It seems to me that the only ones who brings up Brian McLaren’s Plymouth Brethren background are those who are attempting to marginalize him or explain what he’s up to. For instance, in DA Carson’s lectures at Cedarville College, he refers to the church of Brian’s childhood and Spencer Burke’s time at a mega-conservative church in SoCal as evidence that these are simply men who are moving out of fundamentalism. Andy Crouch mentions it in a similar context in the recent CT article.
The funny thing is, in all my time with Brian, I’ve never heard him mention it. In other words, of all the things by which Brian identifies himself, “formerly Plymouth Brethren” isn’t one of them. He was PB thirty years ago! He’s no more PB or post-PB now than he is a post-teenager — it may be true, but it has little to do with his current theological/ecclesiological project.
These people point out his and others’ backgrounds as a way to belittle the theology that Brian et al are currently espousing. Like, “Oh, you can understand why he’s reacting so strongly once you see that he’s a former…FUNDAMENTALIST!” But that is to not take seriously what Brian is really up to. That’s no more valid than to say that Brian is developing a new theology for himself because he’s lost his hair and he’s on a quest for new forms of virility. You see, it’s ludicrous.
And it’s just as ludicrous to pin theological tags on everyone who’s involved in this whole thing. It simply does no good. It’s an attempt to paint them into a corner, to “figure them out”: “Oh, you just a post-youth minister…seeker sensitive pastor…Lutheran…low church…etc.”
So I sense a real predicament brewing. There are those in emergent who are through with all denominational tags, think that modern theological education has ceased to be productive, etc., and there are those who very much want to emerge within the setting of established institutions. Some find the differences and uniquenesses among Protestant traditions to be beneficial, while others find them to be a distraction and a waste of time.
I don’t want to create a brouhaha, but I think this may be a massive storm cloud on the horizon.