Brian McLaren on “The Innocence of Muslims”

Brian McLaren on “The Innocence of Muslims” September 17, 2012

Brian McLaren has a new book out: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. With all of the turmoil in the Middle East regarding the (ridiculous) film The Innocence of Muslims, I thought I’d dial Brian up on Google+ and ask him for his thoughts about what thoughtful Christians can do.

To be honest, I’m feeling downhearted about the whole situation. If someone as gifted and goodhearted at Ambassador Chris Stevens can’t get through to Libyans/Arabs/Muslims, what can I do from my Midwestern suburbs? So, I asked Brian that, and a couple other questions:

And here’s the provocative piece that Brian mentions on the CNN blog: It’s Time for Islamophobic Evangelicals To Choose.

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  • Pastor Joene Herr

    I appreciate your honest struggle and desire to just throw up your hands in frustration. Brian’s response is difficult to hear but is so true. Much of what we do out of faith is messy and the results are uncertain. As I remind the congregation I serve, we are not to focus on the results, but to act out of our faith, trusting God has the final answer. The use of the plural pronoun has become so dangerous today; we willingly classify the other without thought of the potentially hurtful consequences.

    • Perhaps not ‘focus on results’, but surely to become more responsible towards and aware of possible outcomes and unintended consequences as we ‘act out of our faith”?

  • Chris

    I want so to take Brian McLaren seriously, but it gets really hard when he sounds so convoluted and dreamy-eyed. His comments just seem to bear no resemblance to either reality or rationality.

    He complains that the continual escalating violence in the middle-east is like that of children in a school-yard where one says to the other: “I’ll get you back for that”, and so on and so on. And yet it fails to occur to him that the recitation from the Palestinian poet which he finds so insightful, having to do with telling the story of a people by starting with the second occurrence of offense, is just an echo of the childish refrain: “Well. he hit me first!” Firstly, it’s rarely ever clear who hit whom first. Also, he worries of the person in Pakistan whose family was killed by drones and then is dramatically and uncharacteristically led to take up arms against his new found enemy. Maybe this happens and maybe it doesn’t. Isn’t it just as possible that this same person previously harbored terrorists and sympathized with their cause? I just think it’s far more complicated than portrayed by Mr. McLaren.

    Also, there is a very unfortunate reality regarding reaching solutions to all of this and how Christians should best respond vis-a-vis civil war slavery, and that is that it wasn’t Harriet Beecher Stowe’s stories that ended slavery. It was guns and canons, as hard as that is to swallow. It may have been Stowe’s stories that precipitated the possibility of war to end slavery. But in the end it was violence that put an end to it.

    All that said, Stowe’s stories and the desire to humanize the other is powerful as a tool to change hearts and minds. But don’t ever believe that the devil isn’t real, or at least in the details. After the finger-pointing and arguments settle down you may be called upon to take action.

    • Jim

      Well said.

    • Evelyn

      Ok, I’m not going to mince words: Pick up a FUCKING HISTORY BOOK, Chris. The problems in the middle east are our own and the western world’s making and they are precipitated by our lust for the natural resources of the region. Anyone who tries to make you think otherwise is doing it out of GREED. The people of the middle east are POOR, they haven’t been allowed to share in the wealth of the countries they live in, and they always get caught in the middle (i.e. murdered) of the disagreements between their dictators and the powers of the western world. They have nothing to live for besides fighting the demons (US, Europe, dictators) who enslave them. I don’t blame them.

      • The problems in the Middle East go back thousands of years, long before the existence of oil had any significance. Most of those nations have a sizable number of people who hate Israel, and hate the Jewish people. By “sizable number of people” I mean enough that it’s scary. I have no problem with the fact that our nation helps protect Israel.

        • The present problems in the Middle East do not go back thousands of years. They go back to the early 1900’s. Google “British Mandate” and then go from there. But only if you’re interested in honest history.

      • Ted Seeber

        Really? Our lust for resources was the reason Abraham send Ishmael and his mother into the desert?

        The conflict has been going on for a lot longer than you think.

        • The current crisis in the Middle East is not a cultural or religious conflict between ancient ethnic cousins (also note that most Jews in Israel today are of European stock, not Semitic). It is a political conflict that was precipitated by events in the early 1900’s, inflamed in the 1940’s, and saw further eruption in the 1960’s.

          It’s a remarkable error, and a demonstration of historical ignorance, for people to imagine that what’s going on in the Middle East today has been going on for “thousands of years.”

          • Ted Seeber

            Completely incorrect. We aren’t talking about Americans with a perverted and short-lived prejudice against history- we’re talking about ethnicity cultures that have yet to forgive the Mongols for Genghis Khan.

            Don’t project your own bias against history onto them.

          • Ted, not sure where your mind is on this, but I’ll assume by your response that it ain’t with the facts (though by the looks of it, it may very well be in Mongolia). As such, I’m not gonna hold your hand and give you a much needed history primer.

            I refer you to my comment above re: the nature and cause of the current crisis in the Middle East. The history is correct. Feel free to do your own research and fact checking. Otherwise, you can continue to consult the Library of Fantasyland to your heart’s content if facts are of no interest to you. Enjoy.

