thereality of the terrorist opposition. That is where I have serious disagreement. dh

  15. Is the sole goal of the terrorists the elimination of our people? If so, why is that the case? Is it because of the unjust ways that we have treated them?

    On the motives front, I stand by what I said. We are killing civilians that have nothing to do with the actual conflict, and that is exactly what the terrorists have done. That should be deplored and lamented, no matter if our motives are better or not.

    The question that I want to stimulate is this: is war the appropriate response in fighting terrorism? This is not a conventional foe that exists within a national framework. By pursuing war on sovereign nations that contain terrorists, we are only multiplying the exact conditions that create terrorists: poverty, despair and hatred that can be targeted against an identifiable foe. I don’t believe that your comparisons to France and the founding fathers are founded because of this vastly different context.

    To understand the terrorists’ motives, we need to see that they also believe themselves to be acting in self defense.

  16. How did we treat them wrong before 9/11? I don’t see the conclusions you are making from the events we see. You say “To understand the terrorists’ motives, we need to see that they also believe themselves to be acting in self defense.” They are not feeling they areacting in self-defense they are the ones who initiated this in the first place.

    My take is what response would there have been if no 9/11 would have been done and if there were no Saddam? Rather than looking at terrorists and us as equals we need to focus on the attitude of both sides. The US is not out to take over the world, terrorists are and they are the ones who started it. You say “soverign nations” I don’t see the Saddam regime as a “soverign nation”. One must define the term between whether a nations is “soverign aka legitamte” or not. Thast is the bigger question. The fact is the majority of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan and for that matter other majoprities within other nations do not want terrorists in their nations. Why not do our job to help those majorities to get rid of the problems within the nations before the situation gets worse? We have not intentionally murdered inncoent people terrorists have. I don’t see the premise at all in your statements. dh

  17. DH, you asked “How did we treat them wrong before 9/11?”

    That is exactly the right question to ask. If you honestly want it answered, you will find some interesting and disturbing things. Do you think that 9/11 was simply an unprovoked attack that arose within a vacuum?

    The factors involved here have a long, complicated history that I will admit that I don’t completely understand. This does in no way say that what those nutjobs did on 9/11 was in any way excusable, justifiable or anything less than evil. It was.

    But the sooner we lose the assumption that we’re “good” and they’re “bad,” the better. We are not good, they are not good. If we can admit that, then there will begin to be hope.

  18. Honestly, it was rhetorical because none of the things we did WERE disturbing. I’m glad you used evil with regard to the terrorists and didn’t use the term evil for us. I feel that they are bad and we are good. I’m sorry. I have looked at the history and I just think that the attack on 9/11 or even earlier on the USS Cole were in a vacuum. True we did support Israel but the truth remains that the Muslims for years were wanting ALL of Israel and that is just in fact something they don’t deserve. Part of Israel? maybe at one time but in light of their actions they deserve none of it.

    To me there is no murder from the US, there no evil things done from the west. The fact is when evil regimes cross the line things have to be done to punish the behavior so as not to show that those actions are condoned.

    The fact is the Saddam and Taliban regimes would not have went away without military action. There were no signs that it could. The fact is without those in dramtic power the world is a safer place.

    The sooner we realize the fact that terrorists are evil and must be dealt with by force then the terrorists will continue to pursue things they feel they can get away with. dh

  19. Well, I am at least glad for the clarity that has been brought forth. I completely disagree with your simplistic “we’re good, they’re bad” formula. I honestly don’t have much else to say. But I will say this: I used to think just like you.

