A Fuller Seminary Take on Brian McLaren

A Fuller Seminary Take on Brian McLaren May 4, 2010

There’s a great new blog that you should add to your reader.  It’s called the Burner Blog, and it’s put out by Fuller Seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning (for whom, I’m happy to report, I will soon be teaching.  Watch here for details.)

I am a proud alumnus of Fuller and happy to be joining the faculty as an adjunct professor.  Honestly, it’s unlike any seminary I know of because of its size and its wildly diverse faculty.  While yes, it is “evangelical,” it is broadly so.  Therefore, the Burner Blog has a deep roster upon which it can draw for high-quality posts.

One post that will interest many readers of this blog is a review of Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity by Marianne Meye Thompson (from whom I took Exegetical Methods and a class on the Johannine writings back in the early 1990s).  Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament, is admittedly not reviewing the entire book, but only McLaren’s cornerstone argument that much of our current understanding of the Bible is wrongly intermingled with a Greco-Roman storyline.  McLaren thinks that we should extricate the biblical narrative (read, Jewish/Hebrew) from the Greco-Roman one.  Thompson, like McKnight before her, argues that McLaren is reading things just as selectively as he accuses others of doing.

Here’s a taste:

My point is not that McLaren’s (admittedly invented) Greco-Roman narrative is actually the entire narrative of the Bible, but rather that parts of this narrative that trouble him are actually Jewish and Biblical, and for those reasons they have found a place in some Christian construals of the biblical narrative. This does not take away from McLaren’s concern that the questions of “final destiny” may have too dominant a place in some contemporary Christian belief and reading of the Bible, and that the Bible has a deeper and richer story to tell. But he does seem to simply ignore biblical evidence – found in the Gospels, Paul and elsewhere in the NT – that fundamentally challenge his take on the matter.

I’m not going to weigh in one way or the other.  I, myself, have spoken often of the predominance of (neo-)Platonic thinking in the Western world and the damage it’s done to the biblical narrative.  But I also respect Thompson and McKnight as a couple of evangelical biblical scholars from whom I have learned much.  And, regardless of where one lands on this question, McLaren’s latest demands to be read.

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  • Zach Lind

    It seems to me that a lot of evangelical academics are missing the point. Yeah, you can find the six line narrative in the bible but you can find other narratives as well. The point isn’t to say that the six line narrative unbiblical but that it’s the overwhelmingly predominant narrative found in Christianity. Maybe McLaren over reaches when he says the GR narrative is unbiblical but that’s hardly the main thrust of the point.

    And on a side note, it might do these academic types some good if they actually spend some time in some run of the mill evangelical communities. I think they’d second guess the notion that the GR narrative has been “invented” by McLaren. I’ve practically been drowned by this narrative my whole life.

  • Kenton

    Duuuuude! Lookout, California, here Tony J comes! (yes?)

    Anxious to hear more about that.

  • Annie

    The narrative of creation-fall-condmenation-salvation may be an accurate description of what takes place on the ground may be sound but this idea of “Theos” an untouched perfection that is associated with Zeus *is* invented.

    Honestly, this is an argument that frustrates me. The idea that Zeus is associated with perfection is seriously problematic from a historical perspective. The idea of Theos as unreachable and the argument that this “Greek” idea is the real source of the Christian idea of God as perfect, impassible, incomprehensible, etc is also problematic. The notion of an unbridgeable gap between divine and not divine is neither Greek nor Roman per se. Both Greek and Roman thought permitted shades of divinity and a permeable line between divine and not divine–how else does a human emperor become divine? How else is it possible for Arius to posit a Christ who is god but not identical with God? These are Greek ideas, filtered through a Roman context. The insistence that only the creator is uncreated resonates with neo-platonism, but it is reinforced by Jewish ideas.

    It troubles me when these discussions rely on historical claims that are untested, undernuanced, or simply false.

  • Annie

    not only that, but he exempts various eastern theologies from perpetuating this, as if they weren’t the most plausible heirs to Greek ideas? It doesn’t add up.

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  • Distressed in the South


    I am looking for some advice here. I belong to a non-denominational church in the rural south. We are only 10 years old but are in the heart of soul sorting and Glen Beck. Our older pastor teaches a covert emergent type of theology in the service, but we have no ability to converse, recommend books that could be considered emergent, or have any question about us being conservative because of some fear the conservative community condemming our church.

    My question is whether you think the latest Mclaren (which I have enjoyed) might be too much of a lightning rod and pastors should steer clear of open endorsement? I know this sounds silly, but it is not. The community is from a time when men were men and the sheep run scared.

    I have thought that it may be better to try and endorse velvet elvis….


    I am making this anonymous just so my church does not get heat about it.

    NOT a Southerner Myself….

    • Well, Distressed, you’re in a tough spot. On the one hand, you shouldn’t be secretive about your own theological predilections. On the other hand, you work at the behest of the congregation, and you do have some duty to respect their theologies.

      Of course, there’s no way for me to know if Brian is too much of a lightning rod for your church. But, yes, a book by Don Miller or Len Sweet or even Rob Bell would be safer…

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  • Vicki

    Tony, I am trying to locate her blog post and can’t find it. Can you post a link to what she has written? Thanks so much…