        • Evelyn

          I think the passage in the Bible that Ted is referring to is from Genesis 21. The only conflict that I see in that passage (below) is within Sarah’s heart. God made everything good between Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael.

          Genesis 21:9-19
          Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.
          When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

          • Ted Seeber

            Actually, I wasn’t even referencing the story in the Bible, but rather the Koranic version (Surahs 11, 37, 51- nothing like having your scripture torn apart then reordered by *size of the chapter* instead of anything resembling chronological). In the Koranic version, it is Allah, not Sarah, who insists that Ishmael and his mother be set out to wander. In some translations it’s even Ishmael, not Issac, who is to be sacrificed on the altar when Allah stays his hand.

            I say again, this battle goes back a VERY long way.

          • Evelyn

            Ted, ok, you’ve made your point that Islam is an Abrahamic faith. Besides that, I’m having a lot of trouble trying to figure out why you think what happened between Sarah, Hagar, Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael has bearing on what Muslims think of Christians – especially since the Koran specifically mentions disciples of Jesus and the fact that they are to be seen as Muslims (literally “those who submit” and, in context, “those who submit to God”). For example, From

            Disciples of Jesus are Muslims:-
            Since Jesus and his disciples were of the faith of the Jews, then obviously they were pure MONOTHEISTS and hence automatically MUSLIMS: believers in the One and Only God.

            3: 52 When Jesus found unbelief on their part he said: “Who will be my helpers to (the work of) Allah?” Said the Disciples: “We are Allah’s helpers we believe in Allah and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims [Muslimoon]

            5: 111 “And behold! I inspired the Disciples to have faith in Me and Mine Apostle: they said `We have faith and do thou bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims’ [Muslimoon].”

            22:78 And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive (with sincerity and under discipline): He has chosen you and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (Revelation); that the Apostle may be a witness for you and ye be witnesses for mankind! So establish regular Prayer give regular Charity and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector the Best to protect and the Best to help!

    • Chris, I’m entirely certain Brian is aware of the realities of the world situation.

      In his 2006 book, The Secret Message of Jesus, he wrote the following at the end of chapter 14 where he discussed the vision of Jesus and its counter-intuitive response to the “realities” of the world:

      If there is a point in this book where readers might be tempted to slam the cover shut and say, “This is ridiculous. This is unrealistic. This is a pipe dream. Nothing like this could ever happen,” this would be that point. Perhaps they would be right in doing so. But what do they have to look forward to if they’re right? Simply more of the same in human history, on the level of individuals, families and nations — more of the cycle of offense and revenge, undertaken with more and more powerful weapons, with more and more at stake in each confrontation.

      What would it mean if, at this moment, many readers actually began to believe that another world is possible, that Jesus may have in fact been right, that the secret message of the kingdom of God — though radical, though unprecedented in its vision, though requiring immense faith to believe it is possible — may in fact be the only authentically saving message we have?

      So yes, Chris. I’m sure Brian gets it.

      And I will ask you what I asked Evelyn a moment ago: what alternative to the Jesus vision would you propose as an appropriate response to this world’s “realities”?

      • That’s classic McLaren alright. Define the problem, wave his hands around with some ideas for solutions, but don’t really get to a point, don’t even try to work them out on paper, then say, “well, you could just give up, or you could believe in Jesus and see what happens”. Lots of people have believed in Jesus for a long time and have seen what happens.

        So, R. Jay, are you saying that their aren’t valid alternatives to the “Jesus vision”? A vision that you or Brian have not done a very good job defining.

        • Yes, Lausten. I am absolutely saying there are no valid alternatives to the Jesus Way, inasmuch as it is a vision of Oneness through Love that demands counter-intuitive responses to the world’s heritage of fear, conflict, and brokenness. (I will further qualify this by saying that where there are other “ways” that seek the exact same ends via the exact same means, then they are “twins” to the Jesus Way.)

          Jesus’ vision is clear: Love is the key. And what does this Love in action look like? It responds to fear with humility; it responds to violence with non-violent wisdom; it responds to rage with mindful patience; it responds to division with unifying insight; it responds to indifference with compassion; it responds to impulsiveness with self-discipline; it responds to hatred with joy.

          And it challenges each person to peer within themselves and root out the fear that contributes to their inner brokenness, and then invites them to the joyful uphill climb of creating Oneness within, by which they can then advance Oneness with others, and with our World.

          Easy? No way. Successful? Absolutely!

          So offer me what you feel is a more viable alternative to responding to brokenness in the world.

          • R. Jay;
            What you listed are good ideas. You used words like humility, wisdom, patience and compassion. Certainly reasonable people agree with those ideals. There are the Machiavellians out there, but I don’t think you are getting those arguments here. Here, you get discussion about how to implement those ideals. Before this post, you had only said something vague about Jesus, much like Brian does. If we attempt to find ways to implement the ideals you suggest, I agree we would be on the path to success. If you interrupt that conversation and simply say, “follow Jesus”, then we step off of that path.