  20. Well, Matt I’m glade we can cometo an understanding even though it is vastly different between us. I personally think it is just as simplistic to think having Saddam in power, Taliban in power, etc. (because that is what would be the case if we did as you said and not went to Iraq) that the people would of those areas would be in a better situation. I also think it is just as simplistic to think that terrorists won’t continue their campaign if we don’t have a strong military due to the nature of them knowing that they could get away with it. However, this is a good stopping point on this. dh

  21. Matt, I too agree with the agree to disagree conclusion. I will say in conclusion that I also think it is too simplistic to think that we shouldn’t go to Iraq and Afghanistan when that would for a fact keep evil regimes of Saddam and theTaliban where people would have no chance of freedom whatsoever. It is also too simplistic to say that a smaller US military lowers terrorism when in fact it increases it due to the terrorist believing that they can get away with it. Oh, well we can’t always come together on all subjects but we can at least, like you and I do all along, come as close as we can. That I do appreciate even if the conclusion is agree to disagree. I still appreciate you Matt. :) God bless you. dh

  22. I agree that this is a good point to park this discussion. We could probably pick at each other just about forever otherwise. Thanks for speaking charitably despite our disagreement.

  23. I would like to add a few things to this discussion. I am particularly interested in probing two key beliefs that have fueled DH’s responses to Brian, and more generally, his views on war.

    1. DH believes that a liberal democracy as modeled by the United States is inherently “good.” I have also derived from the discussion that DH believes promoting this model of government is consistent with his Christian beliefs. He writes, “It seems the other side doesn’t acknowledge the importance of spreading democracy across the world…”

    2. DH believes that people should be violently punished for their actions. He states, “The fact is when evil regimes cross the line things have to be done to punish the behavior so as not to show that those actions are condoned.” Once again, I assume that DH believes this to be consistent with his Christian belief system.

    I contend that the United States model of a liberal democracy is founded on basic principles that are inconsistent and, in fact, are diametrically opposed to Christian beliefs.

    The principles and laws set forth by the modern liberal state, claiming to protect individual freedoms and preserve civil peace, have by and large, been accepted by Christians as theological truth. It seems that DH is no exception to this. The supposed catholicity and exceptionality of the modern state as theological truth, and its apparent legitimization in the United States project, goes virtually unquestioned by most Christians.

    Both Christians and non-Christians commonly presuppose that the ideals set forth by modern state theory are both true and successfully carried out in modern societies. The fact that the truthfulness of John Locke’s claim that every man is “naturally” entitled to private property and the individual freedom to pursue his own happiness is hardly a subject of theological contention for most Christians is a case in point.

    When the political theory behind the modern democratic state is too closely aligned with the message of the Christian gospel, foundational claims of Christianity are undermined and truthful socio-political engagement is compromised.

    To save us from our sin, the modern state story constructs principles and laws to protect and preserve our independence and autonomy from and against each other. But, in the Christian story, independence, autonomy and the protection of individual freedom is seen as false hope and the result of sin, for it undermines the divinely ordered unity of creation and the renewed call for the reconciliation of this unity by the power of the resurrection.

    Jesus has not called us to be faithful to the philosophy of liberal individualism. He has called us to be faithful to his way of sacrificial love and forgiveness. Jesus has not called us to punish those who do evil; he has called us to love our enemies.

    The realist politics of neo-conservatism and the hope for a world full of liberalism will not save us from our sin. The world can no longer handle the weight of individualism and pursuit of one’s happiness pitted against another. Nonviolence is not an option for Christians, it is a necessary component of faith in Jesus. DH, you may believe that the realist foreign policy of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld is more effective in bringing about peace and justice, but Christianity is not about effectiveness. Indeed, it is not about peace and justice. It is about being faithful to Jesus, and he did not call us to support retaliation or revenge. He has not called us to be ultimately concerned with our own security, whether national or individual. He has called us to love our enemy and to do good to those who do wrong to us. First and foremost, we must be faithful to this message.

  24. Matt, right or wrong, your responses to DH certainly paint you as quite the patronizing asshole.

  25. JM: gee, thanks for letting me know who I am. I will go forth, forever understanding that I am the asshole of patronizing. Again, thanks for clearing this up. I am in your debt.

    It’s too bad you posted anonymously, otherwise I could email you and gush with even more profuse thanks.

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