In an interesting video interview, Scot McKnight tries to pin Brian McLaren down and get him to just say what he believes about several key issues. As McKnight points out, a frustrating theological ambiguity pervades most of McLaren’s writing: “Some of us detect a provocative ambiguity while others wonder if there is not deliberate refusal to clarify your views.” So, he tries to get McLaren to offer clear responses to the following three questions (the questions are a bit longer, but I pared them down to their main point):
- Why not just come out and tell people what you believe?
- Are you really orthodox?
- Are you a universalist?
McLaren’s answer to the first question was his best answer. He thinks people find the ambiguity frustrating because they are heresy hunters and just want to see if he agrees with their checklist of theological truths. This is unfortunately true much of the time. And, he points out that ambiguity and misdirection can be powerful literary devices, and can cause people to think more deeply about issues than a straightforward presentation would. Of course, this doesn’t explain why he can’t seem to be clear no matter what he’s writing, but it was a good point nonetheless.
His second answer was frustratingly evasive. He affirms the “faith” of the early church (e.g. their attitude of dependence, humility, worship), but rejects “the Greco-Roman narrative,” which he thinks repeatedly (though not necessarily) leads to oppression and violence. He sees himself as exploring ways of articulating Christianity in new cultural contexts by exploring alternative theological narratives in the tradition of Patrick, Francis of Assisi, the Anabaptists, the social Gospel movement, and the liberation/feminist theologians. But, he offers absolutely no help in understanding the content of these other narratives and how they relate to the content of the Greco-Roman narrative. Presumably he wouldn’t continue to use Chalcedonian language to describe the incarnation. Fine. What language would he use? And how does the conceptual framework inherent in that language relate to the conceptual framework operating at Chalcedon? He still doesn’t say.
His answer to the third question was just annoying. He basically rejects the question. He affirms that there is an afterlife, but he argues that the question presumes an us/them and in/out mentality that he rejects. And, he contends that the Bible is far more concerned about God’s will being done on earth than on whether people go to hell. And, I’d actually agree with him on both of these points. But, none of that means that the question doesn’t make sense (which he claims). If we are alive now and if we will be alive in the future (whatever this future life looks like), then it is perfectly legitimate to ask about the nature of that existence. And, even though people going to Hell is not a dominant theme in the Bible, it is a theme. McLaren basically just uses some shifty language to dodge the question…again.
So, despite McKnight’s attempts to pin him down, McLaren continues to dodge important questions. I agree with him completely that people should not focus on these theological issues to the neglect of the important social problems that he mentions. But, this should not be an either/or. You can engage a broken world with mercy and compassion, while still speaking clearly about what you believe. At least I think I can. Apparently McLaren can’t.
Here’s the whole interview.
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