            I think you and Brian did step off the path. I could be wrong, and don’t believe it was your intention, but it’s how I see it. We can discuss the ideals, which happen to be ones that Jesus also discussed, or we can argue about what Jesus was or said or meant or did. We can quote right out of the Bible and hold up those beautiful words and see how they illuminate us, or we can hold up the Bible and say there are beautiful words in there and tell people to go read them and follow them and tell them they are wrong if they think that won’t work.

          • Lausten . . .

            You wrote, “If we attempt to find ways to implement the ideals you suggest, I agree we would be on the path to success.”

            The way of implementation is no different than for any idea/ideal or value: dissemination through vigorous “advertising” (a corresponding biblical term might be “preaching” or “evangelizing”) and boldly inviting people to embrace this counter-intuitive vision and live it out vigorously.

            Realization of Oneness cannot come through coercion or force. People must make the choice to vanquish the fear within themselves, and then choose to take up the task of building on a new vision for life and human relationship.

            To which I’ll now ask you . . . what alternative would you propose as an answer to responding to the brokenness in the world?

          • R. Jay;
            You’re just making me sad now. We agree on the ideas. I don’t have an alternative to humility, wisdom, patience and compassion. I asked for a definition of this “way” you talk about, and you haven’t provided it. Repeatedly demanding an alternative to something you haven’t defined is not humble, wise, patient or compassionate.

          • Lausten, you asked me to detail the Jesus Way, which I did (above). It’s more than a belief system. It’s a profound “practical ethics program” (to put it in modern terminology) designed to be a response to brokenness in the world (fear, hatred, war, indifference, etc.) with the objective of creating Oneness/wholeness within ourselves and with one another. And I also offered a very general overview of how it is implemented.

            And you still haven’t offered an alternative.

            So perhaps I should phrase it another way: what ideas/principles and methods would you promote as a viable means to responding to, and resolving, brokenness in the world?

          • I didn’t say it was just a belief system. I said you didn’t define what you are for. Or to be fair, you offer a definition but it doesn’t differentiate your “way” with many other “ways”. You are asking for an alternative to something, then you list some ideals and I agree to them. I am addressing that you repeatedly demand and your response is to demand again.

            You did not offer a general overview. You made vague statements that could apply to many religions and philosophies. I don’t think you know you are doing it because you say “I should phrase it another way” then repeat yourself again. I get the question. I agree with your ideals. I disagree with the way you keep ignoring what I’m saying about your presentation. I can’t answer your question because there isn’t an alternative to those ideals. I’m saying those same ideals are discussed and valued by Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Aristotle, Hume, Diderot, Voltaire, Jefferson, Lincoln, Debs and many more.

          • Lausten, your very first comment on this thread was as follows:

            That’s classic McLaren alright. Define the problem, wave his hands around with some ideas for solutions, but don’t really get to a point, don’t even try to work them out on paper. . . .

            The video conversation between Tony and Brian pointed out a particular problem. They then discussed perspectives on the Christian response to it. Specifically, it was about how Tony could respond in a Christian way locally to issues that precipitated certain recent tragic events happening far away.

            As for me, I gave my joyful nod and amen to their conversation, and in dialog with you I articulated not only my “ideas for solutions” in terms of the vision of Jesus, but also articulated a “how to” in terms of implementation. Short of writing a thesis or prepping a disertation, what I’ve written here is sufficiently defined (and then some) for the purposes of this blog discussion.

            But in the end, if not by my words then by my very participation here, my conclusion accords with Tony’s and Brian’s: engage in neighborly dialog with others in faithful practice of the Jesus Way (which I have articulated in this thread ad nauseam) so as to create Oneness. This may not be different than ideals valued in other faith traditions, though what may differ is the vision and its objective in the way Jesus saw it, i.e., Oneness (or “the kingdom”). Yet still, as I’ve already said before, inasmuch as other faith (or non-faith) traditions seek the same ends, by the same means, for the same essential vision, then I’m all for it.

            So beyond all that Lausten, what is it that you’re looking for in this dialog?

          • I made it clear what I am looking for in my earlier response, “Please define this “Jesus Way” or quit being so demanding of others to define an alternative.” You obviously think you have done that and I have explained why I think you haven’t. You barely acknowledge my words, let alone develop cogent arguments against them. You agree with all the things that I have agreed to agree upon, but you don’t address my request at all. I’m hearing what I hear from Tony, Spong and McClaren. That is, “We know the gospels are just one way of expressing what many have expressed throughout history, but we insist on saying that those particular books are special. We do not feel obligated to explain this any further, but we will keep saying it.”

            Here is what I have seen from you in terms of “how to”: “believe that another world is possible”, “love is the key”, “respond with non-violence,… patience… and insight…”, “peer within”, “creating Oneness”, “boldly inviting people to embrace this counter-intuitive vision…”, “take up the task of building a new vision…”, “one heart at a time” approach, “where it accords with love and grace, I accept”. I’m sure I missed a few, but I haven’t missed how many times you end a post with, “what’s your alternative?”

          • Lausten, I’m not sure if you’re obfuscation is intentional or not, but I suspect the impasse we’ve arrived at is due to your lack of clarity. This is not a negative criticism. It is simply an honest observation.

          • Great. I listed a bunch of quotes of your words to to demonstrate that I am reading your posts and identifying phrases that you are keys to your “how-to”. Was that list accurate?

            If not, could you point me to where your “how-to’s” are. Short phrases are fine, I can search for them within this thread. I’m not asking you to reiterate or to provide any lengthier explanations. You say you provided them already, so I’m just asking you to clarify what they are. I hope you see that this is an attempt at clarification, not obfuscation.

          • R. Jay;
            I was carefully reviewing your posts in an attempt to find specifics to help clarify our understanding and noticed that you started with “I am absolutely saying there are no valid alternatives to the Jesus Way” in your first response to me, then more recently said “inasmuch as other faith (or non-faith) traditions seek the same ends, …, then I’m all for it.” I accept the more recent statement and have many problems with the first one.

            On a scale that measures acceptance of traditions, I think I am just further along. I think Jesus was further along than most too. Radically further along in his time. That doesn’t matter, it doesn’t make me more ‘right’. What does matter, in this time, is that Christians take the lead in acceptance. Brian and Tony talk about it, but don’t practice it nearly enough, so I will continue to nudge them in that direction.

          • Good morning Lausten.

            Earlier in the week I wrote the following on another of Tony’s threads (here):

            I also disagreed with Tony that “Christianity alone” offers a “close relationship to the divine,” though it is a loving disagreement.

            I am a Christian. By choice. Not because of any claim to “rightness,” but because certain elements in Jesus’ “love ethic,” as presented in the Gospel stories, resonate with me. I suspect that resonance is partly a factor of western culture and geography, and I am fine with that. I confess that it is likely that, if I were born and raised in the far east, and still possessed the same basic personality traits and family/educational exposure, I would experience and express my very same “faith” via the template of Buddhism.

            As a Christian I see it this way: where love and grace abound without competitive proselytizing, then there is “God.” Whether it is through Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, or even atheism, then it is “right.”

            I then said the following a couple days ago on this thread (found just a couple short scrolls below):

            in my adulthood, my God-experience and faith came first, free of any external inducements of religion or internal preconceptions. My choice of Christianity came afterward. As for the Jesus presented in the Gospels . . . I have read what was written, and have concluded that much of it has value, some of it does not. Do I accept some passages in the Gospels about Jesus and reject others? Yes, I admit I do. But then I have found no authority, written or otherwise, that prohibits me from doing so.

            (And considering that the Gospel accounts do not portray the “whole Jesus” — John 21:25 attests to this — it is therefore left to my sense of reason and my conscience to be the final arbiters of which parts in the Gospels resonate with me as to who Jesus is.)

            So when I made the statement, “I am absolutely saying there are no valid alternatives to the Jesus Way,” it wasn’t the same as saying Christianity overall is “right.” I was saying that the very fundamental core of the Jesus vision and ethos is the most valid approach to responding to the brokenness we confront in the world.

            Now, I could (and will) qualify my position by saying that the “Jesus Way” is not unique to just the Christian tradition. The “Jesus Way” is made up of universal values and principles — powerful ones — that are found in other traditions, and it is simply one particular paradigm (in this case, drawn from western religious culture) by which those values and principles are expressed and practiced. The same “way” can be found within Buddhism, Islam, Humanism, Atheism, and so on.

            But the “way” is the same no matter the name it is given in any particular tradition. And therefore, as I see it, no matter what tradition it is found in, it is superlative.

          • Thanks for working through this R. Jay.

            Allow me to define the scale I mentioned. On one end, the solution to our problems is studying ethics and wisdom and applications of those to the modern world with an open mind, open to all philosophies. On the other end, is to pick an “ism” and stick with it no matter what. A big problem I have with progressive Christianity is that it can’t seem to find its place on that scale.

            You call yourself a Christian. There are many definitions of that, and I like yours better than most, but it is still a stake, a claim to a point of view that has some amount of rigidity. I’m glad you are emphasizing your openness to other traditions, but do you realize you made demands for alternatives to your “way” about 9 times in this thread? Even after I agreed with the ideas, but not with the labeling of it?

            Saying “the Jesus vision and ethos is the most valid approach to responding to the brokenness…” is not that much of an improvement over “Christianity is overall right”. I’m glad you are aware of your western culture influence and you are against things like “competitive proselytizing”. I can partner with that. That doesn’t mean I won’t call you on specific behaviors that contradict that, even if they are just semantic errors. I hope you will do the same for me.

          • My pleasure Lausten. And thank you as well. I’m glad our conversation is coalescing into something substantive.

            I completely agree with your assessment that “progressive Christianity . . . can’t seem to find” an as-yet workable balance on the scale you mentioned. Of course, that is the nature of progressiveness (or progression): like puberty, balance has yet to be fully achieved. And I think progressive Christianity — which is very broad, diverse, and cannot be distinctly defined — is just entering its puberty stage. It’s like a construction site: it’s a great clutter during the building process.

            There are certainly many definitions of Christianity. It’s been fragmented from the very start (and that’s true for most other faith/non-faith traditions: hardly none are monolithic). For the most part, though, I think such fragmentation is a consequence of 1) diverse ways of thinking about impractical things such as theology, cosmology, eschatology, etc.; and 2) motives, i.e., wanting certain ideas to prevail in society so as to achieve a specific self-serving benefit (political, monetary, ego, or a mix of some or all of those), and then competing vigorously to drown out contrary ideas.

            For me, I define my faith — in this case, my emergent Christian faith — in accordance with a very simple rule: whether an ethos advances Oneness or brokenness.

            Is my emergent Christian faith “still a stake, a claim to a point of view that has some amount of rigidity?” Perhaps, though I would suspect far less than you may have in mind.

            I chose Christianity — and live it out according to a perspective and approach that resonates with me per the simple rule I mentioned a moment ago — because it is familiar to me. My goal, though, is not to market and sell my “faith brand” in competition with other faith brands. Conservative evangelical Christians have tried that. It didn’t work.

            No, my goal is to promote and dispense the value of my faith brand in cooperation with other like brands. This isn’t to say I recognize all brands as being of equal value. Some faith brands are clearly destructive (i.e., those which divide and create brokenness), and I would reject and resist such faith brands. But my goal is not to out-do them in a manner akin to an aggressive political or advertising campaign. That would be counterproductive.

            My aim is to boldly and vigorously promote the emergent Christian faith I practice and whose vision I embrace, let it stand on its own merits, and simply invite people to accept or reject on that basis. And while I will not outright compete with other approaches, this does not mean I will not offer healthy and robust contrasts to them when necessary.

            As I’ve said before, my desire isn’t so much to know better, but to love better.

      • Chris

        R. Jay,

        I really admire your idealism, I really do, but like the song says. “I can’t go for that.”

        The reason(s) boiling down to the same old ones. You believe that the “Jesus Vision” is a Utopian, this-worldly, eventual heaven on earth to be brought about by our “partnering” with God and by dispensing the appropriate doses of peace, love, and happiness all over the world.
        I hate to resort to this but… try it with the Nazi’s.
        We both get our ideas of what Jesus was advocating from the same texts, but it just seems clear to me that your version does not reflect the whole Jesus. It’s a caricature. Sharpie-markering out everything having to do with wrath and punishment. I understand that evangelicals have also created their own caricatures at times by yellow-highlighting all the passages having to do with said judgment and eternal destruction. But IMHO in order to better understand Jesus, and God it’s necessary to understand him in his fullness as both good and severe (Rm 11:22). It’s a tension I/we struggle with, but I think that it is a fairer and truer representation contained in the biblical narrative. Jesus himself admonished his disciples to buy a sword. That doesn’t sound like “responding to violence with non-violent wisdom.”
        My believing that heaven is a future state for the believer does not preclude me from treating all I meet as being made in the image of God and having intrinsic worth. But it does seem as though your view of a this-worldly Utopian existence that will come about by our efforts does preclude confronting evil (yes, I said evil) with deadly force if necessary.

        • Chris, you offer excellent and thoughtful points. I’d like to respond point by point on a number of the things you mentioned . . .

          You wrote, “You believe that the “Jesus Vision” is a Utopian, this-worldly, eventual heaven on earth to be brought about by our “partnering” with God and by dispensing the appropriate doses of peace, love, and happiness all over the world.”

          Yes, I believe the Jesus vision is this-worldly. No, I don’t think it is Utopian, inasmuch as the “Utopia” of Thomas More’s famous story — which espoused such things as class systems and gender discrimination — turned out not to be the ideal socio-political state. But generally yes, I subscribe to an egalitarian vision of coexistence among humankind and with our World.

          Yes, I definitely promote and uphold the practice of “partnering with God” as an integral element in achieving the Jesus vision of Oneness. And yes, the other critical element is embodying Love and living it out pervasively.

          You wrote, “try it with the Nazi’s.”

          Using the biblical narrative as a paradigm, Jesus “tried it” in the midst of the Romans. He was killed. Did he win over all of Rome? No. Did he win over a few individual Romans? Yes.

          “Trying it” with the Nazis would not have guaranteed mass-conversion, although history bears out that certain individual Nazis/Germans acquiesced to conscience and resisted evil successfully (and in some cases at the cost of their lives). But then mass conversion is not the method of the Jesus Way. It’s a “one heart at a time” approach. Each individual must make a choice: love or fear.

          But Rome is gone. Nazis as a ruling power are gone. The means of both their demises notwithstanding, Love in the Jesus Way continues to persevere.

          You wrote, “your version does not reflect the whole Jesus. It’s a caricature. Sharpie-markering out everything having to do with wrath and punishment.”

          It’s important for me to point out that, in my adulthood, my God-experience and faith came first, free of any external inducements of religion or internal preconceptions. My choice of Christianity came afterward. As for the Jesus presented in the Gospels . . . I have read what was written, and have concluded that much of it has value, some of it does not. Do I accept some passages in the Gospels about Jesus and reject others? Yes, I admit I do. But then I have found no authority, written or otherwise, that prohibits me from doing so.

          (And considering that the Gospel accounts do not portray the “whole Jesus” — John 21:25 attests to this — it is therefore left to my sense of reason and my conscience to be the final arbiters of which parts in the Gospels resonate with me as to who Jesus is.)

          What basis informs my understanding of the Jesus I choose to see? Where it accords with Love and grace, I accept. Where it does not, and instead insists solely on man-made theology, I reject. This is a general rule. But overall, my faith stands on one fundamental standard: Love of God, and love of neighbor (the “greatest” of all commandments). And to this, I also accept the maxim “God is love.” And that alone is the foundation of my theology. No more. No less.

          You wrote, “But it does seem as though your view of a this-worldly Utopian existence that will come about by our efforts does preclude confronting evil (yes, I said evil) with deadly force if necessary.”

          Yes, there is evil in the world. And yes, the Jesus Way does absolutely preclude confronting evil with deadly force. Oneness cannot be achieved by methods of brokenness.

          In so many of the recent posts I’ve been making on more than one thread here on Tony’s blog, I’ve expressed and explained my perspective of the Jesus Way and how it is vitally integral to my faith and my life. Yet no one has yet to offer a viable alternative to Jesus’ vision. I’d like to invite you to please do that, Chris. I ask this, not as a challenge, but as an honest request.

          • Chris

            R. Jay,

            Thanks for your clear and honest reply. I do prefer clarity before agreement and I think we could have some great conversations.

            There is much to say in response, but time does not permit. Perhaps sometime I will try to answer as best as I can on your blog, if that’s okay.

          • You’re welcome Chris. And where time allows, feel free to get in touch at my blog. I’d enjoy discussing this further.

    • David French

      As someone who spent a year in Iraq experiencing the reality of Jihad in a way that Brian McLaren never has and never will. Let’s be very, very clear that taking any action that grants jihadists greater power causes immense human suffering to women, to children, to non-jihadist men. To yield in any way to the jihadist advances oppression that makes colonialism look like Disneyland. To carry his slavery analogy forward, it is as if he is asking the abolitionist to humanize the slaveowner so as to avoid war. But what about the slave? What about the human rights of the minority or the voiceless? The mobs outside our embassies and the terrorists who attacked our diplomats cannot be seen as a stand-in for Muslims at large. If we took his counsel we would consign the weak to a medieval darkness imposed by the strong — and the strong would still loathe us for reasons that predate colonialism.

      • Pure, unmitigated rubbish. No, occupying someone else’s country – anyone else’s country – by force is unlikely to be a pleasant experience. Nor should it. And yes, the United States’ wholesale destruction of Iraqi society, along with its deliberate fomentation of sectarian conflict (,, brought the country to the brink of civil war. This is no more remarkable than similar proxy conflicts waged by the US in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

        French blusters inelegantly about his “year in Iraq experiencing the reality of Jihad.” As for me, I have now spent eighteen months as a guest – not an occupier – in a nearby territory (the Gaza Strip) that, while besieged and under near-daily bombardment, has not faced similar liquidation of its social institutions. Strife instigated by hostile powers has ended quickly, and as bloodlessly as these things ever do. The government – Hamas – is one he would doubtlessly define as “jihadist” (an intellectually sloppy term he never defines). And I frankly have no idea what he’s talking about. What is this “oppression that makes colonialism look like Disneyland”? Banning booze?

        Talk to us like we’re adults, David. You say that “[t]he mobs outside our embassies and the terrorists who attacked our diplomats cannot be seen as a stand-in for Muslims at large,” which is true enough, but who are these “jihadists”? Let’s have a list, or at least some criteria. Who are “the minority or the voiceless” whose “human rights” concern you so deeply, and which ones of those? Who “loathe us for reasons that predate colonialism,” and what are they? (Funny how when you show up without a gun, everyone’s your best friend!) No broad rhetorical strokes, please; they aren’t as impressive as you seem to think anyway. Be specific.

        • MDubs

          Awesome response. French tosses around the “I was there so how dare you question the sacrifice of people I knew who saw combat” card way too often, trying to make the point that opinions like Brian’s aren’t valid. And you’re right, the rhetorical flourishes do sound kind of like a freshman composition exercise.

        • David French

          Do you really think that jihadist rule simply means banning booze? Hamas’s summary executions and torture provide a good example of the kind of respect jihadists have for human rights:

          • As I tried to say above, I have absolutely no idea what you mean by “jihadist rule.” I don’t think you do either, judging by your continued refusal to tell us.

            Yes, it’s clear that, “During Israel’s attack on Gaza, Hamas moved violently against its political opponents and those deemed collaborators with Israeli forces.” What’s your point? Since you haven’t defined “jihadism” yet, you can’t even claim correlation. Causation would be another level altogether.

            Hamas acted forcefully against internal threats when its territory is under massive attack and immediate threat; Hamas consists of Muslims; therefore, what exactly? Does this categorically set it apart from governments that don’t consist of Muslims? (Or, for that matter, any government in recorded history?)

            And your grand indictment of political Islam consists of 32 deaths, most of them arrested as spied and subject to the death penalty? Really, David? Are you actually unaware that Israeli forces, using American military hardware, slaughtered more than ten times that many children alone, plus another thousand or so adults for good measure, in the Gaza Strip during the exact same period?


            I have no expectation that you’ll attempt a serious answer to any of this, but it would be tremendously amusing if you did.

  • Evelyn

    I think Tony and Brian are overstepping their Christian bounds in this video. The fact is that Jesus didn’t care to accept the views of those who didn’t believe the way that he believed:

    Matthew 21:12-13 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.”

    I think it’s time to accept that fact that we, as a society, have evolved beyond Jesus and to stop desperately trying to “save” Christianity by reformulating it’s theology. It would be better to formulate something that respects Christ but is more relevant to our world.

    • So what alternative would you suggest, Evelyn?

      • Evelyn

        Listening, self-observation, objectivity, developing your own set of values. Christianity tends to set the bar so high that most people just give up on ethical behavior under the assumption that they could never be as good as Jesus so they should resign themselves to eating him and acting like brutes.

        • Evelyn, you’re still not offering an alternative. Such things as listening, self-observation, objectivity . . . those are constructive values that would easily come under the rubric of love, which is the core of the Jesus ethic.

          As for developing one’s own set of values . . . the discussion between Tony and Brian was, as I mentioned in another comment yesterday, was about “us/them” division that exists in the world, and how Christians who follow the Jesus Way ought to respond to it generally, and how to behave toward those of other faith traditions specifically. So, in contrast to the Jesus Way, what set of values would you recommend that would form the foundation of appropriate and constructive responses to “us/them-ism”?

          Finally, what bar would you set, and how high?

          • R. Jay; Please define this “Jesus Way” or quit being so demanding of others to define an alternative. The Sermon on the Mount contains contradictions and if you read all four gospels, you will find more than one “way”. Even Peter and Paul argued about it.

          • Ted Seeber

            The Jesus Way has been ignored for a very long time, and isn’t kind to a post-modernist interpretation:

            For instance, abortion is forbidden.

          • Lausten . . .

            I ask people to offer alternatives only because they’ve initiated their remarks with criticism of Tony and Brian’s discussion on how to respond to brokenness in the world. If they say, “Oh that won’t work” (which commenters here have already said), then yeah, I’ll ask them to offer an alternative with their criticism.

            I discussed the Jesus Way above (September 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm) under an earlier comment of yours.

    • ME

      “I think it’s time to accept that fact that we, as a society, have evolved beyond Jesus ”

      I’m surprised to see you write that. You really think it’s possible to evolve beyond Jesus?

      • Evelyn

        We haven’t evolved beyond Jesus if Jesus is the principal by which we evolve. If you’ve deified or redefined him in this way then we haven’t evolved beyond him.

        People seem to place great faith in the “historical” and “human” Jesus and all we have to go on is Jesus’ description of God as given by the Gospels. When we act outside of that description, we are going beyond Jesus.

        Jesus himself admitted that he didn’t know everything about God when he asked why he had been forsaken by God on the cross. If God truly wants us to know him then why wouldn’t it be possible to evolve beyond Jesus?

        • ME

          I think revelation continues to unfold but it’s extremely hard to know exactly how and what. I guess I would call it evolving “with” Jesus instead of beyond?

    • LoneWolf

      Whenever uses phrases like “evolved beyond,” it proves that they don’t understand what they are talking about, because evolution does not work that way. You can’t become more advanced through evolution; you can only adapt to outside forces.

      • Evelyn

        1) Social and spiritual evolution does not necessarily happen by the same processes as biological evolution.

        2) Biological evolution occurs when genetic expression adapts to outside forces or when an organism develops a trait (through genetic mutation) which enables them to survive better in a different environment. If evolution occurred only through adaptation to outside forces there would be no diversity of species within the same environment.

  • I find it inconsistent when you (Tony) around the 7:00 mark equate Tea Party members, as a whole as “hateful” or Americans who are not in favor of illegal immigration as “hateful.” I call it inconsistent because one of your many points seems to be that we shouldn’t view all Muslims as “irrational, hateful actors” (9:50 mark). I guess it’s OK to stereotype some groups even as we warn against it regarding other groups.

    • I didn’t mean to imply that the Tea Partiers are hateful. I meant to say that they are anti-immigrant and anti-immigration.

      • Patrick S

        Wrong. I (and most of the folks who are conservative and get lumped into this utterly meaningless tag of ‘Tea Partier’) are neither anti-immigrant nor anti-immigration.

        • Pat, I’ll believe that you are a Tea Partier when I see you wearing a tri-corner hat.

  • Brad C

    Sorry for my sloppy post when the discussion about Brian’s new book came up on your blog last week – virtual keyboards and auto spell are not my friends. I was surprised to read Brian’s opinion on CNN Sunday morning and knew his commentary would stir people up as most Evangelicals will not share his opinion – as of this writing his post had over 6,000 comments and most seemed to disagree with his commentary. I was glad to see this post as I think this is a big deal.
    I have some disagreement with Brian on a few points, but completely understand his thoughts on this matter and your video conversation was helpful for clarification. I tend to agree that it is more frustration than fear – frustration as many thoughtful Christians are wondering “What else can we do?” It is also helpful to think through the background issues as I am sure it is more than a terrible video that is causing this animosity. Much has to be considered in the background/history of the Middle East to come to a better understanding of the current cultural situation.
    I do wish for the “old days” of Emergent when it had the resources to gather people together for conversation on philosophy/theology/praxis. It seems we need these conversations more than ever and we need to expand to people of other faiths. I do think many Christians are going through a postmodern reformation – not a reformation of protest, bit of recognition, recognition of the profound limitations we face as humans. I think this conversation would be beneficial for people of all faiths.

  • DanS

    “I didn’t mean to imply that the Tea Partiers are hateful. I meant to say that they are anti-immigrant and anti-immigration.”

    In a word, bull. We are a nation of immigrants and virtually everyone welcomes LEGAL immigrants who go through the process. Citizenship, loyalty to the ideals of our constitution, obedience to the law matter. It matters that legal immigrants from some countries are penalized by the illegal entry of those from other countries. To be opposed to the breaking of laws is not “anti-immigrant”. That is shameful propaganda and false witness, period.

    • DanS . . .

      This is a Progressive Christian blog, not a Politics blog. Nor was Tony discussing immigration policy when he made mention of the Tea Party.

      The underlying theme of the discussion between Tony and Brian was the “us/them” division that exists in the world, and how Christians who follow the Jesus Way ought to respond to it generally, and how to behave toward those of other faith traditions specifically.

      And it’s ironic, then, that your remarks demonstrate that very same “us/them” mentality.

      So here’s my Christian response to “us/them-ism”: There is no division among humankind, and the Christian Law of Love prohibits us from labeling fellow human beings based on man-made political or cultural distinctions. The Christian’s loyalty and obedience is first and foremost to the Jesus Way of Oneness, not the world’s ways of division, be they legal, political, social, etc.

      I do not care about America’s immigration policy. If I encounter a human being, they are first a human being, no more no less. Not an immigrant. Not an “illegal alien.” Not an American. Not a Muslim.

      A human being. A child of God.

      • Frank

        Not every human being is a Child of God. Once again when you ignore scripture you start to make stuff up yourself,

        • Tim

          Which scripture is being missed?

  • Greg D

    The problem is quite simple to nail down: sin. Both sides seek violence, revenge, and retribution for the actions of the other. It’s cyclical. It’s going to take one side to turn the other cheek in order to stop the violence and the ongoing tit-for-tat world conflict. It takes dialog, something the west refuses to do with many Middle Eastern counties.

  • Frank

    Ephesians 1
    Romans 8

    • Ahh, of course. Paul. He had a few interesting things to say in his opinion letters. But really, he was a misogynistic prick whose claim to fame was an unverified and literally blinding “visitation” from the supposedly risen Jesus which compelled him to embark on itinerant missions around the beautiful Mediterranean to convert Gentiles to a form of legalistic religion wherein women are diminished and slavery is condoned.

      Just like Jesus.

      If he were around today and pulled the very same stunt, he’d either be relegated to the “nut fringe” of the extreme religious right, or simply institutionalized.

      But of course, though, Paul’s writings are the “word of God” and ought never be questioned at all for fear we may be condemned by “the Lord” and potentially risk eternal damnation in the lovely vacation spot that is sometimes referred to as the Lake of Fire.

  • May I refer the readers to the words of Jesus who gave the primary reason for the inexcusable violence we’re witnessing from out-of-control Islamic mobs throughout the Middle East. He said, ‘They hated me without a cause.” He further said to his followers, ‘All men will hate you because of me…’

    This longstanding animosity which began thousands of years ago between Esau and Isaac had a spiritual impetus that neither Esau nor Isaac understood. It was out of their control, but both were hurt by it; their descendants continue the dispute without knowing or even remembering its real origination or how to resolve it. The elusive answer to their common dilemma is Christ and, sadly, neither side of the estranged family (they are half-brothers) want to submit to him as the Promised Son; that One whom the Father has designated to be ‘Firstborn among many brothers.’ Is there any hope for shalom? Oh, yes! When they’re finally ready, he will arise and say, ‘Peace, be still.”

    • Ivan, did you mean Jacob and Esau rather than Isaac and Esau?

  • Here’s my response to Brian’s contention that evangelicals are Islamophobic:

    If he wants to contend that Christians are being inflamatory, how how should we regard his essay against evangelicals?

  • jerry lynch

    What is psychologically appeasing and compatible to a certain mind- and soul-set. All Fundamentalists, East or West, Christian or otherwsie, are fundamentally flawed and dangerous individuals. This fact is inescapable. It is a dis-ease of being. Hate and retribution is central to all those so mentally-afflicted.

    The childish behavior of Muslims around the globe to “that video” (or not) tells a deeper tale. Islam is just an excuse for all those things that piss us off. If brought before a non-partisan tribunal of decency and human progress, Islam would be laughed out of the court. Honor Killings? Stoning or drowning your own daughter for lipstick? Letting children burn to death so that their bedtime gowns do no tempt the assembled male? Islam is a mental-disorder, and not a religion. They do not, of course, deserve death but treatment

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